Getting Inspired

Image from 'Twelve Little Girls,' another book still sitting on my back burner, getting slightly singed.

An image from ‘Twelve Little Girls,’ another book still sitting on my back burner,
getting slightly singed.

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 .

Vain

The ‘Forest of Mirrors’ image from ‘Twelve Little Girls.’

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.

Drain Forest Bath

‘Drain Forest,’ another image from ‘Twelve Little Girls.’

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.

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

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.

Potential devastation from a spill by tankers for proposed Northern Gateway project.

Potential devastation from a spill by tankers from the proposed Northern Gateway project.

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.’

An inspirational moment.

The actual night that I decided to write ‘Spirit Bear.’

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

Ottawa removing North Pacific humpback whales from list of ‘threatened’ species

A humpback whale breaches the surface outside of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C.

The Harper government is downgrading the protection of the North Pacific humpback whale despite objections from a clear majority of groups that were consulted.

Critics say the whales could face greater danger if two major oilsands pipeline projects get the go-ahead, since both would result in a sharp increase in movement of large vessels on the West Coast that occasionally collide with, and kill, whales like the humpback.

The decision was made under the Species At Risk Act (SARA), and declares the humpback a “species of special concern” rather than “threatened.”

The reclassification means the humpback will no longer be “subject to the general prohibitions set out in SARA, nor would its critical habitat be required to be legally protected under SARA,” states the federal government notice published this month in the Canada Gazette.

The decision removes a major legal hurdle that the environmental group Ecojustice said stood in the way of the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring 550,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude from Alberta to Kitimat.

Ecojustice said in December that a federal review panel’s conditional approval of the project flies in the face of the humpback’s protections under the federal legislation.

The fate of the humpback was a major issue during the Northern Gateway public hearings that concluded last year, with many groups fearing that collisions, potential spills, and excessive noise would be a serious threat to the whales.

Read the full story here.

Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline: Some B.C. First Nations say there will be no compromise

Boating culture is a way of life for the Gitga’at of Hartley Bay. This photo — taken from the Tsimshian Storm — is a portrait of Hartley Bay’s shoreline.

Just a few miles from the spot where Enbridge Inc. plans to build a massive marine terminal for its Northern Gateway oil pipeline, Gerald Amos checks crab traps and explains why no concession from the company could win his support for the project.

Amos, the former chief of the Haisla Nation on the northern coast of British Columbia and a community leader, has argued for years that the risk — no matter how small — of an oil spill in these waters outweighs any reward the controversial project might offer.

That resolve is shared by many in the aboriginal communities along the proposed pipeline and marine shipping route who see the streams, rivers and oceans in their traditional territories as the lifeblood of their culture.

“Our connection to this place that we call home is really important,” says Amos as he pulls three Dungeness crabs from his trap, tossing two in a bucket and holding the third up for his two young granddaughters, who shriek and giggle as the crustacean wriggles its legs.

“If these little ones can’t witness us doing what we’ve done for generations now, if we sever that tie to the land and the ocean, we’re no longer Haisla.”

The Northern Gateway pipeline would carry diluted bitumen 1,177 kilometres from Alberta’s oil sands to the deepwater port in Kitimat, in northwest British Columbia, where it would be loaded on supertankers and shipped to Asia. It is expected to cost $7.9 billion.

Like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the United States, Northern Gateway is loathed by environmentalists who fear it will hasten the development of Canada’s oil sands and exacerbate climate change.

Read the full story here.

Keystone XL pipeline decision not expected this year, following new delay

Pipes intended for the Keystone XL pipeline sit in storage in Little Rock, Ark.

The Canadian government demanded an answer immediately on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline. It has now received a reply from the United States government that amounts to: Maybe next year.

The project is now paralyzed for an indefinite period, with the U.S. administration Friday announcing another delay in a process already beset by political and legal challenges.

The announcement made it clear that Canadian pipeline backers will not get the answer they wanted in time for the summer construction season, pushing completion of the project until 2015 — at best.

The State Department said it needs more time to prepare its recommendation to the president because the pipeline route is mired in uncertainty. A legal dispute is underway in Nebraska over the route and it is unlikely to be resolved before next year.

Eight federal agencies were informed Friday that they will be granted additional time to weigh into the process, while details of the route are still being clarified.

Administration officials denied claims the decision was motivated by politics. That accusation was levelled explicitly by its Republican opponents at home, and in language that was only marginally more diplomatic by the Harper government in Ottawa.

The Obama administration insisted the delay was about analyzing the right pipeline route — and not at all about flinging a political hot potato beyond November’s congressional elections.

“That pipeline route is central to the environmental analysis,” a State Department official told reporters Friday.

Read the full story here.

Earth Day 2014: Tips on Becoming More Environmentally Friendly

Arnaldo Vazquez cleans solar panels to maximise energy efficiency during the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington.

Earth Day 2014 marks the 44th anniversary of the annual event and will see over a billion people worldwide celebrating the day of action.

This year’s Earth Day focuses on green cities to highlight the impact of more and more people migrating to cities to live.

“With smart investments in sustainable technology, forward-thinking public policy, and an educated and active public, we can transform our cities and forge a sustainable future,” event organisers said. “Nothing is more powerful than the collective action of a billion people.”

To mark Earth Day 2014, IBTimes UK looks at some of the ways people can save energy, become more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Saving Energy

Taking public transport, cycling or using a car pool for just two days out of the week for the commute to work can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,600 pounds per year. Similarly, by saving up car journeys for shopping trips and errands, and doing them all in one go, will help reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, and save money.

Check how energy efficient you are by looking into how much of your power comes from renewable sources, such as wind or solar energy. Using green power – if optional – will help to reduce greenhouse emissions as well as protect against future costs of fossil fuel scarcity.

Completing an energy audit of your home to work out where you can save money will have a big impact on the environment and your wallet. This can be through simple changes, such as replacing conventional light bulbs with energy efficient ones, or through installing your own green power sources such as solar panels.

Water efficiency

There are a number of ways people can use water more efficiently. The planet only has a small amount of water available for human consumption, so using this resource sensibly is paramount.

  • Don’t pre-rinse dishes before loading them into a dishwasher – tests showed it does not improve cleaning and you will save about 20 gallons per load. If your dishwasher is inefficient, buy a new one that saves water – it will be worth it in the long-term.
  • Shower instead of bath – a five minutes shower will save up to 25 gallons of water in comparison to running a full bath.
  • Installing a water-efficient showerhead will also save water and money.
  • Fix leaks from faucets as this will mean you use less water and save thousands of gallons each year. To test if you have leaks, you can check the metre before and after a period of a few hours while no water is being used. If the meter has changed, there is likely a leak somewhere.
  • Only use the washing machine when you have a full load and if the machine is inefficient, buy a new one. Newer models use just 28 gallons compared with older machines that use up to 41.

Recycle

Recycling around the home can be done in a number of ways – instead of throwing out garden waste, create a compost heap for natural disposal. Food waste from the kitchen can also be added to the heap to break down naturally, meaning you can also save money on fertilisers.

Read the full story here.

Earth Day 2014: How It Became a Global Environmental Event

Aflac employees pick through garbage bags in search of recyclable plastic, aluminum, and cardboard for Earth Day 2013.

More than a billion people around the world will celebrate Earth Day on April 22, 2014—the 44th anniversary of the annual day of action.

 

Earth Day began in 1970, when 20 million people across the United States—that’s one in ten—rallied for increased protection of the environment.

“It was really an eye-opening experience for me,” Gina McCarthy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who was a self-described self-centered teenager during the first Earth Day rallies, told National Geographic.

“Not only were people trying to influence decisions on the Vietnam War,” she recalled, “but they were beginning to really focus attention on issues like air pollution, the contamination they were seeing in the land, and the need for federal action.”

At the time, she said, the environment was in visible ruins—factories legally spewed black clouds of pollutants into the air and dumped toxic waste into streams. (Learn more about air pollution.)

“I can remember the picture of the Cuyahoga River being on fire,” she said, referring to the Ohio waterway choked with debris, oil, sludge, industrial wastes, and sewage that spectacularly erupted in flames on June 22, 1969, and caught the nation’s attention.

Although members of the public were increasingly incensed at the lack of legal and regulatory mechanisms to thwart environmental pollution, green issues were absent from the U.S. political agenda.

The environment’s low profile frustrated U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, whose campaigns to protect it during the 1960s had fallen flat.

In 1969 Nelson hit on the idea of an environmental protest modeled after anti-Vietnam War teach-ins.

“It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country,” Nelson recounted in an essay shortly before he died in July 2005 at 89. “The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

Read the full story here.

Declining catch rates in Caribbean Nicaragua green turtle fishery may be result of overfishing

A green turtle is being unloaded by fishers in Río Grande Bar community. A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua’s legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Florida has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take.

A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua’s legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take, according to conservation scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Florida.

During the research period, conservation scientists estimated that more than 170,000 green turtles were killed between 1991 and 2011, with catch rates peaking in 1997 and 2002 and declining steeply after 2008, likely resulting from over-fishing. The trend in catch rates, the authors of the assessment results maintain, indicates the need for take limits on this legal fishery.

The study now appears in the online journal PLOS ONE. The authors are: Cynthia J. Lagueux and Cathi L. Campbell of the University of Florida (formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society), and Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“The significant decrease in the catch rates of green turtles represents a concern for both conservationists and local, coastal communities who depend on this resource,” said Dr. Lagueux, lead author of the study. “We hope this study serves as a foundation for implementing scientifically based limits on future green turtle take.”

Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua contain extensive areas of sea grass, principal food source for green turtles, the only herbivorous sea turtle species. Green turtles in turn support a number of indigenous Miskitu and Afro-descendent communities that rely on the marine reptiles for income (by selling the meat) and as a source of protein.

The catch data used by the researchers to estimate trends was gathered by community members at 14 different sites located in two geographically political regions of the Nicaraguan coast. The research team analyzed the long-term data set to examine catch rates for the entire fishery, each region, and for individual turtle fishing communities using temporal trend models.

Read the full story here.

The Best Way to Deal With Ocean Trash

A manta ray and a green sea turtle feed in the midst of plastic bags, milk jugs, and other debris floating off one of Oahu’s highest-rated beaches.

Tony Haymet, former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has heard hundreds of ocean cleanup plans. Late at night, over many beers, he’s come up with a few dozen of his own. None of them, he says, has seemed likely to work.

That includes this spring’s offerings. A Dutch engineering student, Boyan Slat, envisions a contraption with massive booms that would sweep debris into a huge funnel. Songwriter and music producer Pharrell Williams wants to fund the monumental cost of any cleanup by turning recycled ocean plastic into yarn and then clothes.

The challenge is huge. For one thing, the garbage is spread over millions of square miles. For another, it’s made up mostly of degraded plastic, broken down by sunlight and waves into tiny bits the size of grains of rice.

“That’s what makes it so horrifying,” Haymet says. “The micro-plastic is the same size as the stuff living in the water column. How would we ever go out and collect it? So far no one’s come up with a plan to separate all the micro-plastic from the living life that’s the same size.”

In the face of growing criticism, Slat had to back off his optimistic boast that he could clean up the oceans in five years. He posted a notice on his website asking the media and the critics to wait until he finishes his research.

Meanwhile, the garbage keeps growing.

Consider this alarming statistic from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, which is wrapping up a three-year study of marine debris: Every decade global production of plastics doubles. Even if someone came up with a workable collecting mechanism, how much impact could it have?

Read the full story here.

The road to civil disobedience

Haisla girls basketball team…as they flash mobbed the Kitimat mayor.

Thanks to the BC Civil Liberties Association for presenting protest rights workshops across BC’s northwest this week. The calm and cogent presentation outlined the laws around peaceful gatherings and what protesters can expect from police and what their rights are when the police question, detain or arrest participants.

Most peaceful protest does not involve the breaking of any laws. Marches, sit-ins, gatherings, and picket lines are legal methods of drawing public, government and industry attention to concerns about unjust laws, unfair practices, or dangerous activities. Often, in fact, it seems the public needs to organize demonstrations to pressure government or police to enforce existing laws: sawmills blow up, rivers are polluted, air quality is toxic and nothing happens until the public pressures officials to step in.

Civil disobedience occurs when people knowingly break laws they consider unjust (Rosa Parks sitting near the front of the bus) or break laws to prevent activities they consider wrong (Haida elders blocking logging on Lyell Island or Tahltan elders blocking access to the Sacred Headwaters).

Read the full story here.

World’s oceans threatened by floating trash

No evidence of a crash, but lots of garbage. So far that’s what the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has uncovered, highlighting the rubbish problem in the world’s oceans. The Indian Ocean contains one of five major ocean gyres — rotating whirlpools of water — believed to trap huge collections of trash in its currents. The other four massive gyres are located in the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic and South Atlantic.

Ocean debris can cause damage to animals that swallow the plastic, either accidentally or mistaking it for food. Some experts suggest the smaller plastic particles — which fish could mistake for plankton — may absorb potentially harmful chemicals swirling in the waters.

Read the full story here.

Opposition grows to BC government’s plan to weaken farmland protection

The chorus of opposition to the B.C. government’s planned rewrite of the agricultural land reserve is growing.A letter with more than 100 signatures, mostly from academics, biologists and naturalists, has been sent to Premier Christy Clark critical of Bill 24, which was introduced in the legislature on Mar. 27.

The chorus of opposition to the B.C. government’s planned rewrite of the agricultural land reserve is growing.

A letter with more than 100 signatures, mostly from academics, biologists and naturalists, has been sent to Premier Christy Clark critical of Bill 24, which was introduced in the legislature on Mar. 27.

The letter contends that the bill “reduces the ability for science to inform land use decisions…will increase pressure to remove land from the reserve at a cost to the general good” and overlooks the importance of farmland as habitat for wildlife and endangered species.

Agricultural lands produce not just crops but contain wetlands, streams, ponds, riparian areas, woodlands, hedgerows, and uncultivated grasslands that are either adjacent to or integral to farm operations. “These areas are instrumental in protecting functioning healthy ecosystems and in many cases, these diverse services help boost agricultural production.”

The list of threatened or endangered species that find habitat on farmland include the burrowing owl, American badger, yellow-breasted chat, sage thrasher, Nooksack dace, and west slope cutthroat trout. Other species such as swallows and common nighthawks actually benefit agriculture.

Species prized for hunting such as deer and elk also use “so called marginal agricultural lands,” the letter notes.

“Allowing more nonagricultural uses on ALR land and the release of more lands from reserves will have the unintended consequence of threatening many important ecosystems and, by extension, many valuable species including species-at-risk.”

Read the full story here.

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