Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saving the far suburbs, latest in a series

John Robb’s got an idea: hyperlocalized agriculture.

The return to local agriculture within suburban and urban environments won’t be a redux of amateur gardening nor will it be done on local traditional farms (mostly, long since paved over). Instead it will feature high tech, intense, and energy efficient efforts on clusters of small plots. In short, it will buffer families from the risk of soft and hard disruptions as well as provide an opportunity for income generation. In fact, we are already seeing signs of resilience entrepreneurs in this space.

The idea is to have a farm that’s aggressively customized to local conditions — sun, rain, etc. — and built to make a major contribution to feeding its neighbours and those a little beyond, while remaining small enough not to put a major strain on local infrastructure by, for instance, sucking all the water out of a local river or polluting it beyond repair with effluent.

One thing’s sure about such efforts: you’re not likely to get regular updates on them like this one.


Brutal work schedule this week. Every intention of resuming Monday.

When individual action isn’t enough

For my money (well, they’re free — so for my time) Ezra Klein’s commentary is a better read than Michael Pollan’s essay basically pleading with people to see environmental responsibility as a personal virtue because no other force is likely to help us with the fix we’re in.

Here’s the nut of Pollan’s piece:

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

I am viscerally sympathetic. It’s the way I wish the world worked. But as Klein argues, it doesn’t. He doesn’t frame it in these terms, but by keeping pollution in all its forms as an externality that’s not worked into the prices of the things we buy, we’re living with a market failure. This fix isn’t going to get better till we solve that problem, particularly if we as individuals are fighting actively pro-pollution policies advanced by whole governments that aren’t even our own, seeking to exploit those market failures for all they’re worth.

A right to food II

Pig snouts in Chongqing

Photo credit: “Chonqing snout,” Flickr/Addictive Picasso

This, for instance is what happens when governments start to protect the “right to farm.”

In what is being called an unprecedented move, the federal government will pay Canadian pork producers $50 million to kill off 150,000 of their pigs by the fall as the industry teeters on the brink of economic collapse.

The animals are being destroyed at slaughter plants and on pig farms in a bid to cull the swine breeding herd by 10 per cent.

Most of the meat is to be used for pet food or otherwise disposed of, but up to 25 per cent of it will be made available to Canadian food banks.

“The value that the market is providing to hog farmers for their breeding animals has fallen to virtually nothing,” said Martin Rice, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council on Monday.

“It is due to the economic collapse of the industry. These are farms that families have spent decades building up. We cannot see relief coming. It is agonizing for them. It takes a toll.”

This will keep farmers going, which means they’ll keep raising uneconomic pigs, which means they’ll keep the price of feed artificially high, which means maybe Jean Ziegler has at least some kind of a point after all, even if it’s hard to tell who are the wingnuts in this situation anymore.

Strategies are not solutions

Water under the Rainbow Bridge.

Photo credit: “Water Under the Rainbow Bridge,” Flickr/Augapfel

Canwest’s Jack Aubry and Mike De Souza got hold of the briefing papers prepared for John Baird when he took over as Canada’s environment minister a year and a bit ago. These sorts of documents are always interesting because although they’re written in the full knowledge that reporters will be filing access-to-information requests for them, they sum up the state of affairs in the ministry the new minister is taking over and present the key problems that top officials are coping with. Sometimes they suggest what messes have been left behind by the previous minister, too.

In this case, it appears that Environment Canada really wanted the new boss to take up the subject of a “national water strategy.”

The briefing notes stress the importance of the federal government developing a national strategy to help guide the water management policies of provincial and municipal governments which have distinct powers and responsibilities on the file.

“The constitution is not clear on water,” said the document. “Roles are shared – collaboration is essential.”

The briefing notes also mention a federal water framework that was developed in 2004, which could be used to “focus all players on a common vision for water in Canada” through strategies and actions across all departments to protect people from health threats to water, improve productive and sustainable management of the resource and to protect Canada’s international water interests.

Now, governments really like strategies and frameworks, and few have liked them more than the government of Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, who was in charge in 2004. Creating them takes a lot of work, and when they’re done, they feel like major accomplishments. They aren’t, of course — agreeing on a plan is a whole different thing from actually doing anything about it, as the people who negotiated the Kyoto Accord could tell you. The more complex the set of problems you’re trying to address, the harder work the strategy or framework is. In this case, the problem of cleaning up water is a subject so complex and multifacected that devising a framework must have taken ages.

You’ve got oceans and lakes and rivers, you’ve got drinking-water treatment plants and sewage treatment, First Nations reserves and industrial pollution and agricultural runoff, trade and commerce questions. All kind of levels of government, from the UN all the way down to rural town councils. Many of them will have conflicting priorities and agendas, different degrees of democratic legitimacy and technical authority, and include politicians from opposing parties. Soon as one of the players changes, the whole deal might be shot.

Does it even make sense to roll all these things into one strategy, just because they all involve one substance? It does not.

Let the problems be complex. Address the sub-problems that are within your sphere of authority and leave the rest behind. You’ll get more done.

Silence broken

Sorry about the blog silence — I got a bit overwhelmed and let EcoLibertarian slip, and then had a family death to cope with (the kind that’s sad but not shocking).

But now, back to it.

A series of unfortunate events


Photo credit: “Migraine!” , Flickr/annia316

Well, one. I was busy and neglected my domain registrar’s warnings about how the and .ca domains were about to expire.

Pieces gradually being picked up. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for finding your way here despite my best efforts.