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suite_mck [userpic]

A fine July evening

July 4th, 2009 (08:47 am)

Last night Gil and I spent a fine July evening as guests on the patio of bullfrog_hawker's home, sipping Jim Beam and snacking on Salt & Simulated Ant flavour kettle chips. Typical in such company, the conversation was robust and ranged from how geographic information technologies are transforming cartography to how the British SAS survival book teaches that all ants are edible - and that they taste strongly of vinegar.

bullfrog_hawker is working on a master's degree in geography. As I currently understand his thesis, he is looking at interactive, web-based systems for the compiling and sharing geo-spatial data about the recreational trails in Edmonton's river valley. More specifics on Hawker's work is on his blog at http://wiserpath.blogspot.com/. I'm interested in this kind of geographic knowledge management for the kind of support it can provide to developing more sustainable community behaviour.

Reflecting on the evening, I'm struck by the teaching that went on. My knowledge of Hawker's work marginally increased. All three of us sampled some young wild lettuce that was growing in Hawker's backyard. And the importance of caning your raspberries in the fall, not the spring, was galvanized in my mind. In the fall you can tell the live canes from the dead ones. By caning in the spring, Hawker now has a patch of only first year raspberries. I think I knew this, but now it's really clear in my mind.

It was like a conference session. A very relaxed, enjoyable conference, characterized by a sense of fellowship.

In the aftermath of the RCEN AGA, I've been thinking about conferences in the age of the internet and the new world of increasingly available electronic communication. It makes less sense now to convene in-person meetings, at great expense, for the sole purpose of conveying information; sitting in rooms listening to experts talk content. Conferences today, if we are to have them, should capitalize on those things that being together in-person enables - fellowship and shared experience.

suite_mck [userpic]

Japan May 2010

July 4th, 2009 (07:56 am)

The parents of two of Hannah's congregation members regularly conduct tours of Japan with an emphasis on art and architecture, and we plan to avail ourselves upon this service in spring of next year.

It's a challenging idea to me, in part because touring Japan is said to be quite expensive, but also because, being of oriental extraction myself, local people in Asian countries always speak to me in the local language and I'm continually interrupting people to explain that I can only speak English. It's like when we shop at T&T, the local Chinese Superstore; I make Hannah pay so that I can avoid having to tell the cashier that I don't speak Chinese. (You might recall that Hannah is of Scottish/Ukrainian ancestry.)

But despite these fairly specific misgivings, Tokyo Disneyland and the electronics district beckon to me. And I certainly should visit my ancestral homeland at some point in my lifetime.

I'm going to try to learn three Japanese phrases per day, from various sources.

1. Kite kuri kaishte kudasai. It means, "please listen and repeat".

2. Ohayou gozaimasu. Good morning.

3. Hajime mashite Myles to moushi masu. Introducing myself.

One of my sources:

suite_mck [userpic]

Shell: Shifting Sands

July 3rd, 2009 (11:15 am)

How Shell lost the goodwill of stakeholders.
By Matthew McClearn in Canadian Business

It is surely one of the most worn truisms of business: You’ve gotta live up to your commitments. It’s a throwaway line in stock speech at conferences and luncheons, and Shell Canada executives have long known when to employ it. To wit: “We accepted some years ago the need to respond to growing concerns on climate change and set tough goals to reduce our own greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Tim Faithfull, the company’s then CEO, in a 2003 speech. “Of course, we have to deliver on our goals to earn the trust and respect of our stakeholders.”

It’s difficult to argue with such logic. Yet Shell’s former friends believe the company is testing it.

Several years ago, the company signed two written agreements with an umbrella group of environmentalists known as the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition (OSEC). Under these accords, Shell promised to set ambitious targets for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions at two separate oilsands projects. Both projects are now under construction in northern Alberta. In April, though, OSEC accused Shell of repudiating the agreements. Shell, meanwhile, claims it’s always been in “material compliance.”

The squabble marks the bitter end of a long and fruitful relationship between Shell and environmental groups. It also lays bare the failure of Canada’s favoured approach to controlling industrial greenhouse-gas emissions of the past several decades. But will nascent government regulations work any better?
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suite_mck [userpic]

Sights and Sounds of the RCEN AGA

June 30th, 2009 (09:33 am)

The national conference to which I've been obliquely referring was the Annual General Assembly (AGA) of the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN). A set of YouTube videos providing an overview of the event is posted at http://www.youtube.com/user/RCEN1.

In 1989, the last RCEN AGA to be held in Alberta convened at Nakoda Lodge, Kananaskis. I first began attending RCEN AGAs in 1990 or 91 and so missed that event exactly 20 years ago now. It was part of what was then a practice of the national network to hold its assemblies on a rotating basis in every region of the country. However, an organizational crisis (I'll have to look up the years) ended this practice for at least half a decade when the event became confined to the Ottawa region.

In addition to the 20-year anniversary of the last time it convened beneath the wide Alberta sky, the 2009 RCEN AGA also upholds a return to the practice of regional rotation. In 2010, we'll be in Montreal, Quebec.

Talk of moving out from Ottawa began in early 2008 when the idea for meeting in Alberta first arose. The then Alberta Environmental Network's (AEN) National Council member, Andrea Waywanko, pitched the idea and then accepted my friendly amendment that it happen in June 2009 when the ICLEI World Congress would convene in Edmonton. The amended idea was accepted at the 2008 RCEN AGA in Richmond Hill, where Amandi Khera, Josh Brandon and I had found the horse-race betting parlour in the basement of the Best Western. (http://suite-mck.livejournal.com/33735.html?mode=reply)

More later.

suite_mck [userpic]

The Next Case

June 28th, 2009 (11:18 pm)

It’s fair to say that maintaining a web-log is a kind of craft. Which is to also say that it’s a kind of work. I’ve fallen out of the practice, out of the discipline, of blogging in recent weeks due to the overwhelming distraction of organizing the Canadian Environmental Network’s national conference earlier this month.

I was told again this weekend that there are a few people who check this site daily to see if it has been updated, which reminds me that there is a performance standard that I’m supposed to be maintaining here.

If you are a member of the Toxics Watch Society of Alberta, or would like to become one, please take note of this post.



Grade 9 social studies is the year my generation of Alberta students were introduced to the governance of Canada. The curriculum left me with the impression that we are governed within an orderly system, by wise men who have our best interests at heart. And to whatever extent I may have noticed the activist groups of the day taking companies or government agencies to court (my father was employed by a multi-national oil company after all), I perceived these incidents to be rare, and I assumed their rarity to be the result of widespread compliance with whatever laws were in effect.

When I ultimately found myself in the position of pressing such litigations as a member of such an activist group I learned that the opportunities to litigate are actually so abundant that we are limited by our resources and forced to pick and choose which case we might want to press based on the fact-set, precedent-value, and media opportunity. In fact, ever since Toxics Watch began using litigation as a tool, I don’t think we’ve had a complete calendar year without a case in process.

Suncor Millenium. Genessee/Keephills. TrueNorth Fort Hills. TrueNorth Fort Hills Appeal. PetroCanada (was TrueNorth) Fort Hills Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Imperial Kearl Lake.

I have a rule of thumb: no more than one court case at a time.


The premise behind legal work as an environmental advocacy tactic is that judicial rulings can create lasting incremental change in the environmental performance of industry by enforcing or clarifying the applicable rules. That’s the idea. The presumption.
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suite_mck [userpic]

What I've been keeping from you

June 15th, 2009 (09:16 pm)

My eyes are burning. I feel a mixture of complete exhaustion and astonishment.

I'm exhausted as the aftermath of four and half days of on-site co-direction of the Canadian Environmental Network's Annual General Assembly.

And I'm astonished that a file that has kept me from a complete night's sleep for the past 4 months and provoked such unmitigated frustration and true misery could have turned out to be such an acclaimed success.

I can't write anymore, but the AGA will be a source of several posts to come.

suite_mck [userpic]

The Vacant Lot of Eden Municipal Wilderness Area

June 7th, 2009 (11:48 am)

Bossy and Wrath, the magpie couple who reside in one of our spruce trees have another two juveniles hopping around our backyard this month. You might recall our introduction to them in this post from last spring. Consequently, whenever Hannah or I go out into the yard, or even appear in one of The Suite’s windows, one of the parent birds will take a perch about an arm’s length away from us and peck a branch, fence-board, or banister rail, all the while squawking some bossy message that we’re not to approach their adolescent offspring.

Yesterday, one of their moulty chicks was standing on our back deck. And at the same time, General Woundwort was lounging in his favourite spot in the Vacant Lot of Eden. There was a lot of wildlife traffic in our backyard yesterday.

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suite_mck [userpic]

The Mayan Economic Stimulus Package

June 7th, 2009 (10:55 am)

A draft of this post has been sitting on my desktop since April 4th. I just capped it off this morning to post.



Under the terms of one of the side agreements of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the environment ministers of Canada, Mexico, and the United States make up the top-most echelon of an organization called the Council for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

It was more than 10 years ago now that the CEC convened one of its public hearings in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Griz and I went down to testify about Alberta’s deregulation agenda that was underway at the time. Following the conference, I took a few extra days to visit some of the sites in the Oaxaca region.

A short bus ride from Oaxaca is Monte Alban, the ruins of an ancient Mayan city-state. Visitors were quite free to wander the dark, rough stone steps of the meso-American pyramids. I climbed the steps to the highest of the palace/temple rooms and paced the perimeters of the dilapidated domicile. I reckoned that the room of this Mayan god-king, a person who could command the life and death of human beings, was not much larger than my room in a shared house with three room-mates. And I had running water and electricity.


In 1999, one of my longest-lasting files opened: particulate matter and ozone. Particulate matter (PM) refers to tiny, air-borne particles or droplets (aerosols). The most problematic particulate matter, from a human health perspective are those substances in the 10 micron and smaller size range. At 2.5 microns, these inhalable pollutants can reach deep areas of the lung and actually dissolve into our blood as though they were life-giving oxygen. Developing an approach to managing this type of air pollution was the job of a multi-stakeholder project team which included - among the upwards of a dozen people - myself, Geoff Granville of Shell, and Les Johnson of one of Alberta’s utility companies, EPCOR.

I think particular matter is an interesting pollutant. As I mentioned above, it can pass into the blood, so I imagine it as suspended grains of sand so small that they pass through the lung wall into the blood, making our blood into quicksand. In fact, the spike in deaths associated with high particulate matter events aren’t caused by respiratory distress, but cardio-events, as though weak hearts just give out from the effort of trying to pump thicker, quicksand blood.
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suite_mck [userpic]

The irony, the near-irony, you have no idea

June 4th, 2009 (09:38 pm)

My leg hurts. I’ll get around to telling you why. You know, ellipses and all that…



The Saturday after the revelation of the Las Vegas Cigarette at the Playboy Club, a medical nurse visited The Suite to administer another health questionnaire and take blood and urine samples for analysis. The results would be sent to the insurance underwriter to determine the disposition of our application for term life insurance. We had been quoted a monthly premium of $94 per month on the basis of Hannah and I being non-smokers.

Our insurance agent phoned this morning with the results.

“Hannah is elite premium,” the agent said. Elite premium is the best tier and plays the lowest monthly premium, so for her share of the cost of our insurance; it went down from our quoted price.

“You came back as ‘standard smoker’,” she continued. “So, your monthly premium will be $147 per month.”
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suite_mck [userpic]

Compassion

June 3rd, 2009 (02:24 pm)

It has been tough finding the time to post lately. l am chairing the organizing committee of the annual national conference of the Canadian Environmental Network - a profoundly distracting endeavor. It's been affecting my sleep pattern and keeping most bloggable thoughts out of my mind. (Alternatively, I suppose, I could’ve been blogging about chairing the organizing committee of the national conference…)

But l experienced a bit of a break-though this week: two people in my life sompetimes counsel compassion to me :Hannah and Amandi. And for some reason this advice took hold of me Monday morning as l rode my bike to the Saffron office. Compassion: the emotion that moves us to spare others from suffering. Compassion First.

The Reverend K once counseled that we must first have compassion for ourselves. So, what first must l do to spare myself from suffering? (Suffering in the broadest sense of the word, however, as little of what I experience living in one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on Earth constitutes “suffering” compared to what many other people endure.)

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