On the Kinder Morgan Pipeline: Climate change is the real issue here

As we pass the deadline for Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain commenter letters, many of those who were lucky enough to be deemed “directly affected” by this pipeline are pulling out of what they feel is a farce of a hearing process; at the beginning of the NEB process, many British  Columbians who wanted to give comment were denied their opportunity.
I have submitted my letter, but, like many groups, individuals and fellow scientists who are hoping, perhaps illogically, that their comments will have some effect on the outcome of this project, I was not allowed to talk about one of my chief concerns: the carbon elephant in the room — climate change.
Climate change, caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels, has a direct impact on the health of all Canadians; the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling it a global public health crisis.
This directly affects me as I worry about friends and family struggling with asthma, the leading cause of  hospitalization of Canadian children, triggered by plant allergens and air pollution, exacerbated by climate change.
It affects me that older loved ones are more threatened by increasingly dramatic heat waves, which are projected to become twice as deadly to vulnerable populations across Canadian  cities by 2050 (Canadian Environmental Health Atlas). In Canada, this is not nearly as devastating as it is in places like India, where over 2,000 people  perished in heat waves this summer alone.
It affects me that we are seeing increasing droughts putting our food security at risk.
It directly affects me that warming conditions increase chances of vector borne diseases, such as lyme disease, which is now seen increasingly across Canada.
Lastly, though not exhaustively, it directly affects me that my favourite vacation spot in B.C. is currently being ravaged by wildfires, which the International Panel on Climate Change suggests may be associated with climate change. My government must now spend hundreds of millions of dollars fighting fires, instead of investing in education and health care.
What is rarely talked about is that it directly affects me that I am not nearly as affected by climate change as our neighbours in the global south, who, despite their minimal contribution to rising CO2 levels, are increasingly plagued by hurricanes, floods, droughts and food- and water- borne diseases.
Places such as the Philippines, Pakistan and literally drowning island states do not have the resources for mitigation and rebuilding, as we do.
It directly affects me that, by increasing oil sands productions, Canada, my country, is contributing to a phenomenon that former UN secretary general Kofi Annan reports is causing 300,000 deaths per year, mainly in developing countries.
While it might be unrealistic to say we are going to stop using  oil tomorrow, expanding pipeline infrastructure is tantamount to saying we don’t care about climate change and how it affects our loved ones in Canada and fellow global citizens.
But then, I’m not allowed to talk about that.

Published in the Tri-City News August 27, 2015

Fracking and LNG Projects: What is really at stake for our long term health?

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The WoodFibre LNG in Squamish has received environmental approval from the federal government. A preliminary project configuration shows the proposed plant on Howe Sound, BC. Image courtesy of Woodfibre LNG (as published in the Vancouver Observer)

(Published in the Vancouver Observer, May 4th, 2016)

In March 2016, the Woodfibre Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) processing project was approved, granted with some conditions.There is a great deal of worry from scientists about the health implications of LNG projects in B.C.

Sound science from the Pembina Institute and many academic sources say that this project, and the Lelu Island Pacific NW LNGproject are not good investments for BC, either for reasons ofhabitat destruction, or for the fact that they could possibly represent a large chunk of the BC 2050 carbon budget, making it very hard to meet our targets.

We can easily argue the health impacts of climate change, be they the thawing of ice roads that bring food and supplies to Northern communities or increased heatwaves which the Canadian Health atlas predicts will increasingly cause heat related deaths, or moreinsect borne disease, or even threats to food security.

Some would claim that LNG is a cleaner burning transition fuel than coal, which may be the case; however, whether LNG is actually less GHG intensive from extraction to burning isextremely controversial.

I would argue, however, that talking about individual projects is part of a larger conversation; another extremely important issue much upstream of actually burning the LNG is how it is obtained in the first place: hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

In order to extract the rather harmless sounding Liquefied Natural Gas, companies must use huge quantities of water, millions of gallons which can never be returned to the water table.

In a warming world with increased droughts and worries about salmon having enough water to get upstream, do we really want to be taking water out of circulation?

The water is mixed with all sorts of chemicals that need not be disclosed, including chemicals like benzene, which is a cancer causing agent with no safe human exposure limit.

The health-related impacts of some of the chemicals used in fracking have been found to cause problems for the lungs, digestion tract, skin, brain, immune system, hormones, and reproductive organs, among other negative impacts on humans, pets, cattle, and wildlife species.

During the fracking process, water containing a variety of chemicals and sand is injected into the ground at high power to create fractures to release the trapped gas and bring it up to the surface.

Oil and gas extraction has been done for decades using vertical drilling however, horizontal drilling at the intensity it is being ramped up to has been used for a relatively short time, meaning the local people and the health officials have very little data to work with to understand the health implications.

The majority of the health reports we have on fracking highlight that we simply do not know enough to do it on such a large scale.

However, in recent years reports are accumulating suggesting serious health impacts for populations in the areas where fracking takes place; in BC, this is largely the northeastern area of the province, principally Treaty Eight territory.

According to studies recent studies by Yale University of the potentially over 1000 compounds used in fracking, about 70% cannot be identified; in other words, only 30% have some known information about their human health implications.

Some of these chemicals are more likely to stay in the fracking water or leach into the ground water, and many of the chemicals used are more likely to vaporize and get into the airshed.

Of those identified, around 37% are classified as endocrine disruptors, meaning they can act like or interfere with hormones; hormones control everything from growth and development to brain function and fertility and act at the parts per trillion level (a drop in 20 Olympic size swimming pools).

Recent information from studies of the ground and surface waterin the highly fracked areas of Colorado showed contamination of water with chemicals that mimic and/or hinder both male and female hormones.

Importantly, a review of literature by Dr. Ellen Webb of the Centre for Environmental Health in New York warns of the developmental and reproductive risks associated with chemicals used in fracking; toluene exposure may cause reduced fertility, particles in the air associated with gas development are associated with premature birth and low birth weight.

Moreover, researchers at Yale have found that of the relatively low number of compounds (240) for which there was information, about 103 were associated with reproductive toxicity, 95 with developmental toxicity, and 41 were both.

It is important to note that even when we have information on these chemicals, there is still little understanding of how they work together in complex environments.

Further, another study which look at over 124 000 people showed that expectant mothers living within 10 miles of a natural gas well were more likely to have defects including heart and neural defects.

Long term perspectives of high intensity oil and a gas development in Texas find an association between air pollution in these regions, including benzene levels, and childhood cancers.

Because children are more susceptible to hormone disruption before and after birth, high density fracking in Northern B.C. is worrying for the health and development of those populations. It is too early to make direct links of cause, but as evidence accumulates, shouldn’t we be taking the precautionary principle?

If an activity has suspected harmful consequences, providing proof that it is safe should fall on companies.

In B.C., disposal of waste water used from fracking, which can contain natural occurring radioactive material, cancer-causing chemicals, and toxic metals like lead and arsenic, is usually disposed of by injecting it into old wells.

The University of Victoria Environmental Law program says regulations are very weak. Monitoring of contaminated waste water is not required, nor is baseline analysis of surface water before a project nor does B.C. seem to require much monitoring of the workings of fracking projects, which is extremely worrying.

In Pennsylvania, fracking chemicals have been detected in drinking water by scientists at Pennsylvania State University; these researchers believe the contamination comes from either leaking containment facilities or faulty well components. In B.C., we don’t know what is going on.

A statement from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment declares “Due to significant air and water quality issues, contribution to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, and documented and anecdotal evidence of health effects to humans and animals living near fracking wells, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment recommends an immediate moratorium on fracking in Canada…”

Whether the impact of single LNG plant projects can be justified or not, we simply do not know enough about the long term consequences of fracking on human health to expand it in BC until industry, supported by independent academic science, can prove it to be safe.

The evidence strongly suggests harmful health impacts, especially on younger populations. Do we want to be running large scale science experiments on the people of B.C.?

Taking land from mental health care is hardly ‘revenue-neutral’

The Editor,

The current vision for the Riverview lands by BC Housing and the BC Liberal government completely disregards the wishes the community has expressed in community consultations, which is to use the space for mental health, community support and protection of the rich ecosystem of the land.

The justification for this is that the land should be “revenue-neutral.” This is completely illogical and reflects a lack understanding of complex issues and long-term planning which is rampant with the provincial government.

Use of this land is never going to be revenue-neutral; contrarily, selling it off to developers could cost British Columbians perhaps billions.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently reported that mental health problems had the highest total direct care cost in Canada, with the third largest economic burden. The Centre for

Addiction and Mental Health estimates the annual cost of some addictions to be $5 billion in Ontario for health care, law enforcement, corrections, lost productivity and other related problems. On a population scale, that is approximately $1.6 billion for B.C., not correcting for the fact that, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, B.C. has the highest rate of hospitalization due to mental illness, which is extremely costly in emergency care. This is not inclusive of other mental health costs, which are conservatively $50 billion in Canada.

Further, there are very high costs associated with mentally ill people being diverted into the justice system, which very difficult to account for. Vancouver Police Department estimates about of a third of its time and resources are taken up by mental health related events, and recommend addition of 300 dedicated psychiatric beds at treatment facilities as well as supportive housing. The increased space in the current Riverview plan will not come close to this.

This is a complicated problem with many voices claiming the right to make decisions about the land. But a quick influx of cash from land sales will barely put a dent in the true price of using these lands for real estate development rather than mental health. The numbers speak for themselves.

At the end of the day, community consultations, apparently ignored by our government, show that our society wants to speak up for the right thing to do.

With at least one in five Canadians being affected by mental illness, I would be surprised if anyone in our community has not been touched by the current mental health crisis, which is why we value the Riverview lands returning to their former place as a haven for mental health.

However, it is nice to know the bottom line is also on our side, and selling off the land to the highest bidder would be anything but revenue-neutral.

Amy Lubik, Port Moody

Published February 19, 2016 (http://www.tricitynews.com/opinion/letters/letter-taking-land-from-mental-health-care-is-hardly-revenue-neutral-1.2178041)

 

A Christmas Wish: Stop need for stop-gaps

The Editor,

One of the beautiful things about living in the Tri-Cities is that people are always trying to help others, even if they don’t have that much themselves. Regular people come together to raise money, be it for school band equipment or helping refugees or feeding people at the food bank.

I am grateful to live in a community where so many people care, especially in the season of giving. One of my favourite gifts in the last few years has been to give to a charity I think would touch my loved ones.

Perhaps the best gift you can give those in need this holiday season is to write to your MLA or MP and ask them to do something about living wages so that instead of going to the food bank, a struggling single parent might be able to afford healthy food.

Perhaps we should be writing to say we need a pharmacare plan so that parents do not have to resort to crowdfunding to pay for life-saving medical treatment.

Last year, my brother-in-law received a donation to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in his name but I think he’d rather we all had the right to a healthy environment.

As a lover of education, perhaps the best gift I can give the little girl up the street this year is to write and demand adequate public school funding so that there will still be an art program or a librarian by the time she goes to school.

This year, my Christmas wish is that we rethink charitable stop-gap measures, as much as our hearts are in the right place, and ask our public officials to give our neighbours the gift of a healthy and equitable society.

Amy Lubik, Port Moody

Published December 10, 2015 (http://www.tricitynews.com/opinion/letters/letter-stop-need-for-stop-gaps-1.2130812)

Knitting Movements Together with The Raging Grannies and Knitting Nanas

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Knitting and Singing with the Raging Grannies (Maple Ridge) outside MP James Moore’s Office.

We are Tri-Cities Leadnow and we have been inspired by the Chain of Hope. Who could fail to be moved by the women, mostly Elders, of the Gitga’at Nation, who toiled long hours weaving a net of colourful yarn and memories to span the Douglas Channel and who surged their canoes across the rollicking waters in order to decree “No Tankers,” would be allowed to threaten their homes and ways of life? Massive respect is owed to the First Nations and Indigenous peoples who are on the frontlines of climate change and destructive extractive projects that threaten our province, our country, and “sacrifice zones” all over the world.

Many Canadians feel that legal challenges by the original stewards of the land are really our best hope of saving the planet. So, when we heard about #ShutDownCanada, a national day of action, February 13th, 2015, organized by and in solidarity with First Nations movements, demanding the government let First Nations Elders oversee independent investigations into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, as well as the disastrous Mount Polley tailings pond breach, among other issues, we asked permission to hold a knit-in. Yup, a knit-in for the future– that’s the level of radical rebellion you’re dealing with.

We wanted to weave together a vision of a healthy, sustainable future with no pipelines, no tankers, and no fracking. More than that we wanted to knit the community together and tell our government it is time to untangle our country from destructive industries and human rights violations. What better place to start than the shores of Port Moody, curled cozily into the water and mountains, where not so long ago our neighbours in Burnaby were blanketed by approximately 234,000 litres of crude oil from a split pipeline which Kinder Morgan wants to twin?

To add more love and ravel-ry to our day, we invited the Raging Grannies from Maple Ridge to join us, those rockstar matrons who span North America to protect peace, justice, and the environmental way (basically the Justice League with more songs and aprons). Imagine our surprise when we learned that the grannies didn’t know how to knit – we did promise to teach them anyone else who wanted to learn!

As we strung together disparate but related groups around the lower mainland, including Force of Nature, LeadNow, PipeUp Network, Burnaby Mountain protestors, and local retired scientists, and cast-on our purpose with In Solidarity with All Land Defenders and groups across Canada, it became clear that we are bound together with other movements rising up all over the world where industry is trying to get rich on the backs of future generations. Half way around the world, the Knitting Nana’s Against Gas, amazing blue-haired, yellow clad warriors are a huge presence against a gas industry lacing

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The Knitting Nanas Against Gas in Australia in solidarity with #ShutDownCanada

its way through Australia (a land with quite enough water issues without fracking!). Holding a bright yellow “Nana’s Stand with #ShutDownCanada” sign in solidarity, they joined their “Nana rap” with the strong and bright voices of the Raging Grannies singing nursery songs fit to usher a Prime Minister out of office. All the time, our group continued to knit one, purl two towards a more clean and equitable Canada.

Radicals are often thought of as young, angry hippies. However, more and more it is parents and retired grandparents who are worried about the future of the planet they are leaving for their grandchildren; the upcoming generation will not only be the first to be less healthy than their parents (more pollution, obesity, and diabetes), but now also have to worry about runaway climate change threatening to devastate their health and the ecosystems they depend on. From pipelines to hydraulic fracturing (fracking), environmental threats are knitting together unlikely allies and mobilizing folks who would never have been thought of as activists.

We are now staring down the barrel of a loaded bill which could target anyone who questions whether short term economic gain from extractive industries is worth our children’s future. It’s enough to send one’s head spinning.  In her book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein forecasts that the future success of the environmental movement will not be small groups working separately, but many groups coming together like a patchwork quilt across causes, cities, countries, and the world to share information and organize.

Indeed, a recent report from the gas industry The Global Anti-fracking Movement: Managing Risk, Maximizing Opportunity, stated that this ease of mobilization and connectivity is one of the biggest hurdles they face. Peacefully knitting and singing along with the Grannies and Nanas is a wonderful foil to the image of a hostile protestor; really, we’re all here out of love and hope as we search for creative ways to cast off the damage that has been inflicted on environmental and social policy.

As you’ll hear our elders say, it’s so important to “Listen to Granny”– every one of them.

[Un]Fair Elections Act: What would a REAL Fair Elections Act include?

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The current fair elections act is about making elections fair to the extent that the omnibus budget bill was about the budget – both have nothing to do with their names and everything to do with gutting regulations that do not suit a particular agenda. The current government is attempting some concessions to this bill, but the changes do not go far enough – the government is employing the bait and switch technique – if they amend a few things, the opposition will decrease – Canadians cannot let that happen. In early 2014, LeadNow, a non-partisan progressive non-profit working for fair democracy, fair economy, and climate justice, went out an asked Canadians what they wanted to see for our country’s future – concerning fair democracy, this [Un]fair elections act not only misses the mark, it aims in the opposite direction.

Disallowing the use of vouching and doing away with the voter ID cards is tantamount to saying “If you can’t afford to purchase ID to vote with, your vote should not count.” These changes will target students (young and educated is not a category of voter that the current government appeals to), low income Canadians, seniors, and First Nations. Voter ID cards are helpful for all Canadians to know where and when to vote, whether or not they have ID with their address (handy little things) and over 500 000 Canadians from all corners of the political spectrum used them in the last election. If we want fair elections, they should represent more Canadian voices, not less. By my math, in an election where 60% of Canadians voted, with a majority of 39%, the current government represents, at best, 23% of the Canadian population – this is not a government that should be making such sweeping reforms. A young Stephen Harper would have agreed with both opposition parties, as well as 465 leading academics who decry this legislation – in 1996 when the Liberals wanted to change election laws, he said:

“In my view, the procedure of using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties, is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in Third World countries….Every indication that we have had during the debate, in the committee hearings and in the House, has been that with further discussion we would reach an all-party consensus on virtually all of the items in the legislation.” Now the opposition parties, as well as the senate and 483 top academics and over 80 000 Canadians who have signed our petition, agreed what the Fair Elections Act cannot go through as it is – indeed that it should be heavily amended or scrapped all together.”

In February and March, LeadNow held events called Connect in 80 communities across Canada, ranging from 12 to 300 in size, and we asked real Canadians what they want to see as far as moving toward a fair democracy: What they had to say is reflected nowhere in this bill, which again speaks volumes about what this highly partisan bill is meant to accomplish.

The Canadians we talked to moving beyond the first-past-the-post system to make sure all votes count, while reducing partisanship, limiting party discipline, and promoting cooperation. Currently, the majority of the votes cast don’t actually count –the majority of Canadians wanted a different party than the one that currently hold a majority, and indeed, want the parties to work together. In Western Europe, 21 or 28 countries use a form of proportionate representation, which takes into account the number of votes cast for each party. Furthermore, regarding fair representation, the amount that an MP can say, even if it represents the wishes of their constituents, even in the leading caucus, is limited, which limits debate. It is up to the leader of a party to decide if a candidate can run in a riding, whether that is the preferred constituency preferred candidate or not- this power to can be used to force MPs to tow the party line for fear of not being allowed to run in the next election – Elections Canada should have the power to regulate candidate races fairly

Some of the biggest dangers of this bill would be to further disengage and disenfranchise Canadians, who already are voting at the lowest numbers and who don’t believe that the government is listening to them – a great many young Canadians, 60% of whom from 18-34 don’t vote – believe government only listens to big money. The Canadians we talked to participate through participatory budgeting, referendums, online consultations and town hall meetings, so that people can be involved in the decisions that impact them, like huge over-arching trade agreement that last decades. And so many of the people we talked to wanted greater power to get given to Elections Canada to promote voting (this bill still prohibits Elections Canada from doing that), and educate children on why it’s important and how hard we had to fight for it.

The current act attempts to strip the power of Elections Canada from informing voters of when and how to vote and from running get out the vote campaigns and mock elections (sadly not surprising, as the majority of youths discover they are progressive in these mock elections, or so was my experience, back in the day). Even if these points are removed from the bill, it should be scrapped on the grounds that they even tried it. Ed Broadbent stated it very elegantly in a piece in the Toronto Star:

“Just as anti-democratic are changes that amount to a massive clawback to Elections Canada’s outreach mandate. This would severely restrict the agency’s public education and information programs, essentially prohibiting Elections Canada from encouraging people to vote. Gone would be its ability to support programs in our schools, like Student Vote’s mock elections, or the outreach work in aboriginal communities. To believe it’s accidental that these groups normally prefer the opposition parties is to believe in the tooth fairy.”

It also disallows Elections Canada to let the public know when they are investigating fraud charges, as in robocall scandals, and still withholds the power of the Chief Electoral Officer from compelling testimony on such matter – these are hardly the actions of a government fighting for transparency.

There is a great desire in the people we talked to to limit the part that big money can play in government and this bill only serves to increase the amount of money that can be spent by a particular candidate. Some of this has been proposed to be amended; however, the amount of money that a candidate can put into their own campaign is to be increased over 300%, which will greatly stack the odds on who will win, usually against the Candidate who would be most representative of their constituency. To increase fairness, election donations should be limited to something that most people could afford, say $100 as newly mandated in Quebec, for individual and corporate donations. Bank loans in the current act are unlimited, and given that banks are regulated by federal politicians, to prevent undue influence all loans should be limited to the same amount as donations. Federal election watchdogs should have a right to any document they request to confirm compliance with the Canada Elections Act (including all receipts so they can audit all spending and donations) as watchdogs do in several provinces.

In our focus groups, Canadians wanted to see a great emphasis put on Immigrant and First Nations rights, and yet this act does nothing but strip First Nations voting rights. To be fair, it does not address Immigrant rights whatsoever; however, hard-working new Canadians, permanent residents who will pay all their taxes here and raise their children here, have no voting rights – it is now their country too, and most of our ancestors were in their shoes at some point – shouldn’t a real FAIR elections act bring that into consideration, too?

This “Fair” Election act has nothing to do with making the elections any fairer – in fact, it goes against the best interest and the best ideas of the Canadian Public. A Maple Ridge MP said that because of the lack of mass protests (one would think over 80 000 signatures on a petition is fairly substantial), Canadians generally agree with the act. Correction: It’s not that the majority of people support the measures; it’s that the majority are not aware of the measures…. AngusReid polls suggest only 20% are familiar with the Act (the rest vaguely or not aware) and the more they know “among Canadians familiar with the proposed legislation, 17 per cent give the Conservative marks for improving democracy and fully 57 per cent say the Harper government has diminished the democratic process.” http://www.angusreidglobal.com/polls/48918/awareness-breeds-contempt-the-more-canadians-are-aware-of-fair-elections-act-the-more-they-oppose-it/

The amount of pressure Canadians have put on the government has forced them to amend the act, but there is still too much fodder that is dangerous to the country. It is likely that this bill will go through and it will be up us to appeal to Universities, City Councils, Seniors Centres, and First Nations Offices to provide the necessary ID to allow the majority of Canadians to vote, and to go out and mobilize voters around this issue, if not the multiple other tyrannies this government is trying to or has brought in. It is possible the Council of Canadians and other groups for fair democracy will have to take our government to court and if that time comes it will be up to the public to support them or risk losing what Canadians fought so hard to achieve.MAC2501-770x497

Un”bear”able: Protect Great Bear Rainforest creatures from trophy hunters and pipelines