Thursday, August 21, 2014

A forest of free food for all

Have you ever heard of a “food forest”? Is that something like Big Rock Candy Mountain? No, rather than a fairy tale, it’s a real thing. It’s food-producing trees and plants on public land – kind of like an orchard or garden, but free for citizens to access. And Barrie is starting on the path to having food forests right here, in partnership with FruitShare!
When the City of Barrie had plans to plant trees on public land as part of its reforestation efforts, FruitShare saw it as an opportunity to feed the hungry. Rather than only plant typical native tree species, the City agreed to include some fruit-bearing trees. A dozen now make up Barrie’s first urban fruit forest. Residents will soon be able to enjoy picking fresh apples, peaches, pears and cherries free of charge. In the unlikely event that fruit goes unpicked, FruitShare will harvest and split it between FruitShare volunteers and the Barrie Food Bank.
A vision of an integrated food forest - by Molly Danielsson
The City wisely recognizes that urban forest cover provides many benefits, including water retention, improved air quality, mitigating climate change and habitat for wildlife. Now there’s the added benefit of providing free food for Barrie residents for years to come.
Barrie’s urban fruit forest is the first step in the partnership between the City of Barrie and FruitShare. Next is the development of an Urban Forest Management Plan for Barrie, including a food component, with possible expansion to other public lands or right-of-ways.
While the idea is in the earliest stages here in Barrie, further progress has been made in cities like Seattle, Washington, where the Beacon Food Forest is shaping up to be a 7-acre integrated project including an edible arboretum, a berry patch, a nut grove, a community garden, plus gathering and play areas. Certainly we’ll monitor their success for ideas on how to better manage our own public food resources.
This all hearkens back to the idea of “the Commons” – land belonging to the community, free for all to use and share without having to pay rent. Sadly, over the years, most commons were enclosed and appropriated for private use and profit. Nowadays the commons mainly just exists for recreational uses – parks, trails, and beaches. But in prior times, the commons was a vital part of the food production system, providing fruit and other wild crops, herbs, and medicines, as well as grazing space for livestock and fuel for fires. It recognized the ancient principle that the earth was given to all to share, including land and the fruits of nature, but the things people planted, harvested, built or improved became their own, as long as they left enough for others to also provide for themselves. Perhaps initiatives like food forests can help bring back that earth-sharing ethic.
FruitShare is a local not-for-profit bringing volunteers to harvest otherwise wasted fruit from residential trees. This rescued fruit is then divided between home owner, volunteer pickers and the Barrie Food Bank. There are many ways to get involved, such as volunteering to pick, sharing your fruit tree, or providing donations to FruitShare. Please call us at 705-715-2255, email or visit

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Barrie paving the path to food forests". Thank you to FruitShare coordinator Jenna Zardo for her contributions to this article.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, August 15, 2014

Share the land, keep the fruits of labour

We all depend on this earth for our basic needs: food, water, and a place to live, work, and play. Luckily, our world has locations and resources enough to provide for all, if we share well and conserve rather than waste. But what is the fairest way to share?
I’ve been reading the new Mason Gaffney Reader: Essays on Solving the “Unsolvable”. This economics professor’s work comes highly recommended by intellects such as former World Bank Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, and shows how land tax reform is the key to addressing unemployment and poverty and revitalizing our cities and economy. But how?
Imagine you’re in a shipwreck, you find a piece of wreckage and float, adrift, for weeks on end. Finally, almost dead from sunburn, starvation and thirst, you wash up near a tropical island. A person pulls you in and nurses you back to health, and you learn she survived the same shipwreck, but landed on the island right away, learning to live (and live well) off nature.
Back on your feet, your rescuer asks only that you help rebuild the roof she neglected while caring for you, replace the paddle she lost rescuing you, and gather some extra food to make up for what you ate. It takes a few weeks to manage all that, but it’s only fair, and from then on, you often exchange products of each other’s labour. You share evenly the bounty of the island, which is more than enough for both, but pay each other for anything you make using your own skills or efforts. While she fishes, you gather roots, and exchange some of your bounty for some of hers; you trade beams you craft from fallen trees for roofing she weaves from leaves so you can each have shelter from the sun, rain and wind.
The RENT is TOO DAMN HIGH, Wilson!
But what if the first castaway had told you she had claimed the island, and you would have to pay to live there? She demanded tribute when you gathered roots or coconuts, or to made a boat from fallen wood and vines so you could fish. And if you didn’t pay, she’d drive you off the island with the wild dog she’d found and trained. So while you toiled to gather enough food to feed yourself and pay her rent, she could relax and live off your hard work.
That hardly seems fair, yet it’s our economic system now. There are more people involved, a wider variety of lands and resources, but the principle remains that some demand a price for monopolizing things they don’t create, the products of nature or community, which others must pay out of their own labours.
But we can do better. In his book Progress and Poverty, Henry George described how we could fairly share the rent of land, keeping the products of our own labour, and advance together as we are rewarded for our work, not penalized in a cycle of landless poverty. These concepts are similar to many indigenous ideas about property, but can also be adapted to complex, money-based economies like ours. We just must realize that we deserve to keep our earned income, while unearned income must be equitably shared. Separated by 135 years but joined by common values, George’s and Gaffney’s books point the way.

Publishes as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NHL leads the way in going green

Pond hockey + global warming = no fun!
Given my background in Green politics and the environmental movement, it’s not unusual for media to seek my comments on a topical “green” issue. But when CTV tapped me two weeks ago to comment on a new NHL report, I thought they had the wrong person. I have never claimed to be any kind of authority on professional sports, and no-one would mistake me for a hockey superfan!
But this particular report did have relevance for me, and I hope many people pay it heed. Created in line with the Global Reporting Initiative, it features a comprehensive look at the footprint of operations right across the League, including a full carbon inventory.
Many times we see glowing corporate reports highlighting some specific reduction of waste or pollution, but if presented without context, it may simply be a greenwash. Sure, they might have reduced how much waste there is per unit of a particular product, but if overall production is up, then footprint has increased! The media were very curious as to whether I would see this initiative as genuine, or just another corporate greenwash.
The way to know a report is not a greenwash is if they follow these steps. First, they have to undertake a full, enterprise-wide evaluation. Second, they have to commit to specific reduction goals. Finally, they have to periodically re-measure their footprint, report on their progress, and make new commitments going forward. This NHL report does those things, so I am confident that it is a solid and sincere reduction initiative.
The report stems partly from a growing awareness of the negative impact of climate change on the sport of hockey, feeding a desire to be part of the solution instead of the problem. It notes the waning of free outdoor skating for young players, as shorter, milder winters cut deeply into use of frozen ponds and backyard rinks, a problem noticeable here in Barrie. Clean water supplies are also vital for amateur and professional hockey, yet various forms of pollution, as well as climate-related conditions like drought, threaten water sources worldwide.
Surprisingly, flying teams to games isn’t the biggest part of the NHL footprint, although many players address it with carbon offsets. Instead, 80% of emissions come from facilities – stadiums, rinks, and offices. The report lists a number of ways facility managers have used new technology or better practices to reduce garbage, water or energy use, or emissions.
Fan emissions aren’t counted, but you can do your part by carpooling or taking transit to games, or even biking or walking where practical.
I know our Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a big hockey fan – he even wrote the book on it – so I really hope he reads this report and learns two key facts. First, climate change is real, and is already having a negative impact on his beloved sport. Second, many examples in the report prove that rather than harming the bottom line, reducing emissions or using cleaner energy more efficiently cuts costs and increases profitability. It’s past time to roll out these lessons throughout the economy instead of being paralyzed by a fear of spending a few bucks to save many.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "NHL report might score one for climate change awareness" and "NHL report nets one for climate"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A year of Climate Leadership

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the supporters of my Climate Reality Leadership Corps training which took place one year ago.

Thanks to your gifts, I was able to give the time to attend the intensive 3-day training in Chicago given by Vice President Al Gore, and to give the time to share his Climate Reality presentation in our community.

I am happy to announce that, between online crowdfunding of $870 (minus fees) from 12 donors and a $1000 bursary from Barrie environmental charity Living Green, I was able to cover the full cost of travel, accommodations, and meals with some funds left over to cover costs of making presentations. (For example, I had to purchase a newer laptop to be able to properly display the videos in the presentation).

As part of the training package, I committed to ten "Acts of Leadership" over the following year, which include Climate Reality presentations to members of the public, writing articles for the newspaper, or doing other activities to raise awareness of the Reality of Climate Change.

I am registered as a presenter at the Climate Reality Canada website. I have also been writing about Climate Reality in my weekly "Root Issues" newspaper column in the Barrie Examiner.

I am proud to report that I have met and surpassed my ten-Act commitment, by giving four live presentations, sitting on a film panel for Alliston, and publishing ten columns about climate change in the Barrie Examiner.

However, I am still interested in helping spread the word about Climate Reality, just as you helped me, so feel free to contact me directly or send people to the website to request a presentation.

I would also like to send a special shout-out to a few fellow Climate Leadership presenters:

    - Dr. Brad Dibble, author of Comprehending the Climate Crisis, who co-wrote one of my articles with me

    - Anita Payne, who in addition to her Climate Reality training, has also been walking across North America as part of the Great March for Climate Action

    - Franke James, who in addition to attending the training herself, donated a copy of her book Banned on the Hill as a perk for my supporters (awarded to Living Green)

Once again, thank you to all of you for your support. It's so much easier to accomplish great things when we work together as a team!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Overcoming the free rider problem

The green arrows represent the circulation of money.
Recently, a columnist syndicated in this paper wrote a polemic against Ontario’s rebate for purchasing an electric car. She cites a friend whose new $140,000 Telsa garnered almost $10,000 in taxpayer-funded rebates intended to encourage the purchase of electric cars, but claims he would have bought that car anyway. Based on this, she complains the subsidy should only apply to lower-priced (non-luxury) vehicles, and that we are being unfair to less-affluent people (among whom she includes herself, despite being a syndicated national columnist) who buy a fuel-efficient gasoline car or ride transit.
While I object to several of her lines of reasoning, not least her attempt to pit rich against poor (and class herself with the poor) to attack a program that, in practise, mostly applies to more modestly-priced cars purchased by the middle class (this rebate was the deciding factor in my own recent purchase of an electric vehicle), she is getting close to describing a real problem in our governments’ approaches to addressing climate change.
Her appeal to nationalism – Teslas are made in California, while some economy cars are manufactured in Ontario (albeit by foreign parent companies) – is another red herring. The support of the right-wing for increased free-trade deals that outlaw buy-local programs is consistent, and the purpose of a new-technology purchase rebate isn’t to reward domestic manufacturers, but to create a new market that might attract that manufacture.
Nevertheless, what she is getting at, without naming it, is the “free rider” problem of energy efficiency subsidies, which has been studied by economists. Basically, assuming we want society to adopt cleaner or more efficient technologies that are stalled by the high cost for early adopters (a chicken-and-egg problem), then it makes sense to have some kind of financial incentive to encourage people. But since energy efficiency saves money in the long run, some people will be doing it already, yet they will also apply for the incentives. Any who would have done the green thing anyway, without needing a government hand-out, are the so-called “free riders”. If there are, for example, 3 free riders for each person whose decision was affected by the incentive, then you are spending $4 of subsidy for $1 of effective change. And I agree, that is not efficient use of taxpayer money.
So what to do instead? If pundits like this columnist would actually consult with economists, they would learn that the most effective approach is a carrot-and-stick, starting with the stick. The “stick” is a higher price on energy, particularly fossil energy, which increases the savings incentive to those who upgrade or conserve. You can then use that revenue to help fund alternatives, such as transit, or you can refund it to everyone equally, to help them all pay for improvements themselves. Either way, you achieve energy savings much more effectively for the dollars raised and spent, a more fiscally responsible course.
Another approach is to offer government loan guarantees allowing people to switch to new or more efficient energy without an up-front cost, by recovering the loan out of the monthly energy savings, something government can do at a very low cost.
However, since this same columnist seems to be very much against things like using new revenue to fund better transit (despite using transit users as her proxy suffering taxpayer) or using government debt to fund anything, then I doubt she will be interested in this non-partisan economic advice. Too bad, because it is a strong solution to the problem she has identified.

An edited version of this was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "No more free rides for energy efficiency program"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carbon pricing makes sense to all but those paid to deny it

The perils of too low a carbon price.

Persistent high Liberal showings in opinion polls seem to have conservative punditry worried, as they’re already trying to discredit anything that looks like a Liberal policy a year before the next federal election.
The current target is carbon pricing, about which Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has mused. Of course, he’s not alone; carbon pricing has been a Green Party central plank for many years, and is supported by most environmentalists and mainstream economists in Canada and around the world, and even now by many oil companies themselves.
What is carbon pricing? Quite simply, it addresses our market failure, which promotes the excess extraction and burning of fossil fuels, by ensuring prices include full costs.
A key aspect of any well-functioning market economy, one which includes fair prices as a goal, is to avoid unaddressed externalities. An externality is when a transaction between two parties creates an extra benefit or harm to a third party not involved in the transaction. Externalities send wrong signals to markets.
Something that seems obvious is that you shouldn’t dump your garbage in my space without compensating me. You see this principle at work when you pay to take trash to the dump. Yet today we let people and corporations use our shared atmosphere as a free dump for fossil carbon and other pollutants. In letting them off without paying to cover the harms they create, we are in effect giving them a huge, market-distorting subsidy.
Now, I always thought conservative thinkers were against huge, market-distorting subsidies. But Canada’s political right-wing is captive to the fossil industries, so that rather than express a true conservative, market-based philosophy, they instead press for continued privileges for fossil extractors and burners. On top of that, they have been hacking away a century’s worth of prudent regulations, precautions, and basic scientific observation that serves to protect us from harms to natural systems and human health.
But back to carbon pricing, or what right-wing pundits call “a tax on everything”. It would seem that to them, burning carbon is everything. For the rest of us, huge sectors of our economy are low- or no-carbon. The value added to the economy by skilled workers is mostly carbon-free.
Even better, under most carbon pricing schemes, revenue from carbon fees is returned to the public either as tax breaks, like in British Columbia, or as a direct payment, under an equal dividend plan. Either way, the average person is actually better off, because the weight of a few carbon-intensive industries draws more fees, leaving less for the rest of us to pay.
Oh, and did I mention British Columbia? I can’t understand why these anti-carbon-price pundits always fail to mention that BC implemented a supposedly job-killing carbon tax shift 6 years ago. Since then, their government has been re-elected twice, their economy has grown faster than the national average, their greenhouse gas emissions have dropped while the nation’s have risen, while they have Canada’s lowest personal income tax rate and one of the lowest corporate taxes. To acknowledge all this carbon price success would totally undermine the pro-fossil position.
On second thought, I guess I do know why they always forget to mention it.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "The great, ongoing carbon pricing debate"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Be a hero: get good grades and free comics!

Be a hero, kid: get good grades and free comics!
One of the things that made this past Canada Day fun for me was the release of a new comic in one of my favourite franchises – Captain Canuck. Over the years, this all-Canadian hero has taken many forms – starting with a series published in the 70s but set in a fantasy future of the 90s where Canada was a world super-power and humans were actively colonizing space and encountering hostile aliens, helped by the unearthly powers of our own maple-leaf draped superhero.
Although this series only lasted half a decade, the Captain has been “re-born” in the form of a couple of other comic characters since, wearing similar costumes as the original but getting by on bravery and skill rather than super powers. I was also helped crowd-fund an animated web series about another Captain incarnation, whose apparently substantial powers have yet to be fully explained, but whose use of non-lethal weaponry stands in stark contrast to most American action offerings.
One of my favourite things about Captain Canuck being able to interact with his creators, like funding the series or meeting character originator Richard Comely, who regularly appears at various Ontario comic stores to sign comics, do custom drawings, and interact with fans young and old. The most recent edition even features a variant blank cover where Richard can draw in your own custom image!
Mr. Comely was in Barrie just yesterday, hosted by Big B Comics, but if you missed his visit, I’m sure he’ll be back another time. Last time I was at Big B was for another reason, though – so my daughters could access the Comics for Grades promotion.
I wrote about this last year, how Big B generously gives children free comics from their extensive back catalog for each A grade on their report card, to reward academic effort and promote the joy of reading. This year, they’ve sweetened the deal, giving a comic for a full letter-grade improvement between first and second terms, even if your child didn’t make it to A. So if she got a C in science in the fall but advanced that to a B for the end of the year, she gets a free comic, too.
Summer is a great time to get outside and play superhero, but there will also be rainy days when the kids end up in front of a TV or computer or video game. How about making sure they have some exciting reading, to brighten their minds without electronic input? The Comics for Grades program continues until the end of July, so dig out those report cards and see if your children are eligible to get some free fun summer super reading at Big B. My kids have moved on from their earlier super-heroes to the worlds of Adventure Time, the Regular Show, Richie Rich, Bart Simpson, and other silly stories told in picture and prose, which just shows that there are genres to suit children of many tastes. I hope yours develop the same love of the graphic reading arts.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Comics can inspire children to start reading"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.