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It’s Not the End of the World Yet

Its not the end of the world yet.

If you were one of the surprising number of people who shared my worry about my sister in Puerto Rico, you can stop worrying. Andy, the sister, climbed a mountain to be close enough to a cell phone tower to get a call out to her husband. He in turn has posted news that eventually reached me. (She still hasn’t called me, so of course I will never forgive her.)

Her son Iancy got to the island before Maria hit and is helping with the cleanup. He spent a night in line to get gas for the generator. And he has posted a picture that proves Andy is alive.

Watching this climate-change disaster unfold and seeing how ill-prepared the richest country in the world is has me wondering how we will weather (no pun intended) the disasters headed our way. We have done very badly with the recent floods and fires. The Quebec ice storm wasn’t encouraging.

Storms will get worse as the globe warms. This could be the year we get a massive ice storm in Northern Ontario. The heat that drives the hurricanes also drives winter storms. It can suck Arctic air down across Canada and the USA and combine with wet Pacific, southern or lake air to produce an ice storm. This could be the year the power goes out.

I am from the west coast where winters are warm. I never owned winter boots and had no idea what 10 below felt like. As winter comes on each year a voice deep inside starts to whimper that we are all going to die from the cold.

Are you prepared? I’m not. My gas furnace doesn’t work without electricity. I am wondering whether many Sudburians have any kind of backup heat.

So what should we be dong? How many of our neigbours are at risk? I am not a prepper – not one of the more than three million Americans and Canadians getting ready for the end of the world by building fortresses and buying guns. I am starting to wonder, though — unlike the preppers — how we will take care of our neighbours when climate warming or earthquakes shake the foundations we rely on. I would rather we get ready to support our neighbours instead of buying guns to shoot them. it just seems more Canadian!.

What do you think?



Waiting for the Call from Puerto Rico

I haven’t heard from my sister in a couple of weeks – Phones are out in Puerto Rico where she lives. I got a message after Irma hit that power and water were out and she was low on gas for her generator. She was running it to keep a neighbour’s respirator going. A bit of pressure there. The freezer was still full of food and would keep her going as long as she had gas for the generator. There were trees down in the yard. Her husband was in Texas working for FIMA.Puerto Rico Map

Maria was worse than Irma. Apocalyptic is the word on CNN. Now cellphone towers are gone. Food is running out. There is looting. Rumours pass though the family that she may come home to Canada. If she abandons the house she will almost certainly lose more. It isn’t even clear she can get off the island.

It feels like 114 degrees there says the news. At that temperature the elderly are in serious danger. They have to drink lots of water. There is not much safe water available. I still see of my sister as she was when we were six, and as she looked in high school. Sometimes I remember her as she looked when our kids played together, but she is retired now. Tough as I think she is, a disaster zone in killing heat isn’t where I want her to be.

How many other Canadian families are waiting for news, getting ready for rescue missions, and worrying? This is climate change coming home. The fires in the west and the floods in Saskatchewan are not as dramatic as the hurricanes, but they are just as much part of the problem — part of our future.

The warming signal was clear back in 1988. 30 years later only idiots are still arguing. The current IQ test is whether people are pushing action. So far we just have Canadian government acting like they are acting. It drives me nuts that Ontario’s government and my MP pretend that their cap and trade system will work.

So I am watching the news from Puerto Rico and waiting for a phone call.

The Opposite of Economic Development

As a child develops she doesn’t just get larger. She also gets more capable, more complicated, more coordinated. The same is true of countries. Economic development for a country means producing more products, more complex products and having more connections among the parts of the economy.

A neat graph on the Visual Capitalist shows how the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) changes for the 12 years to 2015 for 123 countries.

The site show Canada at sitting at position 33. That represents a decline of 8 places since 2006. Romania and Estonia passed us in 2006. China passed us in 2007. Thailand passed us in 2007 too, fell behind again, and passed for good in 2009. Mexico has been more developed country by this measure for the entire period.

The Ukraine declined about the same amount as Canada, but that country was invaded. How do we explain Canada’s strange developmental delay?

Opposite of Economic Development

Part of the explanation is our oil boom. The Canadian dollar rose rapidly as the tar sands and off-shore oil were developed. That drove out many manufacturing operation. Exporting more raw resources hurt our more advanced industries. You may remember how a number of critics – including Tom Mulcair – suggests we were suffering from what economists call the “Dutch Disease.” The government of the day and the oil companies howled them down, but they were basically right.

When oil prices fell, the decline slowed, and then in 2015 Canada gained a few places in the economic complexity rankings. That is exactly the pattern we would expect if we had been suffering from the Dutch Disease.

Prime Minister Harper, our leader from Alberta, was convinced the path to development was through the oil patch. He was wrong.

If you have been worrying what cancelling natural gas projects and pipelines will do to our economy, you can stop worrying right now. Canada will have a more complicated future as a result, and that is a very good thing.



How To Impoverish A Country

A graphic published today by the Visual Capitalist tells a clear story about the decline of the USA in moral and economic terms.

A country is rich when its people are rich. But who are the people that count when you measure the wealth of a country?


For Jesus it seems to have been the poorest: “Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40, American Standard Version). The American philosopher John Rawls has often been described as the most important political philosopher of the 20th century. He took the same position in his famous book, “A Theory of Justice.”

The minimum wage doesn’t really tell us how the least of us are doing, but it does tell us about how the very large number of working people near the bottom of the income distribution are doing. That group has seen a 60-year decline in real incomes.

More or less since the middle of the Vietnam war the purchasing power of the minimum wage in the USA has been declining. It didn’t have to happen. Borrowing to pay for the war, the resulting inflation, the world-wide recession caused by the USA when it abandoned the gold standard and reneged on its international debts, and the Reagan-Bush attacks on unions were all political actions. They were not the irresistible working of an anonymous economic machine. They were a result of decision made by American leaders and American voters.

And they made the USA poorer. The decline of the the USA as a superpower was a result of policies designed to keep American workers from getting a fair share of the steadily increasing wealth of the US. And that has impoverished the USA.

It has in fact impoverished all of us.

Inequality — “X” Marks the Spot — Dig Here,” Stan Sorcher, August 29, 2017.

Censored: the Truth About Havey

You have heard that Harvey is unusual – a big storm that hit land, wandered back to the Gulf of Mexico then decided to hang around for a week dropping unprecedented amounts of water on poor Texans. What you don’t hear in all the coverage of Harvey is that the Texans are to blame, at least to the extent that, as major oil producers and refiners, the state makes much of its living driving climate warming.

It isn’t nice to blame the victims during a “natural disaster” but the astonishing thing about the coverage is how systematic the self-censorship really is. Have you heard a clear description of how climate change has made this storm unusual? Or of how it will bring more storms like Harvey in the future? I have not heard one discussion on CBC of the story behind Harvey.


The questions are fairly simple. Why is Harvey stuck on Texas? And why is Harvey dumping so much water on Texas? It is all about heat.

The amount of rain is easy to explain – the Gulf of Mexico is a big pool of warm water. We are having a warm summer, so lots of water is evaporating. Harvey just sucks it up and delivers it to Texas. A warmer climate means there is more water to dump on Texas.

But why is Harvey so strong it can deliver all this water? Because the Gulf of Mexico is warm. Hurricanes suck energy from warm water.

OK, so why is Harvey hanging around? This is unusual. It is also related to climate warming. Have you noticed all the fires on the west coast? Climate warming, obviously – as is the great California drought. Lots of warm air on the coast tends to push north and to push the jet stream north along the Rockies. The cool arctic air has to go somewhere, so it pushes south over the prairies. That tends to slow the northerly winds that would normally carry Harvey north onto land, where it would lose energy.

Heat, heat, heat – Harvey’s story is all about heat. The Texas disaster is simply a little bit of collateral damage caused by climate warming.

And there will be more Texas disasters, just as there will be more great fires in Alberta, more Russian heat waves, more Pakistani floods, more California droughts and more Somali famines.

As the arctic warms and the polar ice disappears, the jet stream slows. When it slows it meanders more. The weather map will show bigger and bigger loops. These bigger, slower loops tend to get stuck. When they get stuck we get longer heat waves, and longer spells of rain.

The media are ignoring the big story to talk about the details of a local disaster. Are the media people self-censoring because they don’t want to seem to blame the victims? Do they think the real story is whether some dog on a roof is saved? Are they bored with an issue they only half understand?

A big part of the story that is not getting through is that Harvey is a story about lack of leadership. It is about climate denial by our last prime minister and by the American’s current president. Another part of the story is about reporters and media executives who are not really doing the job we need them to do. They get paid by advertisers, so they produce entertainment – disaster porn, some call it. It sells better than the real story.

Let me know if you understood the Harvey story before you read this. Maybe I am wrong to think all my neighbours have their heads in the sand. Maybe the media are doing a good job. Maybe our politicians are doing all that needs to be done.

What do you think?

Maley vs. The Greenway

My friend – and I do mean friend – John Lindsay, has written a letter to city council and to the press comparing the Elgin Greenway proposal to the Maley Drive Extension project. John points out that “both are strongly endorsed by staff and have been split into separate phases.” Furthermore, he says, “Both are part of “master plans” which seem to be “set in stone.” Basically he suggests that Council is wasting a lot of public money on frivolous projects instead of taking care of basic maintenance of parks and roads and making other pressing improvements. A lot of people will agree with John.

Many will also agree with his criticism that the Greenway could remove 270 parking places downtown that are needed for the Arena that Council has decided to move.

I think John’s opposition to the Greenway is misguided, and that the comparison with the Maley Drive project is misleading at best.

The Maley Drive project came out of quite a different group of staff and a quite different vision of the city from the Greenway suggestion.

Maley was proposed in the early 60’s on the view that Sudbury would be experiencing continued growth and that the main direction of growth was to the northeast. That proved false, but the City’s road engineers kept it at the top of the transportation plan for 40 years. The project will eventually cost $160 million and In my view was a disastrous mistake for the city.

Elgin Greenway Phase 1The Greenway proposal was a suggestion made as part of a downtown Master Planning project that had a 5-year horizon and was based on much more modest population projections. It took into account more recent experience from around North America that suggests that strengthening town cores is both economically and socially beneficial.

The Greenway project was partly achieved already through the Architecture School and the farmers’ market. It incorporated the necessary and already scheduled replacement of the Nelson Street Bridge, and improved access to Ramsey via that bridge.

It responded to the often expressed complaint that Elgin Street is ugly and repulsive for visitors to the city. It included, with variations, roadwork along Elgin that was already in the transportation master plan. The new parts of the plan were to be pretty cheap – some links – some grass, some lighting, some benches and plantings, places for artwork. The Greenway proposal basically added a vision to glue together a lot of work that was going to be done anyway.

All these pieces were bundled to make a project that would satisfy Council’s desire for a big vision that could attract provincial and federal money. I think the engineers and planners may have gotten a bit enthusiastic about some of the details that were included, but the truth is that a lot – probably most – of the money in the Greenway proposal was going to be spent anyway.

The Greenway project is not really very much like the Maley Drive Extension. It is cheap and comes out of a 21st century vision of the City. Maley Drive was very expensive and comes out of a mid-20th century vision that has already gone south.

So, John, I am with you in your continuing disappointment about Maley Drive, but I actually like the Greenway project.

Who Will Pay for a New Arena?

Council has made up its mind to build a new arena. The price tag is about $100 million dollars, or about $625 per person. With an average household size of 2.4 persons, (compared to 4 persons per household in 1971) the average household will pay $1500 over the next 20 years. At the current interest rate that will mean an average annual tax payment of $96.

“Average” can be tricky, though: the average moose has only one antler and the average motor vehicle in Canada has about 4.55 wheels. Your family’s share depends on how much your home is worth.

On average, the widow living alone on a pension will pay the same as the family with two working parents and two working teenagers in the next house. A family with a million-dollar house on the lake will pay more than a family in a shack. On average, apartment dwellers will pay a larger share of their income for the new arena than homeowners because the the tax rate for multiple dwellings is higher and incomes are on average lower.

50% of the our populations lives in the oId city – the core communities. More than $60 million is likely to come from these people because property values are on average higher in the core communities. Less than 40% will come from outside of the core even though half the populations lives outside of the core. In other words, old city residents will on average pay 50% more than their friends up the valley.

As the population ages (and we already have one of the oldest populations in the province) the cost will be shifted toward retired people. In 2011 the largest age group in the population was between 50 and 54.When the Arena opens, this group will be between 55 and 60. Their kids will be gone, about half will be retiring. On average this is the age group with the largest houses. They will pay more than other age groups.

About that time many of them will start downsizing. They will pay less if they downsize sooner. The will not pay anything if they retire in another town. If you plan to retire in Sudbury and stay in a large house you will pick up part of their share.

It is likely that the rents for the new arena will not cover costs and the annual loss will probably grow. The loss will be paid out of property taxes as well.

There will also be a loss of downtown tax revenue. The market price of commercial properties is very sensitive to vacancies. Rents can fall quickly and resulting in falling property values and falling assessments. A one percent drop in the price of commercial properties in downtown business district will cost the city $33,000 a year.

On top of all this, the outer districts are already spending more than their share of the budget because they have more roads per capita to maintain, and because it costs more to provide services like garbage and water in low density areas. As a result of the way we pay for roads and services, the old City of Sudbury is already over-taxed relative to subsidized outlying areas.

Finally, it isn’t likely the cost can be transferred to Toronto taxpayers the way council did with the Maley Drive extension. Senior governments say they don’t want to spend their dedicated infrastructure money on replacing an arena. It will be very hard to package other needed improvements to aging city infrastructure with the project in the Kingsway location.

Overall, older people closer to downtown will pay more than their share. The vast majority of them will not be among the less than 10% of the community who go to the new arena.