Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall Canoeing, Camping; Giving Thanks

On the Sunday following Canadian Thanksgiving, my paddle pal David and I embarked on our tenth annual Fall canoeing and camping trip. After two trips each to Algonquin, Temagami, Massasauga, and Killarney, we chose to take on our second visit to Kawartha Highlands, an hour north of our homes. Serpentine Lake was our destination, four portages up Anstruther Lake, via Rathbun and Copper Lakes to the recommended island campsite greeting us as we entered Serpentine.

New rules of this newly-designated provincial park demanded that we book our exact campsite in advance, even though we were the only campers in the park this late in the season. It is a glorious time of year to get out there in Nature, with fall colours resplendent and the weather constantly changing, with sunshine, showers, wind gusts and calm, warmth and nippy cold. And nobody but ourselves and the wildlife to enjoy it… or so we had assumed.

The Park had recommended renting our canoe direct at the put-in at Anstruther Marina. Of course, with several portages to negotiate up a height of 150 feet and piles of essential sustenance, cooking materials, shelter, and clothing, we would like to have had a nice light preferably Kevlar canoe to carry and be carried by, as was our custom. Instead, we were landed with a short heavy fibreglass beast which we cursed as we plodded lugging it from lake to lake not four (as per the map) but five portages. (Beavers had created extra work for us as we manoeuvred around their dam). At the top of the first portage, we encountered two hunters visible from afar as they approached from their camp in their day-glo orange jackets and caps. Uh-huh, it’s moose-hunting season. Not only were we not forewarned by the Park when we booked our campsite for four nights, but we were unaware that our route is in the thick of moose country. In thirty years of living in Ontario and many trips out in wild country, I had never encountered one of these majestic beasts. The two smokes-and-beer-toting hunters sneered at our lack of day-glo orange garb and warned that there would be hunting going on all around us up on Serpentine Lake.

The headwind whipped up Copper Lake and we were happy to enter the calm of the river winding through the wetland leading to our final portage (see photo above). After all, we had been paddling and mostly portaging for six hours or so, and we were eager to set up camp. Tired, I took a wrong turn with my first load at the final portage. I returned to pick up the packs, to be rewarded by the late-afternoon sight of a large moose rooting around in the adjacent wetland basin surrounded by forest. 

I was awestruck as I always have been when sighting white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, grey wolves, coyotes, red foxes, black bears at home in and around the fields below our house. This was special to me as the moose looked dark and primeval in its grandeur against the pallor of the faded grasses midst which he or she grazes and roams.

After our reconnaissance around our temporary home and set-up of camp, we went for a wander around the island. Lo, and behold, there was another moose grazing in another wetland opposite us. Another breathtaking sight to behold, I christened him George.


We spent our first full day just bumbling around, resting up after the exertions of getting up here to this high lake in these Kawartha Highlands. Serpentine is pretty, with lots of bays, rocks, and mixed trees. By no means as dramatic as the white quartzite ranges and pink rock of Killarney or the old growth forests of Temagami or the Barron Canyon in Algonquin or the weathered pink rock of Georgian Bay off Massasauga, the landscape is softer, more subtle, but the wetland basins and winding rivers provide a pleasant foil to the mixed woodlands and lakes. And it provides rich habitat for the moose, the largest and grandest of all the wildlife we have encountered on these ten trips.

By the roaring campfire after our grilled steak and red wine dinner, we toasted George and gave thanks for all that these forays out to experience the feral bring us – a humble sense of place in this world, an awe of the wild earth and the blazing night sky heavens above, a joy in being temporarily and spacially one stage removed from the hubbub of humanity, a simple gratitude to be here and now. Nature is the perfect host.

And yet… Nature is under constant threat, and George is under imminent threat. As we breakfasted on bacon and eggs, the first of the day’s day-glo orange-populated motor boats sped down the lake from one hunt camp to the next. We made ourselves visible as they blew past us. In mid-afternoon, my heart sank as another motor-boat approached and docked opposite our island. Two day-glo hunters disembarked and headed with their long-guns toward George’s wetland. After an hour or so, David could bear the tension no longer and bellowed out GEORGE. Not once, but twice. We heard no gunshots and were happy to see the two hunters emerge from the forest a while later, fire up their motor and leave. George lives another day. And the next day, as we paddled casually around the lake, lunching, collecting firewood, clambering up the rocks to lap up the sun and the view over our island, no hunters disturbed the peace, George was free to graze, and a day on this particular piece of Earth unfolded as it should.

On our final morning before heading back to commitments, duties and eking out a living, we breakfasted in bright sunshine and began to pack up camp. The distant drone of motor-boats heralded the arrival of the big guns and the launch of a hunting operation conducted with military-style precision. Nine day-glo hunters in three boats motored in at speed, all fully armed and accompanied by two dogs, whistles, and radio communication devices. David stopped one boat to ensure our safety in negotiating the trail we would be taking back, directly through their hunting territory. We heard dogs barking in the distance, then a few loud echoing shots, then nothing. Six hunters emerged from the wood, and a boatload of them left. We headed out onto the trail, warning loudly CAMPERS COMING THROUGH, all the while hoping that George and his kin were alive and safe.

As David Suzuki wrote about hunting in this particular park: “While I don’t hunt (although I love fishing), I’m not opposed to sustainable hunting and fishing for subsistence and even commercial purposes. But we should be clear: the Ontario government’s proposed hunting rules for Kawartha Highlands Park are not about putting venison on the table. This is about expanding the human footprint within a protected area. Doing so is hardly consistent with the park’s stated mandate to “preserve, protect and enhance the natural composition and abundance of native species, biological communities and ecological processes in the Park.” I’d bet it’s also at odds with the values of most citizens in Ontario, who believe that parks should provide a safe haven for wildlife - especially considering that more than 90 percent of Ontario is already open for hunting.”        

The park’s website notes: “Large wilderness areas, such as the northern portion of the Kawartha Highlands, may provide refuge for species that are particularly vulnerable to human disturbance or which deliberately avoid areas with human activity.” This is especially applicable to moose. “Refuge” is not provided by the sanctioned hunting.

We go on our trips into Nature precisely so that we can witness a safe haven for wildlife, and a safe haven for all the wild in all its wonder. We do not go to witness hunting, shooting, culling, mining, logging, which are all at odds in parks with conservation and with the Ontario public’s right to quiet peaceful relaxation in Nature. As David Suzuki concludes: “Wildlife species in Canada are already under enormous pressure, due mainly to habitat loss and fragmentation. We need to act in a precautionary way now to minimize our actions that affect the ability of species to survive and evolve.”

Next year we will be forced to find our little piece of wild Nature elsewhere. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Naturally-Acquired versus Vaccine-Induced Immunity

Dr. Mercola is a great resource for the latest information and advice on holistic natural approaches to health issues. I reproduce this article which appeared today as it gets to the heart of the argument about the relative merits of using our naturally-acquired immunity and increased use of vaccines.

By Dr. Mercola
September 18, 2012 

The Canadian press recently broke the story that new research confirms initial findings that the flu vaccine appeared to actually increase people's risk of getting sick with H1N1, and cause more serious bouts of illness to boot.
According to the Vancouver Sun:1
"Researchers, led by Vancouver's Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza expert at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, noticed in the early weeks of the [2009 H1N1] pandemic that people who got a flu shot for the 2008-09 winter seemed to be more likely to get infected with the pandemic virus than people who hadn't received a flu shot. Five studies done in several provinces showed the same unsettling results."

New Study Confirms: Flu Vaccine Really Does Increase Your Risk of Serious Pandemic Flu Illness

In March last year, ABC News reported:2
"There is renewed controversy surrounding influenza vaccines, with some studies showing people immunised against the seasonal flu might have been at greater risk during the swine flu outbreak...
'What was a bit surprising when we looked at some of the data from Canada and Hong Kong in the last year is that people who have been vaccinated in 2008 with the seasonal or ordinary vaccine seemed to have twice the risk of getting swine flu compared to the people who hadn't received that vaccine,' [Professor Collignon from the Australian National University] said.
ANU microbiologists say it is the opposite of what vaccines should do.
Professor Collignon says the findings of the study also highlight the benefits for healthy people who are exposed to some illnesses. 'Some interesting data has become available which suggests that if you get immunised with the seasonal vaccine, you get less broad protection than if you get a natural infection,' he said.
'It is particularly relevant for children because it is a condition they call original antigenic sin, which basically means if you get infected with a natural virus, that gives you not only protection against that virus but similar viruses or even in fact quite different flu viruses in the next year.'
'We may be perversely setting ourselves up that if something really new and nasty comes along, that people who have been vaccinated may in fact be more susceptible compared to getting this natural infection.'" [Emphasis mine]
Truer words are hard to find in mainstream media. This is, after all, the fundamental basics of immunity against disease. Vaccine-induced immunity to disease is trying to mimic this natural mechanism, but failing miserably in doing so...
Case in point: research published in the Journal of Virology3 in November of last year also confirmed that the seasonal flu vaccine may actually weaken children's immune systems and increase their chances of getting sick from influenza viruses not included in the vaccine. Further, when blood samples from 27 healthy, unvaccinated children and 14 children who had received an annual flu shot were compared, the former unvaccinated group naturally built up more antibodies across a wider variety of influenza strains compared to the latter vaccinated group – which is exactly what Professor Collignon referred to in the quote above.
While the initial reports of increased pandemic disease risk associated with flu vaccination were downplayed and widely dismissed as some odd Canadian phenomenon, a new study suggests this was no fluke. According to the featured article:4
"Skowronski and a group of researchers have recreated the event in ferrets. Their findings were presented... at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a major international infectious diseases conference taking place in San Francisco. Skowronski... worked with 32 ferrets, giving half the 2008 seasonal flu shot and the rest a placebo injection. The work was blinded, meaning the researchers didn't know which ferrets received which shot. Later, all the ferrets were infected with the pandemic H1N1 virus.
The ferrets in the vaccine group became significantly sicker than the other animals, though all recovered. 'The findings are consistent with the increased risk that we saw in the human studies,' Skowronski said." [Emphasis mine]

Proof Positive – Vaccine Industry Really Does Not Know What it's Doing...

According to the Canadian MetroNews5, researchers in other countries have also reported similar interactions between the 2008-09 flu vaccine and increased risk for more serious H1N1 illness. Remarkably, even though no one understands the reasons for this paradoxical effect, Dr. Skowronski "insisted the findings should not deter people from getting seasonal flu shots."6
"Two theories exist about what might have been behind the effect, said Skowronski, who favors the first. That theory relates to the fact that the 2008 vaccine protected against an H1N1 virus that was related to – but not similar enough to – the pandemic virus to generate antibodies that would neutralize it. The thinking is that might actually have facilitated infection with the pandemic virus," MetroNews reports.7
"Skowronski likened the mechanism to what happens with dengue viruses. People who have been infected with one subtype of dengue don't develop immunity to the other three. In fact, they are more at risk of developing a life-threatening form of dengue if they are infected with one of the other strains.
Skowronski called the second theory the infection block hypothesis. Having a bout of the flu gives the infected person antibodies that may be able, for a time, to fend off other strains; flu shots only protect against the strains they contain. So under this theory, people who didn't have flu in 2008 because they got a flu shot may have been less well armed against the pandemic virus."
It's important to realize that these are only theories, and researchers still don't know if either of them is correct. However, IF the first theory is correct, then this troubling effect is believed to be limited to pandemics in which the pandemic virus is related to a human flu virus in circulation. According to this theory, a virus with a hemagglutinin protein that humans haven't been previously exposed to would probably not trigger increased infection risk. However, as stated by Dr. Skowronski:8
"My own opinion, my own feeling would be that if you have a completely different hemagglutinin like H5 or H7... you may not see that... But who knows, frankly? The wise man knows he knows nothing when it comes to influenza, so you always have to be cautious in speculating."
That statement about sums up what the CDC and vaccine industry really know about what they are doing! Yet you're expected to just take their word, again and again, that vaccines are safe and the most effective form of disease prevention...

Flu Shots for All (Science Optional)

For the past several years, physicians in America have been insisting that every child age 6 months to 18 years must get an annual flu shot. Making matters worse, health officials have now ramped up those recommendations, telling EVERY person over the age of 6 months get a flu shot, healthy or not, low risk or high.
With all of those vaccinations, will you become more susceptible to influenza-related complications and death?
We really don't know, but if the interaction between the 2008-09 flu vaccine and H1N1 is any indication, the answer is likely to be yes. Health officials have leapt ahead with recommendations of "flu shots for all" without safety studies – so by getting a flu vaccine, you are effectively offering yourself up as a laboratory rat. In other words, YOU are the safety study!
To get a preview of the potential risks you take every time you accept a seasonal flu vaccine, listen to the following interview with a Connecticut artist and her mother, a former professor of nursing, who developed Guillaine-Barre syndrome after getting a seasonal flu shot in 2008 and today is permanently disabled with total body paralysis. This family has chosen to share their heartbreaking story to help those who have had the same experience feel less alone, and to educate others about what it means to be vaccine injured. What happened to this family is a tragic reminder of just how important it is to make well-informed decisions about vaccinations.


 All Vaccines Compromise Natural Immunity

The more vaccines are studied, the more apparent it becomes that safety studies are sorely lacking, as vaccine expert and pediatrician Larry Palevsky explains. For example, those that have been done compare vaccinated populations only to other vaccinated populations, and only follow vaccinated kids for 4-6 weeks.
As mentioned earlier, there are major differences between naturally-acquired immunity and vaccine-induced immunity – and science does confirm this. Those who disagree are simply ignoring the evidence and perpetuating ignorance. Unfortunately, while obtaining natural immunity has far greater benefits, this fact seems to be completely overlooked in the United States, considering it's recommended that U.S. babies receive 26 doses of vaccines within the first 12 months of life (which, incidentally, is twice as many vaccinations as are given to babies in Sweden and Japan).
When children are born, they develop natural immunity to a large variety of microorganisms that they breathe, eat, and touch. The immune responses initiated by cells lining their airways, skin and intestines are very important in creating "memory" and protection against the microorganisms they naturally come into contact with every day. That primary line of defense is a very important step in the maturation of your child's immune system – and it's bypassed when he/she gets a vaccine.
With vaccination, you are merely creating an antibody, but as the Journal of Virology study9 showed, the unvaccinated children actually built up more antibodies against a wider variety of flu virus strains than the vaccinated children!
Vaccines usually do not impart long-term immunity because they don't create the kind of memory that occurs when you go through the process of a natural immune response. Natural exposure does not necessarily lead to symptoms of infection – it is possible for your immune system to respond and for you to obtain natural immunity without actually getting sick, if your immune system is functioning well. In fact, vaccines do NOT strengthen the healthy functioning of your immune system, but actually weaken it. Here are just some of the ways vaccines can impair and alter your immune response:
·       Some components in vaccines are neurotoxic and may depress your immune response or cause brain and immune dysfunction, particularly heavy metals such as mercury preservatives (thimerosal) and aluminum adjuvants
·      The lab altered vaccine viruses themselves may also affect your immune response in a negative way
·       Vaccines may alter your t-cell function and lead you to become chronically ill
·      Vaccines can trigger allergies or autoimmune disorders. Vaccines introduce large foreign protein molecules into your body. Your body can respond to these foreign particles in a way that causes an allergic reaction or triggers autoimmunity, especially in persons genetically or biologically vulnerable to allergy and autoimmunity
Getting a flu shot can affect your cardiovascular system because vaccination stimulates an acute inflammatory response in your body, which also could become chronic. One 2007 study published in the Annals of Medicine10 concluded that:
"Abnormalities in arterial function and LDL oxidation may persist for at least two weeks after a slight inflammatory reaction induced by influenza vaccination. These could explain in part the earlier reported increase in cardiovascular risk during the first weeks after an acute inflammatory disorder."

What You Need to Know about Informed Consent

Informed consent is especially important when it comes to vaccination because no one can predict whether you or your child will suffer a devastating vaccine reaction. Furthermore, doctors have been notoriously lax when it comes to providing patients with full disclosure of potential serious vaccine side effects.
All Americans should know that if your doctor does not provide the CDC Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) sheet, or directly discuss the potential symptoms of side effects of the vaccination you or your child is about to receive BEFORE vaccination takes place, it is a violation of federal law. Remember, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 requires doctors and other vaccine providers to:
·      Give written vaccine benefit and risk information to the person or guardian of the person before vaccination takes place (and, ethically, a doctor should be willing to discuss and answer all questions the patient or parent has about vaccination)
·      Keep a permanent record of all vaccines given and the manufacturer's name and lot number
·      Enter serious health problems, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths that occur after vaccination in the patient's permanent medical record
·      File an official report of all serious health problems, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following vaccination to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS)
If a vaccine provider fails to inform, record or report, it is a violation of federal law, and I would encourage anyone who is injured from a vaccine, who did not receive the proper warnings, to use the legal system to hold the physician responsible. For more information about the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and your rights under that law, go to the website of the nonprofit National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) at, where you also can find referenced information on diseases and vaccines to help you make well educated vaccine choices. You can also sign up to be a user of the NVIC Advocacy Portal to work to protect the legal right to make vaccine choices in your state.

How to Protect Yourself Against Influenza

So the question is, why do we continue doing something that has been proven ineffective and risky? As Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This certainly could be said to apply to the practice of getting a flu shot every year and expecting to be protected against the flu without taking a health risk.
While the media is sure to continue hyping potential pandemic influenzas, remember that a healthy immune system is your best and primary defense against any viral threat. The following simple guidelines will help you keep your immune system in optimal working order so that you're far less likely to acquire influenza or other respiratory infections to begin with or, if you do, your immune system will deal with it without complications:
·       Optimize your vitamin D levels. As I've previously reported, optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the absolute best strategies for avoiding infections of ALL kinds. This is probably the single most important and least expensive action you can take. I would STRONGLY urge you to have your vitamin D level monitored to confirm your levels are therapeutic at 50-70 ng/ml year-round.
An inexpensive option to get your vitamin D levels checked on a regular basis is to join the GrassrootsHealth D*action Project.
·       Avoid Sugar, Fructose and Processed Foods. Sugar decreases the function of your immune system almost immediately. Be aware that sugar is present in foods you may not suspect, like ketchup and fruit juice.
·       Get Enough Rest. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you're tired, if your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for it to fight the flu. Be sure to check out my article Guide to a Good Night's Sleep for some great tips to help you get quality rest.
·      Have Effective Tools to Address Stress. We all face some stress every day, but if stress becomes overwhelming then your body will be less able to fight off the flu and other illness. If you feel that stress is taking a toll on your health, consider using an energy psychology tool such as the Emotional Freedom Technique, which is remarkably effective in relieving stress associated with all kinds of events, from work to family to trauma.
·      Exercise. When you exercise, you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of finding an illness before it spreads.
·      Take a Good Source of High Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats. Increase your intake of healthy and essential fats like the omega-3 found in krill oil, which is crucial for maintaining health. It is also vitally important to avoid damaged omega-6 oils that are trans fats and in processed foods as it will seriously damage your immune response.
·      Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Remember that antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary and cause more harm than good. Instead, identify a simple chemical-free soap that you can switch your family to.
·      Use Natural Antibiotics. Examples include oil of oregano and garlic. These work like broad-spectrum antibiotics against bacteria, viruses, and protozoa in your body. And unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, they do not appear to lead to resistance.
·      Avoid Hospitals. I'd recommend avoiding hospitals unless you're having an emergency, as hospitals are prime breeding grounds for infections of all kinds and could be one of the likeliest places you could be exposed to any new bug. Also keep in mind that virtually all vaccinations have   the potential to reduce the effective functioning of your immune system, NOT make it stronger!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bittersweet Day

August 29. Bittersweet Day. What would have been my dear Mum’s 89th birthday. The ginkgo tree planted in her memory in our garden has had to endure a challenging summer of extreme dryness and heat, but is bearing up.

As Hurricane Isaac bears down on New Orleans to torment once more, farmers in wide swathes of North America scratch their heads and ponder the consequences of months of agonizing almost total lack of rain. In this neck of the woods we have had sporadic cloudbursts passing by to the north and south, but no soaking sustenance here on our fields. The extreme aridity made weeding of sub-sized carrots and beets impossible, so grasses and weeds filled in mercilessly. The hard-baked soil is presently too dusty to till. Harvests are down, planting is down, but still we continue to water most plants every two to three days, keeping them going, if not thriving. The remarkably resilient lettuce in the field and the mixed salad greens under row covers have fared fairly well.

Yesterday’s airing of Beethoven’s glorious Pastoral Symphony was a timely reminder that the fierce raging storm is followed by calm and sweet serenity. The fourth movement depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, building from just a few drops of rain to a great climax with thunder, lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain. The storm eventually passes, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance.  The rapturous music makes the listener feel the tense disposition that captures man helplessly facing the state of nature. When the storm is over, all living creatures come to the surface, taking their place in the natural cycle.

September sees the return of cool nights, more moderate temperatures, moisture in the air, activity in the soil, and energy in the plants. Or at least, we can only hope so, in this season of testing extremes. An eerily dry and exceptionally mild winter was followed by March’s early heat setting plants off to precocious growth, and by April’s late frosts nipping fruits in the bud. A delightful May was the last moderation in weather conditions that we witnessed in this summer hard on farmers, fit only for sun seekers and desert lovers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Plans to sell off England’s public forests abandoned

Here is a good-news story, as reported today by Michael McCarthy in

(If only policy makers here in North America could be so attentive to strong public opinion in managing our fragile natural resources).

Controversial plans to sell off England’s public forest estate were finally abandoned by the Government today, after an expert panel called for the 637,000 acres of woodlands owned by the Forestry Commission to remain in public ownership.

The panel was hastily set up last year after the initial plan to dispose of the forests, and raise £250m, brought down an unprecedented barrage of criticism on the Government and forced the first major U-turn of the Coalition’s time in office, with the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, shelving the scheme and publicly apologising for putting it forward in the first place.

Today, barely minutes after the report was published online, Mrs Spelman announced that she accepted its main recommendation and that the idea of a sell-off, one of the first of the Tories’ ‘Big Society’ policies, had been given up for good. “Our forests will stay in public hands,” she said.

"We will not sell the public forest estate. We'll be talking to all those who are passionate about our forests to decide how we will manage our forests for the future.”

It remains to be seen whether ministers will accept several other major recommendations made by the panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, which range from setting up two new bodies to look after woodlands, to increasing the amount of forest cover in Britain by half – from ten per cent of the land area, to fifteen per cent, by 2060.

Britain has one of the lowest percentages of forested land in Europe, where the average is 37 per cent, and indeed, a century ago UK forest cover stood at merely five per cent.

The panel, which included the heads of the National Trust, the  Confederation of Forest Industries, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB among others, and which received the remarkably high number of 42,000 individual submissions, called for a new culture of valuing woodlands for their benefits to people, wildlife and the green economy.

 “England’s trees, woods and forests represent a vast and underused national resource,” it asserted.

The panel said that in future, the public forests, which represent 18 per cent of the total, should be managed by a new body evolved from Forest Enterprise England, currently part of the Forestry Commission.

The new body should be free from political control and should be governed by a charter, they said, which would set out its mission to provide public benefits, to be delivered through a group of guardians or trustees accountable to Parliament.

It also recommended that all English woodlands, public and private, should be overseen and promoted by a new body evolved from Forest Service, the part of the Commission currently delivering scientific expertise, incentives and regulation.

It proposed that funding such new bodies to 2020 would cost £22m and £7m respectively.

Asked if he thought this was “a big ask” of the Government during a recession, Bishop Jones said: “It’s an important question. These are important sums of money, but relatively so  – when you discover that nine kilometres of dual carriageway costs 160 million pounds, you think that 22 million for the public forest estate, given all the benefits it delivers for society, is a legitimate call on the public purse.”

The panel’s report was widely welcomed today. Hilary Allison, policy director of the Woodland Trust, said the charity was delighted that the Government had confirmed the public forest estate was safe.

“It is vital that the Government now works towards ensuring the estate is effectively resourced and developed to deliver more benefits for more people,” she said.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't Panic, Go Organic

Though this article first appeared a few months back, its message is ever pertinent:
Approaching the Collapse: Don't Panic, Go Organic
Monday, August 29, 2011
by Ronnie Cummins

( So-called "business as usual" is neither sustainable, nor even possible, for much longer. Out-of-control energy corporations, Wall Street, the Pentagon, agribusiness/biotech corporations, and indentured politicians have driven us to the brink. They tell us: don't worry; trust the experts, things will soon return to "normal." But reality and common sense tell a different story.

Extreme weather, crop failures, commodities speculation, land grabs, escalating prices, soil degradation, depleted aquifers, routine contamination, food-related disease, and mass hunger represent the "new norm" for food and farming. The global agricultural system, with the exception of the rapidly growing organic sector, rests upon a shaky foundation. Patented seeds, genetically engineered crops, expensive and destructive chemical and energy-intensive inputs, factory farms, monoculture production, eroding soils, unsustainable water use, taxpayer subsidies, and long-distance hauling and distribution, including massive imports that amount to 15% of the U.S. food supply amount to a recipe for disaster.

A "perfect storm" or "ultimate recession" as described by Lester Brown in his new book, World on the Edge, could develop at any time, precipitated by extreme weather and crop failures on a massive scale. A growing number of nations, including the oil giants and China, are now scrambling to secure overseas farmland to feed their domestic populations. World grocers and supermarkets, including the U.S., have, on the average, only a four-day supply of food on hand. An oil shock, global disease pandemic, prolonged drought in the American heartland, or nuclear meltdown could set off a global food panic. Supermarket shelves and grain silos would be stripped bare within a short period of time. Have you thought about this? Are you and those in your local community ready for this?

Peak Food, Peak Oil, Peak Water, Peak Soil

World grain reserves amount to less than 75 days of supply. Harvests of strategic food grains and cereals have basically leveled off or even decreased, with enormous amounts of acreage now providing fuel for cars instead of food for people. At the same time, affordable fossil fuel energy supplies have peaked (Peak Oil), with the world increasingly dependent on "extreme" oil and natural gas extraction (deep sea and Arctic drilling, tar sands, and fracking), accelerating the prices of petroleum-based farm inputs, as well as food distribution and processing costs. Billions of people in the Global South are now spending 50-70% of their household income on food (although in the U.S. it is only 11%). Hydrologists and agronomists warn that Peak Water is fast approaching, when the already limited availability of water from underground aquifers for crop irrigation exponentially decreases. Peak Soil is also fast approaching, with soil erosion and desertification already degrading 25% of the earth's land. Peak Soil is directly related to unsustainable farming and forestry practices, including heavy pesticide use, chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered mono-crops, and non-sustainable grazing and clear-cutting. Meanwhile global population numbers (in direct relation to poverty and lack of education for women) and demand for food (especially meat and animal products) are accelerating.

Of course, we could go on and on, citing the ever more disturbing information we read every day in the mainstream media and on the Internet. But the life or death question is: what are we going to do about it?

Crash-Resistant and Climate-Friendly: The Organic Revolution

Fortunately, over the past 40 years, a new generation of organic farmers and ranchers have proliferated, building upon the wisdom and practices of indigenous and traditional farmers over the past 10,000 years. A growing corps of organic farmers and gardeners are producing increasing amounts of healthy, nutritious foods without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically engineered seeds, or animal drugs. At the same time, these 21st Century organic stewards of the land are consuming far less (50% or more) fossil fuels and water. Study after study has demonstrated that organic small farms in the developing world out-produce chemical and genetically engineered farms by a factor of two to one; while in the industrialized nations, sustainable organic yields are comparable in "normal" weather to industrial farms; but far superior (up to 50-70% higher) in times of drought or torrential rain, the types of extreme weather that have become the "new norm." In other words, not only can organic farming feed the world, but it is in fact the only way that we are going to be able to feed the world in this 21st Century era of energy, water, and climate crisis.

The burning question then becomes how do we build up a stronger Movement that can promote and scale up organic, local and regional-based systems of food and farming (while complimentary green Movements do the same in the energy, housing, and transportation sectors)? How can we, as quickly as possible, build up a critical mass of organic farms, gardens, seed banks, farm schools, and distribution networks in all the local regions of North America and world? We don't have room in this essay to go into all the details, but here are a few things that millions of us are already starting to do, that are moving us forward and preparing us for survival in the likely eventuality of economic collapse.

(1) Step-up public education and consciousness-raising. We have now crossed a major threshold of raising public awareness: the majority of Americans say they prefer organic food, for a variety of health, environmental, and ethical reasons. After forty years of public education and campaigning, organic foods and products are the fastest growing items in America's grocery carts. Thirty million households, comprising 75 million people, are now buying organic foods and other products on a regular basis. Fifty-six percent of U.S. consumers say they prefer organic foods, citing a wide variety of reasons that we and the Organic Movement have taught them. Millions of young people and urban residents are starting to learn organic farming and gardening techniques.

(2) Step-up the campaign against industrial agriculture and genetic engineering. The more we educate people about the hazards of chemical and energy-intensive food and farming and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the greater the demand for organic foods and products, and the greater the number of new organic farmers, young organic farm apprentices, and urban organic gardeners (now 12 million-strong). The Achilles heel or weakest link of industrial agriculture is truthful labeling: consumers right to know. If toxic pesticides, chemicals and genetically engineered ingredients are labeled, consumers will not buy them, retailers will not sell them, and farmers will not grow them. Even though Washington has fallen under the control of Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, we can still change public policies at the state and local level, with grassroots-powered ballot initiatives and state legislation. Even though we live in Monsanto Nation, we can still bring down Goliath.

(3) Link up with other Movements, local to global. Reducing global poverty, eliminating war and stabilizing the climate go hand-in-hand. The best way to reduce global rural poverty and conflict and eliminate war is through land reform and sustainable organic farming practices. With land reform and technical assistance, millions of organic farms in the Global South can develop and prosper, helping the world's poorest people, especially women, to produce far more food with less or no fossil fuel or chemical inputs. This organic revolution will enable several billion peasants and rural villagers to rise up from poverty and reduce the unsustainable population growth that accompanies abject poverty. At the same time, one of the best ways to reduce fossil fuel use and naturally sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases is to change our current land use practices, to go organic. For 10,000 years indigenous people and traditional farmers fed the world with organic farming and animal husbandry practices. By converting the world's 12 billion acres of farmland and pasture land back to organic soil management we will be creating, instead of destroying, soil fertility, as well as restoring the soil food web's amazing ability to permanently sequester enormous amounts of climate destabilizing CO2 through increased plant photosynthesis. With organic soil management spreading across the world's 12 billion acres of farmland and pastureland, and a global mobilization to replant the 10 billion acres of forest that industry and agribusiness have destroyed, we can literally reverse global warming, bringing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 back down to a safe level of 350 parts per million from the current dangerous level of 390 ppm.

The hour is late, but there is still time to prepare ourselves and our communities before the economy collapses. Educate yourself and get active. Start to make preparations for an end to "business as usual." Step up your efforts. Help link the issues and different constituencies in the body politic. Don't panic. Go organic.

Ronnie Cummins is the National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Winter Weekend Wonderland

Cold on the heels of our Costa Rican hiatus came a February weekend away at the cottage. Just three pals jamming and exploring the wild side of snowy southern Ontario wintertime cottaging at the lake.

As we departed Dorset with our supplies in tow, the elements greeted us with heavy thick snow. The silent landscape a blur, we drove along the winding twenty kilometres, loaded supplies onto sleds and traipsed off into the deep white of the woods towards our home for the next couple of nights. Chris was generous in providing the venue for our little adventure, and the cottage woodstove was fired up as the outside temperature plummeted with the sunset. The cottage is cosy and charming, looking down and out over a pretty lake, ice and snow covered at this mid-winter season despite an unusually mild few weeks.

Saturday morning breaks with exquisite sunshine. We enjoy a hearty breakfast to set us up for a day of delight. We’re rewarded by heightened senses of dazzling light, bright, white snow, and clear, cold fresh air in our lungs. I am wearing the perfect hat, knitted by Gundi’s daughter Claudia and suggested to be destined for me by grand-daughter Sofie. It arrived in the mail just in time for our trip. The wind has dropped and the packed surface beneath our snowshoes and skis crunches loudly, breaking the silence. Ice-fishing snowmobilers whoosh by in streaks of powder white, heading for their huts. We sit serenely soaking up the glorious sun on the porch of a lovely old log cabin, part of a once-busy fishing camp. As we return “home”, the magnificent trees leading up the steep slope to the cottage are bathed in a late-afternoon glow, and so are we. The sun goes down, we pop open the wine, and Chris breaks into song, accompanied by guitar and crackling fire.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Costa Rican hiatus

In daily lives, it is easy to become disconnected, unplugged from Nature. In a competitive work world, we pontificate, philosophize, categorize, order, list, regulate, exploit, exaggerate, abuse, control, manipulate, distort, lie, make claims….

But when we see that monkey in the wild looking right at us, as we look into her deep eyes as she tries to fathom us, we melt into a profoundly stimulating sense of connection. It is a mere token of our sensibility, and a shame that such encounters with the wild rarely spark a deeper exploration of Earth, a deeper ongoing appreciation of its inseparability from our personal experience. We can of course stay plugged into the world of quick views, quick shots, fast downloads, instant replays on cameras, laptops and I-Pads, but it is immensely gratifying to be able to delve deeper.

The ocean is unusually placid for several weeks here on this tiny nation of Costa Rica’s south west Pacific coast. The view from our Pacific Edge cabin is simply breathtaking. Perched on the deck, as if suspended overlooking the lush green jungle canopy, the distance reveals a view north up forty kilometres of scalloped bays and sweeping shoreline beyond Dominical to Manuel Antonio. At night we can hear the waves kissing the land. By day, this gentle rhythm is drowned out by the pervasive throbbing hum of crickets and cicadas which reaches fever pitch an hour or so after the sun comes up and just before that same sun sinks like a fireball into the ocean to the west, occasionally honouring us with a green ray at the last millisecond. Some mornings, the still ocean comes alive with the dark shapes of humpback whales just beneath the surface; they are just arriving from the Arctic to calve in the warm waters. If we are patient enough – and, after a few days of tuning in, we are - big iridescent blue morpho butterflies fly jerkily by, toucans squawk and swoop onto the guarumo trees to peck at the seeds, howler monkeys send out their primeval grunts and growls from the jungle down below, a flock of screeching green parrots flies by in a mass frenzy, and a giant lobster locust lands on the wooden deck to sun himself before alighting again revealing his red undercarriage.

Trippers return from several days further south in Corcovado on the Osa Peninsula. They report on pristine Nature devoid of human influence, just as it was before the first Europeans arrived scratching their heads just over five hundred years ago. It is heartwarming to know that there are still places on this Earth moreorless untouched by human depredations, left to Nature to tend so magnificently. A few intrepid souls tiptoe around this sanctuary in awe of the profusion of decorated birds, large reptiles, multitudes of frogs and insects, kaleidoscopic butterflies, big cats, sloths and tapirs. 

To counterpose immersion in this rich coast (it was the Spanish who christened it Costa Rica), my reading takes in two contrasting books. The first is a cutting analysis of the world that keeps us all constantly on edge with its wildly excessive machinations, a financial system that is a madly careening rollercoaster. It is Extreme Money, by Satyajit Das. The second is an engrossing exploration of a world that could and should be through our connection with Nature. Becoming Animal by David Abram probes well beneath the surface. Orion Magazine wrote that Abram’s “profound recognition of intelligences other than our own enables us to enter into reciprocal symbioses that can, in turn, sustain the world. Becoming Animal illuminates a way forward in restoring relationship with the earth, led by our vibrant animal bodies to re-inhabit the glittering world.” Reading this book helped me appreciate that Nature doesn’t always perform tricks like breaching whales, cavorting dolphins, parading peacocks, soaring eagles. Sometimes you just sit with it, feel a faint whiff of wind, hear far-off rolls of waves on the shore, sense the gathering moisture in the air or the intensifying heat of the morning, smell the waftings of flowers, of woodfire smoke, of cows in the field. Nature in all its guises flows subtly over, into, and through us, or it can explode without warning like a booming firework. We just have to open our minds and bodies and embrace the charge. 

George from London and Suzy from California discovered their Pacific Edge haven some twenty years ago. They took in the magnificent view for the first time, purchased the land from locals, then set about opening up a dirt road up the mile or so from the coast, and building their cabins and house.

According to the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index and is the "greenest" country in the world. In 2007, the Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021. We are happy, not wealthy in our own home country, but when we spend times on this naturally rich coast, we too are enrichened. As George always says in his straight-up Cockney accent, “Happy Days”. Happy Days, George.