Monday, December 31, 2007

Craik Sustainable Living Project

Craik, a small community on the highway between Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan inspires me with its sustainable living projects. According to their website

Operating in the Mid-Lakes Region of Saskatchewan, the Craik Sustainable Living Project's Community Challenge will build on current activities and initiate new ones. They will address concerns and opportunities for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction in rural Saskatchewan, targeting the general public as well as students. Their activities will include:
  • Continuing to work on climate change and GHG reduction with students (K-12)

  • Developing how-to conferences and workshops on GHG and energy use reduction topics such as home energy, farming practices, retrofitting, home construction and water and waste management

  • Participating in local fairs

  • Using the newly constructed CSLP Eco-Centre, a living demonstration site for sustainable building, gardening, water and waste management practices, as a focal point of the Challenge
  • Creating a regular feature for local newspapers and ensuring other media uptake, including CBC and magazines.

The CSLP Eco-Centre

In 2003, Craik started planning the Eco-Centre, a combination golf course, restaurant and sustainable project. The building seen in the photo below is a recycled post and beam, straw bale construct with geothermal heating and cooling, solar energy and composting toilets. The building was designed by Sow's Ear Builders, Box 31825, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 6L3 Phone: 867-667-6574 or 867-334-2076

The stonewall that faces the southern windows and absorbs heat in the winter.

The Eco-Village

Participants in the Eco-Village will be expected to build energy efficient housing on separately deeded, unserviced lots 38 m (125 feet) by 30.5 m (100 feet). All lots have been sold and construction should be complete by 2008.

The Botanical Xeric Garden

Completed in November of 2005, the garden consists of 298 species of grasses, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, vines, and trees. It is located on the slope to the east of the Eco-Centre. The Garden will be used to demonstrate and educate people about site reclamation and naturalization, the rich diversity of native plants as well as exotic plants that are suited to prairie conditions, and xeriscape (low water use) strategies. The selection and design was done by Alan Weninger.

The Craik Flax House

A store and processing plant built for Golden Flax 4 U Inc, the Craik Flax House is located on the edge of the highway and is build of flax bales. All heat and electricity is created by a combination of solar and wind generators.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reigning SUV's

I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation and for standby gasoline rationing. To further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism.

This speech was made by President Carter in July, 1979. The Americans responded by electing Ronald Reagan, who immediately put a stop to all the reforms Carter started and began a massive economic resurgence of consumer spending that has led us to ….

Yesterday as I was waiting for my bus, I counted 81 cars with single drivers, 9 with two people and none with more than two people. At 8:45 AM, I climbed on a monster bus with 8 other people and thought about how wasteful public transportation is when no one uses it. Later, I read a newspaper report about the number of SUV’s the government had purchased in the last year. Many of them were hybrid vehicles, but they still consume more gasoline than a smart car.

When did the great Canadian dream become an SUV in every garage, two if you are really deserving?

Have we heard so many the sky is falling stories in the last fifty years that we stopped checking the heavens?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice

Drought Model for two Prairie Provinces is now in place

The Modified Palmer Drought Model that was originally designed for Alberta has recently become a component of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Drought Reporting Plan as reported by DroughtWatch A Map of the drought regions in the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba is shown in yellow.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are the provinces hit hardest by the drought

The rural economy in Alberta and Saskatchewan has been shaken at its very roots.

Like many of his neighbours ranching near Kinsella, AB., Barry Irving has been going through some tough times. Eight consecutive years of drought have wreaked havoc on the 7,000-acre cattle operation he runs.

"This year has been the worst by far because of the cumulative effects. It'll take three or four or five years to recover," he said.

For years, his operation has turned a profit or broken even. But this year, for the first time, Irving expects the ranch he runs--the University of Alberta Kinsella Research Ranch--will suffer a financial loss.

In January 2002, sensing hard times ahead, Irving sold off 60 calves about seven months earlier than he’d originally planned to. And he got a decent price for them, too, but that was before BSE hit hard.

"I should have sold the whole works--we would have done better," he said.

By the end of May 2002, he’d sold off 340 more calves. "We'd sell them in lots of 100 or 120. We'd sell 100 and go a couple of weeks without rain and sell 100 more. We are continually gambling on price and moisture."

The odds have been stacked against prairie farmers for the past eight years now. And even if precipitation levels returned to normal when the snow melts, the impact of the drought will be felt in rural communities for the next few years. According to Dr. Jim Unterschultz, professor of rural economics at the U of A, the average consumer won’t feel the blow inflicted by this summer’s record dry spell, but the result of that lost revenue is going to ripple through farm communities for the next few years.

The map on the provincial government's Drought Watch Web site needs little elaboration. A sizable swath of red across central Alberta indicates a record-setting dry spell between last September and this August. The drought devastated the region's wheat and barley crops.

"I read recently what the expected production would be—it's way down for Alberta," Unterschultz said. "So overall in the prairies, we're looking at the lowest wheat crop in 30 years and the lowest barley crop in 30 years."

Alberta is the biggest barley producer in Western Canada and "some areas are getting nothing" in terms of production, Unterschultz said.

"Cash sales at the farm level are about $7 billion a year, give or take, and of that $7 billion over half of that comes from livestock and the biggest portion of that is cattle. So in this province we have cash sales at the farm level related to cattle of, say, $3 billion. The shortage of feed has a huge impact on primary agriculture in Alberta."

A shortage of feed grain has resulted in cattle farmers selling off their herds. Unterschultz says that up to 25 per cent of the two million cows in Alberta may be sold this year because there simply isn't anything to feed them.

The sale of cattle for slaughter means ranchers, like Irving, will have a few years of playing catch up just to get their herds back to where they were.

"The following year, when people start to consider rebuilding their cow herds, there will be fewer calves going to market. The decision to expand the herd takes three years if you’re doing it, so that can have a huge impact."

But Unterschultz says this impact won't be felt at the supermarket--meat stocks are up because so many farmers are selling off their livestock for slaughter--but the impact will affect rural communities, where the economy is oriented around agriculture-oriented products and services.

"You've got a lot fewer dollars coming from primary agriculture [in rural communities], so as a result there are fewer dollars flowing into agriculture-related business, there's less money going to service industries that serve agriculture, such as machinery dealerships, and fertilizer suppliers. This will translate into fewer jobs. You're also going to have less handling of grain, which means less work for the railways."

One estimate, from the Canada West Equipment Dealers Association, foresees a 50 – 70 per cent drop-off in drought-afflicted areas for the sales of parts and services of farm equipment, because farmers may postpone repairs or sell off equipment to compensate for revenue losses.

Unterschultz says crop insurance and the Net Income Stabilization Account, which works as a sort of RRSP account for producers, as well as aid from financial institutions in the form of deferred loan payments, may ease the cash crunch this year, but they won’t necessarily put farmers on solid ground to rebuild in better times.

"If you get to defer your payments, it doesn’t get easier even in better times to make up the difference. So yes, it's useful in terms of cash flow and in terms of the farmer surviving and staying in business, but it does come with some hardships in terms of cutting into future cash flow."

But Dr. Mel Lerohl, a professor or rural economy at the U of A, says the drought isn't the Biblical catastrophe it is being made out to be in the media. What has changed, he notes, is that the people suffering this year haven't experienced drought conditions like these before and may not have been prepared for them.

"It is bad in specific situations for people who have no crop insurance and no forage insurance; and it is especially bad for those people whose dugouts and water courses have dried up," Lerohl said.

"But the difficulties are specific to the people facing these circumstances...There is no disaster brewing. This is not the end of agriculture. This is something that happens from time to time."

Dr. Debra Davidson, a professor of environmental sociology at the U of A, says the emotional state of those hit by the drought is often overlooked but is of paramount importance.

Those farmers who failed to insure their crops and have found themselves in dire straights stand to lose more than money. Losses will be felt personally as surely as they will be felt economically.

"There is a sense of identity in farming, so losing the farm isn't purely an economic event," Davidson said. "There is family wrapped up in this; there is community wrapped up in this. Agriculture is a source of identity."

If there is a positive side to the ongoing drought, it’s that no one can hide their problems -- communities are suffering and coping together, and perhaps growing stronger as a result.

Davidson doubts that efforts such as the national Hay West project, which has seen Ontario farmers donating hay to their Alberta counterparts, accomplish much in the long run.

"I'm no economist but--farmers helping farmers? Most of them are already economically stressed."

Irving admits to feeling the stress himself. The cattle he didn't sell have been feeding on pasture intended for use next spring, "So I've kind of mortgaged our future a bit to take care of this herd," he said.

"It's pretty depressing," he added. "But I'm a bit different--we make decisions for academic reasons. We know we need to keep 350 – 380 cows to support research."

Rainmakers needed as the drought continues to haunt farmers in Alberta.

The Province of Alberta has many rural regions, some of which are experiencing major droughts annually. Back in 2002, the Alberta Government announced $324 million in aid to help desperate farmers and ranchers survive the three-year drought they had already suffered.

"I can't make it rain. If I could, I can assure you it would have rained some time ago," the Agriculture Minister at the time, Shirley McClellan said.

It's clear, she said, the existing farm insurance packages are not enough as farmers face drought and now an unprecedented invasion of grasshoppers.

"We're estimating that a good 70 per cent to 75 per cent of our province is in a record dry state.

"Over half of our municipalities have declared drought disaster areas or are on drought alert."

The money will be available in per-acre payments. McClellan said 85 per cent will be handed over immediately. The rest is to be paid out as soon as applications have been checked. Many wells in Alberta are drying up. Now, people often have to drill twice as far as usual to hit water.

The drought is forcing many ranchers to sell off their cows because they can't afford to feed them.

"It's emotionally very draining. Every day, we're talking to people who are selling their livelihoods. They're selling their future," Will Irvine told CBC Newsworld. Irvine runs a cattle auction in Calgary.

"They don't know what tomorrow brings. Do they get a job? What do they do?"

Irvine described the ranchers as proud people who don't usually ask for government aid, but he said now they've been brought to their knees. They're desperate.

"Some of these people bring their cattle to town ... They're getting the same kind of money today that they would have received last fall, except they've put $170 or $180 a tonne of hay into their cows. They've got no money left, they've got no grass, they've got no choice."

Even if conditions return to normal, it will take at least two to three years to even begin restocking herds, McLellan said.

Crops are dry, grasshoppers are eating what's left. Farmers were no better off then or now. Their crops are dry, and grasshoppers are eating what did manage to grow.

"If, when I left agriculture school, you had told me 35 years later I'd have a crop like this, I would have said, 'you're dreaming, you're pulling my leg,'" said Ken Arnold, a farmer in Rockyford, Alta.

"All the time I farmed with my dad and all the time I farmed on my own, I've never ever seen a crop like this. And I've never seen it gone by the end of June. I've never seen a crop toast."

Arnold said the $324 million will mostly go toward paying off retailers for farm machinery or fertilizer. And he worries about the future of farming.

"My worry is that there's no young farmers in agriculture and there's no encouragement for them to stay there ... I think we can't go on in this ad hoc basis where the government comes in every four or five years and says, 'here's some money, go away and don't bother us any more.'

Well here we are 5 years later in 2007 with a farmer as Premier and guess what? We have not made a dent in the drought situation nor are we encouraging farmers to find climate change solutions for the Prairies.

From a Prairie Home Companion in the Oil Patch capital of Canada

Our illustrious Environment Minister, John Baird, has just returned with his tail between his legs from Bali, having been pilloried with a "Fossil of The Day" award at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. And... so far the silence from the two Conservative Provincial Governments of both Alberta and Saskatchewan was, as expected, deafening.

I suspect they too refuse to make false promises they know they cannot keep!

As the Globe and Mail editor in chief, Edward Greenspon so eloquently wrote in the Dec 18th 2007 newspaper article on page A16, "Efforts to fight climate change cannot possibly succeed without strong committments from major polluters such as China and India. Those countries have still not been forced to set binding targets, but they have begun to accept more responsibility, and it is unlikely that would have occurred without pressure from Canada and other nations.

Mr Baird's claim was that Canada can play a bridge building role between the two sides. No doubt the Conservatives have taken a major public-opinion hit for their short sighted approach.

It does not help that the former Prime Minister, Jean Crétien, has been running around blaming his successors for the failure to meet the Kyoto targets, neglecting to mention that they have been saddled with the mess he left behind."

Why is it that we, the people, ever trust our elected politicians to do the "right thing" and follow up urgently on such vital international negotiations by achieving measurable results at home?

Developing a comprehensive "roadmap" by the end of 2009 is now a call for us active and inactive individuals on the Canadian Prairies to play our part in climate change activities in our home towns and cities. It also begs the obvious question of how is that going to be possible to Save Our Prairies in any part of North America without a long overdue regime change occuring in our neighbour's White House!

Since the USA has never signed on to the Kyoto Agreement with Canada now faltering in that regard, are we, the two leading members of NAFTA, not by far the worst global polluters?

I also wonder if the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from current levels by between 38% and 53% (this was the majority of the Bali Conference members numbers on emission reduction strategy) is not a far more personal rather than a governmental choice anyway!

Let us all do our level best to reduce our carbon footprint during this festive season.

David from Calgary

Winter Solstice

There is something very significant about starting this blog on the Solstice with a temperature of -26 Celsius. I gaze out on vast expanses of white as I listen to weather warnings on the CBC. I long for the return of warmth and sunshine.
Global warming, I could use some of that, the sooner the better right. I chuckle at the video about Moose Jaw being the new tropics. If only it were true! But that's just it it isn't true, it's wishful thinking. A warmer Saskatchewan followed by the worst droughts in 600 years, followed by the lose of glacier fed waterways is not going to make this a better place to live.

I'll close with the winner of the 60 seconds to save our planet winning video.

So I've decided to write a blog. What are you going to do about the elephant in the pasture?

Maybe you could start by answering the UTube call for submissions to the DAVOS conference on economic development. What one thing do you think countries, companies or individuals must do in order to make the world a better place in 2008?