Thursday, December 19, 2013

Transit can pay its own way with Land Value Capture

Imagine a new streetcar or subway line were built and extra money started magically appearing in cash registers of businesses along it; along the route, especially at stops, landlords suddenly got a cash bonus with their monthly rent cheques. Meanwhile, businesses along this line saw costs drop because they needed to provide less parking for employees and customers even as employee retention and sales traffic went up, further boosting bottom lines.
If all this were clearly marked as coming from the transit service, which the government paid to install and run, would it be fair for businesses or landlords to pocket that cash? Would it make more sense for that free extra money to be collected by the government that created it? Of course it would, and doing so would let transit pay for itself without expensive taxpayer subsidies.
This approach is called Land Value Capture (LVC), and is how Ontario should finance improvements in transit. The beauty of LVC is that it doesn’t increase anyone’s real tax burden at all, it just reclaims some of the extra revenue public infrastructure creates from the landowners who didn’t do anything to earn it.
How would it work? The existing market value property assessment system could track how much prices of land near new transit rose beyond normal property value rise. That extra increase would clearly be the result of the improved transit, and be recaptured through a surtax on the extra land value.
Landowners along that route would already be charging higher rents to businesses or residents reflecting improved access to these sites, normal practise in a market economy like ours. But instead of pocketing extra unearned rent, landowners would remit most of it as an LVC surtax. There would be no extra tax burden on the businesses or families renting those properties, and landowners would still keep the basic rent they were already charging before the increase.
People living in their own house or condo would have the option of deferring all of their LVC until they eventually sold the property; accumulated LVC would add up to less than the rise in their land value since the transit was improved. Thus they would still keep all the value they had invested in their property, and even pocket the general increase not due to transit. If, for some reason, their property’s market value stayed flat or went down, there would be no LVC assessed, as there would be no extra value to capture.
Sadly, the province is leaning towards a gas tax of 10 cents per liter. While I believe energy prices are too low, any increase should be used to reduce job-killing taxes like HST or payroll taxes, not to increase overall spending and taxation.
Transit should be financed by those who benefit financially from it, the landowners along or near the transit route, not by taxing everyone near and far. The purpose of transit is to move people along it, but if we go the gas tax route (or increase HST, another proposal) we’ll be moving money from the general taxpayers into the pockets of privileged landowners!
Land value capture was mentioned in Ann Golden’s Transit Panel report and I know Ontario’s Transport Minister, Glen Murray, is familiar with it from when he proposed land value taxes as Mayor of Winnipeg. I can’t imagine why he isn’t championing it now, so transit can pay for itself instead of putting the burden on all regardless of benefit. There is still time before the province finalizes plans in the spring; I hope they seriously reconsider using LVC to finance transit from unearned income instead of the tax dollars of hard-working Ontarians.

Publised as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Transit costs need review / Ontario's transit plan needs tweaking" or "Not all taxpayers should pay for transit costs

Re-posted by request at Loonie Politics
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Barrie is becoming the home town I hoped it would be

Although I grew up in a small town, I often visited relatives in downtown Toronto, staying there all summer for student jobs, so I was always comfortable in a big city. I chafed at things my rural hometown lacked, like a movie theatre, comic or game or used book store, or even (at times) a bowling alley or video arcade. Especially in the tween and teen years before I could drive, my small town felt stifling. The big city always seemed the place where anything was possible and compatriots could be found to share any interest, unlike the comparatively limited activities and views small town life offered.
After high school, I lived in cities like Kitchener/Waterloo, Windsor, and Toronto. Then a small Korean town followed by a megacity: Seoul. In Korea, even small towns connected to major cities with frequent and affordable transit.
Returning to Canada, we settled in Barrie, which certainly billed itself a city. But I was disappointed to learn it lacked many urban attractions I expected of a community of 100,000+. Instead, it seemed trapped in some sort of limbo between town and city, with a nasty undercurrent of anti-urbanism.
Luckily, over the following decade-plus, Barrie has managed to grow in urban offerings and diversity, even faster than the actual growth in population. The arts scene is improving, despite continuing push-back around City funding of the Maclaren Art Centre or arts grants. The Barrie Film Festival has expanded the number and scope of their offerings, adding the annual Reel Stories documentary festival and a series of outdoor screenings. The first Barrie International Comedy Festival was a great success, portending a new annual tradition. The Mady Centre is constantly busy hosting productions by several theatre companies and musical series. We even finally have a second library branch(!)
Transit links are improving, the bus system evolving from suburban-style hub-and-spoke toward urban-style grid. GO train service is restored and growing at two new stations, offering north-south travelers a pleasant rail alternative to the daily 400 grind. City council seems to have lost some of their past small-town fear of higher density development or tall(ish) buildings, and are tackling problems through forward-thinking plans instead of the reactionary responses or head-in-sand approach of past decades.
Meanwhile, my daughters enjoy weekly German classes offered free by the local school board, where the most wonderful teacher helps them connect with family roots; the program offers instruction in a variety of other languages to offer the same benefit to families of many backgrounds.
But what really brought it home for me today is food. Three years of shopping & cooking in Korea instilled Korean cuisine habits in my family that we had to satisfy with periodic shopping trips to Toronto’s “K-town”. Just recently, several of our Korean staple ingredients have become available at Barrie locations like Local Foods Mart and Wholesale Club, which means we can now get by with a lot fewer grocery runs to the Big Smoke. On top of that, downtown Barrie (I refuse to call our lowest elevation “Uptown”) now features a real Korean restaurant, right at the Five Points, named (appropriately enough) “home town house” (Ko Hyang Jib).
Finally Barrie is becoming the home town I hoped it would be when I settled here. I now feel confident that whatever your particular interest, be it a genre of jazz or blues or chamber music, or a flavour of ethnic cuisine or a style of theatre or comedy or film, if you can’t find it here now, you will soon.

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, December 5, 2013

Who da man!

The 21st Doctor and her faithful K9 companion
Recently a wonderful franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary. It’s called Doctor Who, a British television show launched by the BBC in 1963. Originally intended to combine science fiction with historical information to create an interesting and educational show for young people, historical elements soon dwindled in the face of fantastical story-telling, but the show has nonetheless remained wonderfully educational, in a different way. And that’s why I’m so happy that my own young daughters are now big fans of the show and of the title character, “The Doctor”.
I grew up loving many sci-fi programs: space operas like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers, along with super-hero shows like Wonder Woman, the Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, and the Greatest American Hero. These were all the product of the American mind, so problems were resolved when the hero out-shot or out-fought the enemy. With a few notable exceptions, in the vast majority of stories, the heroes won the day by destroying their enemy in battle, albeit using superior tactics or even strength of character to overcome unfavourable odds or find the enemy’s weakness and amplify the effect of their own weapons.
But Doctor Who had a different, British sensibility. Unlike the armed-to-the-teeth spaceships of American sci-fi, the Doctor’s time and space-travelling TARDIS didn’t mount any weapons, and didn’t look like a battleship or missile-with-windows. Instead, it had adopted the camouflage appearance of a normal police box, and although it got stuck in that shape, seeming out-of-place in other places or times, it never looked threatening. The Doctor’s first response to meeting anyone was either to start up polite conversation or run away quickly, depending how dangerous the situation. He would never shoot first, and in most cases, never shot at all, which was helped by the fact that he didn’t carry a weapon. His primary prop was his touch-free “sonic screwdriver”, although his long scarf also saved the day many times.
The Doctor solved most dilemmas by getting the enemy to retreat, or destroy themselves, or simply bringing both sides together in peace. Often the alien threat turned out to be a case of confusion or mistaken identity; once resolved, what seemed a horrible monster was just an alien creature that went away peacefully, freed from a trap or from domination by someone exploiting it for their own evil ends.
And unlike American sci-fi heroes backed by teams of loyal (if less-skilled) soldiers, the Doctor’s companions were just everyday civilians even more inclined to run from danger. His loyalty to them and willingness to risk his own life for theirs demonstrated that despite his talk & run modus operandi, he was no coward.
It was this willingness to talk first, to retreat when possible rather than fight to the death, a will to get to the root of conflict in order to ease it instead of a drive to dominate and defeat, that was the truly educational power of the Doctor Who series. Raised on both American and British sci-fi, my own instincts are mixed, but I try to consider the Doctor’s approach. I’m glad my own children can grow up watching the new stories, as part of the renewed Doctor Who series, instead of filling their minds with the more militaristic, black-and-white, destroy-the-enemy approach that still tends to characterize most American action shows. And I hope in future we all learn to avoid conflict, find the root causes, and reconcile both sides whenever we can instead of instinctively jumping to destroy the “other”.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Dr. Who can offer some sound advice"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is not a time-travelling alien with two hearts, but he does wear colourful scarves.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sometimes, good work is recognized

Members of Living Green, flanked by LSRCA members.
Over the past decade and half of volunteering and activism, I’ve learned that working to help our ecosystem and our fellow humans is often a thankless task. That’s why it’s especially rewarding when we actually receive recognition, as was the case earlier this month.
Each year the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) salutes and celebrates the Lake's "Watershed Heroes" and this year, Living Green was honoured to receive the new Pioneering Green Community Award.
We were recognized for our active involvement in planting trees through our newly-formed Urban Canopy Coalition. Over the past year the UCC has raised money to replace dead trees on public lands in Barrie, and partnered with the City and the LSRCA to plant over a thousand new trees including oak, maple, pine and tamarack at the Huronia Buffer site. To further prevent erosion and improve the environmental health of our green species, we have also begun to plant willows, shrubs, and trees on the river banks at Sunnidale Park.
This coming year, with our partners, we plan at least two more tree plantings in the spring and fall, and will continue to interplant native pollinators in Queen’s Park along Toronto Street. Last year we were fortunate to receive a large donation from Barrie Chiropractic, and we are looking for new donations from businesses, large or small. Contact if you would like to donate or volunteer with the tree planting.
As UCC founder Gwen Petreman points out, we are still learning the many benefits of trees. Recently our knowledge of the importance of trees to the life of bees has expanded. Bees collect tree resin to make a material called “propolis” which they use to seal up the edges of their hive. But now we know it also has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties that protect the hive’s bees from many potential pests. Since bees pollinate about 1/3 of the food we eat, preserving trees means protecting bees which means feeding humans. We’re all connected!
Living Green’s other initiatives include regular clean-ups of Queen's Park, maintaining the environmental focused website operating Off the Rack thrift store with the Barrie Free Clothing Centre, hosting Green Screens and passing along traditional skills via the ReSkill Institute. 
Another LSRCA “Watershed Heroes” award went to the students of the Eco-Team at Newmarket’s Alexander Muir Public School in recognition of their successful ban of disposable water bottles and fundraising $2,500 for a filling station for reusable bottles at their school. I was thrilled to learn that this group of elementary students had succeeded in overcoming the powerful bottled-water lobby that so far has stymied many similar initiatives in our local municipality and school board, and gives me hope that future attempts here may yet succeed.
It also gave us the idea of hosting our own Living Green awards ceremony to recognize the best Barrie-area school eco-clubs. I know there are some great initiatives going on at local schools, and I’m sure there must be some local businesses that would love to put their name on a trophy or an awards ceremony. If you or a business you know is interested in sponsoring that kind of event, we’d love to hear from you!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie (and Innisfil) Examiners as "Living Green's nod from conservation group means a great deal
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Are you ready for A Day in a Life?

At the Food Not Bombs dinner last night the group’s founder and long-time organizer Keith McHenry spoke of the challenges sharing free food with the hungry. Powerful corporate interests don’t like to be shamed by juxtaposing their wealth with poverty next door; politicians must hide proof of their failed social and economic policies. So the cops are sent in to break it up, arrest volunteers, keep hungry people away from healthy food until it is trampled under-boot.
The pretexts are lack of permits, unhealthy food, creating a disturbance, but the root issue is active denial that poverty is a real and growing problem despite decades of economic “growth”. Well-paid airheads of corporate-owned media opine that the poor aren’t really poor, because many of them own a refrigerator, microwave, TV or cell phone, miracle devices even a king could not obtain 150 years ago! Yet an old appliance won’t keep you fed or pay the rent, cover its own electric bill, treat a chronic illness.
Too often the denial machine is successful, hiding how tough things really are for many in our own communities. Canada is lucky to not have as many examples of a violent government response to poverty, but I still encounter denial of the problems. Some assert that people are homeless by choice, or that most on welfare just don’t want to earn a living.
If you nod your head at either of those ideas, you owe it to yourself to come down to Barrie’s City Hall Rotunda on Monday, November 18th for a reality check. From 11 AM to 6 PM, the Barrie Chapter of the Alliance to End Homelessness is hosting “A Day in a Life” to open your eyes, and heart. Interactive displays will be anchored by a full-scale mock-up of a ten-by-ten “furnished” room from a shelter or rooming house. Learn about links between poverty and poor health, struggles to afford a healthy diet, challenges of finding and maintaining decent housing.
Obstacles are many. Physical or mental health problems or addictions can be a huge burden turning everyday situations into trials. Unexpected events or “detours” can shake someone from a comfortable life into a downward spiral. A simple lack of income is stress enough to trigger a raft of difficult choices, few if any of them leading to a decent and secure lifestyle.
This struggle exists right here in Barrie. If you think the solution is just to pull yourself up and make the best of it, then come to the display and show us how! At the income booth you’ll be issued the money someone on disability, welfare, or minimum wage receives, then make your way around the other stations to obtain food, transportation, clothing, health, and other basic needs and try to still have enough at the end to rent the 10x10 room.
Job statistics in Barrie show improvement, but many are still a long way from economic security. There’s plenty of temporary work, but we don’t have temporary rents or temporary mortgages. Minimum wage doesn’t cover even a minimum healthy life; even less so on part-time hours, or if trying to support a family.
Together we can build solutions, but first we must acknowledge and understand the problems. Are you brave enough to spend “A Day in a Life”?

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Job stats in Barrie look good, but we're a long way from economic security" or "Temporary work not enough"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cooking with Keith and Food Not Bombs: a route to community or jail?

In August I announced the resumption of Barrie’s monthly Food Not Bombs dinners, featuring community-prepared vegan meals offered free to all. My activities since then have kept me connected to local food security: helping at Rosie’s Thanksgiving dinner and providing the Barrie Food Bank over a ton of fresh fruit in FruitShare Barrie’s pilot season. Like all successful projects, these involve the efforts and donations of many community members, and luckily, these efforts seem to have the support of everyone who hears of them, or at least, nobody seems to speak against them.
But I was surprised to learn, while researching Food Not Bombs, that this is not always the case elsewhere, that the simple act of feeding hungry people can lead to controversy, rejection, even arrest.
A recent story caught my eye: an atheist club wanting to help the poor offered to volunteer at a church-run soup kitchen in South Carolina. They were rudely rejected, told they were in league with the devil! Luckily the group, Upstate Atheists, remains undaunted and has cooperated with other community groups, including religious ones, delivering help to those in need. It disgusts me that any faith organization would rather divide community than bring caring people together.
But at least that was just a war of words. More concerning is people arrested and jailed for feeding the hungry on public property. That often happens to Keith McHenry, founder and organizer with Food Not Bombs for over 30 years. This author and artist has been arrested, jailed, beaten and tortured for his work promoting peace over militarism while addressing poverty, with Food Not Bombs targetted by authorities as a suspected terrorist group!
In San Francisco, the charge was “making a political statement” by providing free food near the Golden Gate Bridge, something it’s hard to believe can be a crime in the “Land of the Free”. McHenry was also arrested in Orlando, Florida for similar activity. In that city, a group must have a permit to distribute food at a park, and can only do it twice per year, before moving to another park. Food Not Bombs counters that people need to eat every day, not just twice a year, and that some locations (including the picnic area they use at Lake Eola Park downtown) are a better fit for that community activity.
If you find this opposition as shocking as I do, come to the next Food Not Bombs dinner at 6 PM this Tuesday, November 12 at the D.I.Y. Arts Collective at 67 Toronto Street and meet McHenry himself, as he will be the keynote speaker of “Cooking with Keith”. As always, literature about various political and community causes will be present, but unlike some programs, you don’t have to take part in the service before you eat! Dinner comes first, followed by what promises to be a very interesting presentation and discussion.
One of the principles of Food Not Bombs is to rescue discarded food that would otherwise be wasted, and redirect it to the hungry. An interesting documentary about food waste called “Dive!” will be featured at an upcoming Green Screen event hosted by Living Green. If you are interested in seeing this, sign up for newsletters at or and you’ll get an alert when the screening is scheduled.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Food Not Bombs finding its way to Barrie"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 31, 2013

You're either on the bus or off the bus

Now, you're either on the bus or off the bus
It’s a dizzying time for public transit in Barrie. Our bus system changed not just specific routes but the whole approach; luckily, in a way that seems mainly to the better. Of course no change has only winners, but it seems there are far more winners than losers, making the sometimes-awkward transition worth the effort. And many of the early problems are being addressed, the bumps smoothed over.
Transit is a crucial issue for all of us, because even if you don’t need it now, you probably will someday. In about a decade, 1 in 4 Canadians will be over 60. Aging eventually takes away the ability to drive a personal car; by 2015, over a million Canadians will have blindness or partial sight; a number that continues to increase. Other concomitants of aging, such as reduced movement or mobility, dizziness or slowing reflexes, also take people out of their cars. And of course many people who aren’t seniors have physical or mental conditions which prevent driving and leave them at the mercy of other transportation options; options that remain second-tier in a land where the personal automobile is king.
The growing need for alternatives to driving requires constant expansion of our transit, and planning to make our communities more walkable. We must decide the best and most cost-effective ways to meet this need, so everyone will be free to travel, not just those with a car and driver’s license.
Of course, there is often resistance to transit funding from those who don’t use it. In Toronto, we see a drive to build costly subways keeping transit as far as possible from King Car. While I have nothing against subways, their stairs and busy platforms mean they aren’t always the best system for seniors or anyone with mobility limitations, and they undeniably cost far more to build than surface transit like buses, streetcars, or light rail.
Perhaps the most unique transit solution I’ve heard is to relax motorbikes rules, allowing people to add a small 2-stroke engine to their bicycle to forgo peddling without license, registration, or insurance. If one overlooks the fact that the frames, wheels, steering and brakes of bikes weren’t engineered for this, or that it means putting a hot exhaust manifold near your legs spitting out smog precursors, this seems attractive. Until you consider the huge number of people who would be unable to use this mode. Seniors, or anyone with a mobility, sight, or mental condition which precludes driving won’t be any more able to hop on a motorbike than they are to drive a car. Parents can’t safely motor young children around and would have to forgo using a stroller or shopping for groceries. (Bike trailers are both expensive and would put kids right in the path of dirty exhaust). And teens too young to drive cars shouldn’t be on any motorized vehicles. Luckily, e-bikes already exist for those who want to get around town on an unlicensed low-powered ride.
So the focus must remain on transportation that works for the people who actually need it, such as children, families, and the 20% of Barrie Transit riders who are seniors. According to a recent local study, a big obstacle is lack of awareness or information about the availability of existing transit. Luckily, that can be overcome at lower cost than buying new buses, and that work begins now.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie & Innisfil Examiners as "Lack of information a roadblock for transit change"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Renewable Red Greens Just Do It

When I or other Climate Leaders talk about the need to shift our energy supply to renewables over the next couple of decades, the tired old slogans come out: “it’s too expensive,” “it’s not practical” or “it will take too long”. Yet these naysayers are being upstaged by people who follow the motto “Just Do It!”, both here in Canada and around the world.
Attending Climate Reality training this past summer, I learned the story of William Kamkwamba. This boy and his poor family lived in a small farming village in Malawi with no electricity. William saw windmills in library books and decided to build his own. Using a dynamo and other bicycle parts from the junkyard, with flattened pipes as blades and mounted on a tower made of blue gum trees lashed together, he created a working windmill to power some appliances in his home, and soon people from all over were lining up to charge their cell phones at his house.
He added a solar pump to bring fresh water to his village, and built more scrap turbines, the tallest 4 stories high. And all this started at age 14, without any special training, while his family couldn’t even afford to send him to school! Having attracted international attention through his inspiring story (which you can see as a TED talk), he is spreading his approach to other places suffering energy poverty.
Here in Canada, rather than shortage, we have the opposite: an over-abundance of cheap fossil energy, whose economic dominance pushes us to overlook its problematic pollution. The challenge for clean renewable energy here isn’t overcoming poverty, but out-competing existing profitable industries that receive huge subsidies, political support, and a free ride for their wastes.
Nevertheless, some Canadians are up to the challenge. I’ve written before about my own solar hot water heating and electric panels, which produce enough emissions-free energy to offset my family’s entire carbon footprint. But recently I was contacted by a local retiree who has his own claim to renewable ingenuity.
Former printer and long-time Barrie resident Fred Prince has made his own solar lawnmower. Starting with a standard electric mower someone gave his son, he upgraded the rechargeable battery with one he got used for $10, then added an 18V solar panel he picked up on sale for another $10. Attached to the mower with duct tape Red Green-style, and wired to the batteries with a trailer-hitch plug, the panel charges the batteries over the course of the week, providing more than enough juice to cut the grass each weekend.
Like William, Fred wasn’t specially trained as an electrician or engineer; he just paid attention way back in high school and reviewed some instructions on how to connect wires. The result is a low-cost, low-noise, zero-emissions lawnmower that powers itself for free!
These do-it-yourself solutions are laudable, but unless everyone follows suit, they won’t get us off oil in time. Yet they prove switching to renewables is practical right now; with serious public and private investment and a shared commitment, the only real obstacle to a clean and green tomorrow is pessimism. Together, let’s say “no” to the naysayers and let William and Fred show us the way to the tomorrow we can all share with pride.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Great ideas need a push" and "Real obstacle to clean & green tomorrow is pessimism"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a certified member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cost of Carbon a reality show worth watching

This past summer I joined the Climate Reality Project, which is driven by one simple truth: the climate crisis is real, and we know how to fight it. Around the world, more people are being affected all the time by drought and heat waves, storms and floods, rising seas exceeded only by rising disaster costs. I am just one of over 5 million Project members and supporters working to spread the word about the causes, and solutions, for this climate crisis; you can be part of it, too!
The International Panel on Climate Change recently released a report gathering and summarizing applicable science showing a 95% chance that we humans are the primary cause of today’s changed and changing climate. While weather varies year-by-year, giving ammunition to those who choose specific hot or cold years to generate a fog of doubt, the overall trend is crystal clear: our planet is warming and the amount of extra greenhouse gases (mostly carbon dioxide) that we have dumped into the atmosphere is a significant factor.
The simple underlying cause is that fossil fuels have provided a wealth of progress, but also left in their wake a chemically-transformed atmosphere. So long as we only value the benefits they generate but leave out the costs, our economy will be distorted in favour of fossil energy. Finding ways to measure the costs of carbon pollution, then include it into our budgeting process, is the surest way to guide us to a more judicious use of energy, to reduce waste and scale back overheated growth.
Wherever we are in the world, the changing climate has serious impacts, even here in Barrie where we get fewer days of ice on Kempenfelt Bay every year, see green Christmases followed by repeated heavy dumps of lake-effect snow from unfrozen lake surfaces, and endure summer heat waves and downpours exceeding previous records.
What is needed is not a one-way or top-down approach; both the problem and the solutions involve people in different industries, on all continents, of diverse ages and talents. The Climate Reality Project is an ongoing global conversation bringing people together to share knowledge, ask and answer questions, find myriad ways to solve problems and cooperate in many directions.
We need you in this conversation! Sign up at for updates and view the live webcast of 24 Hours of Reality: The Cost of Carbon starting at 8 AM on October 22nd. Last year’s program set records with over 16 million views, and this year can smash that record. Let your friends know this is coming, and discuss it on Facebook or Twitter with the #CostofCarbon tag.
This year’s program will focus on the impacts carbon pollution is having on people’s lives around the world, beginning in North America and moving through South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia over the course of 6 program hours before beginning the cycle again at 2 PM. Stories will look at superstorms, flooding, droughts and wildfires leading to crop losses, food insecurity, destroyed infrastructure, displaced communities, and growing effects on health.
You don’t want to miss this conversation, so be sure to tune in on Tuesday to witness powerful images of today’s climate and join our future of solutions.
UPDATE: Please watch this wonderful message from Rick Mercer to Saugeen Secondary, which hosted a special 24 Hours of Reality event.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner. 
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a certified member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Giving is the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving

The time is upon us to give thanks for what we have received over the past year, whether it be food or fortune or just family and friendship. Yet this is also a time we can engage in actual giving, sharing some of that food or fortune with others. Giving to those in need has become a holiday tradition for my family, as important to us as coming together to celebrate.

Read on to find out why this woman wants to HUG you!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote of the false choice between helping the truly desperate in foreign lands, and helping those being left behind in Canada, in our own communities. And rather than buy the argument that we can’t help others until we help ourselves, I pointed out that the people who really want to help, will find ways to do one or the other or both rather than make excuses to do neither.
Well, if your preference is helping here at home, then an ideal opportunity is coming for you this Thanksgiving. Once again, Rose Romita will be putting on her community feast, out of the goodness of her heart, her own wallet, and the generous donations of friends.
Can you be a friend in need? Every year Rosie needs help paying for the food, plus this year there is a facility rental fee to cover, so if you can offer a few dollars (or a big cheque!) it will really make a difference. Donations of other supplies are also welcome: plates, cutlery, pop or juice and desserts are specific needs.
This year’s dinner is at The West Event Centre located at Victoria Village, 146 Toronto St. If you’re finances are tight but you want to pitch in, you can also volunteer during the event, which runs on Thanksgiving Monday from noon – 6 PM, or if that day can’t work for you, you can help with the prep on Sunday from noon – 4. Call Rosie at 705-722-7763 to let her know about donations or ask about volunteering.
This year’s dinner will feature a new twist: a Free Hugs team lead by Jean Leggett, certified Laughter Yoga coach. Jean’s special mission is to inspire joy every day, to spread love and happiness ‘round the world via comedy, fun, and hugs. Although the dinner traditionally features the joy (or pain) of open-mike karaoke, the addition of free hugs will surely raise everyone’s spirits.
While holidays like Thanksgiving can bring out the need in the community and inspire us to help, it truly is a year-round need, and sometimes a longer commitment is more fulfilling, especially if your own family situation means you can’t be there with Rosie on holidays. So there are still programs like Barrie’s Out of the Cold, where you can help one shift per month over the winter to prevent the homeless from freezing outside. Shifts are of different types (serving a meal, keeping people company, or watching overnight) and times, and can be swapped to accommodate your schedule. To find out how to volunteer, please visit
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Many opportunities to help out in Barrie" or "Volunteering good for the soul"

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It ain't preachy being Green

What does it mean to be Green? To me, it’s about a blend of freedom and responsibility. People should be free to choose, but must also take responsibility for their choices. This is particularly true about environmental issues; driving a gas-guzzler or chilling a large house on a hot summer day are choices you can make, but you should pay the real full price for it, not be subsidized by others or harm nature for free.
I don’t believe that’s a “preachy” approach. To preach is to tell other individuals what they must or must not do, and that’s not something I’m interested in. Instead, I’m happy to provide information about things they might like to try, if they want to reduce their ecological footprint and live lightly on the Earth. Usually, tips come from my own experience, as I stridently avoid “do as I say, not as I do”. In my political role, I support policies that enable people to make those choices, or remove barriers that prevent them. I do ask that our society as a whole make some different choices, but that’s my right and responsibility as a citizen participant, and I’ll happily participate in those better choices.
I don’t tell people they shouldn’t drive a car; how could I, I drive one myself sometimes! I also walk to many errands, bike to others, and am no stranger to Barrie Transit. (And I appreciate the new routes, which made taking the bus more convenient for my family and me). We manage without a car commute; we all walk to work or school or work from home. But we aren’t car-free, either. Instead, our family of four relies on a 10-year-old fuel-efficient North American-made compact instead of a big SUV, and we combine errands whenever possible.
Food is a major interest for me, but unlike some environmentalists, I don’t demand everyone become vegetarian or vegan, although I applaud them if they do. My own family instead follows a flexitarianhundred mile” approach, including sustainable meat from local organic farms on top of huge amounts of locally-produced vegetables & fruits in season, plus the produce of our own garden. With the myriad ways to eat more healthy and sustainable, far be it from me to tell anyone else how much of anything they should or shouldn’t eat. Instead, I share discoveries we make and celebrate successes of others on the path to sustainability.
Another personal interest is urban planning. I believe Barrie needs to be more flexible on building height and density, to allow more infill development and a greater mix of housing choices. Does that mean I think everyone should live in apartment buildings? Of course not; I don’t! Our family chose a modest house with plenty of space for that garden I mentioned, in walking and biking distance of many amenities. Yet Barrie’s housing mix needs more affordable higher-density units, and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of that kind of development choice, including in my own neighbourhood.
For me, it ain’t preachy being Green; it’s an ambition for us all to try and live more lightly and responsibly, each in our own way.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Being green means living much more responsibly"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Aid need not be either/or

The other day, I saw a Facebook post about Plan Canada. As a Foster Parent through Plan since a teenager, I know that although the cost to me is low (I started with paper route money), the effect on the recipient is vast. It provides someone a better opportunity at basic education and health in a country where such things are much less available than here.
So I was shocked by some negative replies to the post. Some didn’t believe the money actually goes where they say, that it gets pocketed by scammers. With some charitable appeals, that may be the case, but Plan is renowned for low overhead and effective long-term aid. But other comments were more pernicious, asserting that it was wrong or stupid to help other countries when there are undeniably needy people here in our own nation, even our own community.
But why must this be an either/or question? Who says showing kindness to those in other nations means turning your back on needs right here? I quickly realized this was probably an excuse put forward by selfish people who don’t really want to help anyone, at home or abroad, because if they truly cared, they would realize we can actually do both.
I know this firsthand. While I’ve supported foster children in Haiti for almost three decades, I’ve also helped people right here in my own city, through donations and volunteer time. You can write a cheque for overseas aid and you can donate to local agencies. If you can’t afford to give money or items, you can volunteer time instead. Last Sunday as part of a FruitShare team of 9 volunteers (some too young for school) I helped pick almost 600 lbs of fresh fruit from trees in Barrie, most of which went straight to the Barrie FoodBank. I’m now getting emails about the upcoming season at Out of the Cold, which is always in need of new volunteers. If you’d like to help this way, there is a new volunteer info session at 7 PM on October 3 and 8 in the Huronia room at City Hall; find out more at And since I believe private charity can’t do it all, I have spent a decade promoting policies at all levels of government to end poverty and ensure everyone’s basic needs are met.
Another friend actually helps build or supply schools, clinics, and churches in Africa. But when she’s home in Barrie, she provides free nursing services to those in need and volunteers with the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness. Rather than decide which one community to aid, she helps both.
I applaud those who provide help in any way, to any community, and I hope you ignore those naysayers who try to tear down the people doing good works just to mask their own selfishness.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Helping out your community benefits us all"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Climate deniers out-Foxed by letter writer

This Letter of the Day to the Barrie Examiner from local resident Mike Fox was written to respond to a couple of rather misleading (or outright fallacious) articles, one of which also criticized me specifically.

Once again I am compelled to comment on the barrage of misinformation presented by columnists in this paper. I respect that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it infuriates me that those opinions are riddled with statements that many readers might assume are based on fact.  Columns are apparently much more interesting when you simply fabricate facts to support your point of view.
Case in point is a column by Lorne Gunter in Tuesday’s paper that states the Earth hasn’t warmed in the last 16-17 years, therefore debunking any claims of global warming. Well just to verify this I went to Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Division of NASA) to look at their Surface Temperature Analysis. Low and behold, I find a series of graphs displaying the average annual temperatures over the past century and they all show a steady increase. Most notable is the spike upwards over the past 30 years (which coincidentally parallel a massive increase in the fossil fuel usage that Mr. Gunter argues is not causing any change). This information can be found at 
My true frustration was in reading today’s paper with a column by Barrie’s own Paulo Fabrizio, where under the illusion of stating fact he tries to argue that fears of global warming are overstated. Unfortunately, his column is riddled with misinformation, unsubstantiated claims and even more disturbing, personal attacks (albeit anonymously) on an individual who has a much different point of view on the subject.
His lack of knowledge of the topic becomes apparent when he talks about global warming which is an issue of climate change and then offers that weather is unpredictable. Anyone with any understanding of climate science would know that weather and climate are two entirely different terms. Weather (meteorology) is what is going on around us at any given time. It changes from moment to moment, region to region and season to season. Climate (climatology) is the long term study of conditions that are impacted by the land mass, bodies of water and the layers of our atmosphere.  Climate is typically measured in periods of 30 years or more.
He goes on to compare some unnamed ‘Polar Bear movie’ to a soda commercial claiming that movies are manipulative. Perhaps he is referring to last year’s release of ‘Chasing Ice’. This movie, by award winning National Geographic photo-journalist documents the melting of several glaciers around the world using time lapse photography over several years. The results are both incredible and shocking. The film received over 30 awards and accolades for its unquestioned display of the reality of our warming planet.  
He then goes on to state (as if it were fact) that in Barrie, winters are colder and longer than ever. Well I have lived in Barrie for 25 years and I would have to disagree. Over the past 30 years the average temperature in Barrie has increased. Summer, winter and overall annual temperatures have steadily gone up. 
Next Paulo would suggest that global warming/climate change is a hoax perpetrated by high paid scientists who want to validate the ‘millions’ of dollars they receive to pay their salary. The reality here is that while a few tenured university professors studying climate change earn $100K+, the average climate scientist earns much less. On the other hand, the average compensation for oil executives is measured in millions and CEO packages can be tens of millions. Who has the most incentive here to twist the facts?
Finally I would like to comment on Paulo’s personal attack on a single individual in his column. This is a low blow and I find equally despicable that the editor would allow it. The really telling point is that he criticizes the ownership of a second home for rental purposes! He starts his column stating his belief in capitalism yet criticizes one of the most practiced (and totally legal) avenues for the common citizen to partake in self employment; being a landlord.
Perhaps this paper needs to be more selective in the people they engage as columnists. Or perhaps they too believe that facts should never get in the way of a good story.
Mike Fox, Barrie 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Deniers don't want you to Comprehend the Climate Crisis

Co-written with fellow Climate Reality presenter, Bradley J. Dibble MD, a Barrie-area cardiologist.
Another week, another attempt by anti-science climate deniers to cherry-pick a little bit of science to trumpet, only to support their case against the rest of the science. This week Mr. Ezra Levant has rehashed some common myths we’d like to correct.
As reported, a recent study found most climate models (computer projections) have overestimated the rate of global warming for the past decade. To be clear, the study affirms the Earth has been warming and continues to warm, just not as quickly as most of the models had calculated for this particular period. The article indicates that the models need some adjustment, and even suggests factors that might be behind the discrepancy, such as a series of volcanic eruptions that have added particulates (soot) to the atmosphere, temporarily blocking out some sunlight. None of the computer models can take unexpected future volcanic activity into account.
So the core message of the paper is this: the climate has warmed, and continues to warm, just not quite as fast as we’d expected, although it offers reasons why. Nothing in this information counters our basic understanding, developed over the past century of atmospheric science, of how burning fossil fuels adds more greenhouse gas to our atmosphere, causing the Earth to retain more solar heat and become warmer, on average.
Yet the denier spin-machine is out in full force, declaring climate modeling worthless, even branding climate change a hoax! That charge would require two things: that global warming isn’t happening (it is, as the study itself confirms) and that models were deliberately wrong (of which there is no indication whatsoever). Contrary to what climate deniers imply, global warming has not stopped and the planet has certainly not begun to cool: Arctic ice reached a historic low last year, the oceans continue to warm, this past decade has been the warmest on file, and 2012 was one of the ten warmest years ever recorded.
The denier-sphere then goes on to decry the supposed waste of taxpayer money or misguided government policy to combat non-existent global warming, which might make sense if governments had actually implemented any serious policies or spent significant funds to address climate change. Sadly, for the most part, they have not. And of course, in the face of inaction, perilous global warming continues.
If your doctor warned increasing your salt intake would elevate your blood pressure as much as 20 points, and you ate more salt but your blood pressure only went up 5 points, would you accuse your doctor of being a hoaxer, smirk at her, and eat even more salt? Or would you realize you’ve been lucky so far, and get your salt back down before your high blood pressure gets even worse?
With a long-awaited major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change update due soon, the deniers will keep trying to defuse it with attacks before it’s even released. Hopefully you can see through this transparent spin tactic; it’s sure to grow in volume.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Our planet has not started to get any colder" (and online as "Our planet is far from cooling down")
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a certified Climate Reality presenter, as is Bradley J. Dibble, MD, who practices cardiology in Barrie and Newmarket and authored the book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis”. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

And now for the good news: renewable energy growing by leaps and bounds

Grace United Church minister Dr. Rev. Susan Eagle, left, and board chairwoman and environment team leader Bette McCracken stand near the solar panels installed on the church roof earlier this year.  J.T. MCVEIGH PHOTO
With so much bad news about fossil fuels, whether climate change, rail disasters, pipeline spills, or poisoned water, it’s nice to shift gears and talk instead about the progress of renewable energy.
And the news is amazing! For some reason media focus on the fossil battle, with proponents cast as supporting jobs and growth and opponents cast as being anti-industry or anti-economy. The job and economic growth of renewables is the untold story.
On the local, national, and international scale, the good news is all over. When Al Gore trained me about Climate Reality this summer, he presented some stunning facts about the growth of green energy. Did you know that, in 2010, investments in renewables exceeded investment in fossil energy? This was the culmination of a decade of expectation-exceeding growth. The wind capacity installed worldwide by 2011 was 7 times what had been predicted 10 years prior, and growth in the solar market is now 17 times higher than projected just a decade ago. Clearly, around the world, renewables are the untold economic success story even as we obsess about pipelines, fracking, and other dirty energy.
Meanwhile, renewable energy gets cheaper and more efficient. Solar prices dropped 99% over the past 35 years and are still trending down, while the cost of wind has dropped by half just in the last 4 years! Part of this progress stemmed from subsidies, yet support for clean renewable energy is still dwarfed by subsidies for already-profitable fossil industries, including a failure to make them account for their own pollution. But renewable policies have proven successful: wind is already one of the cheapest new generation sources worldwide, with solar also at grid parity (as cheap or cheaper than hooking up and buying off the wires) in a growing number of countries.
One of the criticisms of renewable energy is the need for backup or storage. Luckily, that field is advancing, too. Just the first half of this year has seen 38 new advanced energy storage projects launched, including 29 different storage technologies already in use. One of the most exciting is in Lake Ontario, where excess energy will be used to pump air into balloons on the bottom of the lake, to be withdrawn to drive turbines when energy demand exceeds supply. This technology is simple, safe, and cheap enough to profit from the daily price differentials in our existing market.
The solar-powered community of Okotoks, Alberta gets 90% of their heat from the sun. We can see the enthusiasm right in our own community as we notice more homes, businesses, and churches sporting rooftop solar panels, providing secure local electrical supply and keeping our dollars circulating locally.
The progress of green energy is so promising that it’s been calculated we could shift the entire world to all-renewable supply in just 20-40 years, at the same cost as would otherwise be spent on conventional dirty energy. All it requires is political and social will, which means if you want a clean, sustainable future, make your elected representatives aware of that desire, and adjust your energy use and buying decisions accordingly. Between citizens, business, and government, we are proving a bright, fossil-free future is possible!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner entitled "There is proof a bright, fossil-free future is possible"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A polite response to an oddly impolite letter

"My father always advised me to be wary of men with hyphenated names who wear beards, tweed jackets, and smoke pipes" - Kent Smerdon

Pictured above: Kent Smerdon's worst nightmare
This letter ran in yesterday's Barrie Examiner, in response to an earlier letter (which has not been posted in the online edition). I post it here with hyperlinks to support references.
(Re: “Columnist asked to ‘dial down the schoolyard bully rhetoric’” in the Aug. 21 edition of the Examiner)
I would like to thank Kent Smerdon for taking the time to read my columns and respond in these pages. Since Mr. Smerdon identifies himself as a Rotarian, I would also like him to know that I am thankful to the Barrie Rotary clubs for inviting me to speak about federal policy on several occasions, and to the Shelburne Rotary for sending me to visit the Alberta tar sands personally in 1989. I should note that back then, the terms tar sands and oil sands were used interchangeably by those in the industry, although technically both are incorrect; the sands contain neither oil nor tar, but bitumen which can be refined, at high energy and environmental cost, into synthetic heavy crude.
Mr. Smerdon feels I am bullying when I take well-paid syndicated columnists to task for their biases, using my own unpaid local column as a platform. This is certainly an interesting take on what I see as a David-and-Goliath situation (with myself as David). What is even stranger is that Ken began his criticism by mocking my name, my appearance, and what he assumes is my wardrobe. Usually that itself is an indication of bullying, no?
I actually am very interested in debate; Canada is long overdue for a deep and thorough conversation on the best way to make the reductions in carbon emissions our governments have pledged, and that are needed to forestall dangerous climate change. Whether a carbon tax shift, or a fee-and-dividend, or cap-and-auction are the best approach is something we must discuss and decide. Whether we redirect fossil fuel subsidies toward transit, or clean energy, or conservation and efficiency, is another debate I’m eager to enjoin.
I’ll admit not being interested in a “debate” about the reality of how we are causing climate change through our overuse of fossil fuels. The ones who benefit from that waste of time are fossil fuel industries themselves, which is why they funnel money to the same “independent” institutes who once worked hard to dismiss the harms of smoking and second-hand smoke, so they can create similar doubt about well-established climate science. These payments and spin strategies have been well documented. If 97% of mechanics say your brakes are shot, are you going to get them fixed, or visit the other 3%?
Mr. Smerdon’s bullying of Al Gore is also a surprise. To attack the man for living in a vintage 1920s home is a cheap shot, as is ignoring that he has converted it to include offices for his several businesses and organizations, reducing the need to commute to work. Rather than an energy hog, Mr. Gore has actually gone to the lengths of upgrading his home and office to LEED Gold standards! He’s a man who walks the walk.
Mr. Smerdon makes the same flawed assumption about me. I didn’t fly to the Chicago training “burning oceans of jet fuel”, I shared a ride with three other people in a Prius.
I don’t know why it matters that Gore sold the TV-station he bought from the state-owned media of one oil-producing nation (Canada’s CBC) to the state-owned media of another (Qatar’s Al Jazeera), unless someone has found a way to transport oil by cable or satellite. And the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” has held up very well over the years, despite having a few errors ordebatable points among the thousands of statements it presents. But unlike the tired old arguments of climate-change deniers, Mr. Gore’s presentation, the one I am trained to give, has been constantly updated to be accurate and current with the latest climate science and world events.
I hope Mr. Smerdon decides to attend a Climate Reality presentation and learn more. If he has issues with the science, I can certainly put him in touch with actual working climate scientists who can answer his questions, if I cannot.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins

Barrie, ON