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Monthly Archives: July 2015


Building with Wood: Northern Ontario Has to Get into the Game

On June 24th the Globe and Mail ran a puffy story about the overseas market for Canadian wood. It pointed out – as I have been pointing out for years – that there is a growing Asian market for Canadian construction materials. So why am I upset as a Northerner? Because we are missing the boat.global-wood00sr3

The line in the story by Kat Siniuk that I found especially painful was “Canada has become an expert in engineered wood products like cross-laminated timber.”

This is an exaggeration. Even noting that Quebec and BC have cross-laminated timber plants isn’t strong evidence that we are experts. More significant, Ontario does not have a single cross laminated timber plant. The Government of Ontario has failed profoundly to come up with a plan to shift northern production toward the newer and higher value-added products that are now demanded in China and India.

“The root of Canada’s rise to prominence as a leader in wood construction can be traced back to April 2009, when British Columbia became the first province to amend the provincial building code to allow for six-story midrise wood construction. Ontario followed,” wrote Seiniuk.

“Followed” is the right word. Bill 13, the Ontario Forestry Industry Revitalization Act, (Height of Wood Frame Buildings) was passed in 2013. The amendment simply says “The building code shall not prohibit a building that is six storeys or less in building height from being of wood frame construction.” While other provinces are aggressively pursuing advanced wood engineering, Ontario was dithering about whether to allow wood to be used in mid-high buildings. The bill was put forward by North Bay’s Vic Fedeli, by the way. Meanwhile Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture has submitted a proposal for a 35 story wood high-rise in Paris.

Peter Moonen, the national sustainability manager at the Canadian Wood Council has pointed out (a bit ungrammatically) that, “By being the first and best users of our own product, it really enhances our ability to sell it outside the province.” That one line explains in part why Ontario’s forest sector is lagging. Instead of insisting public building feature wood and use it in creative ways, Ontario has barely removed some of the out-of date restrictions. Ontario still has a building code that is bad for the North.

So here are two planks in The Northern Green Economic Development Strategy:

# Northern Greens encourage municipal governments and first nations in the North to insist that construction of public buildings use wood and engineered wood wherever possible.

# Northern Greens will work to expand the engineered wood sector in Ontario and especially to develop a cross-laminated timber industry in the province in order to add value, create jobs and position the North to be a major supplier to the growing market aborad for Canadian engineered wood.



Join Me In a Northern Climate Coalition

Here is a challenge for Paul Loewenberg and Paul Lefebvre: join me in a Northern Climate Policy Coalition.

# Commit to leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

# Commit to decarbonization by 2050.

# Commit to a carbon fee and dividend.

These are no longer radical propositions. They are technically feasible and economically practical. They are also widely accepted.

Today, for example, Hillary Clinton set a goal of installing half a billion new solar panels within her first term, if elected. Her plan would cost roughly $60 billion over 10 years, and she intends to pay for it by cutting tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. According to The Guardian, “Clinton has promised to make the issue of climate change a key pillar of her campaign platform.”AAEAAQAAAAAAAAJjAAAAJGUxNzcwMTkxLTRhZjItNGFkMC05ZTQ5LTcxNjBjN2E1YjUyNg

At the moment both the Liberals and the NDP are running to the right of the American Democratic Party on the issue of climate change. I imagine that this is fairly embarrassing. It seems to me that all of us in Northern Ontario would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem. The problem at the moment is parties representing the majority of Canadians have choked on Climate policy.

We can change that together. If you join me in a Climate Coalition you will look smarter, you will be representing Sudbury voters better, and you will be giving a signal to your party leader that they can come out of the climate closet.

You will be able to gang up on Fred Slade on the climate issue. You may be able to neutalize the Green party on an issue you are very weak on. It is a win-win-win for you.

Its a win for me too, because I want Sudbury represented by a politician who understands what we need to do. Whoever wins I’ll be sure we are making progress.


Fossil Fuel Subsidies as Manslaughter

Manslaughter is the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought. The classic defence is “I didn’t mean to do it.” This is not ususlly effective because societies need to hold people responsible for the consequences of their actions. The most successful defence seems to be “I am crazy.”

Climate change is killling people. Canadian Govenrment policies promote climate change. Specifically, subsidies for the fossil fuel industries promote climate change.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that countries around the wolrd will spend $5.3 trillion subsiding oil, gas and coal in 2015, versus $2 trillion in 2011. That is equivalent to 6.5% of global GDP, and is more than governments across the world spend on healthcare.

This has to stop – every voter should be asking every candidate “what are you doing to to make sure your party will stop all subsidies?”

But remember that there are two kinds of subsidies – money given to the industry, and taxes that the industry doesn’t pay. In Canada our Prime Minister is deeply committed to not charging for CO2 emissions and deeply committed to subidies for the oil, gas and coal industry.

Maybe the important question goes to conservative candidates: “Waht are you going to do to get rid of Mr. Harper?” If the answer is “Nothing” or “He is my hero,” then you have a candidate who is, intentionally or not, promoting climate change.

My personal understanding of people in this group is that they are committing a crime against humanity. The only defence I can see at this stage is for Conservative candidates to claim that they are crazy and can’t be held responsible for the consequences of their actions.


Misleading With Data – Still Plenty of Reasons to Worry About Bees

You have heard a rumour that the number of bees has actually increased despite the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. This may have shaken your concern about neonics, as it was intended to do. It is true that hive numbers have increased over the last 20 years according to Statistics Canada.

There are now over 8,700 beekeepers in Canada keeping almost 700,000 hives.
So why is this factoid largely irrelevant in assessing neonicotinoids? Because the honey bees are a completely managed, industrially-produced species.

Honeybees are an introduced Eurasian species. They are not native to the Americas. European settlers brought them to produce honey. Naturally, they escaped and began competing with the many species of domestic bees. Before long there were many “feral” honey bee colonies competing with the native species.

Those wild honeybees have virtually disappeared as a result of the introduction of Varroa mites, possibly from Thailand. These nasties attach themselves to bees and feed on their blood. For the bees, living with Varroa destructor is like living in a hotel infested with frisbee-sized bedbugs. The mites had a major effect on commercial bees and are still a serious problem, although they don’t threaten the total population. Honey bee survival is not threatened.

Honeybees are now almost 100% domestic. They can’t even survive in the wild. They are manufactured to provide pollination services: human beings manage the entire population. They are a commodity like plastic forks.

In the market, the number of honey bees depends on the price paid for pollination services. Beekeepers can divide their hives or buy bees form commercial breeders. They can buy a new queen as well. The number of honey bees is simply the number beekeepers want. Colony Collapse Disorder: The Market Response to Bee Disease by Randal R. Rucker & Walter N. Thurman describes the process well.

That means Margaret Wente is right – she doesn’t have to worry about a honey shortage.

But the number of domestic bees is totally irrelevant if you are interested in all the other bee species. It is irrelevant if you want to think about the effect of neonics on bird species. And it is irrelevant if you are discussing pesticide policy.



We Are Moving From North to South, Thanks to a Warming World

Nobody born since 1976 has experienced a colder-than-average year.

My mother’s childhood was spent in a world that rarely reached the 20th Century average temperature. She once saw the Fraser River frozen at New Westminster. My childhood was spent in a world with temperatures dead on the 20th Century average. My son was born in 1976. He has never experienced a single year as cool as the ones my mother grew up with, and has barely known the climate I grew up in.

It is as if my son grew up 111 km south of where I grew up. My first grandchild is starting out 330 km south of my childhood.Drought-in-California--ho-010

That’s like moving from Sudbury to Hamilton. It is like moving from San Francisco to Los Angelos.

Note: There are slight differences among the results form different climate study groups. Each group calculates global temperature year by year, using slightly different techniques. However, analyses from all three groups point to the decade between 2000 and 2009 as the hottest since modern records began more than a century ago. Temperatures in the 2010s have been running slightly warmer still.


The Birds and the Bees …. and the Moose …. and the Bedbugs

We in Northern Ontario know that the birds and the moose are moving north. In Sudbury I am seeing more cardinals at our bird feeder, and in Thunder Bay all the hunters I know say they have to go north of the city to find a moose – south of the city there only deer now.

As early as 2009 an Audubon Society study found that more than half of 305 birds species in North America were spending the winter about 56 kilometres farther north than they did 40 years ago. The environmental protection agency notes an average move of 68 km for 2015. Birdwatchers are reporting some species over 450 km north of their normal range.

North American moose are dying by the thousands as they struggle with soaring temperatures and health problems linked to disease and parasites that thrive in the heat. In northeast Minnesota alone, moose numbered about 8,000 a decade ago. Today, the population is down to 3,500.

It is climate change, of course. I suppose if the Conservatives really cared about gun-toting Canadians they would have started to fight global warming years ago. But it isn’t just birdwatchers and moose hunters that care.sn-bee

A new report says that some bumblebees have retreated up to 300 kilometers from the southern edge of their historic ranges just since 1974. Bumblebee ranges began shrinking “even before the neonicotinoid pesticides came into play in the 1980s,” says ecologist Alana Pindar of Guelph. It isn’t clear why – some think it is because bumblebees are slow breeders and so there is little population pressure to push them north.

The worry is that bumblebees do a lot of pollinating that ultimately supports people and other animals. It is clearly a problem that we have created and it will probably come back to bite us. I wonder what we can do to reduce the losses?

In any case, it looks like that traditional talk with the kids about the birds and the bees may have to change. Maybe someday parents will sit their kids down and say something like, “Junior, its time we had a little talk about the birds and the bedbugs.” I sure hope not.

Fear Stalks the Land

So, Mr. Harper is afraid to debate Elizabeth May on TV – that is the real content of the decision by the Globe and the Munk Center to exclude her from the televised leaders debates.

It is easy to understand – discretion is the better part of valour. Mr. Harper is so far on the wrong side of o-ELIZABETH-MAY-STEPHEN-HARPER-facebookhistory on the environmental issues – not to mention others, like civil rights, that he really can’t face May without looking like a fool or a bully.

He isn’t the only candidate up against Greens who can argue rings around them. Think of the poor Conservative (Maureen Comuzzi-Stehman), Liberal (Patty Hajdu) and NDP (Andrew Foulds) candidates in Thunder Bay up against Burce Hyer. Or The Guelph candidates (Lloyd Longfield, Andrew Seagram) facing retired environmental commissioner Gordon Miller.

In ridings all across the country old-line politicians are going to lose the all-candidates debates and win be because they have more money for signs and ads. That is democracy, I guess, but Mr. Harper is afraid of even that much exposure. He has money for his nasty ads and he uses public money to praise his not very effective program, but he is still afraid of meeting Elizabeth May in public.

Much of Harper’s government policy is based on fear. Most people think he uses fear to stir up his conservative voters – that he is simply manipulative. I suspect that he personally is as frightened as his constituency. I suspect he is really personally unnerved by crime even though it is declining, and terrorism even though the real risk is tiny compared to automobiles and climate change. I suspect that on some level he thinks guns will protect him. These are all signs of fearing other people. They are signs that he can’t build a society based on trust and cooperation. Ultimately that personality-type can only undermine civil society. Until the psych report is in we won’t really know. Meanwhile his fearfulness corrodes what is best in Canadian society, including democratic debate.