How the Crisis Could Accelerate a Revolution in Protein Production

Ways we feed ourselves have to change. In Finland, a glimpse of the future?


Flour made by Solar Foods out of water, CO2, electricity, bacteria and some vitamins. Photo: Solar Foods.

The pandemic has undone agribusiness as usual. Outbreaks in meat-packing plants threaten to snap the links in the North American food chain. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme has warned of a hunger pandemic by the end of the year, with over a quarter of a billion people trapped in a vicious circle. Already malnourished, their immune systems won’t be able to fight COVID-19, so they’ll be too sick to raise crops or find jobs.

The company, Solar Foods, has developed a way to create food out of thin air — more precisely, out of water, CO2, electricity, bacteria and some vitamins. By a fermentation process much like making beer, the company feeds bacteria on CO2 and hydrogen produced by electrolysis; the electricity comes from a renewable source. Dried, the bacteria are converted into a white powder that tastes and behaves like flour, with 50 per cent protein, 5 to 10 per cent fat, and 20 to 25 percent carbohydrates.

At present Solar Foods says it’s producing about a kilo of solein a day. By late next year it expects to produce 50 million meals per year, and by 2023 2 billion meals — while earning revenues of US$800 million to $1.2 billion.

The company argues that solein is far superior to agriculture on environmental and climatic grounds: “the minimum greenhouse gas emission level per kilogram of protein produced by Solar Foods was 0.4 kilograms CO2, compared to 45 kilograms for beef and 2 kilograms for best performing plants.”

What’s more, solein production requires only about 10 per cent of the land area required by agriculture and livestock — or even less, if solein is produced in high-rise towers. The land we now use to grow food for ourselves and our livestock wouldn’t be needed.

The age of designer proteins

Let’s assume that solein is everything its inventors say it is. It’s also a proof of concept, that “designer proteins” can be grown at little or no environmental cost. Others will be eager to compete with the Finns, to grow similar proteins faster, cheaper and more abundantly, and to shape them into foods both familiar and strange. As with computers, miniaturization will likely follow, until a programmable food synthesizer is just another kitchen appliance. At that point a varied and nutritious diet would be available for everyone for pennies per meal.

But what happens to the people who now produce our food the way they’ve been doing it for 10,000 years?

It won’t be total disaster, but it will be pretty bad. If you can grow your own steaks and pork roasts, you don’t need cattle and pigs, or the people and crops that feed them, or the people who slaughter and butcher them. You also don’t need the antibiotic producers who sell to agriculture and thereby increase the danger of antibiotic resistance to human diseases, or the truckers who deliver meat to wholesalers and supermarkets.

You won’t need the vast wheat fields of the Prairies either, or tractors, or combines, or trains and ships to deliver grain across the country and around the world.

It could well happen that fruits, vegetables and specialty foods will survive for a time, permitting boutique agriculture. When cheap food is universal, the rich will make a point of conspicuous consumption of “real food,” like burgers made with real dead cows and real milled wheat, washed down with real crushed-grapes wine. But the rebellious children of the rich will likely prefer nutritionally complete synthetic potato chips and eight per cent craft beer they brew themselves in their bedrooms — next to the 3D printers where they make tomorrow morning’s clothes.

All of this may sound like science fiction at a moment when, from India to Kenya, swarms of locusts are devouring everything in sight while laying eggs for still larger swarms in a few weeks. But the compounding crises of virus and insect plagues should cause us to heed the author Jared Diamond, who calls the invention of agriculture “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.”

“With agriculture,” said Diamond, “came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.” And agriculture also pumps CO2 into the atmosphere and chemicals into the water, poisoning the whole planet. Synthetic protein may help change those dynamics, setting off a positive chain reaction.

Farmland back to forest

The impact of designer proteins could be like the introduction of European diseases in the Americas after Columbus: vast areas of farmland will revert to forest or grass or swamp. As we have seen in this pandemic’s lockdowns, wild animals will promptly reoccupy their old turf. New vegetation, as well as solein production, will suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, tempering the rise in temperatures and sea levels.

Maybe the bison will return to the Prairies, or vast herds of the cattle for which we now have no use. They will be a bonanza for wolves.

Overseas would be another story: in the sub-Saharan African nations, climate change has pushed pastoral peoples and their herds south into farming regions and endless low-level warfare. The farmers might also abandon their land, or keep it by providing the pastoralists with food synthesizers to made cattle fodder.

Billions freed from bondage

In the developing world, synthetic food would free billions of peasants from bondage to their land. Forests would grow back, and the viruses that thrive on wildlife would have less reason to spill over into humans for yet more pandemics.

But what would the peasants do with themselves? March on the local castle with pitchforks and torches?

More likely they would relax and enjoy life as their social masters have for 10,000 years: by developing their cultures, learning new skills, debating religion, intriguing against one another, and doing anything else they want to. Just as ancient land-owning aristocrats played at being hunters, ex-peasants might compete to grow the best cornfield in Guatemala and the most productive rice paddy in Laos.

Those fields and paddies, and the cities of their owners, would be clearings in a new wilderness of forests, grasslands and tropical jungles — and even arctic tundra, if we can pull enough CO2 back out of the air and turn it into food.

Of course growing synthetic food to feed seven billion people sounds like an impossible idea — especially when it also involves saving the planet from becoming Hothouse Earth. But it increasingly seems an impossible idea to go back to the world of 2019 and pretend to do business as we did then. That world appears gone forever.  [Tyee] SOURCE

Help Protect Food Processing Workers! ACT NOW!

Food processing workers at meat plants across Canada are working hard on the front lines to make protein products for families and neighbourhoods across the country.

There have been more than 1,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases of food processing workers, so far. Some of these workers battling COVID-19 are in critical condition and some have died.

The federal government recently announced $77 million for food processing companies – in response to the pandemic – but the details of how the money will be distributed are still uncertain.

Food workers must have a central role in determining the conditions and criteria for the “Emergency Processing Fund.”

Tell the Government of Canada that taxpayer money to corporations must first guarantee the health and safety of workers – and food workers must have a say in determining the conditions of their own health and safety!


For weeks, Canada’s food processing workers have been calling for the following measures – recommended by food worker advocates around the world – and have received no commitments from the federal government on these basic provisions:

      • Ensuring that workers are able to work two meters (6.5 feet) apart from each other throughout their working day. This is possible through modification to work organization, work scheduling and rest breaks. There may need to be changes to the design of the workstations such as the installation of Perspex, Plexiglas or similar material to shield workers from potentially infecting each other;
      • Reducing the speed and amount of product on the line to help ensure two-meter spacing between workers. This must be achieved without eliminating any positions; and decisions regarding shifts, work sharing arrangements, and overtime must involve the union;
      • Provision of adequate hand washing and sanitizer stations and increasing the number of breaks so handwashing may become a routine part of the work;
      • Ensuring regular, thorough cleaning and sanitation of the workplace, including restrooms and lunchrooms. All shared surfaces (e.g. workbenches, door handles, handrails, and keyboards) must be cleaned regularly;
      • Provision of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – although this cannot be a substitute for appropriate spacing between workers;
      • Making arrangements for safe travel to and from the workplace to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19; and
      • Posting the agreed workplace protocols on noticeboards in languages that all workers can understand and maintaining regular communication.

Protecting food workers and stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Canada’s food manufacturing facilities, requires a consistent approach guided by stakeholders – unions and employers – and enforced by government.

Food workers need action NOW!

Orphaned oil and gas wells have green energy potential

Photo credits: Michael Wilson/CBC; Orphan Well Association.

Tens of thousands of dormant oil and gas wells sit idle across Alberta, an inventory the province wants to shrink in the coming months with the help of $1 billion from the federal government.

But as Alberta implements its strategy for cleaning up orphan and inactive wells, there are calls for the provincial government to also look at using some of the funds to provide new opportunities for some sites.

Advocates say well infrastructure, such as wellbores, roads and pad space, could find other energy uses, including geothermal, micro-solar, hydrogen, recovery of lithium or carbon capture and storage.

“There’s a subset of those sites, a rather large subset, that are really good candidates for … other energy purposes,” said Marla Orenstein, director of the natural resources centre at the Canada West Foundation.

Alberta has nearly 3,000 orphan wells — oil and gas wells that haven’t been remediated by their often-bankrupt owners. (There are more than 90,000 inactive wells, which remain in corporate hands but sit idle for economic reasons.)

Last month, Ottawa announced it would provide Alberta with $1 billion to help clean up those sites, including a $200-million loan to the Orphan Well Association, an industry-funded group that cleans up orphaned infrastructure.

The provincial government has since announced oilfield services firms will be able to apply for grants under the oilfield rehabilitation program.

Orenstein said the money — and the jobs the work will create — is a good start. “If we can figure out how to direct that money toward not just reclaiming but also re-purposing, we’ll provide a real advantage to the province and the country,” she said.

Nothing in the plans that the province has announced so far includes funds for repurposing sites.

Tristan Goodman, president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, said the vast majority of the funds should go to the clean-up work that was at the core of Ottawa’s announcement.

He agreed, however, that there is potential in repurposing older wells for geothermal in some circumstances. “But it’s not as simple as every well will be a geothermal candidate.”

Juli Rohl, who works for the Alberta-based Energy Futures Lab, suggested some old sites could be used for solar projects, as they may already have the road access, the lease, a gravelled site and nearby power lines to tie into.

But Rohl said there are questions of liability — namely, responsibilities any company may have to the actual owner of the land the wells are on.

She said startup companies that are able to re-purpose these sites “don’t have the ability to take on huge amounts of liability right [from] the get-go. And the operators, who are holding this liability, want to get it off their books.

“Sorting out who has the liability and how that’s handled in the future is the biggest question and the biggest challenge for this.”

Orenstein said there are also regulatory changes that would be required, like altering rules that say industrial sites have to be returned to their original conditions before they can be repurposed for new energy uses.

But if the government wants to make things happen, Rohl said, there are companies ready to go.

“It’s not as though we need to wait for the technology to catch up — we just need the framework for collaboration.” SOURCE

— Tony Seskus

Against a return to normality

How can the development goals be achieved? | World Economic Forum

The covid-19 pandemic is a tragedy. However, this crisis has the virtue of inviting us to face the essential questions.

The balance is simple: the “adjustments” are no longer sufficient, the problem is systemic.

The current ecological catastrophe is part of a meta-crisis: no one doubts the massive extinction of life on Earth anymore and all the indicators announce a direct threat to our existence. More than a pandemic, however serious it may be, it is a global collapse whose consequences will be excessive.

Consequently, we solemnly call on leaders and citizens to break out of the unsustainable logic that still prevails, to finally work on a deep recasting of our goals, values ​​and economies. Consumerism has led us to deny our own lives: that of plants, that of animals and that of a large number of humans. Pollution, global warming and the destruction of natural spaces lead the world to a breaking point. For these reasons, added to an increasing social inequality, it seems unthinkable to us “to return to normality”. The radical transformation that is required, at all levels, requires boldness and courage. It will not take place without a massive and determined commitment. When will the acts come? It is a matter of survival, as well as dignity and coherence.

Signatories to the article, originally appeared on Le Monde:

Lynsey Addario, reporter; Isabelle Adjaniactress Roberto Alagna, lyrical singer; Pedro Almodovar, film director ; Santiago Amigorena, Writer ; Angèle, singer ; Adria Arjonaactress Yann Arthus-Bertrand, photographer, film director; Ariane Ascarideactress Olivier Assayas, film director ; Josiane Balaskoactress Jeanne Balibaractress Bang Hai Ja, painter ; Javier Bardem, actor ; Aurélien Barrau, astrophysicist, honorary member of the University Institute of France; Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancer, choreographer; Nathalie bayeactress Emmanuelle Béartactress Jean Bellorini, Theater director ; Monica Bellucciactress Alain Benoit, physical; Charles Berling, actor ; Juliette Binocheactress Benjamin Biolay, singer ; Dominique Blancactress Cate Blanchettactress Gilles Bœuf, former president of the National Museum of Natural History; Valérie Bonnetonactress Aurélien Bory, playwright; Miguel Bosé, actor singer ; Stéphane Braunschweig, Theater director; Stéphane Brizé, film director ; Irina brook, theater director; Peter Brook, Theater director ; Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, actress, film director; Khatia Buniatishvili, Pianist ; Florence Burgat, philosopher, director of research at Inrae ;; Guillaume Canet, actor, film director; Anne Carson, poet and writer; Michel Cassé, astrophysicist; Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; François Civil, actor ; François Cluzet, actor ; Isabel Coixet, Film director ; Gregory Colbert, photographer, film director; Paolo Conte, singer ; Marion Cotillardactress Camille Cottinactress Penelope Cruzactress Alfonso Cuaron, film director ; Willem dafoe, actor ; Béatrice Dalleactress Alain Damasio, Writer; Ricardo Darin, actor ; Cécile de Franceactress Robert De Niro, actor ; Annick de Souzenelle, writer; Johann Deisenhofer, Nobel Prize in Chemistry ; Kate del Castilloactress Miguel Delibes Castro, biologist at the Royal Academy of Science; ANDmmanuel Demarcy-Mota, Theater director ; Claire Denis, Film director ; Philippe Descola, anthropologist, CNRS gold medal; Virginie Despentes, writer; Alexandre Desplat, composer ; Arnaud Desplechin, film director; Natalie Dessay, lyrical singer; Cyril Dion, writer, film director; Hervé Doleastrophysicist; Adam Driver, actor ; Jacques Dubochet, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Diane Dufresne, singer ; Thomas Dutronc, singer ; Lars Eidinger, actor ; Olafur Eliasson, sculptor; Marianne Faithfull, singer ; Pierre fayet, member of the Academy of Sciences; Abel Ferrara, film director ; Albert Fert, Nobel Prize in Physics ; Ralph Fiennes, actor ; Edmond Fischer, Nobel Prize in Medicine; Jane Fondaactress Joachim Frank, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, actor ; Marie-Agnès Gillot, dancer ; Amos Gitaï, film director ; Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu, film director ; Timothy Gowers, Fields medal of mathematics; Eva Greenactress Sylvie Guillem, dancer ; Ben hardy, actor ; Serge Haroche, Nobel Prize in Physics; Dudley R. Herschbach, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Rob hopkins, founder of Cities in Transition; Nicolas Hulot, Honorary President of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Man; Immany, singer ; Jeremy Irons, actor ; Agnès Jaoui, actress, film director; Jim Jarmusch, film director ; Vaughan Jones, Fields Medal for Mathematics; Spike jonze, film director ; Camélia Jordana, singer ; Jean jouzel, climatologist, Vetlesen award; Anish Kapoor, sculptor, painter; Naomi Kawase, Film director ; Sandrine Kiberlainactress Angélique Kidjo, singer ; Naomi Klein, writer; Brian Kobilka, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Hirokazu Kore-eda, film director ; Panos Koutras, film director ; Antjie Krog, poet; The Great Sophie, singer ; Ludovic Lagarde, Theater director ; Mélanie Laurentactress Bernard Lavilliers, singer ; Yvon Le Maho, ecophysiologist; Roland Lehoucq, astrophysicist; Gilles Lellouche, actor, film director; Christian Louboutin, creator; Roderick MacKinnon, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Madonna, singer ; Macha Makeïeff, theater director; Claude Makélélé, soccer player ; Ald Al Malikrapper Rooney maraactress Ricky Martin, singer ; Carmen Mauraactress Michel Mayor, Nobel Prize in Physics; Medinerapper Melody gardot, singer ; Arturo Menchaca Rocha, physicist, former president of the Academy of Sciences of Mexico; Raoni Metuktire, Indian chief of Raoni; Julianne Mooreactress Wajdi Mouawad, theater director, author; Gérard Mouroux, Nobel Prize in Physics; Nana Mouskouri, singer; Yael Naim, singer ; Jean-Luc Nancy, philosopher ; Guillaume Néry, apnea world champion; Pierre Niney, actor ; Michaël Ondaatje, Writer ; Thomas Ostermeier, Theater director ; Rithy Panh, film director ; Vanessa Paradis, singer actress ; James Peebles, Nobel Prize in Physics; Corine Pelluchon, philosopher; Joaquin Phoenix, actor ; Pomme, singer ; Iggy Pop, singer ; Olivier Py, Theater director ; Radu Mihaileanu, film director ; Susheela Raman, singer ; Edgar Ramirez, actor ; Charlotte Ramplingactress Raphaël, singer ; Eric Reinhardt, Writer ; Resident, singer ; Jean-Michel Ribes, Theater director ; Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk ; Richard Roberts, Nobel Prize in Medicine ; Isabella Rosselliniactress Cecilia Rothactress Carlo Rovelli, physicist, honorary member of the University Institute of France; Paolo Roversi, photographer ; Ludivine Sagnieractress Shaka Ponk (Sam et Frah), singers; Vandana Shiva, philosopher, writer; Abderrahmane Sissako, film director ; Gustaf Skarsgard, actor ; Paolo Sorrentino, film director ; Sabrina Speich, oceanographer; Sting, singer ; James Fraser Stoddart, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Barbra Streisand, singer, actress, film director; Malgorzata Szumowska, Film director ; Béla Tarr, film director ; Bertrand Tavernier, film director ; Alexandre Tharaud, Pianist ; James Thierré, theater director, dancer; Mélanie Thierryactress Tran Anh Hung, film director; Jean-Louis Trintignant, actor; Karin Viardactress Rufus Wainwright, singer ; Lulu Wang, Film director ; Paul Watson, Writer ; Wim wenders, film director ; Stanley Whittingham, Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Sonia Wieder-Athertoncellist; Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize in Physics; Olivia Wildeactress Christophe willem, singer ; Bob Wilson, Theater director ; Lambert Wilson, actor ; David Wineland, Nobel Prize in Physics; Xuan Thuan Trinh, astrophysicist; Muhammad Yunus, economist, Nobel Peace Prize winner; Zazie, singer.


Planet of the Humans – A Tale of Misinformation And Distortion.

I was excited to hear Michael Moore announce that he was releasing a new film—Planet of the Humans—on Earth Day. I have found a number of his films, in particular Bowling for Columbine and SICKO, thoughtful, funny and on the money. Unfortunately “Planet of the Humans” fails on all three counts. And more unfortunately, the film (free on Youtube) has already been viewed more than a million times in the first 24 hours.

Planet of the Humans

The film is actually written, produced and directed by Jeff Gibbs a self-avowed lifelong environmentalist who has collaborated on several Michael Moore films. Michael Moore is the Executive Producer on this effort.

Much of the assessment of renewable energy—wind, solar, electric cars, the grid—is simply cringe worthy (more on this later).  It’s as if the filmmaker hadn’t read anything on renewables in at least a decade.  In this film, anyone who has an opinion and some tangential connection to an industry can be a trusted expert if they have offered a soundbite in front of Gibb’s camera. Take for example the salesman in the film who suggests confidently that solar panels only last 10 years.  Its clear that fact-checking wasn’t going to interfere with the polemic.

The film does have some redeeming features.  The extended section on how and why biofuels are not a climate crisis solution probably mostly hits the mark.  The issues of green washing, the need to follow the money, the need to examine population and modern levels of consumption, and that renewable energy won’t save the planet alone are all important. The exploration of corporate links to environmental groups is disconcerting, but with so much misinformation or distorted information in other parts of the film, its hard to feel much confidence that suddenly this information is presented without distortion.

The Wheel of First Time Climate Dudes

Although the writer and director claims to be a life-long environmentalist, he is remarkably uninformed about renewable energy.

As Emily Atkin put it in her piece:

“The wheel starts to spin when a dude who spent his entire career doing everything except climate journalism decides he’s going to be the one to do a Big Climate Journalism Moment. This moment can be an interview with a famous person, a huge piece in a fancy publication, or a documentary film produced by Michael Moore.

Because of the bigness of said moment, it is consumed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. But because neither the author nor editor has not [sic] done much climate journalism before, however, the viral moment suffers from factual inaccuracies and misleading tropes.”

She continues:

“That’s understandable. Climate change is a very difficult subject to cover—due in large part to the sophisticated 40-year disinformation campaign around the subject, perpetuated and funded by the multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel industry and its powerful political allies.

But that doesn’t change the fact that harmful inaccuracies have been consumed by many people. The wheel comes full circle when climate journalists have to spend massive amounts of time and intellectual energy consuming and debunking the First Time Climate Dudes story.”

A Reheated Mess of Lazy, Old Myths

When George Monbiot tweeted that he did not write a commentary on Planet of the Humans because Ketan Joshi had done such a good job, I took notice.  Joshi’s takedown of the film “Planet of the Humans: A reheated mess of lazy, old myths” is  excellent – detailed, entertaining and extensive — almost 3,000 words!

He points out that Gibbs had been working on this film for at least a decade. Joshi argues that “there are some ideas in this documentary that are well worn and highly recognisable memes from the 2009 – 2013 climate denial wonder years” when Joshi’s work included responding to the parade of misinformation.

Joshi’s conclusion about the film:

“It is the ultimate expression of lazy privilege to make something so void of effort, but so widely viewed and promoted. Criticism will be rebuffed as Not Being Able To Handle The Truth, or the classic We Just Wanted To Start A Discussion. It is still a package of old, dead ideas reheated by someone who knew that he did not need to put any effort into updating his thinking. There was no chance he would be talking to climate activists, talking to young people, talking to experts, talking to community advocates, talking to people from other countries, or really talking to anyone who wasn’t already mostly in his vicinity.

It should have faded off into the pit of Youtube’s unwatched terabytes, but it didn’t, because mediocrity is celebrated, boosted and broadcast if it comes from someone who looks and sounds the right way.”

Read it if you want an historic, detailed, and compelling assessment of the film’s shortcomings.

Josh Fox, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, has just written (April 30th) a blistering article with a enough fact-check hyperlinks to keep you busy all night and concludes with:

“Please, Mike: Start listening to science, to reason, to the movement—and retract and apologize for this film.

To everyone else, don’t despair! We have a future if we want one. No amount of attention-grabbing bloviation from Trump, Breitbart, or Moore will stop the sun from shining, the wind from blowing—or the truth from coming to light.”

More Renewable Energy Fact Checking

Planet of the Humans - A Tale of Misinformation And Distortion, Below2CNot surprisingly the renewable energy world has responded to the the deluge of false information in the film.

PVSolar provides details of the misinformation about solar and the following more general comments:

“The film offers a succession of talking heads, all bemoaning renewables — although there is not a grid scientist or energy expert among them.”

“It’s difficult to take the film seriously on any topic when it botches the solar portion so thoroughly. Although the film was released in 2020, the solar industry it examines, whether through incompetence or venality, is from somewhere back in 2009.”

A more detailed piece debunking issue by issue the film’s misinformation on solar is available here.  The author’s overall assessment:

“I watched this film, and honestly it was a little heartbreaking. With the kind of resources Michael Moore has, it could have been great. Instead, he ended up parroting many falsehoods that the renewable energy and environmental movements have been trying to dispel for decades.”

The wind industry does a fact checking exercise, focusing on the  film maker’s misunderstanding of the power system, why the film is wrong about carbon footprints and lifecycle impacts, and why it is wrong on wind and solar’s impacts on fossil fuel use.

Inside Climate News discusses 6 things the film gets wrong.

A Hate On For Climate Groups and Climate Activists

The filmmaker seems to go out of his way to take down some of the most important climate groups and climate activists in the US.  Let’s examine one example. He accuses Bill McKibben a co-founder of of supporting biofuels and claims in the credits at the end of the film that McKibben has changed his mind to be against biofuels since he saw the film.

350.Org’s response:

“The documentary ‘Planet of the Humans’ contains a number of inaccuracies in relation to Bill McKibben and These inaccuracies are so many and so glaring that they point towards not only bad journalism, but also bad faith by director Jeff Gibbs.” — 350.Org

McKibben was initially for biofuels but changed his mind several years ago as new evidence emerged. He wrote about his concerns about biofuels in several articles in major US publications.  McKibben points out:

“Like the filmmaker, I previously personally supported burning biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels—in my case, when the rural college where I teach replaced its oil furnaces with a wood-chip burner more than a decade ago, I saluted it. But as more scientists studied the consequences of large-scale biomass burning, the math began to show that it would put large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere at precisely the wrong moment: if we break the back of the climate system now, it won’t matter if forests suck it up fifty years hence. And as soon as that became clear I began writing and campaigning on those issues. Here’s a piece of mine from 2016 that couldn’t be much clearer, and another from 2019 in the New Yorker about the fights in the Southeast, and another from 2020 as campaigners fought to affect policy in the Northeast. The other side has definitely noticed—here’s an article from the biomass industry attacking me,, and others”

The Fallout

This movie is the enemy of humanity’s last best chance to save itself and countless other species from unchecked climate change through a transition to cleaner technologies. — Dana Nuccitelli in Yale Climate Connections

Although Gibbs hopefully didn’t receive funding from the fossil fuel industry, he might as well have for all the misinformation about renewables he presents. Not surprisingly, the climate deniers are already using the film to further their disinformation campaigns. Terence Corcoran reviewed the film in the Financial Post under the title : “The hottest doc of the year kills green energy: Planet of the Humans drops a bombshell on the green movement, the renewable energy industry, and talk of a Green New Deal.”

In conclusion, the final disappointment is that after all the misinformation about renewable energy and some of its most important activists, the film offers essentially no solutions.  As PV magazine noted: “The film is long on criticism but offers no solution other than a vague non-capitalist pastoral alternative…”

(Published April 27th; updated April 29th, April 30th and May 1 with the additions of Ketan Joshi’s review, Josh Fox’s review and quote from Dana Nuccitelli)


An Opportunity To Build Back Better

Writing for Policy (Canadian Politics and Public Policy), Green MP Elizabeth May states that “the reports of oil’s death are NOT greatly exaggerated. The combined impacts of the world glut of cheap oil, low demand and the arrival of disruptive innovation in the form of renewable energy will not end our use of oil overnight. But the world is not the same as it was last year, or even months ago. Oil, as the energy of the future, is dead.”

An Opportunity To Build Back Better, Below2C

This post was first published in The Energy Mix – author Mitchell Beer)

According to Mitchell Beer, analysts point to a green recovery as the route to ‘shovel-worthy decade’.

From prominent international economists to an (almost as prominent?) Canadian think tank, there’s a widening consensus that green investment in projects that are “shovel-worthy” as well as “shovel-ready” will be the best way to restore economies ravaged by the coronavirus lockdown while simultaneously addressing the climate crisis.

This week, a team of U.S. and British economists that included Columbia University Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and veteran UK climate analyst Lord Nicholas Stern called for measures “both to revive virus-hit economies and strike a decisive blow against climate change,” Reuters reports. And in an opinion piece for The Hill Times, Dan Woynillowicz and Sarah Petrevan of Clean Energy Canada suggest criteria for economic recovery projects that will perform better than the ones the country funded in 2009. “Shovel-ready is well and good, but we have a chance now to build a shovel-worthy decade,” they write.

Turning Point on Climate?

The international study led by Oxford University environmental economist Cameron Hepburn noted that policy decisions over the next six months will determine whether the pandemic becomes a turning point on climate. “With major economies drawing up enormous economic packages to cushion the shock of the coronavirus pandemic, many investors, politicians, and businesses see a unique opportunity to drive a shift to a low-carbon future,” Reuters says. “Think tanks and investor groups have also been making the case for tailoring recoveries to accelerate a transition away from fossil fuels.”

But the world is not the same as it was last year, or even months ago. Oil, as the energy of the future, is dead. — Elizabeth May

Based on a review of 700 economic stimulus packages from the last economic crash in 2008 and a survey of 231 experts from 53 countries, the study “suggested that green projects such as boosting renewable energy or energy efficiency create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns, and lead to increased long-term cost savings relative to traditional stimulus measures,” the news agency adds.

“The authors cautioned that there were some risks with extrapolating from past crises to discern how coronavirus recovery packages might play out, given the possible reluctance of people to travel or socialize following the pandemic.” But “with carbon emissions on track for their biggest fall on record this year, governments could now choose to either pursue net zero emissions targets or lock in a fossil fuel system that would be ‘nearly impossible to escape’.”

“The COVID-19-initiated emissions reduction could be short-lived,” said Hepburn, director of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and Environment. “But this report shows we can choose to build back better, keeping many of the recent improvements we’ve seen in cleaner air, returning nature, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

In Canada, Woynillowicz and Petrevan contrast Canada’s economic stimulus philosophy from a decade ago—“if it’s ready to go and creates some jobs, write a cheque”—with a U.S. recovery plan that devoted US$112 billion, about one-eighth of all funding, to clean energy investment.

“Not only did it leverage about $150 billion in private capital, it also created a significant number of jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries in a short period of time,” they write. “The clean energy-related programs supported 900,000 job-years from 2009 to 2015, including new employment for workers from sectors that saw big job losses. Building retrofits and solar panel installation programs re-employed construction workers laid off during the housing crash.”

The U.S. investments “also paid off in reduced carbon pollution,” they add. “Since 2008, U.S. wind generation has tripled, while solar generation has increased more than 80 times. This year, renewable energy will account for 21% of total electricity used in the U.S, contributing to a 28% fall in electricity-related carbon pollution since 2005.”

To gain from that experience, Woynillowicz and Petrevan suggest a set of criteria to help Canadian officials conduct quick but robust assessments of the avalanche of stimulus projects coming forward for funding:

      • The number of jobs they create per dollar invested, and whether they’re “secure jobs in sunrise industries”;
      • The long-term economic impact of projects that boost Canadian innovation and competitiveness, drive domestic supply chains, and mobilize private investment;
      • Whether a project encourages cleaner energy and energy efficiency, and supports the country’s climate targets.

“Government frameworks and datasets already exist to help answer these types of questions, though they are scattered across departments,” they write. “A concise tool that pulls them together could quickly give us the lens through which we might see a better Canada.”  SOURCE

No Mow May: Why you shouldn’t mow the lawn in May

This summer sit back and let the grass grow, as a new campaign called No Mow May encourages gardeners to leave their mowers in the shed and transform their lawns into havens of biodiversity.

No Mow May

The warming weather signals the point in the year when gardeners are able to turn their attentions back to their lawns, with regular mowing transforming a scrappy patch into an orderly sea of green.

The connection between mowing and the beginning of the gardening season is deeply entrenched in the psyche of gardeners, which is why No Mow May – the idea of avoiding mowing in May, suggested by charity Plantlife – is quietly revolutionary. Over the colder months, lawn maintenance mainly involves ensuring that mower blades are clean and sharp. But once spring begins to break through, regular cutting is high on the agenda. May is the window to summer and the point at which the once-dormant grass starts to shoot up in earnest and mowing traditionally gets under way. Most gardeners are desperate to get out and start chopping, and Plantlife’s recent survey of 2,000 gardeners revealed that most of us mow once every two weeks.

The reason for thinking twice about our mowing habits comes down to stark facts. According to a report in the journal Biological Conservation, 97 per cent of British wildflower meadows have disappeared since the 1930s. A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications shows that many British pollinating insects are in decline, with rarer species, such as the red-shanked carder bee, really struggling. Between 1980 and 2013, every square kilometre in the UK lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly. The reasons behind this are the use of insecticides, habitat loss and an overall reduction in biodiversity. Plantlife believes that people’s gardens can play a vital part in reversing this trend.

Mowing tips for encouraging wildlife

Cut once every four weeks The 2019 No Mow May experiment revealed the highest number of flowers on lawns mown in this way. Ideally, leave around three to five centimetres of grass length.

Leave areas of long grass The experiment also resulted in greater diversity of flowers in areas of grass that were left completely unmown, with oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed offering up important nectar sources.

You don’t have to stop mowing completely Some species, such as daisy and bird’s foot trefoil, are adapted to growing in shorter swards. Cutting flowers from these plants once a month stimulates them to produce more blooms.

And it’s not just a belief: there’s now proof. Following the launch of No Mow May in 2019, figures show that if you mow less, the pollen count on your lawn can skyrocket. The charity’s citizen science experiment asked people to leave their mowers in the shed for May and count the flower species that subsequently popped up in a one-square-metre patch of their lawn. The results are indisputable: changing the way we mow can result in a tenfold increase in the amount of nectar available to bees and other pollinators. The new mowing regime saw an increase in the growth of daisies, germander, speedwell and creeping buttercup. And the species that benefitted changed each month – after stopping mowing for another month in July, participants saw a resurgence of white clover, selfheal and bird’s foot trefoil. The average square-metre patch of lawn surveyed after the experiment produced enough nectar to support almost four honey bees per day.

For Plantlife’s botanist Trevor Dines, it’s a case of changing the way we all think about how we control our gardens. “It’s time for people to relax a little bit,” he says. “Avoiding mowing in this way means that instead of a dull monoculture of green concrete, your garden will be thriving and full of interest. I don’t think people realise how diverse our lawns can be.”

And the option to continue as we have been is not really a viable one. “The statistics for wildflower meadow loss are shocking: around 7.5 million acres have gone,” says Trevor. He describes how a colleague’s grandfather used to walk from Stratford-upon-Avon to Birmingham as a boy and not leave a wildflower meadow. “The loss of this landscape means a loss of food source for pollinators, which is one of the key drivers of their decline.”

It’s not necessary, either, to simply leave your garden to the elements. The ultimate concept of No Mow May is not really to stop mowing in May specifically, or to leave whole swathes of your lawn unmown. Behind the catchy title is a simple concept: get people to change their habits so that they mow less – ideally once a month – and possibly even leave a patch or two of grass to grow long. Gardens can really make a difference to the number of wildflowers in this country. As Trevor says: “We’ve lost the mosaic of meadows from the countryside but at least within our gardens we can do something in response to that.”

How to take part in No Mow May

• Register for Every Flower Counts at

• Leave your mower in the shed from 23 to 31 May and again from 11 to 19 July.

• At the end of each period, throw a tennis ball into a patch of your lawn, mark out a square metre with sticks around the ball and count and identify the flowers in that square and then upload your findings. 



At the end of the forest: a former Vancouver Island mill town’s struggle for reinvention

Tahsis was built to support the province’s once-booming logging industry. Now, amid industry closures and layoffs, the scenic village and its ambitious mayor offer a glimpse of the challenges communities face as they try to carve out new economies

Editor’s note: Travel to the village of Tahsis for this article was concluded before physical distancing and recommended travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic were put into effect.

Residents of Tahsis treated Martin Davis with suspicion the moment he moved there two decades ago.

The remote village on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island had survived off logging and milling over the decades, until the last mill closed in 2001, around the time Davis arrived.

Davis, an environmentalist, caver, tree planter and former underground radio-station operator, spent his spare time exploring the area’s caves and went on to play an important role in local conservation initiatives, including the creation of the 316-hectare Weymer Creek Provincial Park.

Also in the Weymer watershed, on the east side of Tahsis Inlet just beyond the village, he played a key role in the establishment of the 29-hectare Wildlife Habitat Area in 2000.

For Davis, these decisions represented important wins for Tahsis’ rich biodiversity and landscapes, including six bat species, Roosevelt elk, old-growth trees, and caves and karst features containing the bones of mammals dating back 1,300 years.

But for long-time Tahsis residents, the new protected areas were simply part of the town’s growing economic problem. “People thought I was trying to shut down all logging in the area,” Davis recalls. “They were looking for scapegoats.”

“I was afraid I was going to get lynched.”

Mayor Martin Davis stands above the Tahsis Inlet. Photo: TJ Watt

A town founded on logging

The trip to Tahsis requires a 150-kilometre journey across the girth of Vancouver Island. From Campbell River, the nearest commercial hub, you head due west. Once you hit Gold River the pavement stops and it’s another 65 kilometres on a gravel logging road.

Tahsis is at the end of the line, and it can also feel like a town at the end of the world.

I arrive for the first time in darkness in torrential winter rains, navigating dimly lit streets through a heavily fogged windshield. The main drag is South Maquinna Drive, but it does not directly connect with North Maquinna Drive, where my Airbnb is located — and the village has no cell service (although that changed a few days after my departure).

I pull into Sally’s Grill at the far end of town, greeted by a “please dont (sic) touch the dog” sign on the front door. Tonight’s home-cooked special is “redneck lasagna” which, I’m told, is a reference to the huge portions and certainly not the ownership or clientele.

Co-owner Sally Taylor is preparing to close early due to lack of business. “Go back, cross the bridge, turn left at the store, and follow the Tahsis River,” she says.

In the morning, I have a whole new outlook. The rains have called a temporary truce; sun pours across the mountain tops and puts a much-needed shine on the tarnished little town that forms part of my family history.

My late father, Art, and older brother Brian were employed here in the 1960s, as a millwright and labourer, respectively. Brian recalls the “town’s smell of lumber, the big heavy timbers in the hold of the ocean freighters, getting a sore back and having to quit, and, of course, sitting at dad’s table in the bunkhouse room in the evenings playing crib.”

Some 2,500 people lived and worked in Tahsis in its heyday, drawn by the booming timber industry.

“You used to get $18 an hour to start just to push a broom, back in the ’90s,” Davis tells The Narwhal. “There were Italian and Sikh communities. People came from all over. Pretty amazing, actually.”

Today the town’s population has dwindled to one-tenth its historic numbers, and only a handful of people are still employed in the forest industry.

Welcome to Tahsis sign

A welcome sign for the Village of Tahsis. The village once supported a population of 2,500 with many working in the forestry industry, supported by a local mill. The population has now dwindled to around 250 people. Photo: Larry Pynn

Tahsis building

A boarded up building in Tahsis. Ideas for economic revitalization for the village include ecotourism, fishing, small-scale logging and support for local and visiting artists. Photo: Larry Pynn

The industry’s changing fortunes have led to a recent shift in attitudes within the town. Long after Davis’ early days of environmentalism, his ideas for a new economy — which include extending seasonal sports fishing to wider ecotourism and moving to small-scale selective logging — are catching on. Those ideas carried him successfully through a 2018 mayoral campaign.

“It’s amazing — the transition of this town,” he acknowledges. “It’s quite ironic that I’m the mayor now.”

At 112 votes, you’d be hard pressed to call Davis’ win a landslide, but he captured half the vote and left his two competitors in the dust.

Mill closures, layoffs, reduced operations and labour strife hit rural communities especially hard in 2019. Four mills, including Canfor’s in Vavenby, Tolko Quest Wood’s in Quesnel, West Fraser’s in Chasm and the Errington Cedar Products mill in Errington, are now permanently closed.

And a strike at Western Forest Products, one of the major employers on Vancouver Island, came to an end in February in its eighth month.

In January, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development estimated 4,686 workers were affected by B.C.’s forestry crisis, including 725 workers impacted by the United Steelworkers’ strike against Western.

Almost two decades after its last mill shut down, Tahsis offers a glimpse of the challenges small resource-dependent communities face as they try to reinvent their economic futures.

‘Economic basket case’

Today, the community’s mill-town legacy, an industrial wasteland distinguished by rotting wood and rusting steel, is best viewed near the mouth of the Tahsis River. Locals ignore the ‘No Trespassing’ signs and crawl around the chain-link fencing to walk their dogs.

In an area known as the “flats” are single-family dwellings and a trailer park with mobile homes, some protected from the rain beneath tarps. I found one single-wide mobile home selling on-line for just $5,000 plus a $275-per-month pad rental.

Over breakfast, back at Sally’s diner, Davis lays out the opportunities and challenges involved in getting Tahsis back on its feet.

“This town should never have existed here,” Davis says of the flats. “This was an estuary that was filled in with hog fuel, cedar chips, whatever, and then they threw a bit of gravel on top and built houses. There’ve been a lot of settling issues and problems. We’d like to phase out this part of the community, but that’s a tough thing to do.”

A consultant’s 2019 report on flood risk found the flats lies within the floodplain of the Tahsis River. The report noted that due to climate change, the area also faces the prospect of rising sea levels and 12-per-cent wetter winters.

More than $41 million is needed for flood-proofing projects, including raising dikes, according to the report. The village’s current annual operating budget is about $2.5 million.

“The town as it is isn’t sustainable,” Davis says. “We’re kind of an economic basket case.”

Former mill site Tahsis

A former mill site in the flats at the mouth of the Tahsis River. Mayor Davis said the area is subject to flooding and he is concerned about legacy contamination from the mill. Photo: Larry Pynn

Tahsis former mill site

Locals skirt no-trespassing rules and sneak through this opening in a fence to walk along the site of a former Western Forest Products mill. Photo: Larry Pynn

Explanations for the demise of the local mill in 2001 range from globalization to falling Japanese demand to reduced timber supply. Two decades later, Davis says, “people don’t even remember the mill time and the big-money jobs.”

Today, Tahsis attracts people seeking cheap housing, including younger folks, seniors and those on disability incomes. Homes here sell for about $90,000 and up, making the village one of the most affordable communities in B.C.

Davis is eyeing the old mill site, currently owned by Western Forest Products, as a potential development property. But first he wants to know whether any legacy pollutants are leaching into the environment. He’s asked the provincial government to require Western to conduct the necessary tests. Former mill sites are known for contamination, including heavy metals and petroleum products.

Western owns two former mill sites in Tahsis, totalling 45 hectares. When contacted, company spokeswoman Babita Khunkhun declined to comment on any contaminants that may linger on the properties.

Diner owner Sally Taylor and her partner, councillor Bill Elder, have been around Tahsis long enough to remember the mill years. The couple left town for a few years after the mill closed, eventually returning to start new in the restaurant business and reclaim the slow pace of life.

“Nobody’s in a rush to go anywhere,” Elder says. “A traffic jam is two bicyclists.”

There’s so little crime in Tahsis that the RCMP has no permanent presence; rude Facebook posts are about as nasty as it gets.

And the weather forecast couldn’t be easier. “You wake up and it’s either rainy or sunny,” Elder says.

But Taylor points out the slow village life isn’t enough to support two restaurants, especially in winter. Her competition is the Ocean View, a community hub at the other end of town, offering a cafe, liquor store, gas station and small grocery store. There’s not enough disposal income in the town, she says.

“When the mill was running, everyone who lived here had a job.”

A community vision for McKelvie Creek logging

The Tahsis River drains a mountainous 78 square kilometres. About one-third of that is the major tributary, unlogged McKelvie Creek valley.

In 2019, Tahsis council passed a motion supporting the “complete preservation” of McKelvie, urging the province to remove the watershed from Western’s Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 19. Based on company statements from 2017, council feared logging could begin in 2020.

From the village you can see the towering ragged peaks of the McKelvie. “It’s a hanging valley, 100 metres above sea level,” Davis says. “It’s never been touched.”

Logging Tahsis Troy Moth

An old cedar, flagged for logging in a cutblock near Tahsis. Photo: Troy Moth

Tahsis council argues that “less than 10 per cent of productive old-growth forests remain on Vancouver Island,” pointing to their importance for biological diversity, ecotourism, and good drinking water. The village gets its drinking water from a well but uses McKelvie Creek as a back-up source. McKelvie Creek helps feed the aquifer that fills the well.

The Village’s concerns may be paying off. Davis says recent discussions with Western suggest the company is prepared to look at the establishment of a network of Old Growth Management Areas and Wildlife Habitat Areas in the McKelvie Valley, which would also protect nesting habitat of the threatened marbled murrelet.

“That would effectively keep them out of there, which is great,” Davis says. “It’s not a provincial or national park, but it’s a pretty high level of protection.” The company is also discussing increased riparian protection along the Tahsis River. “They’re being pretty generous.”

Western remains coy about its plans as it undergoes a timber supply review. “Our harvest plan for the area is still under development in order to take feedback into consideration,” says Khunkhun.

Davis is also seeking to establish a community forest covering perhaps 2,000 hectares of provincial Crown land in the Tahsis valley. The designation would protect viewscapes for tourism and water quality, while permitting selective, small-scale logging to support a potential small local mill or local artisans.


Mayor Davis touring the old growth in the McKelvie Creek watershed. Photo: TJ Watt

Tahsis falls within the traditional territory of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht. Like other First Nations around B.C., they are asserting greater control across their traditional territory following favourable court decisions and in a promised era of reconciliation. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Tahsis councils have met and discussed the village’s desire for a community forest licence.

Dorothy Hunt, lands and economic development manager for the Mowachaht/Muchalaht, released a short statement to The Narwhal, saying: “We are aware of the concerns that Tahsis has with logging in and around the township of Tahsis and more specifically McKelvie Creek.” Hunt added that the Mowachaht/Muchalaht presented solutions to B.C. and Western, but did not provide details.

“These types of initiatives and solutions can take many, many years to accomplish,” the statement says.

In the more immediate term, Davis says he has “kernels of a lot of good ideas that need to be fleshed out.”

Tahsis Village Troy Moth

The McKelvie Valley watershed contains stands of unprotected old-growth forest, including ancient Douglas firs. Photo: Troy Moth

The community is well-suited for a shellfish processing plant or closed-containment salmon farm. There are scenic hiking trails, excellent kayaking opportunities and the “largest known concentration of caves in Canada.” B.C. recently declared a 511-hectare Wildlife Habitat Area for Thanksgiving Ridge, about 15 kilometres from the village, which features the deepest cave on Vancouver Island, old-growth habitat, bat colonies and small rare crustaceans.

The Canadian Coast Guard is giving the economy a small boost with construction of a search-and-rescue station in the village as part of the federal government’s $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan. The station will cover northwestern Vancouver Island and employ eight people across two shifts, utilizing a 14.7-metre Canadian Coast Guard lifeboat and rigid-hull inflatable.

There are also plans to reactivate old logging roads and create a two-day, round-trip all-terrain vehicle route between Tahsis and Zeballos — another one-horse town located one inlet to the north. Tahsis has already posted signs declaring its streets open to ATVs and requires operators, in part, to travel on the right-hand shoulder and not exceed 20 kilometres per hour. “It’s a whole chunk of tourism we don’t really have access to right now,” Davis explains.

On the edge of town, a couple in their 30s, Troy Moth and Celine Trojand, represents a new generation of residents who can work from anywhere with a reliable internet connection.

They are converting a 75-hectare former logging camp and its smattering of buildings into Art Tahsis, a retreat for learning and creativity in everything from the arts to technology. The idea is for guests to immerse themselves in their subject area and to gain inspiration from the landscape while enjoying local foods.

Artist supplies on the creative campus of Art Tahsis. Photo: Troy Moth

Art Tahsis places an emphasis on local foods. Photo: Troy Moth

Moth is an accomplished photographer — Vogue, Rolling Stone, GQ — who bought the property with two partners in 2016. “We found this property by chance and immediately fell in love with it,” he says.

Trojand, who settled in full-time about a year ago, has worked for various environmental groups, including Dogwood and Organizing for Change. She is captivated not only by the natural beauty of the area but also by its cultural and historical significance: British Captain James Cook made first contact with coastal Indigenous peoples not far from here at Friendly Cove in 1778.

“Tahsis is unique in B.C., a place where monumental things have happened,” Trojand says. “It’s impossible to live here and not feel that.”

Residents are generally united in their desire to see Tahsis back on its feet, but opinions vary on how to get there — or if the village can get there, at all.

Art Tahsis artist Troy Moth

Carla Haywood, a young musician and tree planter who calls Tahsis home, on the campus of Art Tahsis. Photo: Troy Moth

‘It’ll never change’

During my visit, I find the few Tahsis residents who still make a living at logging trying to stay warm on the Western Forest Products picket line in Gold River.

I wade in with a sympathetic handshake and a bag of fresh butter tarts from Uptown Cappuccino just up the road. “You don’t have to be from Tahsis to be a brother,” jokes faller Rusty Turner.

I ask them about Davis’ vision for the community, and get a mixed reaction. The timber industry has always been the economic backbone of the community, they remind me.

“Logging has opened up all these towns and all these mountains,” says Tim Greer, born in 1971 and a life-long resident of Tahsis. “People want to go to the top of the mountains, the viewpoints, but how did you get there? You drove there.”

At the same time, the sport-fishing sector is precarious and tourist services in the village are almost non-existent. “There’s no bank machines, nothin’,” says Greer, who currently works in logging road construction and maintenance. “It’ll never change.”

Airbnb offers the most certainty for accommodation. The Westview Marina is only open during fishing season and the Maquinna Resort, at the far end of town, is physically collapsing upon itself.

Steve Choquette, who works heavy-duty equipment loading logs on Nootka Island, says there’s no significant source of employment to attract people and help rebuild the place.

“There’s really nothing there for the people,” he says. “You have to go to town (Campbell River) to do your major shopping. I’ve thought about these questions for 25 years. What do you do here?”

A logging road deferred? 

To witness one of the village’s logging concerns, Davis leads me to a scenic ridge above the east side of town. It’s the site of a potential new logging road for Western Forest Products.

“I should be making a caving suit for someone right now,” he says as we make our way up a steep incline along the so-called Maquinna Trail. “My life is a series of distractions.”

Tahsis has refused to allow the company to drive loaded logging trucks through the village, in part due to concerns about damage to local roads. The company is considering options.

“There’s a magnificent stand of old-growth Douglas firs up there and their road line goes right through the middle of it,” Davis says. “Part of the problem is the instability up there.”

Davis is a fit 62-year-old and it’s a difficult hike — think Grouse Grind, without the nice wooden steps. We pass through a mixed forest of Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar and arbutus. The understory is salal, sword and deer ferns and rocks carpeted with vibrant green mosses.

Storm-felled trees mine our route. I grab exposed roots to propel myself upward and eventually we reach a forest distinguished by big firs and pink ribbons reading “road location.”

The terrain certainly does seem steep for a logging road. Davis kicks a rock downhill and it continues rolling out of audible range.


Davis poses beside a boulder on a steep hillside directly above Tahsis. Residents have voice concern about slope instability and rockslides should logging take place on steep hillsides such as this. Photo: TJ Watt

He is hopeful that in light of Western’s new conservation initiatives being discussed for the McKelvie Valley the company will abandon this option and even enhance protection for the trail through here.

“I’ve brought them some pretty nasty publicity in the past. I don’t think they want to go there again.”

We leave the trail and bushwhack along the planned road route then steeply downhill. I wince as I grab the barbed stalk of devil’s club, then repeatedly slip and fall — once skidding a metre on my belly down the bannister of a greasy fallen log. The thick brush around my legs makes it impossible to know where I’m placing my feet.


A tree flagged for removal to make way for a logging road. Photo: TJ Watt

The round trip takes four hours. Back in the village, I find an internet connection and book two physio appointments for my aching 64-year-old back. In that regard, I am leaving Tahsis in the same state as my brother more than half a century ago.

Family ties are only one reason that drew me here. I have always been intrigued with end-of-the-road towns. They can be filled with rich history, fascinating people and unexpected experiences. Tahsis is no exception.

Whether it remains a geographic and social oddity or manages to forge a new sustainable future built on ecotourism remains unclear — except to one person.

Davis is betting that Tahsis has a promising future. His own transition from eco-pariah to eco-mayor is proof enough that the end of the road can also be a place of new beginnings. SOURCE

Larry Pynn is a veteran environmental journalist, the recipient of some 30 writing awards, including eight Jack Webster Awards.  He is the author of two non-fiction books — Last Stands and The Forgotten Trail — and is a member of the New York-based Explorers Club. He lives in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

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Beyond Compost: 5 Methods to Get Your Garden Soil Ready

The key to gardening is dirt.

 If you can grow good dirt now, you can grow good vegetables this spring. And you don’t have to run to the garden store to load up on boxes and bags of stuff to do it if you start early and think of it as a year-round project.

Hugelkültür (mound or hill culture) is a long-term method of soil improvement that makes use of wood debris. Bury excess wood (twigs, branches, lumber scraps) a foot beneath the soil and cover with dirt and mulch. At first, the decomposition of the buried wood will eat up a lot of nitrogen, and the soil may need more water than usual. After about a year, though, the bed will be rich with nutrients, moisture, and beneficial organisms—perfect for gardening.

Lasagna Compost

Lasagna compost, or sheet mulching, combines the benefits of compost with the simplicity of mulching. Spread compostable materials onto your garden beds in alternating layers of “green” material (table scraps, manure, grass clippings, vegetable waste) and “brown” material (wood, sawdust, leaves, straw, cornstalks, paper, cardboard). This will immediately cut down on weed growth in your garden, and as the lasagna compost decomposes over the next few months, it will aid in water retention, add nutrients, and create a healthy habitat for beneficial soil organisms.


Charcoal is one of the best soil amendments you can have. It is created by burning organic material in a low-oxygen environment. The process burns away excess gases, leaving behind a material that’s rich in carbon. Biochar differs from standard charcoal only in its application as a soil improvement. It was a key ingredient in the enduringly fertile “terra preta” maintained by indigenous Amazon River communities. What’s more, biochar can actually help alleviate the effects of climate change on a small scale by turning your soil into a carbon sink. There are several methods out there for creating biochar in your backyard, some more complex than others. All of them carry the benefit of knowing where your charcoal was made, and from what.

Soil Amendments

Most modern home gardeners enrich their soil through the addition of compost, mulch, and fertilizer. But there are several under-the-radar amendments lying around the house that can be used to quickly and easily improve your soil. Coffee grounds help acidify soil with a high pH, while eggshells add calcium and help correct acidic soil. Seafood might not immediately spring to mind when thinking about compost, but adding shrimp, lobster, and crab shells promotes microorganism growth, and seaweed is an excellent mulch that adds nutrients and repels garden pests. And a 2009 Finnish study found that diluted urine, followed by the application of wood ash, can be as good a fertilizer as anything on the market, adding nitrogen, magnesium, and other vital nutrients to soil with no increased risk of disease.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation isn’t just for farmers. Even in your garden, switching up what you plant each season reduces nutrient depletion and prevents disease, pests, and weeds. Professional market gardener Eliot Coleman suggests a simple and effective eight-crop rotation scheme: potatoes, corn, cabbage, peas, tomatoes, beans, root vegetables, squash, and back to potatoes. For more flexibility, alternate plants that need a lot of compost and fertilizer (celery, melons, tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, and squash) with plants that need little or no compost or fertilizer (carrots, onions, garlic, radishes, leeks, and turnips). SOURCE

Miles SchneidermanPETER D’AURIA is a former YES! editorial intern.
MILES SCHNEIDERMAN is a freelance writer, podcaster, fact-checker, and media producer. His work can be found on
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