Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Post-Climatic Stress Disorder

(I wrote this in the fall, hemmed and hawed about posting it, then watched the news last night and decided it might be relevant).

I was watching images of the people dealing with the latest weather catastrophe to hit the south. And yes, I know that you can’t chalk up one weather event to climate change, but I figure now that ABC News has a whole section of videos on their website that I access through Apple TV called “Extreme Weather,” you have to start wondering sometimes.

I have a friend who knows someone who was in the middle of the crazy evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta last May, when wildfires forced the entire city to bail out. The videos taken by people fleeing the fires are pretty horrific. My friend says that this person is suffering from PTSD. I think that’s quite possible. If you’re not used to fleeing a raging wildfire that is threatening your life, then it’s probably a pretty jarring shock to the system.

Several months after the wildfires and billions of dollars in damages later, Fort McMurray was hit with flooding. They got months’ worth of rain in just a few days, after the drought that had caused the wildfires. Again, it just kind of makes you wonder. In 2016 the Canadian insurance industry had the highest payouts ever.

We experienced a drought here last summer. It was brutal. It was depressing. It was excruciating. But it didn’t play out over a longer time frame. It wasn’t two hours to “Get Out of Dodge.” It was all day, every day, for 4 months. It started in May, carried on into June, July and August, and we still got next to no rain in September. We can call it 5 months.

And the heat. Toronto set a record for more than 90 days with the temperature over 26° (79°F), which meant that I worked out in the sun longer than I ever have in temperatures that were usually 30°+ in the shade and 45° in the sun. I hate summer. I really do.

I think we did an amazing job of producing a basket of produce for our members last summer, every week, for 16 weeks, during the worst drought to hit these parts, well…ever.

So I started asking myself, can you get PTSD from a slowly occurring event? And if it’s related to a changing climate, is it “Post Climatic Stress Disorder?” Nothing blew up near me, there was no firestorm, no flood, and yet, somehow I felt quite dazed and drained by the experience last fall. At least with a flood, the waters my recede in a week or two. But I had to spend all day, every day, for 5 months, watching my vegetables struggle. They were all stressed, all summer long. There was no respite. There was never a drenching rain where I felt I could stop watering and irrigating for a day. Not a day. It sucked the life out of me.

I won’t do it again.

At least not in a CSA format. I’ll grow food, but I won’t ever put myself through that again. Michelle and I grow great food. We (she) organizes the CSA exceptionally well. But we can’t do it well without some help from Mother Nature, and she appears to be increasingly uncooperative when it comes to creating optimal conditions for many human endeavors, like growing food. I don’t blame her. We’ve kind of been using her for a dumping ground of fossil fuel burning waste and she’s getting a bit of a fever and she’s pissed. I’d be too. I’d start making the weather erratic too if I were her.

I read a book a while back before I started running for the Green Party called “Don’t Even Think About It.” It’s about how people react to climate change. One of the situations it discussed was what happens when you talk to someone who has just experienced a natural disaster that may be connected to climate change. If you point out that this disaster was probably caused by climate change and ask them if they will change their lives in any way to deal with climate change, more often than not their response will be, “I just want to rebuild my home, rebuild my life and get things back to the way they were.” It’s totally illogical, but I get it. Let’s just rebuild and hope it doesn’t happen again. Until it does.

So I have been putting myself in that situation since our drought last summer. Am I guilty of saying “I just want to get everything back to normal, and I don’t want to focus on climate change right now?” And of course all summer that’s what I wanted, to get back to normal, which meant some rain. I accepted the dead lawn. I accepted the death of hundreds of dollars and years worth of work on blueberry and raspberry bushes, because I couldn’t spare the time or water to save them, but just a bit of rain may have helped a few other things.

But the more I thought about it, I had already taken action, my post traumatic climatic shock response, prior to the whole thing becoming so darn personal in my life, and creating havoc with my life this summer. I got out in front of it as it were. “Pre Climatic Stress Disorder.”

Michelle and I learned running for office is incredibly time consuming. And we did it provincially and federally for the Green Party. It sucks your time, and your energy and your spirit. And by the end of the federal election I was really questioning it. What the hell I was thinking? Why put so much effort into something with an outcome that does not have a Hollywood underdog sort of ending. The best you can do is hope to just move the dial a little further towards something actually being done for a threat that holds so much potential for so much grief for so many people.

The Canadian government signed the Paris Accord and has made commitments to start reducing CO2 levels. They are way too conservative. They are totally inadequate to meet the Paris targets. But at least they are talking about it. At least they are seen to be doing something. And Canadians are going to have to come to grips with the fact that we will have a price on carbon and it will make fossil fuels more expensive.

The CSA eventually ended. We got rain several days after it ended in October. Obviously.  We’ve had precipitation this winter. I’m hoping the ponds will fill up again. It’s actually freezing rain right now. I think I’ll go out in it and get soaked and shiver and raise my fists in the air in rage and scream “Where were you this summer you useless rain gods?” Might as well try for a Hollywood cliché ending whenever possible. Look for video footage of my rant coming soon to my YouTube channel.

Stumping Around the Property

(A story from the early spring before CSA season began.)

Michelle and I are temporary caretakers of 150 acres and it is an amazing place. It is 140 acres of forest, 5 acres of ponds and about 5 cleared acres. I marvel at where I live. And I marvel even more at the farmers’ fields I see south of here as we drive to the city. They were once all forests like most of our property, and someone cleared them. And they weren’t cleared by bulldozers and backhoes. Nope, they were cleared by human sweat and horse power, the original horse power … horses. And probably oxen and anything else that a person could throw a bridle (or a yoke?) on to and get to pull.

As we’ve expanded the gardens for the CSA I have moved a few stumps. Last year I had a stump from a spruce tree that I had planted. The base of the tree was less than a foot wide, but the root was incredibly stubborn. I dug around it, and whacked it with an axe. What a great way to deal with anger issues by pounding roots with an axe.

One day I whacked it hard enough that I broke a blood vessel in my eye. It was terrifying to look at. I assumed I’d be dead by sundown. But it healed itself within a week.

And I learned a lesson from this. This is no way to remove a stump.

This past winter I cut down another spruce that was close enough to the house that it would have hit us if it fell in a big windstorm. And I’m getting more and more paranoid about climate-change-induced droughts and wild fires, so the less there is to burn near the house, the better.

My usual tactic is to leave a stump for a few years and then try and remove it. What I have discovered is that basically our stumps never rot. They have some magic sap or something that keeps them robust for decades.

So I started digging. And once I got enough of an area dug out, I chain-sawed the exposed part of the root. I used an old blade because every time you hit soil or sand it trashes the blade. And I dug, and I cut, and I tunneled under it, and finally I got it free.

stump1

 

stump2

This inspired me to tackle two more interconnected stumps in the garden that had been there for almost a decade, again, showing very little sign of ever rotting.  And I dug and cut, and dug, and tunneled and cut and finally I got them loose. They were brutes though so I planned to use a come-along to get them out, but I put a rope on the first one and hauled it out with the truck.

I cannot believe the embedded energy in gasoline. It’s quite unbelievable. When I tried to roll the stump when I got it close to where I wanted to leave it at the edge of the paddock, I could barely budge it. But the truck didn’t seem to flinch while dragging it. Or the second one either. What amazing times we live in that we have access to such power.

As I drive around this part of the world I look at the hay fields surrounded by piles of rock. First someone used their horses to cut down the trees and remove the stumps. Then they had to drag out thousands of tons of rock, by hand and back. The fields are relatively small when you think of the prairie vistas, but they really were carved out of the bush.

There is a new trend in the area and that is to remove the hedgerows to make the fields bigger. This allows bigger tractors and equipment like combines longer runs without having to turn around. It’s the natural flow of capitalism, but it’s not a good thing. These hedgerows are great wind breaks, which will become more and more important with extreme weather events. And they are home to an array of birds of animals. In our part of the world a very vocal group screams whenever someone tries to put up large wind turbines (because of the bird deaths) but no one seems to notice massive bird habitat being removed in the name of progress when all of the hedgerows are removed.

Every stump I remove gives me a huge respect for past generations that worked this land. I am in awe of what humans are capable of.

When we lived in the city I listened to an Australian band called “Midnight Oil” and they had lots of great angry young man protest songs. They had one called “Blue Sky Mine” lamenting how capitalism forces us to accept industrial progress, like mines. The song had a lyric “Nothing’s as precious, as a hole in the ground.”

I concur. Especially when the hole is what’s left after you’ve spent two days removing the stump that was there. I could stand and marvel at the hole in the ground for days. But it doesn’t take long for me to want to fill it back in, grab a few loads of soil to replace the volume that was taken up by the stump and get the rototiller through the area.

I believe they refer to politicking as ‘stumping’ or being out on the stump. I’ve done the political thing. I much prefer the real stumping.

Vote for Me!

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Thanks to Neil for a wonderful blog post about us! www.peacockforest.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/cam-mather-saved-my-back-and-lungs/ If you don’t follow Neil’s blog yet, be sure to sign up for updates!

Off-Grid: So Awesome! And So Much Work!

I was reading The Toronto Star recently and was excited to see a documentary by Jonathan Taggart called  “Life Off Grid” and then I became even more excited when I realized that we are in it! … well sort of …

Here’s the link to the article;

https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2016/03/24/documentary-shows-canadians-living-off-the-grid.html

Professor Phillip Vannini from Royal Rhodes University in Victoria visited us a few years ago when he was doing a study on why people live off grid. He was accompanied by Jonathan Taggart who was making a film about living off grid.

We saw some “proofs” of it early on a while back and as I told Michelle, I didn’t like it “because I wasn’t in it enough!” So there you have it, life with a narcissist. And now that I’ve been brutally honest, I also was a bit disappointed because there seems to be too much focus and emphasis on people who really fit the ‘off grid’ kind of profile. Long grey pony tail, pop-bottle house, goats in the living room, no communication with the outside world, Bob Marley t-shirts … you know the image. And this is all fine and good, I get it.

Our experience though is that people like Michelle and I are, well, just kind of bland. Our house looks like the little white house with the dark green trim in the Anne of Green Gables books. Inside our regular toilet flushes, the regular fridge keeps food cold, the regular TV watches regular Netflix, I prefer my hair short, don’t find Birkenstocks conducive to our winters and mosquitoes, so we’re, just kind of… too “normal.”

We had a journalist here a few weeks ago and he asked if I could recommend other people living sustainably that he could also interview for the article. And I couldn’t. This is partially my choice to be a bit of a hermit (except for political campaigns) and also because I feel at times like the whole sustainability ship has sailed. There was that blip in the 80’s where people wanted to recycle, and that blip in the mid 2000’s where people wanted to put up solar panels, but there doesn’t seem to have been a huge follow through. It kind of feels sometimes like the big box stores won the war.

And I get it.

At many times of the year, I find myself questioning the whole living sustainably thing. And there is a clear distinction between someone who lives off grid to be sustainable, and someone who just does it because they don’t like paying utility bills. A lot of people move off-grid and on to propane for their thermal or heat loads (home heating and hot water) which make up 80% of your home’s energy requirements in the north. So really, you’re just switching which utility you send the cheque to each month.

Michelle and I continue to try and be as close to ‘zero-carbon’ as we can. Since I haven’t got off my ass and added pumps and a loop through our woodstove, our baths come from water heated in stock pots on the woodstoves. Decidedly low tech but also nothing to break.

The wood we heat with we harvest from the property and cut and buck and split with increasing amounts of solar and wind generated electricity. It’s way easier to use gas, but we take the time and put in the additional effort to keep our ‘carbon neutral’ wood fuel source as close to carbon neutral as we can, with very little gas burned in the process. So this takes extra long.

As the weather has been warming up of late I don’t crank the woodstove in the morning so it takes longer to get it hot enough heat to boil our water and cook our breakfast. Living the way we do just sometimes seems to take an inordinate amount of time. So I understand why people take the easy route and use fossil fuel derived energy. It’s so easy! It’s like powering your house with heroin… so easy and it just feels great to have so  much time to do other stuff.

But something keeps us at it. I’m not ready to throw in the towel and move back to suburbia and a natural gas/nuclear powered existence just yet.

I checked the weather network one morning to see how much of next winter’s wood I could cut and split with the solar powered chainsaw and wood splitter that day. The Weather Network had a little information note beside the forecast along the lines of “Brutally warm winter has arctic sea ice at lowest level on record .. read more here …” Ya, like that sounds like a great way to start your day before you jump in your car and start your hour long commute to your job selling stuff.

The reality is that the arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the planet. We’re to blame. I’m to blame. I used to commute back to the GTA for years after moving here to visit customers. I took the kids to Disney World when they were little, twice! I used to run my generator … a lot … before I cashed out retirement money and put up more solar panels and a proper wind turbine. So I’ve done my part.

But I have the information now and know there is an alternative. If governments would just show a little resolve and put a price on carbon most people would also seek out these alternatives.

The other day I was starting the fire so we could have a bath and I was thinking to myself, what an inordinate amount of work. Why am I doing this? I have a hot water tank. If I wanted to, I could just run the hot water out of the tank and let propane do the work. Most days right now we have enough sun that our solar domestic hot water system will actually have heated up the in-line hot water tank so that by the time it gets to the propane it doesn’t have to come on. But on dark days, so the choice is zero-carbon firewood or propane.

As I get down on my knees for the 11, 560’th time this winter to start the woodstove (there may be some exaggeration there) I think to myself ‘why AM I doing this again?’

Then I think about the people in the Maldives islands in the Pacific who are rapidly losing their homes with the rising seas. And then I say “Hey Cam, shut up and stop your whining and do the right thing.”

And then I do indeed stop whining and become extremely grateful that I have the opportunity and ability to do it the old fashioned way and try and impact other people as little as I possibly can. If I had a therapist she would say “… and how did that make you feel?” and I would say…

You can find Jonathan Taggart’s website; http://jonathantaggart.com/projects/life-off-grid/

And here is the trailer for the movie.

‘Life Off Grid’ trailer from Jonathan Taggart on Vimeo.

Channeling my Inner Thoreau

I’m in the throes of writing my last few posts before I go dark on this blog. It seems to have run its natural course.

It’s partially that I find myself on a journey to completely unplug myself from all things 21st Century/capitalist/technological. I think we may all get there eventually, I’m just trying to get out ahead of the curve. It’s the way Michelle and I seem to have been over the last 40 years, always a step ahead of the pack.

I read “Walden” many decades ago. I think it was even before we got ready to move out of the city.  I think it was when we first started flirting with environmentalism. It’s just one of those books you should read. I know there are lots of criticisms with what Thoreau did … “well, he still walked to town once a week for food … he was still earning a living writing …” yea, whatever, we’re all blowhards, me especially.

As I get more and more committed to not buying stuff, I am forced to deal with the stuff I have which is all getting older, and therefore needs maintenance.

I have often looked longingly at those car ads that brag about the 14 air bags … front impact, side impact, bottom impact in a case a large reptile tries to burst into your car from below … and thought, boy, it would be awesome to own one of those cars.

Until recently when I had to have my airbag inflator replaced in a recall. Coincidentally this happened at the same time my SRS (supplemental restraint system…i.e. airbag and seatbelt) warning light came on which isn’t covered by the recall, of course. The dealer wanted $100 to read the error code (which takes them about 5 minutes to do) and then quoted that it would be another $200 to $500 to fix the problem. Thanks to the internet and my fantastic neighbor Sandy, I did it myself (with A LOT of his help). So I had this epiphany that everything comes at a cost, and all these wonderful safety thingees are indeed wonderful, until they break, then they are insanely expensive to fix and you have to have a high income to maintain them, or forgo them, or try and figure out how to fix them yourself. With however many lines of code in a new vehicle (1 million? 2 million?) most of us are rapidly losing our ability to fix things ourselves, even if we want to.

Then we had a plumbing issue. Which reminded me that there is PEX and copper and ABS and PVC and Poly B and CPVC and about 1 million adapters for each, and then another million to adapt one standard to the other, which makes about 14 million parts in the hardware store … and never the one you want. And if the house wasn’t plumbed properly with shutoff valves, you have no water while you’re scrambling around trying to fix it.

I am becoming an expert at finding ‘work-arounds.’ “It’s not optimal, but it’ll do” is my new mantra. Well it’s always been my philosophy, I just used to kid myself that I worked to a higher standard. Admitting it is half the battle, right?

So now, like Henry David Thoreau, I basically never, ever want to ever buy anything new, ever again. Because there is a price you pay when you do, and it’s not just that upfront cost, which includes the immense impact that ‘thing’ has had on the planet to get into that box, wrapped in that plastic bag, with all of those Styrofoam inserts and endless other things that just end up in a landfill.

So I have begun the descent to ultimate, hardcore, EXTREME simplification. I kidded myself two decades ago when I moved off grid that this was what I was doing. In actual fact with the necessity of purchasing inverters and charge controllers and phone systems and satellite internet systems and, and, and, …. I was not getting off any bandwagons.

But I’ve finally seen the light and it is me, living in the dark, foraging in the woods, drinking from a pond wearing clothing fashioned from feed bags and sandals made from old tires. Well, with the cost of used clothing at thrift shops I’m not sure I’ll ever have to go that far. And I do enjoy renting a video once in a while, and man, having the solar panels charge the batteries and pump water into our pressure tanks, then turning the tap and having cold, clean, wonderful water pour out … well, that’s pretty awesome. But that’s it though, nothing else new.

Ever meet one of those guys who says “cassettes are awesome!” or ‘do you realize you can get VHS tapes at thrift shops for like 5¢ each now?!” (but you just have trouble seeing what’s happening one the screen because the resolution is so low). Well, that’s going to be me soon. My daughters keep giving me their old iPods as iPhones now are basically iPods, but I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to put my music on them. And I think I’m finally comfortable saying it’s not going to happen for me. When the CD player breaks, I’m just going to sing way more. Poor Michelle.

When I back the manure trailer up at my neighbors’ barn I have to channel my inner trailer ball sense, because I, alas, don’t have a backup camera. My tailgate is beat all to rat crap where I regularly plunge the trailer tongue into it, when I miss the target. And at this stage in my life, I’m pretty okay having a banged in tailgate on my truck. In fact, I would not want to own a truck that didn’t have such a thing.

I know what you’re saying … “Cam is just saying that because he’ll never own one.” Exactly. I accept my lot. I cannot bring myself to participate in an economic system that is destroying the planet, making a lot of people miserable, and forcing everyone to keep buying stuff just to stay in the game.

Living off-grid and growing a pretty large volume of food, this is not a tough transition for me. When you do a little research on the likelihood of a CME in the next decade, or the Cascadia fault letting loose on the west coast, or some fiat currency scenarios in the next economic collapse, I think it’s possible that many people who would rather not be forced to go through a radical simplification, will be joining me.

It’s a tough path to follow, because the other one, the one that bombard us with a billion images a day showing us how awesome all this ‘stuff’ is, well, it is a pretty sexy one. I get it. It’s cool. It’s awesome. Until it’s not. And for me, now, it’s not.

So I’m off to the toolshed … (well, it’s actually a woodshed where I also store tools) to build a proper way to organize all my tools, because every spring it starts out amazingly clean and organized and by December when I have to crawl to the shelf at the back to get the Christmas tree, it’s turned into a death-defying obstacle course of sharp metal points and sticks repeatedly impaling me. I just love hand tools. So low tech. No upgrades. No error codes. No warning lights. Heck, they don’t even come wrapped in any packaging. Make yourself happy. Go use a shovel or a hoe.

The Leap Manifesto

In the midst of my election campaign my Dad pointed out an editorial piece in the Globe and Mail newspaper and I was able to grab the “day-old” paper and read it. It was about the “Leap Manifesto.”

Just seeing the word “manifesto” was enough to draw me in, because, let’s face it, when was the last time you saw this word? I’m pretty sure that for me it was in a high school history class in about 1973 and it was part of the phrase the ‘communist manifesto’, so using that word makes a pretty bold statement right off the bat.

The Leap Manifesto was written by a number of prominent Canadians including Naomi Klein and David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis and Arcade Fire and bunch of other hip musicians. And yes, they are a bunch of “lefties.” You’ve heard me rant about government deficits so you know I swing both ways on the political spectrum.

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

But this piece was different. It was a big, bold pronouncement of what we had to do to save the planet. How motivating it was for someone like me, running for the Green Party. It basically summarized all one’s worst fears about climate change and said we have to leave 75% of the known carbon (oil, gas, coal) in the ground if we hope to avoid a catastrophe. So far, this is backed by science, so I’m on board. Then it discussed how to do that.

The goal is to get the economy de-carbonized, or to stop using oil and gas and coal by 2040. Completely. Zero carbon. Nada.

It’s a tall order and one that would have been easy to achieve if we’d starting paying attention back in the 1980’s when I entered the environmental movement. But now it’s a big deal. It’s a ‘World War II/Apollo Moon Landing’ kind of commitment required. We all have to get on board and make some big changes, and governments have to lead the way. Governments have been horrifically negligent in this department and since they represent our views, we’ve been kidding ourselves that we can ignore this problem. But we can’t, and the “Leap Manifesto” is a refreshing, honest attempt to open a discussion and get people moving in the right direction.

The cool thing for me was that as I read through their goals and how to achieve them, it was basically the Green Party Policy Platform that they were highlighting. Now that’s a morale booster!

As the election wound down I found Naomi Klein’s latest book “This Changes Everything” on my bookshelf. I loved her books, “No Logo” and “Shock Doctrine,” and I started to read her new one just as the CSA got underway in the spring and it was just too big and too dense to get through. Michelle had borrowed it for me from the local library so I only had about 3 weeks in which to read it and there was no way I was going to finish it that quickly and so I bailed on it. Then I found it at a thrift store for $2! It’s only about 3 months old! And it’s hardcover! And 600 pages long and $37 new! Who can afford to do that? I don’t care! I own it now!

So I’m back into it and I see where the “Leap” came from. She suggests that we could have meandered to a solution if we’d got started long ago, but we can’t anymore. Since the science is clear about what we have to do, we have to ‘leap’ to get there.

The good thing is that I got through all the dark stuff before the election was over. I had committed to only read shiny happy stuff after the election, so now I’m on the ‘solutions’ part of the book, so I can keep reading it. And like so many of these books that I have read over the years it’s just rehashing all the stuff I know and have read before, but I read it again anyways.

Michelle and I have made our leap to a zero-carbon house. We have a long way to go in the transportation department but this is where government incentives have to come in. With a price on carbon, the automotive industry will finally have to do the right thing and mass produce electric cars. And we’ll just add another tracker with solar panels to charge our car and we’re off to the races.

And it will be easier for everyone once our governments do the right thing and start charging for the right to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which is what’s causing it to warm up. We have to pay to take bags of garbage to the dump (at least here in my rural area.) This is the same thing, only with carbon.

I like big, bold ideas. I like revolutions. And we need a revolution to fix this mess. I’m glad a group other than the Green Party is speaking out about this necessity. Once we get enough of these groups screaming loudly enough, the powers that be will listen. I wish I had been elected to Ottawa (well, sort of) so that I could be getting going on that, but that didn’t quite work out. Maybe next time (or not! Michelle is strongly discouraging me from running in an election campaign ever again).

The good news is our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems serious about climate change and just had a First Ministers (the premiers of all our provinces) meeting to discuss a strategy before the Paris climate meetings. And low and behold the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley just announced that her province would be putting a price on carbon. No really, that Alberta. The one with the tar sands. The one that wants to ship bitumen all over the place. How great is that!

In the meantime, check out the “Leap Manifesto.” https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/ Go on, I dare you. Get out your Karl Marx beret, find that Che Guevara T-Shirt and be radical. Life’s too short not to. (And while you are there, sign the petition.)

A Love Letter to My Grandson

 Dear Liam

Welcome to the world. Your mother had quite a time bringing you into this world, but we’re all very glad you’re here. I love you even though I haven’t met you yet. I hope to see you for the first time this weekend.

You were born at a most auspicious time (for me mostly, but I’m a male and like most males you’ll soon learn that you are the most important person in your life). You arrived just a few days after a federal election was called in Canada. The election date is October 19, which means that I’ll be extra busy for the next… what… 42 weeks? This lengthy campaign time helps the big established parties. I am a candidate for a smaller one called the Green Party. But that’s okay. No one is forcing me to run.

I hope you read this sometime when you’re here at the farm, surrounded by lush green forests, as I am today. I spent my day in my garden full of wonderful vegetables. I picked beans today for our CSA members. Lots of beans. I picked beans all day while your grandmother worried about your arrival. I worried too, but I still had to pick beans. If the place still looks great when you are old enough to appreciate  it, it will mean I have been successful in my campaigning. It will mean we have put a price on carbon and we are in the process of de-carbonizing our lives and the economy. This is a good thing.  A really, really important thing.

It’s important because as I write this the scientists who study the climate are very worried. They are seeing signs that we have to burn fewer fossil fuels because the climate is starting to behave erratically, like your grandfather often will when you visit.

I’m running for the Green Party because I love you, even though I haven’t held you yet. I want you to enjoy as marvelous a world as I have grown up in and enjoyed my whole life. I’m also running in honor of your great grandfather. Your mom called him “Papa.” Papa worked all day making steel and came home and gardened and spent a great deal of time working for the New Democratic Party (we’ll call them the orange party). He worked very hard for them and yet they never formed a government in Canada. But so many of the wonderful things we enjoy as Canadians … unemployment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, maternity leave, and universal health care, came about because of them. They just kept hammering at these issues until the other two bigger parties decided to get with the program and implement them. We’ll call them the Red and Blue parties, although if we’ve been assimilated into the United States by the time you read this, it will be the opposite of which party you think is which.

Your long, arduous arrival to this world was aided by midwives and a doula and doctors and nurses in a very expensive hospital. It didn’t cost your parents a penny. This is because Papa and his “orange party” managed to convince everyone else that if we shared the cost of healthcare, if we spread it out over the entire population, healthy and not healthy, rich and poor, we’d all be better off. Your great grandfather was awesome and I loved him very much too.

And so I’m going to be spending my time over the first few months of your life trying to convince people that we need to spread the pain of dealing with climate change out equally over everyone by putting a price on carbon. Our government will take that money and put it aside in its own bank account (like I’d like to set up for you if I had any money) and we’ll give everyone their share of that fee every quarter in a ‘dividend’ cheque. Ask your parents what that is. They can do with it what they like. I think most people will try and figure out ways to burn less carbon and the marketplace will help them, and we’ll all be better off.

Some people will say “But other bigger countries aren’t doing it, why should we?” It’s because ultimately all countries will de-carbonize and it’s way better to lead than to follow. That way we’ll be ready and we’ll create some awesome new jobs and technologies and people will say “I want to be like Canadians!”

My Green party is led by an awesome woman named Elizabeth May. The Green Party in the U.S. is led by an awesome woman named Jill Stein. They are very smart and work very hard and I hope they will lead our two countries soon. The job of the Green Party is very hard, but a great U.S. President, J.F.K., talked about taking the hard road (or one of his speech writers wrote) “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,‪ not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

This climate disruption thing is very much like that. We have to win. Maybe you’ll read this some day just after you get back from swimming down at Fifth Depot Lake. How awesome is swimming in a fresh water lake!

Rather than running around during an election, especially at this time of year when the farm is very busy, I’d rather sit and watch Netflix on the TV. It’s awesome. By the time you read this they will probably be beaming content into a microchip in your cerebral cortex to save on bandwidth. But they’ll be no Netflix for me for a while.

When you get older and come to the farm we’ll go on long hikes. And I’ll show you how to use a chainsaw (when your mom says you’re old enough). And we’ll build forts! Oh the forts we will build together. And I hope you come to love the peace and quiet here the way I do. And the birds and the trees. They’ll still be doing their carbon sequestration thing because The Green Party managed to get a price on fossil fuel carbon and the marketplace, and the people who interact in it daily, made better choices. I hope your great grandfather is proud of me, even if I don’t win this election. I hope you’re proud of me too. And I’ll stop trying just about the time you’re old enough to build forts. And then I’ll put all my efforts into helping you build the most awesomest fort ever!

Love,

Grandpa

p.s. Your grandmother will say stuff like “Oh your grandfather just wrote that blog for therapy.” Always believe your grandmother.

ppss. Sorry about not setting up a bank account for you. It’s because I don’t make any money running a CSA or running for the Green Party. But I have a box of hockey cards with your name on it! Just wait until we put them on the spokes of your bike.. they will make your bike sound so cool!

pppsss. When your grandmother bakes you a raspberry or blueberry pie…sure… she deserves hugs and kisses, but don’t forget who planted and weeded and pruned and watered and fertilized the dam plants for years.

ppppssss. Sorry I said ‘dam’. I hope you’re mother isn’t one of those mothers who won’t allow bad words around her kids. If she is, just remember I love you very much, even though I probably won’t talk much when you’re here (for fear of saying too many bad words!)

Baby

How Did You Do It?

I just read a great article in The Guardian about how scientists sometime use science fiction to help them find direction in their research. It also talked about how some of the best science fiction writers were in fact scientists, like Isaac Asimov.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite movies of all time, which is “Contact.” Jodie Foster played the main character and it is based on a book by Carl Sagan. I’m old enough to remember seeing Carl Sagan on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and talking about the “billions and billions” of stars. Johnny then mocked him about that line for weeks afterwards, in a fun kind of way.

I took my two daughters (then aged 13 and 11) to see Contact because Jodie Foster plays such a strong role as a scientist determined to make contact with life on other planets. The three of us thought it was so great we dragged Michelle to it a few nights later. I don’t think I’ve ever paid to see a movie in a theatre twice, other than “Contact.”

Michelle recently began using our daughter’s old iPhone and one morning she showed me some video she had just shot and posted on Instagram just panning around the house. The sound of the birds was outstanding. The quality of the video was amazing. All from a box in the palm of her hand that I’m sure has significantly more processing power than NASA had to put a person on the moon. And I thought about that big honking video camera I used to lug around when our daughters were small children that made me feel like I was a news cameraperson because it was so big. Now when we watch those videos we cringe at the poor quality… especially compared to what an iPhone produces.

As I read The Guardian and other publications and see what incredible technological feats humans are up to, I am constantly reminded of a comment by Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, in the movie. A news reporter asks her what she would ask an extraterrestrial, if she met one and could only ask one question. She replies, “Well, I suppose it would be, how did you do it? How did you evolve, how did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourself?”

It is a profound concept, written by one of those great minds like Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, who really nailed how the future would play out.

We have these marvelous machines, this amazing technology, we’ve mapped the human genome, somehow we’ve been able to feed 7 billion people, we have backup cameras on our cars and smart phones we can talk to, and video conference with our loved ones on the other side of the world, but still, somehow, we seem to be on a collision course with our mortality by ignoring what the scientists who invented all this cool stuff we use everyday are telling us about climate change.

I don’t believe there is a technological fix to the mess we’re making of our atmosphere. I don’t believe we’ll figure out a way to remove all the extra CO2 that we’ve pumped out, and I don’t believe we can geo-engineer ourselves out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how a species that is so darn smart can be so darn stupid.

I think those of us in the developed world simply need to live with less. Less energy. Less travel. Less stuff. And with all the money we save from this, we need to make ourselves energy independent using renewables and stop giving our money to companies that use fossil fuels to make our heat and power. Michelle and I have done it and it’s pretty awesome.

But then again, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe they’ll be a last minute “Hail Mary” fix and everything will be all right. I have to admit in the last month there has been a huge change in the amount of press climate change has been getting in the media. As I go through the day-old and week-old papers I get from town for free there is a huge amount of coverage on how putting a price on carbon in Canada is a given. It’s just a question of when and how. Angela Merkel at the G7 pushed to have western economies de-carbonized by 2050 but certain countries got scared and pushed it back to 2100. And then there was Pope Francis’s long-awaited encyclical on the environment, in which he warned of ‘serious consequences’ if the world does not act on climate change. So that’s a great thing. I mean, he’s the Pope!

Regardless, Carl Sagan knew the right question to ask that other civilization from another planet. “How Did You Do It?” And best of all, he left the response ambiguous. It’s never really answered.

This always reminds me of a great quote from Gilda Radner one of the original Saturday Night Live cast members, whose character Rosanne Rosanadana always ended one of her rants with “It’s always something.” (I provide this for our younger readers since SNL started 40 years ago and I watched it from the first show … I’m so old!)

Gilda Radner said, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

The Absence of Spring

Apparently we have missed May and June here in our part of southeastern Ontario and went right to July!

Every spring planting season is unique here at Sunflower Farm. Some are too wet. Some are too dry. Some are too cold. And sometimes they are just right.

Our planting is fully underway for the CSA. Each year I get better organized and feel more in control and less frantic … as much as that is possible with my personality type. I have a number of gardens in various places as opposed to a large field, so it’s kind of cool the way planting comes together organically. I use ‘organically’ in many senses of the word.

We don’t apply any chemicals or weed killers or insecticides, so we grow ‘organically.’ But where things get planted just kind of comes together as the spring progresses. We obviously rotate things from garden to garden. Last year one garden had beans, a legume, which improves the soil, so this year it can handle a crop that is a heavy feeder.

Last year’s corn battle with the raccoons ended in a draw with them exacting heavier losses than I would have liked, even though I camped out in the patch a few nights with the dog to try and convince them to go and eat something natural, in the woods, where they belong. So this year the corn will be closer to the house, in a part of the garden that got enhanced with horse manure, and a second smaller patch will be right by the house in a spot that was part of the chicken pen, so you know it’s been well fertilized.

As exhausting as it is I do so love this time of the year. Everything is turning green and I get to spend my days in constant motion, much of it with my hands immersed in the soil.

The challenge this spring has been the weather. It’s too hot and dry, which is ironic considering we had one of the coldest winters on record. Part of my spring ritual is the gradual shedding of layers over the weeks as the temperature warms. Being surrounded by woods we go through periods of black flies, then mosquitoes, but in a typical spring this is no problem because I wear a bug hat and I don’t even notice them. But a bug hat in hot weather can be cumbersome to put it mildly.

The past week here has been 10°C above normal, which means is should be about 15°C (60°F) but it has averaged 25°C (77°F). Now I’m sure our readers in the south will laugh at me. Come on, 77°F is downright chilly in your part of the world. I get it. But I’m from Canada. The frozen north. So I don’t have the DNA to handle this heat. Or at least I am better able to handle it in July, or June, but not the first week of May. Right now my hands should be really chilled when planting peas. This week as I’ve grabbed the metal pipe pounder that I use when making fences for the peas to climb, I’ve been burning my hands on the steel handles. That’s not normal. This weekend its supposed to hit 30°C (86°F) which is a July heat wave. And it sucks.

And it’s dry. I have very sandy soil that looks wonderful and rich and dark, when it has moisture. But when it dries out, it looks like … well, sand. So I have been expending an inordinate number of calories watering after planting anything. Usually I can just plunk in the peas or onions and move on to the next thing. Now I’ve even been prewatering an area before I plant so it’s not so sandy, then planting, then watering. I’ve even had to resort to irrigation in some of the dryer parts of the garden. It’s such a pain. I am resigned to it but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.

This is a conversation I have had with many people here in the north. More often than not, we don’t have a ‘spring’ anymore. We just go from winter to summer. I’m hyped to work in 30°C+ (86°C+) heat in July. That’s what’s July’s for. That’s what tomatoes need. And by then Fifth Depot Lake is warm enough for swimming, so I can push on through the heat knowing that before dinner I get to cool off in a lake. But not now. It’s just brutally hot and I’m not in a swimming mode. Oh, and the ice has only been off the lake for 2 weeks, so it’s less refreshing and more hypothermia inducing.

There are those that will say that we’ve always had warm springs. We’ve always had dry springs. You can’t infer climate change is happening because of one weather event. Agreed. On all counts. But this seems to be a trend, this absence of spring. And I don’t like it a bit. I love three seasons … fall, winter, and spring. I tolerate summer, but I am not a ‘heat’ person. I would rather it be -30° C (-22°F) below zero than + 30°C. I can always get warm by putting more wood on the fire. I can put on more layers. I can work harder outside to stay warm. But I cannot escape the heat in the summer. I have to work outside all day, so I will tolerate it, but don’t ask me to embrace it. Ain’t gonna happen.

One of the reasons I’m glad to have cut the satellite TV is so that I don’t have to watch those obnoxious weather people waxing poetic about how awesome this heat is! You know, the ones in the suits in the air-conditioned studios who drive to work in air-conditioned cars and go home to air conditioned homes and buy their food in air-conditioned stores. Oh but this weather is awesome to have a drink outside on the patio at their favorite restaurant! Ah the bliss of urbane living.

So I miss the spring. I miss the gradual transition. I miss the way it used to be.

And so when our federal election is called this fall, I will work diligently to get the Green Party message to the masses. Climate change is real. It’s happening now. It’s causing extreme weather ‘elsewhere’, and it’s screwing up our weather here. I suppose a spring like this for a farmer is an extreme weather event. If we don’t get some rain soon, crops will suffer. So this is no longer an existential, distant, sometime in the future, happen to someone else kind of thing. This isn’t our grandchildren’s problem. This isn’t our children’s problem. It’s our problem. Vote Green. Support Spring.

What Do Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall and I Have in Common?

I wrote a book with my close personal friend Stephen Hawking. I call him Steve, or Stevie. Jane Goodall also wrote a part of the book. And Desmond Tutu. And … well … okay I ‘contributed’ to a book with them and Mr. Hawking is not my close personal friend, yet. I’m sure he will be after he reads the part that I wrote.

I was asked to contribute to a book called “Global Chorus” edited by Todd MacLean. Todd knows my friend Jim Ferguson. I know Jim from radio broadcasting school, er, The Radio Broadcasting Program at Loyalist College in Belleville that I attended in my younger years.

Jim is one of those people whom I have run into from time to time throughout my life who have helped me to recognize that I have no future going in a certain direction. Jim has one of those mellifluous voices that comes through stereo speakers loudly and clearly and he possesses a natural gift to speak clearly, succinctly, and off the top of his head all day long without a hesitation or pause. I, on the other hand, do not have a good radio voice and I had to script everything I was going to say on air because otherwise I would stumble, so it just sounded like I was reading. The program was a 2-year course. I got a job selling radio advertising in Peterborough at the end of the first year, because I saw the writing on the wall, but I still managed to get my diploma by completing the required work. So when you see Cam Mather R.B.D., H.B.A., it sounds pretty impressive but it means “Radio Broadcasting Diploma, Half a B.A.” I intend to complete the second half of my B.A. in Women’s Studies when I’m 65 and tuition is free (or at least I think it’s free). Well, how likely is that professors will try and kick out the grey haired guy at the back of lecture hall?

I point out these shortcomings in my academic past to suggest that I am perhaps not worthy to be published in the same book as David Suzuki and Jane Goodall and Elizabeth May (leader of the Green Party of Canada) and Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela. But Jim had recommended me to Todd who was bringing together authors and writers and Todd asked me to provide a contribution.

“Global Chorus” includes 365 contributors discussing their take on the climate crisis. http://globalchorus.ca/ Todd was obviously very successful in getting a large number of well-known people to contribute, which is a testament to his persuasiveness and that of his friends, and family who helped him, as well the gravity of the situation humanity faces with our treatment of the biosphere.

Todd has been on a cross-country promotional tour and is doing well getting publicity for the book.

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2014/11/28/former_buskers_book_on_climate_change_snowballed.html

I believe he’s into his second printing.

I’ve started to read through the book and it’s quite inspirational. My contribution is on page September 28. Temple Grandin is August 8. The Dalai Lama is April 18.

Todd asked for a one-page response to this:

“Do you think that humanity can find a way past the current global environmental and social crises? Will we be able to create the conditions necessary for our own survival, as well as that of other species on the planet? What would these conditions look like? In summary, then, and in the plainest of terms, do we have hope, and can we do it?”

In reading the book it’s interesting to see other people’s perspectives. There tends to be a lot of philosophy and a lot of the use of the word “hope” and future generations and the big picture stuff. From what I’ve read so far though, mine offers the best hands-on practical solution to the problem as you’ve read in my blogs … live your life as if there is a high-price on carbon, vote Green and lobby for the government to put a price on carbon … that sort of nitty-gritty stuff. After 30 years in the environmental movement I’m just not into rambling about that whole ‘hope’ and ‘the kids of the future’ thing because while the younger generation is doing some amazing stuff, a lot of them just have their heads buried in their smart phones and I don’t blame them because their parents are screwing up royally.

And since people just don’t seem to want to address the problem head on, the best solution is to put a high price on carbon and start ratcheting it up quickly so people get off their butts and do what needs to be done. This is why I’m putting all my energy into the Green Party right now. Once in power we will put a price on carbon and turn this monstrosity around before it hits the iceberg … although I’m not sure an iceberg is a good metaphor for the bad outcome from global climate change. Or maybe it is. The documentary “Chasing Ice” seems to show an awful lot of icebergs calving from glaciers.

I really liked Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute’s response, which is a very practical. And my neighbor songwriter Sarah Harmer focuses on the need to shift our focus away from the individual to the collective care of our communities. Olivia Chow, a Toronto-based politician (and widow of Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s left-wing NDP) starts her discussion of the need for government action with a quote from Jack that was widely publicized after his death several years ago.

“Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

To which I add … yes, and a price on carbon is a good start. And we should all stop flying. And start eating a locally grown plant-based diet. And install geothermal heating systems. And solar panels … Sorry, just couldn’t help myself.

*** Many thanks to D.H. and N. B., longtime readers of this blog, for their recent donations. We are very grateful for your support!

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The Price of Oil is Scary

So have you noticed the price of oil lately? Pretty great eh? Cheap gas! Yee ha!gaspistol

I think not. I don’t think this is a good thing. I guess I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy but I think something is amiss and I don’t think it’s going to end well.

A barrel of oil has stayed above $100/barrel for quite a while now. Then last summer it started this crazy nosedive to its current level of about $50. And it frankly just doesn’t make any sense to me, on so many levels.

First off, it is just such an amazing commodity; it shouldn’t be this cheap. The potential energy in a barrel of oil is mind-boggling. Three tablespoons of oil is the equivalent of a human working manually for 8 hours. If you spent your whole life toiling in the fields (which I lovingly do every summer) your whole life’s energy expenditure would be equivalent to 3 barrels of oil. 3 barrels. So if the world is burning through 80+ million barrels of oil everyday, you can appreciate just how much work that fossil fuel is accomplishing for us.

Now some (like me) would argue that much of it is wasted commuting long distances or flying to exotic places. Some would argue (like me) that we have to burn less of the stuff because when you use a liquid hydrocarbon like this, it releases sequestered carbon from under the ground into the atmosphere, and on a large scale that’s not a good thing. Some organizations like 350.org or even the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that if we want to have any hope of stopping the planet from warming more than 2°C we basically need to leave three-quarters of the known fossil fuel reserves that energy companies have on their balance sheets, in the ground.

And that’s one of the biggest problems with cheap oil. Some countries seem to be pumping it likes there’s no tomorrow, to generate cash, and this stuff is too precious to sell at a discount.petrol-pump-icon

There are lots of great theories as to why the price has collapsed the way it has. One is that countries are trying to punish Russia, which relies heavily on oil revenue, for it’s incursion into the Ukraine. I tend to take the more classic economic perspective and that is that demand is simply not there. The media loves to remind us of how great the economy is doing and why we should be so confident and get out there and run those credit cards up making ourselves happy. But I don’t things are as rosy as we’re being told. And I think the plummeting price of oil is the proof.

There is a hard cold reality of cheap oil and that is that many North American producers are no longer profitable. Fracked shale oil and Alberta tar sands oil are really expensive to get at. At $120/barrel there is an economic incentive to do this. At $60/barrel, well, not so much. And some of these investments we’re talking about are long term. So if you take drill rigs out of the fields and scale back investment in looking for new supplies, eventually you’ll have a drop in supply, which should bring the price back up. But I don’t think you can replace lost supply that quickly which means a huge price spike later on. More pain after the short-term gain we’re experiencing.

In a perfect world the price of oil would have just kept going up indefinitely. This would destroy demand and get consumers to switch to alternatives, many of which use free energy, like the sun and wind. A high price of oil is good for the environment. But economics being what it is, this whole supply and demand thing doesn’t seem to fit with an ever-increasing price of a commodity. Sooner or later the bubble bursts and prices come back down to earth. And customers shopping for new cars see cheap gas and buy big honking’ vehicles that will be on the road for 15 or 20 years. (These same consumers will be on the nightly news when gas goes back up in price complaining at the cost of filling up their inefficient vehicles!)

I may be out in left field on this one; in fact I’m sure I am. I simply can’t understand how such an abrupt price drop in oil can be a good thing over the long haul. Something’s up. I just can’t get my head around exactly what that is. But I don’t think it’s a good thing. Or, quoting the title of my friend Joe Ollman’s book “This will all end in tears.”

 

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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