Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Environmental’ Category

Big Oil and the Federal Government would have you believe that Canada’s greatest resource is bitumen. It’s not. Canada’s greatest, most spectacular, irreplaceable resource is fresh water. Life depends on water. And Canada is blessed with approximately 25 percent of the world’s wetlands. Wetlands are fabulous ecosystems, brimming with an amazing diversity of life. In fact, wetlands are as productive as rainforests and coral reefs. And wetlands filter and purify the water we all depend on.

But Canadians have not been good stewards. Seventy percent of Ontario’s wetlands have been drained. Sixty-five percent of Atlantic Canada’s coastal marshes are gone. Seventy-one percent of prairie wetlands have been lost. Eighty percent of the Fraser River delta has been developed. Canada is losing its most vital ecosystems.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada works to preserve some of Canada’s most threatened wetlands. You can read more about their work at the Campbell River Estuary, BC; the Minesing Wetlands, ON; Tabusintac Estuary, NB; and Musquash Estuary, NB by following this link to their website. On this, World Water Day, please consider making a donation to the Nature Conservancy of Canada at www.natureconservancy.ca. Help save Canada’s wetlands.

swamp5

Read Full Post »

snow

Hip Hip Hooray, it’s Turn-Around Day, otherwise known as Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. In Ottawa, the sun officially rose at 7:40 this morning and set at 4:22 this afternoon, for a total daylight period of 8 hours, 42 minutes and 50 seconds. Tomorrow will be longer by 2 whole seconds, 8 hours, 42 minutes and 52 seconds. I know, it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s great to know we’ve turned the corner and are no longer descending relentlessly into the gloom of December’s long and longer nights. We’re beginning the march to Spring.

snow3

Solstice officially marks the beginning of winter, but the season of snow and cold has already made its debut this month. We’ve has deep freezes dipping to – 28 degrees Celsius, a foot and more of snow, and today, freezing ice pellets added a solid crust to the layer of snow. Another winter storm blast is in the forecast for tomorrow. But hey! It’s Turn-Around Day! We’re on our way back to sun and warmth.

snow2

Read Full Post »

flower

I love this photograph of two pollinators visiting summer flowers. That’s a honeybee on the left, and a big, fat bumblebee on the right. I love to watch bees, all kinds of bees, and other pollinators enliven my garden. But you have probably heard that honey bees are severely threatened by a syndrome that has been named Colony Collapse Disorder. Although multiple causes may be implicated, the smoking gun points to one major culprit: neonicotinoid pesticides. And you can bet that it’s not just honeybees that are being affected. Other pollinators, birds and aquatic life are all at risk as well.

beecause

In Europe, precautionary bans of some neonicotinoids are being instituted.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association is supporting a call for a ban of neonicotinoids in Ontario. The banner, above, is from their website. You can sign their petition and read more information at ontariobee.com.

The Sierra Club of Canada is also supporting a ban. You can sign their petition and read more information at Sierraclub.ca.

bees3

The American Bird Conservancy have looked into the effect of neonicotinoids on birds.

ABC commissioned world-renowned environmental toxicologist Dr. Pierre Mineau to conduct the research. The 100-page report, “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds,” reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.

The beauty of bees and the desperate crisis that threatens them, and by extension, us, is documented in the award-winning video, The Vanishing of the Bees. I was able to borrow a copy from my local library and highly recommend it.

vanishing

Another source is David Suzuki’s Nature of Things special, To Bee or Not to Bee. If you missed this show, you can still watch it online. Time well-spent.

bees

In addition to becoming informed and supporting a ban on neonicotinoids, you can help by buying local organic honey. Did you know that a lot of commercial honey isn’t pure? It has been ultra-filtered to disguise ingredients:

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Food Safety News found that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores had been ultra-filtered.

Note: additional images here are copied from my facebook page where they arrived from unknown sources.

bees2

Read Full Post »

bee1

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’

I have many plants in my garden that are very popular with bees and other pollinators. Pictured above is a favorite, the perennial Lemon Queen Sunflower (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’), which blooms profusely in late summer.

I reserved one corner of the garden for a few plants that can be a bit unruly, but are beloved by pollinators. I call it Bee Corner. There are an assortment of monarda varieties. Monardas can be a bit rambling, and it is welcome to spread out at will here. There’s also some agastache ‘Black Adder’, which did very well this summer.

bee3

Bee Corner in September

New to the corner are wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) and hairy mountain mint (Pycnanthemum pilosum). They’re both North American natives that attract pollinators and have settled in well. Next year, they can take engage in a turf war with the monardas.

wild

Wild Quinine

All comers can feast without fear of poisoning. I never use pesticides of any kind on my plants. The plants are all strictly on their own, thrive or die, and mostly, they thrive.

Lately, Colony Collapse Disorder has been in the news, and the rise in the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and fungicides is suspected as a contributing cause. The jury is still out on the exact causes of honey bee die-offs and because of their economic importance, honey bees are getting a lot of attention. One thing is for certain though. It’s not just honey bees that are affected by rampant pesticide use.

bee5

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth at Monarda

As Bridget Stutchbury points out in Silence of the Songbirds, the banning of DDT didn’t end the threat of pesticides to species such as birds:

We are as hooked on pesticides today as we were in the 1960s, when, in her seminal book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson warned us of the rain of poison that was bringing death to our waters and killing thousands of birds…. In many ways, birds are in greater danger today than in the 1950s because modern pesticides are more lethal. Older OC pesticides (organochlorines, fat soluble pesticides that can be stored in the fatty tissues of animals) were replaced in the 1970s and 1980s by “safer” pesticides like organophosphates and carbamates. These pesticides are safer because they break down within a few days and are not stored in the body, and so do not accumulate in the food chain. But many, like monocrotophos, are vastly more toxic to birds (and people) than were the OC pesticides. Modern insecticides are designed to kill their target swiftly and then break down before “non-target” animals come into contact with the poison. This is easier said than done. Birds can be exposed to these insecticides via direct contact with sprayed plants, by eating insects and fruits in areas that have been recently sprayed, or by eating pesticides that are applied to the ground in the form of granules….We have traded persistence for toxicity.

mint

Hairy Mountain Mint

Many insecticides are lethal to birds because they are neurotoxins and interfere with the nerve impulses inside the bodies of animals. They disrupt the signal that must jump from neuron to neuron via chemical messengers, causing severe shaking, then paralysis and asphyxiation. Pesticides that are effective in killing insects are also very toxic to birds and other animals, including humans.

bee4

Agastache ‘Black Adder’

You can help reduce the use of agricultural pesticides by buying organic foods. You may feel that buying organic items such as bananas is not worthwhile because you peel the bananas anyway. But by buying organic bananas you support the reduction of the pesticide burden where the bananas were grown. You can also step more lightly on the land by buying other earth-friendly products such as shade-grown coffee. For more on threats to birds and ways you can make a difference, Silence of the Songbirds is a great read.

bee2

Bee Corner in August

Read Full Post »

Share the video. Sign the petition. Climatenamechange.org.

Read Full Post »

polluters

The Polluters: the Making of Our chemically Altered Environment by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter. Oxford University Press 2010.

The Polluters is a history of industrial pollution in America from the early days of industry in the 18th century to the changing times of the 1960s and 70s. On page 3 of the book, the authors write:

Wastes were a problem from the earliest days of chemical manufacturing. But the American chemical industry of the nineteenth century lagged far behind its European competitors, and the emissions from its factories drew little notice beyond their immediate surroundings. …As pollution worsened and new problems emerged in the course of the 1920s and 1930s, scientists and the public increasingly saw the need for control and demanded action.

Leaders of the industry recognized the need for cleanup, but they were allergic to government oversight. Chemical companies insisted on doing things themselves, at their own pace, with their own means, and they gathered their forces for the fight to keep the government out. An armament of methods was developed to fend off outside pressure. One of the industry’s common tactics can be summed up as “spill, study, and stall.” When outside pressure to do something about pollution became strong, a study of the problem would be launched as an alternative to expensive action. The study would be carried out by the polluters themselves or, if it was feared that a blatantly self-serving study would lack credibility, under their influence.

…When study could not be avoided, friendly researchers would offer a predetermined conclusion. They would cherry-pick data, design experiments to give a desired answer, or sometimes offer reassurances backed by nothing more than the sheer force of assertion. The exercise of political, financial, and public relations muscle would turn this into “authoritative science,” often in the face of criticism from scientists of much greater attainment.

That, in a few paragraphs, sums up the contents of the following 170 pages. The authors go on to examine various examples and follow the seesawing attempts of assorted individuals to bring industry to heal and curb the unfettered polluting of the nation’s air, water and groundwater resources. Across the years, thousands of new synthetic compounds were developed and released into the environment without testing. Chemicals were treated as safe until proven otherwise, often by some catastrophic event. It was deemed that industry had a right to use available air and water as simple conduits for waste disposal unless there were prior claims for their use. The natural world itself, on the other hand, had no rights whatsoever.

It seemed to me that few stories can be more readily divided into “good guys” and “bad guys”. Not that the authors attempt anything but a balanced report, but the facts speak for themselves. For most of the period under study, industrial leaders found friends in high places, men who were happy to do their bidding. These men condemned to death countless unknown workers and citizens who they failed to protect, often turning a blind eye to clear and readily available scientific evidence showing the dangers of pollutants.

Public concern and awareness rose after the 1962 release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the first Earth Day in April 1970, and highly visible incidents such as the Love Canal scandal. The Clean Air Amendments of 1970 were signed into law. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. The Environmental Protection Agency was created. And a Superfund was established to identify and clean up America’s most polluted hot spots in 1980.

However, those hopeful steps of the 1970s have not been sustained. In fact, there have been giant steps backwards. In 2005 Congress, at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of gas driller Halliburton, exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Here in Canada, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have been making giant strides backwards, undoing years of small victories in environmental protection so that corporations may once again pollute unfettered. Even when regulations are in place, polluters are not prosecuted. A recent report showed that Alberta is enforcing fewer than one per cent of potential environmental violations in its open-pit mines.

Even more depressing is the fact that climate change was under discussion in the 1950s. Evidence of rising temperatures had begun to accumulate and by the 60s, prediction of increasing temperatures again appeared in leading scientific publications. Here we are, half a century on, and we have chosen to saddle ourselves, through apathy and fraudulent election practices, with an ineffectual, backwards government that fails to look to the future and refuses to address the inconvenient truth of climate change. The authors note:

The emission of greenhouse gases goes on, protected with the time-honored techniques of toothless laws and twisted science. The tactic of spill, study, and stall, now approaching its centenary, is still in use. Well-funded institutes continue to paste a veneer of scientific research onto political propaganda. Hard truths are countered with convenient but unlikely hopes.

Read Full Post »

overshoot

August 20th, 2013 is World Overshoot Day, the estimated date when we’ve used up the Earth’s annual supply of renewable natural resources and carbon absorbing capacity. After that, we’re using more than the planet can sustain. It’s a one-day reminder of a year-round problem: We are living too large on a finite planet. For more on Overshoot Day, follow this link to World Wildlife Fund’s article by Jon Hoekstra. There is no Planet B.

Read Full Post »

book

Toms River: A story of science and salvation by Dan Fagin. Bantam Books 2013.

For most of its existence, the community of Toms River, in New Jersey, was a sleepy little hamlet set on the banks of its eponymous river. Things began to change in 1949. That’s when a major chemical company, Ciba, purchased a huge 1,350 acre property with one edge bordering the river. The Swiss-owned company hollowed out a 35 acre site in the midst of the dense pine stands that covered the property and set about building the facilities where they planned to produce thousands of pounds of vat dyes every day, around the clock, as cheaply as possible. Ciba had been making vat dyes in Basel since 1907 and in Cincinnati for almost as long before moving to Toms River.

Ciba became a major employer in the depressed area with limited opportunities and, at its peak, had more than a thousand employees. Toms River began to grow rapidly and suburban areas sprang up outside the factory gates. Ciba was a good neighbour, offering well-paying jobs and supporting community undertakings. But Ciba was also a major polluter. The huge amounts of toxic waste that were produced in the dye manufacturing process had to be disposed of. Toxic waste was dumped in the waters of little Toms River, buried in lagoons where it leaked into groundwater, incinerated and released into the air, and pumped through a miles-long pipeline into the Atlantic Ocean. Nor was Ciba the only polluter. Union Carbide was also responsible for the improper storage of waste poisons.

There was plenty of blame to go around for the resulting mess. The town’s water supplier kept problems with water quality secret as it struggled to keep up with burgeoning demand, and government officials at every level turned a blind eye to the pollution. After decades of polluting, Ciba eventually wound up its operations in Toms River, with some of the production work moving to cheaper Asian factories. But not before the town’s water supply was impacted and some people began asking questions about the number of childhood cancers being diagnosed in the area.

After government investigations costing millions of dollars were completed, some 60 families with children with cancer received compensation. The factory dumps and the Union Carbide dump site became Superfund cleanup initiatives.

That’s a very brief accounting of events. In Toms River, Dan Fagin relates the six decades that followed the arrival of the chemical plant in detail. His writing is thorough and unrushed, but never dull. The facts are fleshed out with interesting background information about the chemical industry, the history of cancer research, and the difficulties relating to recognising cancer clusters. Many citizens of Toms River, factory workers, medical workers, state employees, researchers and others are brought to life in the pages of Fagin’s book. Although Toms River is not light reading, it doesn’t drag and there is some feeling of closure in the conclusion. Fagin looks only at human costs of the pollution and does not attempt to address the toll pollution has taken on the natural world.

The book is subtitled A Story of Science and Salvation. Science, maybe, but I don’t know about salvation. Things will never be completely “normal” in Toms River. All those chemicals can never be 100% reclaimed. And as for improved oversight, as recently as 2005, two senior executives working for the town’s water supplier, United Water, faked a safety test and filed a false report rather than take wells offline over concerns of radium contamination.

The thing about Toms River is that although the details are specific to one town, the larger story is told again and again and again, ad nauseam. A quick search with Google turned up the ongoing battle of citizens in Pompton Lakes in northern New Jersey. A report by Ben Horowitz for the Star-Ledger reads:

DuPont manufactured explosives at the 570-acre site from 1902 to 1994 and has been responsible for the cleanup since 1988. Its practices contaminated surface water, soil, sediment and groundwater both on and off site, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has primary responsibility for investigating and overseeing the cleanup of the former manufacturing facility, while EPA is the lead agency for the cleanup of the nearby Acid Brook Delta, the EPA said.

Lisa Riggiola, executive director of Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes, said the groups believe full federal control “will bring true oversight and ensure that a goal will be set for a high-standard residential cleanup.”

Riggiola said Acid Brook, which links the DuPont site to Pompton Lake, was recently found by the EPA to be “recontaminated.”

Christie defended the DEP’s management of the site at a press conference Tuesday, when the groups presented petitions signed by 10,000 people demanding the Superfund designation.

“I would say to the folks in Pompton Lakes, be careful what you wish for,” Christie said. “There are EPA Superfund sites all over the state that have not been remediated under the supervision of the EPA under any administration … I think the DEP has a good plan and they’re moving forward with it.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter, said the DEP “has mismanaged this site for years, and it has only worsened with toxic chemicals spreading under people’s homes.”

While the chemical dumps involved in these cases were established years ago, there is no sign that things are changing. For an eye-opening look at the trampling of citizens’ rights to clean drinking water, Gasland II is essential viewing. The documentary was shown on HBO recently and is well worth catching. Here’s a link to the Gasland website.

Here in Canada, of course, we have the Alberta tar sands disaster well under way. While governments should be protecting the rights of citizens and ensuring that development only progresses at a pace that allows for adequate oversight and the preservation of water resources, instead governments at every level abdicate their responsibility. A recent report showed that Alberta acts on less than 1% of environmental violations in the tar sands. Citizens of Fort Chipewyan have had an uphill battle looking for help with concerns over cancer.

Even the recent Lac-Megantic disaster can be laid at the feet of government agencies that looked the other way as safety regulations were gutted. Maude Barlow’s article on this topic is linked here. The following is a short excerpt.

Starting back in the 1970s, the US government deregulated rail transport, allowing deep staff reductions, the removal of brakemen from trains and lower safety standards for shipping hazardous materials. Canadian governments followed suit and allowed the railways to self-regulate safety standards and continue to ship oil in the older, accident-prone tanker cars of the kind that crashed into Lac-Mégantic.

Just last year, Transport Canada gave Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways the green light to run each train with just one engineer, which explains how one man came to be in charge of 72 cars and five locomotives carrying combustible energy through inhabited communities.

For an introduction to environmental cancers you can do no better than Sandra Steingraber’s fine book Living Downstream, also available as a documentary film. Toms River is a worthy addition to the literature of industrial pollution and cancer.

Read Full Post »

wren

If you are looking for a way to enliven your garden, you can do no better than to invite a House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) to make your yard his home. These vivacious little birds will provide your garden with its own natural soundtrack. Our current wren is pictured above, singing his effervescent babbling-brook song from a treetop at the foot of the garden.

Wrens are not shy birds and readily nest close to human dwellings, a fact that no doubt is reflected in their name. Attracting a wren to your yard is simple. Just provide appropriate nesting boxes. These tiny birds are adaptable, and will check out a range of accommodations, but ideally, a box should be placed about 5 to 8 feet high. A site that receives some sun but is shaded from the hottest part of the day is ideal. It should be out of easy reach for predators such as raccoons, or have a baffle installed. House wrens need an entrance hole of 1 1/4 inches. If you are building your own nest boxes, plenty of plans are available online.

box1

It’s good to have a few boxes placed in a variety of locations around the yard. Male wrens start several nests in the hope of attracting a female. Which nest start becomes home to his chicks is left to his lady friend to decide. This summer, a House Wren pair successfully fledged young from the box on the left, above. A dummy nest was built in the box to the right.

The birds will also appreciate several sources of water. I have 3 bird baths in the garden.

box2

This box also appeals to wrens, but this summer a pair of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) raised a family here. Their young fledged about the same time as the wren babies.

I have never used pesticides in my garden, making it a bird-friendly territory. Wrens offer a free insect-control program in return for their housing. Bird parents are kept busy all day hunting for insects to feed their rapidly growing youngsters who leave the nest in an incredibly short period, just 15 to 17 days.

Below is a video that I made a few days ago, a 360 degree panorama of the garden. Unfortunately, my little camera is really not up to this task, and you can here it clicking as the focus changes. However, the bubbly song of the wren can still be heard in the background.

Read Full Post »

wetlands

This cartoon was created to celebrate World Wetlands Day on February 2nd. It marks the date of the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. 2013 is the UN International Year for Water Cooperation.

If you think oil is the most valuable liquid on earth, try living a few days without water. Here in Canada we are fortunate to be able to take clean water for granted. It won’t stay that way if we don’t look after this invaluable, life-sustaining, better-than-gold resource.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 105 other followers