Farm Sanctuary Internship

It’s week one of my internship at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California, and, I have to say, I am already having the most incredible experience.

There are many animal welfare organizations that I admire, but Farm Sanctuary has always been at the top of my list. In addition to their advocacy and making great strides in improving legislation for farm animals, Farm Sanctuary has a reputation for a successful hands-on approach to rehabilitation, healing, and providing refuge for injured farm animals. And seeing it happen firsthand — and being part of it — is a phenomenal experience.


September 2, 2012

The GMO Film Update

As of today, you are most likely eating GMOs, and you probably don’t know it.  As we forge ahead on this film, I keep coming back to a really basic question for us here in North America – how is it possible that we are eating GMOs everyday, but we don’t know about it? Many people don’t even know what a GMO is! (FYI: GMOs are genetically modified organisms.)

GMOs are about industry for industry’s sake. It’s not for us, our health, increased yield, feeding the poor….those are all lies. GMOs exist so chemical companies can sell more chemicals. That’s what this film we are making wants to awaken people to. It’s about crops modified for resistance to chemicals that are made by the same companies that are peddling the GMO seeds.

It’s about big, big money. It’s about us being lied to and experimented on. It’s about massive corporations in bed with the government, and our government betraying its own people to line various corporate pockets.

This film is also about our own ignorance, a society that has fallen asleep in so many ways, distracted by entertainment and endless diversions, to the detriment of our health, happiness, families and future food security. And finally, it’s about our children and how far we will go to protect them, love them, and pass on to them a beautiful, safe, thriving world.

It has been a long hard road making this film, but also very rewarding. We have met so many amazing people along the way, made lifelong friends, and joined a growing community of people, companies, and organizations determined to fight GMOs and big agribusiness, while taking back the land for sustainably grown, organic food.

We pushed ahead with this film on a very tight budget, raising funds as we went, with never quite enough to hire any additional help. It has been a wonderful experience making this film, but an immense amount of work and, at times, also very stressful. We can’t thank all of you enough for helping our Kickstarter Campaign be so successful and trigger other donations, moving all of this along at a time when we really needed it. THANK YOU!

We are happy to announce that a significant piece of the fundraising puzzle has come into place. The amazing Canadian/U.S. company Nature’s Path, has come on board as a major sponsor of the film! We couldn’t think of a better fit as they have been committed to pure organic, non-GMO products from the very beginning. We are proud to have them with us on the journey! We still have more funds to raise to complete the film and are hoping for another major sponsor, as well as a host of smaller sponsorships from organic companies.

For our larger sponsors and all the individuals who have joined with us to make this film, we believe the central question is – “How will we choose to live together on this planet?” It is a question of either exploitation or nurture. Will we suck up all the earth’s resources, poison soil, water, and air with toxic pesticides and herbicides, while industry-bought scientists feed us lab-made food and release genetic mutations into the environment and contaminate the natural world? Or will we stop this madness and commit ourselves to sustainable/regenerative organic agriculture, devoted to the health of society, to nutrition, to family farms and communities?

The stakes are very high, but the choice is ours.

I’ll leave you with a short video clip I recently put together after our trip to the San Francisco area for a series of interviews. This particular piece is from our time with Claire Hope Cummings, author of Uncertain Peril, and a truly amazing and gracious advocate for all that is good, true, and beautiful in this world.

March 21, 2012

Polar Orbit Satellite

Hopefully there are fewer and fewer people in the industrialized world who are non-believers of anthropogenic (human) induced climate change. Maybe there are some who will never be convinced, especially those who have a vested interest in not believing it, or perhaps they are anti-leftist thinking, or just plainly anti-everything.

If you are one of those – please read the following intently, and if you are a believer then please read knowing that yet more evidence (if we need it) is going to come down the technical pipeline.

Over the last decade or more, NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites have monitored the clouds, oceans, vegetation, ice, land and atmosphere, but the latest satellites promise even better information

he NPOESS (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System), now called Soumi NPOESS, has been monitoring Earth’s environment with keen scientific eyes since its launch in October 2011. The NASA satellite is also supported and used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). Unlikely bed-fellows but beggars can’t be choosers and at least the data is likely to be mostly used for good of the planet (humans, animals, and the environment).

Soumi looks at cloud coverage, oceans health, and Earth’s vegetation coverage, looking for changes and helping climate scientists model our ever-changing world. It will also help improve weather prediction and identify future climate patterns.

The high tech hardware it carries includes an Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (for global temperature and moisture measurements), a Cross-track Infrared Sounder (atmosphere monitoring), and an Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (the hole in Earth’s protective radiation shield that people seem to have forgotten about).

But there is more, it also carries a Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (detecting and monitoring wildfires, ice and land changes) and, if that wasn’t enough already, a Clouds and Earth Radiant Energy System. This last instrument maps thermal radiation and checks on Earth’s energy balance with space, which will show definitively that Earth is absorbing more and more heat energy and warming up globally.

Soumi will measure snowstorms, droughts, floods, hurricanes and dust plumes (that affect climate models and weather predictions), soots, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Monitoring the vegetation will help measure the Earth’s carbon cycle and agricultural processes, helping predict food shortages. The global temperature record of the atmosphere, land and sea surface will be essential to know how quickly the Earth’s climate is changing.

With the existing plethora of earth observation satellites, both US, European and other countries are launching, soon there will be nowhere for scientifically-minded non-believers to hide. The big question then will be once again what to do politically about the hard facts staring people in the face. Procrastinate some more or start changing the way we live.

Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.

March 15, 2012

Ayurvedic Retreat Blog

It is now day seven of my Ayurvedic retreat at the Ayurveda Yoga Retreat and Hospital, nestled in hectares of tea plantations in the province of Tamil Nadu in southern India, and I have finally settled in enough to give an update.

The retreat is located north of the city of Canoor, roughly 1800m (5,900ft) above sea level in the famed Nilgiri Hills, boasting roughly twenty-four peaks above 2000m (6,560ft). These hills are part of the Western Ghats, a mountain range on the southwestern edge of the Deccan Plateau. The area is world renowned for its teas.

After a long forty-eight hour journey to get here (yes, I offset and I know it really doesn’t make a difference!), and a gut-churning drive up the mountain (the car, truck, motorcycle, scooter and Tuk-Tuk drivers utilize some indecipherable system of horn honking and light flashing to pass each other on an extremely narrow winding road), I ended up with a lethal case of jet lag and a bit of altitude sickness. However, I did learn that eucalyptus is great for helping with altitude discomfort and thankfully grows in abundance in the area. The jet lag passed and you eventually get used to the roads and wild driving conditions, which are just a little different to the sleepy Canadian island driving I am used to.

Ayurvedic medicine (often described as “the knowledge for long life”) is an ancient form of Indian medicine and coming to an alternative hospital/retreat to deal with your health issues is both a leap of faith and probably one of the best things you could ever do for yourself in terms of attempting to address your health/mind constitution holistically. In fact, the earliest mention of Ayurvedic in literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India (the mid-second millennium BCE), according to Wikipedia.

However, it is important to differentiate between a resort/spa and an Ayurvedic hospital/retreat centre. Here people aren’t getting pedicures, facials and manicures (although some guests do go to town for these services), rather many people are dealing with serious health issues ranging from extreme drug addiction, cancer, obesity, colitis, bulimia, etc. Other guests come to the centre for extreme detoxification or PanchaKarma.

Many people find themselves here when traditional or allopathic forms of medicine are no longer working for them, while others simply seek the intense forms of detoxification and weight loss programs available.

The guests are comprised of people from around the globe and their nationalities are as varied as their ailments. However, the commonality amongst the guests is their openness to change, transformation, desire to be healthy in body and mind, as well as their kindness and support in helping each other through the often uncomfortable treatment or detoxification process. The staff are also fully supportive in ensuring the majority of your needs are taken care of as quickly and gently as possible.

My visit to the centre is comprised of roughly forty-four days of treatment to deal with a number of minor health issues and to experience the deep cleansing of PanchaKarma. Although my health concerns are not as serious in relation to some of the other guests at the centre, they were health issues that I could never seem to get resolved back in Canada utilizing both an excellent traditional medical doctor and two wonderful naturopaths.

After the recommendation of several friends who have had some remarkable results after visiting an Ayurvedic hospital, I was intrigued and convinced enough to fly half-way round the world to try a completely alternative system of medicine to get a health/mind reboot.

For those who are unfamiliar with Ayurvedic medicine, it is based on diagnosing the body and mind’s ailments via a system of analyzing your ‘doshic’ state or type. The three main dosha types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each body type manifests different behaviors, ailments and imbalances when out of alignment.

It is believed that knowing your personal constitution or dosha will allow you to understand yourself better and, being in balance, create greater harmony between your mind and body. Healing is much more difficult when the overall state of the body and mind are not taken into consideration during the treatment process, as is often the case with traditional western medicine where either the mind or body ailments are treated but rarely are they considered intricately linked.

At the centre where I am staying each person is examined and diagnosed by a medical/Ayurvedic doctor, and this includes an overview of your health history, current problems, physical and pulse examination (The doctor is available six days a week from roughly 9am to 5pm and you can visit him as often as you like!). Your custom treatment plan is then arranged around your dosha and health goals.

The healing process involves a special diet tailored to your condition(s), medication (five times a day) and a wide variety of treatments twice a day ranging from deep tissue massage with medicated coconut oil, enemas or colonic irrigation, steam treatments, rice and/or oil baths, nasal and eye cleansing, to ingesting clarified ghee butter to purge the system.

There are also yoga classes three times a day, plus daily meditations. The entire area is famous for its Nilgiri tea so the mountains are covered with tea plantations that, aside from providing stunning scenery, also offer miles of amazing walks. (Yes, the tea is amazing!)

Temple located in the forest.

So far, I am enjoying the experience as I have started gently with my treatments consisting primarily of deep tissue medicated coconut oil massages (usually accompanied with a lettuce scrub and warm shower) performed in the morning by two masseuses working simultaneously and an afternoon head, neck and back massage also with medicated oils that are tailored to my specific treatment plan. (Women cannot participate in some of the treatments during menstruation).

I must admit I have some trepidation about the coming weeks when my treatments will intensify to include some of the purging and more intense forms of detoxification. Thankfully, I will finish up the remainder of my stay with treatments geared towards rebuilding my system, restoring balance and rejuvenation.

Lastly, many people have asked me what a typical day at the centre is like so here is a sample itinerary:

6am: Medication is delivered to your room

6:30-7:30am: Yoga and meditation

8am: Breakfast

8:30-11:30am: One hour specialized treatment

12:30-1pm: Weight loss yoga

1-2pm: Lunch (more medication)

1:30-4:30pm: A thirty-minute specialized treatment and a visit from the reflexologist (every three days for the reflexologist)

3-4pm: Intermediate yoga

4-4:30pm: Afternoon tea served in the garden

5pm: Medication

5:30-6:30pm: Meditation

7-8pm: Dinner and medication

9-10pm: Medication

Participation in the yoga and meditation is not obligatory, but is encouraged. Meals can be eaten in the dinning room or delivered to your room – depending on how you are feeling.

The only other things of note are the government mandates that the electricity is turned off from 10am to noon and 4-6pm, and the area is teeming with wildlife. Wild monkeys are everywhere (there was a wild monkey invasion at the retreat today when they tried to break into the Ayurvedic garden and the kitchen). Wild elephants live on the mountains and there are numerous beautiful chatty birds in the tea fields and trees.


Valerie Williams is a writer living on Salt Spring Island, Canada and is currently on retreat in Canoor, India.

March 11, 2012

Space Junk Janitor

The Swiss Space Center at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, have designed a “janitor satellite” to help clean up the growing problem of space junk. The US$11million (10 million Swiss Francs) CleanSpace One satellite is a prototype for what they hope to be a family of satellites that are sent to retrieve large, defunct satellites and de-orbit them – making them burn-up in Earth’s atmosphere or splash down in an ocean.

NASA tracks 16,000 pieces of space junk larger than 4 inch (10.2cm) in diameter, but in reality the U.S. space agency estimates that over 500,000 pieces of space junk is up there, consisting of spent rocket stages and broken satellites. The debris orbital velocity is around 28,000 km/h (mph), and even the tiniest of particles can damage spacecraft or impact other debris, splitting it into ever-smaller pieces.

Known trash impacts include a French satellite damaged in 1996 by a rocket casing, and an U.S. Iridium Communications Satellite that was destroyed in 2009 in a collision with a defunct Russian satellite. The Iridium Satellites are in low earth orbit constellations, occupying the same orbital path so this debris will eventually spread around the Earth, affecting the other Iridium Satellites.

The CleanSpace One satellite is being built to solve three problems, such as how to maneuver a spacecraft into the same orbital path as the debris, so EPFL are developing a compact propulsion system for their small satellite (actually a 3 cube Cubesat). The next problem, after catching up with the debris, is to capture it and hold it but without creating even more debris. This could be very difficult, especially if the debris is spinning and for inspiration the researchers are looking at how plants and animals capture their prey. Finally, it has to slow the debris down and drag it into Earth’s atmosphere. CleanSpace One is going to try and de-orbit Switzerland’s first orbiting satellite, the Swisscube Picosatellite launched in 2009, or the second TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Volker Gass, The Swiss Space Center’s director hopes to someday “offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites.”

One of the problems of increasing debris, apart from the risk to satellites, and any human launches or space stations, is the increasing cost of insurance. A new, US$150-500million satellite could be launched into orbit and then get knocked out of service by a $0.30 steel bolt or even a flake of paint.

The Swiss Re Insurance Company estimated that every year, there is almost a one in 10,000 chance that a 107sq.ft. (10sq.m.) satellite traveling in a sun-synchronous low earth orbit 373-621 mile (600-1,000km) will get hit by a 0.16sq.inch ( piece of space junk. So, if there are continuously 1000 spacecraft in this orbit, and they stay there for 10 years, there is a certainty that at least one of them will get hit over a 10-year period.

The European Union and United States hope to agree to internationally binding agreements to limit future space debris, ensuring that what goes up does eventually come down safely and efficiently without having to wait thousands or tens of thousands of years for the trash to come down by itself.



Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.


February 21, 2012

General Electric’s Privatization of Water

Investment banker Goldman Sachs has famously been described by the Rolling Stone’s business writer Matt Taibbi (July 2009) as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” So it’s a good idea to take notice whenever that Vampire Squid moves its blood funnel towards something. Having profited handsomely from the Wall Street bailouts, the Squid has smelled money in a new direction: water privatization.

In January 2010, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, and the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based think tank, together launched a water “initiative” to develop an index measuring water-related risks facing companies and their investors. As their news release put it, “In many regions around the world, water scarcity from climate change and pollution is starting to impact a company’s performance, yet few analysts account for water-related risks.”

Their new water index would “draw on publicly available data regarding physical scarcity and water quality and overlay factors including the regulatory regime and social and reputational issues” in various regions of the world. In other words, their risk-index might more accurately be called an “opportunity-index” for water-investors. Goldman Sachs’ partner General Electric has long smelled money from that sector.

“According to Canada’s water expert Maude Barlow, “The biggest water company of all is General Electric.”

The Aqueduct Alliance

By August 2011, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, and WRI had not only found a name for their partnership – the Aqueduct Alliance – but they had also developed their index into a water database and mapping tool, which can include the amount of infrastructure investment taking place in a given region. Moreover, they had put an “environmental” spin on the project, claiming that it will help corporations, governments and stakeholders become more aware of their “water footprint” and thus make more “sustainable” decisions.

As well, by August 2011, Goldman Sachs, General Electric and WRI had invited into the Alliance some new corporate partners (or Vampire Squids, if you prefer): Coca-Cola, Talisman Energy, Dow Chemical, United Technologies, and Bloomberg. The WRI’s Kirsty Jenkinson told the Financial Times (August 16th, 2011), “Companies see the need to get better visibility about water if they are going to have to access it for their business.” With the new Aqueduct Alliance water database, “they can see if they are at risk of not getting the water they need, or coming into conflict with other users of that water.”

“Presumably, the potential for “conflict” is what attracted United Technologies to join the Aqueduct Alliance. United Technologies is the world’s tenth largest arms-producing company, with arms sales of $11.1 billion (€8.43) in 2009.”

Coca-Cola has handed over to the Alliance its own proprietary data on freshwater availability worldwide – data collected over years of research for its water-bottling enterprises. “Water is the lifeblood of our business,” Coca-Cola spokesman Joe Rozza told the Financial Times. Coca-Cola’s Canadian director, J. Trevor Eyton, is a director of Brookfield Asset Management Inc., which is heavily involved in BC power, energy, and logging issues.

Calgary-based Talisman Energy spokesman Sandy Stash told Marketwire (August 19th), “We are very excited to have been asked to become the oil and gas sector sponsor for the Aqueduct Alliance. Talisman aspires to a water management strategy that defines best practices for water withdrawal, reuse, disposal and conservation in our North American shale gas operations.” Just three weeks earlier, the BC Liberal government had awarded Talisman Energy a licence to divert up to 10,000 cubic metres (353,000 cu.ft.) of water per day from the Williston reservoir for the next 20 years. Williston reservoir is BC’s main hydroelectric reservoir, serving the WAC Bennett Dam and Shrum Generating Station on the Peace River.

The Aqueduct Alliance intends to generate databases and water-maps with “an unprecedented level of detail and resolution,” including advanced hydrological data and “geographically specific indicators that capture the social, economic, and governance factors that affect companies and economies.”  The databases will include up-to-date news coverage on water issues in a given region.

By September 2011, the Aqueduct Alliance had developed a prototype database/map covering the Yellow River Basin in Northern China. In January 2012, the Aqueduct Alliance intends to release four additional database/maps on river basins of “high priority,” including the Colorado River in the USA, the Orange-Sengu River in Africa, the Yangtze River in China, and the Murray Darling River in Australia. Fifteen more regions across the world will then be analyzed.

The Murray Darling

In a very short-sighted move, the Australian government in the 1990s implemented a water-market for the Murray Darling River Basin – one of the longest river systems in the world and the heart of Australia’s agricultural production. But in 2001, a major drought struck the Basin. Within a few years of the long-lasting drought, the federal government was forced to start buying back water for the region. This inflated the price in the water market. By 2009, so many water speculators had moved in on the Basin that in that year alone, some $3 billion in water-rights were bought and sold, with the federal government forced to compete with international water investors. By September 2010, the government had spent at least $1.4 billion buying back water rights. Although the drought eased in 2010, the fact that the Aqueduct Alliance is now focusing on the Murray Darling Basin means that the risks and opportunities there are still “high priority.”

Some critics have called the Australian government’s implementation of a water market very similar to what Alberta and BC are proposing.

Alberta Water Markets

In their April 2008 report, A Fight To the Last Drop: A Glimpse Into Alberta’s Water Future, Randy Christensen (staff lawyer with Ecojustice) and Danielle Droitsch of Bow Riverkeeper warned that the Alberta government was moving in “the wrong direction,” opening the way for “speculators devising ways to create profits from an increasingly scarce public resource,” and doing so without consulting the public. They also noted “the government’s failure to collect any royalties from the granting or subsequent sale of water rights. The property right in water is vested in the Crown under the Water Act, but Alberta treats it as something that ought to be given away.”

Then, on May 5 of 2011, the Alberta Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy – chaired by David Emerson, with General Electric Canada’s President and CEO M. Elyse Allan as a member – released its report, Shaping Alberta’s Future. The report recommended the creation of a new Alberta Water Authority to oversee all water allocation license trades across the province. The purpose of this body would include facilitating the buying and selling of water licenses within a market-oriented system.

As the report states: “The Alberta Water Authority will oversee an Alberta water allocation exchange. The Authority will maintain information on use and return flow. It will track trades permissible under current policy. It will also advise on policy changes to give holders of water licenses more opportunity to sell, lease or trade some or all of their right to draw water. Such will allow licensees holding water allocations they are not currently using or no longer need to lease or sell this surplus to others within the watershed at a price set by market forces of supply-and-demand.”

Just days later (May 10), the chairman of water-bottling giant Nestle told Reuters, “We are actively dealing with the government of Alberta to think about a water exchange,” prompting denials from Alberta’s Environment Minister Rob Renner.

The Council of Canadians immediately deplored “the creation of a province-wide deregulated water market,” and noted, “Two and a half years since announcing it was reviewing Alberta’s water allocation system, the government has failed to consult with Albertans – the owners of the water – to hear their views about how water should be governed in the future, but has apparently made time to listen to what Nestle would like to see in a new allocation system.”

BC Water Act Proposal

In December 2010, the BC Liberal government released its Framework for the Modernization of the British Columbia Water Act. The government is expecting to table a new Water Act in 2012. In assessing this policy proposal, West Coast Environmental Law noted that it introduces the possibility of a water market, which would “likely result in a huge financial windfall for current licence holders while failing to recognize issues raised by public and First Nations rights over the resource.” In 2010, there were 44,000 water licence holders in B.C.

The Council of Canadians stated: “The proposal now being considered would allow for water users who currently hold a licence to sell it to the highest bidder on an open market. Whoever purchases the licence may be able to change what the water is used for, potentially setting up a situation where water currently being used in agriculture ends up being used in a hydraulic fracturing operation. Worse yet, the proposal talks about creating ‘a more flexible system … by reducing the government decision-making burden and streamlining requirements.’ In other words, it would create a deregulated market for BC’s water.”

Ecojustice’s Randy Christensen called the proposed framework “a pretty sweet deal for the fortunate few who happen to have water rights – primarily electricity generators (including Independent Power Producers), oil and gas companies, mining companies, and agriculture.” He added: “What’s most dangerous about this proposal is that it will privatize water in a way that becomes effectively irreversible. Right now, one gets a ‘licence’ to use water that the Government may alter or revoke without (generally speaking) having to pay compensation. However, once the licence to use a public resource is converted into a tradable economic right, that is held and may be sold, any changes to the system that affect that right will undoubtedly spur lawsuits against the government.”


This should remind readers of the Harper government’s outrageous (August 2010) $130 million (€98.8 million) roll-over regarding AbitibiBowater’s NAFTA challenge. Rather than defend Newfoundland and Labrador’s legal rights, the Harper government – a mere six months into the NAFTA case – reached an out-of-court settlement that has far-reaching implications for every province.

According to Steven Shrybman, lawyer for the Council of Canadians, because of this legal precedent, “it is not therefore an overstatement to describe the consequences of this settlement as effectively representing a coup-de-grace for public ownership and control of water and other natural resources with respect to which some license or permit had been granted. By settling with AbitibiBowater, the federal government has invited claims by any foreign owned company that loses an entitlement to take surface or groundwater in Canada for commercial purposes.”

Moreover, according to Scott Sinclair of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, those potential future claims will be provincial, rather than federal, liabilities. As Sinclair wrote for The Tyee (March 25, 2011), “Ottawa settled the case without defending the province’s rights. While the Harper government has pledged it will not try to recover the costs of this settlement from the Newfoundland and Labrador government, it has put provincial and territorial governments on notice that it intends to hold them liable for future NAFTA-related damages with respect to provincial measures.”

The NAFTA cave-in by the Feds, combined with the pending new Water Acts in Alberta and BC, have released such a smell of money around water that a veritable coterie of Vampire Squids have gathered. After all, they could profit either by getting the water through a water-market, or by launching a NAFTA Chapter 11 claim. Their blood funnels have been quivering especially over the national energy plan drawn up by the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), whose chair is David Emerson, and whose vice-chair is General Electric Canada’s President and CEO M. Elyse Allan.

The Role Model

As usual, there is a billionaire model at work: in this case, T. Boone Pickens. The Texas energy tycoon spent at least a decade buying up water-rights in the Texas Panhandle and telling the press and anybody who would listen that he was planning to build a high voltage transmission corridor that would take his wind-powered electricity, his natural gas, and all that water he’d bought, and pipe it down to the big cities of south Texas. Of course, such talk terrified his neighbours, who foresaw their own homesteads withering away into dry clods and tumbleweeds.

Then, in April 2011, the local Municipal Water Authority – having long listened to its panicked constituency members – reached an agreement with Pickens to purchase most of his water-rights for $103 million (€78.2 million). Since he’d paid about $75 million (€57 million) for those rights, it was a cool profit of about $28 million (€21.3 million). All those other homeowners and business owners, however, will be paying off the purchase for the next 20 years through increased water and sewer rates to pay off the bonds that financed the deal.

Then, in July 2011, Pickens swung his attention North. He launched a $775 million (€589 million) NAFTA challenge against the Ontario government over regulations surrounding his planned wind farms in southwestern Ontario. When Vampire Squids start jamming their blood funnels into anything that smells like money, it’s hard to get them to stop.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books. GE and the Privatization of Water was previously published in the Watershed Sentinel, the independent voice for environmental news in British Columbia. Visit:


February 15, 2012

Plastic in Marine Animals

I just read recently the BBC News article about microscopic plastic particles that have been found in marine animals, including the fish we eat, and then they end up inside us. Where does all this plastic come from? From those discarded plastic bags of course, all that trash that gets dumped in the ocean or washed out to see or partly burnt and blown away, and that really obnoxious polystyrene shipping foam that breaks into little balls. Much of that plastic photo degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, and has been written about before.

But this microscopic plastic contamination is different, it comes from the synthetic clothes we buy, wear and wash! The research is published in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology, and shows that 1,900 tiny fibres come off each item of clothing and into the water that gets flushed away.

“Research we had done before… showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic,” said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a member of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, USA

Other research shows that plastic particles less than 1mm in size get eaten by animals.

“Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals’] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells,” according to Browne’s interview with the BBC. At 18 beaches around the world the researchers found evidence of the microscopic plastic particles. They tested city sewage discharge and looked at the outflow from washing machines and clearly showed the microscopic plastic was coming from water discharge from washing machines.

“It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes.”

I remember (unfortunately!) that back in the 1970s and 1980s there was a big push to buy synthetic clothing, including polyester shirts (that really got very sweater, stained and stunk), nylon/polyester bed sheets that gave you a million volt shock every time you pulled back the sheets, and the countless sock, trouser, jacket, glove and scarf that came in a combo of synthetic textiles. Most of them made my flesh creep and it sends a shiver down my spine even thinking about it.

Is it any different today, I don’t think so, probably much worse as there seems to be an ever increasing mix of spandex, latex, viscose and whatever other funky fabric combo they dream up. And have you ever wondered where all those little fibrous and dusty bits go when you shake out your clothes – even if they have been in a drawer or wardrobe or just washed. Then there is the laundry soap, with activated chemical scrubs and a whole bunch of sulphates, phosphates, benzyl, softeners, whiteners, anti-microbials, and more…!

Now I only buy, as best I can, only organic cotton, wool, and natural fabrics, and use the most benign clothes washing detergents. My clothes last longer (I’m not a dedicated follower of fashion!), they look clean, I don’t think I smell (!) and I don’t get zapped by a million volts every time I get into or out of bed or walk across the room in my organic cotton/wool socks.

Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.

January 29, 2012

Wall Street/Cortes Island

Sometimes the world of high finance and the centers of capitalist accumulation can seem a long way away from us here on this far-flung coast.

Then, at other times, the world becomes very small. Brookfield Asset Management—a corporation with investments in the real estate market and resource industries—has achieved notoriety recently for evicting Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park, which the company owns. A seemingly distant and nebulous embodiment of the sort of wild real estate speculation that brought the financial industry to its knees in 2008, Brookfield is now making its presence felt in our own British Columbian back yards.

Brookfield owns Island Timberlands, which is about to log old growth forest on Cortes Island, an area comprising much of the last remaining 1% of the original ancient Douglas Fir forest that once blanketed the coastal region. This is a clear and blatant example of ecological destruction in the name of excessive profits—old growth forest sacrificed for the out-of-control growth of the market economy.

Brookfield boasts $150 billion in assets. Their website touts that “Turnaround investing is in Brookfield’s DNA.” This means that Brookfield is in the business of buying up underperforming companies and wringing quick, short-term profits out of them. The profits to be gained by logging Cortes Island are a mere drop in the bucket for a corporation this size—and yet that isn’t going to stop a machine built to extract profits at any costs, from any place, no matter what the consequences.

We don’t think the last 1% of old growth Douglas firs should be used to help line the pockets of the economic 1%. We call upon all concerned to stand in solidarity with the Ancient Forest Alliance and the residents of Cortes Island. We stand in solidarity with a view of the world which would hold economic and ecological concerns in balance, and which would not sacrifice our environmental future for short-term profits today.

Logging is slated to begin in the coming weeks but the people of Cortes Island are organizing to oppose Brookfield and Island Timberlands, and members of Occupy Vancouver will be joining them in direct action. Together we can save what remains of the coast’s old growth forests. Together we can say no to Brookfield. As the saying goes, another world is possible. But only if we don’t completely exhaust, despoil, and destroy this one first.

Please sign the on-line petition:

Stephen Collis is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent of which, On the Material (Talon Books 2010), was the recipient of the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Forthcoming books include A History of Change (vol.1): Dispatches from the Occupation (Talon Books 2012) and To the Barricades (Talon Books 2013). He teaches poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University, where he is a 2011/12 Shadbolt Fellow; since October he has been involved in Occupy Vancouver, writing for

January 29, 2012

It’s Time to Fight Back by Bill McKibben

It’s time to fight back. Prime Minister Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver are waging a dirty campaign to discredit anyone who is opposed to burning the oil sands or building Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Dear friends in Canada,

I’ve been visiting Canada all my life, but I’m a little worried about my upcoming trip.

In late March I’m supposed to come to Vancouver to give a couple of talks. But now I read that Joe Oliver, your country’s Minister of Natural Resources, is condemning “environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block” Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to the Pacific.

I think he’s talking about people like me.

So I’m pushing back a bit, and I need your help. Let’s tell Joe Oliver that preventing the combustion of the second-largest pool of carbon on the planet isn’t “radical” — it’s exactly the opposite. It’s rational. It’s responsible. And it’s just plain right.

Click here to sign the petition to Prime Minister Harper and Joe Oliver, and help show that Canadians everywhere are committed to stopping the oil sands.

Here’s the thing: I’ve spent much of the last year helping rally opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline from the oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico. I was arrested outside the White House in August, and emceed the demonstration that brought thousands of people to circle the White House in November. And just yesterday, I helped lead a crew of hundreds of “climate referees” to blow whistle on the influence that Big Oil has over our democracy. But this fight knows no borders, which brings me back to my concern about my trip to Canada in March.

When I come to British Columbia, I’ll urge everyone I meet to join a growing movement standing in solidarity with First Nations Peoples across Canada who oppose Enbridge’s Gateway’s project. Since a majority of Canadians, according to the polls, also oppose the pipeline, I’ll be in good company. But Oliver, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the organizers of the “Ethical Oil” campaign don’t want any outside voices. As the latter explained on its website, “It’s our pipeline. Our country. Our jobs. And our decision.”

Fair enough. But you know something? The atmosphere belongs to all of us. There’s not some wall at the 49th parallel that separates Canada’s air from everyone else’s. Since the oil sands is the second biggest source of carbon on the planet, that makes their development everyone’s business. As NASA’s James Hansen, the planet’s premier climatologist, put it recently, if you heavily develop the oil sands, it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” That’s why I’m doing everything I can do to build this movement — and that’s why I need your help to unite a groundswell of activists in Canada.

Add your name to the petition saying you’re ready to take a stand to stop the oil sands — if we can get 10,000 Canadians to sign on, we’ll stage a high-profile delivery that Joe Oliver, Prime Minister Harper, and the oil companies won’t be able to ignore.

It’s much easier for Ottawa to pretend that anyone who raises doubts about the oil sands are ideological extremists who hate Canada, much easier to demonize the scientists and citizens who ask uncomfortable questions. You can judge for yourself, but I don’t think I’m some kind of extremist. I’m a Methodist Sunday School teacher who happened to write the first book for a general audience on climate change.

To me, the extremists are the ones running the oil companies, because they’re willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere; those of us who want to keep the planet a little like the one we were born on seem more like conservatives.

I know I don’t hate Canada. I spent five years living in Toronto as a young boy, while my father worked for Business Week magazine. I remember with great fondness Mrs. Reesor, Miss Beer, Miss Conway and Miss Wright, who taught my first four grades. I remember rooting for Davey Keon, the Toronto Maple LeafsCentre, and I remember waiting with great impatience each summer for the CNE to open.

In later years I’ve traveled the country stem to stern, written about fishermen struggling in Newfoundland, hiked the mountains above Jasper, skied the trails of the Gatineau. The Canada I remember was open to the world: It welcomed the rest of the planet to Expo 67, it hosted the Olympics, it helped crack the Great Wall of China.

I don’t know how that changed, but my guess is that the wealth of the oil-sands had something to do with it. Canada’s government doesn’t want to hear from the rest of the world because paying attention to their legitimate fears might cost it some money.

To judge from Oliver’s nasty little letter, those vast pits of bitumen across Alberta aren’t just dirtying the sky, they’re starting to do some damage to the country’s soul.

Help start to undo that damage, and sign on today.


Bill McKibben via

P.S. If we’re going to have any shot at stopping the wholesale burning of the oil sands, we’re going to need a massive movement of Canadians willing to take a stand.

Sign the petition to help build a groundswell of Canadians who are ready to stop the oil sands:

January 28, 2012

Monsanto Sucks T-shirts!

If you know anything about Monsanto then you know they suck. My personal opinion is that they are one of the most psychopathic, dangerous and controlling companies on the planet. But, ironically, in spite of their might or because of it, they keep an extremely low profile in North America where many of their genetically engineered crops are grown.

I am not big on conspiracy theories, but I find it surprising that there is so little coverage of Monsanto in our mainstream media (and so few people know who they are) when genetically engineered organisms remain an extremely hot and controversial topic in countries like India, Hungary, Haiti and the European Union. Mass protests, crop burnings and direct resistance against Monsanto is happening on a global scale, but we hear almost nothing about it in North America.

If you don’t know who Monsanto is, you need to get up to speed– there is a great movie called “The World According to Monsanto” by French filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin (available on YouTube in its entirely) and our filmmaker friend Jeremy Seifert, (director of the amazing Dive! Living Off America’s Waste) is also in the process of making a documentary about genetically modified organisms.  The current working title is The GMO Film Project (Untitled). If you are interested in supporting Jeremy’s work then please contact him as they need supporters to help finish making this important film.

January 21, 2012

Clearcut Forecast: Cortes Island

Long considered “socially inoperable” due to local opposition, now the mixed-age forests of Cortes Island may be on the chopping block. A visit from Island Timberlands’ operations manager is described in vivid detail here. (The manager seems to be suffering from a touch of social operability himself.) Island Timberlands has offices in Nanaimo and Vancouver, but the company is now owned by Wall Street conglomerate Brookfield Asset Management.

Cortes Island is known as a cradle of the early Greenpeace movement and home to Hollyhock, the influential eco-wellness institute. Yet our forests are under threat. Islanders were notified last year that logging would begin in mid-January. Saxifrage says she is “cautiously optimistic” the efforts of residents and supporters will thwart that plan. Two groups, WildStands and Island Stance, are promising spirited protests if the logging goes ahead. On January 14, Ken Wu of Ancient Forest Alliance released a report on groves of rare old-growth trees on Cortes Island.

On January 12, 2012 activists Tzeporah Berman and Carrie Saxifrage delivered 6200 petition signatures to Brookfield’s corporate offices in London, New York, Hong Kong, Sydney and Toronto, the Vancouver Observerreports.

The battle is just beginning, but the troops are gathering and many thousands of people are standing together in solidarity against the destruction of the Cortes Island forests.

Zoe Blunt is a well-known Canadian activist and writer and we hope to include more of her blogs in the future to keep people updated on the increasingly heated battle on Cortes Island to protect the forests.


January 18, 2012