Interview With Environmental Artist Franke James (part the 2nd)

/ Saturday, June 9, 2012 /

Here's the second part of my freewheeling interview with environmental artist and activist Franke James. We discuss the pro-active philosophy that guides her visual essays, including her most recent essay 'What's Harper Afraid Of?' Which has generated more that 5,300 letters to the PM, her workshops and the lack of ethics and common sense that drive Progressive Conservative policies. In conversation she's as spirited and fun as her visual essays.

This podcast is from my morning radio show and includes the audio from Naomi Klein's TED talk (posted below), some really great jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis) and some odds and ends. The interview with Franke starts at around the 51 minute mark and the brilliant Naomi Klein talk around the 14:30 mark, wherein she discusses what she politely calls our addiction to risk - addiction to stupidity and greed would be more apt.

Through Franke James' web site you can go sign in and send Mr. Harper a letter telling him you're tired of his war on Canada's environment.

Franke James beside her Dear Prime Minister Please Stop Blacklisting poster is holding a page from the government ATIP document

Al Jazeera Reports On The Enbridge Pipeline

/ Thursday, June 7, 2012 /
It would be great if we could get some in-depth reporting on the issues surrounding the Alberta tar/bitumen sands  from the Canadian media (from some place other than the completely terrific Tyee that is). For now however, we have to rely on organizations like Al Jazeera to provide us with the kind of quality reportage we rightly deserve.

This story is about the First Nations people, who along with many other communities in British Columbia and Alberta, find themselves caught in the middle:
...between Canada's expanding oil industry, home to the world's third-largest oil reserves; and the rapidly growing economies in East Asia, particularly China.
As per usual there's lots there to digest including a debunking of the idea that ordinary Canadians will benefit via job creation.
...the majority of jobs would be short-term employment in the pipeline's construction. Only a few hundred long-term jobs are expected, primarily at the marine terminal in Kitimat. Critics of Northern Gateway say far more jobs in fishing and tourism are at stake if there is a pipeline breach or oil spill.
There's an accompanying article by Kavitha Chekuru to go with the video that you should go read as well.

I do have one caveat about the reporting in this story and that is the interview with the Enbridge official, who when asked about what would happen if there were a spill, answers that their response in the event of this impossibility, would be "very robust." He of course never outlines what the heck that means and the reporter does not press him on the issue or the potential for catastrophic destruction to eco-systems and an entire way of life. Off-gassing of the bitumen after a spill is never mentioned either. No real complaints though, as it's unlikely there would have been a straight answer and besides, they're the best we've got!

In  case you'd like to learn more. I've posted Al Jazeera's documentary about the tar sands, "To The Last Drop," here.

What A Bitumen Spill In Vancouver Harbour Would Look Like

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Mitchell Anderson over at The Tyee  has thoughtfully put together the scenario that would likely unfold in the event of a bitumen spill in Vancouver harbour. Something never mentioned in Canada's rapidly deteriorating media, but obviously important, is how such a spill would affect the residents of Vancouver:
The public health emergency and potential evacuation of large parts of the city might easily overshadow the more well known consequences of an oil spill as local authorities struggle to move hundreds of thousands of people out of harm's way.

Sadly, none of this is far-fetched:
Kinder Morgan is proposing to more than double the pipeline capacity from Alberta to Burnaby by 2017 to 750,000 barrels per day. This would result in up to 20 tankers per month moving through Vancouver harbour. Each of these ships must transit under the Second Narrows bridge during a 20-minute high tide window, with less than two metres of under-keel clearance.
If a loaded tanker became grounded in the channel, assist tugs would have little time to free the vessel before it became perched on a portion of the hull in a fast falling tide, as the 20-km long Indian Arm fjord drains towards the ocean.
A 20 minute high tide window? If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, check to see if you still have a pulse. It gets worse:
...when bitumen spilled into the Kalamazoo river these chemicals began off-gassing into the local area, acutely impacting the health of almost 60 per cent of residents living within a mile of the spill. People reported nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, headaches, coughing and dizziness from exposure to chemicals such as benzene and toluene, which are known carcinogens.
Sounds terrible huh? It actually gets worse as the description for one common variety of diluted bitumen reads as follows:
"High vapour concentrations are irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs; may cause headaches and dizziness; may be anesthetic and may cause other central nervous system effects, including death. Hydrogen sulphide gas may be released. Hydrogen sulphide may cause irritation, breathing failure, coma and death, without necessarily any warning odour being sensed. Avoid breathing vapours or mists."
So you'll be fine as long as you can avoid breathing. As far as those pipelines that are to carry the bitumen are concerned, Mitchell has the scoop on that too:
Bitumen is too thick to pump through a pipeline so it must be diluted with a variety of volatile and toxic chemicals imported from elsewhere around the world. This mixture is called "diluted bitumen" and is more abrasive, corrosive and acidic than conventional crude, and typically must be piped under higher temperatures and pressures -- raising the risk of pipeline failures.
Now put that all together and understand that a spill is an eventuality, a matter of when not if, as tar sands producers are shipping more and more unrefined bitumen to be refined elsewhere. Go read for yourself and then pass it on. We're nuts if we let any of this happen.

The Tyee has created a visual explanation of how this might unfold.

An Attack On Progress

/ Wednesday, June 6, 2012 /
Here in Quebec, amidst the nightly demonstrations against the tuition increases and Bill 78, the bill that gave the movement oxygen, we hear a constant drumbeat from media sources that the kids are "spoiled," or have a sense of "entitlement," and are perhaps communists. Seriously. It's tiresome.

Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)
Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)

Erica Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has written a terrific piece about this "scapegoating" of the kids involved and begins by asking a question that should be the starting point for any discussion about the issues at the center of the protests:
Why is it still, for some, a newsflash that reality for today’s youth is a solar system away from the world of just 25 or 30 years ago?
She then outlines what she calls the "toxic socioeconomic brew" that led here: Wages stagnating since the late '80's, the infamous 1995 Paul Martin budget which oversaw massive cuts to and restructuring of social programs, and the reduction of transfer payments which has reinforced the trend to greater income inequality.

Now, add to that...
...the fallout from declining levels of government support for higher education in Canada which has resulted in a number of new realities: over the past 30 years, government grants as a share of university operating revenue plummeted from 84% to 58%, and the share funded by tuition fees rose from 12% to 35%.
Suddenly a University education in Canada is a lot more expensive than people appreciate and students get saddled with more debt on the way out the door than their parents ever knew ($37,000 on average - somewhat less in Quebec), and there are less good employment opportunities. Remember, unpaid internships are all the rage.

More to the point, Ms. Shaker reminds us of the benefits of education to all of us:
We know the vast benefits of accessible higher education—and not just physical accessibility. Societies that make this a priority tend to be healthier, have a more politically-active citizenry, enjoy greater levels of community and family involvement, and have more social mobility. There are economic returns as well, all of which means that the demand for public education—or public health care, or public child care—is not a request for “free” anything, or even not wanting to pay one’s “fair share.”
For wanting more and easier access to education the student protestors have been vilified endlessly by the media. This of itself is simply sad but it illustrates the lack of understanding and the unwillingness of the supposed adults to engage in a constructive dialogue. But it's not the name calling she wants to bring our attention to in all of this:
To be clear, I don’t think what we’re experiencing is so much an attack on youth, though it often feels that way, as it is an attack on progress.
Attacks on progress are something we've seen far too much of in this transitional era - one that seems to be marked by greed and stupidity. It's time to try and put a stop to it by not giving in to media propaganda and opinion writers who regularly make a habit of not only being wrong but of always siding with the corporations, the banks and other arms of the establishment. Maybe we could all try and do what we're always telling our kids to do, think for yourselves.

Go read the entire piece here for yourself, form you own opinion and just try not to be that guy or gal yelling at the kids to get off your lawn!

Animated Version Of Franke James' Visual Essay "What's Harper Afraid Of?"

/ Tuesday, June 5, 2012 /
Enjoy the video and watch Franke James artfully connect the dots.

What is Harper Afraid Of? from Franke James on Vimeo.

After you've watched this remember that there are real "radicals" involving themselves in Canada's politics and they are not any of the environmental charities that the Harper government is spending $8 million dollars of Canadian taxpayers money to harass. Go over to the Globe and Mail and read about how Charles and David Koch (founders and funders of the fear and rage driven Tea Party) are enriching themselves on Canada's resources and spending huge amounts of money to influence government policy.

Naomi Klein's TED Talk: "Addicted To Risk"

/ Monday, June 4, 2012 /
Ms. Klein gives a thoughtful and timely talk about our oil addiction. A whole lot of information you won't find in your local fishwrap.

Interview with Franke James: Environmental Artist (part the first)

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My conversation with artist Franke James, a unique and exciting voice in Canadian environmentalism who creates Visual Essays that are informative, spirited and fun! She combines playful and somewhat cheeky artwork with her photographs, well researched science to present her point of view in a series of Visual Essays that are notable for their surprising optimism.

For Franke environmental activism begins at home where she advocates 'doing the hard thing first.' This for her included giving up her SUV in Toronto, all newsprint, fighting City Hall to make her driveway a green space, searching for sustainable clothing and much more. For me, the best thing about her essays is her straightforward story telling style that always rises above the tendentious when dealing with controversial issues and leaves you to to make up your own mind - you really should go see and read them at

The interview is the last 25 minutes (somewhere around the 1:08:00 mark) of the podcast. Before that it's the regular morning broadcast which featured some jazz, punk music and mostly Canadian politics, not necessarily in that order.



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