Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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Crude crimes: Another pipeline spill, another “Plan B.”

Last Thursday 200,000 liters of crude oil spilled into the North Saskatchewan River, soaking wildlife and forcing cities to shut off public water supply.  Details here.

Husky Energy victims, N SaskA great blue heron, victim of Husky Energy.  (Photo: Lend a Paw Animal Rescue/Facebook)

The pipeline started to leak on Thursday July 21.  It continued to spill into the river for four days, 200,000 litres of toxic crude oil, before perpetrator Husky Energy shut it down.

This is the latest of dozens of catastrophic pipeline spills across North America in the past three years.  But right on cue and with dazzling gall, Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley leapt to defend the indefensible.  “Even with this spill it remains the case that absolutely the safest way to transport oil and gas is by way of pipeline,” she told the Canadian Press.  “Had a spill occurred on rail there might well be injuries involved.  In everything you do there are risks, but I would suggest overall the risks [of pipelines] are low.”

In the sheltered halls of power perhaps, but for the rest of us out here in the real world, this is crude bullshit, insult piled on injury.  Of course hauling crude oil by train has also proven catastrophic.  Ships too.  There is no safe way to extract, move, refine or use this stuff.  It’s a disaster, start to finish.  Only safe solution: Leave it in the ground.

Speaking of no safe way, how does this one rate?  TransCanada’s Terrifying “Plan B”.

How do the executives, investors and their government enablers continue to profit so richly from their serial crimes against nature and humanity?

Why are they not in jail?


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Act now or get out of the way.

100 percent possible, the march

Ottawa, Canada, November 29, 2015.

On a grey, chilly day, 25,000 of us (give or take a few) took to the streets of the national capitol.  Beautifully diverse in race, origin, faith, age, gender, orientation, and politics, we sent one message to those in power: Climate solutions and climate justice = 100% Possible. 100% renewables by 2050 = 100% possible.  Act now or get out of the way.

If you ask me, 2050 is too far away. So easy for slippery politicians to say, “2050? Why not, whatever…” But that’s just me, quibbling.

I suspect there are few illusions among this crowd as to what we face: a towering, apparently seamless wall of greed, governments bought and sold, rampant corruption, fear and inertia.  By hook or by crook, the arrogant few inside the castle control the levers of power and will do whatever it takes to hold onto them.

One example: In France the government used the recent attacks in Paris as an excuse to ban all public demonstrations at COP21, the glamourous big stage where ‘world leaders’ aired their platitudes this week, while groveling to their corporate sponsors.  Citizens who defied the ban – public protest being one of the few levers we still have – were tear-gassed by police then truckloads of them were arrested.  The authorities also house-arrested climate justice activists, and then a lawyer who tried to appeal the protest ban in court.

This tyranny was imposed, and will continue to be imposed, in the name of anti-terrorism.  This is the “democracy” that the authorities claim to defend.

But: With the earth’s life support systems under sustained corporate assault and engineered wars, fully backed by virtually every government on the planet, as humanity and our neighbours sink into ever deepening harm and peril, it only takes open eyes to see who are the real terrorists.

Here in comfy Canada, our shiny, smiling new government is doing some good things, beginning to undo at least some of the wreckage perpetrated by the outgoing Northern Republicans (aka Conservatives).  At the same time, the newly elected Liberal government openly supports the atmosphere-killing tar sands, the pipelines and trains needed to deliver their toxic brew to ports and ships on both east and west coasts, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a catastrophic corporate-dictated trade agreement, negotiated in secret, that will make it virtually impossible for any signatory government to take effective action against climate collapse.

But despite all this, people everywhere will continue to find creative ways to express their love for the earth and for justice, and their refusal to comply with those who would trample both.

In Ottawa, November 29, 2015, the people’s march for climate justice culminated with the creation of a giant message to Parliament.  (Look for me about halfway up the right side of the second zero…)

In our thousands, we spelled it out for them: 100% possible.

Act now or get out of the way.

100 percent Possible, Nov 2015


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Gardening on the edge: an illustrated talk

Join me for an illustrated talk on gardening, getting blood on my hands, and our tangled relationship with nature.

2. Green frog

Tuesday, October 27, 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Toronto Reference Library

789 Yonge Street, one block north of Bloor

Beeton Auditorium, main floor.

More detail here.

Address & transit info here.  Scroll down for a Map link.


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Not in my backyard

DSCF4867Marla, in our extended backyard.

On a cool, bright autumn walk with Marla, I got to thinking about NIMBY.  Not In My Backyard.  It implies a perceived threat to the space that represents ‘my backyard.’  But what defines a backyard?  Fences?  Where I live we have none, except for ancient, collapsing cedar rails that now seem archeological.

We range freely through miles of forest, open meadow and wetland, far beyond the legal extent of the title deed that defines the 60 rural acres my partner and I ‘own.’ The land beyond is semi-wild, with no roads, no power lines, the occasional ATV incursion, and an abundance of animal tracks. I assume that someone ‘owns’ this other land; that’s how things have worked since the Europeans arrived. But for now, this is our extended backyard.

So then, what constitutes a backyard? If you’re an imperial power it means anything you want, up to and including the whole earth and as far out into space as you can grab. But what does it mean for the rest of us?

On my travels in writing Bold Scientists I visited with conservation biologist Curt Meine in the midwestern state of Wisconsin. Near Madison, the capital, we explored a devastated landscape, the former site of a vast military munitions complex, which citizens are working hard to restore to a healthy Sauk Prairie landscape. They hope to take care of it, as part of their extended backyard. But where are the boundaries?

As Curt sees it, “In nature the boundaries of larger reality are never set. In my little local place I can walk around, grow a garden, watch the birds, keep an eye on the sand cranes and the wild turkeys. I can only see about a mile, but I know the river out there is connected all the way to the Mississippi River, 80 miles that way (he points southwest, more or less), that feeds eventually into the Atlantic Ocean, which is part of the global ocean system. It’s the same with landscapes, they can be as small as a few square feet where you’re standing, and as large as the planet. Among all the levels are feedback loops, so they all affect each other.

“This means you can’t have a healthy farm or forest, park or city, in a landscape that’s unsustainable, or on a planet where the climate is going haywire, temperatures are rising, oceans are acidifying, and the poles are melting, largely due to our actions. So there’s always this tension between wanting to save the world at large and wanting to focus all your energies close to home. At least if you can work well on your part, and others are working well on their part, eventually you can build a community of engaged people to collaborate on the larger pieces of the whole.”

Imagine if in our backyard, our extended backyard, there were no tar sands. No oil and gas pipelines. No nuclear plants. No tops blown off mountains for coal.  No fracking… Imagine.

Meantime, biologist Curt Meine carries on the long community struggle to restore one small sliver of this precious earth, ultimately the only backyard we’ve got. The story is here, in Bold Scientists.

Join me for a talk on gardening and the extended backyard, October 27, 2015, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, at the Toronto Reference Library.

Event details hereAddress & transit info here.  Scroll down for a Map link.

 

 

 


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Good news: Scotland to ban growing of GM crops

Scottish Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead: “Banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status.”

Member of the Scottish Parliament Alison Johnstone: “GM is not the answer to food security, and would represent further capture of our food by big business.”

Scotland, landscape 2

Details of the ban are here.

Similarly, in 2014 Russia banned the import and cultivation of GM crops.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: “If Americans like to eat GMO products, let them. We don’t need to do that. We have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.”

South of the border, the Conservative government of Britain has thrown open the door to GM crops.

In April, the European Commission reversed an earlier ban and approved the import of 10 new GM crops for human and animal consumption, including corn, soybeans, cotton and canola oil.

Meanwhile in the USA, the House of Representatives has just passed the perversely named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” which prohibits state and local authorities from requiring safe and accurate GMO labeling. By now it’s clear that when consumers know about GMOs, they tend to be skeptical. But when they don’t know… It’s unlikely the Act will encounter any resistance in the Senate or the White House, both deeply beholden to the agri-chemical leviathans.

There is just one fly in the banning-GMOs ointment, but it’s a big one: Under massive international trade agreements like the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiated in secret by corporate lobbies, corporations can sue any government bold enough to enact sensible, democratic measures meant to protect the public and the earth if there’s a chance they might limit actual or even potential corporate profits. A ban on GM crops is as likely a target as any.

Still, in taking responsible action, governments of countries like Scotland and Russia set an inspiring example of what is possible.

For a sane conversation on genetic manipulation and food security, visit Canadian scientist/farmer Ann Clark in Bold Scientists, here.  Scroll down to chapter 2, Digging for thistles.

 


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Bees and honest scientists: under attack

Honey bee, WesternHoney bee, Western.  Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Bees keep us alive.  They and other insects pollinate two-thirds of all food crops.  No pollination, no food crops.

Bees and other pollinators are in great peril, their populations in sharp decline worldwide. A growing body of evidence identifies neonicotinoids, chemical pesticides that impair the neurological systems of insects, as a key factor in the decline.

Some of these chemicals are already banned or restricted in several European countries.  Yet neonicotinoids remain the most widely used pesticides on earth, generating enormous profits.

Scientists gather and interpret data to make the necessary links between neonicotinoids and bee collapse.  But in Canada and the USA scientists whose findings conflict with the corporate agenda are under escalating attack.  Currently in the US:

“Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited, or you are not allowed to submit them at all.” – a senior scientist at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service.

“Censorship and harassment poison good science and good policy.” – Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Details here.

Follow the Honey, a report from Friends of the Earth, exposes how agrochemical corporations obscure links between their chemicals and pollinator decline, and block government regulation.  Read it here.

For more on the battle for honest science, have a look inside Bold Scientists.


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Greta Garbo

DSCF2288Photo: MR, August 18, 2014

This morning, a Great Spangled Fritillary visited our garden.  Probably a female, according to The Butterflies of Canada, which says males are bright orange, females subtler.  (I’m open to correction.)

Although I kept a respectful distance, at least ten feet, each time I shifted to a better angle she disappeared.  Then finally she permitted a single photo.  I call her Greta Garbo.

Yesterday a Monarch visited.  Only one, but given their perilous state, one is 100% better than none.  I watched it feed for almost an hour on Brazilian verbena, verbena bonariensis.

A tip: Though it rarely appears on how-to-attract-butterflies plant lists, these tall, dignified plants with tiny purple flowers draw many more visitors than any other plant in our garden.  Brazilian verbena self-seeds lavishly, but doesn’t crowd its neighbours.

Perhaps the monarch will return.  And Greta Garbo.

For more on how gardens illuminate our ambiguous place in nature, science and power, see Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science. Available September 4, 2014, from Between the Lines.