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