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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Come and make sure your vote counts!

(photo: MP Alexandrine Latendresse, NDP Deputy Critic for Democratic Reform)
I come from frugal stock, learning from grandparents who made it through the Great Depression and parents who raised our family on a single modest income. I hate to see anything wasted, which is the root of my activism, whether environmental (energy inefficiency and pollution are waste issues), social (homelessness means a waste of human potential) or even food (FruitShare rescues local fruit that would otherwise go to waste). Sadly, in our current electoral system, most votes are wasted, and this bothers me deeply.
I’ve worked provincial and federal voting stations, and every time we wrap up, bundles of unused ballots are shredded, representing people who wasted their vote by not using it. Then we count the votes in the box, and all the ones that weren’t for the winning candidate are also effectively wasted, because the wishes of those voters aren’t reflected in government. Even some of the votes for the winning candidate are wasted, because all they need are enough to beat the runner-up by one vote; votes beyond that don’t make the successful candidate more of a winner, or give them stronger legislative powers.
This vote waste has many negative effects. The clearest is how it discourages people from voting at all, and I understand why they feel that way. No candidate I have ever voted for at the provincial or federal level has won, so I know it is also discouraging for many who do vote. Not seeing your choice reflected in government alienates you from our leaders and discourages public engagement.
Yet it need not be this way. Just about every democracy that has come into existence over the past century includes aspects of proportionality, which means every vote does count, and many views are reflected in lawmaking. The only holdouts are a few countries who became democratic in the horse-and-buggy, carrier-pigeon, leeches-for-whatever-ails-you days. And for some reason, although we’ve transformed our transportation, communication, and medical systems since then, we seem frozen at the best democracy the 18th century can offer. Can’t we do better, and move into the modern world, where citizen engagement begins at the ballot box and carries into government, with all significant views having a real voice?
September 27 - 29th, Canadians will be meeting near Orillia to address this question head-on. Hosted by some members of the NDP, Liberal, and Green Party associations of Simcoe North, Make Every Vote Count 2015 will feature keynote speakers including Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Party business critic Joyce Murray, and NDP democratic reform critic Alexandrine Latendresse.
You can be part of this conversation, too! Organizers hope the conference will bring a burst of new energy and creative, collaborative thinking to the electoral reform movement across Canada. Participants of all political colours (or none) are invited to hear the Friday presentations, take part in Saturday’s Open Space discussions, or help craft Sunday’s action plan. Online registration is available at

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Conference vows to boost faith in voting system"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.