Saturday, 19 September 2015

At The Cutting Edge

Environmental Book Review
Elizabeth May
At the Cutting Edge, Key Porter, 2005

Timeless and exacting, At the Cutting Edge is a fascinating investigation of Canadian forestry politics through the eyes of an exceptional Canadian parliamentarian and environmental leader. Farley Mowat comments in the introduction, “the forestry industry will hate this book. But it cannot pretend it is based on false premises...This book is thoroughly grounded on a mountain of government-generated -as well independent data- that inexorably demonstrates that, beyond all rhetoric, the forestry industry is committing an atrocity against this living earth.” Early in the book, May introduces a few very key ideas. Canada’s forests are a public resource. “Only 7 percent of Canada's forest is privately held, compared to roughly 70 percent in the United States and Sweden.” She explains, “the vast majority of Canadian forest is owned by the Crown. For the non-Canadian reader, this may sound perfectly delightful: visions of Her Majesty taking tea in the midst of the boreal come to mind. The term Crown land simply means that the land is owned by the people of Canada, with jurisdictions over forests vested in provinces. Thus, Canadians can exert a special interest, even a proprietary interest, over the management of their forests. The irony is that there has been virtually no public oversight of forest policy.” Written with May's good-humoured style, such an idea becomes an engaging challenge. “When you hear an industry spokesman talking about the threat a park represents or read about the compensation that industry demands if forest is set aside for a park, it is easy to forget that industry, for the most part, does not own the land it logs.” The book relates a perfectly cringe-making history of bargain basement leases with forest companies, disastrously combined with a lack of “accurate inventory information” and regulation. May warns that the Federal government, rather than producing useful forest science research “acts as a propaganda arm of Canada’s forestry industry,” and explains that by reading some of their documents, “a reasonable person might well be convinced of a deep and abiding commitment to ecological values across Canada. But the reality in the forest is far different.” Statistically, the felling of pristine and ancient forests has steadily increased, and - brace yourself - “approximately 80 per cent of everything that is logged in Canada is clear-cut, while 90 per cent of the cut comes from primary or old-growth forests.” May introduces a few more key concepts such as the term “NSR” lands, “not sufficiently restocked” remarking that “Canada is converting forest ecosystems to fibre farms...while there is no track record of healthy second and third growth forests following...clear-cutting,” something she calls “a vast and reckless experiment.” While the creatures and other species which form the intricate life of a forest are losing their habitat, fewer Canadians are employed per tree cut. Recent trends in mechanization, which she refers to as “disturbingly reminiscent of the cod fishery,” featuring machines capable of cutting down forests with the navigation of a single operator, are something May says is comparable to massive draggers which invisibly decimate the ocean floor. Not to ignore large projects such as the Tar Sands, May explains that industries such as oil and gas, are currently “destroying boreal forest with no thought of replanting or restoration.”
A forest a “rich myriad of species and their interrelationships...We can have a landscape of trees, but lose complexity of the original forest.” In her chapter “Myths and Propaganda,” May digs in, illuminating the reader in her energetic style about the number and variety of bullshit claims made by the forestry industry. An example of these offensive proposals include the myth that “clear-cutting increases biodiversity” when in fact, while demolished areas after a clear cut may proliferate with wild species in great numbers, the species have nothing to do with the original forest.” Because the new “biodiversity will not “serve to protect water systems, prevent landslide, mineral exposure, soil erosion and sediment run off into rivers and streams,” it is absurd for the forestry industry to claim clear-cutting has any positive spin-off. Such regrowth does not “protect the complex subterranean mycorrhizal fungi and the corresponding vast networks of this and other soil bacteria which provide a web of life to the forest.” In reality, erosion follows a clear-cut. Fire doesn't do this, but industry clear cutting, the impact of large equipment, and the invasion of roads making it no longer wilderness, does.
May, fond of the ideas of environmentalist Paul Hawkins, cites his words in the book, Ecology of Commerce. “CEO's of large corporations do not awaken each bright new day and ponder gleefully how they can rape and pillage the planet. Nor are they particularly venal and amoral. In fact, on an individual basis, many forest-industry executives share the concerns of expressed in this book. Why, then, does the environment suffer while jobs disappear? As Paul Hawkins brilliant insight has it, what we have here is a 'design problem.'” May makes it obvious in the rest of the book that the “design problem” involves a failure to protect and monitor the felling of our forests and an absence of appropriate legislation and enforced controls in a situation that clearly begs for it.
In her chapter titled “Voodoo Forestry” May sheds light on ridiculous and corrupt methods designed to work tricks with the annual Allowable Cut, or AAC. One of these is to reduce harvest age to allow more logging now. “Through this device, over-cutting is accelerated: a Douglas fir, for example, which can live 750 years, is declared ready for logging at sixty to eighty years old.” Like many of us, May is concerned about pollution and the role forests play in processing CO2. In her chapter “The Lungs of the Planet,” she reminds us that “the planet's boreal region is estimated to hold 65 million tons of carbon in its trunks, branches and leaves, and a further 270 billion tons in its soil and decaying matter. Every single year, the boreal region absorbs roughly 0.4 to 0.6 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. “ Present environmentally stressors on trees cause enormous impact, including UV-B exposure in Canada’s boreal, with biomass loss ranging from 25 percent for jack pine to 50 percent biomass loss for white and black spruce.” Climate changes, fire, and “Climate modelling by the federal government's forest service and Enviro-Canada has attempted to predict the impact on Canadian forests of the anticipated atmospheric doubling of carbon dioxide. The results are sobering. The climatic zone appropriate for boreal forests would be reduced to areas of Northern Quebec and Labrador, with a small section of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.” May also reminds us that extreme weather has played a role in damaging millions of trees, as have increased fires and assault by insects such as the mountain pine beetle, susceptible only to severe cold and hopefully intervention by pheremone-based science. May offers here a very concise analysis of carbon sequestration, establishing that any forestry claim suggesting that plantations can accelerate carbon absorption are bad science, as young forest will not have anything remotely close to the biomass approaching “old-growth storage capacity for at least 200 years.” She also discusses corruption involved in greenhouse gas “carbon credit” trading, and the offensive first world scams behind Kyoto's Clean Air Development mechanism.
May dedicates the next few chapters to a history of efforts to curb the release of organochlorides by pulp mills, and resistance by the industry. A history of the softwood lumber debate follows, as well as an interesting description of the battle to achieve valid certification for sustainable forestry practices.
While the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) came under fire as not knowing what they were certifying, and alienated “most of the environmental and aboriginal communities...the CSA process created considerable public debate about Eco-labelling” a new stamp of approval came into being, The Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC approach was started by the World Wildlife Fund in 1993. FSC standards are specific: “Logging operations must leave 10 to 50 per cent of the forest in conditions similar to those following a natural disturbance. Plans must be in place to maintain or restore large areas of wildlife habitat. Special management provisions within 65 metres of all permanent bodies of water, and applicants must take steps to reduce their use of chemical pesticides. If Aboriginal community is affected, companies must reach agreement with the community; that agreement must include the acceptance of the management plan, opportunities for the community to participate in long-term benefits, assessment of Native rights and traditional land use, measures to protect Native values, and a dispute resolution mechanism. No other certificate comes close to matching these rigorous standards.” The FSC process has taken off in Canada, however, Canadians should be cautious about a trend in which confidence in industry self-regulation justifies reduction of forest service staff, a dangerous budget-cutting choice to decrease provincial government deficits. The book continues with a description of other pressures on forests, including poor land-use planning, population pressures, and loss of important forest biodiversity through urban sprawl.“Urban sprawl has cleared remnant old-growth Acadian forest near Halifax, and Carolinian old-growth near London, Ontario. These small forests near urban areas need to be vigorously protected.” May also reminds us that “far north of agricultural and urban Canada are huge flooded reservoirs where once there were forests. Thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest have been drowned as a result of hydroelectric development in northern Quebec, Labrador, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario.” May also lays waste to the notion that Hydoelectricity is “clean” energy. “While hydroelectric developers attempt to promote electricity from the damming of wild rivers as environmentally acceptable, the reality is far different. Hydroelectricity can not truly be described as 'renewable.' Neither is it carbon neutral, the drowning of forests and other organic material has a significant impact on carbon, releasing vast amounts of methane. The environmental impact, besides loss of habitat, include the creation of methyl mercury and its uptake into the aquatic life of the reservoir. The Cree of Northern Quebec experienced mercury contamination as fish, a traditional part of their diet and culture, were poisoned by this 'clean' source of energy. The manipulation of water flow impacts entire water systems, changing hydrology with impacts on wetlands and habitats along the stream and river edges. These areas are among the most productive for a wide range of species.” the book also discusses mining. “There are over seven thousand abandoned mines in the boreal region, with sixty-nine operating mines and fifty-three that have recently closed. The legacy of poor past practices remains an environmental threat throughout the boreal region...Every year, 650 million tons of solid waste are generated by mining, of which at least one-fifth is assumed to be toxic. The abandoned mines pose a range of serious environmental risks, from pooled arsenic to acid mine drainage, cyanide and despoiled landscapes.” Consistent with the work of writers such as Tar Sands journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, May remarks, “the largest of the non-logging threats to Canada' forests is clearly that posed by petroleum development...From the devastated moonscapes of the Athabasca Tar Sands to the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, the largest ecological footprint hovering over Canada’s boreal is the giant boot of the fossil fuel industry.”
The second part of the book is a cooling green forest one has been traveling toward. However, upon arrival, readers of May's work find they are newly-imbued with enormous concern for the forest, what May terms “engagement” with the issues, based upon the crash course offered in the first half. Part two, “Once a land of trees” opens with a chapter titled, “The Lost Forests,” and is an extremely well-composed description of forests in Canada. Opening with The Carolinian, which spans just 550 kilometres in Southern Ontario, May explains that, although tiny, this forest hold more tree species than any other forest in Canada, specifically, “seventy different species of native trees, over two thousand types of plants, four hundred bird species, and nearly fifty different species of reptiles and amphibians.” May describes the The Acadian. “Unlike the Carolinian, the ecosystem known as the Acadian is found only in Canada” with a “species assemblage that is unique in the world.” Says May, “it was a forest of massive hardwoods: Oaks, Maple, Birch, Beech, Butternut and Walnut. Conifers were also present, including the magnificent Hemlock, Pine and Spruce. Wildlife from lynx to caribou were indigenous in these forests. The caribou has been displaced by moose and deer; the lynx are rarely sighted and are listed as endangered. Fortunately, the raptors do well, with bald eagles abundant, scanning the river valleys and ocean waves for fish. Great blue herons stand stoically at the water's edge with Zen like patience. Herons are also forest-dwellers, nesting in treetop rookeries. Pine martins, river otter and other small mammals live in these forests, as do black bears, red foxes and snowshoe hares. Rare plants can be found below the branches, such as orchids, as well as witch hazel and staghorn sumac.” Because of logging and sprawl, “many of the hardwood species have been virtually eliminated and the softwoods, balsam, fir and spruce-now predominate.” Only approximately 5% of the Acadian is left. Fortunately, the Acadian is a major conservation priority. From here May details with equal beauty the ancient temperate rainforests, “once an abundant ecosystem, it has been reduced (globally) to less than half its range...While British Columbia has a full 205 of all the world's surviving temperate rainforests within its borders,” May cautions that, “more than half the original coastal rainforest has already been clear-cut.” The rest of the chapter is fabulously dedicated to other forests, The Montane, The Columbia, The Subalpine, The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest and the Boreal. May then shifts her attention to describing the forest situation from the basis of provincial legislation, beginning with the Atlantic Provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, and moving on to a chapter describing conservation challenges in Quebec. This chapter is followed by Ontario, The Prairies, British Columbia and The Territories. Her final two chapters, “Signs of hope,” and “Where do we go from here?” are uplifting and feel a little bit like tips for reorganizing activist priorities after a long camping trip in one of Canada's national parks. Over 50 pages of notes follow, as May is never one to disregard science, and a helpful index of 15 pages round out this brilliant read. Highly recommended, indispensable and enobling reading for any Canadian wishing to grasp the urgent issues facing our nation.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times

Environmental Book Review 
The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times
Albert Bates
New Society Publishers

Hilarious and grim at once, Bates indy-survivalist classic, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, is a 236 page collection of cosmic life-road instructions, including an extensive index and links to many mysterious alternative resources. Mr. Bates, a smiling American gent with an austere grey beard who terms peak oil depletion a “crude awakening,” closes each chapter with a recipe. Not merely asides, each of Bates’s recipes are accompanied by a difficulty rating, and Roasted Chestnuts are generously followed by Quintana Chiltomate Salsa and Fresh Tortilla Chips only one page later. So Bates loves to cook, but more than this, he ardently wants to provide you with a user-friendly guide book to rescuing both your planet and your life. Bates has divided the book itself into steps and stages. Early on in this volume, Bates hashes out ethical constraints around money and usury in major religions (including Islam), discusses non-inflationary money such as barter systems, and features at close an exquisite Mushroom Quesadilla recipe with an RDA index. It is only the first few pages of this adept and densely-packed classic, written by Albert Bates, “codirector of the Global Village institute for Appropriate Technology since 1984 and the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee since 1994, where he has taught sustainable design, natural building, permaculture and restoration ecology to students from more than 50 nations.” Followed by a chapter on water dependency, including how to assess one’s “water-readiness,” Bates then offers a chapter on creating one's own energy. Discussing power outages and solar heating, Bates profiles the modular Solar Village design of J├╝rgen Kleinwachter (apparently developed for widespread use in Africa) which heats by transporting hot oil through piping to a Stirling engine where it makes electricity. Bates expounds on wood, fireplaces, grills and how to make a cob oven. Solar water heating and wind turbines are included, as well as how to estimate horsepower, hydro photovoltaic and biomass potential, making the chapter indispensable to the right reader. As each chapter sports a recipe, let’s fast forward to a zinger: the ingenious “Cleopatra,” a salad which includes bite-sized romaine and almond dressing! In fact, in Step 5, “Grow Your Own Food,” the pleasures of gardening, the reality of urban agriculture, and the fabulousness of organic food include a number of salad ideas too tasty and fantastic to be missed. This chapter also includes details on extending the season through greenhouses, making soil, (the product of decay) through composting, and an insert “What Non-vegetarians need to Know About Soy Foods.” Vermiculture and mulching, food animals, sprouting and growing mushrooms are all included. Step 6: (How to Begin Storing Food) reminds us we are truly on a trip into the mind of a guy who lives in a Tennessee enclave where Survivalism is at the top of menu for discussion on Saturday night. Pressure canners, making jams and jellies, food drying, “crazing” fruit, solar-electric refrigeration, and planning food to store are all detailed Recipe? Let me guess. Jam, but quality Tennessee jam, rest assured. And so, as we suspected, we arrive at the Step discussing “Fallout Shelters” and, from the rolling green hills of the rifle-toting American wilderness, Bates calls for us to “Be Prepared!” It may actually good for Bates to get this Big Daddy business out of the way at this part of the book. Crash Proofing, (write down every appliance and fixture in your home that is dependent on fossil fuel energy) preparing for anything, being fit, encouraging your neighbours to be prepared, providing support if there is a crisis, anxieties, speaking to children about all of this, (I think he may want to speak to a psychiatrist about all of this) and so on. Finally, just when we thought, even if there was excellent jam, we would do anything not to be trapped in a fallout shelter with Bates, comes “Retooling.” Here we explore the impracticality of the automobile in its current form. A lovely, relaxing chapter describing the need for new conceptual vehicles and commercial vehicles, air travel industry “dinosaurs,” refueling systems and alternative fuels. Sadly, Bates’ presentation as future-thinking takes a dive evocative of Bush’s floundered energy policy while he wastes time discussing the merits of ethanol and several other Biofuels, which, by the time of publication, have been entirely debunked for their negative net (they create more CO2 in production than they ever displace). Other fuels such as Biogas, which Vanadana Shiva considers respect-worthy, are also detailed, while Biodiesel is offered perhaps a naiive degree of praise. DME (Dimethyl Ether) initiatives in China (although it takes 3 litres of water to produce one litre of DME) are also given more credit than they potentially deserve. Arriving at the more promising choice, Hydrogen, (H2) “four times bulkier than kerosene, but 2.8 times lighter” we find Bates, similar to an earlier make-your-own Biofuel moonshine rap, actually discussing homemade hydrogen units “a small reformer in the car’s luggage compartment, (made from a used propane tank or beer keg with electrodes bubbling water) generating enough H2 pressure in the tank to force a steady stream of hydrogen gas into the carburetor or fuel injectors, thereby increasing the combustion and decreasing the amount of gasoline burned by 15 to 30 per cent.” Commercial version available, but trust that this guy would know someone with a beer keg version. After a few chapters of discussion regarding lifestyle changes and commuting options, including, “get a horse” we arrive at “Imagine Sustainability.” Here again, Bates is back in grim mode, remarking in a cold way that sustainability is nothing, because everything falls apart, and so what we really need is “a more or less steady-state economy in which we destroy nothing, reuse and recycle, and try to keep the natural world, which provides our every need, healthy and robust…to sustain our puny existences for their natural span…” The rest of the chapter becomes Macho as Bates presents the Four Horsemen of Bio, Robo, CO2, and Nuke. Here Bates lists the content of an average light bulb and compares it to the mining required for stocking such a product. Moving on to housing, he praises several constructions such as teepees for their resilience, “Mongolian yurts thwart Gobi dust storms using a Bernoulli Effect, channeling wind harmlessly around a cone of enclosed space.” The author also presents the Maya as exceptional survivors, having lived through major drought in the form of “two and perhaps three major climate changes.” Exploring his ideas in design for sustainability, and a list of elements for design, including those that sustain “values” of the society such as individual liberty and family ties, the author comments that “we want to sustain the regenerative ability of natural systems to provide life-supporting service that are rarely counted by economists…” Bates then explores population growth by comparing it to economic “growth” and citing a bacteria theory, a little over-simplified if you ask me, as he concludes his chapter with economists Kenneth Boulding’s 1971 Misery Theorem.” If the only thing that can check population growth is misery, then it will keep growing until misery makes it stop.” Bates hopes perhaps there is a more cheerful solution, but if that is so, why supply the most disturbing one? Macho. Chapter (Step 11) “Quit your Job” is precious, as are the chapters that follow it. An ode to the “Slow Movement” with headings such as “creative loafing,” “glossary of surf speak” and “dismantling useless things” for inspiration, Bates strongly advocates achieving a quality of existence on the basis of the idea that material wealth will never produce happiness, and that to increase happiness and comfort, we must scale back. Advocating ecological agriculture and the way that “permaculture undertakes the harmonious joining of humans in their agriculture” the chapter wraps up with a perceptably apologetic spicy orange pumpkin mousse. Step 12 “Utopia by Morning” is surely one of my favorite discussions in this book, because here Bates is happy again, revelling in something he not only knows well, but something he hinges his own macho hippy dude hope upon seeing thrive. Because more people now live within cities than outside them, the redesign of cities has become more urgent. Bates refers to New Urbanists as ”those in the city-building business who just won’t give up.” To our delight, Bates is a Jane Jacobs fan. “Jane Jacobs epitomized the old guard. The author of Death and Life of American Great cities, The Economics of Cities, Systems of Survival, and The Nature of Economies, she wrote in Dark Age Ahead an obituary for contemporary city streets: Not all roads are community killers like those that have become so common in North America and in countries influenced by North American highway planning. Some roads are famous for fostering community-life, as they bring people into casual, pleasant and frequent face-to-face contact with one another. Many an ordinary Main Street used to do these services, but Main Streets have proved easily transformable into bleak, standardized community killers...” A Jane-inspired Bates writes that, “versatile boulevards are little-known in North America, and those that do exist are seldom more than a ghost of what they could be.” Curious, for a guy who spends so much rural time on The Farm, but indeed an insight. “Elsewhere in the world, especially in places with Mediterranean cultures, boulevards are places to which people flock for a stroll when the day’s work is done, to see neighbours, get word of strangers, pick up other news, and enjoy a coffee or a beer and chat while they take in the passing scene, including sidewalk play of children. People in cities and neighbourhoods in much of the world understand their boulevard to be at the heart of their communities. A well-designed boulevard is always well provided with trees along its margins and medians, because a major concern of serous boulevard designers is to create environments welcoming to pedestrians.” Nice, and a fresh aspect to the author, who suddenly shines as a bit of a poet trapped into canning fruit. In his new metropolitan tone, Yet more captivating, Bates now turns to a discussion of “Ecocity.” “The Ecocity movement turns new urbanism up a notch. Ecocityists are dedicated to reshaping urban landscape…they want to return biodiversity- including fish, frogs and dragonflies-to the innermost hearts of cities by reopening paved-over creeks and wetlands, returning nature to back lots and planters, and giving nature a longer leash. Ecocity is about growing food in de-paved streets and producing electricity from solar alleys. It is about adding greenhouses to rooftops, terraces, and window boxes for heat and kitchen gardens. It is less about rerouting cars and trucks within cities, and more about eliminating them altogether.” So should Bates not take a break from The Farm and spend some time living in such places? It seems, in fact, that Bates does tour, and that he has developed a special admiration for activists in several. To Bates, China is a land “which will add another 2 billion people in the next 30 years – 18,265 additional people every per day, a small city twice a week, a city the size of Vancouver or Sydney twice each year. With the natural systems that nourished their ancient civilizations now threadbare and seriously imperiled, it is not hard to imagine why the Chinese are interested in Ecocities.” “If one thinks of an Ecocity as a collection of self-sustaining Ecovillages, Bates declares it possible that China can accomplish an Ecocity transition more easily than in the West. There follows a description of wonderful international communities and populist communes throughout history. Ecovillage: Bates has a fondness for the Ecovillage, having spent the past 35 years of his life living on The Farm, a proto-ecovillage in Tennessee. He spent the years from 1992 to 2004 travelling as an emissary for the Ecovillage movement to hundreds of experiments of six different continents. He saw many success stories and many failures. Remarkably, he feels that many Ecovillages fail simply because they don’t have enough members. “Sustainable community is not about dominance, it is about listening.” Bates then addresses developing consensus and solution-oriented behaviour, and how to honestly express yourself without blaming or criticizing, as well as how to clearly request what you need without demanding. Again he provides resource links on this topic. Afterword, the final chapter, Bates reminds us that we have had many stories and myths since antiquity regarding the Earth as our mother, our changing nurturer, our Goddess. He cites the myth of Khali as particularly appropriate for our times, “mad dancing, dishevelled hair, and eerie howl…The world is created and destroyed in Khali’s wild dancing; redemption comes only when we realize that we are invited to take part in her dance, to yield to the frenzied beat, to find her rhythm.” Bates comments, “Peak Oil may be a trigger for a global economic depression that lasts many decades. Or it may not…But if Peak Oil doesn’t wake us up to the precariousness of our condition…annihilating the evolutionary systems that sustain us…what will?” So, “let’s not squander this moment. This will be the Great Change.” Dessert is Candylion Frogurt.