Friday, December 24, 2010

Hello everyone,

There are two blogs I read all the time, and recommend. One is Jenna Woginrich' Cold Antler Farm. The other is Stephanie Pearl McFee's blog about knitting and life:

Stephanie's December 23/10 post says, beautifully, that we do not need another trip to the store as we get ready for Christmas. Chances are we have Enough, as she titles the post.

Best wishes for a Happy Christmas,

Why's Woman

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obituary for Donald Hunten; websites for James Hansen

Just a few extras.

Donald Mount Hunten’s obituary is found on the University of Arizona site. He sounds much like his sister Janet, a genius who sees the connections between many fields of endeavor, and who is a razor-sharp advisor to many individuals and organizations .

There’s much about James Hansen on Wikipedia:

His NASA homepage is:

His Home Page at Columbia University [ ]

has more information on it, including things like an interview between Hansen and James McKibbon, of, which will be included in the paperback version of Storms of My Grandchildren [due out in a month or so].

The World is Small. Talk to Everyone You are Able To.

Good morning everyone.

The world is small.

Following my last blog, about climate change, I got to thinking that I wanted to know a bit more about James Hansen. His name comes up a lot. Hansen is head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. He was one of the first climate scientists to present scientific evidence about human-made (anthropocentric) climate changes. In 1988 he made a presentation to a committee of the United States Senate on this. That would have been a huge deal at the time.

Hansen did not begin speaking as what would be termed an ‘activist’ until the last ten years, however. A new book he has out traces his story. Storms of My Grandchildren: the truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity.

I started reading. In the Preface, Hansen talks about his earliest entry into the sciences. In 1963 he was a 22 year old sciences student and observed a lunar eclipse. He and his fellows noted that predicted light levels did not occur; they had been changed by a huge volcanic eruption 9 months previously. Hansen went on to graduate school, studying planetary atmospheres. In 1978 he was well established in this field and preparing technical stuff to go on NASA's Pioneer space probe to Venus. In 1978, he was also becoming interested in the ways in which the atmosphere of Earth seemed to be having changes as the result of human activity (transportation and manufacturing that release gases and particles into the air).

Venus? Planetary atmospheres? Wait a minute! Isn’t my friend Janet’s brother Donald a prof, well known in that field?

I went to the index: Donald Hunten. Page 97.

In 2004, James Hansen was readying a paper to present at the University of Iowa. It would be critical of the George Bush government’s lack of policy to do with climate change. Hansen didn’t like public speaking. He was thinking a lot about implications for himself and his work as a climatologist and just about everything. He had to decide whether to go ahead with this talk, and – very likely – change his life to a much more public one. In Hansen’s own words from Storms of My Grandchildren:

‘It would be nice, for the sake of this book, if I had thought of my grandchildren at that moment. Instead, I thought of a cryptic four-word enigma that had stuck with me for decades. It was advice from Donald Hunten, who, along with Richard Goody, had been the father of the Pioneer mission to Venus. Hunten is small in stature but very authoritative. He speaks with a gravelly voice, seeming to push the words out from deep within his throat. I presumed Hunten had been responsible, at least in part, for the selection of our experiment to measure the Venus clouds as part of the Pioneer mission. Thus in 1978, when I wanted to resign as a principal investigator on Pioneer Venus so I could study Earth’s climate full-time, I felt that I should seek Hunten’s approval. I remember his advice as four gruff words: “Be true to yourself.” What did that mean? Venus or Earth? I was not about to query him further.’

Hansen gave the talk. Hansen wrote the book. I got the book out of the library on Tuesday, December 14/10 and read the anecdote above.

On Wednesday, I was speaking to my good friend Janet and she told me her brother Donald had died the day before.

I did tell her Hansen’s recollection, just as I’d intended to.

And wondered at how small the world is, and how connected we all are.

Best regards, as always. I hope you have a conversation today with someone you've not met before. Who knows how your world will be small and when you'll find out connections you have.

Why's Woman

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Climate Change - London snowstorm to Cancun talks

Good morning.

I’ve just been watching the A-Channel TV news. Something called a ‘streamer’ – a weather phenomenon having to do with moisture coming off a lake – has been passing along a zone west of London, Ontario. It’s built up 2 metre (6.5ft) drifts of snow along areas of highway between Strathroy and Sarnia. Seventy tractor trailer trucks and even more cars have been absolutely bogged down in the snow. People were stuck in their cars for 12 hours, 18 hours, more than 24 hours … and rescued by four wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles and even military helicopter. It’s an unbelievable scenario. So near to here, but so different from the relatively light snow we’re having.

So I'm thinking more than a bit on climate change!

Some years ago, the term was global warming … meant to refer to fact that there’ll be an overall average worldwide temperature increase due to greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere through the many ways we overuse fossil fuels. I’d been concerned that wide media use of the term ‘climate change’ might be a glossing over of the warming that will have bad effects on agriculture, coastal flooding, Arctic and Antarctic ice melt.

Weather disturbances worldwide over the last few years have lead me to prefer that ‘climate change’ term, however. Increased numbers of hurricanes at sea and hitting land. Droughts where there shouldn’t be. Extremely heavy rainfall and flooding where there shouldn’t be. And, right here in southwestern Ontario, really weird snowfall … this month, in my city, my neighbourhood.

Anyone who’s read my blog from the beginning knows that I named it as homage to Elizabeth May’s terrific book How to Save the World in Your Spare Time (Key Porter, 2006). The book is a handbook on how to tackle city hall and other levels of government, how to make your voice heard, bring an issue forward and make change. It’s a how-to do a petition, get an issue into the news, target an audience, deal with media, get your point across, plan for the victory party and have some fun with it all. It’s a terrific book.

May, who just happens to be head of the Green Party of Canada ( was just in Cancun Mexico, as part of the Conference of Parties 16th talks about climate change (COP16). She – the Green Party – sent out an e-mail today in which she gives an overview of some of the positives of that meeting. Titled: Copenhagen to Cancun: what just happened?, she gives a much more readable summary than most newspapers did, at least for me, since I’m not versed in this

Here are some things I take from May’s blog (excerpts are in quotation marks, italicized) and other reading I’ve done. Basically, I find it incredible that 190 countries agreed to a document, the Long-term Cooperative Action document [ ] where it says that climate change is real and urgent and threatens us.

Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Espinosa (facilitator of the meeting) and her team managed to re-build some trust between participants as different groups worked on issues. Groups were not closed; people could cross over between them.

‘The documents do not by themselves obligate governments to take any new steps. What they do is build a strong foundation for agreements to be reached at COP17 next year in Durban, South Africa.’

The language is strong and unequivocal. In the LCA [Long-term Cooperative Action -see May's blog post, at the bottom for link] decision it is stated “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties.”

‘The decisions confirm that the science and IPCC advice is compelling. It commits to find ways to avoid allowing global average temperature from increasing to 2 degrees C, but recognizes the need to consider that the high point should be 1.5 degrees C. For the first time in a UN decision, it mandates that all nations should immediately determine the year by which GHG emissions should peak and begin to fall. It states all parties agree “that Parties should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.” It states that industrialized countries should reduce emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.’

‘Further it states that “addressing climate change requires a paradigm shift towards building a low-carbon society that offers substantial opportunities….”’

‘It deals extensively with the need for adaptation (creating a Cancun Adaptation Framework and Adaptation committee), for financing, it creates a new Green Climate Fund, as well as funding to help arrest deforestation. There are many detailed elements. Not all were great. Many were disappointed to see Carbon Capture and Storage added to acceptable technologies for the Clean Development Mechanism'

‘New and welcome elements were language recognizing the importance of human rights in implementing climate policy, respect for indigenous peoples, women, and gender-related issues, and a clear victory for labour in the reference to the need for a “just transition.” Cities and sub-national governments finally get the respect they deserve as partners.

‘What does it mean?

It means Kyoto is still alive, but the parties are not committed to a second commitment period when Kyoto’s first period ends in 2012. It just means there could be a second commitment period. Anchoring of voluntary pledges from the Copenhagen Accord may fit into the language of the LCA text, but the Copenhagen Accord targets are laughably weak. Hence, the language calling for industrialized countries to “raise the level of ambition” in their targets.’

There’s still a lot to be done, internationally and here.

Here in Canada, we need to communicate with every level of government and every individual we can.

Canada – represented by Environment Minister John Baird - again won the Colossal Fossil Award for putting up the most obstructions to events at the climate change meetings. As Elizabeth May says, before the next round of talks in Durban, SA in 2011: ‘we have to get a change in our government’s position, or get a new government. Canada stepping up to commit to a second commitment period, even on weaker targets, could help shift the balance to saving Kyoto.’

I haven’t read a lot about the climate change talks until just lately. I’m learning. Big topic. But, as always, I’m trying to locate positives which can be built upon.

Best regards to all of you,

Why’s Woman


Note: And putting this at the bottom of this post doesn’t mean this is unimportant! I just couldn’t figure out another place to put it.

One country, Bolivia, did not put its name to the Cancun document because it believed it was not strong enough. At the last climate change meetings in Copenhagen, Bolivia took the lead in producing a document called the Cochabamba accord, a strong statement about the need for economic and environment change. I’ve read excerpts from this (will find the link) and find I nod my head in agreement with it. At the Cancun meetings, Bolivia was given its due opportunity to state its position. Concensus decision making protocol does say that in situations where everyone is given the chance to voice an opinion, a ‘concensus’ decision is said to be reached when everyone else agrees and a disagreement is registered. So, it can be said that there was concensus on the Cancun document. I don’t doubt that many individuals and countries will go to Durban to bring an agreement that has many more of Bolivia’s ideas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vandana Shiva wins Sydney Peace Prize

Good morning everyone,

Just to show that there's nothing like a snow day for doing things one doesn't usually get 'round to, here's another blog entry!

On November 3/10 Dr. Vandana Shiva delivered a lecture titled Give Mother Earth a Chance, as the winner of the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize. Feel free to skip my words and go directly to the 45 minute long video of her acceptance speech: or

If you are concerned about sustainable agriculture, corporate control of agriculture, citizens’ rights to save and breed seeds by traditional methods, patenting of life and genetic modification, women’s role in agriculture, global economics or peace please settle in and listen.

If you don’t think you can sit at your computer and just listen for 45 minutes, try ironing or using hand weights or lying on the floor for the time it takes you to listen to her.

I think Vandana Shiva is brilliant. She speaks for the earth, for women, for farmers of small acreages, for sustainability, for saved seeds. I think her organization, Navdanya, is brilliant. From its website:

Navdanya is a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 16 states in India. Navdanya has helped set up 54 community seed banks across the country, trained over 500,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades, and helped setup the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in the country. Navdanya has also set up a learning center, Bija Vidyapeeth (School of the Seed) on its biodiversity conservation and organic farm in Doon Valley, Uttranchal, north India. Nav Navdanya is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. It has created awareness on the hazards of genetic engineering, defended people's knowledge from biopiracy and food rights in the face of globalisation and climate change. Navdanya is a women centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity.’

The Sydney Peace Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation begun in 1998 as a partnership between business, media, public service, community and academic groups. It promotes peace with justice – an important pairing – which it says ‘relates to a way of thinking and acting which promotes non-violent solutions to every day problems and contributes to the development of civil societies.’ []

I think it is brilliant that Sydney Australia has a Peace Foundation, brilliant that it is endorsed by that City’s government, brilliant that the Foundation sees the direct relationships between peace and people’s ability to provide food for their families and communities.

Right now the sun is shining brilliantly on the snow and ice in my back yard. It is sparkling.

I hope you all have a brilliant day.

Why's Woman


Much information is available about Vandana Shiva and Navdanya at or her organization website

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ada Lockridge and the efforts against toxic chemicals affecting Aamjiwnaang


I just received an e-mail from Toban Black, directing me to his September 2010 audio interview with Ada Lockridge. It is on a site called Media Co-op. Go directly to this if you want to!

The interview is clear and gives a lot of information about the toxic industries affecting the Aamjiwnaang community located within Sarnia’s Chemical Valley and efforts to get information about pollutants and stop them. Lockridge is a real person, a good person, a hardworking person. She says at one point: ''I get sad, I get angry, I cry ... and that makes me do more things'

Toban does not impose himself into the interview. He deserves praise for asking good questions that allow Lockridge to tell her own and her people’s story.

You may have heard about Aamjiwnaang on the news. It’s the place where the birthrate is completely out of kilter (with something like one boy being born to two girls), and has a rate of cancers and other health problems much higher than average. Aamjiwnaang is surrounded on its three Canadian sides with toxin-spewing chemical plants; the Michigan side has a coal plant.

As Toban’s text says, Ada and another member of Aamjiwnaang -- Ron Plain -- have filed a lawsuit against Suncor and the Ministry of Environment, through the organization Eco-justice. … this legal case is one of many approaches which she and other community members have taken as they have been trying to improve their health and environment -- in spite of industry opposition, and government negligence.’

I love the four 'D's that Lockridge cites in how companies/government cover things up or sow discontent amongst environment groups: deny, divide, delay, discredit.

Toban’s overview gives more information, succinctly, as well as resource materials/sites. The full audio interview is worth a listen.

The Media Co-op site posts information about quite a few topics!! Thanks Toban for bringing it to my attention.

For Londoners wanting to become involved in fossil fuel reduction issues, I’ve also posted a link to London’s Post Carbon group (

Best regards to everyone,

Why’s Woman


Good morning!

London, Ontario is up to its thighs in beautiful snow. Oxford Street, a four lane road which runs not far from me, seems to have only about 25% of its usual traffic. There is almost quiet. I’d left a garden fork in the back yard, standing straight up. The handle-hold and about 15 cm (6 inches) of handle are above the snow.

I have a vague idea that there was a huge snow storm back in the dark ages when I was at university for the first time but cannot remember anything like this since.

Hoping your own day has some beauty!

Why’s Woman

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes


I've just seen a brilliant animation: 300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes. Presented by the Post Carbon Institute, narrated by Richard Heinberg, and with artwork by an absolute genius at monstrodesign ...

please drop over to to view this animation.

It's incredible to me that someone could have put so much information in something so short and so simple in its images.

best regards to all, Why's Woman

Monday, November 22, 2010

Under Soil Critters We Need

Good morning ... how are you today?

The other day someone asked me some gardening questions. I just sent him an e-mail answer and thought I'd post it ... in case you also wanted a bit of information about vermiculture, low-till gardening, and soil organisms.

Of course, Barbara Pleasant's article (referred to in resources) is probably better than anything I'll put together from browsing around ... but between the stuff below and the article you'll get a bit of info.

*Vermiculture* refers to maintaining worms in contained space, giving them food and bedding, and letting them do the work of changing the food into poop – ‘castings’. The castings are a form of compost, containing many nutrients and trace elements. Mixed in with soil, these castings release their nutrients and trace elements through the magic of many organisms; in turn, these move through a moisture and root interface and into the plants. Usually the term vermiculture is used in regards to worm raising in indoor spaces, like apartment kitchens or school rooms, but if someone were raising worms for bait or for sale to people doing in-home composting, the term vermiculture is correct.

In his book, /Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost/, Mike gives a short overview of how to set up a worm composting bin, with the reliable Red Wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida). His most important advice is to do some reading up on the how-to before just going ahead. Just like raising chickens, or having a pet canary or rabbit, there are things to know for healthy critters. I do not know who/where in London deals in red wigglers or vermicomposting set-up kits.

*Low till gardening/agriculture*
Many articles have been written over the last few years which advocate for no-rototill home gardens and no-till or low-till agriculture. The article I've attached has a reference to this. Concepts addressed during no-rototill home gardening include:
- use of deeper mulch to keep weed seeds from germinating,
- that many weeds reproduce from even small root parts and that tilling only chops and distributes these,
- that there is a special group of fungi (mycorrhizae) that are a go-between between plant roots and soil; their work transfers nutrients to plants; it is best to not disturb soil so that their in-soil parts don't get damaged because this affects their in-root parts

Both Organic Gardening Magazine and Mother Earth News (magazines) are solid sources of information. Both have websites. Any book by Rodale Press is a good book. The Rodale Institute website is also interesting, and extends information about low-till into agriculture and carbon sequestration (and organic agriculture) as a major player in mitigating global warming.

*Soil Organisms*
Big topic!

To paraphrase Barbara Kingsolver … “sit down, I’ll make you a cup of tea, and then get ready for more than two hundred words.’

The article below also mentions these. And both Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening magazines or on-line can be searched. But to scale up ...

There’s a seriously cool book out, that I've mentioned before:Teaming with Microbes: the organic gardener's guide to the soil food web. It has really fascinating photos taken with souped up microscopes and way more information than I’ll ever get through, although each page I manage to get through fascinates me. This book is the text book for us ... imagine what the university level book must be!

The Teaming with Microbes book has chapters on many types of organisms that help in the creation and maintenance of healthy soil, in the transfer of nutrients to plants and ultimately the growth of plants. Bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and slime molds, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms, gastropods, reptiles, mammals and birds. It is noteworthy that humans don’t make it into this first section of the book!

Don’t think for a minute that I know what all those things even are! The /Teaming/ authors write that ‘A mere teaspoon of good garden soil, as measured by microbial geneticists, contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of equally invisible fungal hyphae, several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.’ To me they are all ‘critters’.

As an ensemble – as a whole orchestra – these critters eat and are eaten. They excrete and exude stuff; they incorporate other stuff. They react to what is exuded by plants. Plants react to sunlight and water. All the plants and critters do things for, against and with each other. The interactions are like dozens of spider webs overlaying each other and rotated around and through each other … at least that’s my way of understanding the soil web, which, factoring in time, is really a four-dimensional soil web.

I am easily overwhelmed by what I read. So many complicated systems at work, balancing soil ecosystem with root interface with healthy plants! Sometimes I’m afraid to weed out stuff, lest I mess up the root/moisture/nutrient system of nearby plants I want to nurture.

But sometimes, I’ve just got to yank stuff out. Or dig a hole. Or make a new garden bed in a hurry by turning over the soil – flipping 8” cuts so they are soil up – grass down, adding a layer of compost for mulch and just planting right into it … trusting that all the upended critters will figure out their new world and get on with what they do, despite my mistakes and dithering.

I take heart from just the title of chapter 24: /No One Ever Fertilized an //Old// //Growth// //Forest//./ To me, what this comes down to is that, left alone, growing systems reach a balance. So I try to do less, do gently and watch more … in hopes of finding how the garden balance can take care of itself. This is where I’m coming up to the topics of permaculture and forest gardening, topics I’m only just starting to read on ... and which we'll be finding out more about on December 12.

Because I'm an information weinie ... here's an excerpt from Teaming with Microbes that refers to Mycorrhizae fungi. The Mycorrhizae have been getting a lot of press lately.

From Teaming with Microbes

/Soil fungi also form extremely important mutual relationships with plants. The first is the association of certain fungi with green algae, which results in the formation of lichens. Int his symbyotic relationship, the fungus gets food from the alga, which utilizes its photosynthetic powers while the fungal strands make up the thallus, or body, of the lichen, in which the pair lives. Chemicals secreted by the fungus break down the rock and wood upon which the lichens grow. This creates minerals and nutrients for the soil, soil microbes, and plants./

/The second are mycorrhizae (from the Greek for “fungus-root”), symbiotic associations between plant roots and fungi. In return for exudates from plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi seek out water and nutrients and then bring them back to the plant. The plant becomes dependent on the fungi, and the fungi, in turn, cannot live without the plant’s exudates. …/

/Mycorrhizae have been known since 1885, when German scientist Albert Bernhard Frank compared pines grown in sterilized soil to those grown in sterilized soil inoculated with forest fungi. The seedlings in the inoculated soil grew faster and much larger than those in the sterilized soil. Yet iwa s only in the 1990s that the terms mycorrhiza (the symbiotic root-fungus relationship; plural, mycorrhizae) and mycorrhizal (its associated adjective} started to creep into the agricultural industry’s lexicon, much less the home gardeners’s./

/We’re the first to admit that we were blindsided by the subject – and one of us had written a popular garden column every week for 30 years and never once mentioned them out of sheer ignorance, a state shared with most gardeners. We now know the extent of our ignorance: at least 90% of all plants form mycorrhizae, and the percentage is probably 95% and even higher. What is worse, we learned that these relationships began some 450 million years ago, with terrestrial plant evolution: plants started growing on the earth’s surface only after fungi entered into relationship with aquatic plants. Without mycorrhizal fungi, plants do not obtain the quantities and kinds of nutrients needed to perform at their best; we must alter our gardening practices so as not to kill these crucial beneficial fungi./

/Perhaps gardeners lack appreciation for fungi because all soil fungi are very fragile. Too much compaction of soil, and fungal tubes are crushed and the fungi killed. Clearly fungicides, but also pesticides, inorganic fertilizer, and physical alteration of the soil (rototilling, double digging) destroy fungal hyphae. Chemicals do so by sucking the cytoplasm out of the fungal body. Rototilling simply breaks up the hyphae. The fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi even decrease when fungi are exposed to air pollution, particularly that containing nitrogenous substances./

/Mycorrhizal fungi are of two kinds. The first, ectomycorrhizal fungi, grow close to the surface of roots and can form webs around them. Ectomycorrhizal fungi associate with hardwoods and conifers. The second are endomycorrhizal fungi. These actually penetrate and grow inside roots as well as extend outward into the soil. Endomycorrhizal fungi are preferred by most vegetables, annuals, grasses, shrubs, perennials, and softwood trees./

/Both types of mycorrhizal fungi can extend the reach as well as the surface area of plant roots; the effective surface area of a tree’s roots, for example, can be increased a fantastic 700 to 1000 times by the association. Mycorrhizal fungi get the carbohydrates they need from the host plant’s exudates and use that energy to extend out into the soil, pumping moisture and mining nutrients from places the plant roots along could not access. These fungi are not lone miners, either. They form intricate webs and sometimes carry water and nutrients to the roots of different plants, not only the one from which they started. It is strange to think of a mycorrhizal fungus in association with one plant helping others at the same time, but this occurs. /

/Finding and bringing back the phosphorus that is so critical to plants seems to be a major function of many mycorrhizal fungi; the acids produced by mycorrhizal fungi can unlock, retrieve, and transport chemically locked-up phosphorus back to the host plant. Mycorrhizal fungi also free up copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron for plant use. As always, any nutrient compounds not delivered to the plant roots are locked up in the funge and are released when the fungi die and are decayed./

If you've made it through all the above and the article, give yourself a pat on the back!!

Dream gardens and I hope you have a good day,

Why's Woman

* A few references*

Kingsolver, Barbara. /A Fist in the Eye of God, /an essay contained in the book/ Small Wonder. /HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. [LPL: 814.Kin]

Lowenfels, Jeff and Wayne Lewis. Teaming with Microbes: the organic gardener’s guide to the soil food web. Revised edition. Portland: Tiimber Press, 2010 [LPL: 631.4 Low]

McGrath, Mike.* *Mick McGrath’s book of Compost. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 2007. [London Public Library system: 631.875 MacG]
Mike is a former editor of Organic Gardening magazine and his bio says he hosts a Public Radio show called You Bet Your Garden, as well as doing other things. I love this guy’s take on things. The Compost book is a fairly fast, easy and /humourous/ read. It even has nifty cartoons. ‘Vermiculture’ is a term Mike dislikes because it sounds like you’re taking rats to the opera.

Mother Earth News:

Organic Gardening Magazine:

Pleasant, Barbara. /Simple Tips for //Better// //Garden// Soil/. Mother Earth News. April/May 2009.

Rodale Institute:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Davis Suzuki Foundation worth looking at

Hello out there,

I almost never sign on-line petitions as they are written. I alter the petition letter and then I sign on. I've just sent off the note below concerning the Canadian senate's killing off a climate change accountability bill. Check out the situation on the David Suzuki Foundation site:

And whether you decide for yourself to send a letter or not, I hope you'll go to see the new documentary about David Suzuki - Force of Nature - which will probably be at a theatre near you. It's a good biography/documentary about a good person.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

On November 16, unelected Conservative senators used a surprise vote to kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. The Act was to have made successive governments accountable for reducing global warming emissions to safe levels.

Four years in the making, Bill C-311 had a lot of momentum. It passed through the House of Commons with a strong majority, thanks in part to the incredible support of Canadians from across the country. Yet it was killed without adequate notice of call to vote; killed without debate in the Senate – something that has rarely happened in our history.

I am deeply disturbed with the way this decision was made. It went against the will of the majority of Members of Parliament - persons elected to represent their constituents' wishes. Also, it did not uphold Canada’s democratic traditions.

Climate change is a primary and critical global problem. It must be addressed by each and every country individually and collectively. Actions must be taken, by every country individually and collectively.

The development of clean - pollutant free - energies is essential. Studies show that Canada will benefit economically by developing new clean energy technologies and related jobs.

But working to slow climate change, fossil fuel use and the collective other damaging things we do to the planet is not just about money.

Creating a world which is safe, healthy and sustainable for Canadians and other world citizens is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. I'm old enough to have believed that Canada is a country that tries to do the right thing. (I have to admit I'm not always sure of humanity's wisdom, but that's not the purpose of this note.)

The Senate’s decision to kill progressive legislation demonstrates the Canadian government’s lack of leadership on the key issues of our global time: environmental health and survival of humanity.

It is a shame upon our country that just as Canada prepares to join world leaders at the United Nations climate change negotiations in Mexico, we are once again without any solid plan to reduce the emissions fueling climate change.

I expect you to be responsible and accountable to the Canadian people and our democracy. As soon as possible, and on advice of the other parties and major environment groups, I expect the Government to introduce a similar or stronger bill in the House of Commons.



Marjory LeBreton - Leader of the government in the Senate

Stephen Harper - Prime Minister of Canada

Michael Ignatieff – Leader of the Liberal Party

Gilles Duceppe - Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Jack Layton - Leader of the New Democratic Party

Elizabeth May - Leader of the Green Party of Canada

Sunday, November 14, 2010

film The Bridge as bridge to Peace Activist Tribute

Good morning everyone. This entry will take a long route, through an old movie to a brand new book. If you get bored with the movie synopsis, please skip down to the book note! However, the movie synopsis exemplifies my reason for writing under the name Why’s Woman. Blessings to you all, Why's Woman

All week long I’ve been hearing Remembrance Week reports …

Saturday evening I tuned into TVO’s broadcast of the 1959 film Die Bruke – The Bridge, a West German film by Austrian filmmaker Bernhard Wicki, based on a 1958 novel by Manfred Gregor, who got the story from an actual event recounted by its last survivor.

The Bridge was brilliant.

Apparently, in late 1944, the German government started calling up underage young men and older men to fight – it had no one else to continue the fight for the Fatherland.

The movie is the story of 7 boys, all around 15 and 16 years of age, schoolmates in October 1945. About half the film is spent letting us know who the boys are and showing us the emotional way they left their homes. The latter half of the film shows us their next day.

One by one we see the interactions with their families when their call-up papers arrive.

Siggi’s mother wants him to hide at his aunt’s until the war is over. There is no father in the home. But the mother’s fear of losing her son implied to me her husband had already died fighting. Siggi is the youngest of the seven friends. He has to go, not just because of his friends but because he believes what he has been taught about the rightness of the fight.

Karl does not have a good day. On the day the call-up papers come, he discovers that his father is bedding a young woman he has a crush on. Meeting his friend Klaus shortly after, he makes a nasty remark about his friend Klaus’ girlfriend; Klaus punches him in the nose. At home, Karl argues with his father and leaves his home … spending the night in the recruiting office.

Walter is spending his last night at home, playing records too loudly. His father sends the maid to tell him to turn it down. This father– a civilian of some status in his community because he is leader of the local communist party – is packing to run away from the U.S. onslaught that now seems inevitable, under the guise of going to a communist party meeting. Another argument between father and son here, with Walter’s accusations that his father is having an affair with his secretary and has driven his wife away.

Jurgen wants to be an officer, like his father who was killed in the war. Their family owns a farm – so the family is more well off than the others - and his mother has been left to manage their farm with Polish prisoner labour … but they’ve just run away. His mother is being very calm as they talk about managing things while he’s away and they talk about packing; he tells her he admires the way she keeps her emotions in check. My interpretation of her frozen expression is that she really just wants to scream, and scream and scream.

Klaus spends time with Franziska, oblivious to her want to be his girlfriend. There’s a lovely scene in the train station where he says he wants to ask her something. She leans in, eager, telling him that because he’s going away to the front he can ask her anything. He asks if he can have his watch back, because a watch with a luminous dial could be really useful on night duty. This is perhaps the only bit of humour in the film, and it is countered with the sadness of the girl’s hope.

Hans and Albert are boys 6 and 7. Unfortunately, I missed the part of the movie which has their background.

The morning of the boys’ departure, their teacher asks the company commander – who he knows was a teacher before the war 5 years ago – if there’s some way he can keep the boys out of the fighting. The man replies that he’s only just found out his own son has been killed, and the implication is that there’s nothing he can/will do. The teacher comments that, when the war is over, he does not think he can continue to be a teacher of history, and he leaves. He would probably never know that when the experienced troups and newest recruits are ordered to the front the commander tells a sargeant to take the boys and have them guard the town bridge – figuring the sargeant will dig them all in somewhere safe. He, and the sargeant try to save these boys who have only been at their training camp one day.

But the sargeant is shot by other German soldiers who mistake him for a deserter.

The boys are left to defend the bridge that leads to their town on a dark, fog-shrouded night … to defend the Fatherland in the way there were taught is right. They will act upon what they were told was true about bravery and staying on duty, and the other side being the enemy and deserving of death.

At dawn, tanks are heard in the distance. In a scene given far more time than any contemporary film would spend, we hear the tanks and scan the distant road into the town, alternating with the faces and actions of the waiting, frightened, nervous boys. Tanks are loud. Waiting is physical.

Walter has been waiting in a trench, grenade launcher at his shoulder. To the amazement and joy of the boys his first shot at a tank hits it and it explodes into flame.

They are emboldened, and one by one these boys do brave things … and die.

Siggi is first. He has just been teased by his friends because he ‘hit the dirt’ when a U.S. plane flew over. He stands determinedly in place at the next pass. The plane drops a bomb at what seems to be quite a distance away, but somehow Siggi is dead .. hit by some flying object. His friends cry out the first question of war: Why him? Why did he have to die?

Jurgen has climbed a tree and is shooting at U.S. soldiers who are themselves shooting from the second floor windows of a house they took over. He does shoot one. But, in a scene that may have inspired Alfred Hitchcock, we see the boy targeted in the mirror/site of the U.S. soldier’s gun and we see his body jerk and fall to the ground; even without the sound, we hear the impact of his broken body.

Walter has taken his grenade launcher and made his way across the yards to the house where the US soldiers are. As he is ready to take aim at a tank right outside the house he is confronted by a soldier who – horrified that a boy so young is involved in war – shouts at him to put down the weapon. As Walter turns to the soldier the tank fires through the house. Walter is really killed twice: torn apart by the bullets and crushed by the toppling wall.

I think it is this same U.S. soldier who, shortly after, is running outside, darting from shelter to shelter of vehicles. He sees the boys and comes towards them, muttering about children in war, calling to them to get out, to start. The only English word the boys understand is kinder – child – to them an insult. Klaus shoots the soldier, but he continues to advance … ripped apart in the gut, screaming. Karl is himself screaming to his friend to shoot the man to stop his pain. And somehow, from bullets from elsewhere there are two deaths: the compassionate soldier and the compassionate boy, Karl.

Klaus tries desperately to bring him Karl back, calling to him, apologizing for punching him in the nose for a nasty remark he’d made, begging him to get up and return the punch.

Klaus is killed too.

Hans and Albert are left on the bridge. By whatever decision, the U.S. tanks have retreated. German soldiers from the town come along to blow up the bridge as per their orders. One mocks the boys for playing hero. Probably both boys are crazed with the pain, horror and despair of seeing their friends’ awful deaths. It is Hans who aims his gun at the soldier, telling him they have their duty and won’t leave. The soldier raises his gun toward Hans … and is shot from behind by Albert.

Finally realizing they are not dealing with children at play, the two other German soldiers retreat to their vehicle to return to the town … firing shots. Hans drops to the bridge. Only Albert is left, screaming, dragging his friend by one limp arm from the centre of the bridge … until he realizes the futility and the reality and proceeds alone … off the bridge and towards us shocked viewers … and is gone.

Black smoke roils up to cover the bridge and the bodies.

And the film ends … just ends … with text that comes up and says 'This event occurred on April 27, 1945. It was so unimportant that it was never mentioned in any war communique.'

Unimportant. Children’s lives. German and American soldiers. The families of all of these. Unimportant.

The ending shocked me … as it was meant to. I desperately wanted assurance that on that morning Albert did at least get home.

In case you have not figured this out from my summary, this was an anti war film. I’m not much of a political historian, but I have no doubt that the film was hugely controversial when it came out. The good thing is that it won awards, including four at the German film awards in 1960.

And where is this leading? Aside from my absolutely physical imperative to write down this film and be clear about it for myself?

There’s a new book out about Muriel Duckworth, who passed away in her 101st year in the summer of 2009.

A Legacy of Love: Remembering Muriel Duckworth, Her Later Years, 1996-2009, written by Marion Douglas Kerans.

I knew Muriel when I lived in Halifax in the mid 1980s, when I joined the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace*. I was only 30! To me, all the women were amazing. Muriel - who was only in her mid '70s - was unlike anyone I’d ever met. She took time to listen. She was so smart and so organized, and saw the connections between so many things, and was able to bring people together and get things done without endless meetings. Almost everyone at the meetings knit (I do now knit) … and stuff never seemed to be written down, and we didn’t have computers (we had telephone trees) and we went out of the meeting knowing that everything would get done by someone. And I wish I knew then what I knew now and had known her better.

I am looking forward to knowing her better through the recollections Marion has gathered. I’m ordering the book tomorrow. It will share shelf space with Kerans’ earlier book Muriel Duckworth: a very active pacifist. It will be there for me to refer to often, to think about Muriel and big issues. That shelf within reaching distance, the voices and Voices I need to support me.

From the Groundwood Press blurb:

Muriel Duckworth passed away August 22, 2009 in her one hundred and first year. In the weeks that followed memorial services were held in Austin Quebec, Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. People from across Canada recognized that her passing marked the end of an era and they wanted to not only remember her but to come together to be a part of her ongoing legacy of love. This book brings together stories from Muriel’s family and close friends from the past dozen years of her life. It is a collection of incredible tales of Muriel’s ability to reach out to people, her humour, her deep affection for her family, her ongoing activism and enduring political feistiness, her views on education, religion, death, war and love. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from Muriel’s later years.

The author, Marion Douglas Kerans, is herself an activist, lving in Ottawa. She is the author of Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist (Fernwood, 1996).

Fernwood Publishing:

Or ask at your local, independent bookstore.

*Canadian Voice of Women for Peace:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Global Warming at the Tea Party

Just a quick update on the last post. I just heard one of the Tea Party reps interviewed on The Current. The official position on Global Warming is that there isn't any and the science isn't in.

I should know at my age that yelling at someone 'you're wrong!' doesn't work. But there are days when I cannot even tell a bus passenger with a loud, leaky walkman that the noise is bothering me. So, where to start with people who dismiss reports of environmental damage, food shortages and forced migration because of weather and environment events?

Talking with one person at a time at our mutual points of fear ... ?

I think I need to phone a friend and talk.

Later guys,

Why's Woman

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Watching US government a bit more

Not just because I was so tired of hearing political commentators did I hope all day Tuesday that their predictions of Republican resurgence in the U.S. was wrong. And here it is Wednesday morning. (the date on this post is wrong because I wrote something late Tuesday and changed it completely Wed. morning)

So, I'll pay more attention to US politics now. See what plays out.

I'd been listening to Michael Enright on CBC's Sunday morning show. He'd been down in the States, in Florida for part of the show anyway, talking with Tea Party people. I admit I haven't been following this stuff at all ... really didn't even know who the Tea Party people are. And I sure don't understand the US political system.

... but I find it interesting and disturbing that the only way the U.S.' interim elections managed to handle a new party (i.e. not of the two traditional, official parties) is to vote in more representatives of one of the traditional parties (Republicans).

Left, liberal and Green as I am, I found myself agreeing with some of the things the Tea Party people said ... because those that Enright interviewed came across as real people with concerns for their future. BUT ... and this is the BIG BUT ... not one of the people interviewed used the words environment, planet, health, or crisis. All conversations were based in that so-called American dream of individuals getting ahead economically without handouts from others - or giving to others. So, as I listened, I was touched by the peoples' real fears for their future and disturbed by their non-community and non-international way of looking at or for solutions.

To me, there need to be really big changes to a lot of structures in the US, in Canada and around the world. More people need to be involved in planning and action and government at municipal, provincial and federal levels. More people need to be 'doing good', not hunkering down just looking out for their own economic security.

I'm not sure how to express this. I've not really had a political happening be enough in my face to make me think through party political things. I'll be learning new things and thinking over the next few years, it looks like.

Best regards to all,

Why's Woman

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Death, life and vegetables

Good morning,

Joan Dye Gussow's new book is titled Growing Older: a chronicle of death, life and vegetables.

I've been reading it chapter by chapter, enjoying her humour, finding that I agree with much of what she says, discovering that I'm also a curmudgeon (as she describes herself), and see just about everything I do as it relates to environment.

Joan's book is not an easy read, as I'd wanted it to be. I wanted her to tell me what to do. What was I thinking? She's a professor of nutrition, developer of a course on how nutrition, food production and environment are all related matters. She's at the heart and start of this whole field of food-related thought (in North America anyway) and her ideas have influenced academics and activists like Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Barbara Kingsolver.

What I mean is, she's not academically or personally geared to telling someone directly what she or he should do. And ultimately this gets people on side to doing what should be done. Smart woman, eh?

Gussow analyzes her own life and I bet I'm not the only reader who will be taken aback in the first chapters when she acknowledges that she didn't 'miss' her husband after he died. But then, as she talks about their relationship - the who-did-which-tasks during their marriage, the habits they each had, their individual strengths, and joint projects - there is my recognition that they had mutual as well as individual strengths. They planned together, and they each had individual lives; this left her with her own life and abilities to change when he died. People don't often talk about how being one’s own person keeps you going after a partner dies. I think that’s cool. And an honesty one doesn't hear often.

She talks about how, in 1979,she read a paper by Joanna Macy about despair and how to keep going after facing the worst, and this got her looking at her own worst fears: that we humans were harming the interconnected environment systems from so many directions that we really were/are on a path of system collapse. She had to realize that she really did believe this, and move through the despair. Relating this to her reactions after her husband died, she realizes:

Reflecting on my early confrontation with despair has helped me to understand my failure to seriously grieve after Alan’s death. Losing him was not the worst thing that could happen in my world. That I had already confronted.

The book covers varied topics; many have to do with what happens inGussow's garden the year ‘round, connecting to issues of local food production, international issues and human connections of all sorts. She describes her ongoing problem of a backyard garden that is lower than surrounding lots and subject to flooding again and again. Apparently, this spring, while her book was going to press, she had the money and volunteers/friends/workers to bring in soil and raise the yard, which all her friends and readers (like me) surely hope will solve a lot of problems. But even those ongoing struggles and observations of plants that recover gave something important.

from the chapter, Watery Lessons:

Hope is the lesson Nature keeps teaching me. She keeps producing. She recovers. She creates beauty out of loss. She forgives us our impatience and frustration and insistence that things turn out the way we planned. They don't. They turn out the way she planned. We need to be willing to sacrifice control; to learn by adaptation. We need to pay more for food grown by local farmers who can find something to feed us no matter what - even if it's not what we planned on this morning. And that's going to have be be okay. What an important lesson to learn as we face a world that is changing in ways that we don't really want at least partly as fallout from our demand for the things we really thought we needed.

I’ll end the book report here, lest it get really too long. (maybe there'll be a part 2 book report; I haven’t finished the book yet. ) But absolutely, if you get a chance, get the book. Tell your library to get the book.

As always, best wishes to you all,

Why's Woman

Growing Older: a chronicle of death, life and vegetables. Joan Dye Gussow. White River, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010. (
Other great book by Gussow: This Organic Life: confessions of a suburban homesteader.

(If possible, buy your copy from an independent book retailer!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Techno-fix won't change the changes we've made

Hello all,

I’ve just watched the last episode of a 5-part series called How the Earth Changed History. It’s been shown on TVO over the last few weeks. The show summary says: ‘How have the natural forces of the planet shaped everything from the birth of agriculture to the industrial revolution? Geologist Iain Stewart explores how geology, geography and climate have had a far more powerful influence on humankind than has previously been acknowledged."

The presenter was geologist Iain Stewart, Professor of Geosciences Communication, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Plymouth University, UK.

Tonight’s episode was about how people have influenced the earth. He went over the way we’ve changed river courses, scraped away huge chunks of Alberta to get at tar sands for oil. He ended up in Svalbard, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, halfway between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole.

As soon as he said he was in Svalbard, I knew where he was headed (and I’ll come to it). But he got there by a circuitous route.

He showed leaf fossils set in stones of Svalbard’s frozen landscape; 55 million years ago the climate was warm enough there for lush vegetatative growth. Then he talked about how India crashed into the continent above (tectonic plate movement times) and the resulting crash sent rocks crumpling upwards and those were the Himalyas; and the north cooled again.

He talked about how there’s a lot of carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere and it’s not good. And then he started to talk about carbon capture, and that we have the know-how to use technology to find a way to take carbon (ie Carbon dioxide, not black carbon) out of the air. Some scientists think that it will be a great idea to use the unusual configuration of the cliffs of Svalbard for this. Long tubes will be drilled down into the cliffs and carbon dioxide will be injected into the lower layers, which are a type of rock with lots of empty space (he called it air space, ironically); these spaces will hold the CO2. And there just happens to be a layer of shale – a more dense/solid material – atop the more porous layer, so the CO2 is supposed to stay put.

The thing is that when I watched the computer animation of the drill and fill process - all sorts of tiny crevices filling up and expanding outward – all I could think of was that once it filled up to a certain pressure the entire cliffside would just explode outward. And there wouldn’t be a darn bit of CO2 captured. He also didn’t mention at all that Svalbaard is several hundred miles off the north of Norway – surrounded by very cold water - and can only be reached by boat or helicopter. He didn’t mention that there would have to be a huge use of fossil fuel to bring in any of the equipment needed to drill the holes and run the pumps; and every bit of equipment would itself use fossil fuel.

And then he finally got to the place I knew he’d come to (I told you I’d get back to this) … because the only context I’d ever heard of Svalbaard is because of the seed bank. The seedbank – ‘the Vault’. There’s an organization/enterprise, initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, called the Global Crop Diversity Trust. It is an international, independent organization and its goal is to house up to three million different types of seeds from around the world in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, deep inside a mountain close to Longyearbyen, Norway (that island of Svalbard surrounded by cold, cold ocean).

Taking the camera tour of the place – actually seeing some parts of it - has made me even more horrifed and cynical about the entire set up than I already was. Seeds from all over the world, stuck on an island that’s freezing cold. The only way to get to the island is by fossil-fueled transport. Every bit of equipment to dig into the mountainside and construct every bit of the vault had to be shipped there. More fossil fuel. What is the air circulation system and the condensation control system controlled by? Fossil fuel, I bet. Who staffs this?

The Vault was set up as “the ultimate safety net for global crop diversity”, since regular seed banks can be vulnerable to conflict and natural disasters. But, in the situation of apocalypse, of real system collapse – the supposed reason that all the seeds from every country are being stored there, who will continue to maintain the place? Who would be able to get there?

I have enough science education to recognize the long term freezing of seeds in climate-controlled conditions as a really nifty bit of technology. And I do like nifty technology. However, I see the Vault as a sad misdirection of science and wisdom, and an undertaking totally removed from agricultural knowledge. Perhaps it is also purposeful international political misdirection away from real issues of climate change, and the need for small scale, organic agriculture and more people being involved in food production, globally.

Seeds are living entities. And there they rest, in the Svalbard Vault, built on an isolated place, a place inhospitable to the growth of (probably) every seed in the vault.

Professor Stewart seems enthusiastic about our ability to have betterment through technology. But every once in a while in the series, I’ve noted a worry across his face. Or I may just be reading this in, based on my own reaction to the things he’s shown. I hope it’s his handlers and the funders or producers of the show who have made him present in such an ultimately cheerful, hopeful way. I don’t want him to actually believe in the big technology fix that he lead us to in the closing of this last show.

Thoughtful regards,

Why's Woman

London has a new mayor

Good morning,

As of December 6/10, London Ontario will have a new mayor: Joe Fontana.

102,944 people voted for the position of mayor.

Fontana received 48,826 votes: 47.2% of the votes cast for that office.

Now, in case you want a bit more detail and accuracy*, let's look at the number of people who actually voted, because not all eligible voters did.

There are approximately 260,000 eligible voters in London.

102,944 of the 260,000 eligible voters voted for mayor: this means only 39.59% of people voted.

I have a sad feeling that, for a Canadian municipality, this is a 'not bad' voter turnout.

Take Fontana's 48,626 votes as a percentage of 260,000 and you find that only 18.7% of eligible voters in London voted for the person who will be London's mayor... for the next four years.

The mayor is one person on City council, and I was told recently two of the best things a mayor can do is bring people together and let councillors and staff get on with the work they are at City Hall to do.

I hope Mr. F. will do this.

And, to those who didn't vote ... if you happen to come to my station at the store where I work, I sure hope I don't have to listen to your complaints about City Hall.

Best regards to all,

Why's Woman

* numbers are based on results posted on the London City website as of 2:40 a.m., Oct. 26/10.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Community Garden open house & compost

Hi guys, I'm back on ...

Blackfriar's Community Garden showed off today, with garden talks and displays and lots and lots of talking. A city rep came and talked about composting on a larger than usual backyard scale. Greg S. took us through the basics of green and brown and layering and what not to put in the compost ... and kept plugging even when people in the audience threw out a 'yes, but what about?' sort of question for everything he said. He had - literally - a lot to show us, because his 'props' included the oversize composting containment units used at this demonstration site. Pallets have been used to section off bins that are almost the size of horse stalls (maybe sheep stalls?) - so there was a growing mountain of leaves, a beautiful pile of finished compost, a mound of half finished, and a pile in progress that had a heap of recent garden leavings on the top. Active gardener Robyn H. heaved shovels full of soil atop the one heap and then a couple large buckets of water to show how to not be afraid to tackle a really big compost. As a matter of fact, Robyn was the instigator behind the composting zone, and today's open house. It was great, and Robyn, you've 'done good' on this day. Including ordering up beautiful sunshine. I met a fellow who's left his job in computers and is spending times on various organic farms, in preparation of having his own small organic farm. I truly wish that his plan - his dream - comes true. Had another conversation with a fellow who said that opportunity knocks on the door of people who are prepared to answer. I think I'm paraphrasing, but I really liked the idea. I'd taken a load of books down ... ended up not looking in any of them for answers to garden questions; their titles were simply conversation starters - about beekeeping in London, Barbara Kingsolver, Elliot Coleman's 4 season harvest ideas, Rodale press ... gardening. A good day.