Monday, October 29, 2012

Science and Citizen Activism

Good morning. 

I was just reading some pages from the activist guidebook that accompanies the Living Downstream film (

I had to copy down Sandra Steingraber's observations about people, activism, science and hope.

"The first observation is that science and citizen activism can work hand in hand. ... 

"... second ... most people are intensely curious about the ecology of their own community - especially if they perceive that its integrity is threatened. ...

"... third ...what too often dampens all this cooperation and natural curiosity is a paralyzing blanket of fatalism.  Fearful of despair, many people decide to not investigate environmental contaminants.  They have convinced themselves that these problems are intractable and unsolvable, so why learn about them?  That attitude runs counter to the fighting spirit that cancer patients bring to their medical lives.  Instead of defeatism, why not bring that same bravery and hopeful determination to the circumstances of our environmental lives?

"When caring for the critically injured, emergency responders are trained to say, 'I'm not giving up on you'. That's the same message an Ethiopian farmer encouraged me to carry back to the place where I grew up.   Surely it's a phrase that applies to all the communities where we live.  Our fish.  Our rivers.  Our homes."

Steingraber's work focuses on environmental contaminants and links to cancer and other health problems. 

Her three observations seem to me to apply to a wide range of citizen activism.

1.  Science and citizen activism can work hand in hand.
e.g. The science of interactions between plants and soil organisms shows that having a planted area with many types of plants that decompose in place, retains moisture in the soil, increases nutrients in the soil which feeds and strengthens plants, and develops soil that is able to take in moisture.  Citizen activists wanting to maintain green space in a new housing development can look to this science.

2.  Most people are intensely interested in the ecology of their own community.
e.g. Community walks are invariably popular, whether they are tours of heritage buildings or nature walks through environmentally significant areas.  If the groups that lead such tours plan into their presentation direct ways for walkers to communicate with city planners afterward, how many more citizen activists might there be?  This action could be as simple as having people fill out a postcard size comment that will go to a city committee.

3.  We need to find ways to face, handle and move beyond despair and fatalism.
e.g.  Not having the morning clock radio come on to news would go a long way towards this!  Serious stuff before we even get out of bed in the morning is paralyzing!  I'll think more on this one.  But it involves one step at a time, joining with other people, and having some fun along the way.

We're all waiting for wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy.  Let's keep our fingers crossed for places like low-lying New York state coastal areas. 

Best regards. 

Why's Woman

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber - "Go Talk to Your Fish"

Hello.  I hope you are well.

Back in September, I wrote about Sandra Steingraber's article The Fracking of Rachel Carson.  Steingraber is an ecologist, writer, and film collaborator.

She's just now in Canada, touring with the Chandra Chavanesse, the Toronto-based producer of Living Downstream, the film adaptation of Steingraber's book of the same name.  They were interviewed by Karen Gordon this morning on CBC radio's Fresh Air show (

I hadn't realized that there was a second edition of the book Living Downstream, with updated technical/scientific material.  Basically, it's more proof that there are a lot of toxic materials getting into our water (as well as our air and soil) and they are making us sick.

The website for the film ( actually makes available a comprehensive guide to activists, teachers and interested others ... how to talk to people about the ideas in the film, how to get active in your community and beyond.  To have such a resource is brilliant! 

In the forward to this guide Steingraber writes about a trip to East Africa she made while in her 20s, several years after her own bout with bladder cancer.  She met an Ethiopian man whose village had had to move because the army had wrecked the road upstream and all the fish had died.  He asked her about the fish in her own home rivers and she realized she'd never been able to eat any because the water quality had been bad all her life. 

"You must go home, too, and confront the ones poisoning your river.  Go talk to your fish."

His words surely helped set Steingraber's path in life, which has included the book and the film Living Downstream.  "The very words living downstream are intended as a statement of gratitude to that anonymous Ethiopian farmer who first encouraged me to go home and confront sources of pollution in my own community,"  Steingraber says.

Copies of the first edition of Steingraber's book are in the King's University College, Weldon, and Central Libraries.  The film is available at King's.  I'll try to get there soon.

We can all check out the film trailer at

What person or circumstance affected you on your journey to heal the world, or your neighbourhood?

Very best regards,

Why's Woman

Friday, October 19, 2012

Incredible Edible Todmorden

Hi again,

I guess I hadn't posted this!  This is a great talk.  Warhurst is funny and straightforward and inspiring!
Why's Woman

"We came up with a really simple game plan that we put to a public m... We did not consult. We did not write a report" ...      

Incredible Edible Todmorden (UK) is about practical community change, based in our common language of FOOD. Pam Warhurst, founder of Incredible Edible Todmorden gave a "TED Talk" back in May.

Warhurst's voice and enthusiasm just shine. The projects are, in her words, "focused around three plates: a community plate, the way we live our everyday lives; a learning plate, what we teach our kids in school and what new skills we share amongst ourselves; and business, what we do with the pound in our pocket and which businesses we choose to support."

Incredible Edible Todmorden is nothing short of an incredible project that began about 5 years ago in Todmorden, UK.  It is getting things growing all around the market town of Todmorden (pop'n 15,000), and its ideas are being taken up by and inspiring people in communities around the UK and in other countries.

And there's a transcript on the site too!

Edible City: Grow the Revolution

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all well.

Shadow cat has taken over my office chair, so I watched the entire Edible City: Grow the Revolution video standing up and doing stretches.  Take that as showing how interesting it is!  Full of ideas, interesting things to see in the locales.

A link to the entire movie is on an October 17/12 entry on City Farmer:

By Andrew Hasse and Carl Grether
Director and Producers of Edible City

The blurb: Edible City is a fun, fast-paced journey through the Local Good Food movement that’s taking root in the San Francisco Bay Area, across the nation and around the world.Introducing a diverse cast of extraordinary and eccentric characters who are challenging the paradigm of our broken food system, Edible City digs into their unique perspectives and transformative work, finding hopeful solutions to monumental problems. Edible City - movie website:

This is to be watched several times!  Michael Dimeck, of a group called Roots of Change said something that particularly caught my attention.  He said that if the local [self-sufficient, organic] food movement is going to be a movement [and have an effect on communities and policy] it has to develop language and be able to speak its ideas to different communities.  I figure he's including politicians as a community, and the big agriculture advocates.  That's going to be hard ... it's hard to find the place to begin a conversation with  people you figure going in won't agree with you, or want to talk to you.

I guess we'll have to start with Pam Warhurst' idea "If you eat, you're in" that she speaks in the Incredible Edible Todmorden TED talk.

Well, just a quick post.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bill McKibben on Global Warming and some notes on summer drought

Hi everyone,

Hope you are all well.

I just looked at this great 12 minute video of Bill McKibben talking about global warming - and making some great come-backs to some absolutely standard climate denial comments.  He's on a U.S. tv show - Bill Mayer - which I guess is watched by a lot of people, but I don't have cable.

On the video, McKibben mentions that temperatures for the last 329 months in a row worldwide have been higher than the averages of the previous century.  We in London and Southwestern Ontario had high temperatures and drought for most of the summer.  Drought had detrimental effects on some crops, and that followed the weird weather switch we had earlier in the year ... the too high temperatures in March followed by April normals with freezing, that knocked out 80% of Ontario's apple crop, and probably equally high percentages of pears and some other fruit. 

Did I say that we had only one pear on our tree this year?  Don't know how it escaped the frost! .And no apples.  I struggled with watering in the vegetable beds, even though I've got good soil and mulch and do watering at ground level, and interplant so plants fill in space to shade the soil and prevent evaporation.  I did so much thinking about where water was going to this summer!  If I watered in one of the vegetable beds, so that water went down 6-8 inches for roots ... how much of it was migrating out into the paths between the beds?  There's pure science at work in the soil.  Areas that need water take it.  Should I begin experimenting with raised beds that have a less permeable bottom - creating healthy, living soil in the beds ... but a closed system to retain the water.  And on the occasions that it did rain I watched the rain wash down the asphalt roads and parking areas that are nearby.  It makes me crazy!  But, I've mentioned that before.

Back to Bill McKibben.  He has some good books out and is founder of ( is a good source for information about global warming and has information about projects around the world that are bringing attention to global warming's immediacy. Check it out.

Very best to you,

Why's Woman

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Help stop the Canada China Investiment Treaty

Well, hello everyone.  I hope you are having a good day.

I was, until I got an email about the Canada-China Investment Treaty, yet another free-trade style profit-oriented agreement, with a fifteen year duration, penalty clauses for getting out of it, and - to top it off - with a country that has a lousy human rights record.  Yeah, I know ... we're already sucked into China because we've sold out our manufacturing and labour to the cheap offshore.  But this agreement is specifically a Harper arrangement ... that's Prime Minister Harper ... who you would guess rightly just by my tone that I'm not a fan of.  

Here's the test ... let's see how long this post stays up without my site being hacked by the web-roving Harper minions.

To the treaty ... head off to the Green Party page

or keep reading,  

In grumpiness, although with Best regards,

Why's Woman

What Has Harper Done?

On September 9th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement with China, the Canada-China Investment Treaty. The agreement was kept from the Canadian public and Parliament until September 26th, 2012, when it was quietly made public, tabled in the House of Commons. No press release. No technical briefing.  The deal is set for automatic approval. No vote or debate will take place in the House.  Once tabled in the House, the clock started ticking.  21 sitting days from September 26 (October 31), this treaty will bind Canada.

Red Carpet for China

So what is the Canada-China Investment Treaty? Simply put, it is the most significant trade agreement signed by Canada since NAFTA. Only this time our “partner” is the communist government in Beijing, an authoritarian regime with an appalling record on human rights –and it isn’t getting better. This deal requires that Chinese government-owned companies be treated exactly the same as Canadian companies operating in Canada. Once in force, it lasts a minimum of 15 years. If a future government wants to get out of it, a one year notice is required – and even once the treaty is cancelled, any existing Chinese operations in Canada are guaranteed another 15 years of the treaty’s benefits.
We at the Green Party of Canada believe there are many flaws in that agreement. And we think Canadians should know about them:

1. Open bar for Chinese state-owned enterprises

The Canada-China Investment Treaty means easier takeovers of Canadian assets, especially in the resource sector. In the context of the possible takeover of Nexen by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), it is crucial that we collectively pause to consider the wisdom of granting Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such an easy access to our natural resources.

2. The right for China to claim damages over Canadian laws

The Canada-China Investment Treaty allows Chinese companies (including state-owned enterprises) to sue the Government of Canada over decisions that can limit or reduce their expectation of profits. In treaty language, this is called “tantamount to expropriation.”  China can claim damages against Canada for decisions at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level.  Even decisions of our courts can give rise to damages. The damage claims start with six months of diplomatic negotiation. If that fails, damage claims move to arbitration – behind closed doors.  

4. Secret hearings

The Canada-China Investment Treaty would allow Chinese investors to sue Canada outside of Canadian courts. Special arbitrators would take the decisions. These arbitrators, unlike judges, do not have secure tenures or set salaries. Their decision cannot be subject to judicial review. And the arbitrations are to be secret. Even the fact they are happening is to be secret.

5.Right to be heard

Only the federal government is allowed to take part in the arbitration process. Provincial governments or Canadian companies, even if their interests are affected, do not have the right to voice their concerns during the arbitration process.

6. China’s obsession for secrecy

The Canada-China Investment Agreement makes Chinese lawsuits secret . At any time, we will not know if we are being sued and who will decide the case. We will not know what our government is saying on our behalf. We will not know if Canada has been ordered to change government decisions. This is a complete U-turn for Canada who has always insisted on complete openness in investor-state arbitration, for example when signing the Canada-US-Mexico free trade deal.

7. Restrictions on our use of our own resources

The Canada-China Investment Treaty requires that if, in the future, Canada wants to conserve natural resources (fisheries, water, oil, uranium, forests --  everything is covered), and reduce Chinese access to these resources, we are only allowed to do so to the extent we limit our own use of those natural resources.

What the Greens have done

The day after the Canada-China Investment Treaty was made public on September 26th by the Conservatives, Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May held a press conference to warn Canadians on the dangers of the treaty with China. The following day, Elizabeth wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons demanding an emergency debate about the deal. The Speaker turned down May’s request, saying it did not meet the tests of an emergency.
So far we are the only party raising the issue, demanding debate and alerting Canadians to the threat -- reduced sovereignty, reduced democracy, all for more Chinese ownership of Canada's resources.
We now call on Canadian citizens to also demand a democratic process for Canada’s ratification of the Canada-China Investment Treaty while we still have time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting beyond what's making us sick

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Good morning everyone,

Over the last few weeks the vulnerabilities of the human body have come much closer than I like.  I'm fine, for which I'm thankful (just passing Canadian Thanksgiving, I guess I should use that word).

However, I've accompanied one friend to "the surgeon" while she discusses her second hip replacement, and accompanied another friend to a biopsy (results come back pretty soon).  A third friend has been having heart problems; medications haven't quite sorted it yet, but there are good possibilities. A community leader who I respect hugely had some serious surgery a month back; he seems to be making a good recovery, but will have changes in his physical self; he actually posted some excellent social comments during his early recovery.  And just today I've found out that a woman I respect and count on for her local political analysis has come through a bout of cancer and her husband has just had a serious surgery, and come through.

For all the complaints we hear about "wait times" our health care system - and the thousands and thousands of people who really are the health care net - is doing its best to take care of us.  And I am thankful for it.

The health problems most friends have been having are common health problems in their over 50 age group.

Put together with the rise in cancers, ALS, immune system problems ... and arthritis, fibromyalgia, attention deficit disorders and repetitive strain injuries ... I am more convinced than ever that a large percentage of health problems are begun by, or made worse by the toxic soup of pollutants in our air, water and soil (and consequently in our food).  And made worse again by the job and activity styles that contemporary life has brought.

I may not be expressing myself well, because I'm feeling sort of battered by all the news from people lately.  But I'll get all this into the context of working for a healthier environment, through gardening and simpler living ... working my way to recommitting to do something about it all.  (check out your local Transition group!)

After all, this blog is "Saving the World in My Spare Time".

Best regards to all of you,

Why's Woman