Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

Gavin MacRae photos

Gavin MacRae

By Gavin MacRae

Comox Valley residents joined millions of people marching worldwide on Sept. 27 demanding that governments step-up their efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

From Antarctica to the Arctic, Kathmandu to Vancouver, an estimated seven million people have taken part in thousands of demonstrations in the last week, including 800,000 Canadians.

About 3,000 Comox Valley residents rallied at Simms Millennium Park before starting a march through downtown Courtenay, according to Mackai Sharp, a leader of the group Youth Environmental Action, which organized the event.

Jessie Everson from the K’omoks First Nation opened the event by drawing a parallel between the quickly receding Comox glacier and the fate of humanity if the climate crisis is not averted.

“The glacier is a standing testament to the environmental degradation of the Comox Valley, said Everson. “If that glacier is to go, we will go too.”

Youth Environmental Action speaker Sienna Stephens was no less direct: “Learning about climate change and what it really means for my future has completely changed my life,” she said.

“There is no more time to wait around. We must lead by example and show [political leaders] what is expected,” Stephens said. “So please look at your own life and decide where you can make change. Even if it’s hard, be informed about the climate crisis. Start these important conversations with your family and friends. Be aware of who your money is going to each time you make a purchase.”

Protesters then marched a loop around Courtenay’s downtown core and back to Simms Park. Police halted traffic as the blocks-long procession took to the road.

Youth Environmental Action leader Emma Faulkner gave one of the final speeches.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation we are so ready to have,” she said. “History has always been shaped by the power of youth.

Over 200 climate strikes were held across Canada Friday. In Vancouver over 100,000 people attended, in Victoria over 20,000, in Ottawa up to 20,000 and inToronto up to 50,000, according to estimates by Greenpeace. Montreal outdid them all with 500,000 demonstrators – or one in four residents – turning out for the event.
“It’s far exceeded what we expected, everywhere,” said Cam Fenton, campaigner for international climate group 350.org, which organized many of the events. “It’s the largest mass climate mobilization in history.”

Swedish teen climate icon Greta Thunberg is largely credited as the inspiration behind the climate strike movement. Thunberg began by striking every Friday, by herself in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, only 13 months ago.

Young people will live to see the effects of climate change worsen significantly if the burning of fossil fuels is not curtailed. Those effects include more frequent extreme weather events, droughts, fires, sea level rise and reduced food security.

Gavin MacRae is assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel and a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. He can be reached at gavin@watershedsentinel.ca

 

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Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

Gavin MacRae photo, courtresy of the Watershed Sentinel

Gavin MacRae

By Gavin MacRae

Some 30 rallies held Wednesday across Canada – outside CBC studios, offices and in the streets – aim to pressure the public broadcaster to host a debate between federal party leaders on the climate crisis ahead of the coming election.

For the Comox Valley’s part, around 60 people gathered at Marina Park in Comox for a rally organized by Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment.

“As our public broadcaster, the CBC has a moral obligation to make sure that every single person in Canada knows which of our leaders have a real plan to tackle the climate crisis,” read the Facebook event page for the rally.

Speakers included Alex Nataros, a family doctor in Comox; Nalan Goosen, leader of Youth Environment Action; Celia Laval with the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship Justice Committee; Mark de Bruijn, nominee for the Green Party candidate for North Island – Powell River; and Rachel Blaney, NDP MP for North Island – Powell River.

In covering climate change, “Canadian media and the CBC need to up their game,” Laval said, summing up the sentiments of the speakers.

Because the climate crisis and ecological collapse are possibly the biggest issues humanity has ever faced, Laval said, “This is not just an election issue, this is the election issue…. We demand CBC hold a debate of the federal leaders.”

Nataros said concerned voters can call or write the CBC or use the hashtag #changethedebate on social media.

Scrutiny of Canadian media’s coverage of the climate crisis – CBC’s in particular – has grown in recent months after the UK paper The Guardian became the first to update their journalist’s style guide to replace the term “climate change” with “climate crisis” or “climate emergency.”

“‘Climate change’ is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the situation,” reads the updated guide.

An open letter published on May 28 in The Tyee, by Mount Royal journalism professor Sean Holman, further pressed Canadian media. In it, Holman wrote that media in Canada have repeatedly failed to “apply basic journalism principles to the climate change crisis confronting us.”

An example given by Holman is when on May 6, news of the birth of a royal baby eclipsed the release of a major UN report warning of critical worldwide declines in biodiversity.

After analyzing climate coverage in a database of 569 English language Canadian newspapers and CBC and CTV newscasts, Holman found mainstream media reporting “too often does not reflect the scope and severity” of the climate crisis.

To correct course, Holman’s letter outlined a five-point plan for media to better prioritize, cover, localize and contextualize climate reporting.

Eventually the CBC clarified their position: their journalists have latitude to “sometimes” use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency,” but they will retain “climate change” as the default term. The CBC’s director of journalistic standards described the new terms as having “a whiff of advocacy to them,” garnering criticism on social media.

The discussion appears to have driven change. The CBC launched an “ambitious and comprehensive” climate series they say will appear on television, radio, online and on CBC Kids News, “because Canada’s youth care deeply about this issue.” The Toronto Star also recently published an in depth series detailing impacts of the climate crisis in Canada as well as solutions.

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel magazine, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation. You can also see this story at www.watershedsentinel.ca, or click their icon above

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In Courtenay, a low-carbon solar oasis thrives behind a suburban facade

In Courtenay, a low-carbon solar oasis thrives behind a suburban facade

Stewart Mcintosh ponders the grapevines that grow down both sides of his Courtenay property. He also has fruit and nut trees  /  George Le Masurier photo

Gavin MacRae

By Gavin MacRae

Stewart Mcintosh’s Comox Valley property looks like a million others from the street: an early 1980s rancher with a detached garage and RV trailer in the driveway.

Spend a couple of minutes with Mcintosh – a bearded, exuberant man in his mid-fifties – and he will eagerly show you that looks can be deceiving. His property harvests solar energy three ways, forming the linchpin of his low-carbon lifestyle.

Years ago, two separate motor vehicle accidents left Mcintosh with a brain injury, causing a condition called perseveration – his mind gets on a subject and won’t let it go. He’s learned to leverage perseveration to doggedly see through ideas that most people would dismiss as ambitious but short-lived eureka moments.

“I don’t want to think about depressing stuff that you can’t do anything about, says Mcintosh. “So I think about depressing stuff that you can do something about. I think about a problem, and I think, how could I resolve that with something practical that’s going to make a difference?”

Mcintosh’s thinking has paid off. He enjoys paltry energy bills, bumper crops, and copious wine reserves, with time left over for camping, boating, and travel.

It all started with a his “solar super saver” water heating system.

Mcintosh installed a grid of black hose on his south-facing rooftop, which pre-warms municipal water before it flows into his water heater. In the summer months, the water needs no further heating. It can even get too hot. “What I found was that from 10 am until about six pm, there’s an eight-hour window in the day where the sun gets the water as hot or hotter than what the tank is set at,” he says.

He gets the system up and running around the first week of March, and shuts it down mid-November. On summer mornings, the water can be directed straight from the solar system to a private backyard shower that Mcintosh says is an “unbelievably pleasant way to start the day.”

Materials for the DIY system cost $850, and the project will pay for itself in six-and-a-half years, according to Mcintosh’s meticulous records. After that, he says, “it becomes a passive income for your household. Tax-free income.” Mcintosh holds up his most trivial natural gas bill, with 34¢ in energy charges. “They can’t tax you on savings.”

Mcintosh also gets big savings from his prolific backyard garden. It’s arranged into four quadrants, with individual compost bins feeding the quadrants from a central hub. The fence line acts as a trellis for clusters of wine grapes and two kinds of kiwis.

At summer’s end, Mcintosh makes and freezes soups and stews from the vegetable crop.

Three years running, Mcintosh has harvested over 1000 lbs of grapes to make wine. His crawlspace-turned-wine cellar is near capacity, and visitors to his home often leave with a jug.

Turning to transport and recreation, Mcintosh bought a 55 lb thrust electric outboard with two batteries to propel his canoe. To charge the batteries he mounted a small solar panel to the canoe’s gunwale. When he’s boating, the batteries work independently: one battery is charging while the other powers the motor.

The canoe can cruise at around seven kilometres per hour all day. “My longest day was 12 hours out there between two batteries. That’s a long day on the water,” he says.

To get to the boat launch, Mcintosh hauls his canoe on a custom made trailer he built, behind his 50 cc scooter. “It really blows people away when I’ve got the boat in tow,” he says. “When I’m in traffic, people are doing triple takes.”

The scooter-trailer-canoe combo is insured and meets safety specifications, but Mcintosh has been pulled over several times, while incredulous police officers confirm his paperwork is in order.

Mcintosh in his backyard garden. The black hose on his roof that provides hot water can be seen in the upper right

At the boat launch, Mcintosh says people are drawn to his rig, and that’s part of the reason he built it – to inspire the public by demonstrating that low carbon solutions are workable.

“Some of the guys out there who are a little more obstinate, and some of the deniers, kind of grey-haired, blue-collar kinds of guys, they’re some of the more common individuals that are drawn to my setup. It’s like a magnet.”

The scooter and trailer also get him around town for groceries and running daily errands. Mcintosh is working on a mini dump truck bed for the trailer which will extend its capabilities to hauling building materials and soil.

Mcintosh’s latest upgrade has been to spring for a 20-panel photo-voltaic system that he had professionally installed. At $16,400 all-in, it wasn’t cheap, but Mcintosh did the math and found the only barrier was the initial investment. The panels will pay for themselves in six to 10 years. After that, it’s easy money.

To further leverage the solar panels, Mcintosh is mulling over the purchase of an electric pickup truck. It would complete his coup d’état against his carbon footprint and energy bills (he now drives a truck converted to propane he’s owned since 1988). “If that happens I can plug my vehicle in at home, bypass gas stations, and start adding that kind of saving to my life.”

Mcintosh says that for those with an awareness of climate change, “it’s stressful, and it’s getting more urgent. You can feel it in the general public, and that affects me as well, I feel it. That’s why I’m working on things that help me deal with it, because I’m doing something practical, and I’m proving it in my own life. But it also, I think it helps with some other people too, that they see ‘wow!’ look at that, he’s doing something that actually works…. They realize it’s not a hopeless situation after all.

“There really are things we can do at our own homes and in our daily lives that make a difference.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel environmental magazine, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation. You can also see this story at www.watershedsentinel.ca, or click their icon above

 

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Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Photo of hemp marine rigging by Patrice Dufour from FreeImages

Gavin MacRae

By Gavin MacRae

On a summer backpacking trip through the Amazon 20 years ago, Michael Demone witnessed the destruction of deforestation first-hand. Determined to do something and brimming with youthful optimism, he returned home and opened one of Canada’s first hemp shops.

“It wasn’t a headshop. There were no bongs,” he says. “It was beautiful fabrics, and bicycle chain lubricant, and tree-free papers.”

Back then, hemp was a boutique industry. Demone had trouble sourcing products, and with the shelves near empty, the store eventually closed.

Two decades later, a lot has changed: cannabis is legal, hemp farming has been decriminalized in the United States, and entrepreneurs are clamouring for a grubstake in the “green gold rush” of the Cannabidiol (CBD) market.

But these developments are forerunners to what promises to be the most important advance involving the cannabis sativa plant: hemp for fibre.

 

Hemp to replace cotton

Hemp fibre can, in large part, replace cotton, with big environmental benefits.

Versus US cotton, the ecological footprint of hemp is one-third to a half smaller, depending on how the hemp is cultivated and processed, according to a 2010 analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute. Even organic cotton has a higher ecological footprint, per ton of fibre, than conventionally cultivated hemp.

“Currently, cotton is king,” says Andrew Riseman, an associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “But cotton takes an enormous amount of water, pesticides, and energy to produce and then to refine, and it doesn’t have the durability or the advantageous characteristics that hemp would have.”

Hemp fibre can also be used to make low-carbon building materials and bio-composites, and can substitute for wood fibre in pulp and paper production.

In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours

Hemp, or more properly industrial hemp, is easy to confuse with cannabis, because on paper it’s the same plant. In practice, hemp and cannabis look and are grown differently. And hemp won’t get you high – it has only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp is bred to produce high fibre yield, high seed yield, or a dual-purpose compromise between the traits.

Until recently, nearly all hemp grown in Canada was grown for food. To farm hemp for fibre, a hurdle remained.

It was “classic chicken and egg,” says Jan Slaski, a long time hemp researcher with InnoTech Alberta, an arm of the Alberta Innovates provincial research institute. Farmers were reluctant to grow hemp without a steady market for fibre, and markets and processing infrastructure couldn’t develop without hemp product.

Hemp yarn photo by S. Schleicher from FreeImages

It’s only in the last few years that the hemp industry has weakened this market catch-22, Slaski says, and now, “It’s a different ballgame.”

A hundred kilometres east of Edmonton, Slaski and his team run a hemp research and processing facility in Vegreville, Alberta, to develop applications for hemp “from seed to final product.” Strong demand now has the facility working extended hours processing hemp for fibre.

Not far from Vegreville, in Bruderheim, Alberta, Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation is building a similar “decortication” facility to process hemp fibre grown by contracted farmers in the area. The facility will remove the lignin and pectin from the fibre to produce the short, consistent fibres sought for textiles, bio-composites and paper.

With these high value fibres, “cotton can be replaced, a lot of synthetic products can be replaced, tree products can be replaced.” says Aaron Barr, Canadian Rockies Hemp’s CEO. “There’s a lot of different market opportunities, but the key is advancing the technology.”

Countries such as China, Ukraine, Poland, and the Netherlands have a long head start on Canada in the hemp trade, says Barr, but he’s not worried – longer summer daylight at northern latitudes can add four feet of extra growth to hemp plants by summers’ end.

“In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours. It gives us literally one of the best geographical advantages in the world. CBD, THC, those type of flowering plants will do better in the south. We are fit for fibre.”

As the technology and processing muscle advances, entrepreneurs are taking formerly-cottage-industry hemp applications to commercial scale.

 

Biocomposites & building materials

Take hempcrete, a mixture of hemp biomass and lime used as a building material since ancient times. In modern construction, hempcrete can substitute for concrete in many applications.

Just Biofiber of Airdrie, Alberta, manufactures a construction system of hempcrete blocks that are load bearing, insulating, fire resistant, fast to build with, and that, Just Biofiber says, embody more carbon than is released in their manufacture.

“Instead of cutting down trees we can grow a crop in our fields in 90 days, and build houses that are better quality homes with it,” says Barr. “Healthier homes that last longer. There are unbelievable advantages to it.”

InnoTech’s Vegreville facility supplies fibre to BioComposites Group in Drayton Valley, Alberta. The company produces a diverse array of hemp products, from fibre mats for erosion control and horticultural use to hemp-based bio-composite sheets that can be moulded to form complex shapes such as interior car parts.

Many moulded products now made from oil or natural gas feedstocks such as polypropylene, polyethylene, and glass-reinforced thermoplastics, are candidates for replacement, says BioComposites Group.

The hemp composites are lighter than the products they replace and fully biodegradable when used with organic resins.

Slaski’s first research into hemp was as a fibre source for an Alberta pulp mill. The mill had run out of forest, Lorax style, within a reasonable hauling distance. The research was scrapped, says Slaski, after a new CEO decided the company “was not comfortable dealing with non-woody crops.”

The missed opportunity left Slaski with tantalizing statistics.

“It is safe to assume that hemp can produce about four to five times more fibre per hectare than forest,” Slaski says. “On average, boreal forest produces one-to-two tons per hectare of biomass per year, while fibre-type varieties of hemp produce eight-to-ten tons per hectare.”

That’s with one crop. In warmer climates, two crops a year can be grown.

Apparently, a Maryland, USA company is comfortable with non-woody crops. Fibonacci LLC is investing US$5.8 million in a factory in Kentucky to produce a wood substitute from hemp stalks, according to the trade journal Woodworking Network. The company says their product is 20 per cent harder than red oak, and plans to market it for use in flooring and furniture.

All this is happening with the current state of technology. With further research into genetics and agricultural practices, more applications and products will emerge.

“I think prohibition set us back about a century,” says Riseman. “[Hemp] was the plant that did everything, the workhorse plant. And now we have all these tools that we’ve applied to corn and wheat and cotton, and you see the yield increases and how much more efficient and productive we have become…. [Hemp’s] been bred for low THC or long fibres, no one’s talked about what else we could breed for.”

Hemp is truly versatile, but over-zealous advocates have attributed near super-botanical abilities to the plant. Experts caution that wild claims online about hemp, such as it having “over 50,000 uses,” are “fantastic,” “ridiculous,” and “bro science.”

“One misconception is that hemp doesn’t require fertilizer, water, is pest resistant, is just a miracle crop,” says Slaski. “I would say, yes, hemp can survive on marginal land – survive – but if you want to grow a crop that you want to get paid for, you have to provide inputs, because there are no miracles in hemp.”

We have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values

After some 80 years of prohibition, hemp cultivation was legalized federally in the United States in late 2018. As one observer put it, “it’s basically the starting gun” for US hemp farming.

The end of US hemp prohibition should be a rising tide that benefits both countries by lifting hemp to its rightful place among other mainstay crops.

Because of this, and despite a 20-year lead in decriminalizing hemp, Canada must position itself as a world leader in hemp fibre to stay in the driver’s seat, Slaski says.

“The US is a larger country, with more money to invest in the opportunity. They will be a serious competitor to our hemp industry.”

Read more at the Watershed Sentinel: Fibreshed: a movement for full-circle local fibre production finds its roots on Vancouver Island

Michael Demone has long since traded his backpacking duds for business attire. He now leads the Canadian Working Group on Industrial Hemp, which he describes as “part advocacy group, part support system” for developing new hemp products.

For Demone, the quickly evolving promise of hemp fibre is “like the Renaissance” and he believes “round two” could herald more than environmental benefits.

“To get philosophical, I think we have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values. And that means including talks about labour, about Indigenous voices, about women in manufacturing, all of these things, it’s just ready to blow. We need responsible people who will say ‘look, we want to make some money, we want to advance this industry, there are some really significant environmental benefits.’ It’s going to take investment and it’s going to take businesses willing to take some risks.”

Gavin MacRae is the Watershed Sentinel’s assistant editor. The Sentinel is a publishing partner of Decafnation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CANADIAN HEMP REMOVED FROM DEA AUTHORITY

The passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill, Section 10113) removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of Controlled Substances. This action removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent. Therefore, DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes. Read more

— Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance

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Comox Valley Students ‘Stand up, Fight Back’ for Climate Action

Comox Valley Students ‘Stand up, Fight Back’ for Climate Action

Gavin MacRae photos

Gavin MacRae

By Gavin MacRae

A jovial yet determined crowd of student strikers and adult supporters over 250 strong marched through downtown Courtenay Friday, to demand action on climate change.

The protest started with a rally at Courtenay City Hall.

SEE MORE COVERAGE OF THE YOUTH CLIMATE MARCH HERE

The crowd cheered as speakers said it was time to “stand up and fight back” against fossil fuel interests and insufficient government action.

“We are here today under a unified cause to protest climate change,” said Nalan Goosen, a co-organizer of the event.

Speaking through a megaphone, Goosen said investments in the tar sands and other fossil fuel infrastructure make Canadian banks culpable for climate change.

To showcase this, the demonstration traced a serpentine route through the downtown to pause and protest at CIBC, Bank of Montreal, and Scotia Bank.

Outside CIBC the crowd chanted, “No more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil!”

At Bank of Montreal the rallying cry was, “What do we want? Climate Action! When do we want it? Now!”

Finally, the Scotia Bank received, “Corporate greed we must fight, polluting earth is not a right!”

The crowd also made a stop at the office of MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, where she and MP Gord Johns spoke with the demonstrators.
Both politicians gave short impromptu speeches on the importance of protecting the environment.

Students put questions to Leonard and Johns about increasing climate education in the school system, protecting old-growth forest and marine areas and fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The answers met with some applause, and Goosen said he was hopeful Leonard would bring the demonstrators’ concerns about old-growth logging to Doug Donaldson, BC’s Minister of Forests. Goosen was also hopeful Johns would echo the students’ concern over the climate crisis in Ottawa.

The protest ended with a return to City Hall.

Students said all but two schools in Comox and Courtenay were represented among the protesters.

“The turnout was amazing,” said Mackai Sharp, a co-organizer of the protest. “The last two events had under 35 people.”

Sharp and Goosen are leaders of the Comox Valley-based Youth Environmental Action, which planned the protest. The group has a separate arm for adults named Adult Allies for Youth Environmental Action.

”This will not be our last protest, said Goosen. “We don’t have very long to solve the climate crisis, so this movement of youth empowerment is essential to our health and survival.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation

 

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