1. Life after pulp
Linda Pannozzo has meticulously documented the destruction of Nova Scotia’s forests, the effects of unrestrained clearcutting on forest health and species, the “regulatory capture” of the provincial Department of Natural Resources by forest product industries, and how all these trends have been exacerbated by the biomass sham.
In her latest piece, Pannozzo looks at how the province has embraced yet another forest-destroying industry — the biofuel industry — and examines its impacts on Nova Scotia’s forests. I was particularly taken by this passage:
Increasingly, in Europe and in the UK the carbon neutrality claims of biomass are coming under heavier scrutiny. That’s because there are a lot more places carbon is stored in the forest than just in the trees, and there are a lot more emissions related to getting that energy product to the point of use than just the carbon contained in the wood itself.
[Dale Prest, the Ecosystem Services Specialist with the New Brunswick-based Community Forests International] says that while trees are essentially “solar-powered carbon vacuums,” claims to carbon neutrality really break down when you consider the following astonishing fact: In any given area, the top one metre of soil contains twice as much carbon stored than in all the trees combined.
Scientists used to believe that carbon in the soil stayed there no matter what we did to the soil, Prest says, but in the last 15 years research has revealed that clearcutting actually mobilizes the carbon.
“When you cut all the trees down you increase the temperature of the soil because sunlight is hitting it directly, and that increased temperature speeds up microbial reactions and they eat up all the carbon that’s in the soil and kick it off into the atmosphere,” says Prest.
The carbon in forest soils has been there for thousands of years but Prest says harvesting practices in the province are “unlocking it.”
According to Prest, to be able to claim a forest product is carbon neutral or better yet, provides a carbon benefit — increasing the amount of carbon stored — one has to take a close look at the management system from which that forest product came. “It would have to be a carefully maintained forest that retains a tree canopy, keeping the temperature cool at the soil surface, and doesn’t disturb the mineral soil,” he explains.
This is well documented, established science: we know that if you manage a forest through selection means — by going in and selecting individual trees or small groups of trees, growing your trees to be older and maintaining that forest cover over the forest floor — your forest will store two or three times as much carbon as is stored in a clearcut-rotation style forest. We can start to claim that these well-managed forests provide a legitimate climate benefit.
Prest says that while the argument often made by the biomass and now biofuel industry is that they are providing a market for by-products and residuals like sawdust and bark from sawmills as well as low-grade wood from stand-improvement treatments, this isn’t actually what’s going on.
We’ve seen every pulp mill and every export facility and every chipping plant make that claim over the years. And in every single case all that has happened is it’s provided an easy dumping ground for us to liquidate our forests at a younger and younger age regardless of the species of trees. They say there were no hardwood saw logs going into the biomass plant in Point Tupper, but if you cut down a 50-year old sugar maple tree that isn’t quite big enough yet to be a sawlog, then you didn’t cut down any sawlogs for the biomass plant. But if had you left it for another 15 or 20 or even 50 years it could have been a veneer log.
Prest says that without exception, all the energy products that are coming out in the Maritimes right now are relying on low–cost feedstock and the only way you can get that is to manage your forest in the cheapest way possible and that’s through clearcutting.
Pannozzo also shows how the province is subsidizing the biofuel industry, and then judges the success of those subsidies by hiring consultants who are tied to the forest extraction industry.
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2. Examineradio, episode #110
It’s election time in Nova Scotia, and the Liberal government reeled out of the gate like a drunk student leaving The Dome at last call. First was the botched rollout itself, followed by Premier McNeil’s head-scratching comments about supporting women candidates in “meaningful” ridings. Add to that the rehiring of convicted abuser Kyley Harris as their Director of Communications, and it really seems like a party fumbling about, and definitely unsure how to communicate to a certain 51 per cent of voters.
Fortunately, Nova Scotia Women Vote is gearing up to engage women voters as the province lurches toward the May 30 election. We speak with organizer and former city councillor Jackie Barkhouse and speaker Jenna Brookfield about Saturday’s event.
3. Shameless and immodest self-promotion
Hey, I won an award. This one:
That’s me, at the Atlantic Journalism Awards ceremony in St. John’s Saturday night, holding the gold medal award in the Enterprise Reporting: Print category.
Specifically, the award is for the first three parts of the Dead Wrong series. I’ve taken them from behind the paywall, and so they’re free for everyone to read, here.
If I’ve succeeded, the articles give some insight into a neglected and marginalized segment of our society, and raise important questions about access to justice and failed policing.
I’m proud of the series, and much else that we’ve been able to do with the Examiner, including the contributions from El Jones, Jennifer Henderson, Linda Pannozzo, Stephen Kimber, Erica Butler, Christina Macdonald, and others. There’s plenty more in the works, and I have some ambitious plans.
I don’t know how else to say it: All this requires money. And right now would be a good time to subscribe to the Examiner, as we’ve spent a lot of money recently on ongoing investigations.
To keep the Examiner going, to sustain the variety of voices, to fund important work in the pipeline, to help us grow, please subscribe.
4. Barney’s River
A RCMP press release from Saturday:
At 8:23 a.m., Pictou District RCMP was called to the scene of a head-on collision on Highway 104 in Barney’s River. A small car lost control and crossed the centre line into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. The male and female occupants of the car sustained serious injuries and have been transported to hospital in Halifax. The passenger of the pickup had minor injuries, while the driver was not injured. Barney’s River Volunteer Fire Department was on scene to assist.
The accident happened just a few metres from the Barneys River Fire Hall, where there’s a sign advocating for highway twinning. It’s a cause that Chief [Joe] MacDonald has been leading for years.
“We’re starting to get numb, I think, from seeing all these accidents,” he said. “I know there’s other accidents all over Nova Scotia, but this one seems to be steady. When’s the next one going to happen?”
I drove through that stretch of highway just last week, on my way to and from Cape Breton. I don’t think the road is particularly dangerous in itself. It’s no different from hundreds of other stretches of highway around Nova Scotia: a two-lane road that winds down a gully, across the river, and then back up the other side. Rather, the problem is that that short stretch across Barney’s River is bookended by straight sections of highway with many passing lanes where high speeds are facilitated. The straight sections of highway lull a driver into complacency and then, boom, there’s this tiny tight spot.
Sure, twinning a very problematic section of highway like this (as opposed to twinning every highway everywhere) makes sense, but while we’re waiting for twinning to happen there are all sorts of quick engineering fixes that can at least make modest improvements, including rumble strips to warn of an upcoming low-speed area, flashing yellow warning lights, and what may soon become an Examiner campaign: reflectors recessed into the pavement to mark lanes.
1. Gabrielle Horne
Stephen Kimber has an election issue:
It is the incredible ongoing, never-ending injustice one un-merged and one merged health authority — not to forget three governments of varying partisan stripes led by four different premiers — has perpetrated on one Dr. Gabrielle Horne. Horne is a Halifax cardiologist whose promising world-class research has now been derailed for nearly 15 years, thanks to a combination of professional jealousy and bureaucratic butt-covering, overlaid with a generous dollop of self-interested, expensive, billing-by-the-hour private lawyers.
The only higher authority that can stop the health authority’s appeal madness is the provincial government to which it reports.
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2. Commercial property taxes
“Today in Nova Scotia, anyone who uses a room in their house to run a business is subject to being taxed commercially,” writes Anna Shoub in an op-ed published in Local Xpress:
There is zero connection to selling retail. Zero.
If you are a painter and sell only at galleries, you will be taxed commercially. If you are a quilter who sells at the local farmers market, you will be taxed commercially. If you are a photographer who sells online, you will be taxed commercially. If you whittle wooden mermaids and sell your wares to stores, you will be taxed commercially.
You will also be taxed commercially if you write children’s stories, translate documents, have a consulting business, groom dogs, cut hair or teach piano. If PVSC (the Crown corporation that does property tax assessment in Nova Scotia) finds you, then you will be taxed commercially.
How do they find you? They find you if you try to do the right thing and apply for a development permit. They find you by looking for advertisements and they find you if they come across your website. And they are looking.
Shoub goes on to offer a simple solution:
Amend the tax legislation. It was already done for bed-and-breakfast establishments. The provincial tax legislation specifies that a bed and breakfast with four rooms or less is considered a residential property. The same can be done for small home-based businesses. It can look like this: Any house that uses less than 25 per cent of the home — maximum 500 square feet — for the business is considered a residential property. So easy … when there is a will to fix it.
For the record, most of the actual writing of the Halifax Examiner takes place in coffee shops and libraries. When I’m tempted to write at home, I hold off, brew a cup of coffee, and wander over to the Dartmouth Common gazebo, where I fire up a joint (that’s required in the gazebo) and the iphone hot spot.
North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — expanding the area rate district out in Kingswood.
City Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall) — The Halifax Partnership wants Halifax to have an “International Partnership with Zhuhai China.” If council agrees, Halifax will get a cool tiger, and Zhuhai will get a giant hole on its waterfront.
The legislature and its committees won’t meet until after the election.
Senate (Monday, 3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — I’ll likely drop by. Here’s the agenda.
Embedded and Cyber-physical Systems (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Zonghua Gu, from Zhejiang University in China, will speak on “Analysis and Optimization of Resource-constrained Real-time Embedded and Cyber-physical Systems.”
In the harbour
6am: AHS Hamburg, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
10am: Ningbo Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
10:30am: YM Evolution, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
1pm: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
3:30pm: OOCL Kula Lumper, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
4pm: Glovis Conductor, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
5:30pm: AHS Hamburg, cargo ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
It was an hour and a half flight from St. John’s to Halifax, but of course you’re supposed to be at the airport an hour early, and I factored in a half hour to call a cab, wait for it, and take it to the airport, so say three hours.
As at every airport, there was this bizarre thing about the boarding pass at the St. John’s airport. An agent checked for my pass before letting me into the security queue. I snaked through for 10 minutes, then there was another agent who checked my pass again before directing me to one of the two metal detectors. There, as I placed my stuff on a few trays, was a third agent who asked for my pass and scanned it into a machine before handing it back. I walked through the metal detector, and then there’s a fourth agent asking for my pass again. Agents #2, 3, and 4 could see each other, and Agent #1 was just around the corner. Heck, Agents #3 and 4 were so close that between asking me for my boarding pass they were talking to each other about their kids. What the hell was I going to do between the Agent #1 and Agent #4 that would cause my boarding pass to miraculously change and turn me into a security threat? It makes no damn sense. I’m convinced they do this boarding pass thing just to fuck with me.
The security theatre is very good at asking for boarding passes, but they are evidently incapable of asking for Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phones. Yes, I am prodded and poked; told to take off my belt, remove the laptop, put all gels and liquids in a plastic bag, and place everything spaced out evenly on six plastic trays on a conveyor belt; I’m told to walk into a radioactive de-lousing machine where my junk is scanned, photographed, and posted to the internet; then I’m rushed into re-assembling everything in 3.5 seconds on the other end of the conveyor belt, and yet somehow asking about the one thing that could actually blow up the airplane — the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phone — is left to the flight attendant. “Hey, does anyone have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phone?” asks the flight attendant after she closes all the overhead bins. “Because that could blow up the airplane and we’d all die in a horrible fall into the freezing, shark-infested North Atlantic. Anyone? No? OK, good then. Oh, also, you should put your iphones and androids on airplane mode because if you forget, that could interfere with the airplane navigation guidance system and we could fly into the Cape Breton Highlands and we’d all die that way. Thanks for your cooperation.” Forget about terrorists; the real threat to air safety is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phone the teenager four rows back stole from his next door neighbour when buddy was at the Mooseheads game and the teenager ransacked his garage and pilfered the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phone but didn’t fess up about it to the flight attendant because then everyone would know he was a dirtbag teenager who steals from his neighbour who never bothered anyone at all except for that one time his ex came over drunk and whatnot and started yelling obscenities in the front yard in front of the neighbour kids and they had to call the cops and she ended up in Dartmouth Hospital, poor dear. Well, he and grandma two rows up whose nephew bought her an iphone just for emergencies you know like when travelling, so if you get stranded you can call for help, but she doesn’t know how to use the phone except for the phone part, hasn’t figured out the internet or face time or even angry birds, I mean, she’s 87, so what do you expect?, but she also doesn’t know how to switch the thing into airplane mode, so Cape Breton Highlands here we come.
Despite the threat from people who stole and/or don’t know how to operate their personal electronic devices, the flight itself was remarkably unremarkable, well, until the plane came in for a landing at Stanfield International. That wasn’t happening. The plane powered up before hitting the runway, then zoomed back up above the clouds. The pilot came over the speaker and said, “it’s really foggy, eh? I’m gonna try it again” (or something to that effect). He circled the plane around and tried to land at another runway, and the same thing happened: the plane powered up and zoomed back up above the clouds. “Too damn foggy, I can’t see a thing,” said the pilot, “there could be cows or moose or the burned out carcass of another plane on the runway, and that wouldn’t be good” (or something to that effect). The alternate landing strip was… Deer Lake, back in Newfoundland, from whence we came. Apparently they thought about it, talked it over, and then decided, hey, maybe we can land this thing in Moncton instead. So they wound up the rubber band and pointed the plane to Moncton, where to my great surprise they were able to reach solid ground. But there wasn’t a landing crew at the tiny Moncton airport, or at least not one that could handle a big plane like the one we were on; they had to call in loggers and lobster fishers (or something like that) to work the equipment needed to handle a big plane, and so we sat on the tarmac for a half hour before they finally let us get off. The loggers and lobster fishers had managed to drive the Bluth family car up to the plane and we all walked down the stairs and then clear across the tarmac to a primary school building pretending to be an airport terminal. And then we waited another hour for a Maritime bus to pull up, which then drove the two and a half hours back to the Halifax airport, which wasn’t fogged in at all by this time. Amazingly, the city’s airport bus was waiting, and I arrived home 45 minutes later. The entire trip, from calling the cab in St. John’s to unlocking my door in Dartmouth, took eight hours and 45 minutes.
Which is to say, we underestimate the time it takes to fly. The travel time to and from the airport, the hour waiting at the airport, and the waiting around for baggage time is usually ignored. And my experience is that about a quarter of all flights have some issue — the rubber band breaks, the pilot is drunk, there’s a plane carcass on the runway, fog is obscuring moose, police are beating the passengers, guitars are broken, rabbits are killed, always some damned thing — that cancels or delays the flight. It’s foolish to depend on the airline schedule. I wisely anticipated some problem going from Halifax to St. John’s so left a full day early in case Saturday’s flights were problematic, and sure enough, a bunch of people missed the awards ceremony Saturday night because their flights couldn’t take off in the downpour.
I dislike flying.