Friday, June 30, 2006

O Canada: A younger Trudeau takes the lead

The environment has found a new champion. Justin Trudeau, famed firstborn son of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, has added his voice and name to the fight to save the planet. Justin, who has inherited his father's intelligence and passion for social justice, along with his mother Margaret's beauty and gentle soul, has stepped into the fray after years of avoiding the political limelight.

Already an active board member and spokesperson for Katimavik, and Master's student at McGill University, Justin recently took the job of chairing the Youth Section of the Federal Liberal Renewal Commission. When asked why he has chosen now to make his stand, the young Trudeau's answer was characteristically passionate and honest.

"With the Liberals regrouping, weighing in right now provides a real opportunity to make a difference," he said. "We can all make a difference. We have to learn that it's not about sitting around waiting for something to happen or someone to take care of us. We live in a country of extraordinary privilege and along with that comes an extraordinary responsibility that we have yet to understand."

The main focus of Trudeau's considerable attention is the threat of global warming. While he acknowledges that we face countless environmental problems, he has chosen global warming because of its direct connection to individual human activity.

"No other environmental problem is looming so heavily upon us, with the inevitability of impact; that is so completely and directly related to our own consumption patterns," said Trudeau. "Our current economic model has no way of accounting for what we're doing. We're in a finite system, acting like we have an infinite supply of resources."

As Trudeau explains, in the past when we've pushed civilization beyond its resources to the point of collapse, a new civilization invariably has sprung up somewhere else. When Mesopotamia fell, Egypt rose; when Egypt fell, the Roman Empire rose; and so on through the centuries.

"What's different now is that we have a global civilization," Trudeau explains. "Where do you go when it collapses?"

For Trudeau, the solution is two-fold. First, we have to rethink the system. "Time was that the guy who could use tools faster and better won," he said. But this isn't about bigger or faster tools; it's about changing how we fundamentally measure success and failure.

"If we're going to handle this tipping point, we're going to have to learn to manage the change, and that means start changing right here and not worry about 'out there'," he said. "We have to invest everything we have in changing how we do business."

"Secondly, every single citizen in this country has to change his or her behaviour in a deep and meaningful way." For Trudeau, this means learning to do more with less and build small, sustainable communities, and uses the example of his own community in Montreal where he hopes to create a small energy co-op. Trudeau's goal is to get his neighbourhood to invest in solar panels, thereby making his community energy self-sufficient.

"When you generate your own power, you become more aware of your energy consumption," said Trudeau. "It's not about finding "The Solution", it's about finding a variety of solutions."

Another solution Trudeau is currently looking at is transportation. When recently faced with the decision of whether or not to buy a fuel-efficient car, his decision was both innovative and something that the elder Trudeau would have no doubt enjoyed.

"Instead of buying a car, I bought a bus pass and a new bike," said the native Montrealer.

And then he added, "Every single individual has the power to change the world. It's that simple." A sentiment, no doubt, his dad would have applauded.


Katimavik, Canada's leading national youth volunteer service program for Canadians ages 17 to 21 years old, was created during Pierre Elliot Trudeau's years as Prime Minister. Its mission is to foster the personal development of our nation's young people through a challenging program of volunteer community work, training and group interaction. Since 1977, Katimavik has enabled nearly 25,000 Canadians to be involved in more than 2,000 communities throughout this great country.

The Trudeau Foundation promotes research into the social sciences and humanities in Canada, and fosters a dialogue between scholars and policymakers working nationally and internationally on issues of human rights and social justice, responsible citizenship, Canada and the world, and humans in their natural environment.

Monday, June 26, 2006


And so it begins. With a final clanging of the bell, school is over for another year. And while every child in the province will soon be singing the songs of summer, somewhere their parents are wondering, "How on Earth am I going to keep these kids busy for two months?"

In our house it only takes a week or so of freedom before the halcyon days of summer begin to get a little bit tedious. The truth is that we are all creatures of habit, and kids, like grown-ups, need a little structure in their lives and a little encouragement when it comes to making good environmental choices.

They may protest at first, but include your children in your daily routine and environmental practices. Draw up a list of daily chores and then assign each child age appropriate tasks. Even the youngest child can empty a compost bin or help sort laundry. This process helps to give your children a sense of personal responsibility, while freeing up your time for more family-centered activities

When planning family outings, always keep the environment in mind. There are plenty of healthy activities that enable both you and your children to enjoy the beauty of our natural world. As an added bonus, these environmental outings are generally free, much less exhausting than a family trip to an amusement park, and a lot more educational and enjoyable.

Providing children with the opportunity to learn about the natural beauty that surrounds them helps to foster a deeper appreciation and respect for the environment. Conservation areas can provide an entire day's entertainment for inquisitive young minds. To help identify the different species that you encounter, purchase an inexpensive pocket field guide for flowers, trees and birds. Pack a garbageless lunch and bring along plenty of fresh water. Remember to protect your children with a sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. Hats, t-shirts and sunglasses are also necessities for outdoor activities. At the end of the day, take nothing but photographs with you and leave nothing but footprints behind.

If you're looking for a more organized outdoor experience for your child, many conservation areas offer day camps for children aged 6 to 13. For more information call your local Conservation Authority.

Rediscover the joy of riding a bicycle. It's amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike without too much effort. Plan a day trip with your kids, complete with a picnic lunch, and tour your local community. Don't forget to set a good example by wearing a properly fitted bike helmet.

Once you get the hang of it, you may soon find yourself parking the car a little more often and using your bike for local errands. Your entire family will benefit from the exercise and the air will be a little bit cleaner from one less car on the road. If you plan to leave your bicycles unattended, bring along an adequate number of bike locks and don't forget to pack bottles of water to help protect against dehydration.

It's almost impossible to fully appreciate the incredible volume of garbage we produce daily without visiting a garbage dump. To arrange a visit to your dump, contact your local Public Works department. Making a visit to your local recycling centre is a good way to show children that curbside pick-up is only the beginning of the cycle. Contact your local recycling centre for further information.

Canadians are the highest consumers of electricity, per capita, in the world. This summer, challenge you kids, and yourself, to find creative ways to cut down on your family's electricity bill. Have your children help you install compact fluorescent light bulbs, close curtains and blinds during the daytime and turn off any unnecessary lights or equipment. Unplug the TV and rediscover the joy of family conversation or the pleasure of reading a good book.

Have a safe and happy summer!


Conservation Ontario represents a network of 36 Conservation Authorities – community based, environmental organizations dedicated to conserving, restoring, developing and managing Ontario's natural resources on a watershed basis. To find the Conservation Authority nearest you, or for more information about summer programs, visit Conservation Ontario

For more energy saving ideas, visit Powerwise

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Nuclear Showdown

Earlier this week, after months of speculation, the worst kept secret in Ontario was finally made public. On Tuesday, June 13th, Ontario's newly re-appointed Energy Minister, Dwight Duncan, directed the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to proceed with the 20-year plan that it submitted to the government last December. According to the sanctioned government news release, the plan promises (in what can only be considered an outrageous oxymoron) to deliver a "healthy balance" of nuclear power and renewable energy.

The timing of the announcement would have made old P.T. Barnum proud. Only one day earlier, the highly theatrical demolition of "The Four Sisters", the mighty smokestacks of the Lakeview Generating Station, took place, metaphorically clearly the way for what the government hopes we will all embrace as our new energy future. The McGuinty Liberals had promised to shut down the province's coal-fired generating stations prior to the last election. As the Greater Toronto Area's largest polluter, Lakeview was the most logical choice as the first offering on the government's chopping block. As its landmark towers that had scarred the horizon for decades turned to dust, thousands stood nearby to watch its early morning demise. Hundreds of thousands more watched the event from the comfort of their living rooms.

Less than a day later, like a phoenix rising from the rising coal ashes, the government revealed its fresh new plan. But if McGuinty and his cohorts thought that Tuesday's announcement would be the final act of their little energy drama, they were sorely mistaken.

Minutes after the government's plan was announced, seven Greenpeace activists, lead by veteran anti-nuclear activist Dave Martin, occupied the Energy Minister's office in protest. After nearly eight hours of occupation, the police moved in to remove the protesters, but not before the pictures of their occupation were distributed over the Internet, providing both inspiration and hope. Unlike the government's corny staged antics, the courage and conviction of the Greenpeace activists provided some very real life drama and sent a clear message to the McGuinty government.

"Nuclear power is unsafe, unclean, uneconomic and unreliable," said Martin, Greenpeace's Energy Coordinator. "The McGuinty government has the power to change our electricity system for the better. Instead it has blocked any meaningful public debate on nuclear power, and nuclear power will block any meaningful development of conservation and renewable energy."

In one short year, the McGuinty government has gone from promising an "open and public debate" on nuclear power, to ramming through a 20-year, $40 billion commitment to a radioactive future. In response to demands for meaningful consultation, the government held three rushed and inadequate days of public meetings in mid-February. Despite only 11 days of notice, the public response was overwhelmingly anti-nuclear and supportive of green energy.

At the Oshawa meeting, one of the many whistle stops along the consultation process, an estimated 200 people showed up to express their opinion. The turnout at the Oshawa meeting was particularly telling. The city has the dubious honor of being flanked by two of Canada's largest nuclear power plants, Darlington and Pickering. The majority of those who attended the meeting spoke loudly and clearly about the need to embrace renewable technologies and eschew our dependence on nuclear power. Their testimonies were compassionate, inspired and knowledgeable, and, as witnessed by Tuesday's announcement, virtually ignored by the McGuinty Liberals.

But as they say in show business, it ain't over until the fat lady sings. So maybe it's time that we listened to the music. Greenpeace and other environmental organizations, including WWF, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sierra Club of Canada and Pembina Institute, have released a report showing that energy efficiency and low-impact renewable energy sources have the realistic potential to provide more than double the amount of electricity needed in worst-case projections of Ontario's future electricity in 2020.

The bottom line: we have the power to change our future. All we lack is politicians with the courage and commitment to follow that path. If we can possibly learn by example, then maybe, just maybe, the Greenpeace protest will not only send a clear message to the McGuinty government, it will also be a wake-up call to everyone in this province to remind them that it's show time, folks!


The show must go on. For a clear, sustainable, environmentally responsible alternative to what McGuinty has to offer, check out a plan for green energy in Ontario, entitled, "Put Some Energy Into a Smart, Green Strategy" at Greenpeace Canada.

Send a letter to Premier McGuinty, Energy Minister Dwight Duncan, as well as your local MPP and let them all know that the OPA plan is wrong for Ontario. For a complete list of MPPs in Ontario, visit theGovernment of Ontario.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Precautionary Principle

When treating a patient, the Hippocratic oath binds medical doctors. The oath, which dates back to 400 BC, was written by Hippocrates, the founder of medicine. In essence, the oath entreats doctors to "do no harm." Over the centuries we have developed ways of measuring and testing the human body that provide us with checks and balances to determine if the actions of doctors comply with their obligation.

While we were aware that human activity was causing grievous injury to our greatest living ecosystem, the Earth, we had no comparable standard that empowered us to "do no harm." That was until the Precautionary Principle was born at the Earth Summit in 1992.

The Precautionary Principle, as defined in 1992 stated,

"Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

This initial definition, although considered by many to be a progressive step forward, fell way short of the ideal of "doing no harm." It defined our ability to protect the environment in cost-effective terms. Anyone who has watching while a loved one lay dying would agree that equating preserving life in cost-effective terms is completely unacceptable.

Almost as quickly as the ink in Rio had dried, the environmental community began re-scripting a better definition. In 1998, after many incarnations, a group of environmentalists produced what is now known as the Wingspread Statement. It states,

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action."

The Wingspread Statement puts health into the equation and puts the onus of proof on the proponent. It also places financial liability firmly on the shoulders of those who would place the financial bottom line above protection of the very ecosystem that gives us life.

Needless to say, there has been considerable debate over the very definition of the Precautionary Principle. Most recently, Environment Canada invited environmental groups to participate in a teleconference to provide input on risk management and the Precautionary Principle.

For those who participated, it was clear right from the start that what Environment Canada was looking for was an endorsement of the original statement that placed financially viability over environmental health. Consider this statement from the PowerPoint presentation, which was distributed to all participants:

"Possible interim risk management measures include performance agreements, with sectors or industries, wishing to take proactive measures to prevent or manage substances of concern. The long-term goal is a marketplace that fosters producer and user responsibility for sound management of chemicals."

Bruce Cattle, an environmental activist with Picton's Safe Water Group, participated in the conference call. He said that it was clear that the purpose of the session was simply to allow Environment Canada to say that they had consulted with the environmental community at the very least, and at best get the community to buy into the current government's agenda.

Unfortunately for Environment Canada (and the reps from Health Canada who also participated) Cattle is a media savvy community worker and former radio broadcaster who called the bureaucrats bluff.

In response to the teleconference, Cattle wrote, "The whole concepts of scientific certainty, risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis must be critically scrutinized and challenged. These folks aren't even close."

Cattle pointed to Environment Canada's list of prerequisites that were also including the PowerPoint presentation including:

"The application of precaution is a legitimate and distinctive decision-making approach within risk management."

"Precautionary measures should be cost-effective, with the goal of generating (i) an overall net benefit for society and (ii) efficiency in the choice of measures."

"Where more than one option reasonably meets the above characteristics, the least trade-restrictive measure should be applied."

"Long-term goal is a marketplace that fosters producer and user responsibility for sound management of chemicals."

Clearly we've come a long way since the crystal clear definition given by Hippocrates all those centuries ago. "Doing no harm" simply means that. Allowing the marketplace to define our options for protecting the environment is startlingly similar to allowing the foxes to watch the hen house.


The Science and Health Network has some excellent resources related to the Precautionary Principle.

Rachel's Precaution website is still under development, and yet it contains valuable documents about The Precautionary Principle.

The Safe Water Group