Friday, March 20, 2015

Plans for annual Super-Drive now in overdrive

Earth Hour is coming up again, and with it, Barrie’s own Earth Hour Super-Drive, hosted by the local Green Party. So for the 6th year running, it’s time to let us lend a hand with your spring cleaning, as you clear out all the old electrical or electronic junk from your home and sell it to us for cash.
We also take scrap metal
We can take anything that has a plug, battery, or chip, and now we even take (and pay for) the batteries, too. So old electronics, like computers or printers or scanners, can all be recycled. But we also accept simple electrical devices, like hair dryers or lamps or vacuum cleaners or coffee makers. And kids’ toys that flash or beep – or used to – along with scrap metal, printer cartridges, old digital cameras, old cell phones, old laptops, electric toothbrushes, and so on. Working or busted, it’s no matter to us, we’ll weigh it and pay you cash on the barrel. Unlike many recyclers (such as our partner GreenGo Recycling), we don’t have a minimum weight for payout, which means even a small load of junk gets you some change.
Why do we do this? Partly because all of these materials are bad news in landfill, where the various metals can leach toxins into our water. But also because the process of mining virgin metals and other materials rips up huge pieces of nature and leaves large piles of toxic tailings. So when you divert electrical materials from landfill, not only do you prevent pollution at the dump, you also prevent it wherever things are mined around the world.
And we do it on the same day as Earth Hour, because it’s another reminder of our individual and collective impact on our shared Earth. For an hour on a Saturday evening, we’re asked to turn off all non-essential electric devices (lights, TVs, computers) and enjoy each other’s company like in the days of old. One thing I’m starting to wonder is if we couldn’t have Earth Hour at a time of higher energy demand, like a weekday afternoon, instead of a low-demand Saturday evening. Then we would be reducing the amount of peak power production, even if only by a symbolic amount. At least that way schools and businesses would be able to take part. However, it’s a global event and I’m not sure how this time was chosen or who would be able to change it.
As always, the Super-Drive takes place behind 110 Dunlop St. W, in the rear parking lot off Toronto Street around the corner from Meineke. And what makes it so super is not just that we pay you for your junk, but we also accept food donations for the Food Bank and clothing for the Barrie Free Clothing Centre. The Super-Drive runs from 10 AM until noon on Saturday, March 28th. We look forward to salvaging even more e-waste this year and bringing in even more donations.
So get your spring clean in gear, grab that old junk out of the closet, garage, shed or attic, and lighten your load while putting a bit of cash in your pocket. You’ll be helping us, yourself, and our planet all at once. Super!

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Food Security can Blossom in Barrie

Bring up Food Security and the discussion will vary depending on who’s in the room. One participant might express concerns that access to healthy food is becoming more difficult for many. Healthy food choices are harder to identify and skills related to diet and meal planning are sorely lacking. Another might communicate a need to focus on maintaining a healthy environment where we can all access clean air and water and our local ecosystems are preserved.
If the respondent is a farmer, like Morris Gervais from Barrie Hill Farms, the conversation would mention pressure on local farmers competing in a global market where poor nations utilize disgracefully underpaid labour to produce crops at prices he cannot match in Canada. Now, if the product is some meaningless widget or bauble, perhaps we shouldn’t care where it is produced. If it’s not essential then it isn’t a concern if for some reason it became unavailable. But we’re talking about food, and loss of supply is just not a viable option. Weather, politics, climate change, and supply chain disruption all factor into the sourcing of food from distant lands, not to mention taking responsibility for an exploited workforce.
Someone else might suggest food security is displayed by a community that bonds together to celebrate food and culture in harmony. And each of these concepts is valid, so they were all incorporated into the Simcoe County Food & Agriculture Charter, published in 2013. 
This past Wednesday, I participated in the Community Food Workshop at Barrie’s Southshore Centre, the second in as a many years. The Barrie Food Security Coalition, supported by Living Green and the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit, organized this event in their pursuit of solutions to all these issues by bring together stakeholders from various sectors of the community. Social workers, educators, municipal employees, environmentalists and representation from agriculture and food distribution converged to network, listen to a cross-sampling of local initiatives like FruitShare and help design a report card to serve as a baseline for our community’s current level of food security.
As a prelude to the ‘work’ segment of the workshop, we were fortunate to hear some words of experience from Debbie Field, the dynamic Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto. Over the past 2 decades plus, Debbie has led FoodShare to become one of the largest and most respected food security organizations in the country, evidenced by multiple awards. She divulged how a committed group of volunteers and staff, combined with strategic partnerships, can facilitate a wide spectrum of programs and initiatives to move a community closer to a more secure food system.
Of course FoodShare Toronto, formed in 1986, has a 30-year head start on Barrie. But there’s no shame in leveraging best practices of older organizations. Barrie already has numerous initiatives that work toward all of the issues listed above. One of the Debbie’s key messages was to build partnerships and promote collaboration. The challenges surrounding food security are not isolated; the solutions must be interconnected and tackled by a spectrum of participants from all sectors. 
The key to it all is participation. Improving any aspect of a community requires involvement from the entire community. And when it comes to food, no one can say it’s not their problem.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie and Innisfil Examiners under the title "Food security concerns us all"
Thank you to Mike Fox for preparing the first draft of this article.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

LIBERTY dRULES: More idiocy on wind power

My friend Mike Fox recently sent this letter to the Editor of the Barrie Examiner, in response to a recent local op-ed column in the "Liberty Rules" series. I've added hyperlinks to illustrate the points made; where possible, they are to stories published by the same newspaper chain as publishes Mr. Fabrizio's silly, disinformative rants.

Dear Editor,

It’s a shame that community op-ed columns in this paper seem exempt from basic fact-checking, and that some writers, ideological blinkers fastened so tight they can’t even see their own contradictions, take advantage of this.

Paolo Fabrizio’s recent column “Blown away by wind turbines” (Barrie Examiner, March 5) is based on a number of unproven or outright false assertions.

He complains that people have wind turbines forced in their backyards, “just metres away”. Yet the mandatory setback for new industrial wind turbines in Ontario is 550 meters, more than a third of a mile. And both recent comprehensive studies completely disprove his assertion that they are “property value killing”.

Fabrizio brands them “bird smashing machines” yet actual counts show that bird deaths from wind turbines are minuscule next to the real major bird killers: cats and windows. A single feral cat or a single multi-story building kills more birds each year than any wind turbine. The CNE turbine, which Fabrizio mentions, is responsible for about 2-3 bird deaths a year, probably fewer than the average car commuter like him.

And back to that CNE turbine; Fabrizio opines that the Liberal premier excludes wind turbines from her own backyard, which he imagines to be the Toronto lakeshore, yet also complains that the CNE turbine is “never working”. If he were to put two-and-two together, or look at a publicly-available wind map, he’d find the real reason there aren’t more turbines on the Toronto waterfront: because it’s at the bottom end of the wind energy scale, unlike the more lucrative wind energy resource in the rural areas where wind farms are actually built. Nothing to do with political privilege or favour; everything to do with the practical matter of where the wind blows.

Wind maps, bird kill statistics, and property value studies are all just a few clicks away on any internet search; I hope Mr. Fabrizio tries to check a few basic facts before wasting ink to spread misinformation again.

I suspect that, as he has done before, Mr Fabrizio will dismiss his lack of valid facts with a mandate to provoke discussion. Unfortunately I suspect all too many readers might misinterpret his rants as factual further fueling the backlash to one of the most cost effective green energy alternatives available today.

By definition, prejudice is ‘an opinion or judgment that disregards the facts’. And a newspaper that allows its columnists to generate prejudice needs to rethink its validity.


Mike Fox
Barrie, Ontario


I would like to add something to Mike's excellent points. 

The Libertarian argument against wind power
Paolo vociferously claims to be a Libertarian, and to be incensed by government regulations that forbid a person from doing whatever they want, so long as it doesn't harm others, to make profit or enjoy their leisure. The Ontario government doesn't "force wind turbines" on anyone - they don't build them at all, and they won't make you have one on your land. Wind turbines are built by private companies on private land, with the permission of the land owners and to mutual financial benefit. All the government does is allow your neighbour to profit from their own land by building one, except that they must respect a rather large setback to protect you from any imagined harms. 

And imagined is what they are. There is no evidence of any serious harms from turbines, so there is certainly no reason for government to side with phantom fears against real enterprise.

Now, if the government were to forbid wind turbines, then I could see a Libertarian getting upset, because that would restrict his own ability to profit from his land. But this article, and the similar one before, seem to be anti-Libertarian, in that Paolo seems to want the government to forbid someone from a safe and legal use of their land just to protect the delicate sensibilities and phantom fears of some other people.

Whoever thought the day would come when Paolo the Libertarian would argue that private enterprise is bad, and should be restricted by laws, just to please people who don't like to look at it or think about it!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Get involved in Ontario's fight against climate change

An oft-repeated criticism of the updated Ontario sex ed health curriculum is “parents weren’t consulted”. If that were true, then it would be a serious flaw. However, the changes are actually the product of almost a decade of consultation with many stakeholders, including all 4,000 school council chairs, chosen by the parents of our schoolchildren and serving as the information conduit, in both directions, between parents and the school boards and Ministry of Education. This means parents at Ontario’s public schools were connected to the process, which is a good thing and helps validate the results.
Unlike many of the columnists in this paper, I’m not anti-government. I actually believe government can be (and often is) a force for good, which might be why all developed nations have extensive government while nations in severe difficulty have little, or no, or failed government.
However, for government to do good, it must be done well, and that means incorporating participatory democracy. This fancy phrase simply means our input into policy doesn’t start and end at the voting booth; government must constantly consult the public before undertaking major projects, letting us review new proposals before they are imposed, with worthy improvements incorporated. That is where many governments, including our current federal one, have failed; handed pre-written legislation by a particular industry or lobby group, they ram it through, ignoring or stifling debate and refusing any edits or improvements before making it law.
In Ontario, at least sometimes, this isn’t the case. Besides the sex ed curriculum I mentioned, I took part in the creation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan, as stakeholders like me were able to modify and improve the legislation significantly before it was passed. Of course, for this to work, you must stay informed and take part actively, not just wait to be asked.
It's time to talk about this.
Well, now Ontario is going to adopt a new strategy for fighting climate change but before they do, they have released a discussion paper and are holding a series of local town halls to get public feedback before creating new laws, regulations, policies or programs.
Sadly, the nearest town hall to Barrie is in Aurora on March 18th. Luckily, you can take part in this process without leaving town, by attending the pre-town hall conversation hosted by local Green Party candidates Marty Lancaster and Bonnie North.
This Sunday afternoon (March 8th) at 3:30 pm, concerned members of the public are invited to the CafĂ© at Local Foods Mart (enter through the Local Foods Mart on Dunlop at Mulcaster, or directly from the rear via Lakeshore Mews) for round-table discussions on topics relevant to climate, such as clean energy, local food, and carbon pricing. You can review the discussion paper online at this link, but we’ll also have copies at the meeting. The ideas you put forward or prioritize will be noted to present at the Aurora town hall or mail directly to Glen Murray, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Be heard! Attend our local meeting or make your way to Aurora. This is YOUR opportunity to get involved in the policy process and tell the politicians or bureaucrats what you want to see happen; don’t let it pass by and complain you weren’t consulted when they take action in your name.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Curriculum changes not made in the shadows"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Carbon fee and dividend best road for Ontario

Although Ontario’s supposedly imminent carbon pricing plan seems to keep getting kicked down the road, and won’t be in the upcoming budget, it does seem like this will finally be the year it happens.
Long overdue, but better late than never. The key, though, is to get it right, so we don’t lose more time with a failed program. To make the right choice, all we must do is look at which approaches have succeeded and which have not.
Carbon pricing is a fiscally responsible approach, basically taking away the privilege of polluting our atmosphere for free and instead making everyone responsible for their own actions and repercussions, by putting a reasonable price on emitting fossil carbon. This has support not only from environmentalists and climatologists, but also economists and major businesses, including some global oil companies. The two main routes are a simple fee, or some kind of quota system underneath a total limit, called a “cap”.
Quota systems, as a cap-and-trade, have been tried in Europe and found lacking. The key problem is how you allocate quota and set the cap. It seems far too common for certain industries to successfully argue that they are “critical”, so deserve a partial or total exemption. Events like an economic downturn or a cold winter are used as an excuse to loosen limits. Big polluters are “grandfathered”, and companies are allowed to buy dubious “offsets” from outside the cap. The end result is that the system is byzantine, leaky, corrupt, and fails to provide meaningful reductions.
A fee, on the other hand, is fair, even, predictable and direct, easy to monitor or adjust as targets are reached, and avoids all the wheeling-and-dealing that seems to undermine caps. The key, then, is to make sure the carbon fee doesn’t overburden the economy, becoming a job-killer or drag business. And that’s actually easier than you might think; just make the carbon fee revenue-neutral by returning all the income to the economy in the form of tax cuts or dividend payments.

British Columbia chose the route of a carbon fee returned via tax cuts, and has proven several important things. One is that a government (and a Liberal one, at that!) truly can implement a new tax while returning all the revenue back to the public, so that the total tax burden (and government revenue) does not rise. Ideologues assert this can’t be done, yet it has been, and has been independently verified. The other finding is that a revenue-neutral carbon fee need not hurt business, jobs, or the economy. Of course, it will push some industries to shrink or reform, and encourage others to grow, but overall it does not create a general drag. What it does bring is innovation leading to better productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness in a cleaner economy.
In fact, as was reported in this paper on Tuesday, the BC economy is expected to lead all other Canadian provinces in economic growth this year, at a respectable 3% rate. So any time someone asserts that a carbon price is economic suicide, be assured that their alarmism is counter to the truth.
So here’s hoping Ontario pays attention to what works and implements a simple carbon fee, and returns all the revenue either through other tax cuts or with a direct payment to every Ontario resident.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner (and Innisfil Examiner) as "A simple carbon fee can work"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Still a Green at heart, but not on the ballot

An old joke begins “The second-happiest day of a man’s life is when he buys a boat,” begging the question “What’s the happiest day?” The answer: the day he sells his boat!
Lucky for me, Marty said "Yes"

I felt like that on Sunday, when local Green Party members chose another to be our 2015 federal election candidate. Happy to have owned the boat, but very happy to pass it to the next owner.

In fact, I was only on the ballot in case the other person dropped out, and to offer our members a democratic choice in the unlikely chance they felt he wasn’t suitable. Luckily they agreed when I said he was the best choice and recommended choosing him, and now I am the proud former Green Party candidate for Barrie. My greatest pride is having been part of the local Green growth over the past decade, to the point where we were able to field two potential nominees for each of the two new Barrie ridings last week – four potential candidates where for so long, we only had one!
A debate, an interview, a few signs...
When I started with the Green Party back in aught-three, all that was expected of the candidate was to attend a debate, do a newspaper interview, put up a few dozen signs and perhaps answer some emails. (I think we had email way back then). Seeing it done by our 2003 provincial parachute candidate, I offered myself for the upcoming federal vote, to feature a local candidate. How hard could it be?
I've stood on the hands of giants
But I had underestimated the groundswell of Green support. By initiating the process half a year ahead, we managed to start something that snowballed by voting day. What started as three people meeting at Tim’s grew into a campaign involving dozens of volunteers, hundreds of signs, and thousands of votes. Since that humble beginning, a core of dedicated Greens managed to raise Barrie from the prior below-average Green vote to a consistent return, federally and provincially, of about 50% higher than the Green Party average each time, 6 elections in a row, even coming ahead of the NDP in 2007 and breaking the double-digit barrier in 2008. Among full slates, Barrie has managed to consistently reach the top 10% of Green campaigns.
Also, since that time, local Greens have worked with me to keep the Green Party very active between elections, including many events and activities featured in my columns. It has been great to see these efforts take fruit, and I have been honoured to serve as needed, but it has also been a huge commitment of time and emotion.
This is no way resembles the events
at the nomination meeting - really!
Now is the time for me to step back from the limelight, to re-engage with friends and family and my own business and leisure pursuits, without the constant taskmaster of partisan responsibility or being the public face of something larger than me.
I thank the many who have supported me over the years, with thousands of dollars, thousands of volunteer hours, and over twenty thousand votes; I could not have done any of that without their dedicated help. And I thank my family, most of all, for having shared me and given up so much of my time, what should have been their time, over the past 12 years. I trust they will enjoy my return as much as I will.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Green choices best for the party"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a volunteer with the Green Party of Canada.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes enough power means too much power

Supplying electricity to a province as large and diverse as Ontario is a complex undertaking, enough that one can always find some detail to “prove” a predetermined attitude, or so it seems. A case in point is the electricity oversupply we had on Christmas.
This is where J. J. Abrams gets his power
That day, as trumpeted by some anti-wind bloggers, saw so little demand for electricity in Ontario (due to mild weather, and most people not being at work) that we had more than we needed, had to give it away to other jurisdictions, even pay them to take it from us. Which means we (Ontario power customers) paid for wind energy we just gave away. Shocking!
We actually had too much power of all sorts: wind, nuclear, gas and hydro, so we bought power from all of those sources, and paid each to forgo producing more, to keep the system in balance. Yes, even worse than buying electricity we didn’t need, we even paid for some that wasn’t made! Scandalous! Or is it…
Context is key. On the lowest-demand day of the year, we had more electricity than we needed. Our power system was built to ensure we don’t run out on the days when we have our highest demand. To have enough power available to keep the A/C on for hot summer afternoons, we need to have far more available than can be used on mild winter holidays.
Sure, it would be nice if we just paid for exactly the power we needed, when we needed it, but that’s not realistic. Power plants cost big bucks to build. Heck, they can cost a half billion dollars NOT to build, as the cancelled gas plant scandal has shown! For builders to take on projects of that scale, they require guaranteed minimum contracts to cover fixed costs and make loan payments so they don’t go belly-up in a season of low demand.
Without it, firms simply wouldn’t be willing to lay out the funds to build power generation. That would leave us without enough domestic generation to meet our needs, and we’d have import more expensive power, which would make electric bills higher.
Of course, if all power generation were publicly owned, we would not have to make such payments. Yet we’d still pay, because the public would be on the hook for the full construction and operating costs, regardless how much power we did or didn’t need. Our bills would reflect that.
Another option would be some kind of storage capacity, so we could “bank” unused power and use it later when we needed it, instead of having to dump it. This could work, but the cost to build that storage would also be massive, and again go against your power bill.
So in the end, there is no avoiding it, and you can’t put all the blame on wind, or nuclear, or any other mode of generation. There have been many signs of mismanagement of the power system by the government, but paying for some wind we didn’t need on a low-demand holiday isn’t one. The simple fact is that if we want to have enough power ready when we need it most, then we must overpay a bit when we need it least. It’s all part of the complex trade-offs of providing reliable power service to Canada’s largest economy.  
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Planning needed to keep Ontario powered up"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Here's an email I received in response to my column:
Dear Erich,

I read your piece in the Barrie Examiner on the complexity of the electricity system.  I agree that the system is complex, but our over reliance on nuclear energy is a big factor in the current large power surpluses we are experiencing.  These plants have to operate at a steady level 24/7 and provide little system flexibility.  

A far better approach would be to reduce our dependence on nuclear energy and continue to increase our development of renewable energy in combination with water power imports from Quebec.  Quebec has massive capacity to store energy by holding water in reservoirs. Ontario's recent deal to exchange up to 500 MW of power with Quebec can be used to essentially transform Ontario wind and solar power into firm baseload power.  We send power to Quebec when we have a surplus; they send it back when demand peaks in Ontario.  

Of course, one of the key advantages of solar energy is that it produces most of its power "on peak" -- hot sunny days when power demand is highest.  Another reason we have a power glut is that the Ontario energy bureaucracy has consistently over estimated future demand for power and underestimated the potential of energy efficiency.  We need a more flexible and responsive electricity system, and that means one built around distributed generation sources like wind and solar.

Thanks for your time, 

Federation of Community Power Co-operatives  |  (416)977-5093 ext 2380