Archives for posts with tag: climate change


With our society’s overflowing abundance of food, I haven’t given food security much thought. But my complacency has been rattled by the steadily increasing cost of food, up 4.1% in 2015 and expected to rise another 4% in 2016 (Food Institute, University of Guelph). Then, as if by providence, I stumbled upon an article in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic – The New Food Revolution.

Until I read this piece, I had no idea of our predicament. “Our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet,” warns author Jonathan Foley, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, environmental scientist, and expert on food security.

First, the global agricultural system produces up to one-third of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. The way we grow and produce our food drives global climate change.


Farming emissions come from a variety of sources that differ depending on the type of farm. Image credit: IPCC

Second, without a major change in what we eat, we will need to double the production of food crops by 2050 for both human and livestock consumption. With the spread of affluence, particularly in China and India, a growing portion of food crops will go to the production of meat, dairy and eggs.

Third, agriculture is the thirstiest user of our dwindling water supplies.


Fourth, farming is a major driver of wildlife extinction through the pollution and destruction of ecosystems. Indonesia’s tropical forests, home to orangutans and some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet are being burned down for plantation development.

Fifth, a billion people currently lack adequate access to food, and that number will certainly increase, contributing to worldwide instability (think of Syria, for instance).

Foley and his team of scientists set out to answer this question: “How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture?”

They identified five steps:

Step One: Freeze agriculture’s footprint

We already use an area the size of South America to grow crops, and an area the size of Africa to raise livestock.

Step Two: Grow more on farms we’ve got

Yields on less productive farmlands, especially in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, can be boosted several times over with precision farming techniques and organic farming approaches.

Step Three: Use resources more efficiently

Tailor the application of fertilizers and pesticides to exact soil conditions. Subsurface drip irrigation, cover crops, mulches and compost conserve water and build up nutrients.

Step Four: Shift diets

We need to eat less grain-fed meat, particularly beef. For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef.

Step Five: Reduce waste

An estimated 25% of the world’s food calories and up to 50% of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. In rich countries like Canada, most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets.

One of the best things we can do for our health, our budgets, and for the planet is to add pulses to our diet. Never heard of them? Neither had I, until the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. They are legume crops harvested solely for the dry seed, such as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

IYP 2016

Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, low in fat, and have high levels of minerals such as iron, zinc, and phosphorous as well as folate and other B-vitamins. They are nitrogen-fixing crops that improve soil fertility (unlike other crops that require nitrogen fertilizer made from natural gas). And, they require far less water than other protein sources (i.e. 50 litres of water per kilogram versus 13,000 litres of water per kilogram of beef).

Pulses are Canada’s fifth-largest crop, but most of what we grow gets exported. By adding pulses to our diet, we also support an important Canadian industry.

Go to for recipe ideas. For me, it’s spicy lentil tacos tonight!

This article was first published in the February/March 2016 issue of North Simcoe Life in my Building a Better World column.




Za'atri Refugee Camp in Jordan

Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Climate change is not just an environmental issue. – Greenpeace

It has taken the world four years to wake up to the horror in Syria. How we respond to the crisis will help determine the kind of world we live in.

The Syrian crisis is almost beyond comprehension – the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since WWII. Over 17 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance: 13.5 million people within Syria (over half of whom are displaced) and 4.2 million people who fled the country. Civilian deaths from the conflict are estimated at over 250,000.


Since 2011, the Syrian people have faced uninterrupted violence from Government forces and armed opposition groups. The European Commission states, “Rape and sexual violence, enforced disappearances, forcible displacement, recruitment of child soldiers, summary executions and deliberate shelling of civilian targets have become commonplace.”

We cannot stand idly by. Not when our hands are so dirty. Not when the world has become so interconnected. Not as a looming refugee threat grows in many highly populated areas of the world. We need to get this right, because the refugee era has arrived.

Through our contribution to climate change, we in the West have helped create the mad state of affairs in Syria. Research conducted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute explored how a record-breaking drought between 2006 and 2010 contributed to the Syrian uprising of 2011. Up to 60% of Syria’s land experienced, “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” (Moreover, in 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a US federal agency, published strong evidence linking the drought to climate change.) Millions of farmers and their families abandoned their properties, and joined hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees that had fled the American invasion of Iraq and the resulting sectarian violence. Syria’s big cities became overcrowded, food prices soared and water became scarce. Mismanagement and neglect by the al-Assad regime sparked the civil war still raging today. Fear, anger, misery and disaffection created the opening for ISIS to thrive in Syria.


How we deal with Syria affects our national identity and our international reputation. The Syrian crisis provides us with the opportunity to restore our tarnished image as humanitarians. We must do better than allowing in only about 2,500 refugees between 2013 and September 2015. Canada has a proud history of helping refugees. In 1957, Canada admitted 37,000 Hungarians. From 1979-1980, Canada welcomed almost 60,000 Vietnamese.

We can do more than accept a very small percentage of the refugees; we can send money to help care for and resettle over 17 million Syrian people, both inside and outside of Syria. Despite record levels of aid from the international community, the UN refugee agency reported in September a funding shortfall of an astounding $4.6 billion dollars (62% of the budget). The Canadian federal government has pledged $810 million in aid for Syria. In September, the government announced it will also match every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities for aid in the crisis, up to $100 million, until December 31, 2015.

The Liberal Government’s pledge to stop participating in the US led bombing missions in Syria and Iraq was the right move. Unfortunately, it cost us $528 million, fell outside of international law, and was deemed a failure by authorities including former US President Jimmy Carter, retired Canadian colonel George Petrolekas (fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute), Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington), and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. All promote the pursuit of diplomatic solutions as the only way to establish peace in the region.

As humanitarians and peacekeepers we can hold our heads high and regain our positive international influence.

The Syrian refugee crisis is a trial run for the massive mobilization of climate refugees to come. Around 1 billion people today do not have adequate water for drinking, agriculture or sanitation, and the situation is going to get worse. Since the early twentieth century, with few exceptions, glaciers around the world have been retreating at unprecedented rates (National Snow and Ice Data Center). More than half of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted (Water Resources Research Journal, June 2015). About one in three people live in drylands susceptible to desertification. The United Nations predicts that by 2030, between 24 and 700 million people will be displaced by water crises. In January 2015, the World Economic Forum identified the water scarcity as the number one global risk based on impact to society.

This is a pivotal moment. The U.S. Defense Department issued a report last November identifying climate change as a “threat multiplier” that will impact national security. Do we turn our back on the destitute of the world and enhance security measures in an attempt to protect ourselves from their anger, their wrath and their desperation? Or, do we accept our responsibility toward our fellow man, extend a helping hand and share our good fortune? As the saying goes: United we stand

capitalism vs climate

I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson, 1954

Our world is changing. You know the signs:  extreme weather events on the rise, widening inequality, growing social and political unrest, less good jobs especially for young people, militarization of police forces, more wars, increasing surveillance.

Naomi Klein, Canadian author, journalist and activist tells us in her new breathtaking book, This Changes Everything (winner of the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction) that the world as we know it will soon transform, whether we like it or not. And it’s up to us what form it will take.

Can we agree that the climate is changing, humans have caused it, and that it poses an existential threat?

Countries have agreed to keep global average temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (anything higher is suicide). So far we’ve experienced an increase of 0.74 degrees Celsius over the past century (more than half of which occurred since 1979), and already we are seeing significantly more extreme weather events. No longer are we solely worried about the effects climate change will have on our grandchildren; suddenly it’s about how climate change will wreak havoc on our own lives.

Can we agree that global attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions have failed?

With all the dithering, we (predominantly the developed countries) have used up most of the atmospheric allowance for carbon dioxide emissions. In the November 2014 Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), over 800 scientists collaborated to say that the countries of the world now need to drop emissions by 40 to 70 percent between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero by 2100. That means we need to start now, and that most of the fossil fuel reserves on the books must stay in the ground. Meanwhile, Canada’s carbon emissions will balloon 38% by 2030, mainly due to tar sands projects, according to Environment Canada’s own projections. Clearly, we’re not getting the job done.

Why are we are locked into a destructive path, guaranteed to make Earth unlivable for all but a scant few?

Naomi Klein puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of capitalism.

Above and beyond any other responsibilities, corporate boards have a fiduciary duty to maximize profit for their shareholders, at any cost. You don’t have to look far to find stories of people who have been seriously harmed or killed by corporate activities with little or no recourse for redress (take the people in Fort Chipewyan downstream from the Alberta tar sands, for instance). Profit over life.

The corporate elite have bought and infiltrated politics. Their undue influence ensures that public policy is friendly to their cause. Marc Eliesen, a senior energy executive, publicly resigned on November 2 from the National Energy Board, tasked with reviewing the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project in BC, stating, “Continued involvement in the process endorses this sham and is not in the public interest.”  Profit over justice and equality.

Corporations control the message. They successfully co-opt big green organizations to greenwash their images and promote “climate solutions that adhere to market logic.” In other words, use the climate crisis as a public relations and marketing opportunity. And corporate control of media leaves it vulnerable to bias. Profit over truth.

You can’t blame corporations for being bad. Morality has nothing to do with it. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do, and doing it extremely well.

So let’s get real. Big business will not save us. Politicians will not save us. It’s up to us, the people, to force the change we need. For, either we change, or the climate does.

Naomi Klein has clear instructions for what we must do. Right now, first and foremost, we must delegitimize the burning of fossil fuels. That is the purpose behind the worldwide divestment campaign that urges social organizations like schools, churches, and municipalities, as well as pension funds and insurance companies to sell off their holdings in fossil fuels. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is an active divestment promoter. Let’s face it – if most of the reserves on the books must be left in the ground, then the stocks are over-inflated.

Can we change public opinion about the legitimacy of fossil fuels? The only comparable social movement was the abolition of slavery. Historian Eric Foner reveals that at the start of the Civil War, “slaves as property were worth more than all the banks, factories and railroads in the country put together.” They were considered the backbone of American wealth. Yet, abolitionists found the remarkable strength and courage to challenge this predominant world view. So, yes, it can be done.

Secondly, we must hit the streets in what Klein calls “extraordinary levels of social mobilization.We must find our moral voice and ensure that it is heard. On September 21, four hundred thousand people turned out for the People’s Climate March in New York City, the largest climate march in history, to demand action from public leaders. It was huge, although it garnered only minimal mainstream media attention. Still, it’s a sign of how willing people now are to take to the streets.

Taking the stuffing out of capitalism is our only chance to rein in run-away climate change. And if done right, could also bring about a more humane and equitable world. The time has come for the mother of all social justice movements. I hope to see you in the streets.

 “There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist…” – David Graeber, American anthropologist, author, activist and Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics


“What’s the point of saving the planet if humanity suffers?” – Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO at May 2013 shareholders meeting in Dallas, Texas.

Has there ever been a clearer message of the carbon industry’s intent? They mean to go full steam ahead at plundering the carbon that nature has safely sequestered, so that we can pump the atmosphere full of carbon at ever increasing rates. That, despite dire warnings from scientists that anything over an average increase of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperatures would be disastrous, that we can only emit 565 more gigatons of CO2 in order to do this, that the industry has 2,795 gigatons in reserves, and that the industry is spending millions every day looking for more.

Tillerson and his grey-haired cohorts plan to live out their lives in luxury, with no concern for the guaranteed suffering that they are inflicting on all those that come after them, not to mention the countless people who are already struggling with the impacts of the carbon industry, from the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas whose land and waterways were contaminated from a burst dilbit pipeline, to the countless people whose water supply has been contaminated with methane gas and cancer-causing benzene from fracking, to the Athabasca Chipewyan people downstream from the oil sands who have high rates of rare cancers. The list of people who have already suffered from the impacts of the carbon industry is extensive.

The only reason why the production of unconventional oil and gas is profitable is because the industry, in cooperation with governments the world over, is able to offload most of the detrimental costs to human and ecological health onto the public.

Money and status are what counts when it comes to having a voice. A rich CEO pushing a selfish agenda arguably has more credibility with the general public, and certainly with government, than a scientist or an activist who are motivated by the pursuit of truth, integrity or concern. And the scientists that deny climate change? It has just come to light that 9 out of 10 of the most prolific ones have a financial connection to ExxonMobil (Source: Carbon Brief).

Sooner or later we will have to face the challenges of our time. In the meantime, we would do well to develop skepticism of what the climate change skeptics have to say. Scratch the surface and I suspect you’ll find greedy self-interest.


This poem was inspired by the work of Mike Nickerson, author of Life, Money and Illusion, well-being activist and founder of The Sustainability Project / 7th Generation Initiative, an educational, non-profit organization that exists to collect, study, develop and teach ideas, information, technologies and customs that promote green values and lead toward a sustainable future.

What are you afraid to lose?
I choose the future of our human civilization
The realization that all can be lost
Tossed into oblivion by careless decisions
Visions of suffering cloud my mind
Find a way off of this perilous ride
We bide our time and disaster looms closer

Seven thousand generations
Nations of black, white, yellow and red
Dead but not gone without a trace
I face my ancestors and feel connection
Their resurrection is through me
Genetically and culturally, I am of them
Hemmed in by narrowing options

I feel their cries of desperation
Frustration with our steadfast quest
No rest on our march to consume, consume
Doom on the horizon as we spew
Pollution that seeps throughout the biosphere
Dear Earth struggles to provide
But denied of hope so many are

What are you afraid to lose?
I choose the future of our human civilization
The accumulation, we are, of biological wonders
Genetic blunders, those fortunate flaws
That caused our creation over years in the millions and millions
Now 7 billion and more of us crowd our precious jewel
Needing fuel, cheap and plentiful, to sustain our lives

The ride picks up speed and we head for the drop
Stop, please, stop – I want to get off
A soft landing instead of a monumental crash
That will trash our species, a heap in the dust
We must, I plead, find a way off this train
Plain truth is staring us full in the face
Our race to consume is destroying this place

The time has come to act our age
In a stage of maturity, responsible and wise
The prize of our efforts: hope for our kind
Blind no more to the needs of all people
We pull together in commonality
The frailty of our well being is no longer an illusion
Confusion dissolves in the face of conviction

What course of action do you choose?
I’m a fuse to ignite the transformation
Seven generations to come need my resolve
To solve the challenges we now perceive
Relieve the forces of climate disaster
That faster and faster are chasing after
All that we seek to save