Larkin Schmiedl's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Environment

Why Maritimers are rallying against chemical forest sprays

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The chemical, glyphosate, is controversial for its propensity to cause cancer

Protests erupted across Nova Scotia this fall when forestry company Northern Pulp was approved for its latest round of aerial herbicide sprays. The controversial chemical, glyphosate, is banned in parts of Europe and for forestry in Quebec due to questions around its propensity to cause cancer.

In the Maritimes, glyphosate’s recent history is troubling. Rod Cumberland, the former chief deer biologist for the Natural Resources department in New Brunswick, found that glyphosates are a major contributor to the province’s deer population collapse. It wasn’t until after he retired in 2012 that he made his research public. Company J.D. Irving, responsible for spraying most of New Brunswick’s glyphosates, subsequently attacked his research. Last year, former N.B. chief medical officer Dr. Eilish Cleary was working on a study of glyphosates when she was placed on leave and then fired. Meanwhile, former provincial premier, Dr. John Hamm, chairs Northern Pulp’s mill board.

“You need governments that are going to be strong enough to stand up to these industries,” says Lenore Zann, the Truro, N.S.-area MLA who’s rallying against the spraying. But in a region under economic pressure, reigning in such industries is often easier said than done. “[Northern Pulp] has threatened to leave a number of times,” adds Zann. “Anytime anybody tries to get serious about pushing them on their environmental footprint.”

Glyphosate is Health Canada approved, and is registered in more than 130 countries. It’s commonly used in forestry, agriculture, and along rail and power lines. It was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s, and accounted for just under a third of Monsanto’s earnings last year.

While the human health impacts of glyphosate remain up for debate, its effects on forest health are more straightforward. Cumberland’s research showed that New Brunswick’s deer population collapsed because glyphosates kill a main food source: hardwoods. Forestry companies such as Northern Pulp spray to encourage conifer growth, which they harvest, by killing off competing species. The result is a less resilient forest.

“If a bug comes in, like the spruce bud worm for instance, it’s going to wipe everything out,” says Zann, noting that the spraying is a symptom of an outdated approach to forest management that places fibre output above forest health. “You’re basically turning everything into a monoculture,” Zann continues. “If they say there’s no other way, I say bullshit—you just have to want to find them.”

First published in Nov/Dec 2016 issue of This magazine

Tories in review: Environment

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Examining Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s dismal environmental track record, full of broken promises and missed opportunities for a greener Canada

WHEN IT COMES TO THE ENVIRONMENT, Stephen Harper doesn’t have a hidden agenda—he’s always been upfront about his healthy-industry-over-healthy-Earth policies. In 2006, for instance, in his first speech outside Canada after he was elected as prime minister, he called Canada an “emerging energy superpower,” suggesting his intention to expand oil sands production. “And that has been his environment policy,” says Keith Stewart, PhD, who teaches energy policy at the University of Toronto and campaigns with Greenpeace Canada.

Since that first speech, Canada’s international environmental reputation has shifted quickly under the Harper Conservatives. We were once considered an influential environmental leader, but now are what famed environmentalist Bill McKibben calls, “an obstacle to international climate concerns.” That’s thanks to several major changes, the breadth of which we’ll review here.

After signing the Kyoto Protocol on carbon pollution in 1997, Canada withdrew 14 years later in late 2011. It’s the only country to have done so. Then in 2013, the government pulled out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification—and again has done so solo. Established in 1994, the convention is a key legally-binding international agreement addressing environment, development, and sustainability. Listen: you can hear Canada’s diplomatic credibility crumbling.

In 1992, the Government of Canada enacted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, created to evaluate and mitigate negative environmental effects possibly caused by industrial projects. In 2012 the entire act was repealed and replaced with “CEAA 2012.” The new version applies to a much smaller scope of projects, expands ministerial discretion, and narrows the scope of assessments. The Canadian Environmental Law Association called this “an unjustified and ill-conceived rollback of federal environmental law.”

After the change, nearly 3,000 environmental project assessments were cancelled. As a result, environmentally- harmful projects will face less red tape in gaining approval. “It’s streamlining the review process for our pipelines,” quips Peter Louwe, communications officer for Greenpeace Vancouver.

Besides weakening The Fisheries Act to the point where it doesn’t protect most fish, the Cons have also rewritten The Navigable Waters Protection Act so that it no longer protects most lakes and rivers. “There is no environmental protection for our waters unless there’s a commercial aspect to it,” says Louwe. Since Canada contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water as well as the world’s longest coastline, changes to these acts are of worldwide concern.

After Environment Canada senior research scientist David Tarasick published on one of the biggest ozone holes ever found over the Arctic in 2011, he was forbidden to speak with media for nearly three weeks. Once given permission, his calls were supervised by Environment Canada officials. In speaking of the incident, he wrote to a reporter, “My apologies for the strange behaviour of EC [Environment Canada],” adding if it were up to him, he’d grant the interview.

All federal scientists now face regulations from Ottawa deciding if they can talk, how, and when. Approved interviews are taped, and often approval is not forthcoming until after deadlines have passed. When this happens, journalists receive government-approved written answers. Between 2008-2014, the federal government cut the jobs of more than 2,000 scientists. In 2014, it announced plans to close seven of its 11 Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries.

Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, is quickly having its capacity drained. Between 2010- 2012, the federal government cut 20 percent of its budget (made official right after the Cons became a majority), and from 2014– 2017 another 28 percent will be cut. This translates to hundreds of job losses and lost programs.

Environment Canada’s ozone-monitoring program, host to the world’s archive of ozone data and relied upon by scientists worldwide, had several monitoring stations closed due to lack of funding, and the lone person running the archives was laid off.

The list goes on: the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which has provided research on sustainable development since 1988, and was established by a previous Conservative government, is no more. Also included in the cuts: Monitoring for heavy metals and toxic contaminants, the Climate Action Network, Sierra Club of B.C., The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, and many other organizations.

Meanwhile the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is auditing charities. In 2012 the government tightened rules and created a special budget so the CRA could check on charities’ political activities., founded by Harper’s aide Alykhan Velshi, made a series of complaints to the CRA about environmental groups. The David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada, Equiterre, and Environmental Defence, three of those targeted in its complaints, were audited—though the government denies any link with CRA’s activities.

“I think C-51 should just be repealed because of the way it targets First Nations and environmentalists,” says U of T’s Stewart. This piece of legislation, adopted in June, adds power to security agencies collecting information on anything that “undermines the security of Canada,” including interfering with economic stability or “critical infrastructure.” It also gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service power to react to these perceived threats. Many environmentalists and activists believe this means them. An RCMP document obtained by Greenpeace labels the “anti-petroleum movement” as a growing and violent threat.“There’s not much more damage that one person would be able to do to the environment of a country,” says Vancouver’s Louwe, referring to Harper.

And yet, the Harper government hasn’t managed to build any pipelines. In the face of such blatant injustice, Canadian people have risen up, building a stronger environmental movement that is not only more resolved, but broader, including people from a wider range of backgrounds and interests than before. And Stewart points out that although this government has done a lot for industry, the more obvious it becomes to the public that its government is acting as a cheerleader for big oil, the less social licence industry has in people’s minds. And this means that whatever the legacy of the Harper government leaves us, it also leaves a more politicized, involved, and activated country of people who will do what it takes to protect what matters.


First published in Sept/Oct 2015 issues of This Magazine

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 7:28 pm

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Colonialism and food

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I am interested in bringing the effects of colonialism (and work on de-colonization) into my work on food.  I want to consider how colonization has affected diet, how this links to culture and health, how it relates to power, and ultimately how it relates to interaction with/use of the land in terms of both agricultural practices, gathering and hunting practices and plant life in non-agricultural spaces.

Colonialism has drastically shifted food practices on the landscape many of us now know as ‘Canada’, and in our local area here in Kamloops.  I’d like to know as much as possible about the topic both in general and specific terms.

There is lots of knowledge about this topic out there, and it’s something I know some about already.

I have asked readers the question “How does (and did) colonialism affect food? I want to hear your thoughts.”

And here are some responses….

  • “Colonialism changed the diets of the societies that were colonized to their detriment. When you drastically alter the food of a society you are then subjecting your “acceptable” practices onto them, and the ill health effects that come with it!”
  • “Over-processed foods are creating epidemics in indigenous communities: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. all have roots in Western diets that are high in grain and sugar consumption.  Here in the Columbia River Gorge (the river between Washington and Oregon), the colonists built a series of dams that swelled the river to create hydro power. It also flooded natural falls (Celilo) where, for hundreds of generations, indigenous people would go to catch salmon during the season for such a thing. Now the salmon population has been decimated, which has affected the culture, the food system, and the ecosystem.  [It’s a] big effing deal.”
  • “Neocolonialism in the form of “international development” has forced North American farming techniques (nitrogen-based fertilizers, nuclear family farms, factory farms) onto “developing” nations, disrupting cultural practices, local agricultural knowledge, and land use patterns. Countless were forced out of subsistence farming, where they shared generations worth of local know-how, into cash crop farming. Instead of growing their own food, people who used to know the land they lived on are forced to buy food that is often priced according to a global economy they never consented to being a part of.”
  • “They slaughtered 60 million wild buffalo, almost to extinction to raise inferior cattle like brainless idiots!”
  • “The process of colonialism included killing off the buffalo not just for hides, not just for profit, but to wipe out the indigenous communities. In 1873, Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano said “The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains. I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.”
    A year later In 1874, Delano testified before Congress, “The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire. I regard the destruction of such game as Indians subsist upon as facilitating the policy of the Government, of destroying their hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to begin to adopt the habits of civilization.”
  • “Enclosure of commons is a big deal too.”
  • “I am (hopefully) writing my PhD dissertation on this very topic (food sovereignty and colonialism)! Right now i’m thinking about things in terms of land and enclosure… farms were among the first enclosures on Vancouver Island, as land was surveyed, divided, sold, cleared, and farmed. The mechanization of farming allowed capitalist farmers to exploit farmland more intensively, and it was only the wealthiest growers who could afford the latest technology. That meant that smaller farmers got squeezed out… and we are still in that process today: the larger farms tend to rely on the exploitation of precarious migrant labour (primarily people of colour), they use high-tech machinery to maximize efficiency, and they use chemical fertilizers/pesticides (or tons of amendments in the case of organic agribusiness)… and they are all based on the enclosure and privatization of indigenous lands… but this history throws a wrench into a lot of the mainstream settler narratives of food sovereignty, which are often about a yearning for a return to the good ol’ days of the (white supremacist, patriarchal) family farm against the big bad corporation… so where does that leave us settler foodies who want to grow food here? What are our responsibilities/obligations? Can there be decolonizing settler farming practices?”
  • “Have you read “Empires of Food” by Fraser and Rimas? It looks at the historical development of food systems over the last 2,000 years or so; one of the stories I learned is of landless Tamils being brought to Sri Lanka in the 1800s to farm tea on plantations for the British – there was a major drought, as well as a recession in Britain that lowered the price of luxury imports, and tens of thousands of workers died because, despite being surrounded by tea, there was no food to eat.”
  • “We (Europeans) brought diabetes amongst other things. We took tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and we have lost countless foods because we have lost languages and the knowledge that they contain.”
  • “Colonialism influences our understanding of food and how it is distributed. Food as something you can (or cannot) afford and thus can or cannot eat. It’s produced and distributed through the free market and by huge corporations who operate based on profits and using people, farmers, the environment.”

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm

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The skeleton and the meat of local sustainability

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The direction of my story is coming together in its final form now, and I’m really excited about it.

The final project, due in nine days, is going to be looking at local sustainable food sources in Kamloops.  I’m going to be defining what sustainable means (or could mean), and looking at what policy is in place in the city around the issue and how it’s being implemented and used. I’m also going to be speaking to different ‘consumers’–likely one who places high value on eating local food and does so as much as possible, and then one other ‘average’ consumer.

With all of this, I hope to paint a picture of the sustainable food situation in Kamloops–what’s happening now, what the willpower for change may or may not be, and what possible future directions or avenues might be if the goal were sustainability.

Food production is, after all, the biggest use we make of our environment.  The way we produce food for ourselves is key to environmental health.

Over the next week I’ll be speaking with as many grocery stores and restaurants as I can to see what they have, and speaking with city councillors and analyzing food policy in the city.  I’ll also be seeking an acceptable definition of the concept of ‘sustainability’ when it comes to food, and looking at the Canada food pyramid where it all, in some form, is based, at least in theory.

Stay tuned for more, and please send on any suggestions, comments, questions or feedback.

Thanks for reading.

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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“What is perhaps most troubling, and sad, about industrial eating is how thoroughly it obscures all these relationships and connections. To go from the chicken (Gallus gallus) to the Chicken McNugget is to leave this world in a journey of forgetting that could hardly be more costly, not only in terms of the animal’s pain but in our pleasure, too. But forgetting, or not knowing in the first place, is what the industrial food chain is all about, the principal reason it is so opaque, for if we could see what lies on the far side of the increasingly high walls of our industrial agriculture, we would surely change the way we eat.
“Eating is an agricultural act,” as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world–and what is to become it. To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting. Many people today seem perfectly content at the end of an industrial food chain, without a thought in the world; this book is probably not for them. There are things in it that will ruin their appetites. But in the end this is a book that is about the pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasures that are only deepened by knowing.”

– Michael Pollan

Written by larkinschmiedl

February 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Reader ideas

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Quoted from feedback to this question:

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?
What do you think is important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • I want to talk about class and food more. About how poor people can’t afford to eat all the “Right Things.” And how to feed the world sustainably without making more class striation and cost prohibitive products.
  • Pork production! Pigs are intelligent like dogs and they are treated savagely.
  • Where does my food come from?  How does my food choice impact other folks economically, environmentally, socially, da da da?
  • The decline of food quality. Not only are we eating less nutritional foods but more interesting is how natural foods are becoming less nutritional. Modern agriculture is degrading the food quality of natural foods.
  • Race and food access, environmental racism, and racism in the alternative food movement!!!
  • I think about how if more people choose gluten free lifestyles the healthier they will be.
  • The disgusting things they put in food (modified ingredients, artificial flavours, fillers, sugar, sugar, sugar, etc!) including labels and the fact that the food policy doesn’t require items to be labelled as GMOs… food policy is kinda scary.
  • David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things”, (22 Jan 2012) aired an episode in which Obesogens were discussed [] and their effects on world obesity rates, contaminated seafood, bPH-A and bPH-S, food supply, etc. It was quite interesting: featured Canadian content in the way of Canadian food scientists.

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?

  • How healthy is salsa? Is it a good substitute for other foods? Can you get salsa with protein?

What sorts of food issues do you think are important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • Corn. Its frickin eveywhere.

On the beat: Food

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We all eat.  Food is an issue that concerns each and every last one of us.

We care about how much it costs.

We care about how food is produced and what conditions on farms are like, as distant from us and as obscured as these may be.

We care about how food gets to us and what the environmental impact of this is.

We care about how food is processed and what its resulting nutritional value is.

We care about having safe food.

And we care about having some sort of connection to our food, whether that comes in the form of comfort foods, foods we are familiar with, culturally appropriate foods, or having a first-hand connection to our food by, say, growing a garden or signing up for a local CSA (community-supported agriculture).

In upcoming entries I’m going to be talking about food from a local Kamloops, provincial B.C., national and international perspective as I work on a feature story for my journalism course in politics.

I’ve been involved in the organic and sustainable food movement for close to 10 years, and food represents a web of issues that is dear to my heart.  I hope that my passion and my journalism will both bring revealing information on the issue for you to discover and contemplate.

Written by larkinschmiedl

January 22, 2012 at 2:45 am

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