NEWS

1. Nova Scotia amps up burning of biomass

The Brooklyn Biomass plant belching smoke
Brooklyn biomass energy plant and wood yard – December 21, 2021. Photo:Simon Ryder-Burbidge

“Last week, the Labour government in Australia moved to change a 2015 regulation classifying woody biomass as a ‘renewable’ source of energy alongside wind and solar,” reports Jennifer Henderson.

In dropping biomass from the list of renewables, Australia’s climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, said the change was in step with “strong and longstanding community views” following a public consultation that attracted more than 2,900 submissions. Environmental groups lauded the decision.

Contrast that decision in Australia with one announced yesterday by the Houston government here in Nova Scotia. 

With a stroke of the pen, it has established a new regulation that requires Nova Scotia Power to generate at least 153,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year from biomass for the next three years.  

Henderson gets into more detail on how much biomass will be burned and where. She writes that at “Port Hawkesbury Paper, the amount of biomass used to generate electricity over the next two years is forecast to increase a staggering 51.7%.” 

Click here to read the entire article.

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2. Orphan patients

An older man leaning on a cane stands in a darkened room silhouetted at a large window and looking outside.
Orphan (social admission) patients are largely older adults. Credit: Cottonbro Studio/Pexels.com

“A Dalhousie University researcher says there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of vulnerable people with no acute medical issues being left at Halifax area emergency departments,” reports Yvette d’Entremont.

The phenomenon has been on the rise since the pandemic began and tends to increase over the holidays. These patients are largely older adults and also includes people with longstanding mental health issues.

Researcher and physician Dr. Jasmine Mah said the number of orphan patients — also referred to as social admissions — left at emergency departments in the Halifax area has increased “exponentially” since 2020. 

In 2010, there were just three social admissions in the entire year. In 2020, Halifax hospitals were seeing on average one to two such admissions each week.

Last year, that number climbed to 109. It’s expected to break that record when 2022 draws to a close.

It’s Christmas season, which means things will pick up, and we’re on track for 120, 130 (social admissions) this year,” Mah said in an interview Monday. 

This is an incredibly disturbing story. d’Entremont learns from Mah what can be done and how any one of us could be an orphan patient. Click here to read the entire article.

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3. Answers about COVID boosters, long COVID, and more

A sitting woman with blond hair grimaces while a health care worker wearing a blue surgical mask dressed in white injects her with a vaccine.
Have questions about your COVID booster? We have some answers. Credit: Gustavo Fring/Pexels.com

Yvette d’Entremont has a second article today, this one an indepth interview with Dr. Marc-André Langlois, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, Langlois is also the executive director of the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRRNet). So if you have questions about COVID boosters and why it seems like we need so many, or long COVID, or masks, you can find the answers in this article.

d’Entremont ask Langlois why people would bother to get boosters if they already had so many vaccinations and the virus continues to evolve. Here’s his response:

We want to have the population and everyone think about boosting, because what you’ve said is exactly what everyone says. I’ve been infected. I’ve received two or three or four vaccines. Why do I need to continue to get boosted? 

The answer to that question is long COVID. Long COVID is a syndrome of persistent, chronic illnesses caused by the virus, chronic complications caused by the viral infection. 

What we know is that maintaining a high immune response, keeping our vaccines up to date, will reduce the probability of developing long COVID. That is really, really critical. 

This virus is causing damage to our body, to our organs, in ways that other viruses don’t. In ways that influenza doesn’t and in ways that the seasonal coronaviruses don’t, the ones that cause the common cold.

This is something that we all have to keep in mind. Yes, we might get infected with SARS-CoV-2. The symptoms might be mild. We will recover. However, there might be some damage, some residual damage, that is caused by that infection. Even if the symptoms are mild.

Click here to read the entire interview.

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4. Missing street signs

A map of Halifax and Dartmouth with green, black, and yellow markers over the peninsular Halifax part of the map.
The Google map that shows the locations of missing street signs marked with yellow. Credit: Google Maps/Brennan Wilkie

“An engineering student at Dalhousie University and a handful of volunteers spent four months researching intersections of peninsular Halifax that were missing street signs, and then complied that data into a map they sent to the city,” I reported on Monday.

Brennan Wilkie first noticed the missing street signs several years ago during his commute from where he then lived near the airport to his work downtown. 

“As I was coming into the city, I’d be going across major intersections like Connaught and Quinpool and there was no sign for Quinpool. And I thought that was really strange,” Wilkie said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner.  

Year after year, Wilkie started noticing more signs missing during those commutes.

“I figured it might have just been they hadn’t might not have got around to [replacing the signs] yet. They being the city,” Wilkie said. “After a number of years noticing it, I figured once I get some time, I might as well do something about it.” 

Wilkie found some volunteers and they all walked or biked across the peninsula to find intersections that were missing street signs. They checked out 1,100 intersections and out of those about 35% were missing street signs.

This story has been updated with a response from the city, too.

Click here to find out what Wilkie did with the data then.

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VIEWS

Sober parties and non-alcoholic beverages? I’ll raise a mocktail to that

A group of people in a warehouse space raise orange plastic cups in a toast.
Sober parties are a trend now. Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Unsplash

There’s one subject in news stories that always gets readers’ attention and has them commenting: our drinking habits. The most recent story I read that generated plenty of comments was this one, “Are sober parties a thing of the future? Some Nova Scotians say yes,” by Josefa Cameron at CBC. I won’t share all the comments, but they include ones like this: “Thanks for the laugh. Sober parties sound like something a church group would host.” Or this one: “Dry parties in the Maritimes, ya right.”

I was never really a big drinker, although I had some pretty stupid nights, to be sure (I think the last one was at the Shore Club in 2009).

But last Christmas, I gave up drinking for good after having one can of wine (it was good wine) that made me feel like a bag of crap. It seems I’ve developed an intolerance to booze. But I have even less tolerance for being around other people when they’re drinking. I thank my years of working in bars for that. Still, I like to go out, so the idea of sober parties seems intriguing. I am definitely seeing more stories around going sober and ideas for mocktails (Nova Scotia Health shared several recipes for holiday mocktails on its social media accounts).

Lee-Anne Richardson thinks that sober parties are here to stay. She hosts them herself via Sober City Halifax, a group she founded in January 2020. (She’s on Twitter, but also has a website here).  We spoke about sober parties and sobriety on Monday afternoon.

“Sober City really still is the one and only place for resources, information, inspiration on where to go and what to do in Halifax for either the newly sober, the sober curious people, or people who just dabble in the alcohol-free life, like, during Dry January or things like that,” she said.

Richardson organizes weekly meetups, either online or in-person, where people can talk about issues around their sobriety. She also hosts other events like a recent holiday party. And she created a restaurant guide that’s on the website. On Wednesday, she’ll publish a non-alcoholic drink buy guide for Nova Scotia.

A young white woman with long dark hair with a grey streak at the top. She's wearing a grey tank top and has tattoos on her arms.
Lee-Anne Richardson from Sober City Halifax. Credit: Sober City Halifax

Richardson started Sober City in January 2020, several years after she got sober herself. She had just turned 30 when she decided to give up drinking and described her 20s as a “chaotic mess.”  

“As with any addiction, it got worse and worse through the years,” she said. “I was destroying relationships, I had weekly mental breakdowns, and every aspect of my life had got out of control. I realized if I didn’t stop, I was going to die. I was certain I wasn’t going to live past 30. I was like, you know what, I’ve got to make a change. I felt like my life had something more in it, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know how to reach that potential. I realized, okay, I think alcohol is a huge negative presence.” 

She stopped drinking in March 2014 and said she never wanted to go back “because it was so scary.” 

“I went all in as soon as I made that decision. I took all the help, all the therapy, all the things,” she said.

Still, not everyone who attends Sober City events are in recovery from addiction. Richardson said the people who attend the parties have lots of reasons why they don’t drink.

“I envisioned most people involved with Sober City would be just like me, but I’m finding that no, the majority of the people, at least the ones I find in the meetups I host every week, most of those people are completely abstinent, but they feel like they might drink someday, but right now [they’re saying] I don’t feel like it.”

“I would say that’s the majority of people where they do abstain, the vast majority of the time it’s because they just don’t want [alcohol] in their lives anymore because it causes too many negative problems. Then there are other people who never cared about drinking and they just want some other alternatives and they want to meet other sober people as well. I would say people like me are the minority.” 

Certainly, the options for non-alcoholic beverages are much better than when I was a bartender. That’s back when your options were pop or maybe a Shirley Temple, if you wanted something fancy. 

Richardson spent six months looking at the menus of close to 400 bars and restaurants in HRM to collect who was offering what in terms of non-alcoholic drinks.  

“It was so friggen hard to find,” she said. “Either they didn’t have anything listed on the menu, or when I would call them or go to the establishment, they would say, ‘oh, the bartender can make whatever you want.’ That wasn’t good enough.”

“But since that point, from the end of 2019 until now, when I look at online menus, they have a full mocktail menu. It’s so interesting how Sober City, it was there from that point until now and I got to see that progression. I would say the pandemic really did a lot. 2021 is when I was seeing a lot more pop up.” 

Richardson cited Black Sheep and Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax, and Side Hustle Snack Bar in Cole Harbour as all having great non-alcoholic menus. 

Richardson said the pandemic really got people thinking about drinking.

“We’ve all seen it across the social media, all during the pandemic, like, ‘oh what drink are you having tonight?’ It became like a joke of we’re bored, we’re isolated, we’re at home, the lines are blurred between work and non-work, so alcohol consumption increased. So, I think the pandemic really opened a lot of people’s eyes about their relationship with alcohol. And I think a lot of people realized that it was pretty negative. I think that’s why we’re seeing a big jump in all these products and services now.” 

For people who don’t drink at parties, for whatever reason, trying to say no to booze is tough because people will inevitably push you to drink.

“I find that usually whenever it comes to that dynamic of a friend gets sober but you’re still drinking, it forces people to maybe look at their alcohol use, and people don’t like to do that. The defensive that somewhere, deep down, they feel like they may be drinking too much or for the wrong reasons and they’re trying to defend that because it feels scary to be any other way. I used to be that way. I understand what that felt like.” 

Richardson has some suggestions on what to say when you’re offered booze, but the person offering won’t take no for an answer.  

“The easiest thing to do is just be like no, I have a lot to do the next day. Usually that gets people to stop talking because they understand what a hangover is like. So, if you’re saying I have to get up early in the morning, that’s usually okay. If people continue to press on, it’s helpful to have your own non-alcoholic drinks and say, no, I’m good. If they do continue, depending on the relationship, I would maybe take that person aside and say, ‘You know what? I’m taking some time off from drinking for my mental health, so can you please just let it go?'”

Richardson said in her years of sobriety, and researching drinking culture for Sober City, she’s learned it’s not just the quantity of what people drink that makes it a problem, but rather the reasons why people drink. 

“People don’t talk about the whys of why you drink. It’s not necessarily, oh well, you might only have one bottle of wine a week, but maybe it’s all on a Friday night because you’re so stressed about your work, and you drinking that one bottle of wine turns you into a person you’d rather not be. The reasons people drink need to be talked about more, but that’s a very terrifying thing to talk about because that could shine light on the darkness.” 

Finally, Richardson said it can be tough for someone to have the confidence to give up drinking and stick to it. But she says, you really don’t need that confidence to try. She said people often feel down when they try and don’t succeed.

“I find that if people reach out to friends and support groups either online or here in Halifax, finding another person or another resource can help you build that inner strength, that inner self-esteem, so you can slowly start to think, ‘maybe I do deserve something better,’” she said. “It’s possible and it’s awesome.” 

I certainly hope we get to a day where a simple “no, I’m good” is enough to decline the offer of a drink. Like so many other things, it’s no one’s business why you don’t want a drink. I can avoid bars and other places where people might be drinking heavily, but the booze doesn’t need to be in every atmosphere. Perhaps I’ll plan a sober party soon.

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NOTICED

Jane Kansas

A woman with short, wavy dark hair, dark-rimmed glasses and wearing a grey t-shirt that says "Steamboat, Colorado." She's standing outdoors and looking away from the camera.
Jane Kansas. Credit: Facebook

Storyteller. Hell of a writer. Creative force. Icon. Galactic. A real character. My friend. Those are just a few of the phrases I’ve seen people use to describe Jane Kansas, who died on Sunday morning. Kyle Shaw, editor of The Coast, where Kansas worked as an editor, wrote this article, 5 glimpses of the late, great Jane Kansas.

Tara Thorne was on CBC Mainstreet last night talking about Kansas, her work, and more. In a Facebook post, Thorne said this about Kansas: “She was one of the sharpest minds, best writers, and fiercest queers this backwater town has ever known…I don’t know how we as a city, or me as a person, will recover from this loss.”

Thorne interviewed Kansas earlier this year for an episode of The Tideline. Kansas was telling Thorne about her Halifax Fringe Festival show, My Heart Attack. You can listen that that show here.

I only met Kansas once, almost 20 years ago now, when I was freelancing with The Coast, but I had read her work for years before that. Kansas remarked that Suzanne Rent was a good reporter name. I was flattered THE Jane Kansas thought so.

RIP, Jane.

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Government

City

No meetings

Province

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — Provincial Government Investment in the Verschuren Centre, with representatives from the Department of Economic Development and the Verschuren Centre

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — Veterans and Families: Importance of Community and Peer Support; with representatives from the Halifax and Region Military Family Resource Centre, Department of Community Services, and Veteran Farm Project


On campus

No events


In the harbour

Halifax
13:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Quebec City
20:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Montreal

Cape Breton
19:00: Pike, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea


Footnotes

I am almost done my Christmas shopping.

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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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2 Comments

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  1. About street signs, it’s deplorable that nothing has been done by HRM. Even more onerous is the failure to install signs after a major street project, such as Spring Garden Road. Last summer the entire street from South Park to Queen was torn up and redone, but there are no street signs at Brenton or Birmingham. Nice big fancy light posts, but no street signs.