The Wild Ones make a comeback

Posted October 17, 2011 on 11:08 pm | In the category Canada, Environment | by Mackenzie Brothers

In a period of seemingly unending bad news about the state of the environment, it is time for some surprisingly upbeat developments: Some of the big guys in the animal kingdom are coming back to areas they had abandoned under constant human pressure scores of years ago, in some cases even centuries ago. It is true that almost all these cases are happening in the still somewhat wide-open spaces of northern North America and Euroasia, but still they are happening and there is quite suddenly some startling evidence that the often apparently hopeless attempt by some humans to undo the damage done by most humans is actually having some success. It seems that protected national parks actually work as something other than a tourist goal.

In southern British Columbia grizzly bears are definitely extending their range southward and even westward as the first sightings in a century of the giant carnivores within an hour of Vancouver lead to predictions that within twenty years a grizzly will be standing on the ski slopes of Vancouver looking at his encaged brethren at the top of Grouse Mountain. Four young male grizzlys are now being tracked on the west coast of Vancouver Island where the languages of the natives have no word for them, as there is no record of them having been there before. It can only be assumed they have made the almost unimaginable swim from the mainland by moving from island to island and are now considering whether they want to stay in a new land where they would be king of the wilderness. If the resident black bears run into them, they may regret getting to know this branch of th e family.

They would almost certainly also be meeting an ever-expanding cougar population, once seen only rarely and at a distance – my brother Doug claims to have almost hit one on the road to Zeballos – and now making thei presence felt in many places where they may be less than welcome. This summer a cougar jumped out of the bush and on to a little kid at popular Kennedy Lake in Pacific Rim National Park, only to be driven away by an irate mother. Cougars have also now been positively identified as roaming the woods of Quebec and will surely soon be back in th he Adirondacks.  Wolf packs are spreading rapidly eastwards in Germany where they have been absent for a century.   Tigers have been brought back from the brink of extinction in southeastern Russia through a decision in Moscow that a great country like Russia deserves a great wild animal.  China may be thinking that one over at the moment, since they wiped out all their own tigers, but still get the occasional wanderer from north of the Amur River. In 2009 in British Columbia federal officials estimated that the salmon returning to the greatest free-flowinng salmon river on earth, the Fraser, which reaches the sea in Vancouver, would be reduced to a rump 1 million fish and might well be considered on the way to extinction.  And then 30 million showed up from nowhere, the highest number in a century, and all bets of extinction were off. So take heart, you may yet run into a grizzly or a pack of wolves on your afternoon constitutional and never be the same again.

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Canada – King of Asbestos

Posted June 24, 2011 on 3:00 pm | In the category Canada, Environment | by Mackenzie Brothers

Virtually every one knows that asbestos is a very dangerous product that has to be handled with extreme care. At the very least, it has to be labelled as dangerous and in need of special handling – if not simply banned – because it will kill you if you breathe it in any kind of quantities. There was a time when this was not so clear, and mining communities around the world – especially in Quebec – made a decent if hard living mining it, until the workers began dying of lung congestion. Now, decades later, billions are being spent removing asbestos from buildings in Canada. It can only be done safely with great caution by workers dressed in protective clothing, and it must be done if any building with asbestos in it is torn down, renovated or if the asbestos has been stirred up in some way. It’s the law.
And now even the lumbering the United Nations bureaucracy has concluded that at the very least asbestos must be labelled as a dangerous material needing special handling, in particular when it is exported. But that decree did not pass, since the vote required unanimity, and, despite the fact that even a rising economic power like India unexpectedly decided to vote in favour and take the economic hit, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Canada turned it down. Yes, shamefully, Canada, which knows all too well how dangerous this material is, decided it would rather protect the jobs of the 500 asbestos miners still working in Quebec rather than act with any decency. It is a good question of what the newly elected conservative majority would not do for money, or votes. The leader of the opposition socialist party called this vote the height of hypocrisy. He was being too generous


German elections – the nuclear power opponents win a surprising victory

Posted March 28, 2011 on 1:45 pm | In the category Election, Environment, Germany, internatinal Livability | by Mackenzie Brothers

The nuclear disaster in Japan will no doubt have a negative ripple effect on the popularity of the nuclear power industry throughout the world – at least one would hope so as the consequences of a nuclear meltdown begin to hit home – and the first plebiscites on the topic in regional elections in southwest Germany have delivered completely unexpected results. In Baden-Württemberg, where the Conservative CDU party has ruled for almost 60 years, the Green Party, which for 30 years has attacked nuclear power programmes from a gradually-growing minority position, will apparently deliver the next premier, as the Greens received, by a very slight margin over the social Democrats, the most votes with 24%. And in neighbouring Rheinland-Pfalz the Greens will have gained a crucial position to rule in coalition with the Social Democrats. There is no doubt that the impulse for this amazing result is German uneasiness with the proposed expansion of nuclear power plants in view of the catastrophe in technologically-proficient Japan.

There is also no doubt about who the big losers are in this. Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU/CSU government has been punished for waffling on the topic of nuclear energy, and its weak coalition party, the FDP, lost half its votes in the elections and fell below the 5% level, which gets you into parliament, in one of them. For the FDP, which traditionally supplies the Foreign Minister when in coalition, it could be a fatal blow. For the CDU/CSU it is a rude wake-up call as analysts have determined that many thousands of voters who normally vote conservative switched to the Greens as a protest on federal nuclear power policy. It seems that a stance that was once the home territory of an offbeat protest party finds a great deal of support among conservatively-minded Germans. After all, the potential spread of radiation in Japan pays no attention to political interests. It looks like it may make everybody’s land uninhabitable for a long time in a wide area around the crippled reactors.

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Whatever happened to nuclear power plants?

Posted December 1, 2010 on 3:19 am | In the category Canada, Environment, Europe, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

They haven’t been much in the headlines of late. The deadly explosion at Tschernobyl happened almost twenty-five years and the blame can easily be put on an antiquated design and negligent maintenance typical of the old Soviet Union. Nothing like that could happen in technically advanced western Europe or North America, could it. Or rather could it? There are countries in those areas that have waffled for so long about whether they can live with nuclear power on their territory that the very plants that they were waffling over have become ancient in nuclear power-plant time, and should be deactivated before they begin to seriously threaten the environment with shaky turbines and leaky pipes and containers. Instead as governments change and attitudes towards nuclear power change with the economic difficulties facing power-short lands anywhere, official positions change with regard to the fate of the old used-up plants. A country like France, which is very dependant on nuclear power plants, has of course a large number of engineers and designers who have had steady employment and lots of experience and know how to build them. But what about the nuclear plant planners in countries like Germany, the USA or Canada, which have not built any new plants for decades, and are now faced with the dilemma of returning to the largely unpopular idea of getting back in the nuclear race? With few experienced experts around to build new plants wouldn’t it make sense to refurbish the old ones.
For a lot of nuclear engineers the answer to that is a clear ‘no’. It is much cheaper, of course, to try to spiff up an old Volvo model than to design and build a new one. But the a “best before” date makes that way of saving money no longer either reasonable or safe with regard to nuclear power plants, and those engineers are hoping that the Swedish government figures that out before it is too late. For of all western countries it is rich Sweden that seems most willing to run the biggest risks by taking the cheap spiff-up solution to its nuclear dilemma. A couple of decades the Swedes voted to show their moral backbone by announcing that all Swedish nuclear power plants would be closed down within a couple of decades from then. Namely now. But governments change in democracies and that original stance by the Social Democrats in defence of safety and the environment has been reversed by the now-ruling conservatives, who maintain (probably with some justification) that Swedish industry cannot run without nuclear power. So thirty to forty-year-old nuclear power plants in Sweden some of which have already had dangerous breakdowns, but have never been decommissioned as they were supposed to have been years ago, are now supposed to be reused after modernization. (Canada has some similar plans.) For many nuclear engineers this is a recipe for disaster since these plants were never designed to be overhauled like this. Many think Sweden will be trying to put a Porsche engine into an old truck and that an accident is just waiting to happen. At least they haven’t yet asked Volvo to provide the engineers for this.

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And now for some tremendous environmental news – the salmon return in record numbers

Posted August 26, 2010 on 2:10 am | In the category Canada, Environment | by Mackenzie Brothers

After apparently unending terrible stories about the destruction of the environment by oil drilling, global warming, habitat destruction, etc, something amazing has happened that no scientists predicted or could hope for in their wildest dreams. One year after the worst return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River in history – 1,5 million returned instead of the predicted 12 million and the end of the salmon on the world’s largest free-running salmon river seemed inevitable – the largest run in a century has come from nowhere and stunned both the despairing pessimists and the ever-hopeful scientists.

25 million sockeye salmon are now making their way towards or up the Fraser on the long run to their spawning grounds in the remote heartland of British Columbia and the river is jumping with fish and fishermen who have been allowed to catch salmon for the first time in four years. The spirit of native bands, commercial fishery, recreational fishers and really the whole provincial community has been uplifted by the amazing display of an event that it was assumed would never be seen again. May the force be with it.

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Oh Canada, where did you dig up these leaders?

Posted December 14, 2009 on 8:37 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Canada, Environment, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

It used to be that Canada punched above its weight in foreign affairs, an honest broker that could be counted on to consider options carefully before dedicating itself to finding a just solution to a difficult situation, even if it meant sending in its troops. Thus Canada entered the Second World War within a week of the Nazi invasion of Poland, more than two years before the United States did and had already suffered many thousand casualties in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and the skies over Europe by the time the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour forced the US hand. After that awful war, nowhere captured more dramatically than in the on-the-spot sketches by Canuck war artists A.Y. Jackson and Alex Colville, Canadian Prime Minister Mike Pearson got a Nobel Peace Prize that was actually deserved, for his tenacious negotiations leading to an end to the Suez crisis.

Now that hard-earned reputation risks being eradicated by a government intent on doing nothing contrary to its economic interests which is more than satisfied to follow the dictates of the super heavyweights on matters like climate change, border controls and diplomatic independence. At the Copenhagen climate change conference Canada has received the fossil of the year award, on the Afghan file, it has received a letter signed by almost 100 of its former ambassadors protesting the treatment of one of its middle-level diplomats in Kabul, who was called before parliament and publicly demeaned by the Minister of Defence for having sent a number of reports to Ottawa warning them of something that was public knowledge – that prisoners passed on to the Afghan army by Canada and other western powers were routinely tortured by the Afghans – and which Canada for a lengthy period denied before its memory improved. In China Prime Minister Harper was publicly rebuked by the Chinese president for insulting Chinese sensibilities by taking too long to come and visit, for hosting the Dalai Lama and for not having attended the Beijing Olympics. Harper also had no plans to attend the Copenhagen Climate Conference until President Obama said he would be there. It is a long way from Pearson to Harper, and it seems safe to predict that it will take a long time for Canada to repair its international image so that it can begin punching, if not as a heavyweight, at least above the flyweight class it now occupies.

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Bush Gives the Country the Finger

Posted December 11, 2008 on 6:08 pm | In the category Economy, Environment, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

“Well, we only have one president at a time. My problem is, at a time of great crisis and [massive] mortgage foreclosures. … I am afraid that overstates the number of presidents.” – Barney Frank

Say what you will about Canada’s “prorogue” approach to delaying a change in leadership, it still beats the U.S. approach. George W. Bush’s presidency is all but over – but he will have had over two months since the election to join with his lame duck Republican brethren in the Congress to screw the country as much as possible. Barney Frank may wish to consider whether he really wants a full-time Bush presidency.

For Bush the time between the election and the actual change of government has become a time to rape the environment, pad the pockets of his pals in the banking sector, implant his discredited ideology on as many parts of America as possible and set up sleeper cells in every federal agency where the eight year onslaught on American interests can continue until the new administration can – literally – flush them out.

Among Bush’s already in place regulatory actions needing reversal are the limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, and the decision last year to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

Bush’s last minute efforts to totally soil his legacy include the opening of some 360,000 acres of public land in Utah to oil and gas drilling, the reduction in outpatient services for low-and moderate-income people covered under Medicaid, reduced access for reproductive and family planning care through a new rule permitting workers to refuse to perform abortions, dispense birth control pills, or even provide emergency contraception in rape cases, the revision of OSHA regulations that make it more difficult to limit on-the-job exposure to toxic chemicals, and the erosion of the Endangered Species Act. In addition, Bush opened up some 800,000 hectares (2m acres) of land in Rocky Mountain states for the development of oil shale, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. And the list goes on.

Meanwhile, as Bush fiddles among the burning ruins, the Republican members of the Senate have determined that while they could give $300 billion to banks over a weekend with absolutely no strings attached they cannot bring themselves to support the automobile industry which employs hundreds of thousands of Americans with a $16 billion loan. They prefer to watch the industry go into bankruptcy and the American economy to crash further into disaster in order to destroy the autoworkers union and keep their right wing ideology pure.

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California burning

Posted July 16, 2008 on 3:01 am | In the category Environment, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

There is no shred of good coming from the out of control fires up and down the coast and in the northern mountains of California, except that there are still many courageous and daring firefighters willing to take on the filthy and dangerous business of trying to control them. So far it has been a torturously futile attempt as lightning strikes start new fires long before the worst of the old ones are contained. For anyone who has spent time in places like the Yolla Bolly or Trinity Alps mountain preserves or the wilderness area east of Big Sur (not to mention easily accessible Big Sur itself), as my brother and I often have, it is a tragically sad spectacle to see these beautiful places being destroyed for at least many decades. For as natural as lightning burns have always been, bringing in long-lasting good with the temporary bad, these fires seem different. They are way too early, they are happening because there has been no rain in many parts of central and northern california since the winter, and there is not enough available water to fight them in a co-ordinated way.

These are the canaries in the coal mine of climate change and big, beautiful (for the most part) California is surely one of the most vulnerable places on earth as much of it has been built in almost desert-like locations which must import water to sustain life on the scale that has been placed there. And water is what California does not have enough of, particularly southern California and especially the megalopolis of San Diego to Santa Barbara. For decades the waters of northern California and the diverted Colorado River have kept these places water-solvent but that time is coming to or has already reached an end. 20% of the California budget is devoted to pumping the waters of the north to the south, especially from the Sacramento River delta, whose dikes are now considered under a greater threat than were those of New Orleans before they broke. If the salt water of San Francisco Bay breaks through into the fresh water of the delta, the nightmare scenario, it is hard to imagine the future of Los Angeles. It is in any case hard to imagine how a life style pushing rice field agriculture, green lawns, swimming pools and golf courses can be tolerated,as it should be perfectly clear by now that water is the most valuable of all commodities for life – gas is incomparably less important – and that in southern California it is being wasted in an intolerable fashion. There are no replacements – the Colorado River is being siphoned dry by all the states it runs through. Neither Oregon nor Washington have any water they are going to spare for their wasteful southern neighbours, and it is against the law to export water from water-rich Canada, even if it were so inclined. San Diego is now setting up desalinization pilot projects, but this process causes many problems of its own and cannot solve the basic one – much more water is being used than is available. Perhaps Governor Arnie, who seems to have a good understanding of the problem, can convince some of those professors at his best universities to come to grips somehow with this really existential problem..


A tale of two journeys

Posted December 30, 2007 on 2:41 am | In the category Canada, Environment, Europe, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

If you live in Iceland and wish to travel to Estonia or Bulgaria, or Malta, you can now take a short plane ride and rent a car or take a train and in a couple of days you will arrive at your desired destination without having crossed a single controlled border. But if you get in your car in Vancouver and drive 45 minutes south to Point Roberts, Washington, you will reach a border control very reminiscent of the old European borders between the Soviet-bloc nations and western Europe, but with enough sophisticated and expensive electronic detection equipment to convince even the most sophisticated terrorist to try another route.
if you are lucky and hit this border at a time when there is not a hour-long lineup (or more) and then manage to pass muster at the guard station, by displaying a valid passport and a believable story about why you want to go to Point Roberts (usually to go to the post office as the US postal system is much cheaper and more reliable than the Canadian one), and then drive another 15 minutes in any direction, you will hit salt water since Point Roberts is US territory accessible by land only through Canada. Kids who live there have to be bussed out to US schools in the main part of the US by passing across this border, making the misery of school bus journeys four times as trying as it is for any other US kids, since they now must cross heavily guarded borders 4 times a day.
OK this is the most absurd of all the East German-like US border crossings, but it is not at all funny at places like the Peace Arch Crossing between Seattle and Vancouver, the highway between Winnipeg and Minneapolis, the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor or the bridge at Niagara Falls. In these places, and in many lesser ones all along what used to be an unguarded border, normal travel regularly comes to a complete standstill as cars wait for hours in lineups that, among other things, make any talk about an interest in cutting down pollution from idling cars ridiculous. Does anyone out there know of a single terrorist who has been captured at a Canada/US border crossing?


America Takes on Mother Nature

Posted November 13, 2007 on 6:14 pm | In the category Environment, Global Warming, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

Bob and Doug Mackenzie have reported on the successful – but huge – investment of the Dutch in controlling Mother Nature – or at least adapting to Her powers. But in doing so they cast aspersions on the United States’ ability to do the same, unpleasantly referring to Katrina.

Well, as it turns out Bob and Doug have missed the big story developing in the Southeastern United States.  After a year long drought that has led to dangerous lows in drinking water supplies in Georgia and Alabama as well as major, long-burning fires, the governors of those two states have taken action. And you better believe that they are not going to waste a whole baggage car full of taxpayers’ money to do so.

An AP story in today’s NY Times reported that:

“…Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue stepped up to a podium outside the state Capitol on Tuesday and led a solemn crowd of several hundred people in a prayer for rain on his drought-stricken state.

”We’ve come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm,” Perdue said after a choir provided a hymn. …”It’s time to appeal to Him who can and will make a difference,” Perdue told the crowd….

Alas the AP report continued:

Meteorologists said earlier this week there was a slight possibility of rain Tuesday, but less of a chance of precipitation was predicted for the rest of the week.

That Governor Perdue persisted in his prayer strategy showed special faith since Alabama Gov. Bob Riley had issued a proclamation declaring a week in July as ”Days of Prayer for Rain” to ”humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty.”  Alas, those prayers remain unanswered.

In a related story, President Bush announced that special presidential advisor Pat Robertson would be leading the nation in a day of prayer aimed at reducing the price of oil.

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