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Elizabeth May headlines ‘Greening our County’ event – ‘It is not too late’

 

Councillor Kate MacNaughton, Elizabeth May and Angus Ross.

By Sharon Harrison
A standing ovation, and buoyant cheers, were graciously received by MP Elizabeth May from an enthusiastic crowd at the Regent Theatre interested in learning about ‘Greening Our County’ last Sunday.

In the first event of its kind instigated and hosted by Prince Edward County Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), “Greening our County” was well-received by close to a full-house with an interesting, informative and inspiring afternoon schedule of environmental programming. EAC chair Jane Lesslie, moderated the event.

Covering topics from County forest cover, biodiversity, re-wilding, and decarbonizing home heating and cooling, the County Climate Event 2022’s headliner was MP Elizabeth May, a member of the Order of Canada and former Green Party of Canada leader (2006-2019), who gave a big picture rundown on climate, as well touching on a few political issues.

It was no coincidence the event was timed to take place as world leaders attended COP27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (which runs Nov. 6-18).

On a local level, a climate emergency was declared in Prince Edward County in May 2019, where council noted the County was experiencing the early effects of climate change. It was at that time council voted to re-establish the Environmental Advisory Committee as a priority.

While the PEC Environmental Advisory Committee’s four-year mandate technically ended Nov. 14 in its current form along with the current term of council, a new group is to be formed in the new year with a new four-year term and mandate.

“I can’t think of a better way to go out than with an event such as this, that will hopefully continue for the next several years, as an annual event,” said PEC mayor Steve Ferguson.

The volunteer members of the PEC EAC (2019-2022) include Lesslie, Ewa Bednarczuk, Geoff Burt, Rachel Kuzmich, Vanessa Lavender and Angus Ross, along with mayor Ferguson and councillors Kate MacNaughton, John Hirsch and Stewart Bailey.

Introduced by her friend, and EAC member Angus Ross, May noted he was the first person she knew in the Canadian business community who understood that the climate crisis was actually a threat, and needed to be taken seriously.

An engaging, entertaining and enlightening May provided a little background on some of the environmental issues she has worked on over the years, including acid rain, the ozone layer global treaty, and climate change.

She noted how Environment Canada scientists at the time (in the 1980s) said, “if we keep doing what we are doing, we will see glaciers in rapid retreat by 2030”.

“We always underestimated how much damage we were doing, and we always over-estimated how much time we have,” May said.

She noted that in the two million years modern-day human beings have been around, carbon dioxide was never above 400 parts per million in the atmosphere (now 419 parts/million globally when May checked on the day of the event).

“We are the first human beings in six million years to breathe atmospheric carbon at the level we are now at,” said May. “In the year I was born (1954), the atmosphere had 313 parts per million carbon dioxide.”

She said it is known with certainty, through science, that concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have not been above 280 parts/million until the beginning of the industrial revolution.

“We have emitted more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere between 1992 and now, than we did between the beginning of the industrial revolution and 1992,” she said.

“We have been committing ecocide and knowing it, but pretending everything’s fine because we have the latest buzzwords, the latest political promises, the latest fraud, with the latest fraud being net zero by 2050.”

“Other than nuclear war, no other issue threatens to end us,” she added.

May also spoke to reforestation and why it matters, noting other speakers addressed the benefit of trees and carbon sequestration, where she also referenced the heat domes experienced in Vancouver last year, and the many resulting deaths.

“Access to green leafy spaces can save your life in a heat dome. We need to plant more trees everywhere. We need to plant the right species everywhere,” said May. “We need nature-based solutions to the climate crisis.”

We need to get very serious and much more radical about our solutions, May concluded, adding that we have to acknowledge that it is not too late.

“We have every opportunity to stop the climate crisis from reaching its worst-case scenarios, but that means Canada can’t be the worst country in the country club,” she said. “I am hopeful, and it is all really do-able.”

Panelists Sheila Kuja, Lorraine Johnson, Jennifer Gagné with Jane Lesslie.

Other panel speakers included author Lorraine Johnson, botanist Sheila Kuja, and tree specialist Jennifer Gagné.

Concluding the panelists, heating/cooling expert Matt Bulley addressed decarbonizing the home, and Cedric Pelelea, COO with Sustainable Kingston, spoke about energy audits, incentive programs available to homeowners, along with government grants, ways to save money and how to reduce fossil fuel use were shared in detail.

A question and answer session followed the speakers giving audience members an opportunity to have specific issues addressed.

Moira Gaddes

Of particular note were the inspiring and uplifting words shared by 18-year-old County resident Moira Gaddes, described as an “indigiqueer youth and aspiring change-maker”. Up until graduation last spring, Gaddes was the Prince Edward Hastings School Board Indigenous student trustee.

Gaddes, who gave the welcome address in the Mohawk language first, and summarizing in English, noted her disconnection with parts of her ancestral family, where she said she now sits under the production of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk nation in Tyendinaga.

She explained the very condensed version of the thanksgiving address related to “gathering our minds together and sending acknowledgements and gratitude to all the different beings in the natural world”.

“I talked about the people, I talked about the waters and the fish, and the earth and the roots and the bugs, and the walking animals and the birds, and all the different plant life, and I talked about the thunders, the four winds, the sun, the moon, the stars and the great natural power,” explained Gaddes.

“As Haudenosaunee people, and as people that live on earth, it serves to bring our minds together, to focus them on what we need to be talking about.”

She said it reminds us who we are in relation with, and who we are responsible to, where she explained the core responsibility as human people are to be grateful to the earth and to take care of the earth.

“As humans across nations, these are our highest honours, responsibilities, and original instructions, and environmentalism is a key part of who we are as humans and who we are meant to be.”

Gaddes spoke to shouldering individual and collective burdens taking care of the environment, where she encouraged all to learn and listen, and to spend time building relationships with the natural world.

“And, to question and change systems that have, and continue, to separate us from them, so we can remember who we are and what we are doing here.”

A number of booths were set up in the lobby where more information could be found on a variety of related climate and environmental topics.

Participants included the Prince Edward County Horticultural Society, Tree the County, Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, Kenhke: ke Seed Sanctuary and Learning Centre, Quinte Conservation, and Bay of Quinte Remedial Action.

Lorrain Johnson and Elizabeth May signed copies their books during intermission.

Books and Company were selling Lorraine Johnson’s latest book “A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee”, and Elizabeth May’s book, “Climate Change for Dummies”, where both authors signed copies of their books during the intermission.

Toronto author and native plant expert Lorraine Johnson’s talk focused on regenerating habitat, where she framed it within the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report for the need to reconcile with nature.

“The way human beings resolve, as written in the TRC report, if we resolve problems between ourselves but continue to destroy the natural world, then reconciliation remains incomplete,” Johnson said.

She spoke to the responsibilities and relationships to the land we tend, restore and contribute to eco-system health and climate action by restoring native plants to the landscape, protecting existing bio-diversity and habitat, and also regenerating, as well as reducing monoculture, ie making lawns smaller or non-existent.

Johnson suggests we can improve maintenance techniques, such as leaving the leaves on the ground where they fall because they are habitat to insects and animals, or leaving ornamental logs or dead wood as some animals overwinter in these decomposing environments.

“When we throw out those leaf bags, we are throwing out habitat; we might be throwing out next year’s butterflies.”

“When we regenerate habitat and engage with nature and plants, it’s really a very powerful way to build that connection that is a part of reconciling with nature.”

Johnson also spoke to connections and relationships between all species, all life.

“When I think of a web, I think of a web of connections and then I think of something that really has just one connection, one strand, A to B, that is a very weak connection in that if there is a drought or something severs that connection, it collapses and breaks,” she explained.

“If you think of a web of connections, a line between A to B, C to D, and D connects with A and B, and all over all the place, that is the web of biodiversity that strengths and creates resilience, and resilience is what we need in the context of climate change.”

She also spoke to the value of pollen specialists, where she explained that about a quarter of the bees in this region are known as pollen specialists, which means they have a specialized diet on the pollen of certain native plants.

“Those native plants are crucial to the health of about a quarter of the bees in this region; they can get nectar from anywhere, but they depend on certain native plants to provision their nests with pollen for their young, so the next generation depends on that relationship between native plants and the pollen of particular native plants,” explained Johnson.

She said the specialist relationships go beyond pollen and nectar, citing one example of ants who have a specialist relationship with native woodland ephemeral plants.

“The seeds of many native woodland plants have something called an elaisome; there is a little oily snack that ants feed on, and they collect the seeds and they take them, scurry off far away from the parent plant, they eat the elaisome and they plant the seeds.”

Johnson said we have ants to thank for moving woodland plants around the forest floor.

“When we garden with native plants, or regenerate habitat, we can support these relationships that support the resilience of the network of web of biodiversity that all life depends.”

“What we plant matters; it makes a very big and specific difference,”

Botanist, ecologist and County resident Sheila Kuja, representing the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, spoke extensively on biodiversity, what the threats are and how biodiversity can be protected, and why it should be.

Biodiversity, a short-form for biological diversity, was coined in the 1980s explained Kuja, to draw attention to all the species extinction that was happening.

Basically, biodiversity describes all the variety and variation there is the world, such as all the plants, animals, fungi and lichens that can be found in an area or an ecosystem, she said.

“It can provide an ecosystem with resilience to deal with environmental changes, including global warming.”

Kuja cited a 2018 World Wildlife Fund report that indicates at least 60 per cent of the global populations have declined in the 50 last years.

Addressing the threats to biodiversity, Kuja said it all comes down to human activity.

“Unfortunately, it all comes down to us; we destroy habitats for agriculture development, we introduce invasive species, over-exploit our resources, pollute and cause global warming,” remarked Kuja.

She said protecting biodiversity can be achieved in Prince Edward County if we are determined enough, where she added that it is worth fighting to protect.

The County’s biodiversity exists because of a combination of Carolinian northern alvar species with Great Lakes endemics, prairie remnants and endangered and threatened species that disappeared elsewhere in the province because of habitat loss, explained Kuja.

“In addition, we have our special geography and geology and these all combine to make this a very, very special place.“

While Kuja noted four vascular plants endangered in the County, she said the County’s special plant is the four-leaved milkweed.

“It occurs in only three locations in Canada, all those locations are right here in the County, it is its last chance for survival in Canada.”

Jennifer Gagné, forest conservationist and consulting arborist, talked about the County forest cover and what trees do when it comes to climate change, such as with carbon storage, carbon offset and mitigating the effects of climate change.

“Trees hold carbon in their wood, they pull carbon from the air, they are this vast being of carbon storage,” Gagné said.

Speaking to climate change, she said things are going to change regardless of what we do.

“It’s important to think about what we do as we are going to have more storms, and more winds, so windbreaks are incredible.”

She also addressed the amount of water trees absorb in one year, and the incredible job they do of filtering out pollutants that may find their way into ground water and drinking water.

Gagné spoke to protection of existing trees and keeping them healthy, such as limiting pruning, restricting construction around tree roots, supporting tree protection bylaws, and when planting new trees, considering diversity of tree species for resilience.

“I hope you will all leave today, energized by what each of us can do, and by the idea that we can all do well by doing good,” said Lesslie.

Recordings of the talks are expected to be posted on the County website in due course at thecounty.ca/sustainability.

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  1. Wayne says:

    Finding energy sources without environmental consequences and/or to reducing consumption of electricity is not going to happen.

    There is going to be a huge demand for more electricity. Hydrogen will be a fuel of the future and right now electrical energy is needed to separate the H2 from the O. The increase for more electrical energy will come from sources with less (not zero) impact on carbon in the atmosphere. Wind turbines is one of them along with a huge increase in the use of grid level storage battery stations to overcome the need for back up generation.

    Nuclear generation will also see a large increase. Small Modular Reactors (SMR) will soon be seen in Canada’s northern remote areas that typically rely on diesel units. Right now 56% of Ontario’s electrical power comes from nuclear generation. Point Petre would be a good location for a new station.

  2. Henri Garand says:

    Besides the CO2 emissions from the manufacture of wind turbines, I suggest some research into the emissions that result when the turbines are erected, including the huge concrete bases each requires. Then there are the rare earth materials used in the turbine operating systems, all of which have to be mined, with often toxic tailings left to damage the local environment.

    And what of backup for the turbines? Consider that proposed battery farms also have environmental consequences and would be enormous installations in order to provide continuous power when the turbines aren’t operational. Not to mention that the whole electrical grid has to be upgraded.

    The fact of the matter is that a little research makes clear the transition to green energy is fraught with complexity, high financial costs, and associated environmental harms. Replacing fossil fuels won’t come cheap and easy, and a green future may be one in which people have to reduce their consumption of electricity along with everything else.

  3. Fred says:

    Wind Turbines secret friend is Natural Gas. Because turbines and solar for that matter are dependent upon and at the mercy of weather conditions, the more turbines built the more gas plants required to backup an unreliable power supply.

  4. Wayne says:

    From very little research on-line;

    Natural gas as a source seems to be accepted by some while wind turbines are not. A natural gas plant burns fuel — and releases carbon dioxide — every moment that it runs. By contrast, most of the carbon pollution generated during a wind turbine’s life occurs during manufacturing. Once it’s up and spinning, the turbine generates close to zero pollution.

    It varies, by the size of turbine, and onshore versus offshore configuration, but all wind turbines fall within a range of about 5 to 26 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour over a life time.

    Power plants that burn natural gas are responsible for 437 to 758 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour — far more than even the most carbon-intensive wind turbine. That would not include the huge carbon foot print to construct the generating station, pipeline and drilling for gas.

  5. Fred says:

    The construction,transporting and erecting of wind turbines has a huge carbon footprint.

  6. Wayne says:

    What about wind turbines, they have very little affect on the environment compared to fossil fueled thermal plants. However, Prince Edward County is probably the only place in the whole world where they were constructed and taken down for environmental reasons????

  7. Rob #2 says:

    From my experience discussing climate change with people, the most worried and obsessed with it are idealistic young people with little real life experience and older people who have already reached the finish line in terms of career, home ownership and family – ie. the kids have long since left the nest. Pretty easy to tell other people how to live their lives when you are not in the race yourself.

    The idea that we give ourselves a great pat on the back for our efforts to reduce will cause those more polluting countries to reduce in order to become like us is absolutely ludicrous to me. It is against the basic concept of the way human beings function in any society, much less across nation lines.

    We are not going to keep any sort of society vaguely resembling what we have now running on solar and wind power. Nuclear is a huge part of our energy future. The world has had some accidents but the cost is small compared to the other options. The problem with nuclear will be the lack of governments funds or initiative to build more. That is going to be a failure in hindsight I am afraid.

    Have any of you had experience in manufacturing, where you can watch huge inputs of raw materials be turned into finished products and then distributed worldwide? These aren’t all frills like salad shooters and Croc’s shoes – they can also be vital products that vastly improve our quality of life. Have you ever looked at the huge substations outside of these buildings and gotten an appreciation of what energy inputs are required to run them?

    It seems to me that climate change has become the new Covid. The correct approach is to navigate somewhere down the middle. We are a cleaner society than we have been in the past, largely because of our outsourcing of the dirty work to China. I have hopefully 50 or more years to go on this earth and not one minute of any day do I worry about climate change. To hear of young people afraid to have children because there will be no earth for them to live on is bizarre to me.

    If we are to go down this road I would like to see air travel greatly reduced, migration reduced (because migration requires expenditure of carbon to build housing and infrastructure to support migration). We should ban all sports leagues because of the travel component, along with all concerts by touring artists. No NHL, MLB, NBA or Nascar. There is nothing stupider than keeping ice in an arena in Belleville in July so people can play hockey. We also need to ban all drive throughs immediately.

    Do all of those before you come to me and tell me I need to stop cutting my lawn, or buy a costly electric vehicle with no proven history of long term reliability.

    I’m sure hoping there’s a silent majority out there because some of the comments here suggest a degree of alarm that is overblown bordering on paranoia and/or beyond the scope of an international community of 8 billion people to change. If you can get 10 strangers to agree on anything as members of the same society you have done something. There’s 8 billion people on this planet in how many nations of competing and disparate interests? They are all going to set aside their own aspirations and dreams? Good luck!

    And keep the same car for 20 years? You go ahead, but the rest of us have obligations to meet and lives to live. Such a recommendation comes from so far out in left field that few will take it seriously defeating the purpose of the message in the first place.

  8. Angus Ross says:

    Judith Pearse and Helen Fearman I agree that future events should look at all forms of energy generation (though I don’t know if I will be part of the organising team next year). Small modular reactors (SMR’s) have pros and cons – there is an excellent article on the BBC website: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200309-are-small-nuclear-power-plants-safe-and-efficient

    Interesting to note that in 2019 Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on the development and deployment of SMR’s and the main news since then is that Ontario Power Generation will be installing an SMR at its new Darlington nuclear site.

  9. LB says:

    Just for clarity, nuclear energy is not clean, nor safe, nor a lot less environmentally impactful. In fact, it is an incredibly complicated and dangerous process that requires an incredible level of sophistication and oversight just to keep it from melting down. It also produces a radioactive waste byproduct that far outlives any practical means of containing it. A nuclear plant’s very existence is impactful. Compared to coal they are “clean” which may help reduce emissions but the radioactive waste created is a BIG problem that will get worse as we go more & more electric.

  10. helen fearman says:

    Chuck, You are right that China and the others create the most impact but they will never change as long as they see the west continuing to pollute. If we want China to change, we have to lead the way. They copied our wasteful western ways, so now we have to change to a sustainable lifestyle and they will then copy that too.

  11. helen fearman says:

    Judith Pearse, I absolutely agree! We need to take “nuclear” off the taboo list and start discussing it openly. It is clean, safe, and a lot less environmentally destructive than Wind farms and Solar farms. And, very importantly, much much more efficient.

  12. Chuck says:

    As long as Russia, China, India etc keep building coal plants what Canadians are paying for carbon wise is right down useless. In fact it is hurting our most unfortunate.

  13. Mike Rodgers says:

    David Thomas
    No truer words written, Canada could go to zero emissions and it would not make a difference, The country’s you mentioned need to get their act together. And we have a carbon tax, unreal to think this is going to make a difference.

  14. Mike Barnes says:

    “We have been committing ecocide and knowing it, but pretending everything’s fine because we have the latest buzzwords, the latest political promises…”

    Wholeheartedly agree, and until we address all the toxic plant and insect killers put down on the majority of our land, we will continue to pursue that end. To not have that conversation is ignoring the biggest issue.

  15. Robert Sanfield says:

    David, mostly agree with what you are saying… I would say that China/India/Pakistan will be far more influential than others, both because they are currently enormous emitters but mostly because they aspire to have “western” lifestyles that are inherently energy and carbon intense. If those countries pursue our lifestyle and are successful doing so, “we ain’t seen nothing yet”… Mostly my note is about hypocrisy…flying to climate conferences, eating food with a bazzillion miles on it, walking around in a tee shirt in the winter while claiming to be conscious of energy use, etc. When I said we are the problem I mean human beings and our choices. We all want to believe it is someone else or a corporation (controlled by humans). If we want to fix this problem, start at home. If you don’t consume energy to start with you have eliminated most of the problem. You (all humans) don’t have to sit under a blanket and shiver, you (all humans) do need to not be an energy hypocrite. Our choices are what got us to this point.

  16. Judith Pearse says:

    If this is to become an annual event, I would love to see a presentation on small nuclear reactors and their potential for clean energy.

  17. David Thomas says:

    Robert, there is something about living simply and sustainably that is bigger than just climate change. To live a humble life is to live a noble life.

    But when it comes to climate change, the last comment: “Stop thinking it is anyone but ourselves,” just isn’t true. According to World Population Review, China (#1 in the world) emitted 11,680 megatons of CO2 in 2020. Even with our large oil and gas industry (which includes the oil sands, the worst of the worst) Canada (#11 in the world) emitted 542 megatons of CO2 that year. Far from great, but 5% of the Chinese total. In fact, China emitted more C02 in 2020 than the next top seven emitters combined. But like those other countries, China has committed to building 100 new coal-fired power plants, each with a life of 50 years. In contrast, Ontario was one of the first places in the world to kill coal as a power source, something that could be accomplished because of abundant hydro and nuclear baseload power.

    So yes, we should all do our bit. It’s good (at the margin) for the environment but it’s great for the soul. But let’s not kid ourselves; eating lettuce grown in California doesn’t move the needle one iota. Unless China (and the USA and Russia and India) change their ways, it’s game over for the planet.

  18. Robert Sanfield says:

    So many things we can do right now, on our own. Make your house smaller for heating and cooling. Block off rooms, lower the thermostat, each degree is roughly 3% less for heating purposes. A/C in one room only. Keep your car going for 20 years minimum to avoid embedded carbon. Don’t fly anywhere, flying and unnecessary travel is absurd during a climate crisis. Don’t believe that buying offsets can compensate. We need to not consume AND buy offsets. Stop eating exotic high embedded carbon foods. Lettuce from southern climes in the winter time is climate absurd, burn up fuel to move something that is 97% water. Grow your own root crops and store it yourself for winter consumption. Our lifestyle of large homes, eating like we live in the south, flying for pleasure, and consumerism of foreign high embedded carbon goods contributes highly. We can change that immediately. Stop thinking it is anyone but ourselves.

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