Thursday, October 25, 2012

3 flavours of sunny delight for Barrie

Shifting from our fossil-fuel based economy to a renewable one is expensive but inevitable, so we must stop investing in the carbon economy now; every investment locks us in to an unsustainable and unaffordable future for that much longer. Far cheaper in the long run to only invest in sustainable infrastructure that needn’t be replaced, or force us to burn yet more carbon.
Although we can’t control what government does (especially when prorogued), we can invest in our own community’s renewable power directly. And that’s also important because we are more secure when we create energy right here instead of having to pipe it in from distant gas fields or nuclear plants.
The good news is that there are now at least three different ways for Barrie residents to move us off carbon, increase local energy generation, and receive a good financial return for doing it.
The simplest is microFIT: install up to 10 kilowatts of solar panels on your roof and receive almost 55 cents per kw/h you produce over the next 20 years. The drawback? You must finance around $50,000 yourself, which is why my own project took a couple of years to set up. But don’t despair. There are also two different co-operative solar models recruiting members in the Barrie area.
One of them, EthoSolar, groups many property owners together into a single unit. You still provide a location to put up panels, but the panels are purchased and installed in bulk to save you money. After your $100 co-op membership fee, you can then finance the rest through the co-op’s long-term standard loan agreement at a fixed rate. That means you’re never out of pocket, because each year’s income covers the loan payments, plus money left over. Have a prime location for solar power but can’t easily pull together the start-up cost? This plan is for you.
Another plan, being arranged in partnership with the Options for Green Energy co-op, features each member purchasing one or more $5,000 equal shares. The shares will be combined to set up a single, large-scale rooftop project that’s already been registered under older, more generous rates. Each $5,000 will begin paying 5% per year, increasing to 6% and then 7% over the course of the 20-year contract. At the end, you even get your original $5,000 back. In effect, it works just like a long-term escalator bond. This co-op is suitable for an investor with money to invest but no location for panels.
Timelines are tight and opportunities may close in the new year, so if you are ready for your place in the sun, Barrie is ready for you now! For specific details about EthoSolar, contact or 705-795-6140. To learn about the OPTIONS co-op, contact And for microFIT, visit
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "There are ways to move away from using carbon"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost

“If we keep our pride though everything is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost”
As Rush performed their song Bravado Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre, this phrase resonated with today’s situation. The fall session of Parliament has been bizarre to witness. From the government comes ridicule of the NDP cap-and-trade proposal for greenhouse gases, even though the Conservatives themselves proposed the same approach in the 2008 election. Across the floor, the NDP deny their plan is a carbon tax, even though it would force those releasing carbon to pay a price. Both are putting spin and pride before the interests of Canadians and the world.
By opposing a price on carbon, what both a cap or tax would mean, they block the best way to stave off further global warming. There is simply no denying the cost that climate change will put upon us all, starting with the neediest in our own communities and the poorest among nations. We can’t wish it away. The only fair response is to ensure those who demand fossil energy, who benefit and profit from extraction of resources, who cause deforestation and soil erosion and ocean acidification, know and pay the true cost of their actions. Because if they get out of paying it, the rest of us must pick up the tab; we will pay the price.
Climate change is already eroding global GDP by 1.6 percent, costing $1.2 trillion a year. In human terms, almost 5 million a year die from fossil fuel pollution or its consequences. Putting a price on pollution and greenhouse gas emissions is the surest way to shift our economy away from waste and toward clean systems.
Some insist carbon pricing would harm our prosperity, yet the opposite is true. Bureau of Labor statistics show that the “greener” an industry or region, the greater its job growth. Meanwhile, Canada’s shift in emphasis away from value-added goods and services toward extraction of resources like oil, gas, and forests has reduced our international competitiveness, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Even worse, our resource sector’s voracious appetite for investment capital is putting more and more of our economy under foreign control.
The biggest myth about carbon pricing is that it would be a tax on everything. False! As long as carbon tax revenues are used to lower other taxes or provide an equal rebate, they won’t make life any more expensive, as BC has already proven. What carbon pricing will do is reward those with a smaller ecological footprint (including the poor), and spur much-needed innovation in our economy, the true driver of sustainable prosperity.
So our governing Conservatives and opposition NDP should stop their bickering against carbon pricing, and agree on a system to implement as part of a much-needed national energy strategy. The sooner, the better for our environment and our economy, our planet and our prosperity.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Bickering won’t fuel national energy plan"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Water pressure

Back in May of this year I wrote a couple of columns about the silliness of drinking so much bottled water in a society where clean tap water is so abundant. Well, there are big interests with big money at stake, because putting a penny of tap water in a bottle and selling it to you for a dollar is a pretty high margin business. 

Today I learned that, sadly, the City of Guelph seems to have been convinced by the bottled water lobby to pull a screening of a documentary about the issue. In Barrie, we've also seen similar pressure from the industry, and below are a series of letters that ran in the local paper in response to my column, plus the (current) final result for Barrie.

This was the first letter, in response to my first column, which spawned my second column.

Banning bottled water not the answer (May 8)

(Re: 'Plenty of ways to keep our beautiful city squeaky clean' in the May 3 edition of the Examiner)
I read with interest Erich Jacoby-Hawkins' column. In the piece, Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins writes that one way to keep Barrie's public spaces cleaner is to "refuse bottled water."
While he is to be commended for his commitment to environmental sustainability, Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins is focused on banishing from use a legal, federally- regulated food product found in a 100% recyclable bottle -- and the healthiest beverage found in a plastic container.
The industry that produces these products also funds a minimum of 50% of every curbside, depot and public spaces recycling program in Canada, including those in Barrie.
In partnership with five municipalities in four provinces over the last three years, Nestlé Waters Canada and its industry partners have funded pilot public spaces recycling programs with the objective of launching these initiatives provincewide.
The first permanent program in North America was established in Manitoba in 2010. The Canadian beverage industry is confident more provinces will come on stream with similar offerings in the years to come.
Independent waste audits from these pilots have confirmed that plastic beverage containers, of which bottled water is a small percentage of the total beverage mix, represent about 1% to 4% of litter in public spaces and/or recyclables found in garbage containers.
Achieving "squeaky clean" public spaces requires installing recycling infrastructure and supporting it with continuous public education -- not banning bottled water and, thus, infringing on Barrie residents' fundamental right to consume the beverage of their choice, wherever it may be.
John Challinor, Nestle Waters Canada, Milton
In my defense, my friend Don McNeil wrote this letter:

Water bottle issue 'muddied': LETTER OF THE DAY (May 14)

Nestle Waters Canada has a hired gun and he has trained his sights on Barrie. The problem
for Nestle's John Challinor is he keeps missing his target when he is not firing blanks.
Mr. Challinor, and his paid-for opinions in the defence of single-use plastic water bottles, missed their mark when he claimed Barrie Examiner columnist Erich Jacoby-Hawkins has called for a ban on the sale of bottled water in a recent article.
Mr. Challinor wrote his diatribe based on three words in Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins' column: "Refuse bottled water."
Actually, Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins never mentioned the word ban or even proposed one.
Also, Mr. Challinor defended his product, boasting of partnerships with five municipalities in four provinces, to fund pilot public spaces recycling programs proclaiming the first
permanent program in North America was established in Manitoba in 2010.
However, he fails to mention that, the following year, the Manitoba government actually banned the use of provincial funds to purchase single-use plastic water bottles and four Manitoba municipalities and two of that provinces' three universities have banned the sale of bottled water while the third is installing hydration stations with the hopes of a bottle ban.
Mr. Challinor also mentioned how he hoped the Nestle-led initiative would spread nationwide, while failing again to mention nearly 100 municipalities, including six provincial and two territorial capitals, have banned the sale of bottled water.
Those communities have been joined by nearly 40 universities, colleges and school boards. It almost seems Mr. Challinor is actually selling 'muddied water'.
I earlier stated Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins, in his article critiqued by the Nestle rep, never mentions the word ban or even proposes one, but it is a great idea. In fact, the Council of Canadians approached the City of Barrie in March 2012 with hopes city hall will join the growing roster of blue communities across the country in protecting our water in three important ways.
One, banning the sale of water bottles in public facilities and municipal events.
Two, commit to publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.
Three, officially recognize water as a human right.
At the end of the day, Challinor is a Nestle executive whose motives need to be questioned. Our interest is purely altruistic.
Don MacNeil, Simcoe Region (Ontario) Chapter of Council of Canadians

Which drew this response from Mr. Challinor

Bottled water not banned (May 22)

(Re: 'Water bottle issue muddied' in the May 15 edition of the Examiner)
I read with interest Don MacNeil's the letter.
While I studiously avoid he said-she said debate in the pages of local newspapers, Mr. MacNeil makes a number of statements about bottled water that have long been confirmed as false - mythology one typically finds on anti-bottled water activist websites, including the Council of Canadians.
Contrary to what was stated, the province of Manitoba has not banned the sale of bottled water in its facilities, as a letter to me, dated Dec. 13, 2011, from Manitoba Conservation Minister Dave Chomiak will confirm.
A copy has been filed with the editor of the Examiner.
To date, 120 local governments across Canada have formally rejected resolutions to ban the sale of bottled water in their facilities. Twenty-eight municipalities, four school boards and 12 colleges and universities have banned the sale of the product.
Most telling is the fact that several thousand local jurisdictions have determined there are more important matters to consider than bottled water, like repairing aging water and sewer infrastructure, improving local service delivery and keeping taxes low.
John Challinor, Nestle Waters Canada (Guelph)

Meanwhile, Mr. Challinor had also written a letter in response to my second column:

Column dilutes water facts (May 18)

(Re: 'City heads must leads residents back to the taps' in the May 10 edition of the Examiner)

I read with interest the column written by Erich Jacoby-Hawkins. While I studiously avoid he said/she said debate through the editorial pages of local newspapers, the comments by Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins require a reply.

In the piece, he makes numerous statements about bottled water that have long been confirmed as false - mythology one typically finds on anti-bottled water activists' websites, like the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
For example, independent research firm Quantis International ( found that bottled water has the lightest carbon footprint of any bottled beverage, whether measured by water use, petroleum product use or greenhouse gas emissions. The average bottle of water travels about 250 kilometres from source to shelf. That compares to 2,400 to 3,200 km for fresh fruit and vegetables and most consumer packaged goods, according to Washington agricultural consultant Dan Murphy.
Health Canada regulations for bottled water must be as strong and protective of public health as provincial regulations for tap water.
However, Examiner readers need not take my word for it, nor Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins' for that matter. When it comes to the quality, safety or regulation of bottled water, they can get the facts by simply visiting the Health Canada website (
His information related to recalls is simply false.
His comment that recycled plastic bottles weren't being used to make new ones is also incorrect. Nestle Waters Canada is one of several bottled water producers in Canada that are selling bottled water in recycled packaging. The company's Montclair brand is Canada's best-known natural spring bottled water produced in recycling packaging.
Also contrary to what was written, while bottled water costs about 200 to 300 times more than tap water, it's an irrelevant comparison. Most Canadians don't view them as competing hydration alternatives.
According to independent consumer research firm
Probe Research (, 70% of Canadians drink both. They consume tap water at home and bottled water away from home for health and convenience. Bottled water competes with other bottled beverages. It is not an alternative to tap water.
As for CUPE and the council's Blue Communities Project, it is a Trojan horse-like treatise developed solely to encourage Canadian municipalities to ban the sale of bottled water in their facilities under the guise of human rights and infrastructure management. It is not an environmental initiative - it is a political campaign.
We agree with the council and CUPE that water is a human right. And given that Canada has a $31-billion water and sewer infrastructure deficit resulting in, amongst other things, more than 1,500 boil-water orders across the country last year, we also support continued investment in our municipal systems.
Where we draw the line with the council and CUPE is their misguided and misleading attempts to ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities.
In closing, while Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins is entitled to his views, Examiner readers have a right to know the facts. Publishing poorly researched columns like this will erode the reputation of a good newspaper like the Examiner over time.
John Challinor - Nestle Waters Canada, Milton

I must say that of all of his spin, the part I take greatest exception to is his accusation that "His information related to recalls is simply false." No, it's not - it's fully documented here

Anyhow, back to letters, as Don again came to my defense:

Flood of missing information in letter (May 22)

(Re: 'Column dilutes water facts' in the May 19 edition of the Examiner)
I see the Nestle Waters hired gun is once again playing his version of spin the (water) bottle.
In Nestle's John Challinor's latest missive, he once again cherry picks the truth and plays a misdirection game with the facts. He speaks of outdated polls and offers up morsels of detail as he defends nothing more than his company's ability to make obscene profits.
Mr. Challinor tells you "independent research firm Quantis International found that bottled water has the lightest carbon footprint of any bottled beverage".
What he forgot to mention is that other bottled beverages, including juice, pop, sports drinks, beer and even milk, use grown ingredients, such as sugar, to manufacture their products. Those ingredients need to be shipped to bottling plants. Since none of these other beverages flow from my kitchen tap it puts bottled water in a different class and enforces the redundancy of the product Nestle Water peddles.
Mr. Challinor also mentions "independent consumer research firm Probe Research (found) 70% of Canadians drink both (tap and bottled water)" and this, in Nestle's eyes, means "most Canadians don't view them as competing hydration alternatives". He adds these people "consume tap water at home and bottled water away from home".
That Canadians drink bottled water away from home is one reason why so many single-use plastic water bottles don't find there way to a blue bin. It's easier to recycle at home. Also, Mr. Challinor neglected to mention that the Probe Research findings are four years old. Polls are snapshots in time while opinions and behaviours are, pardon the pun, fluid. His data, like his product, has a limited shelf life.
And finally Mr. Challinor employs fear tactics. He, ironically, accuses the Council of Canadians of being misleading and misguided in our attempts to ban the sale of water bottles at municipal buildings and events and goes as far as to call our Blue Communities initiative "Trojan horse-like" adding "it is not an environmental initiative - it is a political campaign".
Once again, he is partly right. It is a political campaign. To paraphrase Council of Canadians national chairperson Maude Barlow, all grassroots activism invites our elected local representatives to have a democratic, public debate and that it is "laughable (and insulting to local elected officials) to suggest that city councillors are being duped by our call to rethink the use of bottled water. Decisions to end the sale of bottled water are made in public, after open and democratic debate. It's hard to argue with that process".
In closing, Mr. Challinor said "Examiner readers have a right to know the facts. Publishing poorly researched columns like this will erode the reputation of a good newspaper like the Examiner over time."
Finally, something we can agree on.
Don MacNeil
Simcoe Region Chapter of Council of Canadians (Barrie)

And for good measure, Don also responded to Challinor's response to him:

Facts do hold water (May 30)

(Re: 'Bottled water not banned' in the May 23 edition of the Examiner)

I see John Challinor of Nestle Waters Canada is at it again. His playing three card monte with the facts would be comical if it weren't so disconcerting.

He makes the claim that, in a previous letter to the editor, I had made "a number of statements about bottled water that have long been confirmed as false."

Yet, of all the information I , presented he could only cite one statement he found erroneous.

And he even got that wrong.

Mr. Challinor writes "contrary to what was stated (by me), the province of Manitoba has not banned the sale of bottled water in its facilities."

What I wrote was that "the Manitoba government actually banned the use of provincial funds to purchase single-use plastic water bottles."

Manitoba Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie said, at the time: "We believe, by taking this step, we are leading by example and encouraging Manitobans to move away from using single-use bottled water."

I had forgotten to mention at the time that Nova Scotia enacted a similar ban on purchasing bottled water a year before Manitoba did.

Perhaps in the future, Nestle Waters can use some of the profits it makes from its overpriced, unnecessary product to pay for a proofreader, or fact-checker.

Don MacNeil, Simcoe Region Chapter of Council of Canadians (Barrie)

If you've read this far, you probably agree that Challinor lost the battle of the letters. Unfortunately, he won the battle at Council - for now, anyway. And he's trying to do the same in Guelph. I hope that their valiant letter writers will have more success than we did.

p.s. Apologies for the weird formatting, Blogger seems to have trouble with cut-and-paste from some websites.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's Time to Care in Barrie

Thanksgiving has passed; hopefully we all had much for which to give thanks. However, there are many among us who have very little, are barely scraping by. My daughter and I saw this again first-hand, helping with Rosie’s annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Hundreds came to enjoy a hearty meal together, but though the day is done, their need continues. Even between holidays, we must work to share the bounty of our prosperity.
This coming Thursday (October 18) will be one such initiative, the Time to Care event put on by the Barrie Chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness. Based on a successful model from a few years ago, this will be a day of free services and resources for those who are having trouble making ends meet.
The location will be Central United Church, and the event runs from 2 to 6 PM. Attendees will enjoy free men’s haircuts from Rick the Barber or women’s styling from two hairdressers. A photographer will be on hand doing free portraits, while an ID clinic will help people get the proper identification that is so often crucial to have on hand.
With help from the Barrie Food Bank, the David Busby Street Centre, the Barrie Free Clothing Centre and other Chapter members, hearty soup kits will be available to take home, along with pet food and some gently used clothing, including jeans and winter wear. Be among the first 100 attendees and you can put it all in a durable recycled plastic bag courtesy of the Barrie Green Party.
The health ministry of Mapleview Community Church is providing a foot care nurse, information on health promotion, and take-home healthy breakfast provisions like granola bars and cereal. Healthy Smiles mobile dentist will be set up for kids and teens, and a Nurse Practitioner and personal support worker will be there to address health concerns.
There will be presentations about the Good Food Box program and legal advice about tenants’ rights and responsibilities.
To ensure no-one is hungry that day, the Barrie Chapter’s different member agencies will have a chili cook-off, each featuring their own special recipe, accompanied by fresh rolls from Fox’s Bakery. I’m looking forward to sharing my (soon to be) famous spicy vegetarian chili!
It’s said a society shall be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. In that case, the members of the Alliance’s Barrie Chapter are working hard to redeem our community. If you know of anyone who could make use of our assistance, please make sure they know of the Time to Care next Thursday, and perhaps even help get them to and from the event. You, too, can be part of the solution.
Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published as "Contribute to 'Time to Care' event next week".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, October 5, 2012

Green Screens Could Awaken a Tiger

When we talk about China and the environment, we seem to be dealing with two opposites. On the one hand, China is where the majority of the world’s solar panels are manufactured, and produces the world’s largest amount of wind energy, adding a turbine every hour, much of it from the kind of offshore wind farms that Canada is still too timid to construct. Their automobile emission standards match Europe’s, and their reforestation projects are truly massive.
On the other hand, China’s environmental footprint is a great concern. They burn vast amounts of coal, and are building still more coal plants. Their CO2 emissions rival those of the United States, though their per-person emissions are much lower. Many who work to delay climate action in Canada point to China’s emissions as a reason not to bother doing anything here.
So what is the truth? Is China a great green hope, or does their future growth doom our sustainability initiatives to irrelevance? Are their solar panels being dumped on the world market at below-cost prices or are they efficiently making renewable energy affordable? Will they scoop up what’s left of Canada’s tar sands to burn in their factories and cars, or will they find a cleaner way to power their growth?
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Although the Chinese environmental record is abysmal in many ways, they also have a demonstrated ability to shift gears quickly. And there is finally a mass environmental consciousness taking root in China, one with the power to give pause even to the autocrats at the top of their one-party government.
You can learn more about this new spirit in the Canadian documentary leading off the 2012-13 Green Screen series this October 11th. On Thursday evening at 7 PM, “Waking the Green Tiger” will launch Living Green’s new season of environmentally-themed films. Follow the series at
This season will be screened at 89 Dunlop St. E. (behind Casa Cappuccino), Suite 101, in the generously donated space of lawyer Maureen Tabuchi. We’ll present a film every other month, and feature filmmakers or expert panels to help enrich the lively post-film discussions. Admittance is only $5, or pay-what-you-can.
The space seats over 50, so bring a friend (or two) interested in what’s happening in our world now, and in the future. Beyond learning from the movies, the following group discussion will give us a chance to explore ideas for action, or discover groups already working on local solutions. After this film, perhaps we’ll discuss how China is establishing and strengthening new and accessible environmental regulations at the same time as Canada is rolling back or gutting our own to shut out public participation.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Environmental footprints of great concern"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation