Silver Donald Cameron

Archive for April, 2010

Burying Mr. McGillicuddy

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

April 18, 2010

It all started, Pickle Oickle told me, when Olive came home from picking up the mail.

“Mr. McGillicuddy’s dead on the edge of our lawn,” she said.

“Dead?” said Pickle.

“Hit by a car, I s’pose,” said Olive.

“Not our problem,” said Pickle. “Call Nadine.”

“Nadine got no time for him,” said Olive. “He’s nothin’ to her. She put him out on the street from his peein’ in the bathtub all the time. Can’t say I blame her, either. I’m sick of him meself, always rushin’ the door whenever I open it.”

“He’s a nuisance, right enough,” said Pickle.

“Was,” said Olive. “He’s a former nuisance now. He’s a stiff.”

“Well, we better do somethin’ about him,” said Pickle. “Can’t just leave him layin’ there.”

“And why not?” Olive demanded. “Let Nadine deal with him. Let the county deal with him. There’s all kinds of people out there paid to deal with emergencies. The Mounties. The Fire Department. The priest.”

“Now, Olive,” Pickle protested.

“Well then, you deal with him.”

“Ah, all right,” said Pickle. “I’ll deal with him.” But he didn’t. Mr. McGillicuddy lay there on the edge of the road for two
more days. Nobody took any action.

Finally Olive took the snow-scoop and an old towel, and went out to deal with it herself. She tossed the towel over the corpse and slid the scoop underneath it. Kind of pathetic, she thought to herself, just one little marmalade-coloured paw sticking out from under the towel. Think of all the meowing and caterwauling he used to do, and now he’s just a stiff little lump of flesh. She threw back her head and bellowed, “Pickle! Pickle!”

Pickle came running out, braced for any emergency. When he saw the snow-scoop, he skidded to a stop.

“Get your shovel and dig a hole for this miserable stinking cat,” said Olive.

“Where?” asked Pickle.

“Not in my garden,” said Olive grimly. “Back in the field some place. I didn’t even like this cat.”

Pickle picked up his shovel, and the two of them walked into the field. Olive set down the scoop, and Pickle dug a hole.

“Throw McGillicuddy in there,” he said.

“Seems like we ought to say something,” said Olive.

“What about ‘good-bye?’” said Pickle.

“Okay,” said Olive. “Good-bye, Mr. McGillicuddy.” She tilted the snow-scoop, and the cat’s body slid into the hole. Pickle quickly covered it over.

“Why’d you pick him up?” Pickle asked, as they walked back to the house.

“Well, it seemed a bit hard-hearted, just leavin’ him there at the side of the road,” said Olive. “I mean, he was only a stray and nobody liked him, but still.”

“Well, Nadine took him in and tried to give him a home,” said Pickle. “And look what it got her. A yellow stain in the bathtub. And then when she put the boots to him, all he did was try to get inside our place.”

“Rushin’ that door every time I opened it,” said Olive.

They had supper, and cleaned up. As Pickle washed the dishes, Olive picked up a bucket of compost and opened the door and shrieked. An orange streak came flying through the door and shot under the wood stove.

“Holy Lord Liftin’!” said Pickle. “Mr. McGillicuddy? Mr. McGillicuddy?”

“So who did we bury?” said Olive. “I got half a mind to go out and dig that cat up and look at him.”

“No, this here is Mr. McGillicuddy,” Pickle declared, down on his hands and knees, squinting under the stove. “Know
him anywheres. Don’t know who the other feller was.”

“Scat!” said Olive, chasing the cat back outdoors with a broom.

Three days later, Olive came home from picking up the mail.

“Mr. McGillicuddy’s dead on the edge of our lawn,” she said.

“Again?” said Pickle.

“Again,” said Olive. “Go get your shovel. I’ll get the scoop. And bring some rocks. This time he’s gonna stay buried.”

– 30 —

Becoming Ryan Bingham

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

April 11, 2010

“Pushin’ the envelope!” cried my eight-year-old grandson Gabo, delightedly. “Yeah, Grandpa, you’re pushin’ the envelope!”

In the Vancouver airport, I was bragging up my new carry-on suitcase to my brother Ken, my son Max, and Gabo. Ken is the recently-retired CEO of a Crown corporation, and Max is a distinguished professor of political science. In the previous few months, Ken had touched down in Halifax, Quebec and Japan, and also visited his in-laws in Australia. Max had taught in Guatemala, done research in Honduras, presented a paper in California and — with his family — visited his own in-laws in Lima, Peru.

Meanwhile, I had been speaking at conferences, researching some writing projects, and gathering interviews with environmental experts for TheGreenInterview.com. In four months, I had travelled to England, India, Bhutan, the United States, and every province west of New Brunswick save Saskatchewan. I was in Vancouver midway through a two-week research trip that took me, via seven flights, to seven cities.

I mean, this is a family with an interest in luggage, right?

I feel an eerie kinship to Ryan Bingham, the constant flyer played by George Clooney in Up in the Air. Like Bingham, I think time is too precious to spend waiting at baggage carousels. Like him, I dislike lugging luggage. Like him, I pride myself on being an accomplished traveller.

So I have been polishing my travel skills, streamlining my packing and purging non-essentials. My instant-dry socks and briefs come from Tilley Endurables, as does my hat and my ancient, indestructible machine-washable blue blazer. (Tilley’s travel check-list is the basis for my own, too.) I have a wrinkle-shedding suit from Travelsmith and another from Haggar to go with golf shirts and bullet-proof dress shirts from Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean. I pack a swimsuit and a tie or two, but I rarely use either. Ties are becoming as obsolete as spats.

The Australians have demonstrated that Blundstone boots are equally good at slopping through the slush or peeking out from the bottom of a suit, so no other footwear except soft slippers is required. For weekends and evenings I add slacks, a pullover, a thin windbreaker, a light bathrobe and a down vest. A multi-section briefcase holds tickets and passport, a daybook, current files, books, a netbook computer, a video camera with microphones and tripod, a voice recorder and various cords and accessories.

For more than 20 years, my main bag was a tough, clever garment bag by American Tourister. It has looked shabby for at least a decade — but it’s no longer in production, and though I’ve actively sought a replacement, I’ve never found another bag as good. Regrettably, it has no wheels, so in recent years I swapped the briefcase for a small rolling carry-on, and perched the garment bag on top. It wasn’t a good solution, but it rolled.

Then, last January, I met a man in the Chicago airport carrying a unique garment bag rolled around a fat tube. It was called a SkyRoll. He had shoes and socks and toiletries inside the tube, suits and shirts in the garment bag, and the whole thing went aboard with him. He loved it.

I checked the web. The Skyroll was invented by a guy named Don Chernoff, who couldn’t find the bag he wanted and designed his own instead. He had just developed another: a carry-on SkyRoll with wheels. The fat tube had morphed into a skinny wheeled suitcase with rounded corners, and the garment bag, held by straps and velcro, rolled right around it. The briefcase could strap to the handle. Terrific.

SkyRoll’s website says they don’t ship to Canada. When I persisted, I reached Chernoff himself, and he arranged it. I took off for two weeks with the SkyRoll and the briefcase. It proved a perfect combination. I could as easily have gone for two months.

In Vancouver, however, Max noted that the SkyRoll was a bit tall for a carry-on.

“I think you’re pushing the envelope,” he said.

“Yeah, Grandpa, you’re pushin’ the envelope!” cried Gabo gleefully.

Well, sure, beloved Gabo. Limits are made to be pushed. Remember that. You learned it from your grandfather.

– 30 –

Introducing The Green Interview! Please do me a favour…

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Dear friends — and I do think of the people on this list as friends:

This is an important occasion for me. And I need you to do me a favour.

For the past two years, I’ve been working on a new environmental project called The Green Interview — a subscription website that presents in-depth interviews with major figures in the environmental movement, discussing their ideas in lively conversations. It’s a subscription site because we want to be supported by our members, the people we’re here to serve, and not by corporate or institutional sponsors.

Voila! The site is now ready to use, and it’s already enrolled its first few subscribers! We’ve posted the first three interviews — with James Lovelock, Vandana Shiva and Paul Watson — and we’ll soon be releasing the interviews with Farley Mowat and Elizabeth May.The “About Us” page is pasted in at the bottom of this message.

Please come and see us at www.thegreeninterview.com. I hope you’ll like the site and find it worthwhile — and of course I’ll be delighted if you join. If you do join, we’ll send you a DVD of my video The Living Beach, a $20 reward for taking out a $15 subscription.

But even if you don’t join — perhaps especially if you don’t join — I’d be grateful if you’d do me the favour of sending me your reactions. If you did join, what features of the site particularly attracted you? Where would you like it to go? Who would you like to see interviewed?

And if you didn’t join, please tell me what might have made the site more attractive to you — and please be frank. Interviews too long? Poor choice of people interviewed? Price too high? Dumb interviewer? Disapprove of this “personalized” approach to environmental issues? Is there anything we could have done differently that would have changed your reaction?

I promise I will never argue about your responses. I will certainly thank you, and I might ask you to clarify what I don’t understand. But I truly believe in the old adage that a business’ best friend is a tough and demanding customer, because a customer like that constantly drives you towards excellence.

Be our best friend, and drive TheGreenInterview.com towards excellence. And thank you in advance for your trouble.

Very greenest regards,

Don

ABOUT THE GREEN INTERVIEW
IN BRIEF:

TheGreenInterview.com is a subscription web site of extended interviews – normally about an hour in length – between Silver Donald Cameron and the thinkers, writers and observers whose ideas and perceptions are leading the way to a new era of sustainability. Most interviews (but not all) are on video, with the audio tracks available separately for subscribers to download as MP3 files.

TheGreenInterview.com site includes a forum where subscribers can discuss the interviews among themselves, and sometimes with the interviewees. When an interview has been booked but not yet recorded, members of the forum can suggest questions to be asked.

TELL ME MORE:

As a subscription site, TheGreenInterview.com essentially divides its viewers into visitors and members. Visitors are welcome to view the site, read the posted biographies of interviewees, view short segments of the interviews (which will also be posted on YouTube), and read the comments in the forum. Access to the full-length interviews, either by streaming or download, is reserved for paid-up members. Paid members also have complete access to the archive of interviews and the right to participate actively in the forum.

Regular membership costs US$14.95 per month for individuals, and $29.95 for institutions. Students, seniors and low-income members may join for $6.95 per month. Members are guaranteed at least one new major in-depth interview every month, but will normally receive many enhancements. For instance, for the first 100 members, we will include a free DVD of Silver Donald’s video documentary on shorelines, The Living Beach.

Some interviews take place in the studio of Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Copies of all interviews are deposited in the University library, where they are accessible to students and faculty. The university may also broadcast selected interviews or portions of interviews on its educational TV services.

Becoming Ryan Bingham

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

April 11, 2010

“Pushin’ the envelope!” cried my eight-year-old grandson Gabo, delightedly. “Yeah, Grandpa, you’re pushin’ the envelope!”

In the Vancouver airport, I was bragging up my new carry-on suitcase to my brother Ken, my son Max, and Gabo. Ken is the recently-retired CEO of a Crown corporation, and Max is a distinguished professor of political science. In the previous few months, Ken had touched down in Halifax, Quebec and Japan, and also visited his in-laws in Australia. Max had taught in Guatemala, done research in Honduras, presented a paper in California and — with his family — visited his own in-laws in Lima, Peru.

Meanwhile, I had been speaking at conferences, researching some writing projects, and gathering interviews with environmental experts for TheGreenInterview.com. In four months, I had travelled to England, India, Bhutan, the United States, and every province west of New Brunswick save Saskatchewan. I was in Vancouver midway through a two-week research trip that took me, via seven flights, to seven cities.

I mean, this is a family with an interest in luggage, right?

I feel an eerie kinship to Ryan Bingham, the constant flyer played by George Clooney in Up in the Air. Like Bingham, I think time is too precious to spend waiting at baggage carousels. Like him, I dislike lugging luggage. Like him, I pride myself on being an accomplished traveller.

So I have been polishing my travel skills, streamlining my packing and purging non-essentials. My instant-dry socks and briefs come from Tilley Endurables, as does my hat and my ancient, indestructible machine-washable blue blazer. (Tilley’s travel check-list is the basis for my own, too.) I have a wrinkle-shedding suit from Travelsmith and another from Haggar to go with golf shirts and bullet-proof dress shirts from Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean. I pack a swimsuit and a tie or two, but I rarely use either. Ties are becoming as obsolete as spats.

The Australians have demonstrated that Blundstone boots are equally good at slopping through the slush or peeking out from the bottom of a suit, so no other footwear except soft slippers is required. For weekends and evenings I add slacks, a pullover, a thin windbreaker, a light bathrobe and a down vest. A multi-section briefcase holds tickets and passport, a daybook, current files, books, a netbook computer, a video camera with microphones and tripod, a voice recorder and various cords and accessories.

For more than 20 years, my main bag was a tough, clever garment bag by American Tourister. It has looked shabby for at least a decade — but it’s no longer in production, and though I’ve actively sought a replacement, I’ve never found another bag as good. Regrettably, it has no wheels, so in recent years I swapped the briefcase for a small rolling carry-on, and perched the garment bag on top. It wasn’t a good solution, but it rolled.

Then, last January, I met a man in the Chicago airport carrying a unique garment bag rolled around a fat tube. It was called a SkyRoll. He had shoes and socks and toiletries inside the tube, suits and shirts in the garment bag, and the whole thing went aboard with him. He loved it.

I checked the web. The Skyroll was invented by a guy named Don Chernoff, who couldn’t find the bag he wanted and designed his own instead. He had just developed another: a carry-on SkyRoll with wheels. The fat tube had morphed into a skinny wheeled suitcase with rounded corners, and the garment bag, held by straps and velcro, rolled right around it. The briefcase could strap to the handle. Terrific.

SkyRoll’s website says they don’t ship to Canada. When I persisted, I reached Chernoff himself, and he arranged it. I took off for two weeks with the SkyRoll and the briefcase. It proved a perfect combination. I could as easily have gone for two months.

In Vancouver, however, Max noted that the SkyRoll was a bit tall for a carry-on.

“I think you’re pushing the envelope,” he said.

“Yeah, Grandpa, you’re pushin’ the envelope!” cried Gabo gleefully.

Well, sure, beloved Gabo. Limits are made to be pushed. Remember that. You learned it from your grandfather.

– 30 –

The column for Sunday, April 4….

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

…doesn’t exist, because the Herald doesn’t publish on Easter Sunday.

Instead, I’m going to be sending you an important and exciting announcement — and asking you for a modest favour. As they say in the Navy, please stand by!

SDC

Deep Trouble

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

March 28, 2010

Alanna Mitchell — who is afraid of the water — is sitting on the bottom of the ocean, almost a kilometer below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Peering through a porthole in the submersible, she sees tiny pink sea fans, corals, eels, a giant squid, a black lobster with eyes that glow in the dark. The water is full of “marine snow,” the dead bodies of plankton and other tiny animals that are slowly falling to the bottom.

And in this improbable place, Alanna Mitchell finds hope.

That’s the beginning of the last chapter in Mitchell’s fine book Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis. There is, as Mitchell points out, only one ocean, covering 70% of the world’s surface. In naming sectors of the world ocean as though they were separate oceans — Atlantic, Pacific, Indian — our languages mislead us.

And yet “the ocean” is not a single thing, either. It is composed of different bodies of water — different salinities, different temperatures, different ages, different origins — sliding around and past and through one another, liquid tectonic plates moving in three dimensions. The salt water of Bedford Basin carries the Sackville River outflow on its surface. The Gulf Stream is a three-dimensional river in the sea.

Terrestrial life — you and me and the birds and the trees — occurs at the thin boundary between land and air, a region that represents just 1% of the habitat the earth provides for life. The ocean, by contrast, reaches deep into the earth’s crust, its greatest depths lying as far below the surface as Everest towers above it. This is habitat in three dimensions, representing 99% of the space that life can inhabit. Until recently we had no notion of the riot of life that goes on within the waters.

Nor had we any real sense of the ocean’s importance to all living things. Phytoplankton, for instance, are tiny sea plants that produce half of the earth’s oxygen. That’s every second breath you take. They also absorb carbon from the air, and when they die, they become marine snow, carrying their load of carbon to the sea bottom. The sea thus functions as a vast carbon sink.

Perhaps the most startling features of Alanna Mitchell’s book are her revelations of just how recent is our knowledge of even fairly basic information about the ocean, and also of how fragmented that knowledge is. “The first scientific attempt to map the human effect on the world’s ocean,” she writes, “came out in the journal Science in February 2008,” just about two years ago.

As she travelled around the world researching her book — Panama, Zanzibar, Puerto Rico, China, Nova Scotia — Mitchell met one group of scientists after another. When she told each of them what the others had been finding, each was surprised. Each research group had been working on a few paragraphs of the story — coral reefs, ocean acidity, plankton, fish, oxygen. Nobody grasped the overall narrative.

The fundamental story, Mitchell says, is that “As goes the ocean, so goes life” — and things are not going well in the ocean. Ocean life evolved in slightly alkaline water, but the amount of carbon now being absorbed from the air is turning the water more acid. Rising temperatures are disrupting biological cycles. Meanwhile, we are poisoning the sea with sewage and chemicals. At major river deltas, industrial and agricultural chemicals create vast “dead zones” as large as 17,000 square kilometers.

In Halifax, Mitchell visits the superb fishery researchers at Dalhousie University. One of these, Boris Worm, is co-author of two famous papers. One contends that overfishing has already reduced the world’s stocks of large predatory fishes — cod, tuna, salmon, etc. — by 90%. The second paper predicts a total collapse of all commercial fisheries by 2048 if fishing practices continue unchanged.

Humans have become a major part of the marine environment, which in turn is a crucial factor in the complex global systems that sustain all life on the planet. The fundamental problem in the ocean, says Mitchell, is human behaviour. Can we, will we, change our relationship with the ocean — a relationship, we are only beginning to understand?

– 30 —

Solar-Powered Grannies

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

March 21, 2010

If you want to change the world, empower the women. Especially the grandmothers.

I’m in a classroom at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Professor Ron Harpelle is showing a TV series that he and his colleague, Bruce Muirhead of the University of Waterloo, have made about the history of the International Development Research Centre, part of Canada’s foreign-aid apparatus.

Since this is International Women’s Day, Harpelle has been showing an episode featuring the women of a Senegalese village who are combatting both poverty and the encroachment of the desert by protecting the local baobab trees and making products from their fruit. The scene shifts, and now we’re in Morocco, where a group of women are pursuing exactly the same objectives with a different tree, the argan.

A Morrocan woman says that the project has transformed her life. Before, she had no money of her own and she was invisible. Now that she has some money, she’s become a person. She deserves and gets respect. She can buy things for her home, for her children. Her whole family benefits indeed, her whole community does.

I’ve heard this before — not once, but many times. Improve the condition of women, and you achieve real development. Men will squander their money on toys, drink and general peacockery. Women will improve the lives of their families and their communities. Women will behave like adults.

That’s the insight that led Muhammad Yunus to build his Grameen Bank — one of the most brilliant development initiatives of the 20th century — around loans to women. The bank organized women into small borrowing circles, and made the group responsible for the loans of all its members. The loans were tiny, and the women used them to buy tools — sewing machines, for example. The default rate on the loans was practically zero, and the women used the tools to lever themselves and their children bodily out of poverty.

Bunker Roy operates his Barefoot College in India on the same principle, taking illiterate grandmothers and turning them into solar engineers. He won’t train men, and he won’t give certificates.

“Men are untrainable,” Roy told me when I interviewed him last December. “They’re impatient, they’re restless, they’re ambitious, and every one wants a certificate” — because a certificate opens the door to a lucrative job in a city.

“Grandmothers are solid, sound, patient,” Roy continued. “They’re willing to learn slowly, and they are rooted in the village. They have no interest in going to a city.” The evidence of their knowledge is not a diploma, but their proven ability to do the work.

Solar electricity ends such horrors as childbirth by candle-light and long treks to carry stinky, smoky kerosene. With a cell phone and a solar panel, a woman has a business — and an emergency communication system. With a solar panel and a laptop, the village has an educational system.

Barefoot College has trained women from villages all over Asia and Africa. In 2005, in the case of Afghanistan, Bunker Roy made a concession, allowing the husbands to come with the wives.

“Through sight and sound and sign language, in six months they became solar engineers,” he said “They went back and solar-electrified the first villages ever in Afghanistan, five of them. To bring ten men and women from Afghanistan, train them for six months, buy 150 solar panels, transport them, insure them and install them — in one year — is the same cost as one UN consultant sitting for one year in Kabul.”

And the Afghan women were no longer subservient. Their husbands now worked beside them, and when one woman went to sit with the men, and was challenged, she said simply, “I am not a woman. I am an engineer.” When last heard from, the Afghan grandmothers were installing the first solar-powered water desalinization plants ever seen in Afghanistan.

Question period at Lakehead University. Professor Harpelle, someone asks, doesn’t it follow that the key to rural development in Canada might be the empowerment of women? Hmm. Everyone smiles. And I think, who should the Taliban fear most? The western armies? Or the power of ideas, carried by solar-powered grandmothers?

30