June 12, 2014

What’s a fair share for BC of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline?

I’m really excited to share with you a website I designed for Dogwood Initiative, which launched this week. Fair Share BC asks a simple but vital question: What’s a fair share of economic benefits for BC of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline? Whether you’re against the proposed pipeline — as are about three quarters of British Columbians — or for it, or agnostic/undecided, we’d like to hear your opinion.

Understanding that many of us would never put a price on our coast, the main purpose of the site is two-fold: to enable the people to decide what a fair share looks like, and to help conversations happen between folks with different view points. (Maybe Uncle Bob wants more permanent jobs for BC, but thinks we’d get a lot more than we would in reality?) I’d consider myself well-informed, and was surprised by the actual numbers.

Prime Minister Harper’s decision on the Northern Gateway project is anticipated soon. If he gives it the green light, it’s then up to Christy Clark to stand up for BC. But her “fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits” condition in the pipeline’s way is vague — what’s fair by her standards? Dogwood Initiative will collect the public’s Fair Share BC quiz answers (totalling over 2,000) to put some hard, public-powered numbers behind that. I want to make it clear that thinking about what a fair share looks like doesn’t mean we can be bought if we got what we asked for — the reality is that we won’t, so this is an exercise in making it clear that Christy Clark’s fifth condition cannot be met.

I worked closely with Kai Nagata, Energy and Democracy Director. Dogwood Initiative’s Karl Hardin and Joshua W provided technical heavy lifting for which I am grateful.

Additional ways to take action

Join over 16,000 people to send a message to the “Enbridge 21” — BC’s Conservative MPs who stand to lose a lot if the federal government approves the project. Encourage them to support BC instead of Enbridge.

Pledge to support a referendum on the future of pipelines and oil tankers in BC. If you have time, please consider volunteering in your community.

Send Christy Clark a message to stand strong for BC.

May 26, 2014

We have emotionally challenging jobs

NoTankers rally in Vancouver, May 10, 2014

I still remember the staff meeting at the David Suzuki Foundation where I was on the verge of tears. I don’t remember what the sad news was, but the fourth person to speak was David, by phone from South America I think. It was such a devastating stack of news that maintaining composure was a challenge. It was on par with listening to Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George speak about the Healing Walk and what has happened to their land in the last 150 years — land on which I grew up, too. Her words brought me to or very close to tears twice in one week.

This past Saturday, I spent the entire day with my non-profit friends, some of whom I have the sincerest pleasure of working with. We attended a conference called CanRoots, which was generally uplifting and closed with a standing ovation for two women from Kitimat’s Douglas Channel Watch. The feeling in the room and in my heart was extraordinary: all of us, united in our shared joy and passion, applauding and cheering for a small group of committed citizens who fought a Goliath and won. This is, I thought, a morsel of what it will feel like when British Columbians win.

When your work is to fight hard for something you care deeply about, your job is going to be full of emotion. It’s difficult to hear bad news — ice sheets melting, sea stars dying en masse, another pipeline approval, another loss for democracy. And it’s pure joy to celebrate our successes. But I know that some of my friends have a hard time with the slog. At the end of the day, though, I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I do this work, and I try so damn hard in my personal life as well, because I care so f*&%ing much. Our government calls us radicals and extremists, and we respond by standing taller and stronger. It would, though, be considerably easier to stop pipelines, curb runaway climate change, prevent our water from being destroyed in mining operations, and save the salmon if our provincial and federal governments cared like we do and understood what’s at stake. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.

So I’m going to keep throwing my heart and soul at this work. At a fairer democracy, at sustainable alternatives, at stopping new oil pipelines and LNG plants. I’m not a radical. I’m a human.

Want to join me? I just signed up as volunteer organizer for what I think is the best shot we’ve got at saving British Columbia from Enbridge. Sign the pledge to push for a fair, province-wide vote on oil pipeline and tanker traffic expansion in BC. And if you care like I do, I’d love for you to join me in collecting pledges in your community. Will you stand up for BC with me?

May 22, 2014

Edward Burtynsky’s photographs show us the big picture

It can be difficult to grasp the scale of Edward Burtynsky’s subjects when there are no points of reference — no recognizable objects, intentionally no humans, and sometimes no horizon. Your understanding of what you’re looking at changes between close proximity and several steps back. Sometimes it’s better just to wonder, because comprehending the vast scale of a field of oil drilling rigs, Alberta’s oil sands or a coal mine in BC can take the wind out of you — at least, if you’re as affected as I am by these visuals. I left feeling pretty drained as it’s emotionally taxing to look at how we’ve shaped, polluted and destroyed the landscape of our planet to meet ever-growing needs. Not everything in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibit of Burtynsky’s work was dark, but a bleak image of a massive pile of tires (at a distance, just a huge wave of black) burning after a lightning strike had me reeling and thinking, “what have we done?”

“In Burtynsky’s vernacular, the ‘manufactured landscape’ is no longer a simple contest of nature versus culture; instead his images suggest an emergent condition in which the natural world has been fully consumed, never to reappear again.” — Vancouver Art Gallery

I was standing in front of a large format aerial photograph of a Scottsdale, Arizona suburb when the woman next to me said, “this is the scariest one.” I don’t know if she’d been to the other side of the exhibit yet, but I understood what she meant. A rectangle of desert with a road around its perimeter marks the Navajo reserve, abruptly divided from suburbia, which is the usual unsustainable pattern: tendrils of cul-de-sacs, single-family houses — many with pools — tennis courts, and trees, all supported by a dwindling water supply. Far, far in the distance one can see a few towers in Phoenix, an unpleasant highway commute away. Now that I have time to absorb it, the connection between this and the rest of the exhibit is clear: the activity documented by Burtynsky feeds this horrific exercise in “community planning.” Artificially cheap oil, mining coal and metals, irrigating the desert — it’s all to feed an insatiable appetite called the American Dream.

I’ve been working for months on various campaigns working to shift away from Canada’s large-scale, rapid energy extraction, consumption and export economy, and toward green energy and jobs. Our opposition is wealthy and determined, and the media not always kind. Exhibitions such as Burtynsky’s, or similarly Chris Jordan (on consumption and waste), help to bring a real-life tangibility to what corporations and consumers are doing. It’s up to us to fight for the alternatives, and to be reminded of the ways in which we can meet reasonable needs responsibly.

To that end, here are a few ways you can get involved:

Sign the pledge to push for a fair, province-wide vote on oil pipelines and tanker traffic in BC

100 in 1 Day, Vancouver edition — multiple workshop dates culminating in 100 urban interventions on June 7th each in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax

CanRoots, May 23–24

10th anniversary screening of The Corporation, May 26th

The Edward Burtynsky exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery ends May 26th.

February 24, 2014

Designing for good: why I do what I do

Erika portrait

I’ve always cared a lot about our planet. I was the kid asking other kids not to dig all the clay out of the creek bed at our elementary school. I’ll never forget coming home from a trip at age nine to find a forest off the main road gone. Or at age ten seeing clearcut mountains on the way to Tofino. It hit home for me. I understood the issues. After all, this was the age of Captain Planet. But I think kids generally “get it.” I never understood why people litter (because garbage magically disappears, right?). I stomped on tin cans a lot to recycle them and was brought up to not waste food. I have an obsession with trees that’s visible in my drawings going back, well, forever.

Continue reading Designing for good: why I do what I do »

November 8, 2013

Where will you be November 16th?

Oil lobbies

I usually spend November 16th with my youngest niece for her birthday — she’s turning eight. But this year, I’ll be standing up for her future at what I hope will be the biggest national rally Canada has ever seen.

Over 100 communities from Victoria to Nunavut to Halifax have signed up for Defend Our Climate, Defend Our Communities events to “help build a united wall of opposition to dangerous pipelines, reckless tar sands expansion and runaway climate change.”

At rallies in Vancouver and other BC communities, opposition to pipelines — Enbridge’s Northern Gateway in particular — will be a major force. The event is happening on the heels of BC and Alberta’s premiers agreeing on a “framework” for moving the Northern Gateway project forward, in spite of mass (in fact, majority) opposition among citizens and a clear lack of answers on whether Christy Clark’s five criteria were met, after she earlier rejected the pipeline based on those criteria.

The timing will only add more fuel to the fire as we decide we’ve had enough of being ignored by our government leaders. I look forward to standing up with my fellow Canadians from coast to coast to coast in support of a clean energy economy, action on climate change, and renewed democracy.

Please join me on November 16th in your community to defend our climate, defend our communities. Find and RSVP to your local event, join the conversation on Facebook, and most of all, invite your friends!

I’m really proud to be contributing my design expertise to a very talented national team that has been working hard on this since long before I joined. Please do share our articles and images on social media to spread the word and, if you can, a little love, too. See you on the 16th.

Defend our climate, defend our communities
April 18, 2013

Greedy Lying Bastards exposes the money, men and lies behind climate change denial

I wondered for a long time why climate change deniers existed. Maybe, I thought, because the truth is scary and requires us to change our ways — not a comfortable request for a society so deeply anchored in business as usual. While it’s true that climate change is indeed frightening and changing ourselves can be met with resistance, the actual reason is that there is a handful of very wealthy people who stand to lose a lot of money from the societal shift required to prevent catastrophic climate change. The rest of us, well, what we stand to lose by doing nothing can’t be measured in dollars.

Continue reading Greedy Lying Bastards exposes the money, men and lies behind climate change denial »

October 16, 2011

Death to the supermarket

Supermarket produceUniform, flawless produce requires a heartbreaking amount of food waste. (Photo by rick via Flickr)

If we’re to feed the world delicious, nutritious food and halt climate change, we have to kill the supermarket.

There are many reasons why I suggest this enormous beast be culled. It thrives on the unsustainable industrial agriculture model of large-scale, monocrop food production, where food is not grown for taste or nutrition. It’s then shipped long distances, so you can eat lettuce in Vancouver in January. Even if garlic is grown in your region, you’re served up the garlic from China instead.

The produce section is a sterile place devoid of scent (the first sense to get us salivating), where the fruits and vegetables are uniform, barely ripe (if at all) and virtually flawless. It’s no wonder children don’t know their food grows in the ground or on a vine: the produce is so unnatural, it hardly seems a product of nature. Its sprawling, dizzying vastness is a maze that encourages overconsumption and takes up excess land to, among other things, allow for extra-wide shopping carts. It makes buying junk food more appealing than buying produce through a combination of store positioning, packaging and price, and this leads to disease.

I could go on; the reason I’m going to focus on here, however, is its massive — and one could suggest criminal — contribution to food waste.

Continue reading Death to the supermarket »

October 3, 2011

Compelling environmental films bloom at VIFF

The environmental film series at the annual Vancouver International Film Festival appears to have blossomed this year with over a dozen films dealing with issues ranging from food waste and sustainable seafood to climate change and the tar sands.

Some of them are surprising for their genre: Burning Ice brings artists, musicians and poets to the Arctic, and People of a Feather takes us intimately into the lives of Inuit whose very existence depends on the down of eider ducks.

Premiering on Tuesday is a film about Canada’s energy use by local filmmaker Charles Wilkinson and produced by his partner, artist Tina Schliessler. I’m particularly excited to see this one as I’ve known the family since my childhood. Peace Out features interviews with both opponents and proponents of our current destructive energy systems, and aerial footage of the tar sands in Alberta, a project so massive it can be seen from space. Seen from a plane, it’s utterly heartbreaking. Ultimately, we all need to use less energy.

Continue reading Compelling environmental films bloom at VIFF »

April 21, 2011

Join the Earth Day Parade and then get your vote on

Friday, April 22nd isn’t just Good Friday. It’s also Earth Day, and in celebration, Vancouver’s youth have organized a parade and festival! I’ll be there with my bicycle and as many dorky treehugging pins as I can dig up. (Find me if you’d like a Vote Environment button with Suzuki’s retro face on it!)

Earth Day Parade posterCoincidentally, this is the 41st Earth Day and, on May 2nd, Canada has its 41st federal election. Before you head to the polls as early as this weekend — because you ARE voting (or if you’re a minor, telling your parents to vote), right? — think about how important it is to you to have clean air, clean water and healthy food to eat. Think about what kind of world today’s youth will be facing in the future if climate change isn’t mitigated today, if oil spills continue, and if our precious salmon fail to thrive. If you’re a youth yourself, what do you want the world to look like? We can take many actions ourselves, but Canadians understand the government wields the biggest power to make sweeping changes in the areas where consumers have little influence. And the Canadian government needs to know that we care about our environment.

Continue reading Join the Earth Day Parade and then get your vote on »

March 16, 2011

With my fundraising goal reached, some reflection on daily blogging

When I decided to do a “green” blog challenge as my fundraising pledge, I figured a daily commitment would be easier to stick to than a weekly one because I can’t procrastinate. It has its downsides from a content perspective — lack of time to fully develop arguments with good sources, or to edit properly (I also don’t use spellcheck). But generating a daily post means I get it done without getting caught up in perfectionism or letting ideas become stale. I hope ultimately that, among unexpected duds, my content is better.

It might seem at first like writing about the environment is a constrained topic. I discovered as I branched out, however, that I can write about the environment in the context of design, art, health, technology and film. It goes to show that there are multiple ways of relating to environmental issues, and that the environment really does touch, affect and inspire all aspects of our life, especially culture. When you look at it that way, you can begin to understand how when natural systems are unhealthy and disrupted, we are affected, even if the effects are subtle or appear slowly over the long term. As David Suzuki puts it, “What we do to the environment, we do to ourselves.”

Continue reading With my fundraising goal reached, some reflection on daily blogging »