Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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The Forces of Know

In darkening times, bright sparks of inspired resistance.  In this case, to dangerous pipelines that threaten earth, water, air, and life.

In northwestern Canada, people of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation are resisting not only a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline and coastal shipping terminal, plus a voracious transnational corporation and two enabling governments, but also the toxic ideology that drives these entities.  At its stone cold heart it has only one premise: there is no person or thing on earth, in the sea or sky that can’t be bought and sold.

Despite escalating attempts to buy them off, apparently the majority of Lax Kw’alaams people hold to deeper values and a longer view.

Lax Kw'alaams resistLax Kw’alaams: Just say no.  Photo: The Guardian.

Henry Lickers also takes a longer view.  He’s a Seneca First Nation biologist at Kawehno:ke, Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, not far from another pipeline that people are fighting in eastern Canada.  In writing Bold Scientists, I explored with him the deep gap that separates his point-of-view, in line with the Lax Kw’alaams’, from the powerfully seductive one that drives the surrounding society.  He replied, in part:

“Our society is responsibility-based, so that means I’m responsible for taking care of the environment.  The outside society is rights-based – this is my land, so I have a right to do what I want with it…  So we’re always in this fight with Canada or the US – over here we’re talking about our responsibility to protect the environment, and over there you’re saying it’s your right to do what you want.  That’s not a good way to function, especially in relation to the environment.  You should be aiming really high to protect your environment.  Oh no, you say, that would cost too much, it can’t be done at present, et cetera.  Is it any wonder the world is going the way it is?”

For more on Henry Lickers’ life and work, see Bold Scientists, chapter 1, When the river roared.  Excerpt here.

Two more responsibility-based initiatives oppose yet another dangerous pipeline, Line 9.  It’s a 40-year-old pipeline that’s due to transport high volumes of corrosive tar sands bitumen and volatile fracked shale oil from Sarnia, Ontario to refineries in Québec.  Along the way, the pipeline crosses many First Nation territories, municipalities, and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people in the most densely populated region of Canada.

The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation have launched a landmark challenge to Line 9 at the Supreme Court of Canada.  It’s an initiative that could have enormous impact.  It’s also a costly proposition to take on wealthy corporations and governments.  Support is needed, and welcome here.

And Tar Free Toronto, a citizens’ group, has launched a petition to the Prime Minister of Canada, demanding a halt to Line 9.  https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-248

Further information on the campaign: Write to tarfreetoronto@riseup.net

Pass this message along.  Keep the sparks flying.

 

 

 

 


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A serious food fight: GMOs in 4 countries

Salvadorn farmers vs MonsantoSalvadoran farmers vs GMOs. Photo: mintpressnews.com.

The United States: On March 15, a bill was narrowly defeated in the US Senate that would have blocked any state or local government from regulating or even requiring labeling of food products containing GMOs (genetically modified – or manipulated, more to the point – organisms.)  The House of Representatives had already passed a version of this repressive bill last year.

What are these people afraid of?  Knowledge. The more the rest of us know, the better decisions we can make. Opponents of the bill dubbed it the DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know. The right to know is inherent in mandatory GMO labeling laws passed by Vermont and at least two other states so far. Vermont’s law survived a major corporate legal challenge last year and should come into force this July. Maine’s and Connecticut’s are expected to follow soon after.

Healthy food campaigners know from experience that the powerful corporations who co-wrote the DARK Act with their hirelings in Congress will keep trying. They need to keep us in the dark on GMOs, as on so many other crucial facts.

How far will they go? This far at least, as in their campaign to defeat a state-wide mandatory labeling referendum in Washington State: Opponents of GMO Labeling Broke Washington’s Campaign Finance Law. The real surprise is that they got caught.

Canada: 64 countries have instituted some form of mandatory GMO labeling. In Canada, we have none.  Over the past decade, several private members bills to that end have been defeated in Parliament.

A new citizens’ initiative, a petition to the Prime Minister, is currently circulating on Change.org: Label GMOs.

Initiated by Barbara Drury, a farmer in the Yukon, Label GMOs has already gathered over 30,000 signatures. You can add yours here.

Russia: Moving well beyond debates on labeling, the government of the Russian Federation is in the process of actually banning all GMO foods. Why and how this extraordinary initiative came to pass is a fascinating story, told here.

And the next step for Russia?  Become the world’s primary source of non-GMO food.  It follows rather organically, doesn’t it?

El Salvador: With less than half the area of Canada’s second smallest province (Nova Scotia), El Salvador is the most densely populated (currently about 6.4 million) country in Central America.  Its farmers, most of them working small parcels of land, face enormous obstacles just to survive, let alone thrive.  And like farmers in most countries, they also have to contend with relentless pressure from the agents of corporate agriculture to cede control of their seeds, methods, independence, and livelihoods.

Even so, against overwhelming odds Salvadoran farmers continue to defy not only one of the most powerful and aggressive corporate entities on the planet, but also an even larger and more insidious threat, the web of international trade agreements that are being spun over our heads and behind our backs. To these corporate-dictated, made-in-USA entanglements, we are endlessly told, resistance is futile.

Apparently not.

If the Salvadorans can do it, can we not?

 


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“The cradle of conservation”

Everywhere on this earth we have plundered, blasted, torn, drilled, stripped and otherwise devastated “beautiful, quiet, complicated” landscapes that sustained us for millennia. Add destruction of the other two life support systems, water and air, and we dig our own graves.

North Dakota shale landscapeNorth Dakota oil drill pads. Photo: National Parks Conservation Association

One such fragile landscape is the badlands region of North Dakota. Unfortunately it’s also the centre of the decade-long Bakken shale oil boom.  In The cradle of conservation, a touching – literally, touching – account in Earth Island Journal, conservation writer Taylor Brorby revisits the state where he grew up, and wonders what might still be recovered here after the boom has died.

As in the northern Alberta tar sands, enormous profits have been extracted here, and incalculable harm done.  Now oil prices have plummeted, but still, with lavish government subsidies the plunder goes on.  So does resistance on the ground.  One way or another, eventually the plunder – or the oil – must come to an end.  And as in any disaster, those who remain will recover what they can.

For further insight into the nature, value and recovery of living landscapes, check out Bold Scientists, here.  Scroll down to chapter 3, A dialogue with the world.


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“The Robin Hood of science”

In the ever-deepening shadow of the national surveillance state, a bright gem of a story.

Alexandra Elbakyan’s ingenious online resource Sci-Hub has broken the corporate stranglehold on worldwide access to science research.

Sci-Hub

Science writer Simon Oxenham reveals why and how this brilliant young neurotechnology researcher in Kazakhstan did it. Details here, on Big Think.

It’s an inspiring account of knowledge gathered, privatized – imprisoned, really, to exploit for profit – and now, thanks to Alexandra Elbakyan, set free.

A fragment: “Only days after the [New York District] court injunction blocked Sci-Hub’s old domain, Sci-Hub was back online at a new domain accessible worldwide. Since then, the website has been upgraded from a barebones site that existed entirely in Russian to a polished English version proudly boasting a library of 48 million [research] papers, complete with a manifesto in opposition to copyright law. The bird is out of its cage.”

In part 2, here, Simon Oxenham pays tribute to pioneering internet creator and activist Aaron Swartz, who was ultimately hounded to death in 2013 by the US government.

Fortunately, at least for now, Alexandra Elbakyan and Sci-Hub remain beyond its imperial reach.

To encounter other scientists who defy the status quo, check out Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science. Read excerpts here.


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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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The leap manifesto

In this dark age of dead ends, here is a bold, urgent initiative.

Leap manifesto

The leap manifesto offers real grounds for real hope.  Not the fast-food Hope marketed by cynical politicians, but the real thing, deeply transformative, built by all of us with open eyes, compassion, imagination, and yes, hard work.

Please leap in.  And pass it on.