Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back on the Island - and thanks to all the BCC supporters!

We had a pleasant weekend in Calgary. It was wonderful to see so many family members and friends. The BCC Clean Water Fiesta was amazing. There had to be more than 100 people in attendance at the La Pachanga restaurant for a program that included presentations, a buffet meal, live music and dancing. We don't know how much money was raised in total, but thanks to the generousity of friends at the Community of Christ in Calgary and family members, the evening fund-rasing was already off to an excellent start. With some of the money from ticket sales and the proceeds from the silent auction, there should be enough funding to install quite a few filters!

It was gratifying to see that the entire event was organized and completed while Trevor and Janaki were in Peru and Mexico respectively. The organizers deserve a great deal of credit and it is very satisfying that the Canadian end of the organization has grown so large!

Thanks to everyone who generously supported BCC, came to the Fiesta and to all those who played a role in organizing and running the event!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

BCC fund raiser in Calgary Sunday Night

Jan and I are getting ready to leave for Calgary. We are fortunate to be able to attend the first annual fund raiser for Trevor and Janaki's Bolivia Canada Clean Water Network. Sadly, Trevor and Janaki are not able to come to the event. Trevor is working on his master's project in Peru, which is trying to minimize ground-water contamination from a Canadian mining operation. Janaki is working on her master's project, which is a public health study in Mexico city. Interestingly, I just read on the CBC today that Mexico city is also facing a water crisis.

I feel truly blessed to go to this event. When Trevor and Janaki went to Bolivia in 2006, I never imagined how they would impact that country and how Bolivia would impact them. They went out with the intention of helping to start a project for a new Canadian NGO and ended up founding a brand-new organization. It was not easy for them.

At one point, after they had been in Bolivia for about 6 months, Trevor phoned us and expressed tremendous discouragement about the way things had gone. The fledgling NGO was out of money and they were not only covering their own costs (as they had from the beginning) but Trevor and Janaki were also paying for the project costs. Even with that, it appeared the project was doomed because of poor organization, family politics in the NGO and a very high failure rate in casting the concrete filter boxes.

At the end of the conversation, I encouraged Trevor to give up. I logically explained to him that they had less than 3 months left in Bolivia and they had not done any travelling yet. Why didn't they just leave Ascension behind and go see South America?

Trevor patiently explained to me that they felt an obligation to the people of Ascension and he wasn't going to walk away from them. They had promised them clean water and they didn't want to leave until it was done. Then he told me that somehow he knew that if they just kept trying, something good was going to happen soon.

Well, Trevor couldn't have been more right. Trevor and Janaki started a new NGO along with pastor Ernesto of the local pentecostal church. Then they got plans for new filter molds from CAWST and went to a local welder to get the molds constructed. In doing this, they learned the previous organization had built their molds incorrectly and that was the cause of much of their earlier problems. Then another amazing thing happened. People started showing up to help. First Roberto, the assistant pastor stepped forward. Then Philippe, a native of the highlands came by and offered to work for them. Finally Angel, a lowland native came to watch their work and finally came for a job. Then this little group, with somewhat reluctant help from the local municipality, started making water filters to benefit the poorest of the families in Ascension.

I had the privilege of visiting them in Bolivia during April of 2007. They were just getting ready to install their very first filters. Somehow this unlikely group had cut across the deep divides of Bolivian politics, culture and classes to form an organization committed to the common good. When Trevor and Janaki returned to Canada in late May of 2007 there were about 20 filters completed and installed. Today, thanks to the generous donations from family and friends, there must be close to 300 families who are benefiting from clean water.

And to add to that, a wonderful group of people have come together in Calgary to volunteer their time and talents for a fund-raiser to help keep the organization together. It is truly a blessing to be associated with this group of people.

Hope you can all come and support the event!

Sunday May 24 5:00 PM La Pachanga Restaurant 918 12 Ave SW Calgary

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Garden is In!

It has been quite a bit of work, and there were a couple of false starts, but the garden is officially planted. The previous owner of our property in Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island had built a fantastic area for gardening. It is even finished with 8 foot fencing to keep out the deer. Unfortunately, the garden plot had not been worked for the last year or maybe longer and it was badly overgrown.

We got rid of the grass, invasive blackberry bushes and general weeds. Then we terraced the garden and put in raised beds. Finally conditioned the soil and put in the seeds.

Now it is up to the sunshine and the rain. Over to the Creator and the living systems of Creation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Environmental Preservation- A Matter of Faith

Faith communities are increasingly speaking out about the spiritual dimensions of environmental conservation. This stands to reason - Are you honoring the Creator by destroying the Creation?

Last February, we attended a Shabbaton Sedar at Kolot Mayim - Victoria's Reform Jewish Congregation. This Sedar marked the Jewish Holy Day - Tu B'Shvat - traditionally the New Year for Trees. Increasingly this event has become a focal point for environmental awareness in the Jewish Faith.

At the end of the Sedar, Kolot Mayim invited a young woman from the local Sierra Club to speak about environmental conservation. During the discussion, she related that the local Anglican Congregation had hosted a workshop on the environment last year. During that event, congregation members were invited to fill out a carbon footprint survey. Not surprizingly, the congregation members averaged 11 tons of CO2/person/yr. This is right on the Canadian average for CO2 emissions and it also equates directly to an annual oil consumption of 24 bbls/person/year - right on the Canadian average.

Congregation members decided to look at ways they could reduce their environmental impact and took this as their spiritual duty for the next year. The Sierra Club representative had just met with the congregation and found that the average Carbon Footprint had fallen from 11 tons to 6 tons/person/year. This equates to a decrease in oil consumption from 24 to 13 bbls/person/year.

How was this accomplished?

Some improvements were made by individuals. Each family had done a home energy audit (and followed the recommendations) and personal habits were changed (using more public transit, walking rather than driving, etc). In addition to this, a major contribution was made by car-pooling,buying more local food and grocery shopping as a group etc. The group efforts required more planning and caused some inconvenience. However, they had a major unexpected benefit as well. The congregation had become much closer and began to experience a true sense of community.

It is also interesting to note that a similar Carbon Footprint analysis was done at Koinonia. This survey revealed that the average person at Koinonia was responsible for 3 tons of CO2/yr. That equates to about 6 bbls of oil/person/year. That is about 25% of the American average.

Whenever we think about reducing our energy consumption or our impact on the environment we generally think about all the things that we have to give up. The Victoria Anglican congregation and the people of Koinonia would be quick to point out that we also need to consider what we get in return.

How do you assign a value on closer friendships, a genuine sense of belonging, a simpler life and greater harmony with the rest of Creation?

What a Difference a President Makes

Back in 1990 the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation that 2% of all new cars sold in 1998 would be zero emission vehicles (ZEV) – effectively electric cars. By 2003, this requirement was to increase to 10%. The idea was designed to prompt automakers to research radical new designs for transportation rather than simply making internal combustion engines slightly more efficient. The program was quite successful, and resulted in the creation of the GM EV1 and the Ford Think electric cars. It also furthered the growth of the electric hybrid market.

Unfortunately, GM and Daimler Chrysler decided it would be more profitable to take the whole matter to court and force California to repeal the ZEV requirements. After all, the California standards made it impossible for them to sell their largest SUVs – the most profitable units – in the world's largest automobile market. Fortunately for GM and Chrysler, George Bush and his administration strongly agreed with them. So much so, that on October 9, 2002 the Bush administration joined the lawsuit, arguing that by regulating vehicle emissions that the California government was actually attempting to set gasoline mileage standards. Only the Federal government has the authority to do that!

GM, Daimler-Chrysler and the Bush administration won the lawsuit and California had to drop the ZEV requirements. Certainly it was purely coincidental that Andrew Card, Bush's Chief of Staff who led the legal challenge, was the past president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association and had been GM's vice president for Government Relations. Another odd coincidence that Bush, Cheney and Condi Rice were all products of the oil and gas industry. One more coincidence – right after the ZEV regulations were repealed, GM and Ford canceled their electric car programs. All of this interesting history is captured in an entertaining documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

And now for something completely different-

Today (May 19) Barack Obama stood in the White House Rose Garden along with leaders of the auto industry, organized labour and state and federal government officials, to announce a comprehensive plan to curb automobile emissions and drastically improve fuel economy standards for the auto industry. CBC online reports the following:

"As a result of this agreement," Obama said, "we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century."

He said the new rules amounted to removing 177 million cars from the roads over the next 6½ years. In that period, the savings in oil burned to fuel American cars, trucks and buses would amount to last year's combined U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria.

While the new fuel and emission standards for cars and trucks will save billions of barrels of oil, they are expected to cost consumers an extra $1,300 US per vehicle by the time the plan is complete in 2016. Obama said the fuel cost savings would offset the higher price of vehicles in three years. While requiring that vehicle carbon dioxide emissions be reduced by about one-third by the target date, the plan requires the auto industry to be building vehicles that average 35.5 miles per US gallon (6.6 L/100 km).”

From : http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2009/05/19/emissions.html

So lets compare:
George Bush
-Used tax payer's money to help GM and Chrysler defeat California's Clean Air Regulations
-Allowed GM to cancel it's electric car program and open another assembly line for Hummers (I'm not joking).
-Insured demand for oil and gas would remain strong
-Preserved American's right to drive the biggest vehicles that they could imagine – until fuel price increases priced them out of the marketplace
-Protected the US from international interference – as contained in the Kyoto Protocol

-Brought together industry, labour, state and federal government
-Created a new and necessary direction for the auto industry – which will create jobs
-Potentially conserves more than 1.8 billion bbls of oil – probably more oil than the recoverable reserves at ANWAR.
-30% lower CO2 emissions for new cars by 2016

What a difference a President makes!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oil Consumption - barrels/person/year

There are lots of interesting ways to look at oil consumption, but perhaps the most revealing is the number of barrels of oil consumed per person on an annual basis. This statistic is strongly correlated to the level of industrialization and standard of living on a country by country basis. Looking at the graph, you will notice that Canada currently leads the pack of industrialized countries - using around 26 bbls/person/yr. Now we do have cold winters and we live in a big country which requires long distance transportation so we might feel somewhat justified in this level of consumption. In fairness, we might also explain that some of this consumption is used to fuel our oil and gas industry, and our forestry industry, and our mining industry - which mostly export these materials to the USA.

In second place we find the USA at about 24 bbls/person/year. While America uses slightly less oil per person per year, they do have a population more than 10 times larger than our own. This translates to roughly 30% of the total world's oil production being consumed by 5% of the world's population.

As mentioned in an earlier posting, the industrialized countries of Western Europe use less than 50% of the oil per person per year than the average North American. Progressive taxation on energy consumption, investment in public transportation, and major government investments in energy efficiency and alternative energy production have all played a large role. On a more personal note, Western Europeans have learned long ago that a car with a 2 litre engine can transport 4 people just as easily as a car with a 5 litre engine - and not many families feel the need for a 4000 square foot house. Nevertheless, world-wide surveys on happiness and quality of life routinely rank Northern European countries at the top of the list. There is no point feeling guilty about the present situation. There is lots we can do to improve on a personal level and the Obama administration announced today that they will be requiring major improvements for fuel efficiency standards.

There is a much bigger problem lurking in these statistics. Fifteen years ago, China and India both consumed less than 1 bbl/person/year. The past decade of industrialization in China has resulted in an increased consumption level of almost 2 bbls/person/year. The Chinese people would like to continue this improvement in their standard of living. In fact, since the American economy has stalled, Americans have reduced their consumption by 2 million barrels/day. During this same period, China has increased its' consumption level by 700,000 bbls/day.

India also has plans to modernize it's economy and improve living standards for its' citizens. This leads to some real problems. For example, if China were to increase oil consumption by 1 bbl/person/year (for a total of 3 bbls/person/year) this would require a production level of 89 million barrels per day. This exceeds the world-wide maximum daily production level of 86 million bbls/day by more than 3 million barrels. If China's consumption did not increase from current levels, but India increased consumption from 1 bbl/person/yr to 2 bbls/person/year, this would also require production levels of 89 million barrels/day. If India and China both increased consumption levels by 1 bbl/person/year daily production levels would have to reach 93 million bbls. And here is something to think about - If the average Chinese citizen consumed as much oil per year as the average American, this would require production levels to increase by approximately 93 million barrels/day. That is more than double the current peak for world-wide oil production.

Where will this oil come from? How much CO2 can the atmosphere possibly manage?

One thing is for sure - North America needs to set a better example!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Economy vs the Environment - Choose the winner.

I've had the opportunity to spend three weeks out of the past month in the USA. One thing is for sure, we are definitely in a new age. Unemployment is already rampant with more lay-offs being announced every day. Major automakers are declaring bankruptcy, housing prices, investments and retirement savings are falling. More and more families are unable to make mortgage payments, pay the bills and put food on the table. And this is probably just the beginning.

Unfortunately, many of the ideas being offered to help the situation will likely make matters worse in the long term. Let's take one of the most obvious examples. Popular wisdom is that the economic collapse is caused - or at least worsened - by a lack of consumer confidence. Who wants to go out and by a new car if they are worried about losing their job? So here is the obvious solution, inflate the money supply and then "employ one person to dig a hole and another person to fill it back in". You have created two jobs with two secure pay checks and now these people can go back to the market place and buy goods and services. In turn, this will create jobs for the people supply these goods and services.

What's wrong with this picture? Well - in an objective sense, all the first person has done is to use their energy and time to disturb a piece of ground and the other person has used their time and energy to repair the damage -at least partially. As a side-issue, they both had to eat food to get the energy and most likely they both drove their cars to the job site - using oil along the way. In return, all they really created was another piece of disrupted ecosystem. They do get a pay check, probably minimum wage, so they can go down to Walmart and afford low-price food produced by industrial agriculture and cheap consumer goods from China (which were recently shipped and then trucked to the store). This will create more minimum wage employment, result in a faster consumption of resources to fuel the transport industry and make the consumer goods - which will likely end up in the garbage dump in the next year or so. But it will grow the economy - at least for the short term.

In the longer term, the looming shortage of fossil fuel and the environmental cost of industrial agriculture will put an end to this cycle. You may still be able to employ people to dig holes and fill them in, but you will have to pay them a six figure salary before they will be able to continue their marginal life-style. A few more years and they will need a twelve figure paycheck and their quality of life will be worse than before.

The real problem is that the monetary system and the economy are imaginary structures. We allow them to command and distribute the resources of the natural world. While the imaginary economy may be able to grow forever, and is potentially limitless, the natural resources of this planet are unquestionably finite and limited. Unless the product of one persons labour actually produces more Resources than they consume, they are creating a very real deficit in the Real World. This can only go on for so long.

So what is the solution? Well, instead of putting one person to work by digging a hole, have them plant a garden instead. Then employ the other person to weed and water it. Then over the course of a few weeks, the natural living systems of this world will produce high quality food that is close to their homes and won't need to be transported half way around the world before they can eat it. This will not only improve the quality of the food, but it will save oil normally used for transportation. In fact, you can pay them both less money because you can just give them the food. As another by-product, the two gardeners might even become friends because of their time spent in a mutually beneficial enterprise. Their spiritual health may also improve through working with the Creator instead of struggling against the natural laws of Creation.

Isn't it telling that one of the biggest arguments in favor of industrial agriculture is that organic methods are too labour intensive- and therefore expensive. No one ever argues that industrial agriculture produces better food, or that it is good for the environment. In fact, most agri-business assumes the land will be worthless within 20 years. So we put up with low quality food, and allow the environment to be destroyed because we want to employ the vast majority of people with non-productive jobs at minimum wage so they can't afford to pay for higher quality and locally produced food products. Even when these food products can be produced in a way that heals the environment and provides employment for the local community.

Let's face it. Our economic measures, like GDP, GNP, etc. are nothing more than ways of measuring the speed at which we consume the natural world, process it, and haul it to the garbage dump. Our Economy does nothing more than allow and sustain a system of inequality in opportunity that benefits a privileged few and victimizes the mast majority of the world's citizens (of all species).

This artificial and imaginary Economy has been a cancer on our living planet. Unless we make some serious changes, we need to let it die before it kills us all.