The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

Only big, bold and probably unpopular actions are needed now to slow down climate change  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re feeling curious about many things, but especially this: After today’s climate march will a genuine sense of emergency finally hit home throughout the Comox Valley?

The Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action group has called for another climate strike today. It starts from Simms Park in Courtenay at 1 pm.

Perhaps another 3,000 people or more will march through Courtenay’s streets to show growing support for actions by individuals and governments to lessen or delay the disastrous effects of climate change.

Climate activist and Courtenay CouncillorWill Cole-Hamilton reminded us last week of the important role that public demonstrations play. They give us a sense of well-being; that we’re doing something positive to fight back unthinkable horrors.

And seeing growing numbers of committed people atted public demonstrations gives social license to businesses and governments to take bolder actions to save our planet.

And here comes the ‘but.’

But so far we haven’t seen any bold actions by leaders locally, provincially or nationally.

Yes, we have taken small steps. We’ve banned single-use plastic bags. We’re in the process of adding charging stations for electric vehicles. We’ve banned the extraction and bottling of groundwater or municipal water for commercial purposes. On a national level, Canada did sign the Paris Accord.

Cities and towns all over the world are taking small steps like these, and many other nations made pledges in Paris. Yet, carbon dioxide emissions have risen by an average of 1.5 percent per year for the past 10 years. We coughed up 55 gigatonnes last year. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 407.8 parts per million.

To put that into perspective, scientists say global carbon emissions must drop by 7.6 percent per year for the next 10 years, or the world faces catastrophic consequences.

Small steps won’t get us there.

If we continue taking small steps most of the Courtenay Flats including Puntledge Road, the Lewis Centre, the gas station on Dyke Road and the K’omoks First Nation band hall will be flooded. So will the Courtenay Airpark. Jane Place in Comox will be underwater. The little bit of high ground near the tip of Goose Spit will become an island. The low lying farm land below CFB Comox that the Queen’s Ditch flows through will flood and begin the process of reverting to the saltwater bay it once was.

Think about the sewage pump station on the banks of the Courtenay River, and the Kus-kus-sum site.

Sea level rise will continue, droughts will last longer, forest fires will increase … and on and on it goes.

We don’t have time for small steps. I know many people think that some new technology will emerge and save us. I hope they’re right.

But we need that silver bullet today. Not five years from now. That’s too late, if you believe the science, and you must or you wouldn’t be marching today. And, if you don’t and you’re not marching, then you’re making the mountain that much higher for the rest of us to climb.

It’s nice that our local governments have declared ‘climate emergencies.’ But what does that really mean beyond lip service?

Have any of our municipalities dumped their fossil-fuel burning fleet of vehicles and purchased all electric models? Have any of them taken away gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and grass trimmers from their public works staff? How many have installed solar panels on all of their municipal buildings?

The City of Courtenay and the Comox Valley Regional District have built a new office building on higher ground. That’s smart. But is it a LEED-certified building? No. Is it a net-zero energy building right now? No. Will it be complaint with the new BC Energy Step Code step building code when it goes into effect in 2032?

I know what you’re thinking. These changes take time. They cost money. People aren’t willing to pay the high taxes needed to change-out fleets of cars and hire more municipal staff to rake leaves. Builders aren’t constructing only net-zero energy buildings because people can’t afford them. These things are true.

But when our coastline starts disappearing and people lose their homes or can no longer get insurance or sell them because everybody is retreating as fast as they can to higher ground, then what?

I don’t know how we drop global emissions by 7.6 percent per year. We’ve never done it. In fact, we’re headed in the other direction even now.

But one thing is for sure: We need bold leaders willing to take bold actions — unpopular as they might be — or we’re in for natural disasters of a magnitude we clearly haven’t fathomed.

So march today. But take big steps, not small ones.



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Comox Valley climate activists join 1,700 discussion events worldwide

Comox Valley climate activists join 1,700 discussion events worldwide

Comox Valley citizens participated in 24 Hours of Realty, the worldwide climate action this week  |  Dan Vie photo

Comox Valley climate activists join 1,700 discussion events worldwide

By George Le Masurier

While former U.S. Vice President kicked off a worldwide discussion about the climate crisis at Vanderbilt University yesterday, Gore-trained climate activist Will Cole-Hamilton provided a similar keynote presentation for close to 100 people at the Comox United Church Hall.

Cole-Hamilton spoke about global progress in developing solar and wind technologies to replace fossil fuels, how the City of Courtenay has addressed climate change and why growing public sentiment expressed in climate marches are so important.

And he brought the topic down to a personal level. Recalling a recent conversation with one of his young children, Cole-Hamilton had trouble keeping his own emotions in check.

Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action has scheduled another Climate Strike for 1 p.m. Nov. 29 at Courtenay’s Simms Park

When his young daughter announced she never planned to have children, Cole-Hamilton asked why. “Because it’s not fair to bring kids into a world that’s not safe,” she said.

Celia Laval, of the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship, a co-organizer of the event, which was one of 1,700 same-day presentations in 75 countries called 24 Hours of Reality: Climate Truth in Action, also acknowledged the seriousness of the issue.

“This is a heavy topic,” she said. “And I’m glad I don’t have to face it alone.”

After Cole-Hamilton’s presentation, participants broke into small groups to discuss the climate crisis and share the practical steps that individuals and neighbourhoods can take to reduce the human impact on climate change.



Cole-Hamilton started his presentation showing an aerial photo of the Puntledge Road and highway bypass area of Courtenay during the 2014 flood, a rain event that climate scientists predict will become more frequent in the future.

And he showed an old photo of the formerly robust Comox Glacier. Experts now believe that all Vancouver Island glaciers will disappear within 20 years.

But Cole-Hamilton moved on to good news. Many nations have pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the Paris Accord. China and India have generated half or more of their new energy from solar and wind. In the last five years, solar energy jobs have grown six times faster than the overall economy.

In Canada, Cole-Hamilton said, there are now more clean energy jobs than exist in Alberta’s tar sands oil patch.

Cole-Hamilton, who also serves as an elected Courtenay councillor, said he’s proud of how the city is addressing climate change. That includes new electric vehicle charging stations, a ban on single-use plastic bags and declaring a climate emergency.

He said the city’s revision of its Official Community Plan, which is underway, will consider climate change “every step of the way.” The city’s consultants say Courtenay will be the first Canadian city to put the climate crisis at the core of its planning.



More than 3,000 people — nearly five percent of the Comox Valley population — joined 800,000 other Canadians on Sept. 27 in climate marches to demand that governments at all levels do more to reduce human impacts on climate change.

Cole-Hamiltion told the audience that such public displays of public sentiment are more important than people might realize.

When large numbers of people show their support, it gives local governments social license to take positive actions. He noted that all Comox Valley councils and the regional board all declared climate emergencies after the march.

And, he said strong showings are also seen by businesses and other institutions, and they give everyone the strength of conviction to talk about the climate crisis.

“If we continue to grow climate marches, we will change our community,” he said.



At the end of the evening, people from the small group discussions talked about the practical actions they are taking to create issue awareness and reduce their carbon footprint.

Those actions ranged from creating more community gardens, to consuming less (Nov. 29 is Buy Nothing Day), supporting local farmers, pledge to have a zero waste Christmas and supporting such local organizations as Project Watershed and Lush Valley.

The list will be posted on the Facebook pages for Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship and Comox Valley Nurses for Health Environment.

The Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment also co-sponsored the event.










The website Skeptical Science has made a list of the 197 most common myths about global warming and climate change and how you, as a climate activist, can respond to each of them.

Get the list here … cue cards not available.



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Comox Valley to discuss the climate crisis on Wednesday, Nov. 20

Comox Valley to discuss the climate crisis on Wednesday, Nov. 20

Will Cole-Hamilton, a Courtenay city councillor and one of 20,000 Global Climate Leaders  |  Archive photo by George Le Masurier

Comox Valley to discuss the climate crisis on Wednesday, Nov. 20

By George Le Masurier

Scientists tell us that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing humanity but talking about it can be uncomfortable. North American statistics show that most people do not discuss the climate crisis.

This silence makes it hard to build momentum to solve the problem.

The Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship will join The Climate Reality Project for 24 Hours of Reality: Climate Truth in Action, a day that is about mobilizing a worldwide conversation about the climate crisis and how we solve it on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

Climate Reality Leader volunteers from across the globe will lead presentations and conversations in countries around the world. The presentations will focus on the climate crisis, what it means for us in our everyday lives, and the solutions already in our hands.

Worldwide, more than 20,000 Climate Reality Leaders have been personally trained by Vice President Al Gore to give updated versions of the slideshow made famous in his book An Inconvenient Truth and the subsequent documentary by the same name.

Courtenay City Councillor, Will Cole-Hamilton, is one of those trained by Al Gore and ready to share this critical information with local citizens.

After his presentation, participants will have a chance to form small groups and have facilitated conversations. The purpose of the small group chats is to gain knowledge, build community and find inspiration to face this challenge together and share ideas for taking practical steps for individual and collective action.

Invite your neighbours and friends to talk about climate action. The event will take place from 7 to 9 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Comox United Church Hall (250 Beach Drive).

Contact for more information.



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Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

Maude Barlow  |  George Le Masurier photos

Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

By George Le Masurier

Maude Barlow’s presentation today at the K’omoks Band Hall is not just another stop on the tour to promote her new book, Whose Water Is It, Anyway? The co-founder of the Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project is on a mission to sound the alarm about a global water crisis.

Water crisis? That’s hard to believe on the soggy west coast, but it’s true.

Barlow has devoted the last decade, and most of her 19 books, to dispelling the Canadian myth that we have an abundance of water. And she has worked worldwide to convince governments and the public to recognize the human right to clean water, to keep drinking water and wastewater systems under public control and to stop using bottled water.

“We think it will always be here,” she said. “We are blessed with water in Canada, but that doesn’t mean we can be careless with it.”

“The water crisis is a few years behind the climate crisis in people’s minds,” she told Decafnation in an interview at the Union Bay home of Alice de Wolff, a member of the Council of Canadians board.

But it is real. Consider that a United Nations science panel estimates that by 2030 the global demand for water will exceed supply by 40 percent. They predict water crises will affect seven billion people by 2050, when world population hits 10 billion.

Maude Barlow and Alice de Wolff in Union Bay

Many African countries already have a water crisis. River systems are polluted beyond human use in India. Adequate water supply is rare in the Middle East. Droughts are now common in Brazil, which has never had them until recently, and more frequent in California and on Vancouver Island.

Canada may have 6.5 percent of the world’s available fresh water, but we’re treating it poorly.

“We don’t have good legislation for groundwater protection,” she said. “We pollute it with chemicals from stormwater and factory agricultural runoff, we divert it, over-extract it and we don’t have strong national standards for drinking water or wastewater treatment.”


Keeping water public

Barlow’s message is particularly relevant in the Comox Valley after public protests defeated an application to extract groundwater for a water bottling operation in Merville.

The Merville Water Guardians, led by Bruce Gibbons, has now taken that fight to Victoria, pressing the BC government to stop licensing groundwater extraction for commercial water bottling or water exports from provincial aquifers. Last month, the Union of BC Municipalities passed the Water Guardians resolution.

Barlow predicts the battle for British Columbia’s will get more intense as water supplies diminish.

“In a world running out of water, you bet there’s going to be corporate interest,” she said.

Over the last 10 years, 83 percent of all Canadian bottled water exports came from BC, driven primarily by the Nestle company’s extraction operation near Hope that draws 255 million litres per year. There has recently been a 1,500 percent increase in exports to the US.

Two years ago, Agriculture Canada started promoting a water crisis in China as an opportunity for the Canadian bottled water industry. A fact Barlow thinks is curious given the Trudeau government’s promise to ban plastics by 2021.

Whistler Water in Burnaby extracts groundwater to produce 43,000 bottles per hour. The company was sold in 2016 to new Chinese investors who have expanded production to serve growing markets in China and California.

And new applications for groundwater extraction have recently been filed with the BC government for operations in Golden and Canal Flats.

Although many municipalities — including the Comox Valley — have passed bylaws prohibiting groundwater extraction for bottling, Barlow worries about which jurisdiction will have ultimate control if the province persists.

A significant Canadian water bottling expansion would add billions more plastic into the world, most of which will not be recycled, adding to the million bottles of water sold every minute around the world.


What are Blue communities?

Barlow initiated the Blue Communities Program in 2009 through the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees to protect water and promote it as a public trust.

On July 28, 2010, Barlow earliest efforts achieved a major victory to have water recognize water as a human right by the United Nations.

It was a bittersweet victory, however, because Canada abstained from the vote. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had led the fight against it the UN resolution, because he was promoting public-private partnerships as the owners of water and wastewater systems. Harper was also encouraged private groundwater extraction.

Barlow believes water protection cannot be left to the federal government. She has focused her efforts on more local levels.

“We have a strong obligation to keep water in democractic hands,” she said.

To become a Blue Community requires that a city or town pledge to uphold three principles:

First, to recognize water and sanitation as human rights. Second, to ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events. And, third, to promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

She imagined program as a Canadian initiative and never dreamed it would go global.

But when she was in Bern, Switzerland to protest Nestle’s abuse of water around the world, she had the opportunity to speak with the city’s mayor. Bern soon became the first Blue city outside of Canada, followed by the University of Bern, and the Reform Church.

Now Berlin, Barcelona, Munich, Madrid and Paris are also Blue cities. Brussels and Amsterdam will join soon.

And the program is not just for cities. The World Council of Churches recently took the Blue pledge. McGill is the first university in Canada to go Blue. A high school in Quebec and an elementary school (where her granddaughters go) have also taken the pledge.

In the Comox Valley, both Cumberland and Comox signed on to the program in 2012.

Burnaby was the first city in Canada to join, and Montreal is the largest.


Barlow’s new book

Whose Water Is It, Anyway? Is Barlow’s latest book about water. And it takes a different approach than her earlier works that focused on defining the global water problem. In it, she moves from misuse of water around the world, to the success stories of the Blue Communities program.

It’s more of a handbook to show people what they can do as groups or individuals to lessen the coming water crisis. It includes templates of letters to send to governments and corporations.

In a way, it’s the story of Barlow’s evolution to understanding water.

“I’m a practical activist. I have a big dream, but I’m rooted in a practical way to get there,” she said. “Plus, I offer hope. The book is not apocalyptic. I don’t want people to feel helpless.”









There is nothing more important than clean water. We need it for drinking, sanitation and household uses. Communities need water for economic, social, cultural and spiritual purposes.

Yet water services and water resources are under growing pressure. Communities everywhere – including in Canada – are experiencing extreme weather, including record levels of drought, intense rain and flooding. At the same time, privatization, the bottling of water, and industrial projects are threatening our water services and sources. The former Harper government’s gutting of environmental legislation has left a legacy of unprotected water sources. Provincial water laws often promote “business as usual” and do not go far enough to protect communities’ drinking water.

It is now more important than ever for all of us to take steps to protect water sources and services. By making your community a Blue Community, you can do your part to ensure clean, safe water sources and reliable public services for generations to come.

A growing global movement is taking action to protect water as a commons and a public trust. A commons is a cultural and natural resource – like air or water – that is vital to our survival and must be accessible to all members of a community. These resources are not owned privately, but are held collectively to be shared, carefully managed and enjoyed by all. They are a public trust. Recognizing water as a public trust will require governments to protect water for a community’s reasonable use, and for future generations. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, community rights and the public interest take priority over private water use. Water could not be controlled or owned by private interests for private gain.

— From the Blue Communities page on the Council of Canadians website



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Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

Gavin MacRae photos

Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

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, 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



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Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

Island Health wants municipalities to monitor water quality at beachs like Comox Lake  /  George Le Masurier photo

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

By George Le Masurier

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials.

The health authority said it has already stopped monitoring water quality at popular public beaches, and that it had told municipalities last summer that the responsibility would shift to them.

Courtenay CAO David Allen says he hasn’t seen anything in writing from Island Health.

“The City of Courtenay has reached out to Island Health to request further information and documentation about this change in their policy,” Allen told Decafnation. “City staff are also in discussions with other regional local governments to identify roles and responsibilities.”

Shelley Ashfield, the Town of Comox’s chief engineer said the Town has not received any directive from VIHA regarding sampling of any public beaches at this time.

Rob Crisfield, manager of operations for the Village of Cumberland told Decafnation with possibly a hint of irony that “The village is not currently monitoring any beaches.”

And there was no response from the Comox Valley Regional District.

Regardless of where the communications went awry, no water quality testing has apparently occurred this summer at popular north Island beaches.

An Island Health officer said some municipalities in the south Island, such as Saanich and the Capital Regional District have taken on the task, while most have not.

Island Health has a long list of north Island beaches that should be monitored. They include beaches at Goose Spit, Kin Beach, Kitty Coleman, Kye Bay, Tribune Bay, Little Tribune Bay and Whaling Station Bay on Hornby Island, Miracle Beach, Point Holmes, Puntledge Park and Puntledge River swimming areas and Saratoga Beach.

Island Health says that environmental Health Officers have reviewed water quality results from samples at popular beach areas every summer and posted advisories where swimming was not recommended.

But, a VIHA spokesperson said, they were transferring the task of taking samples and providing oversight to municipalities as all the other BC health authorities have done. Island Health will pay the cost of analysis and courier fees to testing laboratories and will continue to post the results and advisories on their website.

Water quality tests for indicator bacteria identify whether fecal contamination exists and to what degree. A “no swimming” advisory would be posted if the average of several samples exceeds 200 E. coli or 35 Enterococci, or a single sample exceeds 400 E. Coli or 70 Enterococci per sample.




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