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
Scientists are attempting to find out why one species of starfish is literally melting in the waters off of Washington state and Canada.
Biologists in Seattle took to the Puget Sound waters last weekend to collect sick and healthy sunflower starfish for testing. Several labs including one at Cornell University will examine and compare samples with Canadian specimens already being analyzed.
“We’ve got some sea stars that look like they’re melting on the bottom,” Seattle Aquarium biologists Jeff Christiansen said.
Whether the cause is environmental or disease related is currently unknown, but the number of melting starfish increases drastically with each passing day.
“At this time, we don’t have a good idea of what’s causing it, so we’re going to look for everything,” Christiansen said. “There are a lot of melting sea stars out there, more than even a couple days ago.”
According to Veterinarian Lesanna Lahner, the starfish specie’s condition is rapidly deteriorating, with more than half displaying the same disturbing symptoms.
Read the full story here.
The Globe and Mail reports that Eli Lilly “has escalated a challenge it launched last year against Canada’s patent rules under the North American free-trade agreement, and is now demanding $500-million in compensation after the company lost its Canadian patents on two drugs.”
The drugmaker had originally asked for $100 million in its November 7, 2012 notice of intent to sue Canada using the investor-state dispute settlement process in NAFTA, which we wrote about here. That money was to compensate Eli Lilly for the Canadian court-ordered invalidation of its patent for the ADHD drug Strattera. The notice claimed numerous violations of NAFTA’s investment protections, including fair and equitable treatment, national treatment and expropriation.
The additional $400 million in this second NAFTA notice attacks the Supreme Court’s decision in May this year to invalidate a patent for Zyprexa, the company’s best-selling anti-psychotic drug whose patent expired in the United States in 2011. The patent had expired in Canada, too, but who cares! What do they say about old wounds…
Both cases, now merged into one mega-lawsuit (or at least the threat of a suit), challenge Canada’s “promise doctrine” in which a judge will sometimes consider the promises a company makes about its product when the patent is filed when deciding whether to invalidate that patent. Often this decision takes as a result of a challenge to the patent by a would-be generic competitor. Eli Lilly says this “judge-made law” violates NAFTA’s and the WTO’s intellectual property rules.
Read the full story here.
As dawn approaches, teams load oxygen tanks, wetsuits and underwater cameras into vans and trucks. A motor boat is set on a trailer, and students prepare measuring tape and clipboards — an urgent expedition is underway. At first light, the team of researchers heads down the coast from the University of California Santa Cruz to Monterey Bay.
For months, marine biologist Pete Raimondi and his team have been diving in these waters, searching for clues to an epidemic called starfish wasting syndrome. The mysterious disease has decimated starfish populations in the coastal waters and tide pools along the West Coast, from Alaska to Southern California. In some cases, 95 percent of the sea star population has been wiped out.
The infection starts with a small, white lesion that quickly spreads and consumes the animal, often overnight.
“What you’ve got is just a mass of tissue that’s decomposing, sometimes turning into this goo-like mass underwater,” Raimondi said.
NBC News’ footage of Raimondi’s dive reveals a dire situation. Droves of infected starfish with missing limbs, falling apart before one’s eyes. Still, Raimondi says, what’s most worrisome is what one doesn’t see. Two species that used to thrive in Monterey Bay have already vanished.
Four decades after going into effect, the legislation that protects some of Mother Nature’s most vulnerable creatures is facing an existential crisis.
Since the Endangered Species Act became law, it’s generated its share of success stories (such as the bald eagle’s resurgence) and less impressive case studies (such as the continuing decline of the Northern spotted owl). This year’s anniversary is generating a lot of talk about the Endangered Species Act’s past — and its future.
“There are a lot of pundits out there who will tell you that it has either been a disaster or a huge success,” Peter Alagona, a professor of environmental history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told Smithsonian magazine. “The truth is that it has really been a mixed bag to date, and ‘to date’ is a really short time. For species that took centuries to decline, 40 years is probably not enough time to recover.”
Alagona takes an in-depth look at species protection in a book titled “After the Grizzly,” and says the law has done “a really good job” of preventing extinctions. “But it’s done a really poor job promoting the recovery of species that are on the list,” he said.
Read the full story here.
When Chris Long thinks back on a summer spent digging up holes in the beach, it’s a job he says he “wouldn’t trade … for anything.”
The 26-year-old University of Central Florida Ph.D. candidate spent months looking for green turtle nests, studying the comeback of a species that — at one time — came dangerously close to extinction.
But now, Long and the other biologists at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida are thrilled by what they found. In 1979 there were only 62 nests in the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This year, there were 35,000.
“Some nights [during nesting season] we see 300 nests just in a 13-mile stretch,” Long said. “Walk over to the beach and you’ll find a turtle.”
Read the full story here.
Bird watching, hunting or just picnicking. Whatever the reason, visits to the nation’s 561 wildlife refuges are big business.
A new report says visitors to federal wildlife refuges generate more than $2 billion a year in economic activity, helping to employ more than 35,000 people and produce about $343 million in local, state and federal taxes.
Recreational activities such as birding, hiking and picnicking account for nearly 75 percent of total expenditures at wildlife refuges across the country, the report says, while fishing and hunting account for about 28 percent of expenditures.
The report by the Fish and Wildlife Service says wildlife refuges drew 46.5 million visits in 2011, with three of every four visitors coming from outside the local area. Visitors generated $2.4 billion of economic activity, making refuges a major contributor to ecotourism.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was expected to release the report Tuesday during a visit to a wildlife refuge in Minnesota. The Associated Press obtained a copy in advance.
Jewell said in a statement that the U.S. wildlife refuge system is not only “the world’s greatest network of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, but it is also a powerful economic engine for local communities across the country.” Refuge visitors come from around the world and support hundreds of local restaurants, hotels and other businesses, she said.
Read the full story here.
A large oil spill near Nigeria’s Brass facility, run by ENI, has spread through the sea and swamps of the oil producing Niger Delta region, local residents and the company said on Monday.
ENI said it was not yet possible to determine the cause of the spill.
There are hundreds of leaks every year from pipelines that pass through the delta’s creeks, damaging the environment and the profits of oil companies including ENI and Royal Dutch Shell , especially when production has to be deferred.
Vast stretches of the delta’s unique mangrove swamps are blackened and dead from oil pollution.
“During loading operations on a tanker on Nov. 27, an oil spill in the sea was seen. Operations were immediately suspended and resumed only after it was verified that the vessel’s structures were not damaged and were not leaking,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Nigerian legislators are considering a law to impose new fines on operators responsible for oil spills, a measure that could land major foreign companies with penalties running into tens of millions of dollars a year.
Francis Clinton Tubo Ikagi, chairman of the Odioama fishing community in Bayelsa, where a large part of the Niger river fans out through creeks into the Atlantic, told journalists on the scene that he saw a large oil slick on Nov. 20.
Read the full story here.
Even while tens of millions of bees die, Health Canada isn’t doing anything.
On December 1, the European Union imposed a two year ban on neonicotinoids, the pesticide manufactured by Bayer that scientists have tied to the massive global bee die-off. It’s a bold step and not a moment too soon. With up to a third of all honeybees vanishing each winter, beekeepers are saying that we are “on the brink” of losing our crops’ vital pollinators.
The Canadian government agency in charge, Health Canada, has been dragging its feet for years. But we need a pollinator-friendly policy now, to ensure a safe, sustainable environment for future generations.
Tell Health Canada to protect the bees, and enact sensible restrictions on bee-killing pesticides now.
It’s not an exaggeration to say we owe our prosperity and even our survival to millions of bees. Bees are responsible for pollinating over 30% of world’s food supply, and they help generate over hundreds of billions to the global economy. And bees are dying worldwide. This summer, a shocking 37 million bees were reported dead across a single farm in Ontario. Bee die offs aren’t one off incidents — in China, the situation has gotten so bad that farmers are forced to hand-pollinate their trees.
SumOfUs have been right at the front of the global campaign to save our bees. Over 360,000 of us have already demanded that Bayer drop the lawsuit to stop the two-year neonicotinoid ban in Europe. We also came together to fight Bayer at a huge independent garden store show in Chicago, where the German chemical maker was out in force. Tens of thousands from the Canadian SumOfUs community also took action to demand that big stores Home Depot and Lowe’s stop selling the bee killing chemicals. Now, we need to ask Health Canada to take action to save the bees.
Read the full story here.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said that they don’t buy fruits and vegetables or “healthy food” because it’s too expensive, I could feed a small town all organic food for years! But, of course, it’s true — when you look at the prices of so-called “conventional” junk food compared with local, organic fruits and veggies, on a calorie per dollar basis, the junk often wins. Many people assume that it’s the produce or organic foods that “cost more” than highly processed, shelf-stable ubiquitous and cheap junk food, but what if the price tags that we see don’t tell the whole story?
Take the very American, $1 hamburger, for example. To produce a fast food burger you need to start with growing corn — which requires acres of corn fields, seeds, gallons of water, gas for heavy machinery, pounds of fertilizer and sprays of pesticides, and government subsidies. Then you need to fatten cows as quickly as possible, potentially give them antibiotics, deal with their waste, transport them to slaughter, power the slaughter facility, refrigerate the ground meat and then cook it! Not to mention all the costs associated with the processed wheat bun and condiments. Are economies of scale really so efficient that all of those costs amortize over tons of ground beef and fixings to make a really cheap burger, or are there parts of that whole list of “costs” that don’t actually show up in the price of our fast food burgers? Click here for more information.
What was once the largest landfill on the planet is being reinvented to provide solar energy to the citizens of New York City — enough to power 2,000 homes.
Mayor Bloomberg announced last week the city’s plans to convert roughly 47 acres of land at the Freshkills Park on Staten Island into a 10-MW solar installation, five times bigger than any other system in the city and boosting the city’s renewable energy by 50 percent, according to officials.
Alongside the solar installation and planned wind turbines, parks and green spaces spanning 2,200 acres are being developed.
Read the full story here.