Monday, November 28, 2005

Advent Sharing Calendar

History will likely remember 2005 as the Year of the Environmental Refugee. The year that began with the clean-up from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, was punctuated by the worst hurricane record in history. By autumn, the devastating earthquake in Pakistan had been added to list. At last count, tens of thousands are dead and many millions more are homeless.

The Advent Sharing Calendar reminds us how blessed we are, and helps us to make room in our hearts and our budgets for those who have lost so much. To create your own Advent Sharing Calendar, take a small box or coffee can, put a slot in the lid, and then wrap the container in Christmas paper. Monetary gifts are added every day until the Epiphany (January 6th), when you send your donations to the charity of your choice.

Gifts should be added as follows:

December 1st ~ If your home is untouched by wind or water damage, put a loonie in the box.

December 2nd ~ Add another loonie if your tap water is safe. An estimated one billion people do not have safe drinking water.

December 3rd ~ Add 10 cents for every meal that you've eaten today.

December 4th ~ Add $ 1.00 if you have a family doctor.

December 5th ~ Add $ 2.00 if you have paid your doctor a visit in the last month. In Canada, we have 229.1 doctors per 100,000 people. Pakistan has only 60 doctors for the same number of people.

December 6th ~ Add $ 1.00 for everyone you know with HIV. In 2005, there are an estimated 40.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

December 7th ~ If you live above sea level, add $ 1.00. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people will die this year as a result of global warming. Many of them will drown in low-lying coastal areas.

December 8th ~ Add 5 cents for every year of your life untouched by natural disasters.

December 9th ~ Add 25 cents for every member of your family who has reached adulthood.

December 10th ~ Add another 25 cents for everyone who has reached adulthood without serious illness or injury.

December 11th ~ Add a loonie for every child in your house who has been vaccinated against major childhood diseases.

December 12th ~ If you have had a permanent address for more than six months, add 50 cents. Over one billion people on the planet lack adequate housing. Over 100 million have no housing whatsoever.

December 13th ~ If you own your own home, add $ 1.00.

December 14th ~ Add 10 cents for every warm coat that you own. Many of the refugees in Pakistan are facing a winter without shelter or warm clothing.

December 15th ~ Add 5 cents for every scarf, hat and pair of mitts or gloves that you own.

December 16th ~ Add 25 cents if you have warm winter boots.

December 17th ~ Add 10 cents for every day this month that you haven't gone to bed hungry.

December 18th ~ Add another 25 cents for every day this week that you've had dessert.

December 19th ` Add a loonie for everyone in your house who has completed high school.

December 20th ~ Add a twonie for anyone who has graduated college or university.

December 21st ~On this, the darkest day of the year, add 2 cents for every light bulb in your house. Don’t forget your Christmas lights!

December 22nd ~ If you are free to visit with friends and family this Christmas, add $ 1.00.

December 23rd ~ Add $ 1.00 if you have a phone that works. Add 50 cents for every cell phone in your family.

December 24th ~ Add 25 cents for every Christmas gift that you purchased this year.

December 25th ~ If your family celebrates Christmas Day with a sumptuous feast, add $ 5.00. One billion people suffer from obesity in the developed world. In the developing world, one billion people are starving.

December 26th ~ Add 50 cents for every gift you received this Christmas

December 27th ~ If you did not recycle Christmas wrappings and boxes, add $ 1.00.

December 28th ~ If you have a drug plan, add $ 1.00.

December 29th ~ If you have a pension plan, add $ 2.00.

December 30th ~ If you have every collected employment insurance or disability benefits, add $ 2.00.

December 31st ~ Add 10 cents for every day in December that you lived in Peace.

January 1st ~ Add $ 5.00 if you look forward to a New Year of Peace.

January 2nd ~ Add 50 cents for every member of your family who received a flu shot this winter.

January 3rd ~ Add 50 cents for every member of your family who has lived past 70 years of age.

January 4th ~ Consider how fortunate you are. And then consider that 600 million children live in merciless poverty.

January 5th ~ Sit down with your family and decide where you would like to send the contents of your Advent Sharing box. Suggestions include:
International Red Cross
Doctors without Borders

January 6th ~ (The Epiphany) ~ Add up the contents of your box and then send a cheque to the charity of your choice.

Monday, November 21, 2005

'Twas the Month Before Christma$

'Twas the month before Christmas and all through the mall,
The stores had been decked since the first day of Fall.
The toys had been stacked to the ceiling with care,
In hopes that consumers would soon gather there.

The children had visions of quite a good stash,
While grandma and grandpa said, "Just give them cash!"
So Dad in the Bimmer and I in the van,
Drive down to the mall, just as fast as we can.

When outside the mall there arose such a noise,
A truck had delivered a fresh load of toys.
The crowd rushed right in and they started to grab,
This season's top toys that their children must have.

While back in the mall things were getting quite rough,
I put on my game face and started to shove.
My list was quite long and my patience quite short,
So I logged on to eBay as my final resort.

Now iPod, now X-Box, now Star Wars, Part III,
A sack full of board games from Milton Bradley.
An iDog, a Game Boy, a widescreen TV,
I needed these presents for under my tree.

I put in my bids and I waited my time,
The last bids went in and the goods were all mine!
"My VISA's rejected, now what do I do?"
I charged them to AMEX, the sales all went through.

My credit card bills soon arrived in the mail.
"I simply can't pay these!" I started to wail.
So down to the bank I soon flew in a flash,
To ask that the manager give me some cash.

He was dressed all in black, his demeanor quite stern.
"My dear, you must stop spending more than you earn!
But since it is Christmas I'll give you a loan."
I felt like a dog being thrown an old bone.

The stump of his pen he held tight in his grasp.
"Just sign your name here and I'll give what you ask."
The manager smiled as I walked out the door,
Then I hopped in my car with my foot to the floor.

But I heard him exclaim as I drove out of sight,
"You'll be back here next month for the Boxing Day fight!"

If the thought of holiday shopping has you ready to put on the boxing gloves, relax. A month before December 25th, there's November 25th, the official date of "Buy Nothing Day." BND, as it's known to its supporters, is a time to remember that nobody was born to shop. It's a time to pause, think, and regain some calm before the Christmas rush begins in earnest. It's a time to ask for that ultimate refund, 24 hours of consumer-free culture.

Like all good holidays, BND requires a little planning ahead. Here's few suggestions (courtesy of Adbusters) of things you can do:
1. Volunteer
2. Sing in the shower
3. Turn off your cell phone
4. Have a bath in candlelight

If watching videos is more to your liking, forget about rentals and tune into the entertaining commercials produced by Adbusters in support of BND. Don't worry about reruns: these brilliant advertising spots have been banned by every major network in Canada. Enjoy!



To tune into the Adbusters' videos, or to reclaim your mental environment and sign the Media Carta manifesto, go to Media Carta

Check out the latest video, "Big Box Mart", brought to you by the fine folks at Jib Jab

If your way of relaxing is learning something new, then check out a new way of accounting, brought to you by True Cost Economics

Friday, November 11, 2005

Getting Clear About Nuclear

Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) recently released its final study, "Choosing a Way Forward." The 451-page document is the culmination of three years work, and represents this country's latest attempt at finding a long-term management solution for our stockpile of used nuclear fuel.

The NWMO's solution is a hybrid of previous recommendations. As its name suggests, Adaptive Phased Management (APM) will involve short-term storage at existing nuclear power plants, followed by an optional centralized above ground facility, and finally deep rock burial in a centralized vault. The NWMO recommendations come almost 30 years after Canada began searching for a site in earnest, and they carry a price tag of an estimated $ 24 billion.

If the federal government approves the plan, The NWMO will then become the implementing body, and commence the long road towards receiving regulatory approval. There's no hurry. If the feds approves Adaptive Phase Management, the NWMO estimates that it will take at least 30 years to begin the burial process, while monitoring will, "continue in perpetuity, based on a 300-year cycle."

The release of the NWMO study comes at a critical juncture for Canada's nuclear industry. The federal government recently tabled supplementary spending estimates which included a $ 60 million infusion of cash for Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. (AECL) for its work on the so-called "next generation", the Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR.) This is despite the fact that that AECL hasn't has a domestic reactor sale in over 30 years.

Meanwhile, increasing concerns about global warming and the health effects of smog have forced Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to phase out coal generation. With the province's increasing energy demands pushing existing supply to its limits, the Ontario Power Authority's 20-year plan, which will be presented to the McGuinty government in December, is expected to include new nuclear facilities.

To top things off, there's the totally annoying ad campaign sponsored by the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA). For those lucky enough to have missed the ads, they feature the word "Nuclear" floating on a bed of fluffy clouds, in a smog free blue sky. As the letters in the word "Nuclear" are rearranged to spell words like "Clear", "Unclear" and "Clean", a voice over provides statements to help viewers "get clear about nuclear power."

Statement 1: Nuclear energy is clean.

Misleading. While nuclear energy doesn't directly create smog or greenhouse gases, it does produce deadly radioactive waste and hazardous emissions. In addition, nuclear power provides a base load of electricity during non-peak periods. In order to meet peak demand, it's also necessary to have a source of electricity that can be accessed quickly. Fossil fuel plants, the ones that do produce smog and greenhouse gases, are the primary way to meet this demand.

Statement 2: Nuclear fuel is managed in a safe, environmentally responsible way.

Again, misleading. The NWMO report makes it perfectly clear that nuclear waste has created a very big problem. According to the NWMO, we currently have accumulated almost two million used fuel bundles, or 36 thousand tonnes of uranium, which will remain deadly for at least one million years. While we can use our best available technology to manage this stuff, no one can guarantee that it will remain safe.

Statement 3: Nuclear energy provides dependable electricity that you can count on any time, all the time.

This one is false. By 1997, Ontario Hydro made the decision to shutdown eight of its 20 reactors because of poor performance and safety problems. Two reactors at Pickering have since been permanently shut down, while repairs on the remaining reactors have costs billions (see Statement 4).

Statement 4: Nuclear energy is an economical energy source.

Wrong again. Despite the fact that nuclear power once promised to provide, "power too cheap to meter", the cost of nuclear power, for both construction and maintenance, has created a crushing debt load for Ontario ratepayers. At the time that it was dismantled, the former Ontario Hydro left Ontarians with a stranded debt of $ 23.5 billion (which we continue to pay for every month on our hydro bills.) The bulk of this debt was due to cost overuns at nuclear power plants. Darlington, for example, which was estimated to cost a mere $ 3.95 billion in 1978, eventually cost $ 14.4 billion.

The hemorrhaging of cash doesn't stop there. Refurbishments at Pickering A, units 4 and 1, have cost $ 2.5 billion to date. In addition, the McGuinty government recently approved an additional $ 4.25 billion for rebuilding all four reactors at Bruce A.

Cheap? I don't think so. Reliable? Despite the nuclear industry's best efforts, you can't rewrite history. Clean? Just because its emissions are invisible, doesn't mean that they aren't harmful. And finally, there's the question of disposing of spent fuel, which according to the NWMO, will take at least a million years to answer in earnest. I hope that's perfectly clear.


Nuclear Waste Management Organization

Greenpeace Canada

Canadian Nuclear Association

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nader in Toronto

Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, public hero and presidential spoiler, spoke to a sell-out crowd at Toronto's Ryerson Theatre last Friday. While much of the audience looked like leftovers from a Grateful Dead concert, very little about Nader's presentation was retrospective. Looking somewhat thinner, older and greyer, in his characteristic navy suit, Nader has clearly lost none of his fire.

His message: urgent attention is needed to change our current headlong course toward catastrophic climate change.

"You are not going to be the generation to hand the world over in a giant meltdown," Nader said, and then asked, "How do we reduce the silent, cumulative violence known as air pollution? It is violent because it destroys life, natural systems and health. And without nature, we don't exist." Nader pointed out that the average peak hurricane speed has increased by 50 percent since 1949.

Nader blames 100 years of dependency on the "infernal, eternal, internal combustion engine," which he says is both grossly inefficient and grossly profitable." As Nader explained, "an inefficient combustion engine sells more gas than an efficient one." Inefficient design also means that cars need to be replaced more often.

According to Nader, the large government subsidies that have been given to both the oil and auto industries in Canada undermine our democracy.

"Corporations have incredible power, but they don't have a single vote," said Nader. Corporations, particularly those whose products are gross contributors to climate change, have little regard for the future of the planet. He repeatedly referred to these corporations as "omnicidal", and said that they simply do not know when to stop.

Nader believes passionately that it is the commitment of ordinary citizens that can change the tide. He referred to the inspirational words of first century statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero who said, "Freedom is participation in power."

"There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship," Nader added. "You are the courage and the backbone of well-intentioned politicians." The crux of Nader's argument is whether or not we are willing to be that backbone. Forty years of activism have left him wary of what he calls "the unconscious civilization", a term borrowed from the title of a book by John Ralston Saul. (A book he also encouraged everyone to read.)

"How close is the problem to the sensory capacity of humans?" Nader asked, and cautioned that as a society we are just too busy to get involved.

"Those who choose to live their lives in virtual reality will be condemned by the reality that they ignore," he cautioned. "Once the highway is cleared for the people to take over, will they bother?"

The upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal presents a perfect opportunity for citizens to become a very conscious civilization. From November 28 to December 9, Canada will host the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention. The Montreal meeting is set to be the largest intergovernmental conference on climate change since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, and will set the agenda for the next important steps we must take to avoid catastrophic climate change. With some 8,000 to 10,000 delegates in attendance, Nader encouraged everyone present at his lecture to participate.

"Imagine what would happen if 200,000 people showed up," he asked. Now that might change the world.


For more information on the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change, visit UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Nader's Public Citizen, formed in 1971, is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that continues to represent consumer interests in the U.S.

Perhaps Nader's greatest contribution to social activism was the formation in 1970 of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a network of student-funded organizations at universities throughout Canada and the U.S.. Since its inception, PIRG has created a breeding ground for social activism. Many of today's environmental leaders are PIRG alumni. Visit Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) for Canadian chapters.

Ralph Nader came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of his book, "Unsafe at any speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile", which chronicled the resistance of manufacturers to improve on car safety. Nader's exposé led to, among other things, the death of the Corvair and the inclusion of seat belts as a basic safety feature in all automobiles. Still a prolific writer, Nader's observations can be found at

Nader's candidacy in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential election may have inadvertently helped to put George W. Bush in the White House, but it also put the environment back on the public agenda. For more on Nader's political journey, visit Vote