After the success of our Moose in a Maple Tree Series, I was supercharged by the idea of doing my own book. I knew a bit about the industry now, and had a pretty good grasp on what would sell and how to do it. It suddenly seemed more viable, less daunting. But what would I write about first?
The obvious choice was a book I’d been working on for some time, a true passion project for me. A few years ago I walked into a clothing shop belonging to a friend of a friend, and discovered a series of gorgeously-rendered paintings of young girls tangled up in a dark forest. Each painting featured a single girl who had somehow become integrated into the woods around her. One was sitting high in the crook of a black, bent tree bough, looking angrily down at some unseen thing below her. Another sat on a carven throne atop a ‘tree ladder,’ in a forest hung with tiny mirrors, the largest of which she had fixed with a rapt gaze .
Another showed a claw foot bathtub, supported by ascending roots, gauzy bath curtains hanging from the tree-branches above, blowing in the wind. Half-submerged in the bathtub lay a beautiful girl with greyish skin, hair hanging lankly over the tub’s rim, her thin, frail limbs dangling corspe-like over the edges. Yet another depicted a girl whose hair had grown into tree branches, and intertwined with the boughs above her, that had reached down and dragged he up off of her feet so that she dangled in the wind like and uprooted weed. Another showed a tall, bent girl carrying a treehouse on her shoulders, with branch-like hair that grew up through the porch and chimney.
This images screamed at me, demanded my attention. I asked the store owner, Gabrielle, who was also the artist, if she had ever considered making this series into a children’s book. She hadn’t, but she loved the idea, and I offered to write stories for the illustration. She was thrilled by this, so I got to work. Soon a new book concept was born, ‘Twelve Little Girls.’ It was told in rhyming couplets, a cautionary tale about 12 young girls who enter a dark forest as friends, and end up separating, straying from the path and becoming entwined in separate fates of their own making. It was dark, it was mysterious, and it rhymed. Gabrielle loved it, and offered to create new artwork to flesh out the full twelve stories (she only had eight paintings to start with). Together we came up with four new girls to add to the mix, and the story became an exciting project. The trouble was Gabrielle had a day job, and these paintings had been done over several years, so it was not a quick process. Again, the back-burner loomed.
And then I heard about the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.
When I first discovered that an oil pipeline was being planned by a major oil company to run through an old-growth rainforest in Northern BC, I was pretty stunned. Was this real? Could our government seriously be considering this? They were talking about the Great Bear Rainforest. From what I understand, this area is pretty famous for being a bit of an ecological relic–a true old-growth forest that has never been logged or developed. A place where biodiversity has been allowed to flourish to the point where a unique subspecies of bear has emerged–one that sports a coat of pure white. Where else on earth could you find that? Nowhere, it turned out.
I think that I, like most Canadians, harbour a sense of pride in the natural, often pristine beauty of our country, and have always felt as though Canada had its head and heart in the right place in terms of conservation. It turns out that it just seems that way because we have such a tiny population in relation to our land mass, so we’ve always had so darned MUCH wilderness that destroying it all hadn’t really become a viable option as of yet. But now, it seemed, things were changing.
In the wake of this new, unsettling information, I began to educate myself. I leaned about Enbridge, the corporation that wanted to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline. I read about the Tar Sands, with their massive tailings ponds filled with toxic leftovers from the oil extraction process. I learned what bitumen was. Dirty. Sludgy. Super-carcinogenic. Oh, and in order to make it fluid, it’s cut with super-toxic solvents before it enters the pipelines, so that in the event of a spill, you’ll have a caustic mix of chemicals injected into your water supply that will give otherwise healthy people migraines, seizures, and over the long term, cancer. Not the best news I’d heard all day.
I read about the Enbridge bitumen spill down in Michigan. How the Kalamazoo River had more than a million gallons of this stuff pumped into it over a weekend. How it took eighteen hours before a Michigan utilities employee noticed the spill and reported it to Enbridge, who had yet to detect a problem. I watched documentaries about people suffering the after-effects of having a 40KM stretch of river contaminated with this ‘black gold.’ I saw a video made by an ex-Enbridge employee who had been a part of the ‘cleanup effort,’ and had decided to come forth and tell the truth about what had really happened. Cover-ups. Threats. Complete extinction of all life in the river. Rocks and sand poured over oil they knew they couldn’t remove from the environment (or didn’t want to spend the money to do so). Canvas and grass seeds thrown over top. The appearance of a complete and total renewal of the waterway. But dig down a foot or two, and dark, glistening bitumen oil blooms to the surface. The river was ruined. Lifeless.
This terrified me. Could our government actually be considering running a substance this dangerous through an ancient BC rainforest??
In my years at Uni we had made trips up to Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound to study these old-growth forest systems. I had seen them. I knew how they worked. How precious, rare, unique and invaluable they are to life on Earth. How everything in the system is connected with every other thing, and how losing even one element would compromise the entire system. How these places were precious jewels, the lungs of the planet. And they wanted to bring this deadly, life-extinguishing oil into one of these places?
Surely this was not possible. It seemed like madness.
There was talk of jobs. Of new safety standards. Of the importance of Tar Sands oil in the new economy, of its importance to Canada. And of tankers longer than the Empire State Building navigating treacherous waterways inhabited by humpback whales, orcas, spawning salmon, and this crazy white bear that no one seemed to have heard of before, even though it was one of the mascots for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. And there were more spills. And more cover-ups.
And there were outright lies. Like when Enbridge created a map for their website that showed tankers gracefully cruising through a wide bay to alight in Kitimat, undeterred by the pesky network of islands that the map illustrator had conveniently chosen to erase. Surely this was a joke.
It wasn’t. They believed that people really were stupid enough to swallow all of this propaganda, and shrug their shoulders and look away, as they far too often do.
My first instinct was to DO SOMETHING. This hit me hard. I lived in Toronto now, but I grew up in Vancouver, and BC’s wilderness had been my childhood playground. It was in my blood. I wasn’t going to let anyone spill oil all over my nice, white bears and pretty rainforest.
My first thought was to write a children’s book. It was the one thing I knew how to do (sort of) that might have a little impact. I envisioned a story that took place in the Great Bear Rainforest after an oil spill had hit the area. I was serious about it. I discussed it and workshopped ideas. And then, as so often I have done in my life, I lost faith in my own idea. ‘Who’s going to listen to me?’ I thought. ‘What impact could my book possibly have? It won’t make a difference.’ And with that, I dropped the whole plan.
Months passed and the issue didn’t disappear. My guilt gnawed at me, but my negativity was far stronger. ‘What good can one person do? No one will care about what I have to say,’ I told myself.
That summer I went camping with some friends on a long weekend. We discovered this pristine little lake a few hours North of Toronto, with no buildings or boats, and very few people. Walk-in campsites near the lake, no cars. It was heaven. As we lay on the smooth rocks on the water’s edge looking up at the stars one evening, we began pontificating on the virtues of wilderness. How important it is to the soul. How it’s strange that something so natural, so wonderful, should be so difficult to find and have access to. And something clicked in my head. I brought up the pipeline issue and the rainforest in BC. Everyone agreed it was a horrible plan. Disgusting. Ruinous. How could our government be so greedy, so corrupt?
‘I have to do something,’ I said that night.
‘I have to write this book.’
Suddenly it dawned on me that if everyone took the attitude I had been taking, we would certainly fail as a species. Evil would run rampant, since good people preferred to remain silent and feel powerless. I wasn’t going to go down that path. Not anymore. I was going to do whatever I could do, as ONE person. If only a handful of kids read my book and got inspired, I knew it would be worth it. If every person in the world decided to do SOMETHING–whatever that something was–to make the world a better place, then we’d have a better world. Simple. So I wasn’t going to worry about what other people thought. Or whether or not I was ‘good enough’ to put an idea into print. I was going to do this. Because this issue was bigger than me. And it needed my attention.
No more shrugging, shuffling and looking away. That night I decided to write Spirit Bear.
Next Blog: The Birth of a Little White Bear
Of 345 species at risk in Canada, more than 160 have waited far too long for recovery strategies. Thanks to a recent federal court decision, four luckier ones are finally getting overdue plans detailing steps needed to save and protect them, including identifying habitat they need to survive. But to make it happen, environmental groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, with the help of Ecojustice lawyers, had to take the federal government to court. It wasn’t the first time we’ve gone to court to protect wildlife.
In what the judge called “the tip of the iceberg”, the court found an enormous systemic problem in the two ministries responsible for protecting endangered and threatened wildlife. Both the environment and fisheries ministers broke the law for the species in question by allowing multi-year delays in meeting deadlines required under the Species at Risk Act.
This legal win is good news for Pacific humpback whales, marbled murrelets, Nechako white sturgeon and southern mountain caribou. But their fate and that of many other federally recognized endangered and threatened species remains in jeopardy. Court victories are just a start. It will take political will to ensure species and their habitats get the protection they need.
Read the full story here.
In addition to being one of Canada’s most successful integrated media and entertainment companies, Corus Entertainment has received accolades such as being among the 2013 list of Canada’s Greenest Employers and the 2013 list of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers. The company owns 39 radio stations and delivers numerous television services, and it does so in a sustainable way.
Corus Quay, the new Toronto headquarters for Corus Entertainment, has implemented a number of eco-friendly initiatives. The building is accessible by public transportation, and the company encourages sustainable forms of transportation by offering 75 tenant-exclusive bicycle racks. Moreover, Corus Entertainment has taken steps toward water and energy conservation. The company has installed low-flow water fixtures throughout the building and a rooftop cistern that collects rainwater, initiatives that have resulted in Corus Entertainment reducing water consumption by upwards of 30%. A Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) system has been installed throughout the interior of the building, which consists of occupancy sensors that provide light only when someone is present and a daylight harvesting technique that dims the ballasts when natural light is abundant. These system features have reduced the amount of energy required by the lighting system by upwards of 30%. Energy efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment that is programmed based on solar exposure, location, occupancy, and space utilization has also been installed in the building. Also, carbon dioxide sensors have been installed to measure the approximate number of occupants in a particular area at any given time—information that is used to determine the exact amount of ventilated air required in a specific area, thereby reducing the amount of energy required for the HVAC system.
During the Corus Quay construction process, more than 75% of construction waste was diverted from landfills by salvaging materials for reuse and recycling. In addition, upwards of 20% of the materials used in the construction of Corus Quay’s interiors were made from recycled content, reducing the amount of energy required in the production of the materials. Upwards of 10% of the materials used were both extracted and manufactured locally. The wood wall treatment in the Orientation and Atrium space is reclaimed hemlock from a 1910 ferry terminal wharf in Toronto Harbour. The use of local goods and materials promotes the growth of local businesses and reduces the energy required to transport materials and products to the construction site.
Corus Quay features green rooftops that help reduce the heat-island effect. It also features a five story biowall in the Atrium. The plants that compose the biowall naturally clean the air and reduce energy consumption, improving air quality in the building.
To visit the Corus Entertainment website, click here.
To learn more about Corus Entertainment’s sustainability initiatives, click here.
A century ago, 35,000 grizzly bears lived in British Columbia and also flourished from Alaska to Mexico, and east to Ontario. Today, only about 15,000 grizzly bears inhabit B.C., having disappeared from the Lower Mainland, the Okanagan and around Fort St. John.
Despite being large and ferocious, grizzlies are highly sensitive to human impacts such as loss and fragmentation of their forest and mountain habitats by clearcuts, roads, oil and gas pipelines and other industrial infrastructure. Female bears reproduce later in life and often produce only a small number of cubs that survive into adulthood. Grizzlies travel long distances to find food, putting them at risk of coming into contact with hunters, roads, towns and other human encroachments into their habitat.
Bear experts have long known that if we want to keep grizzlies on the landscape, we must protect their habitat and ensure that the animals are not needlessly killed by humans. These two strategies are at the core of British Columbia’s official policy, the Grizzly Bear Strategy, which has guided management practices in the province since 1995. The ambitious strategy outlines steps to sustain the province’s bears with healthy populations and recover those with declining populations. It requires the government to protect bear habitat in a network of “grizzly bear management areas” where resource development is prevented and/or strictly managed, hunting is prohibited and risk-related recreational activities — such as off-highway vehicle use — are controlled. The plan also recognizes that human-caused mortality must be reduced and kept below sustainable thresholds by conservatively managing the grizzly bear sport hunt.
Read the full story here.
Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body has issued a fatwa, or edict, against illegal wildlife trafficking.
This unprecedented step by the Indonesian Council of Ulama, in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, declares illegal hunting or illegal trading of endangered species to be haram (forbidden).
For many the word “fatwa” took on ominous tones in 1989 when Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death threat against Salman Rushdie for blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses.
But the fatwa itself is merely a call to action. Invoking passages from the Koran, the fatwa (which you can read in full below) is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.
The fatwa requires Indonesia’s 200 million Muslims to take an active role in protecting and conserving endangered species, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans.
“This fatwa is issued to give an explanation, as well as guidance, to all Muslims in Indonesia on the sharia law perspective on issues related to animal conservation,” said Hayu Prabowo, chair of the Council of Ulama’s environment and natural resources body.
Read the full story here.
Plants and animals have a long history of acclimatizing to city living – think of raccoons and their expert pillaging of compost bins. But now biologists are beginning to see signs that something more fundamental is happening. They say wild things may be changing at a genetic level to survive cities and their polluting, habitat-fragmenting ways.
Fish in New York’s chemically-laden Hudson River have evolved a genetic variation that gives them resistance to PCBs, for example. Birds nesting under highway overpasses in Nebraska have developed shorter, more agile wings, allowing them to quickly swerve from oncoming traffic.
And weeds occupying patches of earth surrounding sidewalk trees in France have evolved to produce fewer dispersing seeds, which travel on the breeze and fall uselessly onto concrete. Instead, they produce compact seeds that drop close to the plant where they can germinate.
On one hand, urban evolution is not new. Peppered moths in Britain changed colour from white to black in heavily polluted areas during the Industrial Revolution. White moths were picked off by predators while the black ones, camouflaged in a newly sooty environment, survived to breed more black moths.
What may be different this time is the number of city-dwelling creatures evolving to live in inhospitable habitats.
Read the full story here.
Antarctica is one of the most pristine environments on Earth, but it’s wrestling with a pollution problem. And the very people who are working hardest to protect the continent are responsible.
Across Antarctica, wastewater from dozens of research bases, housing up to 5,000 people at a time, mostly scientists, is releasing nasty chemicals into the environment—and into penguins and other wildlife.
The most recent culprit: a toxic flame retardant called Hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD.
It’s commonly used in insulation, building materials, thermoplastics, and research equipment, including computers.
Da Chen, an ecotoxicologist from Southern Illinois University, and some marine science colleagues recently tested for HBCD at the U.S. research base McMurdo Station, on the southern tip of Ross Island, and at a New Zealand base nearby, using samples from dust and sewage sludge.
The scientists also tested wildlife tissue as well as sediments from the area where wastewater from the two bases—water containing sewage, organic and inorganic material, toxins, silt, pathogens, pharmaceuticals—spills into McMurdo Sound.
HBCD was present everywhere the scientists looked: in dust from the stations, in the sediment, and in the tissue of the animals, which ranged from Adélie penguins and fish to sponges and marine worms.
Not surprisingly, the sediment nearest the wastewater source had the highest HBCD contamination. But what was unexpected is just how high the levels were—rivaling those in some rivers near highly urbanized areas in the U.S. and Europe.
The scientists reported their findings at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting late last year, but they’ve gotten little press coverage.
Read the full story here.
Some of the world’s most recognisable and important landmarks could be lost to rising sea-levels if current global warming trends are maintained over the next two millennia.
This is according to a new study, published today, 5 March, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, that has calculated the temperature increases at which the 720 sites currently on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites would be impacted by subsequent sea-level rises.
The Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Tower of London and Sydney Opera House are among the 136 sites that would be impacted if the current global warming trend continues and temperatures rise to 3°C above pre-industrial levels in the next 2000 years — a likely and not particularly extreme scenario, according to the researchers.
Also impacted would be the city centres of Brugge, Naples, Riga and St. Petersburg; Venice and its Lagoon; Robben Island; and Westminster Abbey.
Lead author of the study Professor Ben Marzeion, from the University of Innsbruck, said: “Sea-levels are responding to global warming slowly but steadily because the key processes involved — ocean heat uptake and melting continental ice — go on for a long while after the warming of the atmosphere has stopped.
Co-author of the study Professor Anders Levermann, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “After 2000 years, the oceans would have reached a new equilibrium state and we can compute the ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica from physical models. At the same time, we consider 2000 years a short enough time to be of relevance for the cultural heritage we cherish.”
Read the full story here.
“Some of the world’s most charismatic animals are in immediate danger of extinction as a result of habitat loss and illicit trafficking,” warned UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as the world marks the first World Wildlife Day.
From Geneva to Tokyo and from New York to Nairobi, people around the world are attending special events to mark the day in Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Germany, Mongolia, New Zealand, Peru, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, the United Kingdom and the United States, among others.
At UN Headquarters in Geneva at the opening of the “Wild and Precious” exhibition, featuring photographs of dancing manta rays, elephants, apes and majestic trees, Ban said today, “Wildlife is part of our shared heritage. We need it for our shared future.”
“Wildlife remains integral to our future through its essential role in science, technology and recreation, as well as its place in our continued heritage,” said Ban, calling on all countries to protect biological diversity and halt environmental crimes.
“While the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts,” he said.
UN General Assembly President John Ashe, who is also in Geneva, said, “The exhibition we open today illustrates how animals, insects, plants and trees are all unique pieces forming the beautiful mosaic of our natural environment. Not only do they sustain our livelihoods, they are an integral part of our cultural heritage through tales and legends, symbols and traditions.”
“In the complex symphony of nature, each and every species plays an essential part to maintain the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystems,” said Ashe.
The UN General Assembly designated March 3 as World Wildlife Day to mark the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, an international agreement by the governments of 176 UN Member States.
Administered by the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, in Geneva, its aim is to ensure that global trade in some 35,000 species of plants and animals does not threaten their survival.
CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon said, “We are thrilled by the enthusiasm and overwhelming support for wildlife coming from so many places and people. It gives us great hope that we can secure a sustainable future for wild plants and animals, as well as for ourselves.”
Read the full story here.
Many low-income communities around the country are located in what policy makers, activists and media refer to as “food deserts” — places where there is an abundance of cheap, processed food and an absence of healthy, fresh, affordable food. In a food desert food options range from a variety of fast food chains to “food” sold at local corner stores, liquor stores, pharmacies, etc. I live in South Central Los Angeles and it is undoubtedly a food desert. But I do not call it that. I call it a food prison. And if our communities do not take the necessary steps to break out of this prison we will remain trapped by the immobilizing confines of our zip code.
From Chicago to Philadelphia to New Orleans, the new epidemic in African American communities and other low-income neighborhoods is a result of the food prison. This epidemic is one of preventable diseases: hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and so on. In these prisons the green grocer has been replaced by the dialysis center, the drive-thrus have become more deadly than the drive-bys, the rate of malnourished children is on par with the rate of the failing schools and teenagers are having heart attacks. As this epidemic is starting to gain the attention of the general public it is important that we frame it in terms of food injustice so as not to disguise what is really going on. Click here for more.
Endangered blue whales and 12 species of dolphins will flourish in the waters of south-central Chile after the government this week inaugurated the largest Marine Protected Area in continental Chile.
Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera, Wednesday visited the Bay of Tic-Toc to inaugurate the new Tic-Toc Marine Park, as part of Chile’s Bicentenary Legacy program.
The reserve spans a marine area of 87,500 hectares, stretching from Punta Yeli to Punta Guala on the southern border of the Los Lagos region. From now on it will be used only for scientific and recreational activities; all industrial activities are prohibited.
Read the full story here.