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California Power Company Cuts Power to 800,000 Homes To Avert Wildfires

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The region’s utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has warned the shutdown could last several days.

The company’s transmission lines started the deadliest wildfire in California’s history last year.

With weather forecasts predicting high winds, the move is intended to prevent the risk of fallen power lines igniting more wildfires.

So, of course, PG&E could have and should have upgraded their infrastructure so this would not be necessary, but they didn’t. They gave large dividends to their stockholders instead.

PG&E is also, well, bankrupt, because of the previous fires it caused, so it isn’t in a position to make necessary improvements now.

But let’s not pretend this is a one company issue. The US has needed massive power infrastructure upgrades since the 80s. Most of PG&E’s infrastructure is 60 to 80 years old. They need to cut back trees around the poles and they need to replace old poles.

This is also a public issue. San Francisco, for example, has had 12 ballot initiatives to create a public utility and refused to do so.

Image by Admit One

People wanted tax cuts, deregulation and overpriced houses. that’s what they got, and a 5 day power outage is one of the prices.

This isn’t a hard problem. In the 30s thru 70s utilities were regulated. They were guaranteed a certain profit and required to spend a certain amount of money on upgrades and repairs.  Dividends were fixed, and investors knew what they would get every year.

In other words, they treated as critical infrastructure which had to be maintained and built properly, and it was worth a bit more cost do so.

You can do this publicly, you can do it privately, you can do it as a combination but you must regulate them and inspect them.

Or you can have “cheap” power until a crisis, massive wildfires, brown and blackouts and other crises.

Waving ones hands and saying “the market fairy will make it all happen by the actions of an invisible hand” gets the usual results.

As for PG&E, the only solution likely to work is to just have government take it over and pay for the necessary work. Once that’s done, don’t privatize it.

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60 days ago
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Purity Dairy has a Bicycle Rack

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Remember the City of Charlottetown bicycle rack incentive program? It’s starting to bear fruit: I was happy to see that our friends at Purity Dairy took me up on my suggestion they install one:

Purity Dairy's new bicycle rack

Here’s the case I made to personable owner Tom Cullen back in August:

While you were right to point out that we Purity customers can make do with leaning our bikes on fences and parking sign poles, I think that, beyond the utility of bicycle racks, having one in front of Purity would encourage customers to ride bicycles when visiting to shop.

One of Purity’s aces in the hole is your proximity to downtown Charlottetown and to the Confederation Trail, making it really, really easy to build a visit to Purity into ones everyday cycling routine. I’d like more people to do that, and I think having a piece of infrastructure that telegraphs that to the community would be a positive contribution you could make.

Purity Dairy is the last family-run dairy on Prince Edward Island. It’s extremely conveniently located in the heart of the city, and, perhaps unknown to many potential customers, sells its products directly from the front office. They’re even open on Saturday mornings. And they have some of the nicest people behind the counter that you’ll ever meet, people that Oliver, the official milk purchaser in our family, has gotten to know well over the last two years on our regular Saturday visit.

Our Saturday visits this summer and fall have all been on our bicycles, and that we now have a convenient place to park them, and a dairy that, through its new bicycle rack, is advertising to the community “hey, you can ride your bike here!” is even better.

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60 days ago
Tricycles are great and that is a great one
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Darcie Lanthier for Charlottetown

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I made the decision to vote for Darcie Lanthier on July 15 at 8:15 p.m.

I was sitting on a rickety set of wooden stairs on the side of Riverside Drive. This was my view:

Energy from Waste Plant in Charlottetown

I was in the middle of a midsummer evening bicycle ride, out Riverside Drive to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and then along the riverside path to the Hillsborough Hospital. On the way back home I stopped to make a sketch of the Energy from Waste Plant:

Sketch of the Energy from Waste Plant

I like the simplicity of industrial architecture, and the sun was catching the plant in just the right way that night.

As I was sketching, Darcie Lanthier appeared out of nowhere, on her electric bicycle, returning home, it turned out, from a visit to Hillsborough Park. She got off her bike and we chatted for 20 minutes or so about all manner of things: electric bicycles, how annoying it is that left-hand turn lanes in Charlottetown can’t sense the presence of bicycles, the upcoming federal election and her candidacy in it; we may even have talked about the pros and cons of waste incineration. In fact I’m pretty certain we did.

As the mosquitoes started to get bad, and the sun started to go down, we bid adieu, Darcie sped off, and I made my decision to vote Green this fall.

This morning, at the special poll at Holland College, while bicycling home from the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, that’s exactly what I did:

Oliver and Me, just after voting, October 5, 2019 at Holland College

(As an aside, not only is it great for students that Elections Canada has special polls set up on the Holland College and UPEI campuses, but any elector can choose to vote there, and because these polls are smaller, quieter, and less crowded, they turn out to be a great place to vote, especially if you are challenged by the relative cacophony of regular polling places).

Perhaps, given my public support of Karla Bernard in this spring’s provincial general election, it comes as little surprise that I chose to vote Green. But my choice was by no means an automatic one.

Here are the factors that went into it.

Elizabeth May

By almost any measure, Elizabeth May is the preeminent leader of a federal party in Canada right now. She is an experienced parliamentarian, intelligent, deeply thoughtful, an excellent communicator, an inspiring leader. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her speak three times in the last 6 months, twice during the provincial campaign, and once at an rally for Darcie earlier this federal campaign.

I am passionate about many issues, none more so than the need to address the climate crisis, and there is no doubt that, of the federal leaders, May is the one with the deepest understanding of the science, the implications, and the need to adapt how we live and behave. She comes by this honestly, from a lifetime of concern for and action on the environment and social justice.

In this climate crisis, I want Elizabeth May at the centre of Canada’s response, whether in government or opposition.

The Greens

Both viscerally and by more technical measure, I am aligned with Green Party of Canada policies and priorities; here’s my Vote Compass result:

My Vote Compass results, fall 2019

The Green Party platform for this election is not a platform in the traditional sense; like the PEI Greens platform this spring, it is presented as a blueprint for 2030 and beyond:

This is our platform. It is not a conventional set of political promises. It represents a vision for Canada in 2030, which has been sorely missing in public discourse. Our platform commitments represent the types of policy changes needed to make this vision a reality.

Why 2030?

The world’s climate scientists say that by 2030 we must be halfway towards the goal of virtually eliminating climate-changing pollution – primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – by 2050. If we miss the 2030 target, we risk triggering runaway global warming.

2030 is also the deadline for the reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are a set of 17 goals designed to lift people out of poverty, provide everyone with clean water and air, food security and education, and ensure a livable climate. Canada is committed to these goals, but has no plan to get there. The Green Party endorses these goals and has a plan. Throughout the platform, you will see icons beside those policies that align with the 17 SDGs.

The climate emergency must be the lens through which every policy envelope is viewed – the economy, health, education, foreign affairs, immigration, public safety, defence, social welfare, transportation.

This approach aligns with my own affinity for systems thinking, for an ecological mindset, for seeing problems not in isolation but as interrelated.

The Greens in a Minority Government

After the final results were in for the April 2019 provincial general election, I got an email from my father, asking me how I felt about the “Green party’s loss in the election.”

I was taken aback by the question: although the Greens in PEI didn’t form government, the election saw 8 Green MLAs elected and the party forming official opposition. This was, to my mind, not only a significant achievement, but also preferable, in many ways, to forming government: government is hard, especially so for a relatively new party with no previous experience in government. Being in opposition afforded PEI Greens the opportunity to closely observe government, and to advocate for the inclusion of Green values and policies in a minority parliament, without the immediate weight of government on their shoulders. It was not, by my measure, a loss at all.

I feel the same way about the likely position of the federal Greens after this election: it seems clear that there will be more Greens elected, across the country, than ever before. And also unlikely that any party is going to form a majority. This will place the Greens in an excellent position to guide and influence the upcoming parliament in ways heretofore not possible. As the recent sitting of the PEI Legislature showed, minority parliaments can work, and work well, injecting a spirit and practice of collegiality that has largely been absent until now.

The Charlottetown Candidates

There are five candidates vying for the seat here in Charlottetown: Joe Byrne for the NDP, Sean Casey for the Liberals, Robert Campbell for the Conservatives, Fred Macleod for the Christian Heritage Party, and Darcie Lanthier for the Greens.

I can immediately exclude three of those from consideration: Macleod’s party is essentially an anti-choice one, concerned primarily with eliminating access to abortion; Campbell’s party’s policies run contrary to almost every one of my values, and Campbell himself is rather antedeluvian; Casey is personable, and somewhat more rooted in this century, but has proved neither a particularly effective constituency politician nor a national legislator of particular import (also, they bought a pipeline).

This leaves me with Byrne and Lanthier.

I have a soft spot for Joe Byrne: he is a smart, compassionate person, deeply invested in the NDP and its values. Like Joe, and like the NDP, I am, in my heart of hearts, anti-capitalist and pro-union. My paternal grandparents’ working lives were transformed by unions, and I am a proud former member of the Communications Workers of America myself, and saw directly the benefits working in a union shop can bring. I’ve voted NDP many times before.

But I’m left, in 2019, with the sense that the NDP prescription is out of step with the challenges ahead of us.

At Tuesday’s candidates debate, much of what Joe had to say led back to the notion that, in his view, the only path to real change is a transformation of our economic system. “We do this all the time,” Joe said on Tuesday during a discussion about the Confederation Bridge, “we’ve chosen, over a long period of time, to focus and concentrate wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people, and put less and less into the hands of our communities.”

I don’t disagree with that. But I’ve come to see concentration of wealth not as the cause of what ails us, but as a symptom of it. The NDP’s economic platform could, for most intents and purposes, have been the party’s economic platform in 1979, 1989 and 1999; I think 2019 calls for a broader, ecological view that looks more deeply at the interconnections of work, the economy, the climate, and social justice.

Which leads me to Darcie and the Greens.


What sold me on Darcie that July evening was, to begin, very simple: she was out on her bicycle, riding around Charlottetown, as she has been doing for years.

This is the summer that I rediscovered cycling myself, and began to shift more and more of my everyday travel around town to travel by bicycle, and to see cycling as both a practical carbon-mitigation activity, and as a lens through which many other issues can be viewed. I want an MP who’s a cyclist because I want an MP who has a demonstrated commitment to, and understanding of, the kinds of behaviour and habit changes we’re all going to need to adopt, quickly, in the years to come.

Darcie is not only a cyclist, though: she is a trained renewable energy practitioner, an entrepreneur, and a community organizer. She is a feminist, she is an effective communicator, she is a perpetual volunteer. She lives and breathes and can explain the Green Party platform, and has the practical life experience to know how to carry it out.

And she is a woman. Charlottetown, nor the Queen’s district that preceded it, has never been represented in Parliament by a woman. It’s time that changed.

On a more personal level, Darcie has always treated my son Oliver like a human being, with important contributions to make. This may seem simple, but there are many who do not do this.

Darcie has welcomed Oliver into the Green Party, has listened to him talk about what matters to him. She introduced him to Elizabeth May. She’s had many conversations with him over the past year; she looks him in the eye, and takes him seriously. She gathered Greens together to celebrate his birthday last week, despite a busy campaign schedule. These are not political acts, they are acts of a human being with an open heart and an open mind.

And so…

I voted Green, for Darcie.

Darcie has a solid path to electoral victory: she’s been campaigning since the spring, knocking on thousands and thousands of doors. She has a solid campaign team, led by a seasoned campaign manager. She’s running in a district strongly represented, after April’s provincial election, by Green MLAs.

If you’re in Charlottetown, and are in the midst of making your own choice, I encourage you to visit Darcie’s website, and to call or email the campaign with any questions or concerns.

And I ask you to consider voting Green yourself.

Darcier Lanthier campaign sign, on our front lawn.

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60 days ago
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If I Only Had a Brain

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At the federal candidates forum on environmental issues on October 3, 2019 at the University PEI, here’s what Liberal incumbent Sean Casey finished with (emphasis mine):

I want to talk now to progressive voters, and I think everyone here would put themselves in that category. On October 22, Canada’s going to have Prime Minister Andrew Scheer or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

I think that anyone that honestly believes that there’s a third possibility probably isn’t following the news. There’s only one way to stop Andrew Scheer, and anyone that cares about progressive values will want to stop Andrew Sheer. 

Is the risk of voting with your heart worth it?

Cynical fear-mongering aside, the calculus of this doesn’t made sense.

A vote for Sean Casey results in, well, more Sean Casey.

No matter the national result, a vote for Green candidate Darcie Lanthier — the “voting with your heart” option, in Mr. Casey’s take, I imagine — results in effective representation from an enthusiastic new legislator as part of a larger Green caucus working to leverage Green values into Parliament’s agenda, and an MP who will not only work hard for Charlottetown, but is sure to be a national figure.

That not only seems like a vote my heart can live with, but makes a lot of sense to my head as well.

(Video clip from Environmental Coalition of PEI Livestream of the meeting)

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60 days ago
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Headlines Disappearing to Almost Nothing at the CBC

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A couple of years ago I wrote about how the CBC was A/B testing different headlines on its local news website. They’re back at it again today, testing the headlines “P.E.I. plastic bag recycling cut ‘to almost nothing’ by ban” and “P.E.I. plastic bag recycling troubles disappear with ban” on this story:

Screen shot of the first headline variant

Screen shot of the second headline variant

Using the little hack I wrote back when this first appeared, you can see which headline is “winning” (which is to say “most clicked upon by readers”):

Screen shot of CBC A/B testing results

I’d love to sit in on the meeting where the results of this test were discussed: if “to almost nothing” is the winner, what would the instruction to headline writers be?

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60 days ago
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Multilingualism Helps to Stave Off Dementia.

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A cheering Science News report:

A strong ability in languages may help reduce the risk of developing dementia, says a new University of Waterloo study. The research, led by Suzanne Tyas, a public health professor at Waterloo, examined the health outcomes of 325 Roman Catholic nuns who were members of the Sisters of Notre Dame in the United States. The data was drawn from a larger, internationally recognized study examining the Sisters, known as the Nun Study. The researchers found that six per cent of the nuns who spoke four or more languages developed dementia, compared to 31 per cent of those who only spoke one. However, knowing two or three languages did not significantly reduce the risk in this study, which differs from some previous research.

“The Nun Study is unique: It is a natural experiment, with very different lives in childhood and adolescence before entering the convent, contrasted with very similar adult lives in the convent,” said Tyas. “This gives us the ability to look at early-life factors on health later in life without worrying about all the other factors, such as socioeconomic status and genetics, which usually vary from person to person during adulthood and can weaken other studies.” Tyas added, “Language is a complex ability of the human brain, and switching between different languages takes cognitive flexibility. So it makes sense that the extra mental exercise multilinguals would get from speaking four or more languages might help their brains be in better shape than monolinguals.” […]

“This study shows that while multilingualism may be important, we should also be looking further into other examples of linguistic ability,” said Tyas. “In addition, we need to know more about multilingualism and what aspects are important — such as the age when a language is first learned, how often each language is spoken, and how similar or different these languages are. This knowledge can guide strategies to promote multilingualism and other linguistic training to reduce the risk of developing dementia.”

An apple a day and a language a year, that’s the ticket. (Thanks, Pat!)

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60 days ago
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