Archive for ◊ November, 2008 ◊

• Friday, November 28th, 2008

Via: Carolyn Baker

Our remote ancestors succeeded for eons of time in their biological adaptation to the life of the earth, and now if the species is to survive, we must create adaptation at the next turn of the spiral. We can’t go back to wearing loincloths and eating roots and berries. The game animals are gone and the roots and berries are covered by towns. We will have to create a culture that facilitates the growth of life rather than its extirpation.

Human cultures are normally formed over long periods of time by the conditioning of the young through the generations. We do not have that luxury of time. Presently, we have tremendous amounts of information from many cultures which we can synthesize and use for ideas in creating new social institutions. We see over the past centuries a wide diversity of colonies and intentionally created communities that demonstrate creating new human culture is possible.

At the beginning of the 21st. Century the choice to live in a self-sufficient community, self-sufficient watershed, and self-sufficient bioregion, is both a survival solution and a choice to create a new reality of cultural and ecological restoration.

Given that civilization has seriously overshot its resource base and has no future, we need a new idea. Every member of the species taking biological responsibility for their existence on this planet is a new idea. If humans were becoming more responsible, we collectively could sponsor experimental self-sufficient communities in many of the earth’s bioregions. These communities would be experimental in the sense that the central question of “living in balance with nature,” would be addressed. We civilized are not skilled at this and experiments by different cultures in different ecological regions would move us forward.

These would be legitimate “growth” communities concentrating on the growth of living things rather than the growth of money and power over other people. If groups begin at the top of watersheds, commencing ecological restoration and slowly spread downward the test would be that clean water and air come from those areas.

Given the principle of the growth of life, ecological restoration would be the focus. Permaculture, which would grow more food per acre than the industrial system, while restoring the soil, would be used in areas near the habitation. The habitations would be hand-made from local materials.

Though this seems a tall order there are seed communities around the planet now doing this successfully ( At the end of its time the old oak tree begins to disintegrate; as it does, an acorn sprouts. Our task is to encourage the sprout and to allow the old oak its passing.

Wm. H. Kötke is widely traveled and published. His most recent book, prior to Planet Garden, was the underground classic, The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future. He may be contacted at

• Thursday, November 27th, 2008

*The Montreal Permaculture Guild presents*

Montreal Urban Sustainability Education

This course is open to anyone and everyone with an interest in increasing their own eco-autonomy and  ethinking the sustainability of our city. Through weekly classes, we will build up a broad knowledge of design techniques inspired by nature and the skills to implement them. The course will be based in a permaculture perspective, in the spirit of creativity and connectedness.

*January 7-April 29: Semester 1, curriculum posted on our website

*May to August: Summer practicum

*September to December: Semester 2 with all new topics


Some topics covered:

*ecological gardening in the city, water recuperation, the life cycle of soil, composting, permaculture design

*Time: Wednesdays, 17h30-19h30

*Location: MUCS (, 2000 Northcliffe Square in NDG, #218.

*Cost: Free!

*For more information or to register, visit their website at: or email the MPG at:

Category: Permaculture | Tags:  | Leave a Comment
• Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

The little town of Saint Martine just south of Montreal (see map) is offering new home builders a one year property tax rebate if they can earn a Silver, Gold or Platinum level LEED designation for water use. There is no reason why other towns like Westmount or Hampstead couldn’t make the same offer for existing homes. It saves the municipality money in the long (sustainable) run.

Source: Le Devoir

La municipalité montérégienne de Sainte-Martine exemptera de taxes municipales pendant un an toute nouvelle construction qui respectera les exigences de certification LEED pour résidences, que ce soit au niveau argent, or ou platine. Elle devient ainsi la première municipalité au Canada à offrir une telle incitation fiscale.

Research Credit: Mary Soderstrom

• Monday, November 24th, 2008

Source: SustainaBlog

This article marks the first in the author’s series on Sustainable Communities, in which she investigates theories and examples of how we might organize ourselves toward sustainability.  This introductory article examines why it is crucial to focus on the viability of sustainable community prototypes, the likes of which are popping up in both urban and rural settings across the world.  Such efforts look humble and localized at first, but they may contribute more to the structural evolution of a global sustainable society than it seems.

From a humble sprout, a fragile orchid grows.  Not all of the seeds of its parent plant were pollinated.  Not all were strewn, and not all began to grow.  Some did.  Of those that did, one blossomed.  The orchid blossomed, a realized vision of the parent orchid’s design.

Not all efforts toward organizing ourselves for a better future have blossomed.  Communism fell to the stresses of maintaining an absolutist ideology among many individuals.  At this moment in our very own country, capitalism is finally beginning to buckle beneath its own design oversights (infinite growth within a finite planet).  If one examines the human political legacy, it seems that there never will be a final, best solution to our social woes.

But there may be an evolution.

Totalitarianism is better than a monarchy.  Representative democracy is an improvement over a totalitarian society.  Direct democracy is probably even better than representative democracy.  Having civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights satisfied feels much better than widespread injustice.  The only exception here may be class stratification in the U.S., which is apparently justified by the fundamental theory of our economic system.

But maybe capitalism is on its way out too.  New Scientist magazine features in its October 18 2008 issue a section of a half-dozen contributors, entitled “The Folly of Growth: How to stop the economy killing the planet“–which contains a thorough picture of the frankly unpalatable situation we’re in, and yet how appealing alternatives to U.S. capitalism seem.  Tim Jackson’s article “Why Politicians Dare Not Limit Economic Growth” speculates about the social worth of pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into floundering corporations when social trends and urgent environmental trends indicate that the money would be best spent otherwise–such as on the sincere development of green jobs or industry standards and incentives to proactively bring our greenhouse gas emissions within manageable levels (the famous “350? movement).  According to a chart in Bill McKibben’s article “The Most Important Number on Earth” (Mother Jones, November 2008), it would take just $33 billion to update our major energy providers, reducing our carbon emissions by almost 20% annually.  “Just $33 billion” is not a phrase I would have imagined myself saying, prior to the Wall Street bailout.

Government seems intent on doing everything it can–with its cash, clout or military–to keep things “status quo” for the elite class of wealthy and smart businesspeople.  Businesspeople, of course, are also in the business of protecting their interests–which is why you are bombarded with commercials for razors, flat screen TVs and diamond necklaces this holiday season, instead of what Herman Daly “says is the most critical message we need to spread if we are to stem our environmental catastrophe: “consume less.”

If we cannot rely on governments, nor the corporations which provide our goods, nor even the very system on which we base our livelihood (the exchange of money) to actually provide for either our direct needs or our long-term, ecological needs… then what’s the harm in looking for a better system?

The potential benefits are beginning to outweigh the risks.

I have seen firsthand in my city the amazing potential of small-scale, community-based projects to provide models for a possible global organization that actually affirms rather than denies our current scientific understanding of our dire environmental situation and what steps must be taken.  These “proto-communities” strive to interrupt the harmful systems that our society today perpetuates and replace them with alternatives, all while simultaneously attempting to meet the community’s immediate needs.

I am convinced, based on all of the research I’ve done into how sustainability can be successful, that the most promising field of development is not the top-down technology or the top-down intellectually-designed society–it is the grassroots community efforts to solve the problems we face using the people we have.  The solutions these groups develop, and build upon, may provide the crucial grounds for assembling a sustainable society.  What’s more, the economically-privileged classes in the United States provide the consumer base on which the entire world’s economy expands at the rate it does.  If these folks–if you and I–simply slowed and eventually stopped our money-based consumption and innovated person-to-person, city-to-city alternatives, then automatically, systems that progressively concentrate power (like money) would become devalued… and our livelihoods would be intimately caught up in the success of one another–a design that may change according to needs, but would not self-destruct.

It is apparent that our society as it looks today, cannot go on forever.  We need a redo, a shift, a complete overhaul.  Sooner than later.

The overhaul won’t come from people concerned with maintaining their power and esteem.  It will come from you and me.  More importantly, it will come from us.

Let the evolution begin.

• Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

God forbid if people want to use a sustainable, local fuel — you know wood — to heat their homes. In Hampstead’s view, it is better to ban wood than to ban driving a car which produces far more air pollution and air contaminants than wood. I wonder if there will be backlash against this when TSHTF economically.

Source: Montreal Gazette

Montreal Island’s top elected official responsible for air quality refused to say yesterday whether he plans to emulate tiny Hampstead’s plan to cut winter smog caused by wood smoke.

A new Hampstead bylaw that bans installation of wood stoves or wood-pellet-burning furnaces “is currently under study” by Montreal, said Alan DeSousa, executive committee member for sustainable development.

“We should be making our views known shortly,” he added.

Hampstead’s bylaw also orders that all stoves or furnaces fed by wood and already installed be permanently extinguished within seven years, by Nov. 3, 2015.

The ban covers wood stoves, furnaces fed by pellets, fireplace inserts or similar devices.

Unanimously approved two weeks ago, the bylaw provides two important exceptions:

  • The use of indoor masonry fireplaces not equipped with inserts will remain perfectly legal.
  • The ban explicitly does not apply to barbeques.

Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg said council acted to fight air pollution and discourage fireplace use generally – and without knowing how many residents use wood to heat.

In 2007, the Montreal public health department pegged the number of Montreal Island households with fireplaces or wood stoves at 85,241.

Category: Air | Tags: , ,  | 2 Comments
• Monday, November 17th, 2008

Yesterday at Westmount’s third and final Sustainable Development Visioning workshop, city Coordinator Joshua Wolfe revealed that while Canada and Quebec have a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to the United States, Westmount’s footprint more closely resembles America’s.

This fact was compiled by a recent study completed by McGill University’s GEOG 302 undergraduate class.

The full stats:

Quebec: 5.95 Hectacres/Person
Canada: 7.61
Westmount: 8.58
USA: 9.60

The United States has one of the world’s largest carbon footprints. Only the United Arab Emirates, which has constructed indoor ski slopes in the desert, has a bigger footprint than the U.S.

• Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Sounds like a compromise was reached between industry and environmental concerns. I wonder what the Conservative response will be.

Northern Quebec is one of the last places in the world that has not been destroyed (developed) by Western civilization.

Source: Montreal Gazette

A Liberal government will protect at least 50 per cent of the north from mining, hydroelectric and forestry exploitation and create five provincial parks, Premier Jean Charest said yesterday.

Charest’s announcement comes at a time when he is campaigning to open northern Quebec – a region defined as above the 49th parallel or north of Lac St. Jean – to more development.

Environmentalists from Greenpeace and Nature Québec have been lobbying to persuade Charest to follow the example of Ontario, which in July announced it would protect 50 per cent of its north.

Ashton Mining Foxtrot property in the Otish Mountains area of northern Quebec is located near a proposed provincial park. Premier Jean Charest says mining, hydroelectric and forestry development would be prohibited in five new parks.

“One of the important realities of our times now is to make sure that economic development is sustainable development, to show respect for the coming generations,” he said.

Charest said 12 per cent of the north (7 million hectares) will be protected against any kind of development, including tourism. This land will be located both in and outside of the five new parks. Of this 12 per cent, about seven per cent is already protected.

The remaining 38 per cent will be protected against mining, hydroelectric and forestry exploitation, but tourism development will be permitted. The 50 per cent total is about the size of France.

Asked what would happen if, say, diamonds were found in one of the protected areas, Charest said they would never be able to be mined.

“This is forever.” He said the areas will officially become protected in 2015.

The five new provincial parks have already been designated as potential parks.

Mining companies will not be happy with the Liberals. Kuururjuaq Park on Ungava Bay, for example, is rich in uranium, and Montreal-based Azumit wants to open a mine in or adjacent to the park.

The company told a public hearing last year that Kuururjuaq is “an opportunity to demonstrate how the coexistence of mining and park activities can be successful.” Charest said his decision will effectively stop all mining in the parks.

Another proposed park is Assinica. It’s a boreal forest reserve that includes Quebec’s largest body of fresh water, the 176-kilometre-long Lac Mistassini in central Quebec.

A third park, Guillaume-Delisle-et-à-l’Eau-Claire, covers an area of 10,290 square kilometres near Hudson’s Bay. The creation of the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park, also located in central Quebec, has been under study since 2006 and is being built in partnership with the Cree Nation. The fifth park is Baie-aux-Feuilles.

Charest also said his government would create new carbon sinks by planting 100 million trees covering 100,000 hectares, which at maturity will capture 80,000 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of emissions from 32,000 cars.

Category: Economics | Tags: , ,  | Leave a Comment
• Thursday, November 13th, 2008

This sounds like a U.S.-style power grab to rob the people of their rightful property. It also seems to be a direct assault on anyone who wishes to live sustainably by drawing the water from a well under their own land. However, containers of less than 20 liters for human consumption would be banned.

This needs further investigation and discussion. The press release seems to be from a pro-industry think-tank. Anyone have a perspective on this?

Source: The Fraser Institute

MONTREAL, QC—The Quebec government’s proposed legislation, Bill 92, will abolish all private property rights to water and result in a massive transfer of wealth from Quebecers to government, concludes a new report from independent research organization the Fraser Institute.

“Bill 92 ignores the power of market forces in favour of government force. If the legislation is enacted, it will rob Quebecers of their property rights and discourage investment in the province,” said Jean-François Minardi, Fraser Institute senior policy analyst and co-author of the report, The Government’s Groundwater Grab: An Attack on Property Rights in Quebec.

“Nearly half of Quebec’s population relies on groundwater from private wells for drinking water. This legislation is an attack on these property rights.”

The proposed Bill 92 declares both surface water and groundwater to be “part of the common heritage of the Quebec nation” and off limits to appropriation “except under the conditions defined by law.” This legislation, if passed, will empower government regulators to dictate who may use water, how much they may use, and how they can use it. Additionally, the government has indicated that it plans to impose water royalties following the passage of the legislation.

But Minardi and co-author, Diane Katz, Fraser Institute director of risk, environment, and energy policy, argue in the report that Quebec’s water resources are not threatened and there is no need for such extreme, interventionist legislation.

“Quebec contains 20 per cent of Canada’s freshwater land area and it’s estimated that the renewable reserves of groundwater in Quebec’s inhabited regions totals 200 trillion litres,” Katz said.

“Regulations already exist that prohibit bulk water withdrawals and diversions. This proposed legislation is simply an expansion of government power over water use. This is in contrast to legal precedence in Quebec that suggests landowners have rights to groundwater beneath their property.”

The report traces the history of water regulation in Quebec, pointing out that Quebec has had regulations covering water diversions for more than a decade. It also finds that the proposed legislation is riddled with vague and arbitrary provisions and grants virtually unlimited powers to the minister of sustainable development, environment and parks. Such overzealous regulation offers no guarantee that water will be apportioned wisely. Instead, it promises to politicize every aspect of water use and dissuade industrial investment.

Interestingly, the legislation also exempts water withdrawn to be marketed for human consumption, if packaged in Quebec in containers of 20 litres or less. Quebec’s water-bottling industry is undergoing rapid growth and currently generates sales of $75 million a year.

Minardi and Katz suggest that rather than additional regulation, the government should look to property rights and market mechanisms, which have historically been more effective at managing resources than government regulations.

They write that a water market would allow farmers, industry, municipalities, and even environmental groups to buy and sell water rights as dictated by supply and demand. The prices would reflect the true value of water with far more accuracy than any government royalty scheme and thus better encourage efficiency and conservation.

“Well-defined property rights to resources such as water are fundamental to giving people the proper incentives for sustainable management of resources,” Minardi said.

“As it is now structured, Bill 92 is an attempt by the government to establish water as a public resource and to terminate the rights of private property owners.”

Category: Water | Tags: ,  | 2 Comments
• Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

From the author of Depletion and Abundance, upstate New York farmer Sharon Astyk is due out with a new book in April 2009. Titled A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil the book examines the limits and dangers of the globalized food system and how returning to the basics is our best hope. The book includes in-depth guidelines for:

  • Creating resilient local food systems
  • Growing, cooking, and eating sustainably and naturally
  • Becoming part of the solution to the food crisis

While the target is America, it should be equally valuable for any Canadian community looking to improve and shore up community food security.

Research Credit: Carolyn Baker

• Sunday, November 09th, 2008

This was partly caused by the recent warm weather, but it is still shocking for a relatively small city.

I wonder if morning commuters from the suburbs ever consider that their daily commutes contribute to 2,500 deaths a year in Quebec through air pollution?

Via: CNW Group

SAINT-LEON-DE-STANDON, QC, Nov. 7 /CNW Telbec/ – The Association
québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA) is asking the
people of Quebec to take action. The health of the population of southern
Quebec is being harmed by a fourth consecutive day of very poor air quality.
According to health authorities, air pollution kills approximately 2,500
people a year in Quebec. Unfortunately, we are in many respects responsible
for our suffering and the victims of our own actions.

These recent episodes of air pollution are unusual for this time of year,
and are caused primarily by automobile emissions. Because of current
meteorological conditions – stable and low cloud cover, combined with high
humidity and very weak winds – airborne pollutants are not being dispersed. As
a result, the marked decrease in air quality is mostly due to pollutants that
are emitted locally.

The cause of the problem lies largely with the state of vehicles in
Quebec. The province is one of the last regions in North America that allows
cars not equipped with anti-pollution systems to remain on the road. There are
no mandatory emissions inspections, and, as a result, vehicles that emit
excessive amounts of pollution continue to be tolerated.

We can create change!

In order to reduce pollution resulting from the use of automobiles, we
must increase use of public transit, car-pooling and car sharing.