26 September, 2008

Green Shift or Short Shrift?

Many of you may know that Stephen Harper has called a Canadian election just about 45 days after it was announced, the shortest legal limit. Maybe he's hoping that people won't have time to mount campaigns or think about what we want from our government. I haven't been here for long so I can't speak about his record. What I can comment on though is what I've seen. Tasteless advertisements with birds dropping on the main opposition, former Environment Minister, St├ęphane Dion. More tasteless ads with slot machines with Dion's face on them slamming his proposed carbon tax. Nothing about what his own platform is. Maybe more of the cuts to the arts and Canadian artists that he has recently characterized as "elite whiners".

Probably cuts to the classic vulnerable sectors during times of recession, which thanks to what's happening in the U.S. is predicted to be coming here soon. Those are: education, unemployment benefits, social services, medical care, seniors' security, you know, all the whiners. Too bad that includes most of us.

Compare this to a positive Liberal "green shift" plan that proposes to substantially finance homeowners shift to energy-saving green solutions, which will put money in their pockets, something I solidly support. A well-thought out plan, "putting it in law that every dollar that is raised from carbon pollution will be returned to Canadians in tax cuts". A plan with a budget already prepared. A plan already on paper.

Not a bunch of negative ads telling us about someone else's alleged shortcomings in default of a good solid program.

Harper had better tell us what he's for rather than against. I'm tired of no plans, just mudslinging and name calling. Do we really want a person behaving like a thoughtless bully to run things or are we going to back someone with a plan that has a good chance to take us to the next level in terms of sustainability and safety for our future and that of our kids' and grand-kids' and promises to be a financial step forward as it stimulates green-sector jobs and the economy?

I know if I were going to spin a slot machine which choice I'd rather come up with.

13 September, 2008

Preserve the Ruahines

I've been thinking a bit how to frame this post. I wanted it to be moving, important and awash with pithy images that would make my readers swarm over to sign the petition to preserve the Ruahines mountains in New Zealand from the onslaught of what promises to be a great many monster-sized wind turbines. I'm not sure I'm up to that though, so I'll settle for showing you a few beautiful pictures of a place very dear to Robb Kloss's heart, a place where he has found solace, a spiritual home, and a place to introduce his young sons to the joys of outdoor life and mountain air. Reading his blog, Musings from Aotearoa, I and a growing number of readers have seen just how much he cherishes this part of the natural world, so much so that he has chosen these mountains to live beside, rather than his birthplace in America.

It's a big step to change countries. As any immigrant can tell you it takes years to feel at home in the new skin that you grow when you change cultures. For some of us it never happens, we can only reach some place of partial acceptance; while we may appreciate many things about the new place, including the opportunity to earn a living there, we will never feel quite as comfortable as we might. That's not always a bad thing of course because there's more to learn with a little less comfort. It's a motivator.

Still, finding comfort and sustenance in a place is more than speaking the language, learning the customs or eating the food. When it means finding a place where the country wraps around you like a green dream, where you find free-moving animals, birds and insects, where the air flows unimpeded and the water is still fresh and free, we take notice. We feel the sense of rightness and home. And we feel protective of that, in a world where such spaces are becoming rarer every day.

Not taking notice of how precious these spaces are has become a modern disease. Propping up development willy-nilly in the name of creating jobs has become a bad habit. We need to open our eyes and take care what we are doing. Sure we need alternative energy. But we also need to create good plans for deploying it in places which are not wild, where we will not further push back the green frontiers.

Just look. Do we really want towering wind turbines in this landscape?

Please join with me in signing Robb's petition to preserve the Ruahines.

All pictures courtesy of Robb Kloss.

09 September, 2008

Goin Up to the City...

I've moved from the 180-year-old quiet old house in the country to Halifax, a city that seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, swallowing what woods remain around the edges to feed big industrial parks with ever more monstrous stores and parking lots. Last Sunday I visited a stationery store called Staples, which might have been about half the size of my old neighborhood in Japan. And that store stood shoulder to shoulder with a great number of stores of a similar size. The parking lots were as big as the stores. When I lived in the same neighborhood about 20 years ago the area was all woods.

Now I'm staying with my daughter in a residential area away from the downtown, but because main arteries to the city run near-by I can hear the constant roar of traffic through the open window of my room. Thankfully there are some mature trees around to help balance the pollution. Apparently a twenty-year neighborhood covenant protected them until just recently. Most of the trees are large enough now that people value them and because there are mostly single-family homes around here probably they are safe for the immediate future. At least I hope so.

Walking in this neighbrhood is a challenge and not only because it's built on a rather big hill. If you wait until after 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning the volume of traffic makes the air noxious. And who is on the street breathing that air? Just like in Japan, it's school children. And workers waiting for the buses, walkers, and bicycle riders trying to help the environment and being punished for it with lung-fulls of car exhaust. And the very loud roar of traffic.

There are no bike paths in most parts of this city. There is no restriction on taking cars into the city center. There seems to be no over-all plan for reducing pollution, or none that I'm aware of. There doesn't seem to be any awareness of the problems of noise. People complain about the cost of gas, yet there are many cars with only one or two people riding in them.

From my perspective this city and thousands others like it are my worst nightmare. I wish for a few things: cars that don't pollute and make so much noise. Room for bicycles and people to walk. Neighborhhoods where people, not cars, predominate. A return to the best things about the last century; families that can slow down and spend more time outdoors, with each other and neighbors, where smiles balance all the stressed-out looks.

Why is it exactly that we in North America have decided to spend our lives working, working, working so that we can jump in the car and go spend the rest of our precious time in mammoth shopping complexes that offer things we don't really need? That we are so tired at night that we spend evenings watching families on reality shows to get a sense of connection, rather than with real people? Something is wrong here and hopefully soon more of us will realize it. I don't have too many answers but I have one thing to say to you young people and families of any age.

Expect a better life. And then go find it, while you still have the time.