Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Pesticide Promise

From small acorns mighty oaks grow. This timeless saying perfectly describes the journey of one small Quebec town that had the remarkable courage to try and make the world a safer place for its children. Tired of seeing its young people die of cancer, the town of 5,400 passed a by-law banning the cosmetic use of pesticides in 1991.

The victory was short lived. The lawn care companies fought back and took the town to court. The case dragged on for a decade. Finally in 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the rights of Hudson - and every other Canadian municipality - to ban the use of pesticides within their borders.

It was as if a dam broke. Municipalities across the country responded by drafting their own pesticide legislation. To date, an estimated 135 municipalities in six provinces have pesticide bylaws, including Canada's three largest cities - Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

And now it's the Province of Ontario's turn. Last fall, the McGuinty Liberals made the establishment of a province-wide pesticide ban part of its re-election platform. On November 20th, following the Liberal victory, the Premier reiterated his government's commitment to introducing a pesticide ban by the spring of 2008 as part of its toxin reduction strategy.

True to his word, last week the government posted, its "Notice of intent to introduce legislation that would ban the cosmetic use of pesticides in Ontario" on the Environmental Bill of Rights in the Environmental Registry.

The proposal, known as EBR Registry Number 010-2248, is open for public comment for a period of 30 days, which commenced on January 18 and concludes on February 17, 2008.

The Environmental Bill of Rights Environmental Registry provides everyone in Ontario with the unique opportunity to comment on environmental legislation. This current posting is looking for feedback on a number of issues related to a ban, including:

Determining the Scope of the Ban

As it stands, the proposed ban would apply to cosmetic uses of pesticides, those intended to improve the appearance of lawns, gardens, parks and schoolyards. Pesticides would be allowed in situations where public health might be endangered, for example as a tool to reduce mosquito populations and the related threat of the West Nile virus. The government wants to know if there are any other situations where pesticides should be allowed.

Restrictions on the Sale of Cosmetic Pesticides

At issue is whether there should be an outright ban on the sale of cosmetic pesticides, or whether certain pesticides should be regulated.


Under the current proposal, pesticides used for agriculture and managed forests would be exempt. These are already subject to strict rules regarding application and storage. Instead, the government wants to know the public's opinion on focusing the proposed ban exclusively on urban residents living in towns and cities.

Exemptions for Golf Courses

This part of the proposal is a particularly sticky one. It was the use of pesticides on Hudson's many area golf courses was that town's primary motivator for introducing its ban. The Ontario government is proposing that golf courses would be exempt from the legislation. Owners would instead be required to develop plans that would limit the environmental impact of pesticides. What the province would like to know is should there be a minimum requirement for these plans and what should they include?


While many municipal jurisdictions have given a fairly long lead time between passage and implementation, it would appear that the McGuinty government is prepared to take a much more aggressive approach. The current proposal would introduce legislation in the spring of 2008 that would be phased-in over the next three years.

Response to the province's commitment to reduce pesticides and other toxins in the environment has been very positive.

"Premier McGuinty's leadership, demonstrated by the commitment to introduce legislation early in 2008 to enable a province-wide ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides, is welcome news," said Janet Kasperski, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario College of Family Physicians. "We need to choose the health of our children over the odd weed."

What began as a single courageous act 17 years ago has translated into a national movement. As the first province to consider such legislation, Ontario is rapidly moving the agenda forward - a virtually forest of mighty oaks have now grown from that one tiny acorn of an idea.

And now it's your turn. This is an open opportunity for public comment. Let your opinion count.


Commenting on the proposal is as simple as clicking on the EBR website. Search for EBR Registry Number 010-2248. Comments must be addressed to Robert Bilyea, Senior Policy Advisor, Ministry of the Environment.

Additional information is also available by phoning the Standards Development Branch, Ministry of the Environment, at 416-327-5519.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Canadian Innovation

It's clear that the status quo isn't working. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the climate continues to react (rather violently and unpredictably) and our politicians continue to squabble over what should be done. But then as Albert Einstein so clearly advised us all those years ago, it's impossible to solve a problem from inside the paradigm that created it.

We need to think differently. Here are two very innovative and distinctly different Canadian ideas that are doing just that. Both of them raise the bar considerably, meet old Uncle Al's requirement for out-of-the-paradigm thinking and qualify for my own "Gee, I wish I’d Thought of That" Award.

The first idea comes from two recent grad students who by their own definition are, "working hard to influence as many individuals as possible into living more efficient lifestyles." Their organization, Green Students, combines environmental education with school fundraising to deliver a program that is unique, practical and fun.

Forget about those unhealthy chocolate bars! Green Students provides Canadian schools with an opportunity to raise money through the sale of products that help fight climate change by promoting energy conservation. According to Green Students, all of the items are "useful, healthy, green and help to inspire greater change from everyday Canadians." These include a selection of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), Nellie's Dryerballs (which reduce drying time by 25 percent and eliminate the need for chemical fabric softeners) and Change the World for Ten Bucks (the book that I raved about in this column a couple of weeks ago). Green Students also sells Klean Kanteens (ultra lightweight stainless steel water bottles), a safe alternative to Nalgeen containers.

Unlike many other fundraising programs, which overprice items to cover the percentage paid to schools, Green Students' products are sold below suggested retail, which makes them both affordable and attractive. Schools place their orders in advance, so there are no carrying costs up front, or cartons of chocolate bars left over at the end. Commission cheques are delivered to the schools at the same time that the items are delivered. For example, schools receive a minimum of $1 for each light bulb sold and $4 for each Klean Kanteen or dryer ball order. Green Students also provides marketing material, lessons plans and activities designed to reinforce the concepts of the program. Schools and other organizations have the option of selling the products at public events such as eco-fairs. The program is currently available to any interested group in Canada.

The Green Students' website boasts that this unique program has already prevented 1,262,750 kilograms of CO2 from entering the atmosphere (and counting...).

The next great idea comes from the ZENN Car Company. The ZENN, which stands for "Zero Emissions, No Noise", is a remarkably all-electric car that is produced in St. Jerome, Quebec and marketed through the company's head office in Toronto, Ontario. Classified as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) the ZENN has a range of up to 50 kilometers and is limited to a top speed of 40 km/hr.

The front-wheel drive ZENN is built on an aluminum alloy frame and comes as a fully enclosed 3-door hatchback with 13 cubic feet of storage space. The car is available in three colors and includes such available features as wipers, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, a heater, panoramic sunroof and more.

What makes the ZENN so universal is that it can be recharged anywhere by simply plugging it into a standard electrical outlet. Recharge time is as little as four hours (for up to 80 percent capacity) with a complete recharge taking eight hours. Given its all-electric motor, the ZENN eliminates such added operational costs such as oil and filter changes; exhaust system repairs and tune-ups that are unavoidable with internal combustion engines. According to the manufacturer, brake wear is also greatly reduced thanks to ZENN's lower driving speed and regenerative breaking system.

The tiny perfect little car retails for approximately $12,000 in the US, where it has been widely available for sale. Transport Canada only approved the ZENN for sale in Canada late last year and it is now up to each province to determine where the low-speed urban car can be licensed for road use.


To find out more about Green Students, visit www.greenstudents.ca.

The ZENN website is loaded with great information, and videos (check out the one from the Rick Mercer’s report) and other information about this leading edge vehicle. For more information, go to www.zenncars.com.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


In the wake of the Season of Gluttony and Excess comes a timely and cautionary tale out of Naples, Italy. A few short days before Christmas it was announced that there was no room at the dump. With no place to put the southern region's waste, garbage collectors stopped picking up trash on December 21st. As of last Monday, an estimated 100,000 tonnes of trash had accumulated on streets throughout Italy's Campania region.

What's interesting about this story is that the current crisis didn't just happen. Officials have spent more than 14 years and approximately 2 billion euros (or about 3 billion dollars Canadian) looking for a solution to its growing garbage problem. A massive new garbage incinerator scheduled for completion at the end of 2007 is still not ready. Meanwhile, the reeking piles of rotting waste continue to mount, moving the crisis from one of gross political mismanagement to a very clear and present health danger.

What makes this situation truly dire is that southern Italy is not alone in this crisis. Cities and regions throughout the developed world are all writhing in the painful, awkward agony of excess. The people who don't want a dump in their backyards are the same people for whom the dump is being built - those endless crowds of people that pile of out Wal-Mart on any given Saturday, or Sunday for that matter, bags of stuff gleefully in hand.

The bottom line: How much stuff is enough? We shop because we can, not because we need. We shouldn't be so excessful.

The problem is that as a society we are addicted to cheap consumer goods. Instead of wasting billions of dollars on new stuff, and many more billion dollars looking for a place to dispose of our old stuff, we need to fess up to the real problem. It's garbage in, garbage out. If we really want a long term solution to the garbage crisis, we need to stop making it in the first place - granted that this is something that this so much easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the piles are getting higher and we're running out of options. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians discard 31 million tonnes of waste annually, which makes us the second largest producers of garbage in the world. That's about 2.7 kilograms per person, per day. Only our American cousins throw out more stuff than we do.

The solution we're increasingly relying on is waste diversion such as the blue box and green bin programs. But even after 20 years of trying, we're only now closing in on a 50 percent diversion rate. It's important to note two things: this is only 50 percent of residential waste that is being diverted and the total volume of what we're discarding is increasing. We're not getting better at reducing our waste, we're just getting more sophisticated at sorting our waste into piles.

To further complicate matters, recycling markets can be volatile and unpredictable, as Toronto recently discovered. Last month The Canadian Polystyrene Recycling Association suspended operations at its Mississauga facility, thus placing the city's aggressive diversion targets in jeopardy.

Other jurisdictions are trying to promote incinerators (or the more politically correct "energy-from-waste" facilities) as a solution. What they don't own up to is the fact that burning trash doesn't eliminate the need for a landfill, it just makes a smaller and much more toxic pile that needs to be disposed of.

As the citizens of Naples are now discovering, the battle between politicians and the multi-billion dollar waste industry is a dance without end. When the music stops, the bags of garbage will still be at the curb waiting for pick up. And when there is no place to take them, the issue of waste management stops being a political issue and becomes a very real health crisis.


How much stuff do we really need? The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled online video that looks at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. It exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever. Well worth checking out at www.storyofstuff.com.

The Grassroots Recycling Network goes way beyond simple 3Rs. For more information about extender producer responsibility, zero waste and other ways to reduce our impact on the planet (and our garbage), visit www.grrn.org.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Power, Peace and Pakistan

Last week's assassination of Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has once again focused global concerns on Pakistan's increasing political instability. Wedged between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan holds the balance of power - and peace - in the region.

Pakistan is considered a gateway to Afghanistan and has long been suspected of providing weapons to the Taliban as well as a safe haven to terrorists of various allegiances. Pakistan's relationship with its other neighbor, India, is tenuous at best. For now the two rivals are managing to keep their hostilities at bay. It can be argued that this is due, in part, to the fact that they are both members of a very elite club of nations that possess nuclear weapons.

Having lived through the years of the Cold War, it seems almost impossible that we are once again dealing with a growing nuclear threat. This time, instead of two superpowers pointing their nuclear arsenals at each other, there are nine nuclear states, some stable, some definitely not (depending on your political perspective) that have the potential to start a nuclear war.

Canadians like to comfort ourselves with the false belief that we have never pursued a nuclear weapons program. And while it may just be wheat in those prairie silos, Canada has been complicit in the nuclear arms race since the very beginning. From our early role in the Manhattan Project during World War II, to our current efforts to position nuclear power as a safe global alternative to coal and oil generation, we have played a dangerous game of balancing national self-interest against global peace and security. That game revolves around the Canadian nuclear industry's desire to promote the "peaceful atom" at all costs.

Pakistan is only one of nine states that have confirmed they have nuclear weapons. Despite our international image as the world's peacekeeper, Canada has played a direct role in the development of nuclear weapons technology in Pakistan as well as India and the U.S., and also played a supporting role in North Korea's nuclear weapons program. (The remaining five countries are France, England, Russia, Israel and China.)

The connection between nuclear power and nuclear bombs is very direct. Specifically, you cannot have a nuclear weapons program without plutonium, the production of which is an inevitable by-product of nuclear reactors. And of all the commercial nuclear reactors for sale on the international market, Canada's exclusive CANDU design produces the most plutonium. Canada supposedly safeguards against the plutonium produced in CANDU fuel bundles being used for nuclear weapons, by ensuring that the countries that purchase Canadian reactors are signatories of international non-proliferation agreements.

Both India and Pakistan were such signatories, but this didn't stop them from successfully developing nuclear weapons with plutonium produced in CANDU reactors. Following the explosion of India's first atomic bomb in 1974, Canada purportedly discontinued nuclear cooperation with both countries. However, by 1989 Canada had re-established its nuclear link with India and Pakistan in the form of technical information exchange and nuclear aid through the CANDU Owners Group.

"Even after both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, Canada continued to provide technical aid, ostensibly in the name of reactor safety," according to the Campaign for Nuclear Phase-out (CNP).

Most of Canada's other international CANDU customers, including Taiwan, Romania, Argentina and South Korea, have at one time or another pursued some form of nuclear weapons program. China was already an established nuclear power when Canada sold it two nuclear reactors in November 1996.

Which brings us to the current crisis. Selling nuclear power plants is a lot like letting the genie out of the bottle. We have no idea who is going to uncork its power or what they are going to do with it.

Watching the political turmoil in Pakistan is bad enough. Knowing that in the middle of all of this madness they have nuclear weapons is even more upsetting. But knowing that Canadians provided them with the technology that made the country's nuclear status possible is nothing short of a national disgrace.


For more information on Canada's nuclear exports, visit the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout's website at www.cnp.ca and follow the resources link to CANDU export.

For more information about the connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, visit the U.S. Center for Defense Information.