Sunday, July 6, 2014

Skunk laid to rest

On return home from a warm market day in the city yesterday, Gundi said she had a touching story. The day before, an elderly skunk was wobbling around beside the house, weaving in and out of the lawn and bushes. He or she seemed too weary to spray and oblivious to human presence as I clapped my hands and shouted . This afternoon our visiting skunk had chosen to come back to us to lay down and fade away, curled up in the long grass.  As the sun was going down, he was already stiff. I carried him cradled on a pitchfork up the hill and laid him to rest in a hollow in the wild grasses by the field of wheat up the hill. The sun’s sinking rays bathed him in light. We figure that coyotes or wolves will come to pick him clean in the coming days.

As I left his resting place, a raven came to carry him over to the other side, cawing and then wheeling off from the tall elm tree into the blue sky, just as he did with our dear black cat Negra when she left us last September.  The sinking sun cast a warm golden glow over the  wheat field. Another life passes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Doug Tompkins – The Next Economy

This YouTube video is, to me, one of the most inspiring, moving, exciting examples on conservation and deep ecology in action. The boldness, beauty and brilliance of these projects in southern Chile and Argentina is breathtaking.
 (From Wikipedia)
Douglas Tompkins (born 1943 in Ohio) is an American environmentalist, prominent landowner, conservationist and a former businessman.
Tompkins co-founded and ran two clothing companies: the outdoor clothing company The North Face; and with his then-wife Susie, the ESPRIT clothing company. Since leaving the business world in 1989, Tompkins has dedicated himself to environmental activism and land conservation. Along with his wife, Kristine Tompkins, he has conserved over 2 million acres (8,100 km2) of wilderness in Chile and Argentina, more than any other private individual. Together, the two have focused Tompkins Conservation on Park Creation, Restoration, Ecological Agriculture and Activism, with the overarching goal of saving biodiversity while leading others to do the same…
The Tompkins' conservation efforts focus on preserving wild landscapes and biodiversity. After purchasing large blocks of wilderness, they work to create national parks, believing that this governmental designation serves as the best mode of guaranteeing long-term conservation…
In addition to preserving pristine wilderness, Tompkins has worked to restore damaged landscapes and protect threatened species. Ecological restoration has been a critical element of most of Tompkins' conservation projects, especially in the degraded grassland regions of Chile
Envisioning "conservation as a consequence of production," Tompkins has developed models of sustainable organic agriculture, which maintain soil health and ecological integrity at the same time that they provide for families and support the local economy…
Unlike many land conservationists, Tompkins has always been both a conservationist and environmental activist. Through his Foundation for Deep Ecology, he has published a series of large-format, photo activist books on various environmental issues… In addition, Tompkins has been involved in several large environmental campaigns in Chile and Argentina, such as the Chilean Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, which is opposing the construction of five dams on two of Patagonia's largest and wildest rivers…
Eco Barons Edward Humes's 2009 account of the "dreamers, schemers, and millionaires who are saving our planet," uses Tompkins as the first example of this new group of philanthropists.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It is now legal to drill oil and build pipelines in B.C.'s provincial parks

Image: Garth Lenz, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society [6] 

Published on (
By Carol Linnitt  March 28, 2014

A little-known bill, the Park Amendment Act [7], that will drastically alter the management of B.C. parks  [8] became law Monday, creating controversy among the province's most prominent environmental and conservation organizations. The passage of Bill 4 [7] will make way for industrial incursions into provincial parklands including energy extraction, construction of pipelines and industry-led research.
The bill, quietly introduced in mid-February, has already met significant resistance in B.C. where the Minister of Environment received "thousands of letters" of opposition, according to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Peter Wood. "There has been absolutely zero public consultation, and the pace at which this was pushed through suggests this was never a consideration," he said in a press release.
"This Bill undermines the very definition of what a 'park' is," Gwen Barlee from the Wilderness Committee said in the same statement, "given that our protected areas will now be open to industrial activity."
"This is a black day for B.C. Parks - the provincial government is ensuring that none of our parks are now safe from industrial development," she said.
According to staff lawyer Andrew Gage with the West Coast Environmental Law the bill is "difficult to square" with the sentiments underlying the B.C. Parks Service, which claims provincial parks and conservancies are a "public trust" for the "protection of natural environments for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public."
In an overview piece [9], Gage wrote "Bill 4 allows for industry (and others) to carry out 'research' in provincial parks related to pipelines, transmission lines, roads and other industrial activities that might require park land. It also reduces legal protection for smaller parks."
He noted that preliminary "research" carried out by mining company Taseko in preparation for an environmental assessment of the controversial Prosperity Mine included the drilling of 59 test pits, eight drill holes 50 to 75 metres in depth, and ten holes roughly 250 metres in depth to collect metallurgical samples. The tests also required the creation of 23.5 kilometres of exploratory trails.
Bill 4 claims permits for "research" will only be considered after a "thorough review of protected area values,” "yet, Gage writes, "this requirement is nowhere to be found in Bill 4."
This amounts to a “'trust, us, we’re government' approach," writes Gage.
Previously park use permits were only granted to those able to demonstrate the proposed activity was "necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved." Bill 4 rids the Park Act of this safeguard.
"The government has sent a clear signal that it is open to having pipelines cut through our globally renowned protected areas," said Al Martin of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. "The Act will now allow industrial expansion in some of B.C.'s most beloved parks, placing them at risk."
Critics are also concerned the changes will open pristine landscapes to environmentally destructive oil and gas extraction processes.
"This legislation opens the door to pipelines, oil and gas drilling and industrial activities that are counter to the values that created our parks system," said Darryl Walker from the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU). "If Bill 4 passes, 2014 will be the year that B.C. Parks changed forever," he said.
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society [10] and a group of other environmental NGOs have already collected nearly 10,000 signatures and letters in an effort to stop [10] the implementation of the bill.
These groups are claiming the total lack of public consultation left local communities, park users and conservation groups out of the decision making process. 


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fukushima, Three Years On: Disaster Still Lingers

20,000 people used to live here, now it's a ghost town. Welcome to Namie, Japan, now inside the nuclear Exclusion Zone created by the Fukushima disaster. Photo from

Katherine Fuchs of Friends of the Earth writes: “Today is the third anniversary of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan that caused three nuclear reactors in Fukushima to melt down. Three years later, 83,000 residents remain unable to return to their homes in the 4,500 square mile exclusion zone surrounding the wrecked reactors. With 31 reactors of the same design currently operating in the U.S., we should all be asking, “will it happen here next?”

Low levels of radiation will reach ocean waters along the United States’ West Coast next month, scientists said, as fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster drifts across the Pacific Ocean.

Radiation will be at levels low enough to leave humans and the environment unharmed, scientists predict, but there are calls for increased monitoring as federal agencies currently do not sample Pacific Coast seawater for radiation, reports USA Today.

As reported by Andrew Freedman at
“The disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, destroyed tens of thousands of lives and had ripple effects around the world as nations reliant upon or considering nuclear power rethought their plans.

The meltdown of three of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, about 130 miles north of Tokyo, was the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986. The result of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and associated tsunami waves that reached heights exceeding 100 feet, the disaster demonstrated that nuclear power plant operators may not have anticipated the full range of worst-case scenarios that could beset their facilities.

The tsunami's swift and massive waves crippled the power plant by taking out its power supply and cooling system, with workers resorting to desperate measures to cool the reactors to prevent an even more significant disaster.

The damage at the plant was so severe that more than 100,000 residents of the nearby Fukushima Prefecture had to be relocated, and complex cleanup operations at the plant continue.

While the damage was confined to Japan, the waves were detected across the Pacific Ocean, moving at speeds of up to 500 mph.

In the U.S., the disaster spurred the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the 100 nuclear power plants operating in the country, to re-assess safety planning and issue some new requirements for plants that are of similar design as Fukushima. Exelon, which is the country’s largest nuclear-reactor operator, runs 17 of the commercial reactors. According to a New York Times report, the company expects to spend up to $500 million upgrading its plants based on lessons learned from Fukushima.

Fukushima woke up the world nuclear industry, not just the U.S.,” the chairwoman of the NRC, Allison M. Macfarlane, told the Times. “It woke everybody up and said: ‘Hey, you didn’t even think about these different issues happening. You never thought about an earthquake that could create a tsunami that would swamp your emergency diesel generators and leave you without power for an extended period. You never planned for more than one reactor going down at a site, you have to think about that now.’ ”

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have updated earthquake data for the central and eastern U.S., providing nuclear operators with new information about the earthquake risks their plants face, and the safety standards they should meet. Coastal plants face other risks, such as storm surge flooding from coastal storms such as hurricanes, and the long-term challenge of sea level rise due to global warming.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Rolling English Road

It has been a long, wild winter. A sting of nostalgia for the old ways in the old country bit me this morning as I snow-shoed out to the road once more and then tried to move the tractor from under mountains of snowdrift. G. K. Chesterton was a fascinating, erudite social critic who espoused a more just political system called Distributism, which has often been described in opposition to both socialism and capitalism, which distributists see as equally flawed and exploitative. He also had a joyous sense of humour as the following paean to the ways of old attests:

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow Spiral

We now have a  snow spiral punctuating the landscape. Not a crop circle, but a snow spiral. I paid a visit early this sunny morning on snowshoes, essential footware for this wild winter of ours. The winds keep on blowing, and the snow keeps on falling and drifting. In the open fields the cover is not that deep – ideal foundation for a snow spiral to meditate upon from the upstairs reading room window.

So, what do I as an organic farmer without heated greenhouses do in the winter?
Of late: research food and farming, post blogs, muse on nature and political manipulations, promote my book High Up in the Rolling Hills with a blog tour, dream of the Greek Islands, watch Zorba The Greek in black and white on TV, read Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis, share convivial dinner with friends, bone up on soils, minerals and micro-organisms, chop wood, feed the woodstove, clear the heavy snow off the greenhouses, nursing sore leg muscles navigate the way through the drifts of snow to the car by the road and the outside world, bring in supplies of Seville oranges, lemons, sugar for marmalade making, and bottles of wine for sustenance, take in the opening of the Sochi winter Olympics (shaking my head at hearing of Canada’s new “swagger”). Stuff like that. Oh yes, and look out on a snow spiral glittering in the rising sun. With hard work for ten months combined with rest, snow and sun to recharge with over the two main months of winter, it is a wonderful living.

Armed with our fresh batch of Seville orange marmalade (currently suffusing the house with its citrusy aroma), grass-fed beef and dried herbs, spices and teas, we do aim to be at Evergreen Brickworks farmers market next Saturday, February 15, then weekly from March 8 on. Hard to believe that a month from now, it is traditionally time to turn over the thawing soil in the greenhouses and plant the first of the spring greens. I think we may be still skating on thin ice by then and putting off the growing season for a week or two. We’ll just have to see what Nature has in store for us next…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hot Enough For You?

(Photo: Australian Bureau of Meteorology/)

As reported by
January 16, 2014

More Severe Heat Waves to Come as Australia Sizzles

by Phil Mercer

Heat waves in Australia are becoming more common and severe, according to a report released on Thursday by the nation's Climate Council. The independent non-profit organization insists that extreme weather patterns can be attributed to climate change. The report comes as southern Australia braces for more punishing heat and emergency crews battle dozens of bushfires.
Temperatures in the southern city of Adelaide have been near 46 degrees Celsius, while Melbourne is on track to record its second-longest heat wave since the 1830s. Strong winds are likely to increase the bushfire danger later this week in South Australia and Victoria, where more than 1,000 fires have been reported. Some 40 are currently burning out of control.
The Climate Council said that periods of intense heat in Australia are becoming more frequent, hotter and are lasting longer. The council predicts that such heat waves will become increasingly severe in the future. Researchers blame climate change, and believe that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere.

​​Professor Will Steffen, one of the authors of the Climate Council report, said events spanning many years were studied.

“We are putting together [data] over many decades to look at longer term trends rather than individual events. It is when you do that that you start seeing those trends of longer heat waves, more frequent heat waves, hotter heat waves, and they are actually starting earlier in the season and this shows you that the basic fundamental characteristics of heat waves are indeed changing towards conditions that are worse in terms of human health and well-being,” said Steffen.  
Health authorities in Australia have warned that extreme heat can kill. In February 2009, 173 people were killed when bushfires tore across the state of Victoria in what was known as the Black Saturday bushfire disaster.

​​In South Australia, dozens of people have been treated for heat-related illnesses and more ambulance crews have been put on duty; the number of patients is expected to rise later in the week.

Bill Griggs, from the Royal Adelaide Hospital, said the heat can cause a variety of medical issues or exacerbate existing ones.

“The commonest things are actually the deterioration in existing medical conditions, they can be affected by a degree of heat stress, but you get other simple things ranging from heat rash or prickly heat, some people get cramps, some can become dizzy and faint. But it's when you get more affected and run the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” said Griggs.
​​The extreme heat has also affected the world of sport, forcing matches at the Australian Open in Melbourne to be suspended. The punishing conditions are expected to continue into Friday, while a cool change is forecast over the weekend.

Scientists said that 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record. In many parts of the country, 2014 has started in a similar fashion.