Tag Archives: environment

From Kyoto to Copenhagen: Will it Make a Difference?

In 1998 when I was researching fuel-efficient cars for Technocopia.com I came across the Kyoto Protocol. Already in place it was an agreement between developed countries to try and lower emissions to 20% less of 1990 standards by 2005. This amount varied depending on the country.

Each industrialized country that was initially included in the discussions was to ratify the agreement. Ratification means that they confirm their committment to or give official sanction to something. In 1997  it was adopted, and ratified in various countries over the next eight years. During that time Bush came into power and based on the advice of his Exxon comrades (that the US State Department thanked for their input into  climate change policy) did not ratify the Protocol. Uh, right. Neither did the previous Clinton government, nor Obama to date.

Once ratified the member countries would be responsible to uphold their commitment for lowering emissions and I suppose, be fined if they didn’t meet them; but by which regulating body, I’m not sure. After all, the US has gone many years without paying its United Nations dues so if there are no teeth, how do countries live up to the Protocol’s agreement? You would think because it is the right thing to do, that it could save the planet and the future health of millions.

Canada took a long time to ratify the Protocol and it took effect in February 2005. Most countries have agreed to lower their emissions by a certain percentage to below what they were in 1990. For Canada, that would be 6%. However, in the US and Canada, emissions have risen between 21-28% in recent years. That’s a whole lot more of a concern on the health of people and the continuation of many species that we depend on for nutrition and are becoming toxic to us and themselves. And that means decreasing emissions by some 30-odd percent to pre-1990 standards.

If all these countries were already aware of emission issues, then how could they let emissions rise? Because there is money in it. It is shown today that most emissions are coming from factories and agriculture. Cars actually trail behind that but they are a huge contributing factor to the overall air quality. In the past ten years we saw the advent of bigger SUVs, Hummers and trucks, which were exempt from the same emission standards as cars, because those big vehicles are farm vehicles? Right, all these people in the cities probably haven’t even seen a farm but this was a loophole for vehicle manufactures and if you buy that monster, macho status symbol, you’ll get a break in climate taxes and the manufacturers make more money. Europe’s has had tiny cars (like the Smart Car) for a very long time but the big car and oil companies were happy to have us squander money and resources.

The US being one of the most significant countries to not sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol said it was because developing countries were not being held to the same standards as the industrialized countries. So instead of making some in-roads and setting a good impression by example, they decided to play the “it’s not fair” game. They whined that China did not even have to control their emissions although China has now become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. However, it’s not that simple. Per capita, the US still emits more per person than China. Yet China and India, which between them hold a third of the world’s population must also take some responsibility.

It’s not a matter of you go first in this though. If every country doesn’t pitch in, the world is going to go down hard and we’ll all be eating soy to the end of our days, if we’re lucky. The highest emission continent is that of North America, with Canada also showing shameful controls on emissions. The Harper government started out with a plan, when they needed the votes. That’s when they admitted the environment was in trouble. But since then a minister of the environment announced that Canada had no hope of meeting its Kyoto Protocol committment and Harper has cut the funding towards such work.

In the meantime, other governments within Canada continue to look at ways to tax the individuals when it’s the corporations (including vehicle manufacturers) who are most responsible. Individuals may need to pay a bit of tax but not the continual onslaught. The government needs to bring out other ways of helping and healing the environment and that’s lacking a great deal. Raising the climate taxes on gas guzzling vehicles more would help. Yes tax money could go towards programs but I’d like to hear more about the programs and innovations such as hybrid buses and Smart cars for government employees who use a car on the job.

And Copenhagen? Well I predict that Harper will stall and refuse to change; that the US, despite Obama’s promise of change, will continue to stall on getting involved, just as they did in WWII. But they’ll still want everyone to play by their game. Will it help? Only if the countries truly commit. This should have been started fifty years ago, let alone twenty. And here we are taking ten years to ratify an agreement and maybe get around to it in another fifteen years.

I’d like to believe we’ll see change and that we can all pull together but I have seen too much obfuscation and political maneuvering of the things that matter by various governments to believe that anyone will take it to where it needs to go. And as our children’s lifespans shorten and more people get allergies, asthma and other conditions, and as many species die or contain toxins so virulent they’ll kill us, we’ll start to live in the cautionary tale of our science fiction writers. I really hope it won’t be a reality but I’m still waiting to see real change.

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Weathering Vancouver

What I often hear when friends think of coming to Vancouver for a visit, or for why they could never live here is “the rain.” And yes, we do get rain. After all Vancouver is in a pacific rainforest, though the forest has receded to this hills and mountains in places. Still we’re a pretty green place and that’s evident when flying over the land.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved because I hated the cold and I hated winter. The only snow I liked was the very first snowfall, when it was dry and fluffy and sparkled like diamonds in the lamplight. Walking back from my friend’s in the evening, my footsteps would be the first to make an impression on that scintillating carpet and everything was muffled and magical, with only the sound of a car or a dog in the distance. Then day would dawn and it would just be cold and cumbersome.

I was always cold, sometimes to the point that it felt like my marrow was freezing in my bones, a numbness that would only go away with a hot bath. So, winter especially was not my favorite month. I visited Vancouver three times in one year and all of that was in summer. Vancouver is very lovely in the summer and has the mountains and the ocean so close to the city. I fell in love.

I moved in June and spent the summer getting to know the city and getting a job. But fall and winter came and my shoes were growing mold in them. I always felt like I was crawling into damp sheets and it felt clammy to me. Compared to Calgary’s very dry climate, Vancouver was moist and humid (I hadn’t yet experienced Toronto or Singapore where that’s real humidity). My face broke out in little bumps, not pimples nor really a rash. After seeing a dermatologist it was determined that I was using too much lotion; for Calgary it had been the right amount.

Eventually I acclimatized to the weather. Vancouver does not get blazingly hot in the summer. It’s a rare day that it hits near 30, and because of the ocean and the mountains nearby it will cool down faster in the evenings. While we don’t get as hot as other cities in the summer, we also don’t get the freezing temperatures in the winter. In fact, most pipes for the older houses especially are not far below ground. That and the high water table (we are by the ocean) means that if it does freeze, the pipes are in jeopardy of freezing as well.

Last winter was a brutal exception to Vancouver’s winters. Whereas normally we can expect rain and may be a bit of snow that will melt in a day, we had huge dumps of snow (over 18 inches at one point when I measured) that lasted for weeks. There was so much snow that at first it was that dry snow that other places get, the type that is good for snowballs and building snowmen. But then as temperatures rose, we had the slushy, slippery stuff where everything gets soaked instantly and getting grip, whether by boots or tires, is nearly impossible. My landlord shovelled out more than 13 people in a week, me included.

But the white stuff is rare, and truly hideous when it happens in a city ill-equipped for it. The city is getting more equipment as global warming brings more upheavals in the climate. However, that ubiquitous rain that we always have. Well, yes, there have been a few truly icky and gray summers. But usually they’re quite nice. Winter and fall can vary. The past few years have had winters that weren’t that bad. A bit of rain but periods of sun. Of course the snow last year, negated the rain.

This year almost seems like the old winters here. I heard yesterday that we’ve had 23 days of rain. That doesn’t mean that it rains 24-hours a day but that it is raining every day. Today, it’s actually partially sunny but scheduled to rain some more. When the sky is deep gray all week long and the rain is dripping off of everything, and the grass, if you step on it, slides off the mud below it, then yes, it’s gruesome and depressing. I spent most of the day in bed last weekend because it was so miserable and I felt down.

The Olympics come in February and it looks like they’ll have enough snow for the events. Even in Whistler there are years where it can be a problem. But it could also be raining a lot in February, one of the notorious months for bad weather. But even in winter, usually, it’s not every day of rain. Being someone who has suffered from depression, I can understand the reluctance to live in a place depressed by rain. But then it’s a matter of spending time with friends and in bright light, even if it is artificial. I would still rather take the rain over snow and slogging through the cold every day.

 

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Salmon Fishery: Another Ecosystem on its Last Gasp

In the 80s the Atlantic cod fishery faced a moratorium because the cod stocks had all but disappeared. Some fishermen say that they were telling the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the fish were getting smaller and fewer. They say the department didn’t listen. Others say that the fishermen were as complicit as the fisheries department because they continued to fish the stocks to near extinction. It’s obvious, if nothing else, that there were several guilty parties and that the fish disappeared.

BC is yet again facing the same thing with the salmon stocks. A predicted high number of returning salmon failed to appear this year. The Fisheries estimated that there would be 11,000,000 but less than 2,000,000 have appeared. They are being accused of having bad science yet again and really, that’s part of it. The other part is setting perhaps too high of quotas and not factoring in possible problems.

Where have the salmon gone? No one is sure but we’re looking at ocean temperatures being alarmingly high from a degree to five degrees warmer and as the scientists have said, this isn’t a percentage of a degree and it is significant. A two-degree difference in ocean temperatures can devastate not only sealife but affect everything from rainfall, snow-melt, tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning storms. Anyone notice the increase in ferocity of these things this year?

Only the most adamant head-in-the-sand attitude would try to say this is cyclical. Yes weather changes are normal to a degree but not to this level of extreme weather and not with the ocean warming this much. And no matter what someone argues, the fact is that the ocean has warmed and it’s devastating sealife. Perhaps there’s been overfishing in the US but I haven’t heard of that fight yet this year though it’s going to come up. And then there are the salmon farms and the danger of sea lice. We don’t know if the lice decimated the populations because they’re not here to see.

And the Native fisheries still have a right to fish when sport and other fishermen don’t. The fish for some sustenance though in this world almost all bands have members with jobs, near shopping centers where other food supplies are available. They fish for ritualistic means. They fish as part of their jobs, like other fishermen.

What’s at stake? The livelihoods of fishermen. The rituals of First Nations people. The salmon. If the salmon go, there will be no more fishermen. There will be no more rituals or traditions involving salmon. That is the bottom line and when less than two million salmon have returned and the future of their viability is uncertain, no one, and I mean no one should be fishing them.

We will run into again, the “appease me today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow” sentiment. Yes, people will be angry, people will lose their jobs but is it better to keep a job for a few months and never have one again nor taste a salmon ever again? And of course if salmon disappear, it could affect other aspects of the ecosystem and the feeding cycle of other animals in the ocean and on land, such as bears.

There is a shortsightedness that is not only affecting our fisheries but still prevalent in other issues of the environment. It is as if a slumbering behemoth was prodded for thirty years and finally awoke and roared. The rampage or movement is about to begin but it will be at such a slow pace. The more I hear about our environment going crazy, the more I realize our time is running out faster than we can implement change, because that change is so small and incremental.

I fill with despair that in no other time in history, nor in such a short time, have humans destroyed so many things. We lost touch with our place on the land and have upset a balance that took millennia to set in place. It is ever changing and ever balancing and if anyone wonders at the fact that there are more scary flu epidemics (SARS, H1N1, etc.) and other diseases (HIV, Ebola) that are hitting larger populations, it’s not just because we travel more and the virii and bacteria travel farther. It’s also Mother Nature trying to reassert a measure of balance and she  will take drastic measures to do so.

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Waterpod and Floating Villages

Awhile back I posted an article on the Freedom Ship, basically a floating condominium that would tour the world. Ritzy, high end, super expensive and still a pipe dream ten years after the first idea hit the blueprints. 

And interestingly enough I finished writing a story this year that took fifteen years to finish. It takes place around New York, where people live on and farm barges in a very near future where pollution and toxic waste have poisoned a lot of the land. Impossible? Maybe but the idea came to me because of the prison barge that is docked on one of Manhattan’s shores, as well as the stories in the past of the boat people, immigrants not allowed to dock anywhere and having to live on the boats in which they escaped their native countries.

The movie Waterworld was pretty much a dystopian, road warrior style movie where people lived on ships because there was so little land. These ships seemed to be filled with crazy people and pirates and when we get down to it in a world where resources are limited, will only our bestial natures surface?

So is my idea and the Freedom Ship too farfetched to be true? Maybe. But I certainly don’t want my vision to be true. However, there are other visionaries today who are looking at old barges and ships and rethinking their uses. These people are looking to a future 50 to 100 years from now.

The Waterpod, is a barge that’s been refitted and made as a floating artists’ colony. This barge is waterpod2being towed from spot to spot on the Hudson and to each of New York’s boroughs. But it’s not just a bunch of artists floating on the river. It’s been made to be sustainable, to recycle and to provide a living space. Water is purified from the Hudson River, as well as utilizing grey water recycling. Hydroponics are set up to grown edible plants. A composting toilet is being used but must be able to compost waste from six people. Waterpod relies on its own power sources such as a vertical wind turbine, solar PV panels, bicycle power, and a picohydro system. The hybrid solar/wind system will be their main source of power, along with some marine batteries.

The floating habitat has chickens for eggs (and maybe protein but I’m not sure if they’re butchering). A “rocket” wood-burning stove will be used for cooking. It’s supposed to be super efficient but I’m unclear as to where they would get the wood if self-sustainable. This pod was only launched in June so some of these issues will be worked out as the barge continues its journey.

As well the Waterpod will have lectures, discussions, workshops, performances, shows, and other exhibitions. It is meant to entertain, educate and provoke discussions on sustainable living as the world becomes more overpopulated and renewable resources become limited. Science fiction or science in spite of fiction? The pod people, those involved in making this idea a workable and interactive system are many. Mary Mattingly a visual artist and photographer first conceived of the Waterpod in 2007. Her photographs are ethereal, beautiful and intriguing. http://www.marymattingly.com/ But to realize this idea took many people.

The website for the Waterpod project is extensive, with pages of information, a blog, a calendar of events and shows (and links to the artist websites), a progress report and schedule and the vision waterpod1of this project. My story was a what-if, that also took place around New York. Freedom Ship is a what-if that may never work. The Waterpod is a reality. It floats, there are people living on it, raising chickens and plants, purifying their water and composting, and holding interactive shows and performances on something made of recycled materials. Even the barge was an old piece of junk that was refitted.

 If nothing else the pod people of Waterpod are looking at various ways to work with and adapt to our changing environment. They have a lot of supporters and donors right now and the pod was only launched in June. In the future we could see more of these pods as people look for affordable living spaces.

http://www.thewaterpod.org/about.html  (Images are borrowed from Waterpod’s site.)

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Archeology and Waste

? For some reason, even though I checked, WordPress did not publish this. A glitch in the system? Here is what was supposed to be Wednesday’s entry.

When archeologists dig around looking for artifacts there are several places that become treasure troves. Obviously where cities once were, and more, houses will relinquish many items of eras past. Various places that served as guildhouses or factories will have pieces that were considered of  inferior quality, or flawed some way. But the best place of all  to find treasures are the midden heaps.

These were the garbage piles, sometimes the leftovers of the latrines and garderobes. Castle toilets often just open from above with the waste falling down to a festering pile below. Some had troughs built and some might have been contained. But the best way to keep the stench down was to let some air in, even if the stench was below on the ground. Unwanted items and refuse went into various midden heaps. Garbage yes, but something worn out, something no longer wanted. Of course in the centuries past, possessions were hard won, made by hand and expensive to the common person.

A piece of clothing would be worn until it fell apart and usable pieces would be incorporated into newer garments, if they were salvageable. Utensils and dishes would be used through generations until they broke or wore out. Then they would be tossed on the midden heap. And of course, people have always lost things. Those who could afford a higher level of affluence would eventually toss out or pass to their servants an item they no longer wanted.

Our midden heaps of today are  landfills and garbage dumps. But whereas of old usually only the most worn out items would ended up in the dumps, now we have a plethora of discarded things. A thousand years from now, should humanity not have completely depleted resources and polluted the planet, there will be archeologists digging in our midden heaps.

This weekend I spent an hour going through my trough of pens, finding the ones that worked, unscrewing the ones that could be taken apart and trying refills in them. Not one of my refills fit these pens and though they say refillable we often just throw out the pen that has died. So yes, archeologists will find pens but perhaps fewer and fewer as they move up through the strata, indicating our greater dependence on electronic media. Yet, at home I have a glass calligraphic pen (Venetian), other calligraphy pens that use nibs to be dipped in ink or come with a cartridge, as well as ballpoints,  felt pens and pencils. I don’t use them as often as I once did but I do still use pens.

Our middens will contain numerous paper clips and pennies. Was any coin considered so beneath notice in Roman times or Rennaisance Italy? No wonder some places want to eliminate the penny (and make more money as a result). I’m sure there will be numerous hangers of wood, plastic and metal. These are the tiny items, along with buttons and zippers after the fabric has corroded away, that will litter our landfills.

Plastics eventually grow brittle and crack, breaking down and in a thousand years would only be evident if buried. So there will be some containers buried deeply, leeched of color and symbols. Glass of course perseveres for centuries so our dishes will still be there to check out. Clothing as stated, will deteriorate quickly, if it’s natural fiber but the polyester blends and synthetic-made-from-plastic-bags polar fleece will stick around a bit longer, though it’s still a plastic and will break down, even if it does take a long time.

And then there are the TVs, stereos, fridges, cars, phones, digital this and that’s and computers. Hundreds of thousands of computers. Archeologists will probably judge rightful conclusions from the fact that the midden heaps will be festooned with TVs and computers. And those conclusions will be that we were a wasteful society, that somehow these things gave out quickly (planned obsolescence–the worst idea to hit the last two centuries), that we needed them to survive or that we were a leisure society bent on possessions.

Well, yes, there it is. Waste not, want not. And unfortunately we waste a lot and want a lot, and our wastage will continue to leech into soil and water. Heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics–they’re all changing our environments and if you wonder why were developing more and severe allergies, this is why.

But in essence, the future will be filled with archeologists trying to figure out what ran our society, what was prevalent, what was popular and cheap. Whether they’ll come away with that we were an affluent, decadent, careful or conservationist society will be in the making of each layer. I hope it’ll be evident before a thousand years have gone by that we started to change before it was too late.

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Scrapping Environmentalism

Whenever something has “ism” attached to it, it becomes a movement, a belief, a group: environmentalism, communism, Catholicism, chauvinism, a schism. Sometimes it has negative connotations and sometimes positive, but almost every ism groups something so that people will be for it or against.

So what’s the problem with environmentalism? That like many movements or beliefs the fad can wax and wane, be popular for a while and then fade away. Environmentalism shouldn’t be a fad but a way of life, if we want a sustainable and renewable world. Unfortunately, it has taken an environmental movement to get most governments to move on the abuses happening to the environment. It may already be too late in some ways for the world and people. But Ma Nature has a way of reasserting herself, even if it takes the dying off of a millions of people.

A month or so ago the federal government decided to scrap environmental reviews for any project under $10 million to bring about economic stimulus. So go ahead, you logging companies, wipe out a forested mountain. Who cares if the topsoils disappears and there are mudslides as long as it comes in at $9,999,999.00? Go ahead, you chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Toss your sewage and unrefined wastes into the river systems. Who cares if it raises the temperature and kills the fish? Who cares if our kids are getting breasts at the age of six from all the drugs?

No problem for Harper’s government. We don’t need reviews because the environment was only in the public’s mind until it was supplanted by the newest crisis–the economy. And as we’ve often seen, governments and politicians don’t always do what’s right but what will garner them the vote. Although the Conservatives still live in the shadow of a minority government, they know that most people are sick of all the elections and feel a little more secure in these proclamations though the opposition parties could still pull them down.

In fact, our government has taken these new environmental assessment regulations a step further by foregoing the constitution which requires consultation with Aboriginal groups if it could impact the various treaties. As well, they’re required to post the changes to give the public and affected groups time to comment but as has been a hallmark of Harper’s tightfisted, overcontrolling ways, none of these required steps happened. The government changed the Environmental Assessment Act without any consultation.

I’ve been critical of Harper’s late jumping onto the environmental bandwagon and only doing it to bring in votes. Unfortunately, even the previous federal governments did little as everyone ignored the impact on our environment and the Kyoto Protocol, first signed by many nations around 1998. My criticism still holds true that Harper’s minions seem to be playing the most popular game and in the smokescreen of economic concerns our natural resources could suffer.

Sad times when money and making money yet again mean letting slip the controls and level of doing things right. And worrying times when our government feels it doesn’t need to follow the rules that governments themselves have put into affect.

An assessment by U of Calgary’s Faculty of Law: http://ablawg.ca/2009/03/31/the-eviscerating-of-federal-environmental-assessment-in-canada/

http://cambridgevoice.ca/archives/prentice-confirms-cuts-planned-to-environment-reviews/

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Scary Tales About Cockroaches

I got to thinking about cockroaches the other day, probably because the news mentioned that some of Vancouver’s apartment buildings are becoming infested with bed bugs. No matter how you cut it, bugs are just creepy. They make our skin crawl, sometimes literally. They’re the most alien of the animal kingdom (besides bacteria, whatever the heck they are) that we can see. And theories are that should there be a nuclear holocaust it’s the insects that would survive. In fact, comparing populations, there are 12 times more insects in the world than the total of human beings (and we’re at 6 billion). It’s a sobering thought and a good thing that most of them are small.

Most places have cockroaches but unless you’re living in a dirty building or particularly slovenly, you may never see them. I’ve never seen a cockroach in Vancouver and only saw a small thumb-sized one in Seattle once. They prefer warm and dark places, with fecund garbage. In colder climes, that means moving indoors where you and I might be.

They leave scents in their feces and pheromone trails so that their buddies can find them. Once you have one, you’re likely to have a whole gang. Cleanliness, wiping up food spills, vacuuming are ways to stop cockroaches from moving in but once they’re in, they’re extremely difficult to eradicate.

The buggers are tough. Supposedly a decapitated cockroach can survive for several weeks before dying of dehydration or starvation. I take it that’s the body and not the head. They live about a year and can produce 300-400 offspring or more. Some species only need to be fertilized once to produce for the rest of their lifetimes. They’re so hardy that they can take 6-15 times the radiation of a human but would possibly still not survive nuclear war, though they’d fare better than fleshy humans.

They can live a month or so without water, longer without food, be deprived of air, frozen or immersed in water and can recover. They aren’t slimy but like many insects we don’t enjoy touching them. And they are just very alien looking. Hence all the horror and SF movies with buggy creatures. Many humans have a natural revulsion. Cockroaches do have a couple of natural enemies; other insects. Certain wasps and centipedes will attack them but if you were trying to get rid of them, you would then just have a new pest to deal with.

I have really only encountered the creepy crawlies twice. Once was in Mexico, in Taxco. I was on an open restaurant veranda, having a drink with someone. A cat was wandering amongst the patrons. Thinking it was the cat rubbing against my leg, I ignored the light touch, but when I looked down there was a cockroach on my leg. I jumped up and stomped so that it dropped. The waiter and my friend both stomped on the three-inch long cucaracha and it just kept running, right over the balcony.

Later I was in Cuernavaca. The adjoining bathroom to my room had two cockroaches hanging out on the ceiling. I was freaked out by this and tried to close the door, though it wouldn’t shut completely. They never moved but I kept a wary eye on them.

The other time was in Calcutta. Every hotel I tried was full and I was looking at worse and worse accommodations to stay in. Finally I found a place. It was rife with cockroaches so I slept with the lights on to keep them at bay. It also had fleas (or maybe bed bugs) and I slept in my own sleeping bag though it was hot and humid, to save my flesh. (I also got dysentery from that place.) They weren’t as big as the Mexican cockroach had been but they were more prevalent.

Thankfully, I’ve had no more experiences with cockroaches. I share that human abhorrence of things many legged. I don’t mind spiders now, even though I was once phobic (See: Spider, Spider, Burning Bright.) Sometimes it’s fascinating to watch how an insect works, but at a distance, not up close and personal and in your home.

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Kinbane Castle

Ireland 2007–Kinbane Castle

First published on my Blogspot blog in Nov. 2007. All pictures are copyrighted.

On Monday October 1, we left Ballycastle. At our B&B were a family from Seattle. They’d been driving about for two weeks and were on their third week. They said, stop at Kinbane on the way. It’s not very far. And it wasn’t, traveling west near the coast.

 The weather was perfect. A few clouds, sunshine and the turquoise depths of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean made the northern coast of Ireland beautiful. Along the shorelines, wherever the ocean licks the stones, the rocks become stained and black. Farther back from the shore they may white or brown. Craggy and rugged, the northern coast is wild, and whitecaps and booming waves are common.

Kinbane, which means White Headland, was down a long hill. They really didn’t want people to go to the castle anymore. There were bars across the path but easy to straddle. As I moved around the hill, there was a second barricade just before the beach. I squeezed past that one, and it was obvious many had. Along the northern coast are the remains of stone huts used in the fishing industry, which was closed in the 80’s. This is a sad statement on what the world is doing to the fish populations.

I loved the look of this castle, built in 1544 by Colla MacDonnell (of Balymargy Friary fame). It was shot at and partially destroyed at one point, but one of the MacDonnells lived there till the end of his days. Mostly what is left is one of the towers. It couldn’t have been a very big castle but I can see how this would have been a great fortification. Rugged stony cliffs to the sea and steep steps up to the castle by land.

This castle gave me a great appreciation for the hardiness of those people of centuries past. To hike up and down that hill would definitely make one fit. Even though it was a bit breezy, I was quite warm by the time I pantingly reached the top.

The castle and rock itself are now made unapproachable, the way securely barricaded. The structure was originally besieged and with time it has become highly unstable. I loved many of the castles for different reasons but Kinbane had the true sense of a fortification of the most austere type. This was only the first of our stops on Monday, and the first of a few hikes.

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Musings From Tibet II

This was first posted August 14, 2007 and is the second of three parts.  Angela McDonald wrote this after returning to India. It’s especially apropos after the students who were arrested in Beijing for unveiling a flag that said “Free Tibet” on the Great Wall.

 I was living in a village called Tanauk which is about a 15-minute walk away from Labrang Monastery, and beyond the monastery is the city of Labrang or Xiahe (Chinese name, probably spelled it wrong). Shedhe’sbrothers still live in Senko, the nomad grassland which is about 20 minutes from Tanauk. He grew up there, but his parents moved into the city maybe 10 years ago so that they could take care of their grandkids while they were in school. Labrang monastery is enormous, with nearly 2,000 monks studying there (though the Chinese technically put a 1,000 cap on the admittance…..the people have to come up with interesting tricks to try and hide that one). Though largely destroyed during the cultural revolution, it has been mostly rebuilt and is considered to be one of the greatest monasteries in Tibet. I helped Jinpa write a brief history of the monastery so learned a lot about it, but I will spare all the details. Basically, it is a really huge and important Gelukpa (one of the 4 major sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the sect the Dalai Lama also belongs to) monastery which is also the central monastery for the surrounding area.

Most of the houses (including the one this family lived in) were are made out of what appeared to be mud-covered wood. The Tibetans are famous for buildings made out of pounded mud. Some newer buildings are now made out of bricks in the Chinese style, but most were still mud, especially for Tibetan families.

The mud seemed to take fairly constant upkeep, and many mornings I would see Mother or our neighbor dragging a big stone wheel across the roof to further compact the mud (it looked like a primitive steam roller), and take more mud to fill in cracks or damaged spots. When they were doing this, pieces of mud would fall in from the chimney holes in the roof or through the wood planks on the ceiling. Inside, the walls, ceiling and floors were solid wood. It was really beautiful, but I would often worry as the wood didn’t appear to really be treated (with anything other than dirt), and Shedhe explained that often the wood rots and needs to be replaced. Water is constantly poured on the floor to keep down the dust (especially in the winter, homes for the nomads, as the floors were just dirt, so it was constantly wetted to keep the persistent dust down) and the floors were also very uneven, the boards raising up in one spot and flat down in other places. It was easy to stumble when you awoke in the night drowsily stumbling to the toilet.

There were several rooms in our house built around a central courtyard; one was used as a small apartment which another man and his son lived in, one was the room with a hole in the ground serving as a toilet (mostly I used it; usually the others just went outside) and also held all the dried sheep and yak dung (which fueled the cooking stove), one room was for storage, one had a stove especially for roasting tsampa, and then our family lived in three of the rooms.

In the courtyard of every home is at least one ferocious dog, which acts as the doorbell (built in with person recognition, a different bark tone for every call at no extra charge), home security system, compost, and garbage disposal. In all the rooms, which people lived in there is what looks like a standard wood stove but is fed with animal dung, and is used for cooking and heating the house. Sometimes the stoves are also made out of pounded mud, and those are only used for cooking, but others were made of metal and used also for heating, with a tea pot of boiling water or tea constantly on top.

The Tibetan people are incredibly religious, especially the older families such as the nomads. I found it interesting that the lay people actually knew very little about Buddhism, but they know that they have to go by the ceremonies, holidays, and rituals, etc. that were tradition for the religion. Lamas (similar to priests or monks for Christians) are consulted to do mo (a form of divination or fortunetelling) for everything in life from marriages to debating about going to a hospital or not, which business opportunity to take, etc. Every morning some form of prayer and offering is done at home as every home has its own small altar inside (including a picture of the Dalai Lama which surprised me), and during the day at any free moment, the older people have prayer beads in their hands (similar to a rosary) and are chanting mantras or going gorah(circumambulation – prayer by walking clockwise around a monastery, temple, or stupa). Everything in their lives has to do with Buddhism.

I read in My Land My Peopleby H.H., the Dalai Lama that around 10 percent of the Tibetan population are monks or nuns. A large percentage of families have at least one member living in a monastery/nunnery. When a monk comes to your home, special food is made, they are given the highest seat in the house, and every demand is served with care. Some of my friends who were monks avoided going to other peoples’ homes very often because too much of a fuss was made over their presence.

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Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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