Archive for the ‘Nature Articles’ Category

A Biologist’s Manifesto for Preserving Life on Earth

By E.O. Wilson

1

We are playing a global endgame. Humanity’s grasp on the planet is not strong; it is growing weaker. Freshwater is growing short; the atmosphere and the seas are increasingly polluted as a result of what has transpired on the land. The climate is changing in ways unfavorable to life, except for microbes, jellyfish, and fungi. For many species, these changes are already fatal.

Because the problems created by humanity are global and progressive, because the prospect of a point of no return is fast approaching, the problems can’t be solved piecemeal. There is just so much water left for fracking, so much rainforest cover available for soybeans and oil palms, so much room left in the atmosphere to store excess carbon. The impact on the rest of the biosphere is everywhere negative, the environment becoming unstable and less pleasant, our long-term future less certain.

Only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. The Half-Earth proposal offers a first, emergency solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: By setting aside half the planet in reserve, we can save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.

Why one-half? Why not one-quarter or one-third? Because large plots, whether they already stand or can be created from corridors connecting smaller plots, harbor many more ecosystems and the species composing them at a sustainable level. As reserves grow in size, the diversity of life surviving within them also grows. As reserves are reduced in area, the diversity within them declines to a mathematically predictable degree swiftly—often immediately and, for a large fraction, forever.

A biogeographic scan of Earth’s principal habitats shows that a full representation of its ecosystems and the vast majority of its species can be saved within half the planet’s surface. At one-half and above, life on Earth enters the safe zone. Within that half, more than 80 percent of the species would be stabilized.

There is a second, psychological argument for protecting half of Earth. Half-Earth is a goal—and people understand and appreciate goals. They need a victory, not just news that progress is being made. It is human nature to yearn for finality, something achieved by which their anxieties and fears are put to rest. We stay afraid if the enemy is still at the gate, if bankruptcy is still possible, if more cancer tests may yet prove positive. It is our nature to choose large goals that, while difficult, are potentially game changing and universal in benefit. To strive against odds on behalf of all of life would be humanity at its most noble.

2

Extinction events are not especially rare in geological time. They have occurred in randomly varying magnitude throughout the history of life. Those that are truly apocalyptic, however, have occurred at only about 100-million-year intervals. There have been five such peaks of destruction of which we have record, the latest being Chicxulub, the mega-asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Earth required roughly 10 million years to recover from each mass extinction. The peak of destruction that humanity has initiated is often called the Sixth Extinction.

Many authors have suggested that Earth is already different enough to recognize the end of the Holocene and the beginning of a new geological epoch. The favored name, coined by the biologist Eugene F. Stoermer in the early 1980s and popularized by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000, is the Anthropocene, the Epoch of Man.

The logic for distinguishing the Anthropocene is sound. It can be clarified by the following thought experiment. Suppose that in the far-distant future geologists were to dig through Earth’s crusted deposits to the strata spanning the past thousand years of our time. They would encounter sharply defined layers of chemically altered soil. They would recognize signatures of rapid climate changes. They would uncover abundant fossil remains of domesticated plants and animals that had replaced most of Earth’s prehuman fauna and flora. They would excavate fragments of machines, and a veritable museum of deadly weapons.

3

Biodiversity as a whole forms a shield protecting each of the species that together compose it, ourselves included. What will happen if, in addition to the species already extinguished by human activity, say, 10 percent of those remaining are taken away? Or 50 percent? Or 90 percent? As more species vanish or drop to near extinction, the rate of extinction of the survivors accelerates. In some cases the effect is felt almost immediately. When a century ago the American chestnut, once a dominant tree over much of eastern North America, was reduced to near extinction by an Asian fungal blight, seven moth species whose caterpillars depended on its vegetation vanished. As extinction mounts, biodiversity reaches a tipping point at which the ecosystem collapses. Scientists have only begun to study under what conditions this catastrophe is most likely to occur.

Human beings are not exempt from the iron law of species interdependency. We were not inserted as ready-made invasives into an Edenic world. Nor were we intended by providence to rule that world. The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it. The organisms that surround us in such beautiful profusion are the product of 3.8 billion years of evolution by natural selection. We are one of its present-day products, having arrived as a fortunate species of old-world primate. And it happened only a geological eye-blink ago. Our physiology and our minds are adapted for life in the biosphere, which we have only begun to understand. We are now able to protect the rest of life, but instead we remain recklessly prone to destroy and replace a large part of it.

4

Earth remains a little-known planet. Scientists and the public are reasonably familiar with the vertebrates (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals), mostly because of their large size and immediate visible impact on human life. The best known of the vertebrates are the mammals, with about 5,500 species known and, according to experts, a few dozen remaining to be discovered. Birds have 10,000 recognized species, with an average of two or three new species turning up each year. Reptiles are reasonably well known, with slightly more than 9,000 species recognized and 1,000 estimated to await discovery. Fishes have 34,000 known species and as many as 10,000 awaiting discovery. Amphibians (frogs, salamanders, wormlike caecilians), among the most vulnerable to destruction, are less well known than the other land vertebrates: a bit over 6,600 species discovered out of a surprising 16,000 believed to exist. Flowering plants come in with about 270,000 species known and as many as 94,000 awaiting discovery.

For most of the rest of the living world, the picture is radically different. When expert estimates for invertebrates (such as the insects, crustaceans, and earthworms) are added to estimates for algae, fungi, mosses, and gymnosperms as well as for bacteria and other microorganisms, the total added up and then projected has varied wildly, from 5 million to more than 100 million species.

If the current rate of basic descriptions and analyses continues, we will not complete the global census of biodiversity—what is left of it—until well into the 23rd century. Further, if Earth’s fauna and flora is not more expertly mapped and protected, and soon, the amount of biodiversity will be vastly diminished by the end of the present century. Humanity is losing the race between the scientific study of global biodiversity and the obliteration of countless still-unknown species.

5

From 1898 to 2006, 57 kinds of freshwater fish declined to extinction in North America. The causes included the damming of rivers and streams, the draining of ponds and lakes, the filling in of springheads, and pollution, all due to human activity. Here, to bring them at least a whisper closer to their former existence, is a partial list of their common names: Maravillas red shiner, plateau chub, thicktail chub, phantom shiner, Clear Lake splittail, deepwater cisco, Snake River sucker, least silverside, Ash Meadows poolfish, whiteline topminnow, Potosi pupfish, La Palma pupfish, graceful priapelta, Utah Lake sculpin, Maryland darter.

There is a deeper meaning and long-term importance of extinction. When these and other species disappear at our hands, we throw away part of Earth’s history. We erase twigs and eventually whole branches of life’s family tree. Because each species is unique, we close the book on scientific knowledge that is important to an unknown degree but is now forever lost.

The biology of extinction is not a pleasant subject. The vanishing remnants of Earth’s biodiversity test the reach and quality of human morality. Species brought low by our hand now deserve our constant attention and care.

6

How fast are we driving species to extinction? For years paleontologists and biodiversity experts have believed that, before the coming of humanity about 200,000 years ago, the rate of origin of new species per extinction of existing species was roughly one species per million species per year. As a consequence of human activity, it is believed that the current rate of extinction overall is between 100 and 1,000 times higher than it was originally.

This grim assessment leads to a very important question: How well is conservation working? How much have the efforts of global conservation movements achieved in slowing and halting the devastation of Earth’s biodiversity?

Despite heroic efforts, the fact is that due to habitat loss, the rate of extinction is rising in most parts of the world. The preeminent sites of biodiversity loss are the tropical forests and coral reefs. The most vulnerable habitats of all, with the highest extinction rate per unit area, are rivers, streams, and lakes in both tropical and temperate regions.

Biologists recognize that across the 3.8-billion-year history of life, over 99 percent of all species that lived are extinct. This being the case, what, we are often asked, is so bad about extinction?

The answer, of course, is that many of the species over the eons didn’t die at all—they turned into two or more daughter species. Species are like amoebas; they multiply by splitting, not by making embryos. The most successful are the progenitors of the most species through time, just as the most successful humans are those whose lineages expand the most and persist the longest. We, like all other species, are the product of a highly successful and potentially important line that goes back all the way to the birth of humanity and beyond that for billions of years, to the time when life began. The same is true of the creatures still around us. They are champions, each and all. Thus far.

7

The surviving wildlands of the world are not art museums. They are not gardens to be arranged and tended for our delectation. They are not recreation centers or reservoirs of natural resources or sanatoriums or undeveloped sites of business opportunities—of any kind. The wildlands and the bulk of Earth’s biodiversity protected within them are another world from the one humanity is throwing together pell-mell. What do we receive from them? The stabilization of the global environment they provide and their very existence are gifts to us. We are their stewards, not their owners.

Each ecosystem—be it a pond, meadow, coral reef, or something else out of thousands that can be found around the world—is a web of specialized organisms braided and woven together. The species, each a freely interbreeding population of individuals, interact with a set of the other species in the ecosystem either strongly or weakly or not at all. Given that in most ecosystems even the identities of most of the species are unknown, how are biologists to define the many processes of their interactions? How can we predict changes in the ecosystem if some resident species vanish while other, previously absent species invade? At best we have partial data, working off hints, tweaking everything with guesses.

What does knowledge of how nature works tell us about conservation and the Anthropocene? This much is clear: To save biodiversity, it is necessary to obey the precautionary principle in the treatment of Earth’s natural ecosystems, and to do so strictly. Hold fast until we, scientists and the public alike, know much more about them. Proceed carefully—study, discuss, plan. Give the rest of Earth’s life a chance. Avoid nostrums and careless talk about quick fixes, especially those that threaten to harm the natural world beyond return.

8

Today every nation-state in the world has a protected-area system of some kind. All together the reserves number about 161,000 on land and 6,500 over marine waters. According to the World Database on Protected Areas—a joint project of the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature—they occupied by 2015 a little less than 15 percent of Earth’s land area and 2.8 percent of Earth’s ocean area. The coverage is increasing gradually. This trend is encouraging. To have reached the existing level is a tribute to those who have participated in the global conservation effort. But is the level enough to halt the acceleration of species extinction? It is in fact nowhere close to enough.

The declining world of biodiversity cannot be saved by the piecemeal operations in current use. It will certainly be mostly lost if conservation continues to be treated as a luxury item in national budgets. The extinction rate our behavior is imposing, and seems destined to continue imposing, on the rest of life is more correctly viewed as the equivalent of a Chicxulub-size asteroid strike played out over several human generations.

The only hope for the species still living is a human effort commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. The ongoing mass extinction of species, and with it the extinction of genes and ecosystems, ranks with pandemics, world war, and climate change as among the deadliest threats that humanity has imposed on itself. To those who feel content to let the Anthropocene evolve toward whatever destiny it mindlessly drifts to, I say, please take time to reconsider. To those who are steering the growth of nature reserves worldwide, let me make an earnest request: Don’t stop. Just aim a lot higher.

Populations of species that were dangerously small will have space to grow. Rare and local species previously doomed by development will escape their fate. The unknown species will no longer remain silent and thereby be put at highest risk. People will have closer access to a world that is complex and beautiful beyond our present imagining. We will have more time to put our own house in order for future generations. Living Earth, all of it, can continue to breathe.

Drain the narrative of hate for empathy 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

– Leonard Cohen

 

More and more false news stories invade the press and the internet, so much so that Facebook, after being criticized for potentially aiding Trump’s victory by the plethora of fake news, is now to take action and rein in this scourge. No wonder then that Oxford Dictionaries has named the adjective ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year. Post-truth (usually associated with politics) is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Climate denial (assertion that science is merely an opinion amongst many), religious fanaticism and extreme nationalism all feed off appeals to disregard peer-reviewed science, compassion for the other and fairness. Whereas ‘propaganda’ was associated with the promulgation of falsity in war time, post-truth has invaded most discussions: enter Trump and the nasty election rhetoric that enfolded a democratic process in hate, misogyny, misinformation and extremist viewpoints that threaten to unhinge an already polarized society.

No one should be surprised then that the motto “Drain the swamp”, chanted by Trump and supporters, was based on the false notion that Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp. His desire to get rid of the bureaucracy in Washington by metaphorically draining a human swamp has no basis in the District’s physical past. More importantly, swamps have enormous biodiversity and are part of an ecology that keeps us all alive, and disdain for our unique planet’s vibrant life systems has its consequences.

The ubiquitous false news finds its way to the natural-gas ventures in British Columbia via the large oil producers. A corporate-funded study was rejected by the federal government, but the project was approved anyway in September and now faces many lawsuits. It turns out that salmon use the area far more than was revealed. Now Kinder Morgan’s pipeline may be approved by this ‘climate-friendly’ government.

The month of November 2016 hasn’t been buoyed by optimism for our planet. The UN Climate Summit in Marrakech, following the more hopeful although flawed Paris summit in 2015, heard scientists proclaim the most pessimistic declarations for planetary stability; the announcement that 2016 has a 90% chance of being the warmest year on record in modern times doesn’t help the prognosis that this century will not be kind to our children or our grandchildren. The Arctic, going into polar night, is 20 °C above its normal temperature. In response to a climate-denier president-elect in the USA, the Marrakech Action Proclamation affirmed the urgency for governments to commit to fossil fuel reductions to prevent further global warming. Obama’s climate envoy suggested that there could easily be a sea-level rise of 1.5 metres by 2050 as a result of rapid polar warming.

Sadly, our Minister of the Environment at Marrakech gave only 15 minutes to the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition to state their case for Indigenous Peoples and youth affected by climate change, but had an hour to speak with the oil industry.

Dehumanizing, writes philosopher and humanist Charles Eisenstein, is the surest path to war. “The truth can only be sourced from the sincere question, ‘What is it like to be you?’ That is called compassion, and it invites skills of listening, dialog, and communicating without violence or judgement.”

 

Temperatures rob the Arctic of its winter

I can’t pretend it was a scientific study of weather patterns, but during the month of February this year I decided to look at temperature readings of major cities around the world and found to my great dismay what scientists had predicted: January and February 2016 were breaking all temperature records, including an unheard-of spike in temperature of 10 °C at the North Pole in December 2015. I don’t think anyone, having read those weather reports this February, would expect to find it to be a rare occurrence for any northern city to have below-freezing temperatures, but that is what turned out to be the case. From Moscow to Toronto and Tokyo to Zurich, temperatures were consistently higher than all previous records.
We cannot, as some sceptics might, blame the 2015 El Niño for our climate woes, as none of the 20th-century El Niño events caused such anomalies. That is why the Paris Agreement, in opposing any legal requirement to keep global temperatures below a rise of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and refusing to address the dramatic increase in greenhouse-gas emissions, is not enough to hang the future of our planet on.
The inclusion of aspirational ‘commitments’ for putting a stop to temperature rise as an essential component of the Agreement has led the Least Developed Countries to suspect the motives of the Developed Countries. Nepalese social activist Shail Shrestha, having attended his first climate summit, bemoans the injustice of a UN conference that has the countries who have contributed the least to climate chaos having to ask for grants as well as be beholden to wealthy countries in order to mitigate climate impacts they had nothing to do with in the first place. “Indeed,” he adds, “cultural transfer from the South to the North would lead both in a more sustainable direction. In traditional societies, energy efficiency is highly valued, and conservation is considered more important than comfort and ease.”
Climate Progress reported, “The three unlucky nations that suffered their most expensive weather-related natural disasters ever are Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Fiji:

  • “Vietnam has suffered $6.7 billion in damage from its 2016 drought, which has hit farmers especially hard in the crucial southern Mekong Delta. This cost is approximately 4% of Vietnam’s GDP, and beats the $785 million cost (2009 USD) of Typhoon Ketsana of September 28, 2009 for most expensive disaster in their history.”
  • “Zimbabwe has suffered $1.6 billion in damage from its 2016 drought [with more than a quarter of the population facing food shortages]. This is approximately 12% of their GDP, and beats the $200 million cost (2003 USD) of a February 2003 flood for most expensive disaster in their history.”
  • “Fiji suffered $470 million in damage from Category 5 Cyclone Winston’s impact in February [peak strength 185 mph winds]. This is approximately 10% of their GDP. The previous costliest disaster in Fiji was Tropical Cyclone Kina in January 1993, at $182 million (2016 USD) in damage.”
    Given that this month looks to be headed toward the hottest March on record by far — and given that it would surprise no one if this were the hottest spring on record by far — much more such extreme weather disasters are yet to come.

It’s worth remembering, though, that however bad it gets this year, if we don’t continue to sharply reverse global emissions trends, then our current extreme weather will simply be the norm by mid-century — and it will be considered mild by century’s end.”
Canadian writer Naomi Klein, the author of This Changes Everything, recently said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “[only] pretends to care” about climate-change mitigation. I agree, for how can he support a green economy with the transportation of tar-sand oil and gas to foreign markets? He believes the pathway to a low-carbon future for Canada lies in selling more fossil fuels to pay for renewable energy. “To get there,” he claims, “we need to make smart strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure, but we must also continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy.”
From the standpoint of climate/social justice, this strategy of the Liberal prime minister is sheer madness, and it tells us how deeply enmeshed this government is with a fossil-fuel industry that is actually shedding jobs and never saved its money for a rainy day. Continuing to subsidize and encourage the growth of fossil-fuel markets at the immediate expense of our ecological balance and then declare that that same growth and investment will at a later date give Canada the opportunity to shut down this same growth is highly suspect. It is akin to saying that the government should encourage the smoking industry because the taxes raised will help fund cancer research.
Meanwhile, the Town of Collingwood has passed in the last 17 years two climate resolutions and it will be the subject of another article to see if the Town’s ink is worth anything.

Paris summit offered nations a new resolve to act.

The Paris Agreement has brought renewed credibility for Canada and for many other countries that are now committed to taking much more seriously a reduction in their fossil-fuel emissions. One of the chief complaints voiced by climate justice activists is that unless we address keeping fossil fuels in the ground and never dig them up there will never be an end to those emissions. Just take a look at the gas and oil industries’ rapacious movement towards the Arctic reserves, let alone the tar sands.

Although the Agreement is a potpourri of a few legally binding decisions, it is also a repeat of many aspirational declarations, making it difficult to stomach for many scientists, climate justice activists and developing nations. MP Elizabeth May’s plea put it succinctly: “Paris threw us a lifeline. Don’t let it slip through our fingers.”

Politicians from every corner of the globe are calling the Agreement an unequivocal historical victory, and surely it is no small feat to get 196 countries to agree on anything; but the bottom line should be vigorous planetary health, and not just survival. Does this Agreement give humanity a very strict schedule to ensure this health? Or is it just a stepping stone to something more concrete – and, if so, do we really have the time to ponder action for very long? The Agreement will not take effect for quite a few years. Many say it merely voices good intentions that will probably be implemented too late: something that the fossil-fuel industry seems more than happy to see happen.

Back in 1988 NASA scientist James Hansen brought the concept of catastrophic climate change to the attention of the U.S. Congress, and like other scientists he has contempt for a drawn-out timeline in emissions reduction, as well as being upset that the Agreement did not once mention a tax or fee for greenhouse-gas emissions that would then be used to kick-start a revolution in renewable energy for the entire population of the planet. Other activists are not so polite. George Monbiot commented: “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The Agreement speaks of having greenhouse-gas emissions peak as soon as possible, and later in this century to allow only emissions that can be absorbed by our oceans and forests. The desire for a limit to global temperature rise of 1.5 °C, or well below the 2 °C maximum, gained momentum in Paris, and a 5-yearly review of each nation’s progress will be conducted. The US$100 billion a year pledged to lower-income nations to help them adapt to climate change will be extended beyond 2020, but Loss and Damage issues kept the Agreement away from actually accepting responsibility for industrial nations’ offering compensation to developing nations that did not contribute to the crisis and are now feeling its effects. Other than the scientifically accepted 1.5 °C limit in temperature rise, nothing is really new. It is almost banal to say that finally nations rich and poor accept the perils of climate chaos.

So, yes, if Paris is a lifeline, what are local communities and individuals doing right now to foster greater respect for this planet’s fragile biosphere? The answer is to be found outside the halls of government and can be discovered throughout the world. Perhaps that is where nurturing innovation and indeed love for this miraculous Earth can be the true lifesavers.

A Paris climate summit success is urgently needed

The summit currently being held in Paris represents the 21st time the UN has held its climate mitigation conference. There are of course countless meetings between the annual events. This year’s massive conference of over 190 countries, which includes most leaders and environment ministers, has an urgency about it and a palatable appeal to goodwill and action that have not been present before.

Already three major topics have emerged at the Paris summit that must be addressed if real change is to take place. The first is a limit to the rise in global temperature of 2 °C – and preferably 1.5 °C. (We are already experiencing a 1°C increase above pre-industrial levels.) Fairness, the second major topic, is proving to be highly contentious: less-developed countries quite rightly are demanding that industrialized countries take on a larger commitment to reductions because of their long history of damaging emissions. The third topic, money, has plagued consensus since 2009 when the Copenhagen Accord asked for US$100 billion to be given each year by 2020 to lower-income nations to help them adapt to climate change. So far that money has not fully materialized. In addition, there are two topics that are not on the table: a maximum carbon budget that humanity must not exceed if we are to stop climate chaos, and the taboo word “decarbonization”, which some countries, including India, refuse to address because they wish to grow their economies and bring millions of people out of poverty by building new coal-fired power plants.

If the huge climate marches by people around the world are any indication that there is a demand for honest negotiations in Paris, here in Canada that demand was translated into action by our November 29 climate marches, which brought out more Canadians than ever before. One of the many reasons why Canadians voted in a change of government this October was a wish to move away from Stephen Harper’s dismal conservation record. The new Liberal government promised many improvements, but is Justin Trudeau doing less than his pre-election pledges suggested? A blistering article in Britain’s Guardian on December 3, headed “Trudeau’s climate rhetoric is riveting. So what about the reality?”, outlines legitimate concerns regarding his climate leadership. Although Canadians may find a kinder and gentler prime minister in Trudeau, his initial allegiance to voluntary national commitments to mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions instead of legally binding reductions underscored the influence that is being exerted by corporations and the US. At the same time he is on record as wanting to place his government’s response to climate action on a firm scientific basis. As of today it appears that Canada’s government will go further and ask for mandatory assessments on how individual countries are progressing towards improving their own mitigation practices.

On December 7 Canada’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Catherine  McKenna, announced that Canada will push for a 1.5 °C limit to rising  global temperature. It will also support the collective rights of Indigenous people to be recognised in any agreement, something that the EU and the US oppose.

The 45-page draft of an agreement is now being scrutinized by governments at the climate summit, but there are 900 statements in the draft that are being questioned. In the next article we will see if an equitable solution to what is essentially a climate justice pathway for this Earth has been found.

Pope Francis urges humanity to protect our common home

pope-francisPope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical Laudato Si’, subtitled On care for our common home, has been praised by groups as diverse as scientists, anti-poverty and climate justice organizations and governments, as well as by the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders. The encyclical was released to all Catholic bishops in May 2015 and can be read in full at w2.vatican.va  It is an astonishing document. As we might expect, it puts forward a strong moral defence for saving Creation. Climate-change mitigation has become a mainstream ethical response to the myriad assaults on life on Earth.

The Pope speaks passionately about the climate as “a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”. As our oceans, forests and rivers are under siege, so too is our very climate, which allows all life to flourish. Justice for all encompasses the right to have an Earth, our home, that does not look “more and more like an immense pile of filth”. Furthermore, he admonishes us not to be caught up in a one-dimensional understanding of technological progress: “This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.”

The encyclical points to the growing inequality of wealth and wellbeing as a major contributor to poverty and an increasing source of concern in the fight for justice and care for our only home. “The earth”, the Pope reminds us, “is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.” As billions of people are excluded from any kind of food security or housing, so too are they the ones who face migration in the face of severe climate events, he points out.

Although the Pope does not comment on the planet’s burgeoning human population as a major cause of increasing climate instability, his critical remarks regarding hyper-consumption, greed, and water and food insecurity, as well as unfettered growth, point to over-population as a key component entrenched in our global problems. He bids us protect “our common home”, which means making changes in how we understand the roots of poverty and the huge biodiversity/climate crisis now upon us. “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

The Pope tells us that “the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” Our home is in jeopardy of being destroyed. We need to have an integral approach or ecology that embraces our common lands, our cultures, and people living in poverty. “I am interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world,” the Pope explains. He asks us to educate young people and create a covenant between humanity and Nature.

Please see tinyurl.com/laudato-si-2015 for some of Pope Francis’ most interesting statements regarding our planet.

Pope Francis asks us all if we are doing enough to enshrine in government and ourselves a covenant of goodwill towards the natural world. Biodiversity, as the Pope states, is at the mercy of human intervention through a misled understanding of perpetual growth and hyper-consumerism. Inaction on climate has taken on strong ethical dimensions. Justice for the poor and justice for nature demands an empathic response immediately.

Two great little stores that are all about community and country living

General stores and markets have always functioned as places of local commerce, but they are much more than that. Indeed, there is a palpable desire in small towns and villages to bring people closer together as the world’s stage becomes more threatening. Recently I paid a visit to two unique stores that provide an unparalleled service at the very heart of their communities.

Kimberley General Store

You can still see the names of boys and girls etched in the bricks of the Kimberley General Store going back a century. In the last four years this little gem has come back to life with gusto as the vision of the owner, Stacie Howe, has come to fruition. Whether you are a resident of the Beaver Valley, a tourist driving by, walking the Bruce Trail, cycling or downhill skiing, the friendly staff encourage you to feel at home.

You only have to go up the wooden steps onto the patio and peer through the large original windows to know that not much has changed since the store first opened its door in 1905. The prerequisite wooden floor, large lighting fixtures and high ceiling (which will be getting an original tin finishing soon), the wood stove in the corner, heaps of vegetables from local farmers in the spring, summer and fall, and homemade fare from pies, sandwiches, and butter tarts to locally crafted chocolates make for a cosy setting for this colourful, community-oriented store.

In 2015, Kimberley General Store more than lives up to the expectations of a store at the turn of the twentieth century: it has all the essential provisions – and much more – that a self-reliant community would have needed to get by before the automobile made it possible to go over to a larger centre such as Collingwood to shop. Like all general stores it sells flour, tea, eggs, milk and other staples, but it also boasts a variety of locally made frozen entrées, cheeses and yogurts, ice cream, hats, bird seed, soaps, essential oils and kitchen needs, all in a small space with a warm and welcoming ambience. On certain days of the week home-cooked foods such as soups, cinnamon buns and pizza are also available. There are delightful and quirky presents to buy and engaging books to read, and an excellent array of teas and locally roasted coffee to enjoy while you peruse one of the daily newspapers. A catering service is also available.

Now that the store has bought the adjoining land and built a covered patio, Stacie believes more people will be coming by to shelter in inclement weather and sample the new pizzas with such enticing names as Mamma Mia, Cherry Bomb and Smokey Delight that come out of the wood-burning oven on Friday nights.
Stacie says: “Come by the Kimberley General Store for a taste of village life. Beautiful setting at the base of Old Baldy rock face, with hiking trails close by. Light lunches, curiosities, groceries, local and organic selections. Strong coffee and treats.”
The store is located in the village of Kimberley, 235304 Grey Road 13, in the centre of the Beaver Valley, 30 minutes from Collingwood and 20 minutes from Thornbury.

For more information and store hours see www.facebook.com/KimberleyGeneralStore or call 519 599 3451.

Ravenna Country Market

“Since opening our doors just over five years ago, we have grown into what you, our customers, have asked for: a destination where you can come for nutritious, delicious, homemade treats, lunch, dinner-to-go or to just grab an energy-boosting snack during an active day. If you have not yet stopped in to visit, we hope to see you soon.” Monica Wolf, co-owner of Ravenna Country Market

The little hamlet of Ravenna hasn’t changed much since the Walter family arrived in the 1840s and the following generations kept it thriving. Although it is only 15 minutes from Collingwood and Thornbury, the elevation of the land, the proximity to Kolapore Wilderness and the pure farming character of the place make it still feel that Ravenna hasn’t yet joined the twenty-first century.

After you ascend from Georgian Bay on Highway 2, it is gratifying to see a welcoming sign inviting you into Ravenna Country Market. At first sight or even after looking at a map it may be hard to believe that a store that is located in such an out-of-town place could find such a following of people prepared to make the windy journey. For most of us who do, it is exactly what we wish to find: an oasis of plenty and good cheer. Perhaps an energetic bicycle trip or a car ride out to the country makes those pies and soups even more enticing, but whatever the reason for dropping by, the market is a resounding success.

My visit on a Sunday in February found the store bustling with people sitting down for soup and sandwiches as well as others coming in to choose from the wide assortment of pies and other baked goods for sale. It is clear that the market’s customers are interested in having high-quality food, whether to eat in or to take home with them. There is an impressive range of gourmet frozen entrées, all made on the premises, such as goat cheese stuffed chicken, braised beef short ribs, salmon fillet, Sicilian meat loaf, osso bucco and lamb shanks. The menu changes weekly. These takeaway meals are the mainstay of Ravenna Country Market. Happily, vegetarians will also find a good selection there.

Monica Wolf, who is co-owner of the market with Roy Genoe, gave me a good insight into how the store has evolved since she and Roy bought it in October 2009. Besides carrying out a top-to-bottom renovation of the space itself, the owners have kept up with the need to expand their business to cater for an ever-widening spectrum of visitors. This spring and summer will find many more places to sit outside to accommodate the hundreds of cyclists who stop to have a drink and something to eat. Monica described to me their plan to have freshly pressed vegetable and fruit drinks available.

Besides home-cooked foods, there is a colourful assortment of local jams, honey, maple syrup and even clothes for sale. Monica and Roy also offer an extensive catering service for both large and small events.

The market is located at 495972 Grey Road 2 and is open seven days a week. For more information, visit www.ravennacountrymarket.ca or call 519 599 2796.

Eating Well: the Resurgence of Organic Farming in Georgian Bay

“With the average age of farmers steadily increasing and the massive environmental impact agriculture can have on the life-support systems of the earth, it became apparent to me that we need more ecological food producers than ever before.” – Mike Reid of Kolapore Gardens

There is a real revitalization of our rural area happening. I had the chance to visit two farms to take a look at how their newly established ventures were progressing, and I was impressed to see and feel their dedication and passion for what they wish to achieve on their land. Amy and Patrick’s farm is high on a hill overlooking Heathcote and the Beaver Valley while Mike’s farm is nestled away next to Kolapore Wilderness area. What links Patrick and Amy Kitchen’s Sideroad Natural Farm with Mike Reid’s Kolapore Gardens is their mutual emphasis on growing food organically and respecting the fragility of our biosphere.

After having lived in the Beaver Valley for 34 years I have begun to notice a recurring story in our area: young people are rapidly moving in from other places in the country. Patrick and Amy had gone to school out at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia but found it difficult to buy land out west. The fact that family was in Ontario made the choice uncomplicated: good land that was far less expensive than could be found in B.C..  Mike also came to Kolapore from Godrich, and he also has family close by.

Visits to the farms revealed real care, determination and love for the land. It hasn’t been easy setting up shop either. Both farms needed infrastructure and the ubiquitous poly-tunnel was built on both farms. Why are these plastic greenhouses showing up everywhere?  It has a lot to do with climate change. In the past 10 years I’ve watched knowledgeable older farmers build these greenhouse-tunnels to be able to insure that the now increasingly common severity of weather doesn’t destroy their crops. They simply can’t take on the plethora of risks to their livelihood due to climate destabilization without making necessary changes to how they grow their food.  Water has to be plentiful so Sideroad Natural Farm took up the task of putting in two ponds for irrigation of the crops. Climate change can pose a real challenge when water scarcity can be definitely an issue.

Both farms try to sell their vegetables at our farmers’ markets that range from potatoes, spinach to the more exotic kohlrabi. Sideroad Natural Farm also prides itself on the flowers it grows, as Amy is also a fine flower arranger, and flower decorations for weddings is an expanding part of their business. Patrick showed me a dozen hearty healthy pigs while Mike Reid’s Kolapore Gardens sells free-range eggs. At the moment the pigs are fed with non-GMO foods and the Kolapore chickens have organic grains. Both farms let their animals forage. These farms are as far as you can get from the industrial-type farm that Canada has been so criticized for recently by World Animal Protection. If you like vegetables you’ll be able to buy arugula, leeks, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, kale and more.

For some time now community-supported-agriculture (CSA) has been extremely important for organic farmers. What does CSA mean? By committing to buying a basket of food for a set number of weeks it allows the farmer to have an ‘insurance policy’ as they can depend on a basic weekly salary by knowing how many baskets of food will be bought. The contents of the basket will change week to week. It is much more than that: communities become more self-reliant when local purchasing of food becomes a reality. For new farmers this is also a way to be a part of the community. Amy feels a connection already to our area. By and large these farms prosper when communities buy and in many instances volunteer to help grow the food. People who volunteer can be local or from other countries who wish to get a flavour of rural farming life. Amy agrees: “Support for local, organic food continues to grow. It’s an exciting time to be farming and we can’t wait to get out in the field this spring.”

Please visit the websites www.sideroadnaturalfarm.com and www.kolaporegardens.com to learn more about our wonderful farmers and their organic food. Support them by being a part of the CSA initiative or visit the farmers at a few of the farmers’ markets located in Collingwood, Clarksburg, Toronto and Meaford.

2015 Permaculture Design Course Internships

Nova Scotia Permaculture is pleased to announce the following summer classes. It is a great opportunity to learn the basics of permaculture design over 8 weeks.

We are once again offering a PDC on a work trade basis(no fee, no stipend) over a period of  six(minimum, if you just can’t stay eight) to eight weeks(which we favor), running through June to the end of July,  and will repeat it in September/ October if we get firm sign up commitments.We are limiting the course to a maximum of five, so don’t hesitate too long in signing up. Pretty close to full attendance  will be required to receive a PDC certificate.

This will be a very hands on experience, including smaller design projects on the site,  general farm work(chores, goat milking, hay making, maintenance etc) helping/cooking in the kitchen, as well as substantial market gardening time. (You can learn a lot just by walking around here.)This will be balanced by classes, presentations(some by you!) and field trips, as well as time doing design projects. Although the schedule will be intensive, especially with the long days of summer,there will also be time for personal study/ reading, and at least one free day per week. We will provide food and lodging, though if you have specialized dietary requirements(we’re omnivores, and 98% of the meat is from here), that will be your own responsibility. We are mostly interested in self-motivated folks with some work experience(some basic knowledge of hand & small power tools very useful), although attitude and willingness count alot too. We will ask that you leave your cell phones and earphones/ipods behind while were working or studying together, so be fully aware of that, please. Further details/ info will come later in the process, and you can read our MOP internships page for further details.

If you are interested, please contact me, and include some basic personal info about yourself, your interests and experience, and why you want to do this. Thanks, Alex

contact: alexdenicola at hotmail.com

1217 Belmont rd. RR2 Newport B0N2A0

Please see the website: http://www.novascotiapermaculture.net/

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Transition Meaford and Transition Collingwood create blueprint for healthy community

“In the leaking ship that we’ve made of our planet, the Transition movement is like a flotilla of life rafts. And they’ve come not to pull us off the earth, but to help us patch it and make it right.”
– Bill McKibben

In early December fourteen people from the Meaford and Beaver Valley area came together to continue to work on making their community a healthier and more self-reliant place to live. I had attended a meeting of Transition Meaford two years previously and found that there is a growing interest amongst the townspeople in creating a more engaged society so that people and the rest of Nature can flourish.

In 2013, Meaford Council adopted the recommendation by Transition Meaford to have an Earth Week. This took place in April 2014, beginning with a spring clean-up at Memorial Park, and ending with a Re-use Fair. Lindy Iversen and other Transition Meaford people were on hand to volunteer. The tradition will continue in 2015.
Transition Meaford has been involved in a number of other projects. The group has played a significant part in the community garden at the high school. Films for Thought was set up to promote greater awareness of social justice and ecology around the world, through screenings of films that gave the community insight into ongoing struggles related to food, water, community design and waste. The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Initiative brought to the forefront the plight of our pollinators.

The group would love to meet other Meaford and area residents who care about the future of their community. Meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month at 7pm at EcoInhabit on Old Highway 26, east of Meaford. Next meeting is on January 14th. To find out more, visit www.transitionmeaford.org

Live in Collingwood? Transition Collingwood’s initiatives can be found at transitioncollingood.com

How did the Transition movement come about?

Back in 2005 people in Totnes, UK began to ask themselves how they could thrive in the face of climate instability and oil scarcity, and thus the first Transition Town was born. The vision of a resilient community that could support itself culturally and agriculturally despite the problems raised by these twin threats inspired the Transition Network, which has spread within ten years to encompass the world. By not having any political affiliations the movement has been able to gain the trust of entire communities. This has led to close working with all segments of society.

To the amazement of founder Rob Hopkins, the accomplishments of the expanding Transition Community now include social justice issues as well. Places like Brazil and India are more interested in alleviating poverty and empowering women than discussing northern concerns for climate change mitigation strategies. The Transition movement is embracing more and more topics that impact the health of communities, to create a Transition Culture that looks at the causes of consumerism and the growth economy and changes the very soil of the community’s culture and inner life. It transitions towns to the ‘caring economy’. (It must be noted that the opposite of this is shown in the lack of balance and compassion in Canada’s skewed oil-based economy.)

Several towns and cities now have their own local currencies, which encourage their communities to buy locally produced goods and thereby recycle their money to keep their own businesses vibrant. The benefits come full circle. The city of Bristol, in Britain, even pays its mayor in Bristol Pounds! Having a local currency has fostered a deep sense of trust in the community. Bristol has now won the prestigious award of European Green Capital 2015.

Please visit www.transitionnetwork.org to learn more about the Transition movement.