Millions of people participated in a first-ever annual grassroots demonstration 47 years ago to raise awareness about environmental concerns. They called it Earth Day.
At the time, in 1970, the message focused on saving the whales and cleaning the trash out of our rivers. Greenpeace was born. The public service announcements of the era featured an American Indian saddened to find garbage in a once-pristine river full of fish, and a cute owl that said, “Give a hoot – don’t pollute.”
Then everyone drove home in big gas-guzzling cars and squirted the chlorofluorocarbons into their ovens and their hair that eventually ate holes in our atmosphere’s ozone layer. They smoked cigarettes in cars and airplanes, spreading deadly carcinogens inhaled by everyone near them, including children.
The adage reuse-recycle-reduce that every elementary student knows so well today was a foreign concept back in the days when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, was considered a radical. Nelson’s genius was to capture the youthful anti-Vietnam War energy and shift it to environmental causes.
It wasn’t a difficult task when, in 1969, rivers like the Cuyahoga in Ohio were so full of toxic chemicals that they caught fire. The blaze and a subsequent west coast oil spill were Nelson’s inspirations.
Now that we know the dangers of second-hand smoke and that releasing hydrocarbons had led to changes in the Earth’s climate that threaten our existence, do we still need an Earth Day?
Unfortunately, yes, we do, now more than ever.
Even though we have made great strides toward reducing some of the ways we harm Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystem, the really hard work lies ahead.
Implementing a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags and teaching kids the merits of recycling are child’s play compared with bringing down human-and-animal-generated carbon emissions to a safe level.
No one seriously doubts any longer the harmful effect of our reliance on fossil fuels and the dangerous leakage of methane gas from gas and oil wells. But even though we know what’s killing us, like addicts, we can’t get our deadly dependence under control
There are hopeful signs, of course. We have started to embrace solar and wind as sources of power generation, and it has become cool to drive electric cars, especially Tesla roadsters. Widespread public pressure is mounting for the providers of electrical power to shut down coal-burning power plants.
Not everyone is pulling in the same direction, however, causing scientists to worry if we’ll make enough headway by mid-century to escape an environmental catastrophe that might someday result in extinction of the human species.
So, yes, we still need a day to both celebrate progress and create awareness of the work that lies ahead. And the whales are still in danger.
From time to time, we get letters from our readers. Here are two we received questioning how the Town of Comox dealt with a homeowner who damaged a number of protected Garry Oak trees.
Comox: The lowest tree vandalism fine on record in North America
Not a week goes by that Comox residents rightly express their outrage at Comox Council. They may also want to consider whether council’s fining of Dr. Bill Toews’ tree pruning was fair to the community. The issue is not if Toews is a nice person, but whether Comox Council’s decision met North American municipal standards.
Judge for yourselves. A short survey of similar recorded cases tells us otherwise:
2003 (Seattle, 3 trees) $30,000 (US) = $40,000 CDN
2006 ( Ajax Ontario, 100 trees) $50,000. (Mayor and Council wanted $535,000)
2007 (Glendale, California, 13 trees) $347,600 (US) = $417,120 (CDN)
2012 (Surrey BC, 39 trees) $175,000
2015 (Atlanta, 2 oaks) $11,400 (US) = $14,250.(CDN)
2016 – October – (Toronto, 40 trees) $155,000 plus charges pending under the Municipal Code and Provincial Offences Act seeking $100,000 per tree. (replant 200 trees).
The average fine per tree is $9,389.76. The median is $4,487.18 Comox Council’s $10,000 fine for illegal “pruning” of 22 trees, is actually only $3,800. The balance of $6,200 is tax-deductible development expenses. So, that’s either $426 or $172 per tree depending on whether the real fine is taken to be $10,000 or $3,800.
Either way, this makes it the lowest recorded fine in North America.
These rates are not driven by extreme environmentalism. Toronto’s aptly named Mayor John Tory, is a well-known Progressive Conservative, who supports responsible community standards. Toronto protects its greenways and heritage at $3,875 per tree. Laws and standards are not written to favour special interests and friends, but enforced to protect community interests.
As pointed out in the Comox Valley Echo, Toews received “a sympathetic hearing from council.” Indeed, he should have from councillors and a mayor who recently willfully destroyed national heritage at Baybrook, to favour an exclusive group, in spite of pleas from Heritage BC and The National Trust. Institutional vandalism can only passively encourage more vandalism. This same council now persists in seeking to evade its responsibilities as community trustees, and has seemingly set the lowest community environmental tree standards in North America.
I should add: Garry oaks have a 75 percent mortality rate. Someone who damages one tree should replant four. Toews should have planted 88 trees, not the recommended eight.
And, that’s why at least 800 Comox voters long to turn over this council. This council’s acts and words only bring disrespect to the institution.
Protected Garry Oaks?
Bill Toews is fortunate to live in Comox. The rest of us are not. Toews destroyed Garry Oaks in a ‘Special Development Permit Area’ without permission. In Comox, if you are part of “the set,” it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Toews was issued what amounts to a ‘back dated development permit’ and has to replace some of the trees he destroyed and have some others monitored, as determined by the Town’s favourite “fix-it consultants.” Hardly worth the time it took council to decide the matter. Toews looked contrite as he came to the ‘sympathetic’ council meeting and received the proverbial ‘tap’ on the wrist.
What else could I expect from a council that in July of this year included additional properties containing Garry Oaks into a Special Development Permit area and, at the very same meeting, granted permission to Councillor Maureen Swift to cut down a mature Maple tree on her property because it impeded the view on her lot. At the same time the national press was reporting that Duncan residents were vigorously protesting the destruction of a similar tree.
The Town of Comox pays lip service to the environment but they don’t really know the meaning of the word. In their assessment of the Toews’ property, let’s hope that they at least signed of’ for possible future sluffing of the hillside into the estuary, now that more ‘vital landscaping’ has been removed. By then they hope that people will have forgotten, and they will dismiss reality with their familiar (as used with the Mack Laing monies) mantra: “that was then, this is now.”
When Prime Minister Trudeau stepped in front of the media yesterday to announce the decision to approve the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, he personally owned it. Trudeau didn’t send out some sacrificial cabinet minister. Give him credit for that.
But Trudeau also now owns the consequences of this decision, and that doesn’t bode well for his political future. He’s created derision among members of his own party, broken his promises on climate and environmental leadership, and undercut his pledge to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
By rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest to Kitimat, and approving the Kinder Morgan proposal, Trudeau said he tried to balance economic benefits for Alberta — a province suffering from the collapse of world oil prices — with the potential for an environmental disaster in British Columbia.
In other words, in order to prop up the struggling Alberta oil industry, Trudeau is willing to throw out Canada’s commitment at the Paris Climate Agreement and risk a catastrophic oil spill that could devastate the B.C. and Washington state coastlines.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline triples the capacity to move dirty Alberta oil to the B.C. coast, and increases oil tanker traffic from five ships per month to 34. That increases the inevitability of an oil spill sevenfold.
But the disastrous effects of an oil tanker accident on the B.C. and Puget Sound is only the short-term negatives of Trudeau’s decision.
Climate scientists have concluded that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we have any chance of limiting global warming, the study says 80 percent of the world’s coal reserves, 50 percent of gas and at least 33 percent of oil must not be touched through 2050.
The tar sands — let’s not sanitize the name — produce especially dirty oil. Extracting the tar-like bitumen from Alberta soil burns more energy than it produces. It’s an energy-intensive process that pollutes rivers and turns large swaths of the province into wasteland. The tar sands generate the largest portion of Canada’s carbon emissions.
Canada cannot fulfill its commitments to the Paris climate accord while fueling ramped up production in the tar sands.
One of the most critical insights of the Paris agreement was to nudge societies toward accepting the concept of a warming planet and adapting to that reality. Trudeau’s Liberal Party had an opportunity to embrace that idea, however painful it might be to Alberta, and find alternate means of supporting their economy.
Instead, the prime minister has revealed that he’s not the visionary leader that many Canadians expected.
Before Victorians and other west coast residents start congratulating ourselves for producing fewer greenhouse gases per household than most other Canadians, we should pause to acknowledge that this environmental fame may be fleeting. Because if Premier Christy Clark gets her way, British Columbia is headed in the opposite direction.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia studied the greenhouse gas emissions from households in 17 cities across Canada. The study examined data about consumption of gas, electricity and natural gas and other social and environmental factors that affect energy use, such as weather, population density and family size.
The study showed that households in Montreal generated the least amount of greenhouse gases per year, primarily due to the dominance of hydroelectric power. Vancouver ranked second. Victoria was studied but could not be ranked because of missing data on the use of natural gas, but was assumed to be slightly better than Vancouver.
Based on current provincial policies, our time at the top won’t last long.
The Clark government’s energy policy (designed in 2003 by former premier Gordon Campbell) has bankrupted B.C. Hydro, which has forced our electric rates to soar by double-digit increases. High electric rates encourage people to burn more natural gas. We should be doing the opposite.
Meanwhile, Clark promotes expansion of the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry to export to countries that don’t need any more gas, and a $10 billion Site C dam project to produce more hydroelectric energy that British Columbians don’t need.
It should be obvious by now that the Site C dam will power the fracked natural gas and LNG industry that wants to sell power to foreign markets. The B.C. Liberals are selling this sham even though the global economic drivers — China, U.S. Germany — are furiously abandoning fossil fuels for clean technologies.
The Site C dam amounts to an obscene taxpayer subsidy for the fossil fuel industry.
And it doesn’t get much better in Ottawa. Despite his campaign promises and his grandstand at the world Paris climate conference, Prime Justin Trudeau seems to have lost his courage to lead Canada away from fossil fuels.
Last week, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved permits for the Site C dam. Before that, the Environment and Climate Change ministry ignored widespread opposition — from the City of West Vancouver, among others — and approved the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish.
So much for the concept behind Trudeau statement that “governments grant permits, communities grant permission.”
And where is the influence of Canada’s first aboriginal Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould? The Site C dam would destroy traditional hunting and fishing grounds of the Treaty 8 First Nations along with fertile farmland and adversely affect wildlife and wetlands. Wilson-Raybould has said the Site C dam would violate treaty rights.
The Clark government’s support of the fossil fuel industry are clear. The Trudeau federal government’s position is just confusing.
So, before Victorians, Vancouverites, west coasters and other Canadians break out the champagne to celebrate how green we are, we should open our eyes to where our ‘liberal’ leaders are taking us.
BY MAINGON LOYS
A few days ago, the scientific world, Canada, the Comox Valley as a whole and Comox Valley Nature (CVN), in particular, lost a 5-foot 2-inch giant. Nobody is ever likely to replace Dr. Chris Pielou.
I knew her long before I came to the Comox Valley. I joined CVN largely because she was a member – what self-respecting scientist wouldn’t have. I was shocked and amazed that she was given so little recognition locally.
If I had to rate Canadian biologists or Canadian environmental scientists, I would have to say that she was perhaps Canada’s greatest contribution to our global understanding of the environment.
I knew Chris intimately (I choose that word carefully- and she laughed when I slyly told her that), because I, as many postgraduate biology students, had learnt multi-variate statistics from her classic book, “The interpretation of Ecological Data,” which is the a key work for any mathematical ecologist. In this, she towers above a David Suzuki, whom I also respect, but while he gives mere information, Chris gave us the tools to get the information, destroy corporate lies, as we are obligated to communicate.
Every serious biologist in Canada is a student of Dr. Pielou, and she deserved every bit of respect she claimed. Regrettably, few people in the Comox Valley understood how important, how brilliant she was and how much she deserved to be heard. And man, thank god she could roar.
She was an extremely important member of CVN, who worked tirelessly at the head of the group’s conversation committee, which for decades was CVN’s advocacy voice, taking on both local and provincial issues. In addition to being provincially well-known as the Chair of the Scientific Panel on Clayoquot Sound in 1991-1992, which led to Clayoquot Sound being designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, she had been an avid outspoken and a forceful environmental protester.
Her drive led to the creation of the Comox Lake Ecological Reserve, for which she was appointed the first voluntary warden.
Chris had a delightful lack of patience for fools and people she disdainfully referred to as “twits.” She hated presentations of “pretty pictures.” She demanded substance in everything and always met the highest environmental standards. And she had cause to demand high standards, because she always met them herself.
She was known world-wide as a pre-eminent bio-statistician. As a brilliant ecological mathematician she pioneered multivariate statistics, which is now the universal standard for ecological research.
After obtaining a PhD in mathematics, she went on to do a second PhD on mathematical ecology at The University of London, and went on to teach at Yale, Dalhousie and ultimately at Lethbridge University on a Canada Research Chair – which gave her a free hand.
She published widely, both professionally and as a consultant. Late in life she wrote a series of popular books for naturalists that endeavoured to make the wonder of science accessible to everybody, such as books on flora and fauna, and on popularized physics, such as, “The Energy of Nature” ( highly recommended).
This diminutive lady was not only a giant in the recognition of women’s equality in science, she was widely recognized internationally for her endeavours and merit, by the University of British Columbia which granted her yet another honorary PhD in 2001. Part of her 2001 address to UBC’s graduating class is worth quoting, if only because it encapsulates the quintessential Chris, and it is a belief I share:
“This may explain why so many people say, complacently, “Of course, I’m lousy at math but … ” and then go on to imply that their mental powers are perfect apart from this trivial defect. Well, it isn’t trivial – a person who blocks out math is a mental couch potato.”
Sharp as ever at 90, she once pointed out to me that most anti-environmentalists were dunces at math. One in particular who caused me grief at UBC and her grief on the Scientific Panel, was a forester who was a mathematical dullard and fraud, and she could prove it, he had failed her class.
Today, the world is poorer, and nature is diminished. CVN has lost a very great friend, leader and mentor and the naturalists’ and environmentalists’ community is greatly diminished internationally.
We owe it to Chris to perpetuate her environmental commitment, as she once said to me: “Fight every day, and have the math to prove it!”
And so we will, death be damned. I am sure she would appreciate that.
Maingon Loys, a retired biologist living in Merville, wrote this for his Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with his permission. You can read more about Dr. Chris Pileou here and here and here.
By Jennifer Sutherst
Project Watershed has filed a natural resource violation complaint with the province against the Town of Comox for the work they are undertaking along Lazo Road in the Point Holmes area.
The town has chosen to install rip-rap (large angular rocks) to address erosion taking place along the shoreline, and to make room for a three-meter wide shoreline trail. We believe this treatment will destroy an important remnant area of sensitive Coastal Sand Ecosystem and will be ineffective in the long-term.
Erosion-control structures such as bulkheads, seawalls and rip-rap, are known as hard armouring and have been shown to cause a loss of natural shoreline ecosystems, damage vital shoreline habitat and exacerbate erosion problems on adjacent properties.
Hard armouring amplifies the energetic forces of the waves that come into contact with it, whereas a natural, gradually sloping beach will absorb the energy of the waves.
You can read more about Comox shoreline erosion and its causes, and other concerns over the town’s rip-rap project at Cape Lazo here and here.
The accelerated erosion in the Point Holmes area is the result of a domino effect of hard armouring that started when the CVRD buried a sewer pipe beneath the Willemar Bluffs in the mid-1980s. This initial disturbance destabilized the natural processes of erosion and accretion from longshore currents and wind that shape the landforms such as spits, dunes, beaches and sand bars.
Local property owners began to experience erosion issues and successfully sued the CVRD for damages. In order to halt this erosion rip-rap was installed below the Willemar Bluffs. Soon after, other beaches began to erode and private property owners to the north of the bluffs began to lose shoreline. They in turn also began to install rip-rap to save their properties.
Now, the popular Cape Lazo/Point Holmes beach has started to suffer from erosion during more frequent and intense winter storms, a trend which is likely to continue as we experience the impacts of climate change.
Another consequence of this work being undertaken by the town is that the remaining natural dune vegetation in the area will be significantly reduced or lost due to the stabilizing effect of the rip-rap armouring. This will promote the establishment of shrubs and then trees over herbaceous dune plants. Species present at the site such as Silver Burweed and Beach Dunegrass will likely diminish in extent.
Given the high level of soil disturbance associated with the work, Scotch Broom and other invasive plants will likely become dominant in many places.
Rip-rap armouring of shorelines in our region also impacts the marine ecosystems. In particular, the beach areas shorten and become steeper which reduces the area available to beach spawning fishes (known as forage fish), and decreases the availability of forage fish to salmon, seabirds and other marine species.
The State of Washington recognizes that hard armoring destroys sensitive shorelines and has an incentive program to help landowners remove hard armouring and replace it with Green Shore projects.
Green Shore projects imitate natural systems and confer many benefits including: shoreline stability, improving the habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving access for swimming and other water activities, offer a more natural aesthetic, and can save a significant amount of money.
The Town of Comox has stated that they are using a blending of ‘Green Shore methods’ but no Green Shore project would include the installation of rip-rap along one of the last remaining sand dune areas in our region where the greatest amount of natural dune vegetation is located.
Based on the information that has been provided to Project Watershed, the Town of Comox does not currently have a permit to undertake this work on Crown land. We have made multiple requests to the provincial government to clarify whether or not they require such a permit, but have received no response to date.
We believe that permits and an adequate public review processes are required and in the interim we have filed a natural resource violation complaint against the town and the contractor undertaking the work. Extensive damage has already been done to the area since work started at the end of June.
This area is one of two locations in the entire Georgia Basin where wind-formed backshore dunes are known to occur, and the only place on Earth where Garry Oak – Shore Pine – Sand Dune communities occur.
Jennifer Sutherst is the estuary coordinator and staff biologist for Project Watershed. She wrote this article on behalf of the Project Watershed board of directors: Barbara Wellwood, Bill Heath (biologist), Bill Heidrick, Brian Storey, Dan Bowen, Don Castleden, Paul Horgen (biologist) and Tim Ennis (biologist).