1. Deforestation Inc.
This item is written by Tim Bousquet.
Yesterday, we published the first of a series of articles from Joan Baxter that is part of the Deforestation Inc. project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). We’ll publish Baxter’s second article this afternoon, and a third on Sunday.
Here’s how the ICIJ describes the project:
Deforestation Inc. is an investigation organized and led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in collaboration with 39 media partners. It has exposed flaws in environmental auditing and certification programs intended to promote responsible forestry and combat illegal logging and deforestation.
During the nine-month investigation, involving reporters from 27 countries, ICIJ and its partners found that major environmental auditing firms have ignored or failed to recognize glaring environmental damage caused by more than 340 clients in the forest-product industry, clients whose practices they certified as sustainable. The clients included timber traders, paper and pulp producers, furniture makers and other companies that deal in commodities linked to deforestation.
What’s more, ICIJ found that the industry remains largely unregulated despite its growing influence on what forest-product companies tell consumers and investors about the sourcing of their products and their commitment to helping end the global climate crisis.
Deforestation Inc. also shed light on governments’ weak efforts to stop the trade in wood from countries under authoritarian regimes, such as Myanmar, and it exposed how the abuse of sustainability certification enables companies at the center of such trade to mislead the public.
As part of the cross-border investigation, reporters tramped Indigenous forestland in western Canada to uncover evidence of clearcuts. They also followed the destructive path of illegal logging through Romania’s once lush forests. They inspected luxury yachts at boat shows in Fort Lauderdale, Amsterdam and Paris and visited the warehouses of teak traders in India. They staked out wood pellet mills in North Carolina to follow the supply chain to energy plants in the Netherlands. And they used drones to capture the extent of deforestation in Finland, South Korea and Indonesia.
The reporting team examined records from more than 50 countries, including files leaked from Myanmar’s Internal Revenue Department and shared by Justice for Myanmar, a human rights group, U.K.-based news outlet Finance Uncovered and Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit whistleblower group.
The team studied global trade data from ImportGenius and corporate information in the Orbis database. Reporters sifted through confidential corporate documents, marketing material and court filings. They pored over environmental violation data obtained through Freedom of Information requests. And they learned about the inner workings of the forest-product industry from whistleblowers, confessed illegal loggers, and mill workers afraid of retaliation from powerful employers.
The globe-spanning findings by ICIJ and its media partners cast doubts on governments’ ability to deliver on promises to stop forest loss and land degradation by 2030 and hold deforesters and their enablers to account.
In her first article, Baxter writes about when she first started writing about Northern Pulp and about an email she got from China last year. Baxter writes:
The person who sent the email – I’ll call him Jim – wrote that he’d come across an article I’d written for the Halifax Examiner about the acquisition of the North American pulp and paper giant Domtar by Paper Excellence, giving the latter — a private and foreign-owned company with an extremely complex corporate structure — a huge footprint in both Canada and the United States.
Paper Excellence is the owner of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, but it is also a cog in the vast, immensely wealthy corporate empire of the multi-billionaire Sino-Indonesian Widjaja family, which includes Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and the Sinar Mas Group. Forbes pegs the Widjaja family net worth at US$10.8 billion.
Jim wrote that he had worked with Asia Pulp & Paper in Shanghai for a couple of years, handling business intelligence. He said if we could communicate discreetly, he would be willing to tell me more about practices he saw during his tenure.
I always think twice — and do a lot of googling — before replying to emails from senders I don’t know. In this case I thought about it far more than just twice. It seemed a very, very long shot that someone in China would have read a Halifax Examiner article, and then gone to the trouble of tracking down the author to spill some beans about his time working within the business empire of the Widjaja family in Shanghai.
Baxter’s series took a lot of work and is supported by your subscriptions. You can subscribe here.
2. Port Hawkesbury Paper logging deal
“On February 8, Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources & Renewables issued a news release announcing it had renewed Crown leases for Port Hawkesbury Paper that would allow the company to continue to harvest and manage woodlands in Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia for the next 20 years,” reports Jennifer Henderson.
The release said that instead of being permitted to harvest 400,000 tonnes of wood annually, the amount was being reduced to 275,000 tonnes a year.
On first reading, the notion that the volume of wood was being reduced in an area of mixed forest, looked great. What’s not to like?
Well, quite a lot, according to concerns raised in a recent letter to Minister Tory Rushton from the executive of the group Nature Nova Scotia, representing about 10,000 Nova Scotians.
But before delving into these concerns, a check with Natural Resources revealed that for the past 10 years, 294,00 tonnes of wood was the annual harvest on these Crown lands, a lot less than the 400,000-tonne maximum mentioned in the news release.
Large areas of Guysborough, Antigonish, and Pictou counties as well as Cape Breton island have been extensively logged for decades, so maybe there simply isn’t that much wood available. In any case, the reduction turns out to be less than advertised. The province also chose to renew the paper company’s crown leases without bothering with the environmental assessment recommended by the Lahey review.
Henderson writes about the concerns from Donna Crossland from Nature Nova Scotia, who says “during a period of climate crisis, there can be no justification for clearcutting.”
“Councillors have opted not to pursue cuts to Halifax Transit or increase fares, but they are looking into adding security to bus terminals,” reports Zane Woodford.
Halifax Transit executive director Dave Reage presented his proposed $38.6-million 2023-2024 operating budget to council’s budget committee on Wednesday. It’s a 12.1% increase over last year’s budget, mostly attributed to a $7.6-million increase in fuel costs.
Reage also included a list of options for councillors to save money, including two cuts to service and a 25-cent fare increase.
Coun. David Hendsbee moved to add the fare increase, which would bring in an extra $848,000 in revenue next year, to the budget adjustment list for final debate later this month.
“I think it’s well overdue and I think the cost of fuel itself would rationalize the need for it,” Hendsbee said.
Ben Hammer, transportation officer at the Ecology Action Centre, spoke at the committee meeting, saying he’d support a fare increase. But in the end, no other councillors seconded Hendsbee’s motion, so it didn’t go up for debate.
“While appreciative of funding, the former executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS) says the government still doesn’t seem to have a plan for affordable housing,” reports Yvette d’Entremont.
“I don’t see a plan. What I see is programs and then non-profits get to scramble to apply for a program…This is my opinion. I just don’t think it’s an efficient way to go…I don’t see anyone saying we need 500 units or 1,000 units or 800,000 or whatever the number is,” Jim Graham told reporters following a federal funding announcement Wednesday morning.
“I don’t see a plan that says ‘This is our target. This is what we want to achieve over this period of time.’ What I see is programs that people can apply for.”
Graham spoke at an event on Wednesday where Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher announced funding for an energy efficient housing initiative that will benefit several Nova Scotia and New Brunswick housing projects. Those projects are listed in the article.
Sisters building housing for themselves: what a golden opportunity
I have always said I would one day like to build a Golden Girls compound where a group of women could live out our senior years. We’d all have our own space, yet there would be shared areas, too, where we could gather to hang out. Like the Golden Girls, older women still have lots of life to live, and they may no longer have dependents or partners. This project would be a good way to share the costs of a house while having friends and companionship nearby. Maybe we could have cheesecake, too.
I thought about this again on Wednesday when Lori McKinnon tweeted this out:
Say in 5 years, can someone build a 50+ community geared toward girlfriends that can cohabitate with a central kitchen/common space with independent bedrooms/ensuites/sitting rooms? Yes, I am prepping for my Golden Girls era.
I sent McKinnon a message mentioning I had long thought about this, too. Here’s what she wrote to me about the benefits:
Generally stats show women live longer than men and honestly I would argue that women have determined that full-time in-house male companionship is not necessary. Society is changing and woman are choosing to remain unattached to men in their later years.
I’ve given this a lot of thought especially after becoming a widow. I have no children and my fellow solo girlfriends are prepared to be each others’ companions into the future.
We have careers, some style of retirement investment plan, financially independent and will likely remain in good health to well later in life.
I couldn’t agree more!
Now, I don’t know of any official development like this in Nova Scotia, although I am sure there are some women who decided to become roommates in their golden years.
So, I did a little bit of researching and learned about four women in Ottawa who had the same idea, too. And now after several years of planning, the Soul Sisters, as they call themselves, are all living under a new roof. I spoke with one of the Soul Sisters, Kathy Crowe, on Wednesday.
The Soul Sisters, Kathy Crowe, Norah McMahon, Dona Bowers, and Mary Alice Henry, have all known each other for more than 40 years, and are great friends. The idea to live together was suggested by another friend who now lives in Saskatchewan where she’s taking care of her aging parents. (That same friend came up with the name Soul Sisters, too).
But the idea stuck around with the other four, so they got talking about it.
“It’s just that with all of us at a similar age, none of us with children, we decided that rather than aging in a facility we didn’t want, we would like to set up a situation where we could maintain our independence and our private space, but within a community of friends,” Crowe said.
The four started talking about how the idea would work and how they’d get started. They spent at least a year talking about the concept and looking at potential properties.
But they decided they needed someone to organize their ideas, so they hired Suzanne Gagnon, a facilitator and executive and team coach, who leads these kinds of discussions with groups. With Gagnon, they all got together for a retreat to talk about their core values, what they wanted to accomplish, and about their mission and goals.
Crowe said they talked about parameters, what was important to include, and what they could leave out.
“That was very helpful in getting us oriented to where we needed to go next,” Crowe said.
Next, they worked with architect Rosaline Hill, who one of the sisters knew already. Crowe said Hill put together a “concrete plan” on what the housing development would look like. She also helped the four women navigate city bylaws and permits and find a piece of land.
Originally, the sisters said they thought about living outside of the city, maybe near a lake or close to a forest. But Hill convinced them to live closer to the city, so they’d be near amenities.
Several years later, the Soul Sisters are now in their new home. They all moved in December 2022, just over one year after building started.
This is not a Golden Girls setup, though, because the Soul Sisters don’t share a house. Hill designed a two-and-half story semi with four apartments. Each apartment has a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living area, a spare room, and its own deck. But there are common spaces in the building, including a multi-purpose room, another combined kitchen and dining room space, laundry and storage room, and a bedroom and bathroom for guests.
Accessibility features are built in. Crowe said Hill added more accessible features they hadn’t thought about. Those features include wide doors, no stairs at the front door, walk-in showers, and even an elevator. The walkways and driveway are heated, so they don’t have to shovel in the winter and can avoid falls on ice.
To finance the project, each sister sold their previous homes in other neighborhoods.
Crowe said their project wasn’t modeled after any one project, but they did search co-housing models from across the world. Hill guided them in other aspects of the design. They also worked with a lawyer to establish the legal issues around the co-ownership agreements, including decision making and succession planning.
As for the common spaces, they have a calendar so a sister can book it as needed. In terms of chores, they take care of their own places, but they do have a cleaning service for the common spaces and the rest of the building. One evening each week, they gather for a shared meal. One sister prepares the meal and the other three do the dishes and cleanup. All four sisters have pets, so they have built-in pet sitters.
As for the outside of the house, two of the sisters are skilled gardeners. Crowe said she can do the mowing.
“I think that’s whomever is most keen and able will take care of that,” Crowe said.
None of the Soul Sisters have children. Some of their families live in Ottawa, while others live out of province. Still, all their families loved the co-housing idea.
“I think they all thought this was a wonderful idea to be in a community where we have a chance to keep an eye on each other and help each other as we needed to,” Crowe said. “There’s so much research about seniors and isolation. When you become less mobile, you become more isolated. We have eyes on each other and can help and support each other as needed.”
As for advice for anyone thinking about creating something similar, Crowe said “definitely do your research.”
“I think the biggest challenge for people is finding people that they will want to do this with. We were lucky that we already knew each other. We knew what people’s wants and values were. We all have similar values in terms of camaraderie, but also privacy. We’re also keen and interested in protecting the environment. So, everything we do is based on those kinds of things. Figure out a way to recruit and get to know your co-housers very early on in the process,” Crowe suggested.
Crowe recommends having someone lead a session with all the roommates to go over the questions, issues, and financing.
“This sort of venture requires a level of trust,” Crowe said. “You kind of have to leap. You can get stuck in doubt and worry.”
A few months into their new digs, Crowe said it’s “pretty much working out the way we had thought and hoped.”
In all, the Soul Sisters spent about seven years on this project, from the time they started to think about the concept to the building being was ready.
“All of us value our own space and our own privacy,” Crowe said. “But we also welcome someone being just upstairs if we need them. We’re very careful to respect privacy, too, and not just assume people will be ready to interact. It’s very respectful in that sense.”
Crowe said COVID really put a spotlight on how seniors living together in a co-housing arrangement can be a big benefit.
“None of us could see ourselves in the kind of senior living arrangements or long-term care. Mary Alice is always quick to point out what really bothers her, and for all of us, was seeing the situations that happened during COVID with people in long-term care. They were completely isolated from their families. People couldn’t visit. That was a huge benefit in this kind of situation. This will allow us to stay longer and independent and in our own homes, maybe until we go out feet first. That’s the goal we’re hoping to achieve. It’s a way to age in place, safely, comfortably, and happily.”
Now, this idea wouldn’t work for everyone. And I think co-housing developments can certainly include men or couples. But it gives us an idea of what’s possible.
We hear a lot of renoviction stories here at the Examiner and many of them are about seniors, especially women, being evicted out of their homes after living there for years and being good tenants. How could co-housing work in a housing crisis? What if we created housing that suited various needs, instead of putting all seniors in long-term care? Maybe someone has a larger home they want to share, but they need some funding to make it accessible. Many people want to live more independently, but as Crowe points out, that’s not safe or possible for everyone. And having friends close by has many benefits.
I’d love to hear other stories like this, but across Nova Scotia. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of any co-housing projects.
Point Pleasant Park
Jonathan Fowler over the at the Archaeology in Acadie Facebook page and Twitter account had an interesting post on Wednesday that asked, “How much land have we lost at Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park?” Fowler writes:
That’s an interesting question. Many of us have been walking here for years and have noticed the ocean’s advance. This path seems a little closer to the water. The waves from that last storm really made a mess of that grassy area.
These anecdotal observations are relevant but subjective. How can we measure the changes and use these measurements to forecast future trends?
Using historic maps from the mid-19th century and LiDAR, Fowler and his team created a few new graphics that show some of the land loss.
Preliminary results suggest erosion has been significant, but not uniform in its expression. Some parts of Point Pleasant Park have witnessed more than twice as much erosion as other areas.
We’ll quantify the changes by measuring a series of lines at right angles to the shore. Would anyone like to guess how much land we have lost since 1858 as measured by these perpendicular lines?
A few people in the comments had some guesses on how much land was lost. But can you tell from the maps?
Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda
Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, Alderney Gate, and online) — agenda
Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Transcriptional drivers of pancreatic cancer malignancy (Thursday, 11am, online) — Charles David from Tsinghua University will talk
Disability Inclusion Policy in Praxis: Notes from the Mental Health Field (Friday, 12pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building, and online) — Jijian Voronka from the University of Windsor will talk
Composition Lecture & Workshop with Alice Ping Yee Ho (Friday, 2:30pm, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — the composer will discuss her multi-media works including her “cross-cultural” operas, dance, and percussion theatre compositions
Firms’ Organizations and the Minimum Wage (Friday, 2:30pm, Room 2184, McCain Building) — Nicholas Lawson from Université du Québec à Montréal will talk
‘Hear everything breathing this way’ (Thursday, 7pm, SMU Art Gallery) — an Evening of Poetry with Matt Robinson and Margo Wheaton; attendees will also get to experience the Gallery’s current exhibition, Crafts_Ship, featuring the work of Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey, Carley Mullally and Inbal Newman
Performing Democracy in the Graveyard (Friday, 12pm, online) — The Gwangju Uprising, Mangwoldong Cemetery, and South Korea’s Affective Space for Democracy; info and registration here
In the harbour
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