Thursday, May 30, 2013

Restless Leg Syndrome is no laughing matter

Did you ever see a TV ad you weren’t sure was real or a joke? That’s how I felt the first time I saw an ad offering a drug to treat “Restless Leg Syndrome”. It sounded suspiciously like the pharmaceutical industry had run out of real diseases to treat and was inventing new ones just to sell more drugs.
Well, it turns out this is a real problem, as I found out when I had a bout of it (although in my case, with restless arms) that kept me from sleeping. For me, it was caused by a cold medication, and went away after I stopped using it. But for others it is not so temporary. A friend of mine suffers from a very extreme version and as a result has chronic long-term insomnia and must get through life on barely any sleep. If you’ve ever had insomnia, you’ll know lack of sleep is very stressful and can lead to anger, depression, or loss of short-term memory. With RLS, it can also mean an inability to lie down or even sit to relax.
Because “restless leg syndrome” sounds so frivolous, a term with growing use is Willis-Ekbom disease or RLS/WED.
As frustrating as it can be for adults, it can be even worse for children. Of course, kids aren’t great at describing symptoms in the first place, plus RLS/WED may manifest differently for them, getting misdiagnosed or dismissed as attention deficit, hyperactivity, lack of concentration, or simple squirrellishness. Yet it can have a real impact on their learning and socializing, and prevent success in school. Children with RLS may not get enough sleep, but lack of sleep manifests differently in children than adults, not necessarily appearing as sleepiness.
Causes of RLS/WED aren’t well known, although it seems to have a genetic component and sometimes relates to iron levels. It can be triggered or worsened by pregnancy or some medications, although in those cases usually recedes after giving birth or discontinuing that drug.
If you are impacted by RLS/WED, the good news is that a support group is forming to serve the Simcoe region. If you can’t sit still or spend your nights “on the move”, you should check it out. The first meeting will be at 2 PM on Sunday, June 16 in the Angus Ross room at the Barrie Public Library. Discussion will include terminology, symptoms, treatments, supports, myths vs. reality, how to talk to your doctor and give useful information, and other pertinent issues. For more information, email or call 705-503-3647 to speak with Randy or Cathy. Meetings are open to everyone, whether you or a loved one may have RLS/WED or if you just want to learn more about it.

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, May 23, 2013

The challenge for today's youth: Share or Die

Non-fiction can be depressing, reading of political malfeasance, economic injustice, and environmental catastrophe. But recently I received a book about the “lost generation” or “Generation Y”, people currently in their 20s, that is surprisingly upbeat and positive. It’s a collection of essays written by Gen Y members, each focusing on some aspect of the obstacles their generation faces and their response. Produced by the online magazine Shareable, this tome’s title challenges us to “Share or Die”. (Apropos of the title, the preceeding link is to a free, shareable version of the book. You can also purchase a copy here.)
Gen Y occupies a world of contradiction. Society steers young people to post-secondary education and a productive and high-paying world of work, in the process becoming consumers of vast quantities of material wealth and somehow finding time to raise a family. Yet jobs for new graduates are scarce or underpaid, and the only thing an education truly guarantees is staggering student debt. Rather than become enraged or just give up, these young people are charting a new course. Share or Die covers such varied topics as employment in the volunteer, non-profit, or entrepreneur sectors, worker co-ops and career as a lattice (rather than ladder), collaborative consumption (car shares, bike-shares, co-housing, tool libraries, co-ops), resilience and food self-sufficiency, even low-cost self-education. As a change of pace, some parts are mini graphic novels instead of straight text.
Two common threads link the essays. One is about finding non-market ways to satisfy basic human needs (housing, food, education, entertainment) outside the capitalist-consumption paradigm; as one writer puts it “depending on each others’ living labour rather than the dead value stored in commodities” and recognizing that wealth is more than money. Less stuff means less destruction of our resources, less pollution of our biosphere. Yet a shift to access rather than ownership means we can still enjoy healthy lives in a thriving community. This isn’t just smart; it’s necessary for our survival as a species.
The other thread describes new uses of communications infrastructure, such as internet and social media, to create sharing communities. Connectedness becomes the way to coordinate, working together to achieve goals, because with all your friends pulling in the same direction, you can do more for less money.
As another writer notes, we have two choices: innovation or stagnation. Luckily, the realistic hopefulness of the creative, thoughtful young people showcased in this book proves that alternative paths to happiness are possible and achievable, although not without effort, trade-offs, and setbacks.
This is a daunting new path, one different than that taken by any of our living ancestors. Gen Y represents a massive generational force, one that outnumbers the baby boomers, coming of age in this time of crisis. Read this book and learn how this generation is taking on a hero’s mantle, helping society to resolve this crisis by applying the mindset and tools of sharing.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Gen Y not afraid to push the concept ‘share or die’".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nuke billions dwarf gas-plant millions

Ontario politics is presenting us with lots of storm and fury over money wasted on energy boondoggles, without much accountability, consistency, or perspective.
The lead story remains the money lost when the Liberal government cancelled two gas-fired electric plants during the last election season, to garner votes and save seats. Obviously the local residents didn’t want those gas plants, and democracy is supposed to mean doing what voters want, but here the Liberals ignored local objections until the last minute, running up a huge bill. That’s the second strike, that they did this without any idea of the cost. Actually, the attack narrative swings between the Liberals lying about how much it would cost and the Liberals doing this without knowing what it might cost. Sure, these are contradictory accusations, but in politics what seems to matter is the mud, not the clarity.
Either way, it cost a bundle. Critics tout the figure of a billion dollars, although the real costs seems to have settled at just over half that. Yet there are two aspects to this whole kerfuffle that I find disturbing, beyond, of course, the wasted money.
The first is that although the other parties are doing their best to excoriate the Liberals for cancelling the gas plants without knowing the cost, they themselves had the exact same policy, and if they don’t know the cost now, they certainly didn’t know it then. They listened to the voters, too, so they also promised to shelve the gas plants, the only real difference being the Liberals were actually in a position to do it. It’s a weak platform from which to hurl attacks.
But the other, more sinister problem, is what’s happening now without a spotlight. Ontario is steadily moving ahead with plans to refurbish our expensive, aging, underperforming nuclear reactors, and may yet build new ones. Although the decision to refurbish the Darlington reactors hasn’t been finalized, the government has already signed contracts totaling almost a billion dollars (there’s that figure again) to start the estimates and design. The lion’s share is going to SNC-Lavalin, exposed this week for years of illegal bribery and kickbacks. The actual job could cost as much as 10 billion dollars, from the government’s own estimates. And recall that this plant was supposed to cost less than $4 billion to build, yet the final bill came in at over $14 billion. So how much will refurbishment really cost? No one can say, but the best guess is in the double-digit billions. Vastly more than was lost in the gas plant cancellations. Yet I bet you haven’t heard anything about this, until now.
Our elected officials need to cut the attacks, and start looking at a better energy plan for all of Ontario, one that puts conservation first, shifts supply to renewables, and takes us away from the pig-in-a-poke cost overruns of nuclear power.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Forget attacks and focus on better energy plan".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Going post-carbon: just do it, already!

Last week I wrote of the simple math compelling us to transition from our current, carbon-based lifestyle to a carbon-free economy, as soon as possible. The bad news is we’ve already found more than enough fossil fuel reserves to push our climate far past the red line, if we extract and burn them all. The good news is we are perfectly capable of transforming our energy supply to a better one, just as we have done many times in the past. We need only decide on a course, commit to it, and invest our resources accordingly.
First we must resolve not to dig any further into the hole we find ourselves in now. That means not locking in further fossil burning with new infrastructure like pipelines or refineries. It means companies like Exxon, which alone spends $100 million every day unearthing new fossil fuel reserves we must never burn, need to shift their investment strategies and become energy creators rather than fossil fuel extractors.
Although we can’t change the climate math which prohibits burning all this fossil carbon, we can change the economic math that encourages it. Right now, unique among industries, coal, oil, and gas companies are permitted to dump their waste into our air for free. So why wouldn’t they? Yet with a fee on carbon emissions, their bottom line analysis would change. Suddenly the efficiency with which they extract or process fuel would become more important to their profits, and finding carbon-free ways to provide energy would become more lucrative. Renewable energy like solar, wind, deep geothermal or wave power would be able to compete on a level playing field, instead of requiring “green” subsidies to offset the massive subsidies ($1.9 trillion per year) the fossil fuel industry enjoys world-wide.
And as I’ve written before (and British Columbia has proven), a carbon fee does no harm to the economy, so long as it’s returned to us through tax cuts or a citizens dividend. Each industry that feels a pinch is balanced by another that gets a boost, while innovation and job-creation expand overall.
Another measure we can adopt is divestment. Pension funds and the endowments of public institutions like colleges and churches typically hold a generous share of fossil energy stocks. By using our influence as stakeholders, we can demand those overseeing our future financial security stop investing our money in industries threatening our future health and food security. Studies have shown this needn’t reduce returns, and in fact the growing consensus toward carbon fees means these stocks won’t be such a good investment in future anyway, so offloading them now is a wise step to reduce financial and climate risk.
What can you do? Remove fossil fuel companies from your own savings. Visit for tools on how to persuade your church, college, or public pension to divest. And support politicians at all levels who stand for putting a fair fee on carbon and returning the money to taxpayers. Together, we can build a secure and prosperous carbon-free future.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "There are ways to create carbon-free future". And, inexplicably, posted to their website with a photo of some cattle standing in a field.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Need for retiring carbon as simple as 1 2 3

I saw two films recently that unexpectedly fit together: “Jurassic Park 3D” and “Do the Math”.
Do the Math, by, boils the climate crisis down to three simple numbers: 2 degrees, the amount of warming that we must not exceed, and so far the only global consensus position that even the Harper government has supported. 565 gigatons, how much more fossil carbon that lets us burn; more and we heat the planet beyond supporting human prosperity. 2,795 gigatons, the total fossil fuel reserves currently identified and tagged for extraction. This means 80% of known reserves of coal, oil and gas must remain in the ground, unburned, if we are to continue to flourish.
As author Bill McKibben says: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging! That means not building any new infrastructure for extracting, distributing, or refining fossil fuels. Even the very conservative International Energy Agency agrees.
Yet instead we see editorialists, lobbyists, and most politicians pushing new pipelines and tar sands expansion, fracking, and other enhanced extraction. Ignoring the contradiction, they defend new high-cost fossil infrastructure because the alternative would require new high-cost renewable infrastructure. Wouldn’t it make more fiscal sense to spend our money on infrastructure with a permanent, renewable supply than on energy we know will run out? And how crazy is it to expand an industry whose own success in extracting resources must eventually put itself out of business?
Some wrongly think being Green means I’m left-wing, and note that I sometimes criticize political parties with Conservative in their name, ignoring that I also call out Liberals and New Democrats. I’m actually deeply conservative: I believe we should be able to live on the same planet our grandparents did, and our grandchildren deserve the same, too. As fast as they can, fossil fuel companies are transforming the basic chemistry of our atmosphere, changing temperature, precipitation, sea levels, weather and climate such that our children will literally live on a different planet than the one we were born to. What could be more radical than the uncontrolled world-changing actions of Big Oil/Coal/Gas?
Another deeply conservative belief of mine: responsibility for our own waste. Generally individuals and businesses must pay to dispose of their garbage. Only fossil fuels are allowed to break the rules by dumping carbon pollution into our air, our very life-support system, for free (and profit).
Jurassic Park had a simple message: just because we can do something (for a profit), doesn’t mean we should. Re-introducing extinct dinosaurs from 65 million years ago to the modern world was clearly a bad idea. Releasing carbon sequestered millions of years ago into today’s biosphere is a similarly bad idea, no matter how much money some pocket.
So what to do, how can we be energy wise and not fossil fools? Read next week for a couple of powerful solutions to get us off fossil fuels quickly while maintaining our prosperity.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Films offer clear environmental message".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.