Climate change? What climate change?

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Photo:Alvin Baez/Reuters

By PAT WATSON

The thing about living in large urbanized regions such as Toronto, or any other big city for that matter, is that we can become largely disconnected from the subtleties of the natural environment. Apart from those individuals given to studying the messages that Nature gives as conditions change, most people do not pay too much attention to what the Earth does. Rather, the common concern is what we can get from Earth – air, water, food, wood, oil, gas, and minerals.

We pay greater attention when Nature sends up a monster. During the weeks that have just past, monsters have come along. Hurricane Harvey will go down in weather history as a category 4 storm; that is, carrying winds of 209- 251 kilometres per hour or 130-156 miles per hour.

In the hours, yes hours, following Harvey’s assault along its path across St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and Grenada over to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and then on to Texas and Louisiana in the U.S., news came of Hurricane Irma.

The history of the word ‘hurricane’ has its origin among the Taino people taken by Spanish explorers arriving in the 15th century in the region we now call the Caribbean. The translation is ‘god of the storm’. On the other side of the world, the same type of storm is referred to as typhoon, translated as ‘big wind’.

Regardless of what name humans attach to these monsters, the devastation is the same. They were monsters a millennium ago and they are monsters today. But, there is something more. The emerging effects of our changing planetary climate conditions appear to have added more fury to these mega storms.

As is often the way in reporting these effects, news has been measuring the effect of Harvey in the billions of dollars. One report projected that Hurricane Harvey would leave $180-billion in damage on its wake. Then there is the cost in lives lost, an estimate of 60 so far just in the U.S.

Because media tend to focus on the nearest spectacles, it is perhaps no surprise that the more devastating floods that hit parts of the African continent received less notice here. But, an estimated 1,500 people died in recent floods there. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, the mudslides that came with floodwaters in mid August caused a catastrophe. Floods hit Niger’s capital city Niamey, took the lives of 200 in Ituri, Congo and left more than 110,000 households displace in Benue state in Nigeria. In South Asia, the heaviest monsoon rains in 15 years caused serious flooding and left buildings collapsed in Mumbai, India.

Even here in the Greater Toronto Region, the spring and summer came with more than the usual amount of rainfall and cooler temperatures.

What then can we make of this? The climate change debate has become a political football and has also given rise to climate change deniers. The notion that the accelerated pace in the increase in global temperature can be blamed on human activity has become the battlefront. But, the basics are these: the oceans are warming and with warming oceans there will be stronger, more powerful storms, like category 4 Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

Someone recently explained it neatly. If a baby’s temperature rises two degrees above normal, a parent would be concerned enough to seek medical help. As with the baby, so with Earth’s atmosphere.

We need to get on with corrective action and solutions, because it looks like weather conditions are becoming more furious.

Originally posted at sharenews.com

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Allow backyard chickens in Toronto

 

By PAT WATSON

My grandmother in Jamaica had a chicken coop in the backyard. Decades on, I still remember the rich taste of the eggs that came from those chickens. In fact, my grandmother’s place in Kingston had a rich, growing food supply. Food bearing trees included breadfruit, avocado, grapefruit, limes, ackee, and mangoes. Space will not permit the whole range. There were all kinds of beans and edible plants and roots as well.

Immigrants to Toronto brought with them some of the same edible gardening culture as practiced in the old country. Summer into fall is the best time for sharing, neighbour-to-neighbour, the abundance that grows quickly. There is just such pleasure in the rich flavour and higher nutritional value of homegrown cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes for instance.

I mention this because there is a debate going on in Toronto about allowing raising of chickens in backyards.

Many activities that would be healthy and community building are forbidden in this city where hyper-caution is a reflexive response to so much that is just commonsense. Therefore, in typical Toronto Council fashion, a pilot project will be launched. How much do you suppose the environmental assessment study will cost?

There is hardly the need to run a pilot project for a home-based activity that is millennia old. But, if councillors want to create a few positions for backyard health inspectors, then okay.

But, recall the pilot project that was run a few years ago on ‘ethnic’ food carts, which was micro-managed into failure. If City Council starts insisting that coops and other related equipment be bought only from council mandated suppliers, then flags should start going up.

If this goes forward though, anticipate that the city will likely require permits that will cost a fee.

Aside from political meddling, one concern about raising chickens in backyards in Toronto has to do with land ownership. The scramble to purchase residential real estate and the forbidding price tags attached to houses with land space would mean the possibility for eating fresh, free-range eggs then becomes a class issue.

Imagine that a longtime cultural practice among peasant people could move up the social status ladder and sit next to other markers like owning a Labrador retriever or being able to afford a third or fourth child.

Already, the talk on Council regarding the pilot project is selection of wards where homes have enough backyard space. Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore would be included since Justin Di Ciano, councilor for that ward, brought forward the motion for the pilot project.

The vote on this pilot project would have taken place by now, but was delayed when the last council meeting before the summer break ended early upon news of the death of Councillor Pam McConnell. Now, the vote won’t take place until this fall, with the pilot project not coming until next spring.

In the meantime, backyard chicken lawbreakers would be well to organize to ensure they have strong advocacy to support backyard freedom.

Let City Hall know all about the benefits of raising chickens and how much they fit into the home gardening ecology. They control bugs in the garden and chicken waste is very good fertilizer enriching the soil for food plants in the home garden. Furthermore, hens are not noisy. And, the closer we are to nature the more respectful we are of it.

With the growing threat of global warming, which is a consequence of human disconnection from our natural environment, that respect is urgently needed.

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