Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gordo save yourself, kill the Bute project

Grizzly cubs at Bute Inlet's Orford river. Photo Isabelle Groc Tidelife Photography

Submitted to Office of the Premier Dec. 09, 2009
cc: Kathy Eichenberger, EAO

Dear Premier Campbell,

You have given us so many different reasons why we should give away Bute Inlet to General Electric and Plutonic Power that it has become difficult to keep track.

First, you told us that BC needed Bute’s power for its own domestic use. But the BC Utilities Commission rejected that explanation in a recent decision, stating that we don’t need this additional power. And indeed the 17 power plants which are part of the Bute project would produce most of their energy in the spring and summer when we need it the least. You, however, decided to override that legally binding decision with an executive order.

Then, in the wake of BCUC’s decision, you explained that the reason we needed Bute’s power was actually to save the planet. By sending energy South to California, you said, we would do our part in the “fight against climate change”. But we are now discovering that much of Bute’s planned energy will not be shipped South but rather North – to large mining projects along the planned $400 million Northwest Transmission Line. Mines consume enormous amounts of energy and as such are among the worst contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

Quite a plan to save our climate.

We also discovered that California’s legislature does not want Bute’s energy because it does not consider it to be “green”. The only option that governor Schwarzenegger had left to move ahead was to follow your example – override its legislature with an executive order.

Quite a display of democracy.

Finally, you and your partners from the IPP industry have explained that private power would make BC rich. We would be the “Saudi Arabia of the North”, Plutonic CEO Donald McInnes said. However, thanks to the work of eminent experts such as John Calvert and Marvin Shaeffer, we know that Bute’s private power would cost about twice to produce as its going rate on the energy spot market. Buy high, sell low appears to be the plan.

Quite a business model.

The pieces of the private power puzzle are finally coming together. Take over and ravage BC's watersheds. Produce excess energy which BC does not need. Export some of it to California at a financial loss for the BC taxpayer. Send the rest of it up North to power up some of the most devastating devices to our climate ever built by man – mines.

The people know about the IPP scam, they understand it, they are informed, and they are mad.

Premier Campbell, save yourself. Kill the Bute project.

Yours sincerely,
Ivan Doumenc

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scientists blast DFO over sockeye collapse

Dr. Brian Riddell. Photo Pacific Salmon Foundation

Last night, Simon Fraser University hosted a panel presentation on the Fraser sockeye collapse of 2009.

A group of scientists and field experts had gathered for two days to discuss the causes, impacts, and possible solutions to the salmon crash, and they were now presenting some of their findings to the public.

I was expecting a polite and slightly sedate discussion among members of the scientific and bureaucratic elite, which I somewhat felt are part of the problem rather than the solution in the salmon tragedy.

I changed my mind. To my surprise, I found myself participating in a powerful and genuine moment of reckoning.

A chart of the sockeye collapse (see figure below) was projected on the wall which demonstrated that the salmon’s demise, although particularly devastating in 2009, really started 15 years ago in the early nineties.

One after the other, the panel's scientists and members of the public stood up in front of that chart of almost totemic significance and delivered the same message: how in the world did we let this happen?

Particularly powerful was an exchange between former MP and Minister of Fisheries John Fraser, and former DFO top scientist Brian Riddell who recently resigned from the Department over fundamental policy disagreements.

Fraser, who is retired, was not on the panel but talked instead as a member of the public. All this information about the sockeye, he said, was available to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since day one. Why did this not set any alarm bells, why did this not trigger more research? It poses the essential question of who is in charge at DFO, Fraser commented. It is incredible that a vast department like this could not explain that something was going wrong. Someone at the Department didn't do anything, he concluded.

Riddell responded for the panel. He said that there was no question DFO knew early on about the collapse. As years went by, he added, I asked myself: can I do more inside or outside of DFO over my career’s remaining 10 years? And so I left. Ottawa was asking me: why should we give you more funding for your salmon research when there is no value in the salmon? (At this point, the room went: gasp.) Ottawa has lost understanding of the value of the salmon, Riddell concluded. The people of BC carry great weight in delivering the message back to Ottawa about the salmon’s value, but you are not there yet, he warned.

Mark Angelo, the chair of the panel, pointed out that DFO was invited to participate in the panel’s work sessions but had declined the invitation, invoking the ongoing judicial review over the sockeye collapse. Angelo commented that DFO’s decision was “unfortunate”. He did not use the word stonewall, but his eyes said precisely that.

A member of the public described DFO as a “moribund” administration.

Many questions of the public were directed at salmon research and why more of it wasn’t being done. Angelo’s response was yet another ballistic missile fired at DFO: it bothers me, he said, that we don't have specific parameters in place right now to monitor the Fraser sockeye populations. Riddell jumped in: if we had the proper funding, we could get started on the research right away. We could take concrete steps such as tagging the fish. We can work with a lot of bright people across various organizations. But we need the cooperation of DFO on this. For example, the data on the salmon is a public resource, yet DFO will not release that data for 2009.

Translation for those not fully versed in bureaucratic lingo: DFO, either help us or step out of the way!

Alexandra Morton, who was not on the panel but participated in the two-day work sessions, best captured the spirit of the evening when the panel invited her to answer a question about the impact of fish farms on the Fraser sockeye collapse. We simply don’t know, she said. Fish farms and sea lice could be part of the Fraser collapse or not, and there could also be many other factors involved such as viral infections. But what matters, she said, is that – finally – we are talking about this in the open and the law of silence has been broken.

I had come to this evening expecting a pasteurized lecture by the scientific and bureaucratic establishment on why it’s okay to continue salmon business as usual. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a scientists’ open revolt against the system. Life is like a box of chocolates, Forrest Gump used to say.

My particular admiration goes to Brian Riddell who could have decided to finish off his baby boomer career on a rather tranquil note, waiting for retirement in a DFO corner office and then taking off on an uninterrupted string of oblivious Alaska cruises or whatever else it is that baby boomers do. Instead, he chose to step down, which in his world is the most defiant form of civil disobedience.

What we need here is more Brian Riddells.

Panel participants:

Dr. Mark Angelo
Pacific Fisheries Resource conservation
Rivers Institute, BC Institute of Technology

Dr. John Reynolds
Simon Fraser University

Dr. Brian Riddell
Pacific Salmon Foundation

Dr. Randall Peterman
Simon Fraser University


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vote Rafe Mair year's newsmaker

Rafe Mair. Photo: The Tyee

Rick Glumac sent a message to the members of Save our Rivers!

Subject: Vote for IPPs and Rafe Mair as newsmaker of the year

All has been relatively quiet on the 'Run-of-River' front lately. But 2009 has been an eventful year. Many of us have been doing all we can to alert the public about what 'Run-of-River' means to our province. Perhaps none as eloquently as Rafe Mair, who toured for months, speaking to residents in all corners of the province. He was trying to do what the media should have being doing more of - reporting on the the sale of our rivers and what it means to residents of BC.

"In a nutshell, Campbell forces BC Hydro to buy all the private power produced on a "take or pay basis" at up to twice its value at a time when its not needed, meaning Hydro must sell it at half price into the export market and buy it back at much, much higher prices if they do need power." -- Rafe Mair

And what this means is that it will cost us a LOT of money. Some are estimating that BC Hydro will be losing $300 million dollars per year or more because BC Hydro will be paying far above market rates for this electricity. As one individual recently put it: "At least, after the fast ferries were done, you could park them."

Please help keep this issue in the spotlight. If Rafe wins this contest, 'Run-of-River' will get some of the media attention that it deserves.


Please vote by DEC. 11.



Monday, November 30, 2009

Incredibly stupid units

I reported some time ago how Chris Shaw had renamed the RCMP's 2010 Olympics Integrated Security Unit (ISU) to "Incredibly Stupid Unit", as a tribute to this law enforcement group's ability to shoot itself in the foot for no apparent reason. In particular, the ISU made recent headlines for allegedly harassing a student whose only crime was to know Chris Shaw.

Well, it appears that the Canadian Border Services Agency has just snatched the gold from the ISU in the highly contested "stupidest law enforcement agency" competition.

Award-winning American independent journalist Amy Goodman was on her way to Vancouver last Wednesday to give a talk about her latest book. She was stopped at the Canadian border and grilled for an hour and a half about her intentions in Canada. What the border officers really wanted to know is if Goodman was planning to talk at all about the 2010 Olympics. Problem was, Goodman had no plans whatsoever to talk about those Olympics, not knowing - yet - that there was much to talk about.

Back in her New York offices a few days later, a very upset Goodman who just couldn't wrap her mind around why the Canadian border officers were so obsessed with the Olympics, decided to do what American investigative journalists do best - investigate the matter.

She was not impressed with her findings. Police harassment, stifling of people's rights to freedom of expression, broken Olympic promises, eviction of low-income residents - it all came out like a big Olympic lava flow. Not to mention, of course, intimidation of foreign journalists on their way to a completely unrelated event.

And so this morning, quite logically, she dedicated a large portion of her daily news show Democracy Now! to the civil rights issues surrounding the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. She invited who else but Chris Shaw himself, along with civil rights lawyer David Eby, to explain to her hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners worldwide what the hell is going on in Vancouver.

That broadcast is priceless. Enjoy!

The Vancouver Olympics civil rights question is now front and center in America's independent media news rooms, thanks to the fine work of the Canadian Border officers. Anti-Olympic protesters could not have done a better job. This is truly extraordinary. Where in the world do they recruit those people?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Olympics: City in damage control

Betty Krawczyk protesting the Olympics. Photo John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the lawsuit that Chris Shaw and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe brought against the City of Vancouver with the assistance of lawyer Jason Gratl. The legal challenge was over the City’s anti-Olympic protest bylaw, which according to the two plaintiffs violated the people’s right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter.

I had commented back then on the relevance and brilliance of that lawsuit which could only result in two possible outcomes:
  • either the bylaw would be repealed and the Canadian Charter would come out strengthened;
  • or it would be upheld and the crowd control agenda of the corporate-government complex would be exposed in broad light.
Well, as it turns out we may just be getting the best of both worlds. The City of Vancouver has announced yesterday that it will amend the bylaw to remove some of its most offensive and anti constitutional content. By the looks of it, it will be neutered out of relevance if not repealed altogether. In response, Chris Shaw indicated that he is not prepared to withdraw his lawsuit. His comment to me in an email this morning was that “we have not seen the report to Council and, of course, still don't know what Council will do. In my view, the bylaw changes are not yet sufficient to withdraw the lawsuit.” In effect, he is not letting go until the government's crowd control agenda is fully exposed.

This stunning victory that Shaw may be about to obtain is a vivid reminder to the rest of us demoralized, apathetic and broken down activists that when you are right, you just don't give up. In this instance, all it took was two determined individuals and one lawyer, and a strategic piece of the Olympic repressive apparatus is about to take a humpty dumpty nosedive. Better still, it appears that a solid civil rights coalition is now forming around Shaw in response to this botched attempt by the City and Province to clamp down on our basic freedoms.

One can only wonder what on earth City Council was thinking when they voted this bylaw from another time. First, they sold out to the brutal demands of the transnational corporate complex which owns the Olympics. Now, they are going in damage control after realizing in a panic that Shaw and Westergard-Thorpe’s challenge is not going away. They are tripping all over themselves. What an ugly sight, coming from people of the progressive left who entered this arena with the best intentions and were supposed to bring – ahem – “change” to Vancouver civic politics.

My hat down to COPE councilor Ellen Woodsworth who had both the moral compass and political savvy to know that this thing was way too smelly to write her name under it. She is a true leader and will continue to receive my enthusiastic support.

As for the Vision Vancouver councilors, I have one question. Yeah I love the Burrard bridge bike lane. But is that really all you've got?


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fisheries Act applies: judge

Port Hardy. Photo Tourism Port Hardy.

From Alexandra Morton. Please distribute widely:

Hello All

We are one step closer to applying the laws of Canada to salmon farming! It was a pivotal day in court. Although it is only one more step towards enforcing the laws of Canada on fish farmers, it was essential if we are to bring reason to this situation.

In September I laid charges against Marine Harvest for illegal possession of juvenile wild salmon. This came after months of correspondence with Fisheries and Oceans, asking them to uphold the Fisheries Act and lay a charge themselves.

Today was our third court appearance. The first two were simply to set dates, and then extend those dates so that the Department of Justice could review the details of the case. Today's appearance was a "process hearing" with a judge to lay out the charge and our evidence. The judge could either have refused to issue a summons, or approve the charge.

Today in Port Hardy, the judge approved the charge and a summons will be issued to Marine Harvest to appear in court and the trial could proceed.

There are several directions this could take from this point:

1. The Department of Justice could take the case over and run the case. My lawyer, Jeff Jones and I are hoping this will occur as this is truly David against Goliath, a tiny North Island law firm working Pro Bono to date, against a multi billion dollar international corporation. A round of applause for Jeffery and Marianne Jones they have done so much already!

2. If the Department of Justice takes the case, they could proceed to trial where all evidence can be heard, and a Judge will rule on the merit of the case. Or, the Department of Justice can stay the charges and the case is closed without a trial.

3. Jeff Jones and I might have to run the trial ourselves. While this seems a good idea, the reality is a tidal wave of paperwork that could overwhelm his firm, even though this appears to be an extremely straightforward charge which many fishermen have faced. However, well funded corporate defendants can stretch a trial out for days if not weeks, making it extremely costly for a private citizen to enforce the Fisheries Act.

In any case we are setting precedence. Canada cannot manage its fisheries in a sustainable way unless the laws about how many fish are caught are enforced. Over-fishing is a global problem, it is not sound management to allow salmon farmers unlimited access to BC wild fish.

Thanks to all of you for all your support. If you know anyone who would like to join us in signing the letter to the Minister of Fisheries to PLEASE ENFORCE THE FISHERIES ACT, the letter is still on our website Until the Federal government is willing to uphold the laws of Canada we will continue to do what we can to fill the void.

My deepest thanks to all of you, we face tough stretch ahead, but once again the courts have agreed with our position.

A remarkable film will be released next week on the Global impact of salmon farming, here is the trailer.

No individual can right the wrongs we have wreaked on our planet. Thank you all for being with me on this.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Salmon warriors

BC fish farm. Photo McLean's

As the middle-aged First Nation woman stood up from her wheelchair to speak, the hundred or so people in the room went mute. The tension was palpable. Somehow we knew that we were about to catch hell.

My name is Telquaa, she started with a broken voice. I don't look very strong but I like to think of myself as a woman warrior. When I was a kid I fished salmon with my mother. There were salmon everywhere. My mother would carry two huge salmon at a time on her shoulders. I never thought we would see the end of the salmon. I am happy to see so many people gathered tonight for the salmon. But you are waking up too late. Well, wake up more! Don't let that fish farm thing scare you. Your people brought this upon our people. Now you need to work very hard to bring the salmon back. You have ways, money, knowledge, legs, brains, but what you need is a heart. You have to do it for us. Our people need this bad. Help us!

After that, the only person brave enough to pick up the mike was a humbled Rafe Mair who said that this was the most important speech he had heard in years. The rest of us could only respond with thunderous applause. The last time someone spoke to me like that, I thought as I frantically jolted down what I had just heard, was Harriet Nahanee a few weeks before she died at the hands of the BC justice system.

The occasion of Telquaa's spontaneous cry for help was the premiere of Damien Gillis' latest documentary Farmed Salmon Exposed and the ensuing panel discussion at the SFU Segal Centre on November 12. This film is in my opinion Damien's best production to date. For those familiar with Damien's acclaimed Power Play series on the BC river privatization scandal, his new documentary brings a change in both scope and style.

Damien traveled to Europe and South America to get original footage and a broader understanding of the impact of the fish farm industry in countries such as Norway, Chile, Scotland, Ireland, the Shetland Islands, and Canada of course. Viewers come out of this film with two essential pieces of knowledge. Fish farms are a planetary calamity, not just a local BC one. And they are a social and economic disaster, not just an environmental one, wiping out entire coastal communities in their wake.

And why should we be surprised? If we have learned anything from the past thirty-year regime of neoliberal ideology, it is that environmental protection and social justice are one and the same struggle. This necessary convergence is brought home in a compelling fashion in Damien’s film. While I very much enjoyed the fire of his previous documentaries, I think I like this factual, analytical, almost detached style even better.

The visual drama characteristic of Damien’s work is still very much alive in Farmed Salmon Exposed. For example the last scene of the film – it’s after the credits, make sure you hang around – has a Michael Mooresque tone to it as Damien runs after a Norwegian fish farm baron asking him some hard questions and is answered with slamming elevator doors. But there is more to it than just good footage. The coherence of the fish farm industry’s agenda, its iron grip over weak governments worldwide, its relentless destruction of ecosystems and contempt for the most basic rights of workers and communities, are deconstructed in a way that everyone can understand. This makes Damien’s film an educational and thus deeply democratic enterprise.

One of the panelists, Hereditary Chief Robert Joseph of the Broughton Archipelago Territory, had the following comment for Damien: you are a salmon warrior and I thank you for that.

So true. We are a salmon nation, and I met some of its finest warriors yesterday night. Damien and Rafe Mair and Chief Robert Joseph and the other panelists. Chief Bob Chamberlin of the First Nations Leadership Council. Alexandra Morton who was not there physically but in everyone’s minds and hearts. The folks from the Wild Salmon Circle who hosted this event and are just ordinary people like you and me who became fed up with fish farm bs. And the woman warrior Telquaa, of course.

The Wild Salmon Circle people, a crafty bunch, had a surprise in stock for us. As the panelists and audience were engaged in discussion, they passed around paper and pens, and they challenged us. Write a letter to your Member of Parliament. Write it now. Yes, while you are talking and listening. Come on, you are smart people, you can multitask.

We obliged. A hundred people started writing letters on the edge of their chairs, against a wall, on a book or a backpack. “Dear Hedy,” I wrote. Hmm… “Me again.” Gawd, she must be so tired of me sending her letters about the salmon. What’s the angle going to be this time? Oh, I know! “We need to somehow derail the upcoming Judicial Inquiry to ensure that it does not turn into a polite, formal, empty legal exercise. I want you to relentlessly hunt down the Conservatives in the corridors of Parliament building and put their feet to the fire. This is not about reason. This is about force. We must force government to hear reason”, etc.

This must have been one of my better letters written to an MP, yet it took me about 6 minutes to write it. Such is the power of spontaneity. Don’t trash this one Hedy, it’s a keeper.

Yeah, I guess I must be a salmon warrior. You who are reading this, are you a salmon warrior too? Well then wake up more! Write a letter to your MP. Then post it on your Facebook. Join the Wild Salmon Circle if you haven’t done it yet. Talk to your friends and family until their ears fall off. Get up and fight!


Friday, October 30, 2009

Chris Shaw sues City over civil rights

UBC professor and Olympics watchdog Chris Shaw. Photo The Blackbird.

I was planning to spend Vancouver's long Olympic Winter hiding under a rock.

Indeed, I didn't see the point of picking a fight against the mighty Olympics. How does one even start doing that? So I resigned myself. Calendar cleared, TV unplugged, mind set to zen, heavy books stockpiled: I was ready to kill some Olympic time.

My plans have been upset. The BC Government and Vancouver City Council have turned over my rock. The brats. Against my will and my better judgment, they have thrown me back into service as an anti-Olympic activist.

Here's what happened. The Campbell government is about to pass Bill 13 which will allow three cities – Vancouver, Whistler, Richmond – to enact repressive bylaws designed to quash public protest during the Olympics. Last July, Vancouver City Council preemptively voted a bylaw precisely to that effect. All they are waiting for now is the Provincial nod to bring that monster to life.

This past Friday, I sat down for lunch with someone who has actually decided to pick a fight head on with the authorities: UBC professor and Olympics watchdog Chris Shaw, who is suing the City of Vancouver with fellow activist Alissa Westergard-Thorpe over its anti-protest bylaw. I wanted him to explain what he was up to.

Shaw obliged gracefully. The Canadian Charter of Rights – particularly its section 2 – is an insufferably boring irrelevant old rag, he explained, if this bylaw ever comes to be. Among other things, the bylaw orders that, under penalty of heavy fines and prison time (yes I know: what?!), there will be:
  • no signs on a stick
  • no blocking of someone's view with that sign
  • no voice amplification device
  • no interfering with another person's enjoyment of the pro-Games celebrations (whatever that is supposed to mean)
  • no material that does not celebrate the Games
Obviously, this has ceased to be about the Olympic games. Whether you are a personal fan of the 5 rings or not, you've got to hate this bylaw. The blow that this legislation strikes to our most basic civil liberties is mind expanding.

So much for the image of Vancouver's City Council as being a progressive bunch. The cat is out of the bag. Vision Vancouver has obamized itself. It has sold out to the transnational corporate agenda and neoliberal shock doctrine, like so many other leftists before them. As I ponder the number of true progressives sitting on this Council (some of which I know personally and whose good intentions I can vouch for), I measure the massive pressure that they have been submitted to, as they approached the iron core of the corporate planet. Nobody, left or right, can resist such crushing forces.

While I am sitting across the restaurant table from Chris Shaw, I realize the relevance of his legal action and the supreme intelligence of it. If he wins, Bill 13 is killed in its tracks, the Charter of Rights is strengthened as it builds precedent against such laws in the future. If he loses, he fully exposes the crowd control agenda of the corporate-government complex, and lays the ground for a public backlash against this bill. Brilliant.

The Olympics? They are a mere distraction. They are so totally... 2010. In Shaw's analysis, the corporate elites and their political sycophants are already many years down the road actively planning their next strategic moves. A legal framework allowing swift and decisive use of force against public discontent is one of such strategic moves which deserves careful advance planning, as it may deliver a stunning checkmate against the public in the event that things went south for the elite class.

Shaw has figured it all out since day one, while the rest of us were still happily waving our Canadian flags and cheering about this “Our Time to Shine” nonsense.

What a towering figure, I thought, as Shaw was paying his bill and on his way out to his next appointment. When do I get to see that guy sitting on City Council representing my interests? Shaw for Mayor!

Another tall giant also living in our remote regions, Rafe Mair, recently paid a vibrant tribute to Chris Shaw in a Tyee editorial soberly called Chris Shaw Was Right. I'll let you read his splendid column, but here is one quote that stood out for me:

“The IOC has been given the right to decide where Canadians can exercise their rights and where they cannot – and what form their protests may take!”

No way I am going back under that rock now. Not after hearing the voices of Chris Shaw and Rafe Mair. I have already offered my services to Shaw in any capacity that he sees fit, and I encourage everyone of you to do so too (he's at I mean, hello – those are your freedoms! And if that brings the under-cover agents of the ISU breathing down my neck and checking my daily whereabouts (Shaw calls them the “Incredibly Stupid Unit”), so be it.

The supreme irony is this. Had government not drew first blood by voting this barbarian law that was supposed to deter me from taking action, I'd still be busy setting my comfy retreat under my rock.

And they would not have heard of me.


Private power: scam of the century

Photo: government of BC.

You may have hit some headlines this morning announcing that the Campbell government has ordered BC Hydro to reclassify Burrard Thermal as a backup power plant and thus write it off its roster of electricity sources.

If you need some background on the story, here is a report from Georgia Straight's Matthew Burrows.

People of BC beware! You are being manipulated by the Campbell government.

The "decommissioning" of Burrard Thermal is a politician's smoke screen to justify the awarding of thousands of unneeded megawatts to private power corporations.

Here is why. Burrard Thermal is a backup plant. Always has. Always will be. And so Campbell's announcement that this plant will be used as a backup plant changes nothing at all in the real world. On paper however, BC Hydro has just "lost" 6,000 GwH which need to be "replaced". How? Well, through private power of course!

This summer, the BC Utilities Commission dissented with Campbell's plan to sell out our rivers. The independent commission ruled that BC Hydro's request for new energy was grossly inflated because energy conservation has not yet been properly tapped into.

To justify the "need" for private power in spite of this ruling, the Campbell government needed to come up with a magic trick. Burrard Thermal provided just that.

The problem of course - are you ready for this? - is that run-of-river energy plants are structurally incapable of providing the energy needed by British Columbians. Indeed, those private power plants produce their peak energy in the spring and summer, whereas we need most of our energy in the winter. It's a hard fact dictated by the laws of hydrology.

Consequently, the majority of electrons produced by private run-of-river plants are destined to California, profiting the bottom lines of General Electric, Plutonic Power, and other transnational corporations, but not British Columbians.

This private power business is the scam of the century. Or at least in the early part of it, who knows what they'll come up with next.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Farmed fish prey on wild salmon !

Partly digested wild salmon smolt found in Atlantic salmon. Photo Alexandra Morton.

From Alexandra Morton's blog:

According to a Marine Harvest press release 40,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from their pens in Port Elizabeth in Knight Inlet on Oct. 21. Two days later commercial fishermen were catching them 40 km away.

I examined 20 Atlantics caught on the north shore of Malcolm Island and one had a salmon smolt in it's stomach. There are not many salmon smolts in the area at this time of year so it was surprising this Atlantic managed to find and consume one in only two days out of the farm. This picture shows the partly digested salmon smolt from this male 8 pound Atlantic salmon.

When 1,000s of wild salmon, herring and blackcod juveniles get lured into fish farms by the lights and food, it is hard to imagine the farm salmon don't eat them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sockeye crash judicial inquiry

[This from Alexandra Morton.

The link to the MP's petition discussed below is here. You have to print it out and send it (free postage) for it to count.

It's easy as pie if you have a double sided printer. Otherwise no worries, just throw it in a good old fashioned envelope ;-) and mail it without postage to:

Peter Julian, MP
Room 178 - Confederation Building
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6]

Hello All

Good News Finally! Peter Julian, Member of Parliament – New Westminster has just launched a petition for a Judicial Inquiry into the Fraser sockeye crash.

CONSIDER THIS: If there had been a Judicial Inquiry into the declining North Atlantic cod, we would have rebuilt that fish stock by now because we would have discovered that the critical research by Dr. Ransom Myers of DFO was being suppressed by DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans).

Here we are again. DFO is completely silent, they have not even acknowledged that the Fraser sockeye crash pattern is extremely specific and provided the media with misinformation.

A judicial inquiry will place people under oath so they can be heard over the politics.

Please go to Peter Julian’s website

And download the petition document, and sign.

This has to be a paper copy, there can be 1 signature on a page, or a full page of signatures, the address is on the document and postage to the federal government is free.

You cannot say you care about wild salmon if you don’t make this effort. This will make a very big difference in the future of BC and the eastern pacific.

Alexandra Morton


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear Hedy, save the Fry

Hedy Fry at the 2009 Vancouver pride parade.
Photo Harper Valley

Hon. Hedy Fry
Member of Parliament, Vancouver Centre
Denman Place Mall
106 - 1030 Denman St
Vancouver, BC V6G 2M6

October 1, 2009

Dear Hedy,

I have been living in the West End for the past 13 years. I ask you to use the parliament question periods to relentlessly ask PM Harper what his plans are to bring the sockeye back from the brink. So far, his plans have been limited to PR campaigns in Norway to let people in power know that BC was open for fish farm business.

I don't need to tell you how essential the sockeye is to our entire coastal ecosystem. You live here. You know.

The link between sea lice and fish collapse is clear. Marine Harvest has actually helped better demonstrate that link by using the SLICE neurotoxin to delouse its farms. That boosted the pink salmon tremendously, they are back in great numbers this year. However, SLICE only lasts for 6 weeks, and by the time the sockeye smolts came out the sea lice had returned.

A striking short documentary by local film maker Twyla Roscovitch shows the extent of the sea lice infestation on sockeye, and also brings us some very sad news: based on observed levels of sea lice infestation, next year will be another disaster year for the sockeye. Please Hedy, if you have not seen this documentary yet, do it now.

Fish farms are at the epicenter of this calamity. How else can one explain that in a same year, pinks would be thriving while sockeye would be crashing? The climate change explanation, in particular, does not cut it.

SLICE, unfortunately, cannot be used as a long term solution because the sea lice adapt. This has been abundantly documented in Norway, a country which has learned this lesson the hard way by virtually losing all of its wild salmon runs to fish farms.

Hedy, your work is cut out. Talk, cry, scream, do whatever it takes in parliament to grab the attention of our autistic prime minister. Open pen fish farms must be shut down immediately.

If Marine Harvest wants to do the right thing and run closed fish farms instead, they will have my blessing and support. But we CANNOT afford to wait until they make up their mind.

Thank you,

Ivan Doumenc
Vancouver, BC

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Private power: Why we are winning

Anti-IPP rally in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Photo Petra Drncova

I have been on the losing end of enough environmental battles to recognize a potential victory when I see it.

Over the past few months, the raging battle to stop the privatization of British Columbia's rivers has morphed into a distinct win opportunity. Here is why:
  • Today, the public is well aware of the scheme to privatize British Columbia's rivers. A year ago, it was not. This is one of the key accomplishments of the past provincial election which was so disheartening to many. It has put the independent power producer (IPP) issue on the map, defeating the government's objective of privatizing our rivers by stealth.
  • The BC government has already lost the private power battle in rural British Columbia and is in full retreat there. Local communities throughout the province are mad as hell at the scheme to dam and divert their rivers and creeks. They have never forgiven Campbell for Bill 30 which strips municipalities of their zoning authority. The West Kootenays, in particular, are a hotbed of explosive popular discontent over the private power gold rush. People have expressed it loud and clear in public meetings, protests, letters to the editor, public comments, etc. Civil disobedience is the next step in the Kootenays if nothing changes. The government is now in damage control in this region. In all likelihood, it is preparing to kill the highly controversial Glacier/Howser project in an attempt to calm down the population.
  • Over the summer, the BC Utilities Commission slapped the government and its corporate friends in the face by rejecting BC Hydro's 2008 call for power, on the basis that it was "not in the public interest". In spite of fierce astroturf attempts to discredit the BCUC in the public eye, this decision gave a tremendous credibility boost to the claim that IPPs are indeed a corporate scam.
  • The BC Liberals responded to the BCUC's decision by overriding it, which is tantamount to an institutional coup. Indeed, the BCUC is an independent public body and its decisions are meant to be binding. When a government uses its executive power to override a legally binding decision, you know that this government's policy is on shaky ground.
  • About half of this year's BC government throne speech was dedicated to justifying the BC Liberal "green" energy plan. To say the least, Gordon Campbell felt that he had some explaining to do to the public regarding his private power agenda.
  • The BC government has finally admitted the obvious, after years of vociferous denial: that so-called "run-of-river" private power projects are primarily meant for export to California. However, California's existing laws do not recognize our energy as "green". The California lawmakers have refused to amend that legislation in spite of massive lobbying efforts by the BC government. So much so that the only option available to gov. Schwarzenegger - Gordo's "green" buddy - was to recently veto a California state legislature bill unfavorable to run-of-river. Another executive override to a legally binding decision. Shaky ground indeed.
  • Both Campbell and Schwarzenegger are at all-time popularity lows in the polls. An election tomorrow morning in either place would wipe them out of office. Not the best of positions to perform an executive override to a legally binding decision. Did I mention that the ground was shaky?
  • California will not need BC's ungreen energy in the future, because it is rapidly building its own green solar power capacity, having recognized that solar is clean, abundantly available at home, cheaper by the month, and brings badly needed jobs to that state's failing economy. The rationale for importing BC's energy to California is running thin. It can only, at best, be justified as a temporary stop-gap measure until California's solar capacity comes online - five years, ten at most. This is one of the reasons why the California legislature is so reluctant to greening up BC's ungreen energy. Opening the floodgates to that energy would potentially sabotage the takeoff of California's nascent solar industry.
  • In the context of a stubbornly deep recession and global energy bubble, the world is entering an era of energy overproduction. This means that the energy pie can only shrink over time for corporations engaged on that market. As a result, corporate players are fiercely fighting among themselves for a piece of that pie. British Columbia is no exception. In particular, small IPP players are not pleased with the mammoth-size Bute Inlet "run-of-river" project put forward by Plutonic Power and General Electric. Indeed, if that 1,027 MW project is approved, there will only be scraps left for smaller players. This makes them tactical allies of environmental groups and grassroots organizations, at least for a time. That could be amusing.
  • Speak of public discontent. With the unraveling of the US financial bailout scam, the average citizen in BC, like elsewhere, is increasingly skeptical (that would be a euphemism) about the true intentions and motives of large transnational corporations. So when the BCUC says that private power projects are not in the public interest, and grassroots groups deconstruct the IPP scam, people are rather inclined to listen.
I was a witness of that a couple weeks ago when an astroturf pro-IPP group calling themselves "BC Citizens for Green Energy" (!!) published a letter in the Georgia Straight and was subsequently shot down by an avalanche of unhappy public comments who called them off as frauds. The astroturfers left the scene with a digital nosebleed, it wasn't a pretty sight.

For all those reasons, I'm pretty upbeat about our chances of seeing this campaign through to a successful conclusion. I'm definitely more optimistic about our chances than I was a year ago. I am quite confident that our adversaries are in an opposite mood right now - especially after thinking for a brief moment that they had wrapped it after the last provincial election. They have had disaster after disaster since then.

On the wall of the Wilderness Committee's office in Vancouver, there is a quote that sums for me the mood of this IPP campaign:

First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oct 3 Rally for Wild Salmon

Join the Oct 3 Rally for Wild Salmon – Presented by the Wild Salmon Circle

The Wild Salmon Circle is a citizen action group recently formed to build a large-scale public movement to save wild salmon from total collapse on our coast. The rally will feature music, information, and speakers including Alexandra Morton, Chief Bob Chamberlin, and representatives of the wilderness tourism, commercial, and sports fisheries.

Saturday, Oct. 3 @ 1pm - Vancouver Art Gallery (Georgia St. side between Howe and Hornby)

Bring your family, art, music, salmon stories, pots n’ pans. We’ll provide speakers with real solutions & entertainment for all ages!

Wild Salmon are in crisis. We need to get sea lice and disease breeding salmon farms out of ancient migratory routes and off our coast permanently.
  • Join the Wild Salmon Circle – citizens concerned with the state of wild salmon
  • Don’t Buy Farmed Salmon – tell your shops & restaurants to stop carrying it or you will not purchase their goods.
  • Sign the petition – 18,000 people already signed it at:
  • Write Prime Minister Harper – 80 Wellington St., Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A2;; fax: 613-941-6900.
  • Also, write Fisheries Minister Shea – Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Parliament Buildings, Wellington St., Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6;

Friday, September 18, 2009

Morton sues Marine Harvest

Biologist Alexandra Morton has laid charges under the Federal Fisheries Act against Marine Harvest Canada Inc. for illegal possession of wild juvenile salmon from an endangered stock.

Hundreds of small salmon were apparently seen spilling onto a dock in Port McNeill June 16, during a transfer of live Atlantic salmon brood stock from the fish farm vessel M.V. Orca Warrior. The vessel's registered owner is Marine Harvest.

"When I received photos of the incident minutes later," says Morton, "I was really surprised the fish lying on the road were young pink salmon, I could not understand what were they doing in Marine Harvest's boat."

"Marine Harvest emailed stating that the young wild salmon had come from the Potts Bay fish farm, just west of Glendale River in Knights Inlet," says Morton. "They were apparently in the farm salmon pens and were scooped up with the Atlantic salmon. We have no idea how many pink salmon ended up going down the highway in the tanks on the truck."

When Morton took her boat to the Potts Bay fish farm she said she saw large schools of pink salmon leaping inside the pens.

"While millions of tax payers dollars and environmental donations have been spent to protect the Glendale River pink salmon from fish farms, last fall was the lowest return yet.

"These are the offspring from that generation and far from safe, they are right in the farm and in their fish packers," said Morton.

Morton has published 15 scientific papers on juvenile pink salmon.

Morton's lawyer, Jeffery Jones corresponded with DFO for six weeks but the Department did not taken any action.

"I have received many reports over the years of herring, black cod and wild salmon in farm pens. The escaped Atlantic salmon that fishermen bring me often have wild fish in their stomachs.

"Are Norwegian farm salmon fattening up on wild BC fish?

"What happens to the wild fish when the nets are pulled?

"What happened to the pink salmon that may have been in the truck?

"DFO has often charged commercial and sport fishermen with illegal possession to protect wild fish, why won't they charge fish farms for the same violation?," asked Morton.

Morton asks that anyone with information on other wild fish in fish farms to contact her at

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Province stops clock on Kootenay IPP

Photo WaterWalk

Fantastic news from West Kootenay EcoSociety's Lee-Ann Unger.

The proposed Glacier/Howser private power project has been put on hold by the Environmental Assessment Office.

This is not over yet (I'm sure you're tired of me saying that) but it's yet another major blow to the BC Liberals' river privatization plans.

My personal comments:
  • Hurray to the people of the West Kootenays! They are my personal heroes and they show us that it can be done, that those mindless Independent Power Producer projects can be stopped. I already paid them tribute here and here, but the magnitude of their feat cannot be overemphasized.
  • The Environmental Assessment Office is a government agency. The EAO does not have the independence of the BC Utilities Commission. It takes orders from Victoria. So any decision that the EAO makes is essentially a Gordon Campbell decision.
  • The Campell government is acknowledging the furious resistance to river privatization in the West Kootenays. It has read the letters of protest that many of you have written. It is trying to defuse the Kootenays bomb before it blows up. It is, IMHO, prepared to jettison AXOR's Glacier/Howser if that's what it takes.
  • The government is playing a smart card here. If they do kill Glacier/Howser, they will be able to trumpet that the environmental assessment process "works". If I were them, that's exactly what I would do. Let's not be naive. The next battle of this endless war will be fought in the public opinion and will be on the issue of whether the environmental assessment process works or not. Get ready to write many letters to the editor!
  • All eyes on Bute Inlet. If Glacier/Howser does get denied, the government is likely to use it as a weapon to get Bute Inlet approved. They cannot afford to lose Bute Inlet. If they do, this IPP business is essentially over. This means that if we have the same kind of public opposition on the Coast as we have seen in the Kootenays, we win. And that, my friends, would be momentous.
Our work is cut out. All hands on deck!


September 9, 2009
Province Stops the Clock On Controversial Private Power Project

Nelson, British Columbia – The proposed Glacier/Howser private power project has hit a major environmental snag and is again floundering over fish. In a surprising move, the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) stopped the clock on the review of the controversial private power project due to impacts on fish and fish habitat noting these posed a “significant challenge” for the proposed project.
“This is a significant step for the Environmental Assessment Office. It shows that AXOR hasn’t done their homework and there are such serious risks to the environment that the government had to stop the clock. It is a step in the right direction,” says Lee-Ann Unger, West Kootenay EcoSociety. “ However, the fact that the EAO cannot reject the project, regardless of its environmental impact, clearly illustrates problems with the process.”
The EAO suspended the environmental review of the 100MW Glacier/Howser project half way into the 180day assessment process. They are requiring AXOR, the project’s proponent, to gather additional information on fish and fish habitat impacts before they complete the process. The review would be resumed if and when AXOR provides this information. The timeline for the suspension has not been confirmed. Surprisingly, there is no legislation in place to provide the EAO with the ability to reject a project regardless of its environmental impact.
Environmental assessments are designed to assess project components, work with proponents to mitigate project impacts and to make recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Minister of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources. The Ministers make the final decision on whether a project is to be approved.
“In simple terms this project should not go ahead, not now, and not in the future. It should be dead in the water. Its construction would come at too high an environmental cost,” Unger states. “AXOR has had ample time to collect information for the assessment. More time is not going to make this project environmentally sound. It’s time for AXOR to pack up its environmentally irresponsible plans for Glacier and Howser creeks and move them out.”
This project, the largest of its kind proposed for the Kootenays, has been dogged by controversy due to the negative impact it would have on important bull trout populations, a number of threatened and endangered species including grizzly bears, and plans to permanently divert water from four creeks.
The EAO suspension comes on the heels of a series of events including more than 1,100 people flooding a government public meeting on the project in Kaslo, exceeding the town’s population; the BC government receiving more than a thousand public submissions on the project, with more than 90% of these expressing opposition to it; and a joint submission made to the EAO by the Ktunaxa Nation Council, Okanagan Nation Alliance and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), which deemed the project’s potential impacts to fish and fish habitat unacceptable.

For more information or for photos contact: Lee-Ann Unger (250) 226-7829


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Twyla Roscovich on sea lice

A must-see documentary by Twyla Roscovich on salmon fish farms. It specifically addresses the issue of sea lice and Marine Harvest's usage of the SLICE neurotoxin to try to control the epidemic.

Also, I asked Alexandra Morton yesterday why the pink of the Broughton Archipelago are recovering this year while the Fraser sockeye have crashed and how this relates to the sea lice. I am posting her response below:

First of all they went to sea in different years, 2007 for the sockeye and 2008 for the pinks.

Second the fish farmers are delousing their fish in early spring to accommodate the pinks because we all raised this high enough in the media. I looked at both the pinks and the sockeye that are returning this year. The Pinks in both Discovery Islands and Broughton has low lice levels. Marine Harvest deloused their fish and this reduced the lice on the pinks.

But the drug only lasts about 6 weeks and so the sockeye I looked at in the Discovery Islands had heavy lice loads only weeks after the pinks had passed through relatively cleanly.

But I really suspect a disease problem here. The pinks that went through the Discovery Islands with these sockeye in 2007, came home last year and the Broughton was the lowest return yet and the southern pinks I don’t think did well at all either.

I wonder if this is why the Province bailed on fish farms two days ago. I would really like to know what they know.



Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dear Harald, Save our Salmon

My letter to the King of Norway:

August 21, 2009

Your Royal Highness,

I would like to express my firm opposition to the operation of open net fish farms in British Columbia, and appeal to you to help Canadians protect their cherished wild salmon.

BC's wild salmon stocks are collapsing. Wild salmon is a cornerstone species in BC, with so many other species depending on it, such as the grizzly bear and orca whale to name only two. Orcas are reported to be starving off our coasts for lack of salmon.

According to many scientists, open net fish farms operated by Marine Harvest are a likely contributor to this ongoing collapse.

The people of BC reject open net fish farms en masse: local businesses and politicians, first nations, commercial and sports fishermen, coastal communities, environmentalists, and average citizens such as myself.

Yet our Provincial and Federal governments remain autistic and refuse to acknowledge both the ongoing ecological catastrophy and the people's opposition to open net fish farms, favoring instead the interests of a single corporation which happens to be close to the center of power.

People here know that the ecological impacts of open net fish farms are devastating, and that the economic benefit to their communities in terms of jobs and income is close to nil. They think that the continued operation of those fish farms by Marine Harvest in spite of overwhelming opposition is a disgrace and a scandal. As a result, Marine Harvest is creating a negative image of Norway in BC, which is very unfair to your country.

The scandal must be stopped. I urge you to use all of your constitutional powers to influence policy in a direction favorable to the wild salmon and people of British Columbia.


Ivan Doumenc
Vancouver, BC


Monday, August 31, 2009

Worms of the world, unite!

Earlier last spring, I put my six-year old and the kid next door to work on an unusual project. We studied together a "how to" YouTube video, then we set ourselves to build a worm compost bin for my balcony garden.

The girls turned out to be awesome students. They drilled the holes in the Rubbermaid container, they shredded the newspaper to create a comfy worm bed, they placed the decomposing vegetable scraps (which they renamed the yucky food) into the bin.

The worms themselves had arrived the night before by regular mail. When I popped open the little Canada Post box and showed the girls the red wrigglers roaming through the ziplock bag, they looked at me in disbelief. What a weird dad, they thought.

Putting worms to work for one's own benefit does require some cultural adjustment. In our western collective psyches, worms are more associated with decay and death than help and work. They take our imaginations to the cemetery rather than to a basket of juicy tomatoes. My wife has already put me on notice: play as you want on the balcony, but those worms are not coming inside. I haven't broken her the news yet that at one point in the winter they will have to, or they will freeze to death. One argument at a time.

For my part, I am very fond of my worms and find them to be among the mightiest creatures on the planet. They add considerable value to my balcony garden. Without them, the sterile soil of my pots would be exhausted in a single season and I would depend on the ready made fertilizer bags found at the plant store. My worms close the circle on this tiny ecosystem of mine. To say that I am grateful to them for their invaluable work would be quite a understatement, when what I am really saying is that mankind ought to dedicate a cult to that fantastic animal.

Of course, a biologist would interject that, technically, my worms don't work. They eat. They metabolize the vegetal residues that I place in the bin for them, and their metabolic activity creates fecal waste which happens to be extremely beneficial to my plants.

"Work" is another concept altogether, quite different from a worm's daily feast, or so I am told. It is an act of the will rather than that of the stomach. As such, it is a specific attribute of man, setting him aside from every other living species. As Marx famously wrote, "a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality." Human labor, Marx added, is the only force capable of creating more value than it initially has. Nature merely provides man with the material conditions for value creation, in the form of natural resources.

It depends, I guess, on the definition one gives to value. Value defined as an exchange-value bought and sold on a market is distinctively human. Value understood as use-value however, as previously discussed here, finds its origin in nature. The value I am adding to my balcony garden is marginal. The plants combine solar energy and soil nutrients to produce protein out of thin air. The worms feed dead plants back to the living as they feed themselves along the way. Clearly, they - not I - perform the bulk of the work.

Me? I am just the middle man, awkwardly standing in the way of that metabolic miracle, levying my food tax based on the dubious claim that I am the lord of the balcony. All I do there is orchestrate a process which I comprehend and control only in the shallowest of manners. My primary contribution to this arrangement is to keep everything potted, sealed, and in my custody. And oh yeah, I throw in some food scraps and water whenever I remember.

If my balcony were a factory, I would be employed as a rather incompetent manager. The real worker on that factory's floor is the worm. I am to my worms what the capitalist is to his workers, a parasitic exploiter of labor power. You agree with my wife and daughter that I am out to lunch? Well try this. Imagine if the worms of the world went on strike. Then you would know who indeed produces value, and who really is the lord of my balcony.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The multiple shades of 'No'

Anti-IPP rally in Kaslo, British Columbia. Photo Damien Gillis

In a previous post, I talked about BC's "independent power producer" (IPP) scheme. A column by Mark Hume in yesterday's Globe and Mail captures well the shift in the public mood regarding this river privatization business.

Hume has spent time reading some of the public comments posted on the BC Environmental Assessment Office website regarding the Glacier/Howser project in the Kootenays, and he has reached the conclusion that "people are more than a little opposed".

I myself have spent part of last weekend helping Lee-Ann Unger from the West Kootenay EcoSociety read through the thousand or so public comments posted on the EAO website regarding Glacier/Howser. We tallied the number of submissions in favor and against that project.

The batch I was assigned contained 242 letters. I counted 239 letters opposed to the project (98.8%), and 3 in support (1.2%).

Against all expectations, that work was anything but tedious. It was actually very empowering. Not because of the clerical nature of the task I was performing, but because of the material I was reading.

I didn’t know it was possible to say ‘No’ in so many different ways. They came in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Some letters were pretty long, others were two-liners, some were professional mini-reports complete with bullet points and appendixes, others were hand written on flower motif paper. Some came from seniors, students, first nations, business owners, engineers, environmentalists, doctors, local residents, city people, immigrants. It was like standing right inside the Canada census.

I invite everyone to randomly read some letters from the EAO website. Then you will know what I am talking about. And if you happen to hit one of the 3 letters in my batch that support the project, the beer is on me!

The people know about the IPP scam, they understand it, they are informed, and they are mad. And I thought I was one of a handful fighting those private river projects, when in reality there was an entire army marching with me.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Beautiful work

Photo Isabelle Groc

Gardening, as any fellow gardener will confirm, is pretty hard work. It is also one of the most joyful activities of my week.

People ask me why I like gardening so much. My preferred cynical response is that gardening is the only type of activism where my work actually makes a difference. For the better and for the worse, my labor – or lack thereof – usually shows in my garden.

Gardening redefines my relation to work. For a few hours per week, I escape the complex servitudes of wage labor and I become the owner of my means of production. It's not just that I own my gardening tools and seeds, which are really too cheap to meter. But I control the whole process of production of my vegetables, from planning to weeding to planting to watering to harvest. And of course, during those few hours I am also the owner of my time.

The rest of the week, I am employed to write someone else's software from a cubicle and a computer which I don't own. I share with millions of other workers the uncomfortable knowledge that I must sell my labor power on the market every day, or starve. Famine is a somewhat remote and theoretical threat living in an affluent society such as ours and holding a good job such as mine. I am definitely at the top of the workers' food chain. But I am a worker nonetheless, and as such liable to starvation by joblessness, because I do not own my means of production nor my labor time. Except for those few hours per week when I am in my garden.

The labor that I expend in my garden undoubtedly produces value, in the form of something useful to my family and myself, vegetables. It produces use-value. The vegetables that I harvest over the summer would not have existed without my work. Left to its own device, my garden would have merely produced weeds. No doubt, those weeds are quite essential to a rich ecosystem which I mindlessly destroy through my constant weeding. But they have no place in the simpler, edible ecosystem that I am trying to establish in my garden through all my hard labor. The use-values – the veggies – coming out of my garden are literally a crystallization of my own labor. As Marx once wrote, value is indeed congealed human labor.

The labor that I expend in my cubicle produces something that is hopefully useful to someone else. But it certainly has no use-value to me. I have absolutely no use for the software applications that I am writing in there. I am getting something out of it of course, but of a different nature. I am exchanging my labor power for a paycheck. That labor power which I am giving away in exchange for money is a commodity which can be bought and sold on the labor market – an exchange-value. The resulting software is also a congelation of my human labor.

On a typical month, the money that I earn from my employer is used to live on until the next paycheck. I'll pay my rent, bills and credit cards, buy some food and other stuff, download a movie or two on my iPod, and if I'm lucky lay some of it aside for retirement, but probably not this month. That money will essentially allow me to stay in shape as a functional software programmer through the next pay period, hopefully preventing me from getting fired, and giving me the right to earn another pay check.

Those two forms of labor don't have much in common, yet they are both work. Or are they? Maybe I'm deluding myself entirely with my garden. Indeed I am only there when I am off work, on my “leisure time”. They say that gardening is a form of therapy, and perhaps indeed this therapy is part of my personal process of getting back into shape for the next pay period and earning that next paycheck without getting myself fired. Perhaps the hard work that I expend in my garden is merely hard play. Damn. And I thought I was doing something meaningful there, such as turning my life around and gradually breaking free from the complex servitudes of wage labor. That wouldn't be the first time I have deluded myself. I'll think about it next time I am in my garden.

The other problem is this: what about all the labor that I am not the one producing in my garden? I am the one doing the weeding and the watering, but I certainly am not the one doing the growing. It's true that I expend labor in my garden for a few hours per week. But it's also true that nature works totally for free the rest of the week, and somehow seamlessly combines its forces to mine to produce my vegetables. When I sleep or idle around aimlessly in my apartment, my veggies still grow. Conversely, I could labor day and night in my garden, if nature did not provide such simple things as the process of photosynthesis which is tantamount to black magic to me, there would be no vegetables in my garden, nor any weeds either for that matter. Tomorrow, the forecast for Vancouver is rain. Good, this means I don't have to water. The following day, the forecast is sun. This means that my veggies will do their black magic thing and grow, whether I show up in the garden or not. How does one account for the free work that nature performs for me? How is all of nature's own free labor congealed into the use-values of my garden?

The big guy Marx says that you don't need to worry about the congealing of nature's work because it all comes down to human productivity. If nature is helping out in my garden for free, then my garden will produce a greater amount of veggie use-values in the same amount of my labor time. So labor time, not the forces of nature, is the important factor here. Nature can thus be safely discounted in the labor theory of value because all the free work it provides is recaptured once I put my slumbering powers to work in my garden for those few hours per week. And that, according to the big guy, is all there is to it. Do I sound convinced? Hardly. One more thing I will have to think about next time I am in my garden.

Meanwhile, I will chew on this beautiful quote by a Cuban urban farmer who, when asked if he liked working in his garden, replied: “Este es trabajo bonito”. This is beautiful work. And at the end of the week, that is all there is to it.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Damien Gillis explains run-of-river

Bute Inlet. Photo Damien Gillis

The BC Utilities Commission, the province's independent regulatory agency for gas and electricity, has just rejected BC Hydro's 2008 call for power. This effectively brings the entire "IPP" river privatization scheme championed by the Campbell government down to its knees.

It's not game over yet for the transnational corporations involved in those projects, but it certainly is a strategic victory towards the protection of Bute Inlet and other BC rivers and watersheds. Plutonic Power's stock, for example, crashed a whopping 24.5% on the day after the announcement.

I am posting a must-hear radio interview by Damien Gillis, one of Vancouver's most talented environmental documentary makers and a personal friend. He talks about this groundbreaking BC Utilities Commission's decision, as well as "run-of-river" private power projects in general.

In less than 15 minutes Damien lays down in plain English all we need to know about the Campbell government's agenda to privatize BC's rivers and what is so wrong about it.

His eloquence is quite contagious. Simi Sara, the radio show host, is altogether baffled at how advanced some of those private projects are ("I had no idea") and worked up about taking action.

This decision is a key milestone in what promises to be a very long struggle. The Campbell government is reported to be preparing a counter attack that could potentially involve overriding the BCUC's decision, something that would be tantamount to an act of war against the independent regulatory body.

To be continued, obviously.