On Oceans Day, tiny celebrations

On Oceans Day, tiny celebrations

Thanks to a Canadian initiative at the 1992 Earth Summit, the world celebrates Oceans Day on June 8. Unfortunately, our oceans haven’t done so well lately, putting a little damper on the party.

We’ve overfished and under protected them, polluted them and ignored the undeniable impacts of climate change. We’ve treated beaches as opportunities for high-rise housing developments, carelessly disregarding the ensuing stress on shorelines and marine life.

Oceans are warming and acidifying, causing disruption to marine life and habitats. Corral reefs are bleaching. Sea birds are dying off. The polar ice caps are melting.

The B.C. Liberal government shamelessly promotes the oil and gas industry, urging more oil tankers into the Salish Sea where the inevitable accident will cause catastrophic damage.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to grow. It already stretches from the North America West Coast to Japan, in two giant swirls called the Western Garbage Patch and the Eastern Garbage Patch, and known as the Pacific trash vortex.

Currents in the Pacific Ocean round up more garbage every day. Most of it is non-biodegradable plastic that has broken down into tiny pieces.

Facial scrubs intended to exfoliate dead skin, and toothpaste intended to whiten teeth, and other personal care products, contain plastic microbeads. They’re little bits of plastic so small that the filters in most wastewater treatment plants don’t catch them.

Just one tube of facial scrub may contain up to 300,000 microbeads.

When they reach streams, lakes and oceans, these beads absorb other pollutants, and are consumed by fish and shellfish. Like plastic bags, they persist in the water and in sediment for more years than we can imagine.

When marine life consumes these microbeads it affects the food chain all the way up to you and me.

But even if we all stopped using products that contain plastic microbeads today – and even if we never used another plastic grocery bag – our rivers, lakes and oceans will suffer from these persistent pollutants for a millennium or more.

And speaking of wastewater treatment plants … While Victoria area elected officials argue, the region continues to flush untreated sewage into the Juan De Fuca Strait. The citizens of Comox and Courtenay pump their poop — only slightly better treated with decades-old technology — into the Strait of Georgia.

But the existing CVRD treatment plant does not screen out pharmaceuticals, or remove nitrogen and other toxic chemicals to any significant degree.

Are you thoroughly depressed yet? Calm down, because there is a little bit of good news.

Fewer people now deny the reality of climate change, save Drumpf supporters in the U.S. and too many Liberal Party supporters in B.C. A new generation of people, including engineers and scientists, who have grown up with the impacts of accelerated global warming, will affect positive change.

They are glimmers of movement toward shoreline protections and restoration along the B.C. coast. Groups like Project Watershed in the Comox Valley, for example, take unilateral action and press governments for sensible solutions.

But when, we wonder, will humans acquire the wisdom to figure out the long-term consequences of our consumption of everything from fossil fuels to toothpaste before — instead of after — they cause such damage?

Something to ponder on Oceans Day.

Should UBC divest from fossil fuel companies?

Should UBC divest from fossil fuel companies?

Should the University of British Columbia buy shares in and take profits from fossil fuel companies or invest in funds and projects directly linked to controversial energy projects?

The UBC Board of Governor’s considered that question after some faculty and staff urged the university to divest its endowment fund stakes in fossil fuel projects.

On the surface, the answer is simple. The Board of Governor’s mandate is to make money for the endowment fund. Its fiduciary duty is simply to get the best return possible to support the school’s academic mission.

But setting investment policy is more complex than that. UBC is responsible for examining the short- and long-term risks of its investments. And that requires assessing both internal and external factors that might influence an investment’s return.

A large institutional investor such as UBC can use its leverage to change company policies.

When evaluating any individual investment, the university must consider whether climate change poses any financial risk to its expected returns.

In regards to its positions in projects related to fossil fuels, UBC’s investment committee waffled. It decided not to divest from fossil fuels at this time, but directed its lawyers to review legal questions arising out of any possible future divestment.

That certainly is a cautionary approach. Given the speed at which climate change is occurring and the global pressure to reduce carbon emissions now required by the Paris Agreement, the university should have already answered its legal questions and been prepared to update its investment policies.

If divestment exposes the board to potential legal action over its failure to produce as much value as possible, then it will have no choice but to continue investing in lucrative but controversial energy projects. And it should work quickly to change whatever mandate or legislation impedes them from divesting.

In the meantime, however, UBC should develop a strategy for showing greater sensitivity to environmental issues. The university’s Board of Governor’s should press companies for greater transparency about the risk from climate change, and how they are mitigating that risk.

A large institutional investor such as UBC can use its leverage to change company policies.

And, by the way, let’s put to rest the notion that the UBC investment committee is handling only “public” money. Private individuals and group donations account for 75 percent of the endowment funds. It’s more difficult to classify the balance, which comes from housing developments on UBC’s land.

It’s important for UBC to move quicker than it has. If Canada is going to meet its obligations in the Paris Agreement to keep emissions below the 1.5 to 2.0 degree target, every institution and every individual has to start today planning for a world that does not depend on oil or gas.

The UBC Board of Governor’s has done the prudent thing, for now. But that action is woefully lagging.

Illegal to take driftwood from Goose Spit Park

Illegal to take driftwood from Goose Spit Park

By George Le Masurier —

During the years following WWII, the logging industry boomed on the B.C. coast. Tug boats pulled massive log booms down the Strait of Georgia every day, hauling millions of board feet of prime timber from northern Vancouver Island to lumber mills up the Fraser River..

Because of rapidly changing weather and stormy seas, it was a common occurrence for logs to bust loose from their booms and wash up on the shoreline. Those tangled logs, piled on top of each other, some with their root balls intact, have given a unique beauty to our beaches.

But it’s a fragile beauty. Today, tugboats rarely pull log booms down the coast, so there’s a small  supply of new wayward logs. Beachcombers and private citizens have already stripped some beaches of the most spectacular driftwood.

Fortunately, it’s illegal to remove driftwood from Crown foreshore land within or adjacent to ecological reserves or federal, provincial, regional or municipal parks. It’s also illegal to take driftwood from private land or First Nations reserves. This law preserves a piece of B.C. coast history, and creates a natural museum of the important role that coastal waters played during the heyday of raincoast logging.

Goose Spit sign

While on a walk through Goose Spit Park on B.C. Family Day, I was shocked to see some local residents stealing driftwood from this protected area. In the middle of the day, they brazenly loaded — and had perhaps cut — large pieces of driftwood with the dramatic pedestal of roots intact into their trucks parked near the public restrooms. One of them was a well-known local person.

At every access point to the beach from Goose Spit road, there’s a prominent signage pole that states, among other things, not to burn, cut or remove driftwood.

I reported these people to the Comox Valley Regional District’s community services branch, and shared photographs that identified them. The CVRD’s bylaw department sent each individual a warning letter. I would have preferred some harsher disciplinary action.

It’s disheartening that among all the people enjoying Goose Spit Park that day, I was the only person to report this crime. Many people may not know that it’s illegal to take driftwood. But, for kids and adults alike, It’s partly the large accumulation of driftwood that makes a visit to Goose Spit Park so much fun and attractive.

If we allow people to steal the remaining driftwood from one of the last protected areas, this little piece of B.C. coast lore and beauty will disappear forever.

Please don’t allow this to happen. Politely remind people attempting to take driftwood that it’s illegal to do so. Point to the sign posts. Take photographs of those that steal it anyway and report them to the regional district.