Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Water in Canada:A Resource in Crisis by Hanneke Brooymans

This 2011 book published by Canadian Currents is written with that same sort of Alberta-grown call-to-action tone backed up by solid data that made Alberta journalist Andrew Nikiforuk reknown for his exposure of the oil sands industry. Water in Canada begins with a foreword by Dr. David Schindler, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta and an expert in water-related issues.As Schindler remarks in the forward, Canadians are surrounded by freshwater, making it easy for us to take freshwater for granted. However, this view is "at variance with what freshwater experts deal with and read about every day.” Describing his own experience, Schindler quotes, "it is like the view from the locomotive 10 seconds before the train wreck."As Schindler promises, Brooymans compiles all the expert data, (and insider facts) and writes the story of Water in Canada as an excellent read. She is a real life Edmonton Journal writer with that Albertan drive to speak the truth, and the book is a summary of years of research by herself and others committed to studying detailed measurements now exposed to the public eye. In her challenging introduction she muses, how would humans "handle environmental issues if they lived to be 200 years old? How cavalier would people be about their tinkering with the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration, for example, if they knew they were the guinea pigs?" It is an interesting philosophical approach, and it sets the tone for an examination of ways we have allowed industry to destroy the nature to the enrichment of a few and the detriment of many, based on a shared cultural assumption of infinite water resources. Brooyman remarks, “ Canadians are not water rich- we only think we are." She adds, “can we snap out of our collective delusion in time? Maybe. But that would require a significant boost in the country's collective water literacy, which is currently as shallow and murky as a mud puddle." Expect plenty of water-related expressions in the book, the book is rife with them, but then tend to be placed at just the right moment, and so work to give punch to the writing rather than to detract. The book, written like all good journalism, delivers regarding water politics, economic issues, sustainability and other concerns. Brooyman also ventures from the philosophical to the psychological, describing a mental condition called “environmental generational amnesia” as a driving concern of hers throughout the book."Yes, humans are adaptable...but do we want our grandchildren drawing on shrunken, polluted streams and rivers and frolicking in filthy puddles that used to be crystal-clear lakes and thinking this is normal? It could easily happen. Peter Kahn, a human development psychologist, calls this environmental generational amnesia. With each generation the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation in its youth takes that degraded condition as the non-degraded condition-as the normal experience."In exploring the quantification and health of our water supply describes the mechanics of the hydrologic cycle in an intriguing way. It is hard to write science for lay-people, but Brooyman does an exceptional job. Lake volume data in Canada is not generally available, as "while volume is measured for larger lakes (80 to be exact), the 2 million smaller lakes are relatively shallow." Brooyman explains that there are “645 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres, and Statistics Canada estimates they hold 17, 398 cubic kilometres of water. River length and outflow is also measured, as well as maximum discharge. Water assets based on a region depend on many factors, including precipitation and other features.” Brooyman also explains mapping groundwater (I wondered how they did that) and uneven distribution, which is fascinating, adding something I mused upon, Ontario has the most people and the least lakes.Each chapter in the book is well-sequenced, moving quickly to a study of the business of bottled water. Part Two, (the book is divided in three parts) water governance, including fair-handed information on governance of the Great Lakes and other international waters. The final part of the book, Part Three, is called “ the future of water” and includes a chapter on changing attitudes, another on changing climate, and a discussion of future care-taking, clean up and research. Finally, she includes an examination of the potential for business to exploit opportunities in ensuring clean-water technologies meet their mark. Or market. A tight, optimistic conclusion includes inspirational words from Maude Barlow and the extensive bibliography and index. Highly useful, a recommended read.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Climate Capitalism

Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen
Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change

Very well-written and represents a peek into the strategy of some major power interests dedicated to rescuing our little blue ball. It's also a bit of a user-friendly wake-up book, and I liked it. “People raised on images of limitless possibilities, muscle cars, Western superiority in world markets, and a rising standard of living watched in shock as General Motors, the iconic American business, melted in bankruptcy in 2008. For many the magnitude of that collapse has yet to sink in. Nor has the recognition that Toyota became the world's largest car company-riding to prominence on the success of fuel-efficient vehicles that seem an affront to everything that made America great. GM's emergence from bankruptcy is similarly based on a small electric hybrid.” 
The book does amply demonstrates how intelligent use of market mechanisms can solve the climate crisis not at a cost but as an investment, delivering enhanced profitability and a stronger economy as well as a better future for the planet. While “the best and fastest way to protect the climate is to reduce the unnecessary use of fossil energy. It is also the fastest way to an immediate return investment.Cutting waste saves money, whether you are a business leader or a head of a household.”
Citing unemployment, (25 % in Detroit,) and citing Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth as a must-read, the books describes climate change as a “ a moral issue,” and asserts that solving climate change is “THE WAY OUT of the economic crisis.” It also asserts that disasters are “not only a humanitarian disaster but a business risk.” The author then outlines the inside story of capitalism's response to climate change, in what turns out to be, regardless of your degree of reverence for market forces, a very entertaining series of case studies. 
The book also introduces the not-a-commonly-use-household word “The Investor Network on Climate Risk,” a consortium of sorts which comprises over 80 institutional investors collectively managing more than 480 trillion in assets and launched in 2003. This group  introduced a 10 point plan for leading financial investors to address climate risk and seize investment opportunity. But wait, before you think it's exclusively disaster capitalism, the key point became disclosure, as well as laws requiring a company to disclose any environmental liabilities that could affect an investor's  “view” of an organization. Sounds so stuffy and papery, but not really when we are talking about the influence of trillions of dollars. Since 2002, the UK's Carbon Disclosure Project has surveyed the 500 biggest companies in the world. Instead of the CDP being an annoying gadfly, the results were embraced by some pretty big players as extremely useful stuff. By 2006, 60 percent of the companies surveyed had actively replied, realizing the value in making public commitments to support limits on greenhouse gases, other emissions and to disclose climate risk information to investors. The CPD now represents over $64 Trillion in assets, almost a third of all global institutional investor assets. Just to give you a sneak view into some of her generously sprinkled case studies, the author describes the odyssey of Walmart, their commitment of 417 million in new lighting systems. In 2005 Walmart pledged to be supplied by 100 renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain resources and the environment. Ambitious but doable, and it paid off. In 2008, while the rest of the stock market was experiencing a crash, Walmart's stocks rose. As well, Walmart called a meeting that year in China of its 1000 largest suppliers, Chinese government representatives and the CDP among other attendees with the intention of aggressively building a more environmentally and socially responsible supply chain. Walmart began phasing in the plan by 2009 and expanding to suppliers around the world by 2011. Companies that met the criteria most stringently would be chosen as sources for products and materials, the others Walmart rejected for the big blue trash bin of corporate failure.
Another case example which I liked in the book is in Florida, where the Florida Governor wanted to implement aggressive efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, and was willing make great expenses to do it. Instead Florida found doing so would add $28 billion by 2025 and is enjoying the boom. Thanks to such examples, it is now well-established that protecting the environment creates, rather than costs jobs.  “The United States is losing global leadership by lagging in the new green gold rush.”
There are other fascinating examples, especially in her The World Without Oil chapter, and if you read it, you will these include Richard Branson of Virgin Air's progress with biofuels and airline emission reductions, which Monbriot sees an one of the most major polluters left to tackle. There is also discussions of the use of algae to create biofuel, and much more!  Hunter Lovins in her ever-present black cowboy hat is the President and Founder of Natural Capital Solutions, Professor of Sustainable Management at BARD, and celebrated co-creator of the “Natural Capitalism” concept, as well as being a sought speaker and mentor named Millennium TIME Magazine Hero of the Planet. Her co-author, Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., is a climate strategist focused on urban environments, and a sustainable development leader.

A highly indexed book, extensively footnoted, I quite enjoyed it. Recommended read.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saris on Scooters: How Microcredit is Changing Village India by Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos

Read this book! The women described within these pages demonstrate an extraordinary courage and determination to not only survive, but to thrive. One of the ways they shift oppression into small industry supporting struggling communities is through the action of microcredit, a concept made famous by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus. Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos, who has won the GG literary award and is a former journalism professor, based on trips between 2001 and 2008, spent 21 months in India meeting the grassroots women who put their communities on the map with their brilliant use of the microcredit system. She dedicates the book to the Dalits who showed her such trailblazing courage. The book is organized into 26 chapters, each with several charming photos telling the story of women facing extraordinary adversity. Opening with the story of a young woman who drove the bootlegger out of her rural community, (where moneylenders were charging as much as 120% on interest) she and her collegues established self-help groups to escape loan-sharking, enslavement and dowry deaths, and accessing life-changing microcredit for their projects. Enslavement, generally to the high-pesticide cotton crop-picking industry, is extremely common for girls, as child labour is poorly protected, (according to the 2001 census, there were 65 million child slaves across India). Rural women activists fought back with a cotton seed collective, forming a federation of 35 villages and determining there were at least 800 girls enslaved in their region, many of them sick from pesticide-related illnesses. The group is slowly making headway, producing profitable pesticide-free cotton and prohibiting child labour on their crops. The book continues with stories of literacy campaigns, including education for girls forced to drop out in order to work in cotton. In each case, they directly challenge tradition and unite to make a better future for themselves in the process. In chapter 10, McLeod Arnopoulos visits the Navdanya farm, and interviews the women in 2004 who are maintaining the seedbank that grew into the familiar name and made Navdanya the world-famous story of inspiration it is today. Also of note in the book are the various examples of Muslim and Hindu women working side-by-side, during an era of deadly conflict and strife. The author comments that the streets of Amedebad reminded her of the October crisis, with tanks in the streets because of sectarian violence. Despite his, she locates SEWA, the Self-employed Women's Association, who had organized themselves into cooperatives and unions, and then started their own bank after existing banks refused to help them. Through the bank, which allowed the members to pay off debts and take out loans under very reasonable conditions, the women also accessed accident and health insurance coverage for their members. The membership was a mix of Muslim, Hindu and other groups, and offered literacy programs and leadership programs. Arnopoulos writes, “consisting of a blend of gutsy young college-educated women organizers along with steadfast grassroots women leaders from slums and villages, SEWA was responsible for the formation of a range of unions covering incense stick-rollers, street vendors, home garment workers, headlong workers, construction workers, paper-pickers, bidi-rollers, and more. In addition, over 85 autonomous cooperatives had been created for several occupational groups.” By reading of these success stories, we can imagine the hope microcredit offers for women in Canada, where many ghettos exist, such as those experienced by women who may have trained for a speciality such as nontraditional trades but have no support, no possible way to transport their equipment to work, no way to demonstrate their skills to their market and are overlooked for jobs younger applicants consistently fill. The microloan system gives hope to those who have lived below the poverty line their entire lives in so-called developing and first world nations alike. Microcredit and the spirit behind microcredit systems suggests a world where the poor may use their own volition to better themselves, something that is surely a human right. To use our own strengths to build a future based on our own basic skills, driven by our own healthy human ambition and industriousness is a right we find frequently an issue even in Canada, while in places such as India where microcredit is used brilliantly by the women in this book, a future hope in this life-and-death struggle is made a little more fathomable to millions.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Generation Green: The Ultimate Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life

Generation Green: The Ultimate Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life

Linda Sivertsen and Tosh Sivertsen
Published by Simon Pulse, (NY, London, Sydney, Toronto), an imprint of Simon and Schuster, 2008

This nine chapter book is for the youth market and an excellent gift for your teen. Sporting a super-nice cover, it features an attractive beige and green paper-bag look and the responsible tone of friendly leafy green imagery. The table of contents uses a green design message and navigation is easy.

The intro is a (semi-hilarious) address from Tosh to teenagers everywhere. “A lot of people think teens are too self-involved to care about global issues. Sure, if your dad and mom are fighting or your ex-best friend is going out with your ex or your family cat has to be put to sleep or you flunked your last math test, okay, your going to worry more about that stuff than about a melting glacier thousands of miles away. A least for that day or week or month. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care. I’m convinced we do. We’re just not sure what to do next.” Tosh is addressing the "Green Generation," the youth who face global warming and climate change as they approach adulthood, questioning authority and wondering what to do next. It also immediately addresses a fairly unspoken issue: this is a generation that needs to feel empowered, not cynical and depressed!

“We’ll introduce you to teens and several celebrity friends who are doing some really great things for the environment, as well as people we just find inspiring. We’ll share our favourite tips for greener living, ideas that can change your family, your town, or even a law or two.” I like that, change a law or two! Smells like teen spirit!

Back cover: We all know about the earth’s environmental crisis, but there is someone who can truly make a difference: you.”

Linda and son, Tosh are on the back cover also. They both look great, and have a speaking circuit. Tosh seems to really have a knack at speaking to youth, while Linda seems to be excellent at organizing ideas and selecting useful, relevant, teen-inspiring information.

Chapter One, titled, “Green Machine” is direct. “Maybe your thinking, Hey that’s okay. I like warmer weather, so what’s the problem? Those higher temperatures are causing animal and plant extinctions; failed crops; lower water tables; drying wells; creeks, and rivers; disappearing lakes; a decrease in snowpack and glaciers worldwide; and longer, scarier fire seasons...Is it too late to fix it?” This is helpful, because teen rebellion inclines young people to either fully grasp the issues and then struggle with their role in working to fix it, or to become insensitive climate change deniers just for the temporary thrill of pissing off adults who care. Tosh clarifies this with direct talk, and makes the book an enjoyable read along the way. Tosh is really fond of the ocean, and seems well on his way to creating a whole generation of strong and enviro-educated surfer dudes with marine health at the fore.

“What few people realize is that the oxygen we breathe comes more from the ocean than from the world’s forests-as much as 70 to 80 percent! (Most of it comes from the atmosphere or is produced by phytoplankton.) There’s no way to underscore the importance of cleaning up our oceans and helping fish populations rebound.” Thanks, Tosh! I'm glad you said that. The oceans are so under-regulated it's mind-bending. And your generation is the one to push for the difference we need, to tip the scales in favour of realistic international laws and policy-making that protects our planet.

The book just gets sweeter. Chapter 2 is called Eating Green and it really clears up a lot of questions young people have about food choices, where to find healthy food, and why it's so important to use consumer power to move away from meat-centered factory farming. In a green border, there are a lot of Did You Know's: “Automobile emission is one of the biggest contributor to global warming, with an estimated 850 million vehicles on the road.” Each chapter has plenty of sweet pull quotes, and large print dash bordered remarks such as; “Did you know that shoes can be vegan?” followed by reference and an encouragement to “Google it!” Chapter 6, Green Wheels, explains some of the transport options now, and gives a good overview of where the future is heading. Chapter 7 is called Greener Schools and Careers, and that's exactly what it covers. Because it's written by Linda and Tosh, you don't feel like you are sitting in lecture hall or listening to a career advisor in a stuffy office, you feel like your future is within your control. Very important touch for youth in an era of climate change, because this tackles issues involving power, money and their impact on the world in a way they can actually relate to. Chapter 8 is called Step Up and Speak Out. I loved Chapter 8, because it carries on with the power theme by involving them in their community as a necessary element to their own social identity. It also includes an interview with Julia Butterfly. Chapter 9, A Day in a Green Life, “is your head exploding yet?” follows some of Tosh's favourite day-to-day activities in a way that shows it not only being done, but being fun. The book's acknowledgements include a thank you to Mother Earth, kind of an unusual touch and very sweet. Anyone considering getting this book for a young person will also be pleased to find that the resources page in the back include 27 websites listed under “Some of our Favourite Green Sites” and another listing called, “A Few of the Green Magazines We Love Reading,” which is kinda mainstream, but really solid. The list includes E/The Environmental Magazine, Kiwi, Mother Jones, National Geographic, onearth, Plenty, Sierra, Waterkeeper. The back pages also supply recommended earth-loving green charities, organizations, and potential employment/volunteership resources for the ambitious teenager at home. These 21 listings including Earth Action Network, Earth Island Institute, Environmental Defense, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Waterkeeper Alliance among others.

They also have a section called Some of Our Favorite Green Books (for further study) which include: Eating in the Raw, Feeling Healthier, and Looking Younger the Raw Food Way.

The complete list involves 14 selections, but among them is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Lester Brown’s Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, and Julia Hill Butterfly's, One Makes The Difference. Ad on the back to join the Sierra student coalition. Great book, really densely packed and bursting with energy at the same time. With a green greener, greenest rating at each step, “better safe than sorry!” and loaded with questions people ask, if you are looking for some guidance and some excellent answers, or know a youth who is, grab this book and do what Tosh Sivertsen tells you to. You'll be glad you did.