Solar Home Tour

SolarTour5This weekend Solar Nova Scotia organized a tour of two passive solar homes in St Margaret’s Bay built by visionary designer, Don Roscoe. Though the weather was wet and miserable, about 20 members turned out to hear from Don and the gracious home-owners. The homes are stunningly beautiful and so warm we were all peeling sweaters. What the two houses had in common were two-storey cathedral windows on the south side, berms on the north side, a mezzanine level overlooking the open-concept design, and hidden air circulation systems. Both houses nestle naturally in with surrounding landscape.





The film health analogy

Shanghai Calling

Crew at work on the film Shanghai Calling.

Here’s a thought experiment: could we compare the way we look after our health with the way that films are made? A film-making team has to be decisive, yet flexible. There is usually a strong core leader who co-ordinates the talents of more specialized technicians. These talents include writers, actors, set designers, sound recordists, musicians and, of course, camera operators.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s consider the camera department. There’s a DOP, the director of photography, who co-ordinates three divisions: 1) camera operators and assistants, who are responsible for the care and preparation of the camera and lenses, as well as the logging of any footage that is recorded; 2) gaffers and electricians, who are responsible for lighting any given scene and providing electricity for those lights; 3) grip team, who are responsible for mounting the camera on dollies and other devices, when a moving shot is required. The DOP works with the director to achieve a desired look for the film. The film needs to be stylish, but also shot in an efficient and timely manner. Artistic and practical concerns need to be balanced. It is essential that there be a managing intelligence that co-ordinates related tasks.

Are there similar divisions to health? For the sake of argument, here’s my list: 1) exercise; 2) diet; 3) check-up, testing and body repair.  Other areas that might also be mentioned include having a positive attitude, cultivating good relationships with other people, and living in a clean and safe environment. To keep it simple, I’ll focus on the first three: diet, exercise and body repair. Are there knowledgable guides who can assist us in each of these areas? Yes, there are. For exercise, we might employ an fitness coach, a yoga instructor, or take classes at a gym. Or we might join with friends to form hockey leagues, bike clubs, and engage in swimming sessions of our own. Friends and specialists help motivate us and raise our level of activity and fitness. For diet, we might go a naturopath, or take cooking classes, or exchange information on healthy food with gardening friends or with venders at a market. For body-repair, we see a doctor or go to a clinic for tests and x-rays.

The question that follows, using my film analogy, is: who is the DOP of our health? Who is the guiding  intelligence co-ordinating and directing the related needs of exercise, diet and body repair? The answer is ourselves. We are responsible for our own health and the health of our children. When I say this, I believe we still need coaches, we still need friends and motivators. We need to seek advice and educate ourselves with the best information available.

We tend to think of health, if we think of it at all, as having to do with doctors and hospitals. But these hardly cover the full spectrum of health. The spectrum they cover has to do with breakdown, an area none of us want. What we really want and need is optimal health and for this, we have to look for counsel and support outside of the medical field.

In conclusion: think of health as a film project and assemble a team to help you cover all the angles. What results is a film worth watching, a body that thrives on its own well being.

Wellness Wall

Artist Miro Davis at the opening of her wellness wall at the Dixon Centre in Halifax

Artist Miro Davis at the opening of her “Wellness Wall” in the Dixon Building of the QE II Health Science Centre in Halifax

Imagine a volcanic landscape of giant barnacles bursting through the drab surface of a hospital wall. Imagine these barnacles fired inside by a magic blue light. Such is the vision of Halifax-based multi-media artist Miro Davis. Last night her glowing art installation, “Barnacle Tides Wellness Wall,” was unveiled for the public. The artist, originally from Vancouver, came to Halifax in 1995 to study at NSCAD. She’s been here ever since, serving as artist-in-residence at the Dalhousie Medical School in 2012. Davis is inspired by motifs from nature and works with a variety of materials to transform public spaces, often involving people who are connected with the space in the creation of the artwork. In the present case,  Davis worked with cancer patients and their families to create designs that were transferred to coloured glass, before being embedded in a fantastically contoured wall, shaped from clay. The glass and clay installation is lit from behind with a brilliant blue light to create a stunning effect, turning a small hospital waiting area into a expansive space with a sense of openness and possibilty. The project was funded jointly by the Robert Pope Foundation and the QE II Foundation.

At the opening, patients involved in the project spoke about how much the experience of working with Davis meant to them. Some of the patients involved have since died and their relatives described the wall as a lasting legacy. Folk singer Lenny Gallant composed a song for the occasion called “If these walls could talk.” This one surely can.

Thierry Vrain: Food Science Whistle-blower

Thierry Vrain2It’s funny how ideas spread. Ideas can be suppressed for a time, distorted and disputed, but some ideas have such resilience and vitality that they do not go away. They simmer under the surface of popular culture and mainstream media, then suddenly explode onto public consciousness.

Such an idea is that of Thierry Vrain’s lecture on Food, Ecology and Health. Vrain is a retired Canadian government food scientist, (formerly Head of Biotechnology at Agriculture Canada’s Summerland Research Station), currently a whistle-blower and organic gardener living on Vancouver Island.  In a lecture from November, 2013, he recalls how, in the course of his research, he came across a document arguing that synthetic fertilizers are damaging the soil, damaging the life of the soil. His first reaction was: “I didn’t know that. I didn’t learn that in graduate school.” He intensified his research. “Because if you tell me that organic is better for you, or organic is more nutritious, I say, show me the data.”

What he found was the data was convincing and impossible to ignore. “That’s when I converted. And I think it’s because I became organic that I was prepared to read more widely. Over the last 5 to 7 years I’ve read a lot of studies, published scientific studies, that cite serious problems with this technology. When I was in the field, the paradigm was this is great technology, we are god, we can do wonderful things, we are going to do absolutely beautiful wonderful things for agriculture. I was told this was a green technology and I did not argue or question that like a lot of my colleagues. It was understood that this was the paradigm of the time, the dogma. Now I have basically changed my position. Tonight what I’m going to present to you is disturbing. Some of you may know of it already, some of you may be surprised, some of you may be shocked and some of you will be angry.” Vrain’s full lecture outlines the history of the GMO revolution, starting in 1996, and its disastrous effects on the environment and human health.

Thierry Vrain’s talk is important on many levels. He raises issues about food safety, agricultural practice, and the corruption of science by corporations. Most importantly, his talk promotes an enlarged understanding of health based on the view of the human body as an ecosystem regulated by micro-organisms and our symbiotic relationship to them.

Thanks to Nigel Thornley for introducing us to the ideas and efforts of Thierry Vrain.

Food Rules

FRDiningTable2Our world must be truly mad that we need a book like this, and yet we do. Though I just stumbled across it the other day, Food Rules by Michael Pollan, illustrated by Maira Kalman, is four years old, published in 2011.  It’s lost none of its bite or relevancy. Pollan is the journalist author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a pioneering look at what we eat and where it comes from, and Maira Kalman is a New Yorker illustrator who has invented her own humorous style of thinking out loud with pictures. Together they bring warmth and humanity back to the food table with a handful of simple rules.

The book asks how food ever got so complicated, so misleading, so contentious? It finds common ground not in pseudo-scientific jargon but in family wisdom and challenging quips. Here are a few samples: Rule 6: “Avoid food products with more than five ingredients.” Rule 13: “Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.” Rule 16: “Go food shopping every week.” Rule 22: “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.” Rule 25: “Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.” Rule 28: “Eat your colours.” Rule 45: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” Rule 53: “Pay more, eat less.” Rule 65: “Give some thought to where food comes from.” Rule 75: “No labels on the table.”

While I’m reading this delightful little book, my wife returns home from a “Food Nutrition Education Party,” organized by a friend of a friend. It used to be tupperware parties, than stretch-wear parties, now it’s food education parties. Those attending the event were grappling with feeding their families in the midst of launching careers, tight budgets, busy schedules, and baffling conflicts of information.


I’m reminded of how I come home from meetings at the Ecology Action Centre, frustrated that no one in the room can agree on anything to do with food. Kathleen answers: you know about the latest theories of change, don’t you? You’ve heard of chaos theory? Two people adjust their diets and this has an unexpected effect somewhere else–an organic farmer is able to expand his business, say. A hundred thousand small changes each trigger further changes. None of this can be plotted or predicted. But the cumulative effect is powerful and creates a entirely new way of thinking and doing things.

Pollan and Kalman are among the friendly but chaotic non-plotting agents of change. I sense something changing the minute Pollan asks: “What is going on deep inside the soul of a carrot that makes it so good for us?” Or again when he notes how “seventeen thousand new products show up in the supermarket each year, all vying for your food dollar. But most of these items don’t deserve to be called food–I prefer to call them edible foodlike substances. They’re highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and they contain chemical additives with which the human body has not been long acquainted. Today much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding these industrial novelties.” The book advises the reader to avoid  traps set by clever marketers and to rely on simple undisguised whole foods. More than this, to follow a sensible and disciplined approach toward food to enhance quality of life through better health. In the process, a new invigorated  food culture emerges.

FoodRules2Maira Kalman’s illustrations are worth noting. Colourful, painterly, charming, full of wit and attention to detail by an artist who is curious about other people. I especially like the picture of the Eat More Grocery Store with isles labled “despair,” “anxiety,” “sadness” and “anger.” If you like this artist, you might enjoy the personal and idiosyncratic flow of Kalman’s TED talk.

Will This Doctor Change Diets & Reform Medicine?

Dr. Davis signs books at his recent talk in Halifax

Dr. William Davis signs his book during his recent talk in Halifax. Photo by Kathleen Rosborough

His plan is ambitious and controversial. Dr. William Davis, American cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly, is touring Canada and the United States, urging people to rethink the way they eat and safeguard their health. Last night he spoke in Halifax from Spatz Auditorium in Citadel High School to a receptive audience of 200 people, most of them thin and well-informed on food matters. Dr. Davis’s lecture summarized key ideas from his best selling book Wheat Belly, starting with the notion of self-empowerment–looking after yourself through good nutrition and sensible food habits instead of relying on drugs and medical interventions. The lecture argues that the consumption of wheat and related wheat products has led to a national health crisis and distorted our outlook on medicine. Dr. Davis also spoke of his health institute and latest collaborations with young filmmakers.

For me, the most interesting part of the evening was the question and answer session, moderated by Nancy Reagan. Responding to a variety of questions, Dr. Davis displayed quickness of mind, as well as a kind, patient manner and deep concern for others.

“No one would be in this room right now,” Dr. Davis stressed, “if all you wanted was better health. Everyone here wants ideal health. You all want to feel the best that you can possibly feel.”

Dr. Davis makes a distinction between two kinds of medicine, the traditional medicine that treats infections and broken bones, and modern medicine which treats chronic diseases brought about by poor nutrition and environmental factors. Dr. Davis believes that treatments for chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease should start with nutrition and not with drugs and medical interventions. The health system needs to be reformed, along with a substantial effort to re-educate the general public.

Dr. Davis was asked about sugar. Isn’t it as bad or worse than wheat in its effect on people’s health? Dr. Davis’s answer surprised many in the audience. “The gliadin in wheat,” he said, “is a powerful addictive substance. Gliadin induces cravings for sweet, makes us feel always hungry, dulls our taste senses and brings on brain fog and depression. Cut out the gliadin and you will no longer crave sweet. You will no longer feel like you need to eat a Snicker’s bar, and if you do eat a Snicker’s bar, you’ll find it tastes too sweet, sickeningly sweet, because your taste buds will no longer be impaired.”

“The other thing about sugar, if you eat candy or jelly beans, no one pretends that it’s good for you. But with wheat, it’s the base of the food pyramid. Food Canada, the FDA, and the Diabetes Association promote wheat as something that’s healthy and beneficial.” Dr. Davis suggested a simple test anyone can try at home using a blood testing kit sold at any drugstore. “For this test, take a blood sugar reading two hours before you eat. Most people will get a reading of around 5. Then eat two sluices of bread, wait an hour, and take another reading. For most people, their blood sugar will spike up to 9 or 10. This is a dangerous diabetic level!  Yet the Diabetes Association endorses bread as a healthy form of nutrition. It’s not. So to answer your question: cut out wheat and your sugar problem will disappear.”

Dr. Davis was flooded with questions along these lines: “Sure, I can cut out bread, but what about oats, what about quinoa, what about rice, what about beer?” It seems, there’s always one food item that’s hardest to let go of. Dr. Davis’s answer never wavers: “Rice isn’t as bad as wheat, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. All ‘seeds of grasses’ are genetically similar; all share dangerous elements that over time will impair your health and lead to chronic disease.”

Dr. Davis was asked, “If people around the world all removed grain and rice products from their diets, then wouldn’t people starve? What are the implications for combating the world’s most pressing hunger issues?” Dr. Davis acknowledged that this is indeed a difficult question. “If your view is too short-term, then the question cannot be properly answered. You have to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. The introduction of grains into the human diet (over the last 10,000 years) was a terrible mistake. The mistake has escalated in the last 50 years with the development of mutated grains. A mistake like this is not solved by Tuesday, it’s not corrected in a week or a year’s time. It may well take 100 to 200 years to fix this problem.”

As background for this blog, I read many reviews and Internet articles on Dr. Davis and was amazed at the invective and defensive arguments advanced by those who feel threatened by his message. My own view is this: if you’re healthy and happy, you may not need to change your diet, but if you’re not as healthy as you’d like to be, or if you suffer from a chronic condition that the medical community are unable to cure, then what have you got to lose? My wife and I have given up bread for three months now and the health benefits have been substantial, well worth our effort to make the change. To get a sense of Dr. Davis’s message, I recommend the following videos. In the first 10 minute clip, Dr. Davis speaks with Julie Daniluk about his own personal journey to health, problems and misconceptions he had to overcome, and the lessons he’s learned from treating patients in his own practice. In the second 60 minute clip, Dr. Davis delivers his full lecture on the dangers of wheat in people’s diets.

International Year of Soils

raking-soilMy quest for better health began with a series of questions. What’s in the food that I’m eating? How is it produced? Under what conditions? Is it safe? This led me to start growing some of my own food and to buy more food at organic farm markets. I reached out to other gardeners and shared information on enriching soil, crop rotation, companion planting and ways to extend the growing season. I learned about permaculture and followed debates within the organic food movement.

Today I learned the UN has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils. Alan Guebert writes about this initiative, calling it Dirt’s Big Year for the Manitoba Co-operator. To promote awareness of the importance of good soil practices, the Soil Science Society of America offer a lesson plan for school teachers. Here is a slideshare about composting and soil from the Rodale Institute.

Show of Hands on Fish Farming

Cooke Aquaculture’s salmon farm off Meteghan, Nova Scotia. (Photo by Adrien Veczan)

Cooke Aquaculture’s salmon farm off Meteghan, Nova Scotia. (Photo by Adrien Veczan)

Yesterday’s press conference held at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax was greeted by a room jam-packed with 400 concerned citizens. The purpose of the meeting was to send a loud and clear message to the McNeil government to put order into the chaotic affairs of fish-farming in Nova Scotia. Those who were there witnessed an impressive show of leadership and collaboration by a wide coalition of community, environmental and commercial groups (in all 33 different organizations). Many of these groups had started in total opposition to unregulated open net fish pens in shallow waters but today rally together to support a comprehensive solution. The meeting contained an underlying warning that the recently issued Doelle-Lahey report must be adopted in full to be accepted by a disgruntled public and by a growing number of alarmed fishermen. Half measures won’t do.

Packed houseStewart Lamont, of Tangier Lobster stated: “The status quo is a wild west show in Nova Scotia in terms of what can be done in open net pen farms.”

Raymond Plourde, from the Ecology Action Centre, was asked by a reporter why his group’s endorsement of the report was so guarded. Plourde replied that if he had his way open net fish pens in shallow waters would be banned entirely. He went on to give his reasons: too many fish are jammed together (in one case over 2 million fish contained in one netted pen in a cove near Lunenburg) resulting People from the Valley in diseases and parasites that migrate from the farmed fish to wild fish, endangering the total fish populations. As well, the waste products and pesticides used on the fish destroy sea beds in local harbours. Plourde explained that lobsters from Nova Scotia fetch top prices around the world (and support a billion dollar local industry). The reason for this great success is the belief that these lobsters come from pristine waters. This is true, but may not be for long if fish farms continue their unregulated and unsafe practices.



Local Power

Nigel Solar BarnCongratulations to This Green World co-founder Nigel Thornley for completing the install of 39 PV solar panels on the roof of his barn located in Hants Border, Nova Scotia. A retired electrical engineer, Nigel is also an accomplished carpenter and gardener. He built the barn two years ago for storing wood and farm equipment, but also with the intention of installing solar panels on the roof.

NigelSolarRoof copyI was fortunate to be there filming as Nigel bolted the last panel in place. It was surprising to see how quickly–just a matter of minutes–it took to network the panels together and plug the system into an inverter. By noon, the house was running on its own supply of solar power. This project is the first of three started in the area by a group of neighbors, who ordered their panels together in bulk.


Concepts for a Shifting Landscape: New Models for Energy and Food

PotatoTending1One reason why our environmental problems are so vexing and polarizing is because they are largely self-inflicted. We are the problem. We enjoy the benefits of burning fossil fuels, just as we enjoy the low costs of food that come from industrial farming. However unsafe energy and agriculture practices are causing serious long-term damage, the cost of which is unaccounted for. The good news is: we are also the solution. We can work together to invent new strategies to safeguard the environment while maintaining current levels of productivity. These strategies involve recognizing shifts in a business landscape.

A shifting landscape creates opportunities as well as problems. We need to distinguish two different kinds of solutions to problems. Some solutions solve an immediate problem, but they lead to further problems. Often these further problems are more serious than the original problem. Here’s an example: In the 19th and 20th centuries, people burned coal and other fossil fuels in furnaces, cars and other machines. This solution worked for a time. It solved the one problem of running our machines and supplying power to our cities. However, this solution led to more serious subsequent problems: pollution, climate change, and the acidification of our oceans. A small problem mushroomed into a gigantic problem.

Here’s another example: as our population increases, there is an increased demand for food. The problem is our farmland is limited in size. The short-term solution has been to increase the use of fertilizers and pesticides and at the same time to alter the genes of our favourite plants to make them more resistant to these toxins. This has made farms more productive, with higher yields per acre. Unfortunately this solution has led to more serious subsequent problems: the toxins used on our foods and the genetic modifications have led to an increase in autism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia. In short, we have more food now than before, but the food we have is making us sick. On top of this, the way we’re growing our food is depleting the natural nutrients in the soil and turning farmlands into deserts.

The kind of solution that solves one problem but leads to a more serious problem needs a name. I call it a “net-loss solution.” In contrast, a solution that brings positive long-term benefits might be regarded as a “net-gain solution.” I borrow these terms from the language of accounting. If we are to survive our own self-inflicted problems, we need to encourage or reward those who choose net-gain solutions, while discouraging or punishing those who choose net-loss solutions that threaten the well-being of our communities.

One of our greatest problems is this: we make organizations that operate with net-loss solutions into fortress-like institutions and mighty industries, as if they were essential to our collective identity and sense of self-worth. Blunders made by these entities are dressed up to appear respectable. To reform a destructive practice is regarded as an impossible proposition, an assault on culture itself.

Why is it impossible? These entities are businesses that must respond like any business to the changes taking place around them.

 The New Energy Model, the New Farming Model

People resist change because it’s hard to imagine what the new order will look like, how it will work, how it will affect our jobs, our lives, our families. That’s why we turn to models—conceptual tools that structure the way groups operate and interact. One model that has recently impacted all our lives is the “producer/ sharer” model. This is the model behind mobile technology. The old model in communications allowed a handful of TV stations and newspapers to produce all the content and information for the bulk of the population to passively consume. This was a “producer/ consumer” model. Information only flowed in one direction, from a central TV station or big city newspaper office to households around the country. The average person made little contribution. The Internet has made this model obsolete. Of course there are still TV stations and newspapers, but they now one source of information among many. Today, TV stations and newspapers are like tiny rivers flowing into a vast reservoir of information into which everyone posts stories and shares information. We are all producers of news and information, as well as being sharers. We are active participants.

AmateurSolarThis “producer/ sharer” model is currently shifting the landscape in two other fields: energy and agriculture. As home owners install more and more solar panels, heat pumps and other forms of new energy technology, sending excess power back to the grid, and drawing energy when it’s needed, they become producers of energy as well as sharers of energy. The clean energy technology saves homeowners and businesses money, it helps the environment, but most important, it changes the landscape and the model of industry.

Community gardens and urban farms are also helping people become producers and sharers of food. People dislike the notion of one giant corporate farm feeding the world and feeding it badly. The model is top-heavy and doesn’t work. We want more control over what we eat. We want healthy food that hasn’t been modified in labs and sprayed repeatedly with cancer-producing toxins. The only way to do this is to get involved and grow some of the food ourselves, to grow it locally, and when we can’t do it ourselves, to support those small-scale local farmers who do.

Once the new producer/ sharer model is accepted, as it was in the field of communications, there is no turning back. Our cell phones, Internet, and social media accounts have become indispensible tools that factor seamlessly into our everyday routines.

I like to think that the revolution in social media is only “Part 1” of a larger transformation, a transformation with a powerful underlying purpose. That purpose is to give people the tools to rally and work together at a moment of environmental crisis. We won’t heal the world by talking to each other on our phones. That’s not the tool I’m talking about. The tool I have in mind is a template of interaction that can extend beyond communications to other fields such as energy and food production. This is the producer/ sharer model. In the field of energy it means building a network of local power producers. This might take different forms, such as enabling a million homeowners and small businesses to place solar panels on their roofs. If a network of cell-phone towers can be constructed around the country, why couldn’t a network of solar towers also be constructed? In the same way, it doesn’t take too much imagination to picture individuals planting food gardens in spaces that used to be lawns or vacant lots around the country.

No one’s permission is required. It just needs a million people with the willpower to make it happen. The movement has already started. The early adapters enjoy cheap clean power and healthy food. Others are following because they see that it makes sense not only for themselves but for their communities as well. The key to a producer/ sharer model is not to rely on a central power, whether that’s a giant corporation, a power utility, an industrial farm, or a government, to make things happen. People have to take it upon themselves to install their own solar panels and plant their own gardens and once they do, a meaningful social transformation takes the form of an unstoppable and inevitable movement.

As we enter uncharted waters, people are understandably fearful, reluctant to be the first one in. Tough decisions are always made in the face of fear. That’s what makes them tough decisions. But we can take confidence from the fact that our action plan is modeled after a movement in social media that has not only been successful, but also has allowed a degree of mobility and maneuverability that will be essential to us in the difficult times ahead.

Why I wrote this essay

Concepts are ideas in motion. We cannot change our destructive ways without changing conventional ways of thinking. People need to act with confidence and strong sense of purpose. To do this, we need ideas and core principles upon which to build a unified front. In this essay, I offer a few concepts to help clarify common goals and strategies. I start with the notion that a “tough decision,” is triggered by a “change in a business landscape.” When landscapes shift, both problems and opportunities arise. I argue that “net-gain solutions” are preferable to “net-loss solutions.” I also put forward the concept of a “producer/ sharer model” in contrast to a “producer/ consumer model.” Social media uses a producer/sharer model to great effect. The same model could be applied to the fields of energy and agriculture with similar success.

A day after writing this, I received an email from a friend who is a member of Citizens Climate Lobby Canada (CCLC). This group has been meeting with politicians in Ottawa to work out the perimeters for a national carbon tax, patterned loosely after the carbon tax successfully introduced in British Columbia in 2008. A national carbon tax is a good idea, but it has one flaw. It punishes those who practice net-loss solutions, but it doe not reward those who practice net-gain solutions. In the CCLC proposal, those who use carbon-emitting machines are taxed. The tax is earmarked as “revenue-neutral” with all money collected being redistributed back to Canadian tax-payers. The idea is to benefit low-income groups, who use less carbon-emitting machines than high-income groups. In essence, the low-income groups are given an energy rebate. As the rebate is spent on disposal items, the money gets rechanneled back into the economy, providing a boost for retailers and small businesses. Everyone seems to win.

The problem with this is it does not change the model of industry. It does nothing to build a new de-centralized infrastructure nor does it mobilize the money and resources that are needed for new clean technology. The carbon-emitters simply pass on their increased costs by charging higher fees. Higher fees may eventually create consumer resistance that in time could lead to people seeking other alternatives. We need more direct action.

Let me give a parallel case. Food production is as big a problem as energy and the way we address the one problem will illuminate the way we address the other. In Canada and the United States, food plants, such as wheat, corn and potatoes, are genetically modified to allow greater exposure to toxins. Both the genetic modifications and the toxins that get into our food are harmful to human health. The food keeps us alive, but over time it causes severe health problems. We can kid ourselves and say, having cancer or diabetes or dementia is just the price we have to pay to feed ourselves. This is insanity.

Pall Mall Cigarettes. Guard against throat scratch (1953)If you had told someone 50 years ago that smoking cigarettes causes cancer and that a cigarette tax would be funnelled back into a rapidly expanding healthcare system to offset the increased cases of cancer, people would have said: 1) cigarettes do not cause cancer and 2) you can’t tax a product so many people use because people won’t stand for it, nor will the companies that make tobacco, nor will governments. Today, the cigarette tax is unquestioned. How is the cigarette tax different from the proposed toxic food tax? Cigarettes are luxury items that people can live without. Food is not a luxury item. The purpose of the “toxic food tax” is not to punish self-indulgent people, as we do with the cigarette tax, but to prevent an industry from becoming toxic-food-only. The tax allows consumers an option of buying non-toxic food.

Foods that cause cancer and other illnesses are a net-loss problem. Industrial farmers who grow such foods need to be discouraged or taxed. This tax money needs to be redistributed to organic farmers who are willing to grow foods that do not present risks to people’s health. In this way, the tax has a double benefit. It both punishes and rewards, while financing a new model of production that’s healthier for the environment and for people.

It’s the same with energy. The carbon tax punishes the users of old energy technology with their net-loss solutions, and the money raised by the tax should be redirected to building a de-centralized system of energy producer/ sharers, using new clean energy technology with net-gain solutions.

I started this essay with the slogan: we are the problem, we are the solution. We cannot afford to isolate a few large players as scapegoats, when in truth, as consumers of energy produced by fossil fuels and as consumers of food produced by industrial farms, we are all to blame. We cannot give ourselves an energy rebate when we’ve done nothing in the way of changing habits to deserve it. We need an underlying principle, such as punishing net-loss solutions and rewarding net-gain solutions, and we need to be consistent in applying it. A practical response to a shift in a business landscape, is to wisely reinvest in a new infrastructure—such as using a producer/ sharer model– and the training of people in the technology used by this model. Just as we need a carbon tax, we need a Health Risk Food Tax. This tax money then needs to be directed back to small-scale localized producer/ sharers of clean energy and to small-scale localized producer/ sharers of organic food.

Governments act in response to movements and shifts in popular sentiment. The great thing about small-scale alternatives in energy and food production is that anyone can step in and be part of this transformative process. As the numbers of local producers increases, the movement will grow and become an inevitable force of positive change.


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