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Burrowing Owl Estate Winery: Conservation-minded with earth-friendly practices but no certified organic wines

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Jim Wyse, founder of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, with endangered burrowing owl


When most people ask for a splash of red, they don’t expect it to wind up on the wall. Jim Wyse, founder and owner of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, remembers his early attempts to make wine at home for personal use: “We had sixteen bottles on a rack in the dining room. My wife and I heard a loud ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ The bottles were exploding.”


Thankfully for B.C. wine-lovers, Wyse has honed his technique considerably since decades past, when anyone, he says, with “a kit and a paper-lined wastepaper basket” could make wine. And he’s added a lot more green, so to speak, to his commercial reds: his environmental initiatives range from solar heating and biodiesel fuel to mulching all organic waste and recycling grape skins and seeds as compost.


Today, Wyse is the patriarch of a family-run winery in Oliver, BC, which produces 11 varieties of wines from vineyards in Osoyoos and Keremeos. He started growing grapes in the Okanagan 20 years ago as part of a mid-life career change. Since then, the former engineer and real-estate developer has maintained earth-friendly policies as core principles of the company, which currently employs 135 people. (Wyse now calls himself “the ambassador and odd-job guy”; for the past five years, son Chris has served as president.)


Vineyard reflects eco-friendly practices

The vineyard and farming practices most visibly reflect the company’s environmental awareness. An upgraded irrigation system, which converted all sprinklers to drip irrigation, includes fertilizer in the drip, which eliminates the use of tractors for this purpose, Wyse says. It also promotes water conservation and energy efficiency. The company’s six tractors run on biodiesel fuel, which burns more cleanly than fossil fuels.


Solar-powered water probes, using wireless technology, test soil and report the vines’ watering needs, ensuring that water usage is provided only as needed.

grapes and hands photo low-resBurrowing Owl’s alternative pest-control systems use natural predators against harmful insects. For example, the company protects spider habitat by not regularly cutting cover crops between the vine rows. Barriers protect the ground nests of birds such as meadowlarks to avoid their inadvertent destruction by farm machinery or vineyard workers. Bluebird boxes and bat nursery boxes are used to attract these insect-eaters.


Burrowing Owl’s website states that “environmentally safe, biodegradable fertilizers and chemicals” are used as sprays. When asked which ones they are, Wyse said he didn’t know.

Burrowing Owl won’t go certified organic

A company competitor, Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, was the first winery in British Columbia to make wine from certified B.C. organic grapes. Ezra Cipes, Summerhill’s CEO, has said he would like to see every winery in the Okanagan Valley convert to a certified organic operation. Will Burrowing Owl make the change?


“It’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Wyse says. “We certainly respect the goals and philosophy of the organic movement. We ascribe to, and do, a large percentage of the organic viticultural procedures and methods, but feel there are still some challenges in the vineyard that are best dealt with inorganically. But who knows? Maybe one day, if the resulting wines are at least the same or perhaps improved, we will make the change.”


Burrowing Owl’s wines have won gold medals and best-of-class recognition in global competitions; most recently, their 2011 Syrah picked up a gold and best of class at the L.A. International Wine Competition.


The company name reflects Wyse’s conservation concerns. For years, he has supported the endangered burrowing owl in British Columbia and the captive breeding program that has tried to re-establish these birds in the Okanagan. The birds, once bred, are now released in both the South Okanagan and the Nicola Valley. Yet, despite a volunteer effort to dig more burrows each year for these small birds, their growth has not remained sustainable, Wyse says.


To help ensure the future of these birds, Wyse’s winery sends all monies, earned through its three-dollar tasting fee in the tasting room, to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. for its captive release program and to the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO). Every year, the wine shop alone raises almost $80,000 for these two organizations.

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Burrowing Owl’s winery, guest house and restaurant


Sustainable principles guide building and restaurant operation

Burrowing Owl’s restaurant is a member of Ocean Wise, a conservation program run by the Vancouver Aquarium that promotes sustainable seafood. The chef uses custom-grown produce from organic growers in the winery’s immediate area, including five colours of tomatoes. “It’s fabulous,” Wyse says.


Wyse’s eco-vision for Burrowing Owl started with the winery building, which sits on 78 hectares (192 acres) with a guest house and restaurant. Most of the production and storage facilities were built underground to reduce the building’s carbon footprint. (Wyse does not calculate the business’s carbon footprint as a whole.) The design incorporated a steeply sloping hillside, poorly suited for farming, to maximize the land for wine-related uses. This multi-level plan allows for gravity-flow winemaking, which avoids the use of pumps to move wine through its various stages.


The wine is aged in barrels in underground cellars, which require no heating or cooling. Instead, they use ground temperature in the summer and natural warmth during the winter. “We’ve had people copy what we’re doing with underground barrels,” says Wyse. “We were one of the first to use barrels [for wine-making] in the Okanagan Valley.”


Eco-friendly building features range from solar panels, low-flush toilets, and low-energy light bulbs to heat exchangers and a geothermal system. The guest house is said to meet or exceed LEED standards. Wyse’s wife Midge runs the guest house and tasting room while daughter Kerri handles product development.


Burrowing Owl wines have expanded into Ontario, Wyse says, but there are no plans yet to import or plant any of the new Negroamara grapes he discovered while in southeastern Italy in May. “We are all constantly trying other varieties and investigating new techniques that might be applicable here in the Okanagan. That is a never-ending process in a relatively new industry and wine region.”

Now 75, how long does Wyse plan to stay involved in the company? “Forever,” he says. “It’s fun.”

Wyse will be one of the entrepreneurs to appear Sept. 29 as a panelist at INSPIRE, an event at Vancouver’s TELUS World of Science sponsored by Small Business BC.


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September 27, 2014 at 9:25 am Comment (1)

Inside B.C.’s Top Employer: 1-800-Got-Junk

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Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk



In the world of junk removal, it’s easy to think of Brian Scudamore as the Rumpelstiltskin of rubbish. Sure, he’s not hunched over with a long beard, like the fairy tale hero who spun straw into gold (no, he’s 44 and clean-shaven), but the founder and CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk has transformed more than two decades’ worth of commercial and residential debris into a multi-million-dollar international empire.


And since he began as a two-man operation in 1989, this humble leader has created the world’s largest junk removal company, operating in North America and Australia, without resorting to greenwashing. Instead, his attitude of environmental responsibility and commitment to employment best practices has earned 1-800-Got-Junk countless business awards, including this year’s Top B.C. Employer.


While some major trash haulers in Metro Vancouver faced tens of thousands of fines last year for dumping recyclable items, 1-800-Got-Junk confirms that 61.3 per cent of its collected junk gets reused or donated. And within five years, Scudamore hopes to boost that figure to 75 per cent. To date, the company has diverted more than 2.2 billion pounds of waste from landfills.


During a telephone interview, Scudamore readily admits that he doesn’t strive to position his Vancouver-based company as a top eco-leader. After all, his operation doesn’t calculate its carbon footprint and roughly half of his fleet of 1,100 trucks runs on gas, the other on diesel.


But he has investigated electric trucks, deciding against them so far because the sizeable network of servicing required is not yet available. Scudamore believes that since electric vehicle technology has still not progressed far enough, a switch right now would be too risky business-wise. And experiments on 10 vehicles with alternate fuels, such as biodiesel, have proven too difficult to maintain, he says. The company is currently trying out propane, which burns more cleanly than gasoline. 


“We’re not trying to lead by being a green-aware business,” he says. “We’re running a business by being environmentally responsible.”


1-800-Got-Junk works with national charities, such as Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, as sources of re-use for its junk. The company’s 200+ franchises track whether local junk is recycled, reclaimed, reused, converted to energy or winds up in the landfill. An external environmental audit, conducted every two years, helps the company follow its impact on the environment and adjust procedures accordingly.


“We’re the only company that rigorously measures what happens to its junk,” says Scudamore. “We’re incredibly metrics [business statistics] driven.”

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Who says the junk business is no fun?

His company is a customer of Richmond, BC-based Urban Impact, a leading recycling company that strives to divert as many materials as possible from landfill. It provides services such as on- and off-site shredding and zero-waste solutions.


But 1-800-Got-Junk needs to do a better job of communicating to residential customers, who comprise three-quarters of its business, where their junk is going, Scudamore says.

When people see his trucks carting off large furniture or other materials, for instance, they might wrongly assume that these items are destined for the landfill.


Instead, they often end up at places like Urban Waste, where people hand-sort everything for potential recycling, and to Urban Wood Waste Recyclers, Canada’s largest recycler of construction and demolition debris, located in Vancouver and New Westminster.


“Urban Wood Waste has the highest [landfill] diversion level in Vancouver and one of the highest in the country,” Scudamore says. “About 99 per cent is reused and recycled.”


Similarly, large items that 1-800-Got-Junk obtains, such as refrigerators or mattresses, are recycled; the metal is melted down and re-used. The freon in fridges is removed so that it won’t pose environmental hazards while BC Hydro’s buy-back program recycles old, working fridges for payment.


By the end of 2016, Scudamore hopes to be running a paperless operation. On a personal level, the father of three has traded in one of the family SUVs for a more compact, fuel-efficient option, a Fiat 500.


Beyond 1-800-Got-Junk’s environmental record, it’s the people side of the business that sets his company apart, says Scudamore. When hiring, he looks for genuine passion about his company’s vision and goals; it’s one of the company’s core values besides integrity, professionalism and empathy.


“Peoples’ values are to their core,” he says. “We are a people company. We live by it.” He adds: “I love seeing people develop and grow in the company. That’s what fires me up the most.”


After winning top-employer status in B.C., Scudamore instructed a committee of people from six company departments to identify an area that made the company less than the best. Their answer? The three-week paid vacation. After looking this over with his finance team, the CEO decided to replace it with a five-week paid vacation.


1-800-Got-Junk has received accolades for its profit-sharing plan, available to all employees, and its support of new mothers, who receive maternity leave top-up payments (to 75 per cent of their salary for 19 weeks) and flexible work arrangements, including telecommuting and flex time, once they return to work.


Scudamore has received recognition as one of the Globe and Mail’s Top 40 under 40, and a Small Business Best Bosses Award from Fortune magazine. In 2012, he became a CEO Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Inductee with Chicago-based Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.


The founder of 1-800-Got-Junk will be one of the high-profile entrepreneurs to appear Sept. 29 as a panelist at INSPIRE, an event at Vancouver’s TELUS World of Science sponsored by Small Business BC.

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September 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm Comments (0)

Spain and the environment: What’s the carbon footprint of a Camino pilgrim?

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Some rooftop solar panels, rarely seen on the Camino

Since Spain gets so much sun, I expected to see many solar panels while on the 800-kilometre Camino route. Surprisingly, after more than three weeks of walking, the first one I came across was on the roof of a home outside San Martin del Camino. After that, despite walking hundreds of kilometres, I saw only a small handful.

When I mentioned their scarcity to a middle-aged Spanish taxi driver, he said that they were visible in many other places in the country. He didn’t like them because he thought they looked “unaesthetic” and suggested that was why they weren’t situated on the Camino: they were unsightly blemishes on this classic path. His reaction left me stunned—save appearances, not the planet?

It sounds like the south of Spain is the place to see many solar panels. I found out that Solucar, just outside Seville, is Europe’s biggest solar plant.

Unlike traditional solar panels, this complex does not use photovoltaic cells. Instead, long rows of almost 2,000 huge glass mirrors (heliostats) spread across 1,000 hectares to focus solar radiation. This, in turn, produces intense heat that drives steam turbines. This one location supplies clean electricity to about 94,000 households, according to its operating company Abengoa Solar.

As an advocate of alternative energy, I was happy to learn that Spain has 57,900 solar-powered plants; these provide 4.3 per cent of the country’s electricity. Although this obviously doesn’t solve all of Spain’s power needs, it’s heartening progress compared to Canada’s long-term, embedded dependence on fossil fuels and Alberta’s Tar Sands.

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A row of wind turbines is barely perceptible on the farthest hilltop
in this photo, creating three levels of visual barriers.

Along the Camino route, wind farms are the most obvious sign of alternative power sources. At times, these tall white turbines are only a few metres off the path, where you can hear them roar and whir as you walk past. But in most places, they stretch across the horizon like a row of silent angels.

Last year, wind power was Spain’s top source of electricity, producing more than 20 per cent of its energy needs. I can attest to the ferocity of the wind in that nation; many times on the Camino, even in the lowlands, I walked with my windbreaker zipped up to the top, shielding my face with a bent head. Yet I find forceful winds energizing (except when kayaking); they serve as a bold, tactile reminder of nature’s presence.

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Spanish schoolchildren listen as their teacher
demonstrates where to put a plastic bag for recycling.

In general, there was less litter on the Camino than I had expected; I understand that in more remote areas, a network of volunteers picks it up periodically. Yet it surprised me that some pilgrims still brazenly threw empty plastic water bottles or lunch remains in a ditch or on the path.

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One of the many clean creeks along the Camino route

In the first few days on the Camino, I found a regular trail of used kleenexes discarded on the ground ahead of me. I couldn’t nail down the culprit, but guessed that it was one of a small cluster of Japanese women in their sixties. Such acts still amaze me as an overt sign of our sense of disconnection from the earth.

In some Spanish restaurants and cafés, I was surprised to see small piles of paper trash littering the floor below a counter. No one seemed concerned about them. When I asked Michael, my Cuban-American pilgrim friend, about this, he said that it was a symbol of customer satisfaction and good business. The owners left this garbage for many hours or a few days as if to advertise how well they were doing.

Some pilgrims left their abandoned boots or items of clothing along the route, often on top of a stone waymarker. In some cases, these could help out another pilgrim as an anonymous gift, yet I still felt that this detritus tarnished the journey. I could fully understand someone’s desire to no longer carry something heavy and unwanted, but couldn’t they at least wait until finding an albergue or a garbage can?

Since the Camino is such a high-profile tourist destination, my guess is that Spain tries to maintain it as a showcase to the world. Therefore, you don’t see oil slicks in rivers or lakes or overt signs of water pollution. Yet irrigation from Spain’s many vineyards is reducing its water tables. And I can only imagine what impact the run-off from fertilizers is having on rivers and creeks.

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A clearcut directly on the Camino route, about four days’ walk before Santiago.

I did pass several clearcuts immediately along the route, which brought unwanted reminders of their common appearance in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Yet I did not get a sense of massive deforestation in northern Spain, although the country’s forests overall have been called some of the world’s most endangered. Thankfully, Spain is part of the Iberian Forest and Trade Network, a World Wildlife Fund initiative to stop illegal logging and promote conservation.

After arriving in Santiago, my final destination, and heading by bus to the fishing village of Finisterre, I marveled at my first glimpse of the ocean and coast on that trip. After weeks of slogging on the walk, the sparkling turquoise and teal waters, white sand beaches, and palm trees looked tropically ideal. Some areas reminded me of West Vancouver and I felt homesick for the Pacific Northwest.

However, like at home, I knew what environmental damage such pristine waters can hide. Spain is among the world’s top dozen nations responsible for polluting oceans with fishing-related plastic, according Plastic Pollution: An Ocean Emergency, written by representatives from University of B.C.’s Fisheries Centre.

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A beach view en route to Finisterre

But as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I was not in Spain as a researcher or activist. Soothed by the ocean breeze, gleaming water, and the thought of fresh seafood, I was happily content to rest my weary limbs, chat with fishermen mending their nets, and indulge in the same kind of coastal ambiance that endears me to my home.

Since then, I have been curious to contemplate: What’s the carbon footprint of your average Camino pilgrim? Excluding air travel, if you factor in methane emissions (smile) and limited travel by internal combustion engine, the impact is probably relatively low.

Click here to read more about solar power in Spain. Canada’s energy writer Andrew Nikiforuk shares his perspective in a May 3, 2013 article Solar Dreams, Spanish Realities (originally published in Vancouver, BC’s The Tyee.)

Click here to read more details about the environment of Spain, from its wildlife habitat to pollution record.

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May 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm Comments (0)

B.C. election results: Thank heavens for Weaver, Eby, and Nicholas Simons

Last week’s results of the recent B.C. provincial election  left me too distressed to want to write much on my blog. I still feel utter dismay that premier Christy Clark got re-elected and that the Liberals even gained seats. What a tremendous loss this means to our environment and to the movement to lower greenhouse gases. Clark supports increased use of liquid natural gas (LNG)  and expansion of these facilities across British Columbia. As the Valhalla Wilderness Society points out, studies have proven that the LNG process—blasting rock with water and chemicals to extract shale gas—results in more carbon emissions than coal. That’s truly disturbing.


As for our already decimated salmon runs along many B.C. rivers and seaways, how will these fish, vital to our economy and First Nations coastal culture, possibly survive if we suffer an oil spill as a result of increased tanker traffic? Clark has received considerable financial backing from oil and gas companies, and it’s unlikely that she will try and stop the Northern Gateway and Keystone pipeline expansion projects. All you have to do is watch the excellent but horrifying documentary Salmon Confidential to realize that a single massive oil spill will destroy our wild salmon. Even without the presence of oil in our waters, these fish are already struggling to survive against the  sea lice and three viruses that fish farming has introduced on our coast. And they’re getting no protection from our provincial or federal governments, which don’t want to threaten the economics of farmed salmon.


Yet some election results have definitely made me want to celebrate. I am hugely pleased  that Andrew Weaver, a climate change scientist from University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, has become B.C.’s first provincial Green Party representative . This MLA from Oak Bay-Gordon Head will serve as the environmental conscience for our provincial parliament and ensure that climate change remains an action priority.


I am also thrilled that David Eby, head of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, emerged victorious in Vancouver-Point Grey. It’s an admirable feat to snatch away the seat of the premier, as he did. He’ll serve as our moral and legal conscience in B.C. parliament. And of course, on our local scene, I am happy that Nicholas Simons of the NDP got re-elected to represent the Sunshine Coast. Nicholas has been responsive and proactive in many grassroots actions in our region and I am glad that he will be continuing his contributions in our legislature. We need more like him.

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May 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm Comment (1)

B.C. voters on May 14: Think of our planet & don’t choose a polluter

        I urge all B.C. voters to think of the environment—consider climate change—when casting your vote in our May 14 provincial election.


            The choice is easy: tankers and toxins, or conservation and care for the planet. If you vote for a Liberal or Progressive Conservative candidate, no matter where you live, you’ll support more liquid natural gas facilities, pipelines, fracking, and oil tankers on our beautiful coast. These practices not only exploit our limited resources and pollute our land and waterways, they add higher and higher levels of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, helping to speed up our already disturbing rate of climate change and sea-level rise.


            I’m not going to tell you to vote NDP or Green. Just don’t vote for a Liberal or Conservative or you’ll prop up polluters and those who refuse to heed the peak-oil warnings. We’re going to run out of oil. We cannot continue on our current economic paths without destroying ourselves.


            In the Ecuadorean Amazon, logging and oil and gas companies continue to destroy the rainforest at twice the rate of all previous estimates. Every day, more species are going extinct. In British Columbia, where our rainforests have more species diversity per square kilometre than even in the Amazon, we do not want to become Ecuador of the north. We are home to the last intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world. Are we going to protect it or let industry make it disappear?


            Having recently seen Rob Stewart’s wonderful documentary Revolution, which addresses environmental degradation in 15 countries, I feel strangely optimistic about our future. Although his movie highlights the dangers of ocean acidification, and how our lack of eco-awareness is causing food and water shortages, he reveals many youth activists from around the world who are passionate about saving our planet and changing how we grow food, live, and fish.


            As long as enough people care about the earth, and are willing to take action to save it, we can have hope. As long as enough people vote tomorrow for those who want to preserve British Columbia’s land and waters rather than exploit them for profit, we can have hope. On May 14, vote to sustain the natural life of this province and our planet. You can’t separate the two.


May 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm Comments (0)

A neighbourhood grieves this week: two eagles lose their home and family

This has been a sad week for some of us on Lower Road in Roberts Creek. Some dear neighbours across the street, a bald eagle pair, lost their home and family due to Wednesday’s storm winds.


Their large stick nest, tucked between two vertical branches at the top of a 46-metre (150-foot) dead balsam fir, came crashing down April 10 close to the ocean, just east of Roberts Creek Road. The tree fell victim to northwest winds that gusted as high as 70 km/h; the same storm blew out power for many homes in Vancouver.

                                              — Jane Covernton photo

 The remains of the tree limbs    

Local news of the demise of the nest and its contents—my husband Frank and I had already started watching mamma eagle sit on her eggs—appeared quickly. After email and Facebook notifications came out, visitors and locals alike appeared on Lower Road to take pictures in front of where the nest used to be.


After the nest and tree limbs fell to the ground, the two eagles kept circling close to the site of their former home, alighting on a nearby branch. They stayed silent for hours. The following day, both sat next to each other on the same branch for almost the whole day. They were homeless, no longer parents.  


Everyone who knew the eagles and the nest was grieving the loss.


For more than a decade, I have watched these two eagles build or expand their nest each year and take turns sitting on eggs. Like anxious relatives, my husband and I have waited to see the new youngsters; through a monocular, we gauge their progress. First, their gawky heads poke above the top of the nest. Then they begin to flap their wings and more of them appears. Gradually, they grow big enough to squat on the top of the nest and hop from side to side, while still squawking for food.


Often, the eaglets—sometimes there’s only one—spend days or a week perched on the nest, staring down, as if trying to gain the nerve to try and fly. Finally, they lift off and for the first time, catch their own food. It’s exhilarating to witness the slow growth of such vulnerable creatures into self-sufficient, wild beings. From parental care, they’re nurtured into independent freedom.


And now the nest and eggs are gone.


We hope that the eagles choose to stay in our neighbourhood, where the ocean offers lots of salmon. Perhaps they’ll choose a nearby tree, one that still affords an unobstructed view of Roberts Creek Beach and beyond.


Thankfully, the limbs that landed in our neighbours’ yard damaged only part of their garden, not them, their home or car.

For past posts about these eagles, see “The fear of risk: Eagles wait to soar” or “Goo-goo ga-ga: Raptors make great neighbours.”


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April 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm Comments (2)

Wake up! New scientific study predicts devastating shifts on earth

As North Korea pushes for war, and scientists newly predict the worst-yet impact of climate change, it would be easy to adopt a fear of the apocalypse. But no need to watch Waterworld again just yet (if you survived Kevin Costner’s acting the first time).


One thing that we can be grateful for, despite Stephen Harper’s best efforts to silence federal scientists, is that we even know the results of an influential report, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere, which recently appeared in the scientific journal Nature.


In this new study, scientists have revealed that when you add variables such as population growth, over-consumption, agriculture, and extinctions to climate change, our entire ecological system can collapse within decades, as if destroyed by an epidemic. They call it “global state change,” and estimate that this disastrous state could start as early as 2050—if we continue on our current path.


“It’s the point of no return,” Dr. Arne Mooers, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University and one of the study’s co-authors, told the Vancouver Observer. “If something changes like the temperature, it could then cause a topsy-turvy, upside-downness that causes a new earth.” He adds: “We don’t know how fast the transition would be.”


We already know the dire effects of carbon dioxide on rising global temperatures, but this new report predicts that once humans have weakened enough of the planet’s ecosystems, the earth could quickly and irreversibly initiate a devastating chain reaction.


A group of paleontologists, computer modellers, mathematicians, biologists, and ecologists have combined existing data to create a model of changing systems that can reach rapid “tipping points” on a global scale. According to the report, simple systems require only a 58-per-cent change before they reach their tipping point.


“The earth may become a much more hostile place for everyone,” Mooers says. “The chances are that this transition would not only be extremely problematic to human society, but the new state might not be conducive to human society at all.”


Some decriers still insist that human activity creates only a minor blip in the fate of the planet. But the study says that human efforts to convert the earth act like a sledgehammer: agribusiness, industry, carbon emissions, habitat destruction, and population growth all combine to become “global-scale forcing mechanisms.” We humans have already converted 43 per cent of the planet for our use, the study says, through farming, industry, and cities.


The report states: “Planetary-scale critical transitions have occurred previously in the biosphere, albeit rarely, and . . . humans are now forcing another such transition, with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.”


We might not like what this study is saying, but at least we’re aware of these findings because they’ve been made public. Knowledge is power.


When you celebrate Earth Day on April 22 this year, remember the sobering facts of this study, based on real science. What are three things you can do to lessen your impact on the earth? Start them now.


Many thanks to independent media like Vancouver Observer for their exclusive local coverage. The Nature article about this ground-breaking study appeared in time for this year’s Earth Summit or United Nations International Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro.

Click here to read the full article in the Vancouver Observer about this report.

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April 10, 2013 at 11:59 am Comments (0)

Theresa Jeffries was a true treasure

     — Heather Conn photo

Theresa Jeffries with Sunshine Coast NDP MLA Nicholas Simons at last year’s Defend Our Coast rally in Davis Bay, BC.


I was deeply saddened by the recent death of sishalh elder Theresa Jeffries (sxixaxy) at age 81.  I had met her at events such as Defend Our Coast in Davis Bay and interviewed her for a documentary that I’ve written, produced, and directed called A New Way: An Organic Garden Changes Lives.


Theresa was indeed a special woman, full of grace and humour—her native name translates to “Laughing Princess.” Through public appearances and educational work, she shared her desire to ensure that as many people as possible, both First Nations and non-native, knew the destructive impact of residential schools and how much value one’s heritage holds. (The first sishalh to graduate from grade 12, Theresa entered residential school at age seven, remaining until grade seven.) She received the Queens Diamond Jubilee for her advocacy work and revitalized the sishalh language by helping to create a dictionary and curriculum development.


Sechelt chief Garry Feschuk reminded us at Theresa’s Celebration of Life ceremony on March 25: “Theresa lives in all of us. True love lasts forever.” He gestured to the crowd in the Sechelt band hall, filled to capacity with about three hundred of Theresa’s relatives and friends, plus elders, and people in two overflow tents outside, and said: “She was a very, very rich woman. These are her treasures.”


Garry told us that three days before she died, Theresa had appeared to him in a dream, surrounded by a herd of bighorn sheep. In honour of the memory of “our auntie,” as many referred to her during the ceremony, a procession of First Nations drummers carried a bentwood box to the front of the hall. It was made from a 750-year-old cedar from her home community.


I hope to receive Garry’s permission to dedicate the documentary A New Way to the memory of Theresa. She appears in the video, wearing her button blanket and ceremonial headdress, with Aaron Joe, CEO of Salish Soils. She expresses her pride and satisfaction in seeing the success of Aaron’s composting company and his long-term vision for the demonstration garden on Sechelt band land. She describes the negative impact of residential schools and how her people used to grow their own food and fruit.


Both Ivy Miller, who shot and edited the footage for A New Way, and I felt honoured to have met Theresa and experience her influence in the community and beyond. She was a treasure, indeed, and we will carry her in our hearts.

Read “A remarkable woman,” a tribute to Theresa Jeffries in The Coast Reporter.

Watch for upcoming information regarding the public release and screening of A New Day.



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April 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm Comments (0)

Washington, DC to host biggest climate rally in U.S. history on Feb. 17

While we Canadians protest the creation or expansion of pipelines, fracking, and liquid natural gas facilities, U.S. activists are planning the biggest climate rally in their nation’s history.


Thousands will gather this Sunday, Feb. 17, at the National Mall in Washington, DC to demand strong governmental action in response to climate change. They want to stop expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline and are targeting Canada—home to the ever-growing Alberta tar sands—as one of our planet’s worst polluters. (The rally is to be held from noon to 4 p.m. Participants are asked to gather by 11:30 a.m. at the northeast corner of the Washington Monument.)


To think that Canada was once a global environmental leader. . . Now, thanks to prime minister Stephen Harper and his pro-oil cronies and deals, Canada is one of the top 10 polluting nations in the world. But thankfully, more people in Canada and the U.S. are waking up to the deadly results that high-carbon-emission industrial activity is having. The resulting ozone depletion and sea-level rise has brought the impact of climate change into people’s homes and neighbourhoods. They’re suffering extreme conditions like Superstorm Sandy, devastating wildfires, drought, floods, and wildly fluctuating temperatures. Friends, neighbours, and family are dying.


What will it take before climate change becomes a higher priority than the economy? How long will it take for politicians at all levels to see that the destruction and clean-up costs involved with cataclysmic weather due to climate change will drain our economy?


Obama gets it. Harper sure doesn’t.


Recent data shows that more than three-quarters of Americans want government action on climate change. They’re demanding strong climate action from president Obama, who delayed the Keystone XL expansion, but still has made no commitment to an environmental agenda over an economic one. Yes, he sounded promising in his second inaugural address, but still needs to back up his words with concrete changes that make the environment a priority: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations . . . [N]o one can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”*


Here in Canada, 61 per cent of respondents in an Ipsos Reid poll in December 2012 said that they think the Harper government is doing a poor job of protecting the environment. Besides Harper’s two recent omnibus bills, which eliminate or hobble any laws that protect species, habitat, and waterways, the Keystone XL project blatantly shows the prime minister’s willingness to forego the well-being of future generations, today’s public, and the environment, for the sake of economic development at any cost.


“It’s the [federal] government’s plan to annihilate our lands and our future,” says Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta. After hearing of the federal government’s plan to balance tar sands production with environmental protection, Adam said: “There are no commitments to our people and no protection of our lands and rights. We thought we were working towards a partnership with this government, but this plan does not reflect that.” 


Please spread the word about Sunday’s rally. Check out #forwardonclimate on Twitter and Forward on Climate for more information.

* In his State of the Union speech tonight, Obama confirmed: “We must do more on climate change.” He challenged Congress that in this area, he will follow science and “act before it’s too late.” He announced that he’s seeking a “bi-partisan, market-based solution” to climate change. But what will that look like in the U.S.? Obama sounds as if he’s trying to appease both business and environmentalists. He wants to speed up the permit process for oil and gas exploration and he supports natural gas; that’s all old-paradigm stuff. At the same time, he wants to hasten the transition to more sustainable types of energy like wind power. He supports new research into alternative energy that will get vehicles off oil for good.

I’ll be curious to see how this vision unfolds. It sounds as if Obama is willing to make executive decisions to move forward on climate change, even if Congress tries to block any initiatives. He needs support for that.

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February 12, 2013 at 5:02 pm Comments (0)

Idle No More in Sechelt: “It’s the law to consult with First Nations”

— Heather Conn photos

As dozens and dozens of aboriginal drums reverberated in unison outside the Sechelt band office, people thrust “Idle No More” signs upwards. A few woven cedar hats bobbed. About 20 male shishalh band members drummed in a circle, some young, some old. They sang, joined by shishalh women who stood in a smaller circle beside them. In traditional-style dress—button blankets, cedar leggings and headbands, fringed shoulder covers—they all drummed and sang, as supportive local non-aboriginals drummed around them.

More than 500 residents on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, led by shishalh members, marched Jan. 4 across Highway 101 as part of a nation-wide Idle No More initiative. They gathered by a ceremonial fire across from Sechelt’s Raven’s Cry Theatre to show support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence of northern Ontario and to condemn prime minister Stephen Harper’s omnibus bill C-45. (Spence has been on a hunger strike for 29 days, demanding a meeting with Harper to discuss treaty issues and conditions on her reserve. The prime minister has since agreed to meet with the Assembly of First Nations and chiefs on Jan. 11.)

Bill C-45 reduces the number of waterways protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act from three million to 96. It also weakens or removes industry requirements to protect fish habitat or compensate for its loss or damage. Besides directly attacking the heritage and livelihood of Canada’s First Nations communities, the bill ignores treaties signed by our European and Aboriginal ancestors. It will also serve to destroy land, water, soil, and ecosystems. It eliminates legislation that would have otherwise slowed down or prevented the building of pipelines such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.

“Bill C-45 is going to affect everybody,” shishalh member Robert Joe told the group through a megaphone. “It gives free rein to come into our territories and take our resources. We need to protect our fresh water.”

Donna Shugar, Sunshine Coast Regional District director

Throughout last Friday’s event, shishalh nation members reinforced that their vision of Canada’s Idle No More movement was inclusive, equally welcoming non-natives, environmentalists, First Nations, and anyone opposed to Harper’s dismantling of Canada’s democratic process and structures.

shishalh elder Barb Higgins (Xwu’p’a’lich)

“Let’s all join together and show Canada that we are one,” said shishalh elder Barb Higgins (Xwu’p’a’lich), to cheering and drumming. Locally, Higgins has condemned destruction of forests on the Sunshine Coast and was recently arrested for trying to save 27 hectares of trees and habitat in Wilson Creek.

“We have got to stand up for our rights,” said shishalh chief Garry Feschuk. “This omnibus bill is destructive of our issues in every community across Canada. There has been no consultation. It’s the law to consult with First Nations.”

This last comment brought applause and supportive drumming. Feschuk said that Canada’s current Idle No More rallies, part of a grassroots movement, are only a beginning. Although Harper has agreed to meet with chiefs, Feschuk said: “It’s got to be more than words. Things will escalate if there’s no action behind those words.”

shishalh ancestral chief Calvin Craigan said that the First Nations struggle to achieve rights and recognition in Canada has continued for 200 years. “Finally, nations are going to stand together,” he told the group around the fire. “We’re going to continue until the suppression is no longer.”

After the event, sishalh band council member Ashley Joe wrote: “My heart is so happy to see our people unite for such an important cause. . . Let’s pray that Harper listens to our voices and meets with our leaders in good faith, [in a] Nation-to-Nation manner to address our concerns. We are a powerful people and must be reckoned with.”

The Idle No More movement began when four women in Saskatchewan, indigenous and non-indigenous, organized teach-ins to educate people about the impact of Bill C-45. Since then, indigenous communities across Canada have embraced it as a grassroots initiative and held related roadblocks, protests, flash mobs, and more.

How can you help?

  • Stay informed by reading grassroots websites such as idlenomore1.blogspot.ca/
  • Join Idle No More rallies and demonstrations
  • Write to your local MP
  • Contact Stephen Harper at pm@pm.gc.ca or 613-992-4211
  • Write to the Governor-General of Canada, Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A1
  • Join your local Idle No More Facebook page
  • Join Twitter @IdleNoMore4 or Idle No More

Think of new, engaging ways to bring these issues to a broader audience in a respectful, peaceful way.


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January 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm Comments (3)

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