Thursday, August 6, 2015

Nothing ethical about any oil

The “ethical oil” brand, dreamt up by Canadian fossil fuel apologists, promotes the concept that bitumen extracted from the tar sands is superior to all foreign oil. Although pitched as a matter of informed consumer choice, it really serves as an obstacle to efforts aimed at energy conservation and the transition to a sustainable, renewable energy paradigm.
The brand evokes the campaign to reduce the purchase of “conflict”or “blood” diamonds whose extraction or distribution supports violent warlords or repressive governments. The response was a system whereby diamonds are certified as “conflict-free”, coming from an upstream supply chain that doesn’t rest on or support massive human rights abuses.
There are movements in many other commodity markets for ethical or sustainable supply, whether organic or fair trade foods like coffee, chocolate, and bananas, or certified forest-friendly paper products, or sustainable fisheries. The key to each such initiative is that for suppliers to certify as ethical, sustainable, organic, or fair, they must continually act to improve their operations and reduce ancillary harms, and have those actions independently audited.
However, there is no such drive behind “ethical oil”. Tar sands companies have made no binding commitments to clean up their act and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, toxic waste or spills. Instead, their only claim to being “ethical” is to point to other oil-exporting nations, branding their product as “conflict oil” and saying “well, they’re worse than us!” They make much of the sexist, violent, terrorist-sponsoring governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran, or the socialist Chinese or Venezuelan regimes, and contrast them with how enlightened and ethical (and free-market) Canadians feel, in contrast. Besides the blatant xenophobia of such an approach, what should offend Canadians is how the tar sands are basically riding on our coat-tails in boasting of being “ethical” based not on their own record, but the virtue of the rest of Canada. But how does this industry fit within our own ethical system?
Filthy lucre
In all ways that matter, the bitumen industry is a drag on the rest of Canada’s ethical values. This industry has opposed environmental regulations and pushed to remove protections from the lakes, rivers, or species their operations threaten. Rather than create sustainable communities of workers, they separate men from their families and communities, mostly in the Maritimes, for weeks at a time, and pour money into their wallets. This is a recipe for domestic violence, prostitution, substance abuse, a widening rich-poor gap, and all kinds of other social ills. It is no coincidence that Edmonton, Calgary, and Saskatoon, the 3 major cities serving the oil patch, are among the 5 worst Canadian cities for women to live, according to a recent report. While demonizing a few million dollars from foreign environmental charities, “ethical oil” ignores the billions of foreign dollars whose investment in our tar sands leaves our governments captured by foreign interests.
If these are the ethics our oil offers, then this industry is a corrupting influence on Canada as a whole, and rather than pretend that propping it up is somehow the ethical choice, we should put aside such silly distractions and concentrate on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels entirely, regardless of the source. Because when it comes to destroying our planet, damage is damage, regardless of how hard a destructive industry tries to pass itself off as “ethical”.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as " ' Ethical oil' brand doesn't exist"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the RobertSchalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, July 3, 2015

March for Jobs, Justice and Climate this weekend

We seem to be at an impasse in the climate crisis. Rich nations like Canada, having already used fossil fuels to create a prosperous lifestyle but polluted our atmosphere in the process, are making unfair demands at international climate talks. We ask that other, poorer nations commit to matching cuts, even though they had little hand in creating our current overload of atmospheric carbon. Compounding the unfairness is that we can afford to sit back and dither, growing rich and spewing more waste while poorer nations are already suffering catastrophic effects of sea rise, drought, and violent storms.
Greens for Jobs, Justice and the Climate
Well, this Sunday, Canadians from all walks of life come together in Toronto to promote a different vision at the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate; a new partnership between environmentalists and labour, providing voice for First Nations, migrant workers, youth, faith communities, and other stakeholders struggling for justice and a sustainable future.
This event targets the myth that moving toward a sustainable environment will cost jobs. Quite the opposite: decarbonizing our economy is a huge economic opportunity. A better, stronger, fairer economy will create billions of jobs, but we must ensure those jobs include a fair wage and livable conditions, and that all will benefit from the prosperity of the green energy revolution.
Climate justice means a more inclusive conversation. This year, over 300,000 people in the global south will die from violent, chaotic climate weather-related events. Yet Canada is well-placed to show leadership. Millions of our first-generation citizens have direct experience with climate chaos, such as the Filipino and Caribbean communities and people with ties to India. They link us directly to both the problems and the global solutions.
Many demonstrations are about the “NO”: against tar sands, pipelines, fracking, or new nukes, but this march is about the “YES”, about building a fair, just, sustainable economy for the whole planet. We have the solutions: clean energy, better transit, localized agriculture, fair labour standards; we just need to come together and apply them. For one specific idea, Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte Green Party candidate Marty Lancaster proposes that Barrie become a hub for new research, technology and production of next-generation batteries and energy storage. The growing popularity of electric cars like my Chevy Volt, and the pairing of clean renewable energy with storage to create on-demand electric supply, means this is sure to be a growing and high-paying industry. (More on this in a future column).
For a healthy, sustainable, just world for our children, our grandchildren, and their children, we must stop digging a deeper carbon hole and start building a stairway to an economy that provides for us without robbing future generations or disadvantaging other nations. This march is all about building that “stairway to heaven”, if you will.
Marching Marty Lancaster
And Barrie will be there! You can join Marty Lancaster and local activists Climate Action Now at the Allandale GO station Sunday morning to catch the 9:40 train, arriving at Queen’s Park before the 1 PM rally and march to the Allan Gardens. Find more information and connect with Barrie’s contingent via or if you are coming from elsewhere, visit to find charter buses or ride-shares. Let’s set Canada on a just, sustainable path of climate leadership and prosperity!

A politically expurgated version of this was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's time to bury Barrie in berries

It’s one of my favourite times of the year – picking season! Barrie is blessed to be surrounded with you-pick farms where families can gather fruit and vegetables in a natural setting.
But a few years ago, I dreamt that we could pick fruit without even having to leave the city. FruitShare Barrie is the realization of that dream, and we are gearing up for our third season of rescuing and sharing the fruits nature provides right in our own backyards.
In the previous two years, we picked the majority of our fruit in September and October: apples and pears of many varieties, some grapes, and a few plums. But there is a wider variety of tasty food growing around us, and this year we hope to expand our operations to include a number of local berry crops ripening in the coming weeks, to start gathering and sharing that much sooner.
I want to be buried in berries!
Two years ago we were lucky enough to catch a bumper crop of sour cherries, and we are sure there are more cherries out there. If you know of any, please tell us! We are also on the lookout for various berries which thrive in our local climate. As a special treat, this year we are going to make a go at harvesting a native crop: serviceberries, also known as Saskatoon berries, or by many other names. While the bush we planted in my front yard seems not to produce much, luckily Barrie’s horticulturalists have been planting serviceberry bushes in parks and public greenspaces around the city as an ornamental shrub, so we’re hoping that will provide our first bumper crop. But if you have these berries in your yard, or mulberries or elderberries that are producing, we’d love to come and pick them for you and share them between you, us, and Barrie’s hungry.
One of the key elements of our program is to help those facing challenges in obtaining healthy, affordable food. So when FruitShare rescues fruit, we leave up to a third with the owner, take up to a third for the volunteer pickers, and then donate what’s left (usually more than half) to the Barrie Food Bank or other social agencies for free distribution. In each of the past two years, over a ton of fruit was shared this way. This distribution structure not only puts more fresh healthy food into the system, it also allows people to harvest directly to their own tables.
And new this year, we are hoping to better localize FruitShare Barrie by finding local business sponsors. The newspapers, radio, and TV all love to tell FruitShare’s success stories, and we’d love to tell them how our operations are funded by the generous support of YOUR-NAME-HERE!
So as the 2015 FruitSharing begins, step up and take your part! If you have a fruit tree or berry bush we can pick, visit to register. If you’d like to come out and pick fruit, you can also enlist as a volunteer there. (We have other organizational volunteer opportunities, too.) If you know someone with a fruit tree, have them contact us, or you can email or call 705-715-2255 and we’ll follow up. And if you are a supportive local business willing to sponsor a very worthy cause, please get in touch with us!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Picking season looks good for FruitShare Barrie"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Henry and Jane would have walked together

This Saturday, June 20, something new comes to Barrie: Jane’s Walk, a free, citizen-led walking tour inspired by urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs. Held periodically in different cities, Jane’s Walks let people tell stories about their communities, explore their cities, and connect with neighbours. Our walk begins at 1 PM at Barrie City Hall.
The timing is ideal because just last week I received the latest issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, themed Public Intellectuals: Jane Jacobs and Henry George. It compares and contrasts the views, through their writings, of two people active a century apart but with a surprisingly complementary outlook on the problems of poverty and urban decay.
In his world-famous 1879 book Progress and Poverty, Henry George observed that the greatest levels of wealth were found and indeed produced in cities, yet that was also where one found the deepest poverty, hence what we now call the widest wealth gap. Applying his understanding of classical economics, he revealed the problem’s root was how land was owned, rented, and taxed; basically, those who owned land could profit from the efforts of those who didn’t without making their own contribution. He noted that land values arose from their surroundings, whether public infrastructure or private economic activity; these values were not created by the landowners themselves. His solution, land value taxation, was for this commonly-created value to be recaptured, allowing for the reduction or elimination of all other stifling taxes, including wage tax, sales tax, or property tax on the value of buildings.
Importantly, he noted that so long as land values were not fully captured, there would always be speculators holding prime urban land idle, because they could profit more by selling at inflated values than by putting the land to productive use. This causes artificial land scarcities, driving up rents and forcing new buildings to be taller or to sprawl into green fields, eventually to the benefit of the speculators themselves.
Jacobs, a century later, focused on buildings, neighbourhoods, and the organic activity of city residents. She opposed central planning that destroyed old, dilapidated neighbourhoods to replace them with uniform new “projects” intended to help the poor but ultimately trapping them. She promoted higher density, short blocks, and mixed uses as a way to create thriving local economies, and famously declared “new ideas need old buildings,” because they offered low-cost spaces for new enterprise, or new residential forms, to start up.
Both George and Jacobs were anti-Malthusians; both believed the density of cities did not have to mean unhealthy crowding, but rather that more people in close association could more efficiently share resources and ideas allowing highly productive, richer lives. Where the kind of neighbourhood redevelopment Jacobs envisioned could sometimes lead to gentrification, pricing lower-income residents out of their own improving neighbourhoods, the application of George’s land value tax would keep land prices stable and ensure the public shared in any rising land values, and promote general improvement across the wider city instead of only in the areas that were currently “hot”.
Jacobs believed in pushing all the right buttons
Barrie’s Jane’s Walk has been organized by Kristin Dibble Pechkovsky and will be led by fellow planners David Stinson and Al McNair, and feature Barrie’s own Town Crier Steve Travers. Come out to learn about Barrie’s history, natural resources, and the need to create good habitats for people. For more information, including maps and routes, visit

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Jane's Walk a good way to connect with community"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Climatologists vs. "Skeptics" - guess who wins?

If you get your news from TV, especially Fox, or from certain major newspaper chains, then you might have the impression that climate scientists disagree with each other on what’s causing global warming or if it’s even happening, or perhaps picked up the idea that global warming has “stopped” or “paused”, or that major predictions of warming have somehow failed.
I don't believe in rising ocean levels, either.
Well, all of that is really a pile of bunk, promulgated by right-wing media outlets and think-tanks and assisted by the mass media’s tendency to seek “balance” in news by quoting from each “side”.
But as is demonstrated in the new book “Climatology vs.Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics”, this search for “balance” has seriously skewed the public’s perception.
The reality is that an overwhelming 97% majority of published climate studies demonstrate human activity is warming the planet, in a dangerous direction. What’s more, the 3% of conflicting studies are often published in questionable ways, such as through journals not specializing in climate science or deliberate manipulations of the peer-review process. The “skeptical” scientists who have written many of these studies make basic flaws or omissions in process, or state conclusions not supported by data unless one cherry-picks dates or overlooks important counter-indications.
Written by my friend and fellow climate presenter Dana Nuccitelli, contributor to The Guardian and a scientist himself, “Climatology vs. Psuedoscience” does something that has never been done before: it takes specific climate change projections made over the years by pioneering and mainstream climate scientists, and those made by “skeptics”, comparing them with subsequent temperature measurements to see which has proven a better predictor of what came to pass. Perhaps not surprisingly, the projections made by most climate models, including those used by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have turned out to be extremely accurate, while predictions of cooling or other non-standard temperature patterns made by “skeptics” were clearly way off-base.
What’s really sad about this, though, is that much of the right-wing media actually claims the opposite, by promulgating views of “skeptics” (really, global warming deniers) not backed by any good science, and repeatedly going to self-billed “climate experts” who are either not actually trained or publishing in climate science, or whose predictions or studies have been consistently disproven. For some reason, the media keeps trotting out the same notorious “expert skeptics” whose past pronouncements have all been wrong. These deniers really have no credibility, and are chosen for no more reason than that their contrarian views make what should be a cut-and-dried story into some kind of “controversy”. This perverts the real story about how the climate change consensus continues to get stronger and clearer, and how the time to act on it is now.
Well, the bets were placed, the results are in, and as Nuccitelli clearly demonstrates in his book, global warming continues apace as the IPCC has warned while the predictions of skeptics keep falling further to the wayside. So if you still think we are in some kind of “pause”, or that climate change is merely a hoax, you owe it to yourself to put your skepticism to the test by reading this book and learning just whose science has proven true. Because while everyone is entitled to their own opinions, the science of human-caused global warming is an undeniable fact.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "New book tests opinions about global warming"

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Monopolizing Monopoly, and other intriguing secrets

Do you harbour treasured childhood memories of sitting around the Monopoly board, buying up properties and reducing friends and relatives to penury? Perhaps you’re passing this tradition down, teaching your own kids the vicarious joy of ruthless capitalism. But did you ever ponder the history of this popular pastime?
I found reading the story of its creation is almost as exciting as playing it. This hidden history is recounted in the new book “The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game” by Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporter Mary Pilon, one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. I picked it up on Sunday and could barely put it down until I had reached the surprising conclusion. Who knew the story of Monopoly featured so many fascinating characters, idea theft, political propaganda, and most of all, the monopolistic machinations of a game company desperate to protect a trademark they don’t rightfully own in a David-and-Goliath court battle versus a principled professor?
Obsession, fury, and scandal make Pilon smile
One of the key revelations is that Monopoly was designed to be educational, as well as fun, teaching people the built-in unfairness of our current economic system.
Imagine life as a big, ongoing Monopoly game. At least in the table-top version, everyone starts equal, with the same stash and chance to buy and build on properties while passing Go and collecting income. Although luck plays a major role, truly anyone can win. Now imagine joining the game in progress: most of the properties already bought up, built on, and renting at high prices. For even a chance at success, you must struggle to earn or borrow enough money to buy your way onto the board, before the rent you must pay each turn eats away your savings. How fair would that be? Yet that’s the world we live in, where some are born into great land holdings and others start the game with nothing, and little chance of changing their fortune on an uneven playing field.
The original Landlords’ Game was invented at the turn of the 20th century by feminist Lizzie Magie to illustrate, through play, the principles of wealth accumulation introduced decades earlier by pioneering Progressive economist Henry George in “Progress and Poverty” and his other popular books. Although featuring many elements of the modern Monopoly game, it was not mass-produced and instead developed into something played in select progressive communities using home-made boards and tokens. Eventually, as it was passed and copied from family to family and table to table, it evolved into the game we now recognize, which was sold to Parker Brothers by a man who falsely claimed to have invented it in 1935, the beginning of a long history of misrepresentation and corporate bullying going as high as the Supreme Court.
So pick up a copy of The Monopolists and learn things like why one of the most lucrative properties is named after Atlantic City’s prohibition-era gay district, how the Quaker religion influenced aspects of the game (and the city where it is set), and the game-winning advice of a Cornell University student and president named Jeff Lehman. Discover the connections to Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust. Then break out the board and race to be the first to build hotels and dominate your playmates!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Fascinating story behind popular board-game [sic]"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Taking a spin with Bike Week in Barrie

Just over 2 weeks ago I woke in the wee hours to find my whole house was spinning like the midst of a tornado, a chilling thought as we approach the 30-year anniversary of the one that smashed through Allandale, killing 12 in and beyond Barrie.
But it turned out it was just me; I had contracted vestibular neuritis, an inner-ear infection whose nerve damage has left me with constant dizziness and unsteadiness (vertigo) as the whole world still seems to be turning or tilting to my right. I walk unsteady like I’m drunk, for 2 weeks I couldn’t drive, and I still can’t safely get on a bike. Which is the real shame, because Barrie’s perfect cycling season has arrived! The weather is nice, the roads are clear of ice and winter sand, the rain has held off, and a pedal-powered breeze is much sweeter in muggy weather like now.
What’s more, we are about to enter Barrie’s first official Bike Week. First up, for more ardent cyclists, comes Pedal Fest, billed as Ontario’s first-ever all-inclusive cycling festival. Taking place around the King St. loop in the south end and hosted by the Barrie/Simcoe Cycling Club, this event combines their 6th annual Youth Cup with a Para-cycling race and Mens/Womens Criterium.
This fun & friendly tournament is open by design to men, women, youth and adults of all abilities, including those needing to use hand-bikes, trikes or tandem cycles. The traffic-free on-street course features a full day of racing, DJs and live music, food trucks and a community walk/roll/wheel around the race course, open to all, and lead by Olympic gold medallist Graeme Murray; special guests also include five-time world champion Shelley Gauthier. You can find out more, or register to race or volunteer, at
City Hall is very cycle-accessible
Then the work week launches with Bike to Work and School Day, encouraging people to try cycling their commute for one day and see if it can become a habit. Try to bike to work (or school) Monday morning, and if you can, swing by City Hall first for the free breakfast in the Rotunda courtesy of some of Barrie’s best: Cravings Fine Food Market, The Farmhouse, and PIE Wood Fired Pizza Joint, served from 8 – 9:30 am.
Monday also begins the geocaching contest; between Monday and Friday, collect unique stickers from each secret location and you might win a luggage set from South Central Ontario CAA. What better reason to explore our city by bike? Keep up to date at
Next weekend, come to Bike Week Base Camp, put together by Barrie’s bike stores and clubs, to learn all about the cycling world in Barrie. Saturday’s (June 5) Base Camp in downtown’s Memorial Square will feature a rodeo (skill clinic) for kids from noon – 2 pm, and then Sunday’s Base Camp at Celebrate Barrie (June 6) will be the starting point for the Family and Community Group Ride around the waterfront, a safe and fun tour departing at 1 pm.
If my physio has progressed enough by Monday, I look forward to spinning down to City Hall for breakfast as we celebrate Barrie’s first Bike Week and the joy of healthy, sustainable active transportation. Leave your car at home for a day, hop on your wheels, and join us!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Cycling season has just rolled back into Barrie"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.