1. Pandemic + climate change + other factors = higher food prices
Yvette d’Entremont reports that we will, er, fork over more for food next year, as prices are expected to rise significantly. And cutting down on processed foods won’t save you, since the price jump is expected to particularly affect fruit, vegetables, and meat.
The prediction comes from the 11th annual Canada’s Food Price Report. d’Entremont writes:
The annual report forecasts what Canadians are likely to pay for food in the upcoming year, and the 2021 outlook suggests overall food prices will increase by 3% to 5%.
That means the average family will pay $695 (5%) more per year on their annual grocery bill than they did in 2020. This excludes food service and represents a total annual household food expenditure of $13,907 for 2021.
The authors note that in dollars, this is the highest predicted increase in the annual report’s history.
Climate change and the pandemic are two key drivers of higher prices.
d’Entremont interviews Dalhousie University doctoral student Alyssa Gerhardt, one of the authors of the report. Gerhardt doesn’t limit herself to the figures, but talks about a right to food and greater social supports. She says:
I think that the pandemic has really brought to light and made unignorable this issue about do we need a living wage for all Canadians? We saw during the pandemic that food banks had increased their services by 20 to 50% in some areas.
d’Entremont also interviews people struggling to feed their families. This is the kind of reporting I appreciate from the Halifax Examiner. It would be easy to do a basic story on food prices expected to rise. d’Entremont goes deeper.
2. A whole lot of interests tangled up in the Avon River aboiteau
Speaking of going deeper, Joan Baxter explores the competing visions for the future of the Avon River aboiteau. Since the construction of the Highway 101 causeway running past Windsor, a gate (or aboiteau) has restricted the flow of seawater, creating an artificial reservoir called Lake Pisiquid. With the twinning of the highway, there is an opportunity to rethink this arrangement — but it’s complicated.
It’s not a large structure, but the aboiteau that divides the Avon into freshwater river and tidal estuary is causing an over-sized rift in Hants County.
On one side, literally, are those determined that the aboiteau should restrict water flow in the Avon enough to maintain fresh water levels in the artificial reservoir, Lake Pisiquid, that is upstream from the causeway, and also protect it and more than 3,000 acres of agricultural land from turbulent, salt water gushing up the Avon River from the Minas Basin during high tides…
On the other side of the divide over the tidal dam are those concerned about the health of the fish species that depend on free passage in the Avon River to spawn upstream in fresh water. Among them are First Nations, environmental groups, fishermen, and a significant majority of people in the region…
Enter provincial and federal governments and politicians, each with different interests and constituencies, and the divide caused by this one small aboiteau turns into a chasm as wide as the Minas Basin and just as deep…
To say it is a complex, contentious, and confusing political mess would be an understatement.
In the meantime, the uncertainty is causing a great deal of consternation for people on all sides.
I can’t think of a better guide to walk us through this complexity than Baxter. She thoroughly explores the issues, speaking with a whole array of people on all sides. This is no simple A versus B story, and Baxter deftly lays out the stakes.
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3. Excellence in paper profits
Another Joan Baxter story, “Excellence in paper profits,” originally published November 6, is now out from behind the paywall and free for all to read.
As part of its creditor protection process, Northern Pulp’s activities are monitored by Ernst & Young, which releases a monthly report. The monitor’s role, Baxter writes, is as follows:
- ensure the orderly hibernation, care and maintenance of the Mill facilities;
- assess various options available to remain a viable enterprise going forward; engage in discussions with the Province of Nova Scotia (the “Province”) in connection with or arising from claims relating to the closure of the Mill and exploring alternatives for re-starting the Mill;
- work with regulators from the Province, local First Nations groups and other stakeholders to explore potential alternative means to preserve going concern asset value and prospects for re-starting the Mill; and
- reorganize, re-negotiate, or eliminate any existing contracts of an onerous nature or any non-performing assets.
In this piece, Baxter digs into the report, and she does it with some verve. Here she is on the Environmental Liaison Committee’s work:
The objectives of the ELC, as outlined in the monitor report, may not be quite as grandiose and implausible as those listed in the Monty Python skit about an episode of an imaginary “How To Do It” show, which promises children that, “this week … we’re going to learn how to play the flute, how to split the atom, how to construct box girder bridges and how to irrigate the Sahara and make vast new areas cultivatable, but first, here’s Jackie to tell you how to rid the world of all known diseases.”
But the ELC certainly does have a very impressive and lofty order. According to the monitor report, the ELC is:
“…designed to engage and solicit key stakeholder commentary to broaden the discussions surrounding environmental, community involvement, fishing, and marine issues, and define such issues and to formulate solutions, including suggestions with respect to the use of new technologies in the future operations of Northern Pulp and the development and construction of a replacement effluent treatment facility …”
And it is expected to:
a) review, discuss and identify all environmental, forestry, community involvement, and marine issues of Northern Pulp’s operations from a public perspective and attach priorities to each issue;
b) identify potential environmental, forestry, community and marine solutions;
c) reach a consensus amongst ELC members on the issues and solutions; and
d) present findings to Northern Pulp for further consideration and action.
4. Eight new COVID-19 cases reported
Tim Bousquet writes that the province reported eight new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and he has updated his charts and map of exposure sites.
The first batch of the Pfizer vaccine arrives in the province
tomorrow. Dec. 15.
5. Syrian cheesemaker sets up shop
A couple of months ago I walked into the new location of Brilliance, a local computer repair shop. It’s in a small house in the North End. After picking up my laptop, I mentioned that the last time I’d been in that building there was a cheese plant in the basement.
The building had been home to cheesemaker Lyndell Findlay’s Blue Harbour Cheese, and I’d gone to interview Findlay for my book.
To my surprise, the Brilliance guy said, “There still is.” I was confused. He told me a Syrian cheesemaker had moved in. I had thought this would make a great story, but I didn’t get around to writing it. Fortunately, Victoria Walton at The Coast did.
The cheesemaker is Marwan Ramadan, and he came to Halifax in 2016, bringing his knowledge of how to make a dozen or so different cheeses with him.
With the help of a few zero-interest investors and a 400-litre vat shipped from Holland, Ramadan has already made trial batches of his cheeses, that went with a health inspector to evaluate…
Dairy Sweet [his company] will be on the market selling cheeses like ackawi and kenafa, as well as labneh yogurt, to local restaurants and stores as soon as the company gets final approval from the inspector.
Having interviewed many local cheesemakers, I know this is a very challenging field. But people in it tend to be persistent.
1. A personal list of great popular science books
This is the list-making time of year. Kids’ lists for Santa, our lists of gifts we want to give, perhaps upcoming lists of goals or resolutions for the coming year, unless, you know, our lives are turned upside-down by some completely unexpected set of circumstances. And, of course, there are the end-of-year lists. The year’s best books, best movies, whatever.
When it comes to lists of books and so on, I am a fan of the more informal and personal ones, rather than those that try to be definitive.
One of these lists that caught my eye recently was Anirban Mahapatra’s. In a year in which science stories have dominated much of the news, Mahapatra was disappointed at the paucity of popular science titles on non-fiction best-of lists. So he put together his own.
Mahapatra describes himself as having “studied biology and then ended up getting a PhD in microbiology doing a bit of biochemistry on the side.” He works as part of a team that publishes scientific journals and is the author of a book called COVID-19: Separating Fact from Fiction, coming in February from Penguin.
I haven’t read any of the books on his list, but I’m noting several of them. (Out of a strange sense of perversity, I guess one of the ones that appeals the most to me he describes as “not for everyone. Actually, it’s not for almost anyone.”)
Here, though are some of the more accessible books on his list that caught my eye.
The Rules of Contagion: Why things spread and how they stop by Adam Kucharski seems like a timely read. Mahapatra calls the book “amazing” and says Kucharski was one of the researchers who “demonstrated that we have to think beyond that number [R0] and consider overdispersion (20% of people are responsible for around 80% of spread of SARS-CoV-).”
Calling Bullshit: The art of skeptcisim in a data-driven world, by Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West is one Mahapatra calls “very engaging” and “accessible.” I consider myself relatively skeptical and media literate, yet I can’t tell you how many times I have been taken in or nearly taken in by a manipulative infographic or information that conforms to my own biases. I’ve got the book on hold at the library.
Then there’s Smellosophy: What the nose tells the mind, by A.S. Barwich. This sounds like one of those potentially mind-blowing books. Barwich says the book “asks a deceptively simple question: What does the nose tell the brain & how does the brain understand it? Let’s stop recycling ideas based on the paradigm of vision for other senses.” I believe Barwich’s agent came to speak to my MFA class in New York in 2019, and if I remember correctly was infectiously enthusiastic about this book.
As I say, there’s more on the list and it’s worth looking at the whole thing, but these were the ones that most jumped out for me.
Good popular science writing is a real art, and it’s an important one.
I also note that Mahapatra tweeted this yesterday:
Business models may change but there is no getting around this. Good journalism costs money. That’s it. There is no dearth of talent. We need to pay for it.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that you can subscribe to the Halifax Examiner here.
Yesterday, Tim Bousquet pointed us to Stephen Archibald’s blog on an old stone pipe unearthed under the Common. The pipe was put in place as part of the effort to bury Halifax’s rivers and streams, and carried flow from the largest and best-known of them, called Freshwater River or Freshwater Brook. (One of the few remaining visible bits of Freshwater Brook is in the Public Gardens.)
Travelling across peninsular Halifax today, you wouldn’t know that significant portions of the area were once wetlands, and that several watercourses flowed through it. The wetlands have been completely lost, and compared to the end of the 18th century, 99.37% of rivers and streams are gone.
Those last two figures come from a 2012 thesis called Better Planning from Better Understanding: Incorporating Historically Derived Data into Modern Coastal Management Planning on the Halifax Peninsula, written by then- Marine Management master’s student Mike Reid.
By looking at old maps of Halifax and comparing them to current mapping, Reid was able to chart the disappearance of Halifax’s rivers and wetlands.
The study, he writes:
was able to identify four major watercourses that drain the Halifax Peninsula. Of these four, Freshwater Brook is the most prominent and well known. It ran from what is now the corner of St. Albans Street and Clifton Street, across the peninsula, to its outlet near the intersection of Barrington Street and Inglis Street. It then entered the harbour under a manmade crossing that was known for years as the “kissing bridge”. The second major watercourse also starts at St. Albans and Clifton (it would appear that the intersection of St. Albans and Clifton mark a point on the peninsular divide), and flows down the hill roughly along Young Street before forking out at Agricola Street and draining into the harbour on either side of where the Irving Shipyards are currently located. The third and fourth watercourses drain the Western side of the peninsula. Various minor watercourses flowed into the low-lying area associated with the modern day railway cut, and then joined one of the two more major streams that either flowed North into the Bedford Basin or South into the Northwest Arm.
Reid also identifies the locations of wetlands, and says their presence shaped development in early Halifax. Settlement tended to take place at the edges of wetlands, and boggier areas were held communally. One of them is now the Common.
Reid points to a confluence of factors that led to the enclosure of Halifax’s rivers in the 19th-century, including the town’s military character and a glut of British engineers with experience in canal-building. Halifax, he writes:
was a deliberate project undertaken by the British Government in order to establish a more permanent military presence in North America. Halifax was planned by the British Board of Trade and Plantations, supported by Parliament and funded by the British Government… Of equal importance was the fact that since this was a planned community, there were professional engineers, surveyors, and the manpower offered by the military on hand in order to aid in the transformation of the peninsula from wilderness into a thriving coastal town. As far as their ability to use culverts, infill and eventually sewers in order to increase the amount of useful land on the peninsula is concerned, the British engineers would have been well schooled in the art of land reclamation. This is largely due to the fact that the latter part of the eighteenth century marked the end of the golden age of British canal building. By the time the development of Halifax was underway, most of the large canal projects in Britain had been completed, leaving a legacy of engineers who were familiar with many of the technical challenges inherent in controlling the peninsula’s waterways…
This technical expertise, combined with the ability of the administration and settlers to
focus almost entirely on land reclamation and development allowed the city planners to design the city they wanted, as opposed to one limited by the landscape. This ability to modify the Halifax Peninsula is reflected in the very orderly and grid-like structure of the oldest parts of the city…
By 1878, much of the peninsula had already been altered in preparation for development, with only the largest watercourses remaining. Even at this later date however, Freshwater Brook remained a dominant feature on the landscape; this is despite the fact that it was incrementally modified and buried by development.
Saint Mary’s University archaeology professor Jonathan Fowler said in an interview that someone standing on the Halifax peninsula in the mid-18th century would have seen a place “cut through with little streams. And not just streams, but wetlands, boggy areas. If you go into Point Pleasant Park and you wander around some of the smaller trails and you look off to the side, very often you’ll see a lot of standing water and and little streams, particularly if you’re walking through there in the spring… It would have been very much like that.”
I asked Fowler if he thought the British were particularly zealous when it came to burying streams. He said he didn’t know if that was the case, but that they defaulted to developing colonial towns in grids, because they were drawing on ancient Roman patterns of development:
If you look at downtown Halifax, for example, basically what you have is a Roman-type colony, a gridiron plan with little city blocks of carefully regulated lengths and widths, and with roads all ordered in the middle of it. In a Roman town, you’d have your main temple and marketplace and the like. And in Halifax, of course, the temple is replaced by St. Paul’s and it’s a sort of military assembly area for a long time. So essentially it’s a Roman model.
But despite this subjugation-of-nature-in-the-service-of-a-grid approach, Fowler said we can still see vestiges of the watercourses in Halifax today. Looking at Google Maps while speaking with me, Fowler said:
You see that weird angle on Victoria Road, Smith Street as well to some extent of the fact that Smith Street is truncated in the way that it is? Between Smith and Victoria Road is the line where this river flowed. So that’s an example of road development that reflects that early geography.
Bell Road, where it goes across the Common is also an example, Fowler said:
Another fun one is Bell Road, which cuts across the Common by the hospital. It crosses Freshwater River. There used to be a bridge there. It was all boggy land there, and there was a kind of a pinch point in the marsh where two spurs of uplands came together, and it was the path of least resistance — if you wanted to cross the marsh and get your feet as little wet as possible, this was the place you would do it. There was a tavern up in the North End called the Blue Bell, and this was the road people would take to get to the Blue Bell. And became known as Bell Road.
Fowler thinks it’s a sign of how disconnected we’ve become from the history of the land that people were taken by surprise when the southern end of Barrington Street flooded on October 5. He said:
You create an illusion of an order that exists almost outside of longer-term history, landscape history, and I think it it doesn’t prepare us well for when Mother Earth takes a turn… This kind of unbridled construction without due regard to to history and to the landscape, to ecological history, has a way of making us all a little bit naive about the place we live in. And hence you get these surprising moments like that one a few weeks ago when the bottom part of Inglis and Barrington flooded. That’s just Freshwater River popping up to say hello.
Although the image in the painting above is somewhat bucolic, Fowler said that by the time the river was buried in the 19th century it had been used as a garbage dump for a while. “Freshwater River became clogged with debris and garbage and dead animals — all the rest of it,” he said. “It was badly neglected and abused, and probably that abuse contributed to the decision to ultimately block it up and build over it, because it had become such a toxic mess.”
At CBC this morning, Jack Julian writes about Freshwater Brook, and speaks with Peggy Cameron of Friends of the Halifax Common. Cameron talks about the river’s history and advocates for daylighting part of it. Julian writes:
Cameron said most of the path of Freshwater Brook remains unbuilt upon, including parts of the Common, the Public Gardens and Victoria Park.
She said creating natural areas in urban settings is good for public mental health.
Cameron said uncovering natural drainage is important as Nova Scotia faces more extreme weather due to climate change, including intense bursts of heavy rainfall.
“We need these kinds of free services from the environment to cope with all of the things we’re going to deal with,” she said.
Fowler isn’t sure about daylighting, saying “the thought has crossed my mind” but he wonders “if it would be feasible” given how much of it is built over privately already. And as for public areas, “I wouldn’t want to remove people’s ability to get out on the Common and stretch their legs and play baseball and cricket and everything else.”
Still, he thinks it’s important that we consider what we lose when we bury rivers and otherwise drastically alter our environment in the name of development and profit.
We see how the individual decisions from the 19th century up until now, based on short-term profit-motive thinking, have led to a rewriting of the landscape and this kind of profound ignorance about the nature — the fundamental nature of this place that we all live in. It’s as if our ideology, our worldview, has blinded us to something essential about this place. And it’s in that way that I that I find this broader philosophical connection interesting. We can live here in this illusion of culture that we’ve grafted on top of this landscape, without a very significant appreciation of what this place really is like.
No public meetings.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Wednesday,10am ) — virtual meeting.
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting.
Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting.
Halifax and West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting with live webcast.
Virtual Public Information Meeting – Case 22651 (Wednesday, 6pm) — Application by Zzap ConsultingInc. request to rezone lands fronting on Hines Road, Eastern Passage (PID40103806, 40103780, 40103772, and 40103798) from R-1 (Single Unit Dwelling) to L-1 (Light Industrial). Info here.
North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting.
Community Services (Tuesday, 9am) — video conference. Department of community Services, with Tracey Taweel and Leonard Doiron; Family Service of Eastern Nova Scotia, with Nancy MacDonald; and agenda setting. Info here.
Health (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference. Stephen Beed will talk about ongoing work with organ and tissue donation. Info here.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — video conference. 2020 Financial Report – Report of the Auditor General to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, with Terry Spicer and Byron Rafuse. Info here.
No public meetings.
Application of AI and Operational Research in Family Medicine Practice (Wednesday, 1pm) — Samira Rahimi from McGill University will talk. Info here.
No public events.
Constructive Communication During COVID (Wednesday, 12pm) — Bridget Brownlow will lead an open discussion on the use of telephone calls and virtual platforms, and the “surrounding challenges we all face concerning communication during this difficult time.” Zoom link here.
Mount Saint Vincent
In the harbour
08:00: Jacob Joseph C, barge, moves from Pier 25 to Fairview Cove with Amy Lynn D, tug
08:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
11:00: Glorious Leader, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
12:00: CMA CGM Chile, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
13:00: Atlantic Kestrel arrives back at Pier 9
Speaking of shipping, I just read Emily St. John Mandel’s novel The Glass Hotel, which brings together shipping, a Ponzi scheme, and a luxury hotel in a remote fictional Vancouver Island community. Good read. I recommend it.
For anyone going on about Dylan selling out, please. He appeared in a 2014 Super Bowl ad for Chrysler (it opens with the line, “Is there anything more American than America” and ends with, “So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car.”) “The Times They Are a ‘Changin” provided the soundtrack to a BMO commercial. And will anything top the Dylan Victoria’s Secret ad?