Time for youth to lead

Young peoples’ leadership is showing these days... with activism in Britain, Iran and Burma, entrepreneurship in a global recession and developing counter cultures with different ways of doing things.

In traditional politics, however, young people aren’t showing up en masse. The activism is bubbling up, but youth issues aren't at the forefront, and where they are things aren't looking good.

There are many legitimate reasons for the lack of political interest, and they are far from a reported existence of widespread youth apathy. Politics has put up barriers to entry – irrelevance of ideas, lack of meaningful consultation, lies, childishness, etc. The value in participating is simply not evident for many. And that’s what many of those in power are banking on.

Many don’t see that the big problems face them day to day, so perhaps don’t decide to get involved. But our generation is feeling pressure from a lack of jobs and high rates of debt (both personal and government). The parents are oft well-off, but that’s part of the problem if that wealth is kept within that generation.

Today’s youth are stuck with some big problems. We’ve got ecological systems collapse, loss of natural space, nuclear weapons, state and individual terrorism, massive global inequities, ineffectual federal governments, corporate control and advertising, the police/prison complex, institutional racism, Fox News & Sun Media, and 1950s-based food, urban planning, energy and transportation systems that are resistant to change.

Meanwhile, youth have benefited by of social movements for human rights that have come before us, along with economic, cultural and technological changes such as mass communications and information distribution, scientific advances, global transportation networks, material prosperity for many, immigration, public infrastructure, health care and public health, education (though standardized), later Beatles music that was pretty good, and a lack of broad global conflict at present.

Young folks are focusing on new ideas of social entrepreneurship, relationships, work, religion/belief and information sharing. This generation is on the move and has the energy and resources to get things done.

With previous generations having defined what society looks like with its challenges and opportunities, it’s now time for young people to stand up to shape things in a way that will also benefit them and future generations. Many of the changes to be made will continue to happen through rapid change in culture and technology, in activism and social innovation.

"Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and say definite things which mean something, or whether we shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe, and which mean very little."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Politics has a huge role in social change as well, but needs to be shaken up. Young people who are leaving politics behind are missing an opportunity to make the social change that traditionally comes through this realm – things changed or decided through political legislative action have included women’s right to vote, desegregation, depletion of the ozone layer, public health care, minimum wage, transit, urban design and war.

For significant change to happen in politics, people will have to get involved and change the system from all angles – make known what they expect to see from politicians, and become the ones in those circles making impactful decisions.

At the moment we’re in a catch-22 of sorts, in which young people must get involved to change the system, but are not getting involved because of how the system is acting.

Political parties and politicians have the ability to make changes to engage young people and bring them in. This would help change the democratic system as a whole. In fact, there is a perfect opportunity for a political party that wants to take advantage of the generation’s energy and ideas, and votes. This could be done by bringing youth to the table in meaningful ways and bringing ideas that are of interest to young people.

Policies that will actually solve the climate crisis, bring democratic discussion, create meaningful work, provide relevant and affordable education, tackle the debt load, make differences in equity abroad and at home... these are discussions (although I cannot speak on behalf of all youth) that will bring us folk on board. Past that, parties wanting to bring youth in must get past the lies, childishness, and games that don’t have a place in formative institutions.

The opportunity exists for the party that can do this, to bring much of the next generation along with it, capture the future scene, and be a voice for youth to change the world.


Jim Prentice: the current face of the typical Canadian enviro minister

CBC is reporting from a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks that shows former Environment Minister Jim Prentice's interest in regulating the tar sands more strongly, particularly after realizing the global perceptions of the industry and the weakness in provincial & federal government laws. See the story: "Prentice was ready to curb oilsands: WikiLeaks" This comes after a new report showing weak monitoring of chemicals released in the area persists.

Jim Prentice recently resigned as minister, from the government and from his seat in Parliament. Shortly before that, he took a B.C. wilderness tour with David Suzuki which was covered by CBC with Evan Solomon.

If there's any connection here that Prentice was pushing for stronger action and got on the government's bad side, it wouldn't be anything new for Canadian environment ministers. The position has always been at the whim of the rest of the government - the cabinet - or more likely, the Prime Minister's office. The position is expected to push environmental considerations for projects of all other ministries. If the minister gains strong interest in the environment, the person is often turfed from the role - particularly if a given PM doesn't see connections between environmental and socio-economic sustainability.

You could have asked the late Charles Caccia how it works. He was a Liberal who fought for the environment under Pierre Trudeau's government - but mostly as an MP because he wasn't Minister for long. The position and the ministry is not very stable in its work and continues to lack integration with the work of other ministries - so the environment remains a stand-alone consideration.

When an environmentalist (Stephane Dion) became leader and ran for Prime Minister, it didn't work out so well either.

Prentice was replaced by John Baird, who's never shown the slightest care about environmental problems. Canada's federal environmental record continues...


What Bernie Sanders has started

Re-energizing the American people:

"At the end of the day, the only way we transform America is through grassroots activism"

"Sanders encouraged callers to do "what progressives have been doing forever -- you educate and you organize."

See: "Bernie Sanders Rallies Activists To Sink Obama's Tax Compromise"


Real people can't live underwater

Check out this incredible art installation in Cancun: http://ht.ly/3lHqQ

Citizens from around the world (Mexico, China, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, the US, Vietnam and the Philippines) attending the Conference are using art as their message this year, to remind politicians and the public about the grave and imminent risks of sea level rise if we don't take action.

The sculptures were done by Jason DeCaires Taylor.


Shady diplomats, Exxon and Harper

Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse on the Conservative's treatment of climate change, we hear more bad news.

Not only is the Party killing our own climate legislation, it's using old American corporate-money games to try to kill their legislation as well. Postmedia News and the Pembina Institute are reporting that our diplomats are working to eliminate American legislation by pressuring Exxon Mobil and BP to use their influence.

Of course the corporate oil barrens have been using lobbyist pressure to sway public opinion and Washington policies for years. But didn't this let up more recently when they had to admit that climate change at least exists? Apparently not. And now we have a government that is tight with industry - tight enough to try to protect it from having to do anything of substance on the most critical issue of our time.

We don't think of corporations as instructive to Canadian politicians as our American neighbours - the money's not as big and as obvious. But the ties are very close with the current government.

This is a scary trend. It's not just elected senators making our democratic decisions - corporations are playing their fair share. We know from Wikileaks that American do some pretty interesting things. And ours are looking pretty shady today as well.

How do we push back? This is what we're up against.


Who knew change was possible?

People often tell me that politics is useless, that change can't and won't happen. Often my friends who say this aren't thinking back in history, to changes that have happened for the better, and the social movements that helped get them there.

I just tweeted that wind power at this moment is producing over twice the amount of electricity in Ontario than coal (data can be found at: http://www.ieso.ca). This is a significant accomplishment which happened because of advocacy that pushed change by the PC and Liberal governments.

Today the Ontario government announced that the coal plant in Thunder Bay would be switched to use cleaner burning gas.

The drastic drop in coal use and now steady increases in renewable energy happened because of organizations being formed around and campaigning on the removal of coal generation and the building of green energy. Groups like the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Green Energy Act Alliance were champions, along with others like Greenpeace and WWF. Groups including medical and nursing associations helped with data and increasing voices. These groups have swayed public opinion and massive letter writing helped move the agenda forward. Government champions were useful too, but would have been impotent without active support from the public.

There's much more to do to emphasize conservation and demand-side planning, building a smart grid, and being more aggressive with community power. If you want to make a difference on energy and climate, for a green and nuclear-free future, there is hope and you can make change - beginning with small conversations and hard work.

from: "Sustainability is Step One" http://darcyhiggins.blogspot.com


Canadian NGOs failing on climate?

A blog was written yesterday by Cory Morningstar on failed climate change strategy called "From the Non-Profit Industrial Complex with Love".

It's quite a read - pretty over the top in some cases, as if a report like this is being hidden - and the writer seems to have an axe to grind. I haven't really worked much in the bigger environmental NGOs, but my thought is feeling is that the current strategy has been based in what people have thought will work, rather than scaring folks too much. People respond in action to a call oh hope, or no? People know what's going on and it's not being hidden.

But good points are made about where we need to be going as a movement



Let's talk about the society we want

In an article this week, George Monbiot has made the case for progressives to make the case for playing to people's collective good values to build the society we want to see.
He says we can do this by reflecting on individuals' intrinsic motivators and talking about collectivist attitudes - thinking big on how we can change society and not playing into small self-benefiting policy changes that flow with the broader shift to the right.
I think this is similar to what Bill McKibben was saying about movement building and how we've so far been failing.
What do you think?



Fundraiser for Wellesley Fire Sept 30 7PM

Please see this note from Hollie Pollard who I'm helping to organize a fundraiser Thursday evening for the displaced from the 200 Wellesley Fire. Thank you.

From: http://commoncentsmom.com/2010/09/29/an-invite-wellesley-fire-fundraiser/

Himy Syed (yes that one, the one who is one of the darkhorse canidates for mayor of Toronto), I and a few other great volunteers are organizing a fundraiser for the residents of 200 Wellesley. We invite you to come and hear the stories of residents of 200 Wellesley this Thursday Septemeber 30th at 519 Church Street at 7 pm.

There is an urgent need to help the 1,700 plus now homeless people. Specifically in understanding the reality of affected residents by listening to them speak directly what has not been reported. Also by accepting donations by way of Gift Cards. Cash donations to Displaced Residents may negatively impact many who are on social assistance. Small value gifts cards do not . All cash donations will be converted into Gift Cards. We will have audited transparency in the collection and distribution of all Gift Card donations.

Please come ready to listen and ready to give.

We have a Facebook Event Page here. We would love to know if you are coming. Please do come and bring a gift card or two. The best gift cards are those for food, homewares, and soon there will be a need for furniture ones as well. If you bring cash we will transfer that into gift cards.

As of today there is no longer the need for gently used clothing. Thanks to all who did give so generously.

Personally I hope to meet many of you on Thursday. Please share this post with your friends and family that live in Toronto.


Congrats DJ

A photo I took in 07 of our next Governor General, at a reception with Major General Lewis Mackenzie.

I predict Johnston as a GG who delivers any decisions by the books and without any large changes from the position. He's always allowed any innovations or hesitations to happen underneath his presence and accept advice of his administrators so that could be with the PM as well.

Notably for this blog, he chaired the National Roundtable on the Environment & Economy - a federal advisory group that puts out reports ahead if its time. At the University though, the leadership on sustainability initiated by president Wright didn't seem to remain a priortiy.


Aboriginal and Environmental justice @ the G20

Large group of people, banners and a huge flag going down Bay St.

Police presence is massive - unusual for a protest of this nature. But police seem to be helping them guide through the streets (whether this was wanted?) and protest peaceful as usual.

Some of the demonstrators come from Grassy Narrows, where toxic heavy metal pollution from undesired projects have poisoned community members for years.

I believe that Aboriginal leaders were not invited to the G20 meetings though big business leaders were.


People, we have a strategy

This might not hit the press, but Toronto's Board of Health just unanimously passed the Toronto Food Strategy proposed by the Medical Officer of Health. The report is titled, Cultivating Food Connections: Toward a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for Toronto, and can be found here in its last iteration: http://bit.ly/tofoodstrategy

The report's main recommendation according to the Dr. McKeown is to ask the city manager to embed food systems thinking in all departments, boards and commissions. This is a critical step that the City Manager was apparently happy to receive. It did not need to go to Council at this point, but in the future, some recommendations will require funding attached, and further structures for implementation will be decided by Council next year. Until then, Public Health will take the lead, with lots for staff to do.

Looking at the meat of the report, it held six recommendation areas with specific policies to support better food access in the City. Availability of food in neighbourhoods and the potential for projects leading to social cohesion were emphasized. Councillor Paula Fletcher talked about the amazing work done by the department on reaching out to communities in the publication of the report.
See a video shown during the meeting of what was done in Alexandra Park: http://bit.ly/torontofood

This is a major step.

However getting the molars into this nutritious plan is yet to come. As Councillor Davis stated, we need to work hard to keep this strategy alive through 2011.. it must be discussed in, and post-election.

Contact me to stay updated and learn what more we can do.

Congrats to the Toronto Food Policy Council, the Steering Committee and TPH Staff!

Feel free to start the discussion in commentsbelow..

p.s. my 100th blog post this one!


Historic day for Canada's environmental movement

A significant shift has happened.
Logging has been one of the biggest targets of Canada's environmental movement throughout the past decades. The environmental movement (Greenpeace, CPAWS, Forest Ethics) has won a huge victory today, with such successes as getting the major forestry industries to preserve a giant tract of Boreal Forest and to meet FSC standards across the board.
That level of change could not have happened within the industry itself. In the Canadian political climate, it also would not have happened through government. Here is an example of what change advocacy organization can bring - and when everyone stops to think about it, how environmentalists and corporations can do better for the economy and workers when they decide on a sustainable path together.

See below:

Loggers, green groups reach truce

Canada’s long-time adversaries poised to announce peace pact, switch to partnership model

Martin Mittelstaedt
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Monday, May. 17, 2010 1:50PM EDT
Last updated on Tuesday, May. 18, 2010 10:54AM EDT
Canada’s long-running war in the woods, which has spanned decades and involved bitter skirmishes in just about every area of the country, may be over for good.

Forest companies and environmentalists are poised to announce a historic truce Tuesday. The deal will not only stop the fighting, but will require the two sides to eventually do something once thought improbable: Tree huggers and tree cutters are to switch from being sworn enemies to something resembling partners.

Under the pact, environmental groups will suspend boycott campaigns directed against Canadian forest products companies, a major irritant to the industry. Meanwhile, forest companies will not undertake any environmentally unfriendly actions, such as logging in ecologically sensitive boreal forests inhabited by endangered caribou.

If the industry attains specified conservation performance goals, environmental groups will go beyond the truce and publicly help brand the Canadian industry’s products as green. This will give the industry a marketing advantage against companies from countries that turn a blind eye to illegal harvesting and other harmful forestry practices.

Read more here:


they just won't understand these things

Wow, Second Cup (Canadian-owned) was playing a favourite Xavier Rudd song.. an awesome Aussie who plays much in Canada.

Called "Messages", I like this song when I'm feeling things aren't going well.


So now come sit down
Will you talk with me now
And let me see through your eyes
Where there is so much light
We are biding our time
For these myths to unwind
For these changes we will confront

So please be aware with every
Place that you herald
And look to your soul
For these things that you know
For the trees that we see
Cannot forever breathe
With the changes they will confront

You know some people they just won't understand
No, they just won't understand
These things
Thank you for your message but I don't understand
No they just won't understand
These things

And this sacred land
It has seen many hands
It has wealth and gold
Now it is fragile and old
And now the greedy souls just don't care to know
Of the changes it will confront

So speak out loud
Of the things you are proud
And if you love this coast
Then keep it clean as it evolves
Because the way that it shines
May just dwindle with time
With the changes it will confront

So hold nice and close
Once you get to your soul
So that when it is cold
You won't feel so alone
'Cause the roads that you take
May just crack and break
With the changes you will confront

With each gift that you share
You may heal and repair
With each choice you make
You may help someone's day
Well I know you are strong
May your journey be long
And now I wish you the best of luck
Well I know you are strong
May your journey be long
And now I wish you the best of luck.


Some Earth Day reflections on climate politics, recession, food and good reads

"If the climate was a bank [the U.S.] would already have saved it."
- Hugo Chavez

Earth Day always leaves me wanting to get back to the keyboard to "pen" a few thoughts. Last year, I wrote that solutions exist and that a good society needs to take them up to make a significant difference.

Cleaning up our act

Earlier today I spent time picking up litter in Grange Park in Toronto, somewhere I often have lunch and enjoy immensely as an inner-city park. The Green Party of Ontario organized it, and it was the second cleanup I helped with this week. I used to not be a fan of these types of activities on Earth Day because they can give the impression that litter is a serious environmental issue, rather than focusing on the deeper changes we need. I want people to realize those decisions that will make a difference - getting out of their cars, reducing home energy use, increasing their consumption of healthy vegetables and pulses - not just focusing on largely aesthetic factors. I now realize that clean ups are more of an issue of community integrity and pride, important to go along with strictly "environmental" activities. And how can we value keeping the atmosphere clean if we can't even keep trash out of our backyards?

But we still sandwich in the park clean up between other work, because working on poltical organizing, communications and Green policy development are actions that have the possibility to motivate large scale shifts. It is in politics, along with education and writing like this,g where I enjoy putting my efforts.

Cycling home, the line of cars I and a few others pass reminds me of the causes of declining global trends harming the Earth's life support systems of the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere. Recent global struggles on climate, and biodiversity even more so, have been wildly unsuccessful due to a plethora of reasons including failures of political and economic systems and an environmental movement unable to capture the change it desires.

Recession and a Carbon Tax

Global recession has caught the attention of the world well stronger than the climate and other earth crises, because the recession is affecting the developed world and is noticeable right now in people's day to day. Most people don't look down the road, and many don't have the ability to make decision based on tomorrow because of the needs of survival. As the recession has diverted much attention away from the Earth, governments such as the French are pulling back from effective policies like carbon taxes because of declining public support. In Canada, a significant policy presented by Stephane Dion was turned down by the public due to a Conservative Party who saw fit to simplify and vilify a strong opposition proposal, and an NDP who forgot about inter-generational and global equity.

The irony is that the recession has slowed economic growth, making good on energy reductions that governments have been unable to achieve. A recession if it continued, and it perhaps could due to rising oil prices, could bring down atmospheric carbon and prevent the climate going out of control.

But the economy need not be like this. In preparing an economic system that uses low fossil fuels, we could create good new jobs in clean energy, sustainable agri-food, transportation, arts and culture. Governments and industries haven't grasped this possibility, some are only testing the waters, like the McGuinty government in Ontario.

It is due to these broad failures that I now believe we will pass 350 parts per million of CO2, what scientists have said is humanity's safe level. Others have argued this level is not safe, and will mean suicide, especially for small island states. I'm not sure this debate matters, because without a complete change in trends, or deep recession, we will fly past 350 and rise not two degrees, but perhaps four or five by the end of the Century. This is my opinion based on observations over the last few months and years of political and scientific trends.

Changing my tune

This doesn't mean though that we should stop working to reduce our emissions. First, we can't predict with certainty what will happen, and reducing emissions as fast as we can could stop runaway climate change. Second, although deep environmental and societal impacts are inevitable, the lower the temperature increase, the lower those possible impacts to life. But it also means we need to shift energy not just to mitigation, but to adapting to climate change, because we know it is happening.

Starting this Earth Day, I will be advocating further on adaptation - something that environmentalists haven't been talking a lot about, in hopes that we can stop everything. The environmental justice movement has brought about attention, the strongest in the form of the need to pay for climate debt to the developing world. Obviously, such a proposal has run into stumbling blocks. But the work to be done in adapting to climate change - and a world full of weakened ecological systems more broadly - is work that we now must realize if we are to figure out how to grow and distribute food, conserve water, live and move around in times with increased heat waves, droughts, flooding, storms, species loss and diseases. We don't know how the planet and human systems will react to these pressures - we can only plan and be resilient for what might come.

Focus on Food

I have worked lately on saving farmland in the proposal for a Markham Foodbelt. Farmers have wanted to make money on their land - and now believe that selling to developers is the only way to do that. Even in the GTA we have forced those unable to make money into supporting environmental degradation, instead of endorsing policies to keep our best land, produce local food and support those growing it. And yet it will be land just like this that will keep us resilient to a change in climate when oil prices are high and ecological damage becomes more apparent.

I enjoy working on food system issues because they relate to the environment, but also to the kind of living we need to create in order to support while enjoying healthier food, supporting small scale economies and reducing our input of CO2 while adapting to new realities.

These are some areas I will continue to work on and I hope you'll join me. This work will be very community-based, with trust that those in communities throughout the world are doing similar work. The global struggles must continue, while movements for change innovate to not just depending on failing international governance to get us where we need to be, but also working on direct actions and broadening the number of people supporting political efforts.

Doing the clean up last weekend, an elementary school aged girl who was helping me was looking at the garbage, asking why people would throw all of this stuff on the ground.

"This one's recyclable," she stated matter-of-factly. "I know that because my school's an Ecoschool."

Children and youth certainly have different mindsets even from when I was growing up - I am constantly surprised by the level of awareness. Many have hope that as they grow up things will change. Past generations have indeed left the planet in a mess. My hope that a future generation will change things isn't 100%, but with a broad-based knowledge of the problems, some have always said that only massive awareness will make things better.

With that said, I applaud those cleaning the parks, educating youth, communicating change, being change and challenging change.

Happy Earth Day

Recommended readings:



Eating sans funds

Stay tuned in to this blog, one of the most interesting things I'm reading - real experiences of Torontonians (many of them happen to be writers), seeing what it's like to eat on social assistance.

Thanks folks for giving a voice:



Depressing letter to the editor - you'll be sorry

Suzuki is right, money won't save us

Re: Nature imposes the real bottom line, Feb. 28

David Suzuki is right on the mark! Money, technology will not save us. It never has and never will.

We live in a greedy society. Money and technology will not save you from the catastrophies of climate change and global warming.

Our government and whatever else you call it won't solve your problems. Get your priorities straight. Get with the program.

Young people have absolutely no idea what awaits them. They are going to be sorry.

M. Daquano

Richmond Hill

(from: yorkregion.com)


Darcy has an opinion? Farmville: growing insanity one click at a time

Photo of an actual farm field (right)

Farmville. Chances are you’ve played the Facebook app at some point, or even more likely, you have an opinion on it. Due to its extreme popularity, 27 million daily players as reported by CNN, and the nature of Facebook’s features, you tend to see it around your screen whether you want to or not.

I’ll be blunt in saying that I’m not a fan. I have many friends who spend time on Facebook, buying, selling and harvesting - or pretending to. So allow me to respectfully point out a couple of thoughts.

The kids these days, they don’t get outside the house… and they’re certainly not learning to grow food.

Today more than ever, young people don’t know where their food comes from. Interest in farming as an occupation is at an all-time low, because of a number of factors including urbanization, corporate takeovers of farms and pressure to seek higher education in other fields.

Farming is hard work. But growing real food can also be very rewarding. It means being part of a community of people with a common interest who care about what they’re doing. It can be enriching, skill-building and psychologically beneficial. I don’t think Farmville can claim that.

The whole bad food system is being challenged by young farmers and agro-activists, creating a food movement built of organizations like FarmStart and Afri-Can FoodBasket that are getting more people involved in growing and harvesting food for richer lives.

Yet overall it remains that we have a broader generation or two lacking skills and knowledge in food and farming, but hooked to Facebook, simply moving a cursor to plough a field.

Farmers, if they had time to go on Facebook and see, would be mortified.

But maybe this is better than the “jumping on peoples heads” games I played in my childhood that my dad didn’t get. Perhaps Farmville can be an educational tool? Maybe it can be a hook to more blogs articles that write on Farmville as an excuse to talk about the growing food movement, and to get people involved? (By the way, choose organic foods, get to know your farmer, try growing something in your backyard, community garden or a pot!)

But to me, for now, make-believe farming is still a scary thing.

So tell me Famvillains, am I missing something?
Can anything good come out of this?


Identifying place and building a community

Walking through my neighbourhood in west/downtown Toronto - defined by the BIA as Bloorcourt Village - a new approach to market the area with creativity caught my attention this aft. I knew of the street gallery contest and project well, but I had until today missed one of its great new banners.

This one I saw as I walked to meet an old friend at newish coffee shop Saving Gigi: a traditional-looking image of Santa Claus. Walking closer and thinking it to be a little inappropriate as a year-round thing, I saw in detail, as you can here. "The Sleigh Broke" - okay, I got it. It's the guy who always collects change outside of the LCBO. This banner was placed right by the store, at the corner of Ossington and Bloor. It's wonderful.

The project has a host of banners, reflecting residents' depictions of all sorts of cool spots and eccentricities about the Bloorcourt hood. It's a learning library, perhaps not with the clearest branding, but it's not a neighbourhood that is easy to brand. I in fact got in trouble trying to suggest once that it, that we, could be focusing on the concentration of wonderful Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants as a selling point for the outside world (Annex and beyond). A banner does reflect the Ethiopian coffee ceremony (which may be featured in a future blog..) along with other on arts, nature and diversity.

But it's Santa that gets me.

A place that recognizes and highlights its less conventional citizens, one that's not afraid to show its true face, whiskers and all. That's a place where I like to be.

Learn more about the Bloorcourt BIA, one of the oldest around, period: www.bloorcourt.com