Thursday, November 26, 2009

OneEarth Video-Letter to Stephen Harper

Finally, here's the OneEarth video-letter to Stephen Harper that I wrote about back here.

Before It's Too Late: Harper's Song

Partial Credits, Timeline and Thanks...

* Andrew Matheson and Janice Cooper came up with the idea of doing our own version of's "Yes We Can" video at an EcoSchools conference at the board office on Thursday, November 5th.
* India Mcalister and I wrote the words over the weekend.
* Mr. McGrath, Mrs. Mark, and Mr. Allt gave up a spare to play guitar.
* Janice, India and Thomas Putman came in one night after school to sing.
* Most of students in the OneEarth club sacrificed their MSIP classes on November 12th and 13th to film students in classrooms all over the school.
* Many many students and teachers gave up valuable class time to be filmed.
* Andrew and a few other students edited for hours over the following week.
* We showed it to the OneEarth group on November 23rd, and it was realized we need some sub-titles because some classes were too quiet and others weren't in unison enough to really hear with the guitar and singing mixed in. (And we thought we were done!)
* We premiered it at After Hours yesterday, and it was featured on CTV News!

* Thanks to Mr. Strangways for use of the video equipment and many many thank-yous to Mr. Papoutsis and his students for giving us the space and help needed to edit.

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Munk Debate on Climate Change

There's a climate change debate happening on Tuesday, December 1st in Toronto. The live debate is totally sold out, but there's a live feed being broadcast all over Canada. Locally, it's at the CIGI on Erb Street - attached to the Seagram's building.

The debate is part of the "Be it resolved..." series. This time it's "Be it resolved climate change is mankind's defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response." (Why mankind instead of humanity? So much for gender-inclusive language.) The debate features Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, George Monbiot, author of Heat and Guardian columnist, Bjorn Lomborg, professor at the Copenhagen Business School and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, and Lord Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and author of An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming who wants to abolish the IPCC and who is the father of Nigella Lawson, the most sensuous cook on T.V.

I've already read Heat, but I hope to at least skim the other two books before Tuesday. Of the four, I've only seen Elizabeth May debate, and she's fantastic. This looks to be one meaty line-up!

That's it.

ETA - The Globe and Mail had an interview with Bjorn yesterday. It's not as oppositional as I was anticipating. He thinks there's some benefits to climate change, which is a very half-full way of looking at it all, and he thinks we should focus on promoting solar power instead of focusing on reducing emissions. Of course we should.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Call Steve!

If you haven't written to Harper or Prentice or your local MP yet to convince somebody to do something about Canada's embarrassing emission levels, you can just call Steve instead! He's at 1-613-992-4211. If you're up to it, video tape it and send your submission to David Suzuki.

If you don't have time to call, you can just sign the on-line petition at the link.

Our video-letter is finished. I previewed it to our club and my family, and they both thought it needed sub-titles. So, alas, it's not quite done yet. The classes didn't always speak well in unison, so it sounds muddled with the singing and guitar at the same time. It's clearer with Obama giving a speech. Ah well. Sub-titles it is. I get to learn another new skill!

Look for the really finished video here Thursday morning!

That's it!
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Foil Nestle in Aberfoyle

Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. - Margaret Mead

I'm using this quotation again because it fits a different issue that has more of a local impact to me. Nestle's water grab in Aberfoyle.

Here's the issue...

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) issued a two-year Permit to Take Water (PTTW) to Nestle in 2001. It was renewed in 2003, 2005, and 2008. So Nestle can legally take water from Aberfoyle. But just because it's legal, doesn't make it right. As you might have seen in The Cove, governments and ministries sometimes get surreptitious payments or benefits of one kind or another if they'll allow activities to continue that aren't truly in the public's best interest. That's how lobbying sometimes works, even though it shouldn't. Now Nestle want to use a backup well to maximize their yield.

In 2005, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement was signed by Ontario. It strengthens the requirements for the government to ensure that water taken from the Great Lakes basin won't have any adverse impacts on any source watershed.

In 2006 a Clean Water Act was passed that ensures that communities can identify potential risks to their drinking water supplies, and take action to reduce these risks.

In 2007, neighbouring townships had watering bans and a Level 2 low-water condition in the area. Access to this public well would have alleviated this condition. It seems clear that the Nestle PTTW is inconsistent with the objectives of the agreements and acts passed by the provincial government. So concerned citizens petitioned to get the MOE to review the PTTW, and the ministry turned down the request because they didn't provide any technical, scientific or other evidence to indicate that the decision to issue the former permit was flawed.

Currently the MOE is supporting Nestle. They cleaned up some pollution, so the MOE is letting them expand. Very nice.

There was a recent letter to the editor by David Lunman expressing some concerns. Unfortunately he doesn't include his credentials or sources. He claims Nestle is pumping water faster than the aquifer can recover. Nestle hopes to take 3.6 million litres/day of groundwater.

Nestle was quick to reply (can't find a link, sorry). Their main point is that everything they're doing is legal and that the MOE is monitoring the well to ensure it's sustainable. Nestle doesn't want to dig a new well to get more water, but merely to sustain the levels currently taken. Nestle is currently taking 3.6 million litres/day.

According to one report, Nestle paid a one-time fee of $3,000 to access the well, and they are required to pay the province $3.71 for every million litres of water extracted, or about $14/day if they take their maximum allotment. Wellington Water Watchers estimated that if Nestlé bought that same amount through Guelph’s municipal water system, it would pay about $2,700 a day.

First of all, the fact that Nestle wants a new well to get the same water seems to belie the claim that the current well is actually sustainable. Curious.

But even stranger, how can the province sell our water to a private corporation for re-sale at all? I mean how many free lunches is John Gerretsen getting for letting a corporation rip-off his province? Or is it sadder than that. Is he being bullied by the brutes? If you're reading this, take a minute to e-mail him and ask him precisely that!

This Wellington Water Watchers have created a fantastic website. Take a minute to look around there. And, teachers, they have a great "Message in a Bottle" initiative for schools! I wish I had known before we ran our re-usable bottle campaign. And they have a handy form you can complete for more info, and suggest we boycott all things Nestle. Make sure you let Nestle know you're doing this too. It just takes a minute to write an e-mail.

Maude Barlow agrees. "There's a huge backlash on campuses and in some restaurants," claims Barlow. "The 'in' thing now is not to serve bottled water." This makes me all the more upset that we couldn't convince the Waterloo Regional District School Board to ban water bottles. They almost did, but bailed after one trustee thought kids would turn to pop instead, so they'd all get diabetes from not having access to bottles of water (regardless of the many water fountains in our schools).

In the movie FLOW, Barlow complained specifically about Nestle. They own 70 brands of water. In Michigan they're pumping at 450 gallons/minute – drying up the river beds and causing significant adverse impact. Citizens sued after much protest. Nestle hired a P.I. to harass citizens who signed the petition. Nestle lost the first round, but won on appeals. Now they have a right to pump where ever they want in the US, but at a slightly slower rate. Nestle leases the property from the city to do the pumping, so the city sees some money, but not much.

By 2020, half the world won’t have water. Even in the Roman Empire water was seen as a public right that can’t be privately owned or sold for profit. If diversion of water affects people it should be considered unlawful. Legally, in the U.S., it’s considered unconstitutional to stop water pumping unless you personally own property that’s being affected.

Dammit, let's make sure that doesn't happen in Canada too!

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There IS No "Away" - My Beef with Green Bins

We have the green bin in our neighbourhood now. It's nice to have someplace for our kitty litter and dog poop and bones which clog up our digester, but I still use our composter for most food waste. And I'm still very wary of the program for a couple of reasons....

The bins collect meat, dairy, bones, and feces from carnivorous animals which have a high bacterial content. The stuff is mushed together and heated to high temperatures to try to kill off the bacteria, but it's not always successful. Then it's all used as fertilizer on our crops along with some sewage sludge. And we wonder how lettuce can give us e-coli which can be fatal.

A colleague asked, but what about the fact that people have used animal waste and their own waste on crops on the family farm for centuries. The key word there is family - it's a known environment. It's not a problem to fertilize with manure when you know the people and animals involved. It's only a problem if someone in the line-up is sick. And that's impossible to know when we work from such a large and unmonitored base.

It's the same with backyard composting compared to municipal composting. I know that my compost doesn't have any weed seeds tossed in or any leaves from a diseased tree in the mix. Municipally, I can't be too sure if the dope on the other side of town is as careful as I am. So the city wide compost could be contaminated and spread disease and weeds. If you want clean fertilizer for your gardens, don't get it from the city, make it yourself in a 4 x 8 box in the backyard.

The "biosolids" they're spraying on our crops could possibly cause us all to get very sick. We have this naive illusion that the government won't let that happen to us. But don't be so sure. It's been an issue in the White House gardens even. In Ontario, 2/3 of all sewer sludge is sprayed on crops. The EFAO has been working to stop the practice completely. But it's far too convenient a way to rid of the waste. Rain to the waters and sewage to the soil. And what isn't used by the city, is sold back to you at garden centers as garden compost. Through our taxes we are paying for the city to pick up our yard waste, let it sit a while to decompose, then sell it back to us. In our region, it's twice the cost of landfilling it, and 100% more than having backyard composters and digesters. On a related note, it costs the city more than half a million a year to collect leaves. Some insist they don't have room to compost, but if they've got room for trees, surely they can squeeze a composter under one.

But beyond the way its used, the green bins allow us to maintain an insidious belief that all our crap just goes away - like dumping garbage in a moving river. Look, it's all gone! But we're a closed system, and it's never all gone. The more we think it is, the more we'll create. If we have to deal with our waste ourselves, maybe we'll have less food waste. Every bit of leftovers will be finished.

After explaining this to a friend, he asked if he should continue using it. I said, "Sure." Try to be mindful of the fact that your crap isn't disappearing when the truck takes it away. And make sure you eat organically and that you know where all your produce comes from (because sludge is an organic fertilizer). Then read The Big Necessity.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

We Could Be Heroes

"Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. "
Margaret Mead

I saw The Cove tonight. I thought it would be depressing, but it was very exciting. I still don't think dolphin slaughtering compares to how we house and kill masses of cows, pigs and chickens in factory farms all over the place, but the big difference is that dolphin meat is toxic. It's full of mercury. So the slaughter for food is truly senseless. The creepiest part is that they put it in mandatory school lunches. Actually, it turned my stomach that the lunches were provided by schools and children were made to eat every last bite, and there seemed nothing parents could do to intervene on their children's behalf. I can't even imagine: my kids won't tolerate the wrong kind of mustard....

I remember as a kid being fascinated by the mercury in our thermometer. My parents were scientists, so my dad broke open the thermometer so I could explore the properties of mercury. He poured it onto a piece of metal, broke the ball apart, then rolled it around until it all joined itself again as if it desired to be in one big lump. I also remember his holler whenever I moved to touch the stuff. It's poison! It'll kill you. And I had to scrub my hands for several minutes even though I never actually made contact. Children were being forced to eat it.

It's an inspirational movie. These guys who devote their lives to the planet are in their 70s now, and they need younger folk to join the ranks. I don't have the kind of skills necessary for hiding underwater cameras, but I can write and talk and spread the word, and that includes writing letters to the political figures just in case they get on board on this one. See the Cove link at the beginning of the post for action tips. If you're really into it, picket at Marineland. I have consistently refused to take the kids there, and now I feel even more justified in ruining all the fun. I want them to learn I'm not cool with having fun at the expense of others. I've held that position long before I knew about the problems with dolphins in captivity; animals are not here to perform for us. Here's a good site fighting the practices at Miami Seaquarium. We need something similar to highlight problems with Marineland.

At one point two fishermen are walking across a beach of dead dolphins. As they make their way, one walks around the carcasses, but one walks on them, almost playfully navigating the balance act on the slippery skins. And I was reminded that it's all about "othering." As long as we think it's okay to treat any other creature as less than ourselves, as objects available for our own exploitation, we will have problems surviving together.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Earth-Friendly Christmas Presents

I had a conversation with a student today that got me thinking:

Student: Why should my taxes go to help others? Communism doesn't work!

Me: But socialism does - really well. Helping the weakest in society improves society as a whole, decreases health costs, crime, and so on. I actually think communism could work if we could make sure the governing parties' actions were entirely transparent and if there were many checks in place to keep corruption to a minimum.

Student: (jovially) Commie!

Me: I just laughed in real life. But I realized a better response would be to explain how close Jesus's views were to communism. I mean that in the best possible way. It's kind to give to those in need, our last two cents even, without getting anything in return....

And it reminded me about the new movie: What Would Jesus Buy?: The Shopocalypse. (Nice use of "Disney font".) The film doesn't appeal to me, but I like the question. Because even if you're like me and don't believe Jesus is the son of God, he still had some pretty good ideas. And I don't think he'd visit the marketplace over the holidays. He doesn't prove his love with perfumes and new sandals for his disciples. He acts lovingly all year long as he lunches with prostitutes and tax collectors. And that's enough.

And that's worth so much more than another scarf, or an original oil painting, or a one-of-a-kind hat, or a tree ornament, or even some sharp new earrings. If you're not convinced, a new book, Scroogenomics, makes an excellent case for stopping the madness immediately.

Jesus advises us to serve one another, to wash people's feet for them. For Christmas, we can give gift cards for skills you can offer to one another that can be collected when needed. It's free, and a better use of our time than shopping. In the new year, I'm thinking of making a "Skills for Trade" board where people can post what skills they have to offer - with a solid reference or two, and what skills they're looking for. I'll have to think more on that one.

But beyond the WWJB theory, that first question my student asked has enormous environmental implications. Why should we do anything that doesn't directly and obviously benefit us? Why turn down the thermostat? Why drive the car less? Why put litter in the garbage can instead of on the street?

Sometimes I think that if we can't circumvent this question and steer people into acting for the benefit of all, then we'll never get anywhere without massive governmental legislation forcing us to be more thoughtful (e.g. fines for not car-pooling). Because, as my student further explained, if we act for the benefit of others, the people acting selfishly will get ahead in life. All we'll have is a nice warm feeling that we've done the right thing possibly tainted by a little voice in the back of our brains telling us we're chumps.

We need people to care about the welfare of the whole over the benefits to the individual. And I sometimes think these divergent foci are somewhat inborn, that they can't be taught. Well, not by me at any rate. I'm still struggling to get my family to turn off the lights. And my partner argues with me when I insist on turning off power bars because "electricity's so cheap." But maybe it just takes more time and persistence to sway the masses.

In The Geography of Hope, Chris Turner, fellow Canadian, explains that the environmental movement isn't working because it's being run like a religion. People are made to feel guilty if they don't join the congregation, and guilt sends most of us in the opposite direction to escapist pursuits. As a movement, environmentalism isn't at all appealing. It pretty much sucks. Live a life of bodily denial or watch world-civilization collapse. Remind you of church yet?

According to Turner, we're never going to shift this attitude, instead we have to use business tactics to sell environmentalism, and make being green the cool thing to do. We need to use the tools of corporate marketing campaigns: make information simple, manageable, and sexy. I agree, yet wouldn't it be nice to live in a world of people who can see the big picture and focus on the sustainability of the entire system instead of the gains of the individual? It'd be handy if it happened before catastrophes start to bring us all on board.

The Eco-Challenge starting next week will be to buy nothing! Next Friday is Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day. We're extending it for the entire week as a challenge, and encouraging it to continue until Christmas.

In the month of December we're going to set up a booth where students can buy charitable donations for friends. There's money changing hands, but no stuff. Many students don't have a Visa card, so can't donate to charities themselves. This way, we'll donate all the money in a lump sum at the end of the drive.

And, for people who can't get past the need to give a thing for Christmas, we're also going to extend the FreeStore to include "present-able" gifts - unopened or unused items that have been at the back of the closet since your birthday or last Christmas. Bring them in, and take someone else's old presents for a loved one. It's not really re-gifting when it goes through a third party! That's the idea anyway. Hopefully people can add to it (and subtract from it) at the premiere of No Impact Man we're hosting on December 16th.

And of course we'll be showing "Story of Stuff" at lunch all next week. It's becoming a Christmas classic for me!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No Impact Man and The Cove

Eastwood Collegiate's IMPACT group is running a special showing of the film The Cove this Friday, November 20, at 5:00 at the Princess Cinema for $10 each. If you want to guarantee a seat, contact Sheena Gruber, Adam Kasper or Byran Oates at Eastwood, 519-743-8265. Warn any students that it gets very graphic. The one issue I have with the film and campaign though, is that we seem to feel horrible distress over the slaughter of dolphins, but people don't rally around the painful living conditions and subsequent slaughter of cows and pigs and chickens nearly as much. Is it because dolphins look like they're smiling or that they can do tricks?

KCI's OneEarth club is hosting an international premiere of No Impact Man on Wednesday, December 16th at 7:00 pm in our auditorium at 787 King Street West in Kitchener. Tickets are $5.00 at the door, but please let me know if you plan to bring a group. We'll be selling books and DVDs and some eco-products at the door as well. Cash only please. The movie is about a family that tried to live without having an impact on the environment for one year - no gas-powered transportation, no disposable anything, no garbage. It's two days before Christmas break, but it's the perfect time to think about our mass-consumer livestyles!

That's it!
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

And Still Counting or How To Make a Video

We're still working on letter-writing this week, especially since Harper figures he'll just give the Copenhagen meeting a pass. Specifically he said he'll only go if everyone else goes, because that's what the cool kids do. Sorry for being catty, but I'm getting frustrated with what appears to be a total lack of concern. And to be fair, he's sending Prentice. But missing it sends a big message to Canadians - that this isn't one of the most important issue of the day for the Conservatives. Not by a long shot....

Last weekend there was a cute op-ed in the TO Star about Jim Prentice, and his spin on the Pembina Institute's report on climate change. The gist of the report is that typically we have a GDP of 2.4%. If we implement the current Canadian emission targets it will create a GDP of 2.2%. With the targets environmentalists are hoping for, it will reduce the GDP to 2.1%. So, really, Canada can be green and prosperous. The jobs being held in the oil industry will transfer to green energy industries. There will certainly be an adjustment period, but nothing we can't cope with for the future of our species.

Students have been working on a video - an adaptation of's "Yes We Can". Below is how we worked the words and vocals along with the arrangement that I painstakingly weeded out by ear. It looks better in the original table, but you can figure it out. Watch the video to see how tricky it is to hear the individual singers!

We came up with the idea for a video letter last Thursday at an EcoSchool brainstorming session. I wrote the words on Friday, which were later altered slightly by a student collaborator. We put a call out for volunteers to be filmed on Mon-Wed. Then we filmed Thurs and Friday. We edited last night, and I went in again for too many hours today. It's a huge project, but very do-able - particularly if you recognize that students are not professionals, and the video will be much looser than the original, AND the multi-layering of the video hides lots of mistakes. I just learned how to edit yesterday, and I'm already addicted. I didn't get permission to use the tune, but apparently it's okay as long as I don't try to make money off of it. You have my permission to steal the words, but a shout-out and link to the blog would be sweet.

It's not a contest, it's a protest!

So use the stuff below to make your own video if you like. Let's see how many videos we can get going! But make sure to get them to Ottawa by December 7th!

Beginning visual – teachers on guitar and a few singers waiting
This is a letter, to the Honourable, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister
of Canada
Spoken – ind
Before it’s too late
Spoken – ind

This is a cry for a brand new era,
That will define the destiny of our nation.
Spoken – ind
before it’s too late; before it’s too late
Spoken – small group 1 (two groups)

Kyoto required we reduce emissions, by 5 point 2 per cent, but we
Didn’t commit to it, because it might hurt our economy.
(tricky to fit)
Sung / group 2
before it’s too la-a-ate (“before-it’s” go together fast)
Sung –ind

So our emissions increased over 30 per cent
Group 2
Kyoto was called job-killing.
(no singing) Group 3
Kyoto was called economy destroying.
(no singing – unless you want to try it!)
Group 4
Our leader said CO2 is essential for life
as if GHGs are good for us.
Sung / group 5
Before it’s too late, you need an education. – (say fast)
Sung / group 6

before it’s too late
DBB Sung – ind
before it’s too late
#FEDBB Sung –ind
before it’s too late
#FEDBB Sung-ind
before it’s too late
DDD Sung –ind
before it’s too late
GBBB Sung-ind
before it’s too late
DDD Sung-ind
oh – before it’s too late
GBBB Sung ind
before it’s too late
DDD Sung ind

We need to reduce GHGs 40%
Sung / Group 7
We need a national plan to reach this target.
Sung / Group 8
We need you to care most about our ear-rth
Group 9
About our ear-r-rth
So we can repair this world
Group 10
Repair this wor-r-rld
before it’s too la-ate
HIGHDD A B AG Group 11
Avant qu’il soit trop tard
BB A A G G Group 12 – French imm
before it’s too late
DD D B AB Sung
avant quíl soit trop tard
before it’s too late
#FF E B BAG Sung
avant quíl soit trop tard
before it’s too late
BB A A G Sung
avant quíl soit trop tard
DD D B A B Sung
before it’s too late
DD D B AB Sung

We know the battle ahead will be long
(no singing) Group 13
But we have to remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way
(no singing) Group 14 – sign language
Nothing can stand in our way,
(minor singing?)
if we commit to a change, a change to save humanity.
#F G GE E G E E G E #F GEEE Group 15

We want change – Sung – class changtting.- group 27
We want change- Sung
We want change – Sung
We want change Sung

You want us to believe, it’s not true, but if we take that chance,
(no singing?)
we might not survive to find out.
B D C BB A B BAG Group 16 – only 2nd half is sung
Crops will die , and millions will starve.
(no singing) Group 17
Places like the Maldives Islands will be swept into the sea
(no singing or guitar – just keeping beat) Group 18
The economy won’t matter, money won’t help us,
Once climate change, crosses the danger threshold.
G DD D BB B GG A-LOWE Sung / group 19

Save our earth Sung
Save our earth Sung
Save our earth Sung
Save our earth

The hopes of the little girl in India who drinks from a sewer are the
same as the dreams of the boy who
(no singing?)
has polluted water in Nunavut.
group 20
But we can see that there is a change happening in this world.
(no singing) group 21
That we can’t be divided by profits and politics.
(no singing) Group 22
But Canada CAN be both gre-en AND prosperous.
Sung/group 23

So together we must remember that we’re more than KCI students,
that we’re more, than just, Canadians.
(no singing)
Group 24

We’re all citizens of one ear-rth.
Sung / group 25

Before it’s. too. Late.

Group 26
before it’s
before it’s Random improvised singing and humming throughout these 8 bars
before it’s
before it’s
before it’s
before it’s
before it’s
before it’s
All individually spoken with it sung in the background.
before it’s too late
Spoken by teachers’little kids
before it’s too late
Teachers join their kids

If you're still reading, I have to admit, I wish I knew how to edit before I started filming. I would have filmed more complete sequences because it's hard to piece them together. And I would have done many many more takes to get them closer to perfect. But all in all, it's going quite swimmingly! We'll be done for sure by next Wednesday, which is our After Hours arts night, and the world premiere of our video (so it has to be done). Then I'll have students hand deliver it to Peter Braid's constituency office.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Countdown to Copenhagen

This next week will be all about COP15 - the 15th meeting about climate change from all the big guns. It runs from December 7-18th, and we're hoping we can get students writing letters and signing petitions and somehow getting involved in the democratic process. Climate Action Network Canada sent out info on how to get going, and I'll pass it along here. Also check out Seal the Deal for more ideas.

We're putting up a display with the information below, and handing out half sheets of paper, double sided, with sample letters on one side and addresses on the other. But on top of that, some very dedicated students want to put together a video kind of like this, with as many students as possible to send off instead of a petition. "Before It's Too Late" will have some original music, and some singing and many voices in unison each saying one sentence of a letter to Stephen Harper. When it's done, you can see it first right here!

In our display, the information is separated, all with different fonts of various colours. Here's it's just straight info. Do with it what you will.

December 7-18, more than 15,000 people including Government officials and advisers from 192 nations and the media from nearly every country in the world will come together in the Danish capital in one of the most significant gatherings in history. It is being called the most complex and vital agreement the world has ever seen as they will negotiate agreements for countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – Kyoto Redux: This one’s for keeps!

Stephen Harper wrote a letter back in 2002 that said:
“We're gearing up now for the biggest struggle our party has faced since you entrusted me with the leadership....I'm talking about the 'battle of Kyoto' — our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto accord.... Carbon dioxide is essential for life!”
Harper's letter dismisses Kyoto as 'socialist scheme'. CBC News, Tuesday, January 30, 2007.

Let’s make sure Harper gets an attitude adjustment. Write a letter to tell him what really matters.
• Sign the online KYOTOplus petition
• Write your own letter
• Be part of KCI’s video petition this Friday. Listen to the announcements for details!


MP name

Dear Name

Global warming is the greatest threat to life on earth. Entire populations and ecosystems are threatened by devastating impacts such as drought, heat waves, fires, floods, storms, and rising sea levels.

Scientists have warned the United Nations that only urgent action can avert uncontrollable, runaway climate change.

Green solutions will create thousands of jobs and build a strong economy.

To preserve our environment and ensure a livable world for our children, I call on Canadian politicians to support these KYOTOplus goals:
• Set a national target to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 25% from 1990 levels by 2002.
• Implement an effective national plan to reach this target and help developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.
• Adopt a bold, strengthened second phase of teh Kyoto Protocol at the pivotal United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 2009.

The Government of Canada must act NOW to make climate change our highest priority.


Your Name

Come to the A.O. for a handout of this sample letter and addresses.

Check out www.climateactionnetwork for more information.

Addresses: You can write to any governmental figure without a stamp, or e-mail them!

Peter Braid is the local Member of Parliament. 22King Street S. Waterloo, ON N2J 1N8 (

Also write Stephen Harper: Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2 (

To view which MPs have not already signed the KYOTOplus politician’s pledge, visit:

Mailed letters count for more than e-mail, but make sure it’s out by the end of November to get there in time!

Personalize your letter by expanding on topics such as...
• Intergenerational justice – youth are inheriting a world that is in climate crisis. Future generations deserve better.
• Climate justice – richer countries have a moral obligation to take more responsibility for climate change than poorer countries. Poor people have the right to attain a certain level of development before being responsible for emissions.
• Tar sands – Canada is increasing tar sands production, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands are three times those of conventional oil and gas production.
• Democracy – Canadians want to stop climate change. Since we live in a democracy, we need politicians to represent the will of the people.

Under Kyoto, which we agreed to in 2002, we were supposed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012.

So far, Canada has increased emissions by 33.8%.

(We’re way worse than the U.S. on this one! – Shhh.)

Of the countries who signed Kyoto, Denmark had the greatest reduction of 22%! It IS possible.

In May 2007, the Friends of the Earth sued the federal government for failing to meet the Kyoto Protocol obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. How embarrassing!

Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again. Tell Harper this is important!  
At Copenhagen, they’ll be discussing what number to set as a target for reduction - between 25 and 40% by 2020. What does that mean for you?? How can you help??

• drive less, walk more
• turn off lights and monitors
• use power bars for phantom loads
• eat less meat
• buy fewer non-essentials
• buy stuff with the least amount of packaging
• use less hot water
• play in the park instead of watching TV
• turn your thermostat down in winter
• ditch the air conditioning in summer
• use less paper and use re-use-it paper
• plant trees

Canada has a tiny window of opportunity to move from laggard to leader. The stakes have never been higher, and the costs of failure are all but unthinkable. The Canadian Government CAN be moved on this issue, but only if we make it happen.

Let’s rise to the challenge.

No amounts of money will save the planet once climate change crosses the danger threshold.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Food Inc.

I offered seeing Food Inc. as a bonus project for my students and only had 2/30 takers. The title sounds boring. And to tell you the truth, the pacing is a bit slow and tedious. I started checking my watch after about an hour. Some say it tried to do too much at once. But the subject matter is fascinating. The facts are all American, but much of our stores are filled with US produce. It's making me ensure all my produce is either organically grown or from Ontario or both where possible. "You can change the world with every bite."

Here's a brief synopsis of the main points with lots of links for more information. If the movie's not playing near you, then read below and watch this instead:

The way we eat changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 50,000. We still have the image of agrarian America, but that's no longer the reality. We don't eat fresh tomatoes; they're picked green and ripened with ethyline gas.

This world is deliberately hidden from us.

Lifting the Veil

1930s drive-in fast food McDonald's stores changed how beef was processed. It started the rise of efficient assembly-line production. (The same factory mentality hit the schools too - and now we're finally exploring the problems with it.)

1970s - the top five companies control 25% of the market
2005 - the top four companies control 80% of the market: Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield, ConAgra

Richard Lobb - National Chicken Council

We can grow chickens twice as big in half the time but their bones and internal organs can't keep up the the rapid growth. They can't walk, and they get sick easier, so antibiotics are put in their feed. Even sick chickens go to the plant for processing. The farmers end up as slaves to the corporations which insist on barn upgrades. Farmers typically borrow over half a million to start off, and make about $18,000/year for their efforts.

Cornucopia of Choices

Michael Pollan - Omnivore's Dilemma

We have an illusion of diversity, but only a few companies and only a few products are produced. A huge number of products are filled with corn. Corn is subsidized by the government, so producers find ways to get it into everything to make food cheaper. It's a commodity crop because it can be stored and engineered.

Larry Johnson - Center for Crop Utilization Research

High-fructose corn syrup and soya is in 90% of products including feed for cows, pigs, chickens and fish. Cheap corn means cheap feed and cheap meat. But it also means a sub-standard product.

CAFO - Concentrated Animal Feed Operation

Cows shouldn't be eating corn. They should eat grass. I wrote about that a bit more here in which it's suggested that eating grass-fed cows can even help you lose weight. High corn diets in cows lead to e-coli that are antibiotic resistant. Cows stand in manure all day, and the manure gets in the meat. This was made explicit in Schosser's Fast Food Nation which is a great read (much better than the film of that name).

Unintended Consequences

We're getting tainted meat, but also tainted spinach and juice, etc. from run-off from the farms. The regulators (FDA) are too tied to the corporations so people get away with atrocities.
1972 - there were 50,000 FDA inspections
2006 - there were 9,164
The regulatory agencies are toothless.

Barb Kowalcyk and Patricia Buck are food safety advocates hoping to stop the self-policing in industries after Barb's son died of e-coli, initiating Kevin's Law, which is not yet passed. Our food is killing people They want any contamination in a plant to mean the plant has to be shut-down until cleaned up. But the courts decided it's unconstitutional to stop businesses from running. "We put faith in our government, and we're not being protected at the most basic level." The new law would return ability to shut down plants to the USDA. Unfortunately, the industry is more protected than the citizens.

If we feed cows grass, they will naturally shed 80% of the e-coli in their guts within 5 days. But instead, we want high-tech solutions. So we mix ammonium hydroxide filler with hamburgers to kill the bacteria. Yum.

The Dollar Menu

Poor people have no time to cook and no money to buy fresh vegetables, so they're stuck eating fast food. McDonald's shouldn't be cheaper than veggies. The food system is scewed to bad calories because of the subsidized commodity crops. The biggest predictor of obesity is income level. We're hard-wired to like salt, fat, and sugar, and the industry has taken advantage of this without responsibility.

We're getting spikes of insulin which is wearing down our body. One in three Americans born after 2000 will get diabetes.

In the Grass

Joel Salatin - Polyface Farms

Giant factory farms are faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper, but not better. Polyface is an all grass-based family farm. The cows move through the grass and fertilize as they graze. This is more economical than growing corn, transporting it, then moving the manure out and creating toxic run-off in the water system. "We've allowed ourselves to become disconnected and ignorant." Instead of bathing chickens in chlorine baths, they give them enough space that they don't become sickly.

A culture of technicians is into the "how" of it, but nobody's asking "why".

Eduard Peno - union organizer

The corporations don't worry about the comfort of their workers because they're temporary - just like the animals. Their fingernails separate from their fingers from infections. They're poor people that can't afford to quit. IBP (Tyson) took labour practices from the fast food industry. They won't have unions. They hire lots of illegal immigrants. NAFTA has put 1.5 million Mexican farmers out of business so they have to come to the US to find work illegally. The government cracks down on the workers, but never on the company that hires them. They get rid of 15 workers/day in a deal with immigration It's all to get the cheapest price for food.

New Alchemy Institute

We can't stop capitalism. We need to be a Goliath. If enough people buy organic, like Stoneyfield yogurt, then the larger corporations will start selling organic. Now WalMart is selling organic because the customers want it.

From Seed to the Supermarket

Monsanto was allowed to patent seeds since 1980. This makes it illegal to save seeds from plants to grow again next year, and gives Monsanto the monopoly on food manipulation (GMO).
They made DDT, Agent Orange, and Round-Up. Now they make "Round-Up Ready" crops so we can spray all the crops with herbicides and the crops will be protected genetically.
1996 - 2% round-up ready crops
2008 - 90%

Farmers are finding it's cheaper to pay Monsanto's fines than actually try to fight the corporation. Even farmers who's crops were downwind from a Monsanto field are being charged because cross-pollination is seen as theft.

The Veil

There are myriad government links to Monsanto including Clarence Thomas, Rumsfield, Shapiro, Kanter... not to mention other problems with GMOs.

They have the power to do whatever works best for the company including preventing labelling laws. Schwartzenegger vetoed SB-68, a law that enables lawsuits against corporations. Now 70% of processed food is genetically modified. It's even against the law to criticize products in the veggie-libel laws. Oprah was sued by the meat industry for saying she doesn't eat burgers. It cost her $1 million to fight them. It's a felony to criticize ground beef.

Shocks to the System

Farmers will deliver what people demand. Vote with your feet, and buy organic!

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Drink responsibly. Use a travel mug.

Last week we focused on composting, trying to convince teachers to bring their waste to the nearest buckets, and trying to convince students to take the apple core or banana peel to the bucket instead of using the garbage can. Our garbage survey showed that we have about 10 pounds of compost in the garbage every day. I'm hoping we can reduce this number without putting more buckets everywhere. It just takes 10 minutes to empty it all at the end of the day. If we have buckets in every floor and wing of the school, it'll take half an hour.

I also included information on No Impact Man in our display case. He lived a year without making a significant impact on the world. If we all did that.....

This week we'll be focusing on paper cups, particularly Tim Horton's which surround the school on all sides. Our school tosses six pounds of cups a day. Six pounds. There's stats and info here and here and here.

That's it.
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