Saturday, October 24, 2009
Photo: Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Climate change protest organizers called on Canadians to “fill the hill” this afternoon, but Mother Nature seemed to have kept many of them away from Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Perhaps a thousand people stood in the rain and heard speeches from politicians and leading environmental leaders about the need for Canada to aggressively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
What they lacked in numbers, however, they made up for in enthusiasm, as many danced, sang and cheered, despite the inclement weather.
Every good protest needs a whipping boy and the target du jour was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom many blame as the reason why Canada has the worst record on reducing domestic emissions among G8 nations, according to a press release that was circulated.
But Canada’s GHG problem started long before Mr. Harper got elected, something Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada recognized.
In his speech to the crowd, he said his group and others have been talking to governments over the years and because of their inaction, the country finds itself playing environmental catch-up.
He cited the difference between Bangladesh and Canada as a striking example.
On a per capita basis, for every ton of GHG emitted in Bangladesh, 24 tons are emitted in Canada.
Mr. Hazell encouraged members of Parliament to fast track Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act.
Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada warned Canadians that climate change is already here.
“Climate change is measured in the (increased) number of kilometres that girls and women have to walk each day to access water in Africa,” said Mr. Fox.
According to a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change fact sheet, more than 20 million people were displaced by sudden climate-related disasters in 2008 alone. An estimated 200 million people could be displaced as a result of climate impacts by 2050.
The protest on Parliament Hill was one of 5,200 International Day of Climate Action events in 181 countries around the world, according to the 350.org website.
The number 350 is the number that (some) scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide – measured in parts per million (ppm). According to the 350.org website, the world is already at 387 ppm.
The next United Nations Climate Change Conference starts on December 7 in Copenhagen.
Photo: Climate change activists on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
In late 2008, several Afghan girls were injured when men threw battery acid on them as they walked to school in Kandahar.
The girls’ crime? Getting an education.
For Ray Wiss, an emergency room medical doctor from Sudbury, Ont., and a Captain in the Canadian Forces (CF), the way to win the war against the Taliban is to stay in Afghanistan long enough for the population to get sufficiently educated to reject the Taliban’s loathsome way of life.
Capt. Wiss believes the Taliban fear an educated population and that is why they do everything in their power to prevent young people from acquiring knowledge.
In 2007, the Taliban forced the closure of 300 schools and burned or blew up another 130. In addition, they killed 105 students and teachers.
Capt. Wiss has recently returned to Canada after having served his second tour of duty in Afghanistan and is currently promoting his book, FOB DOC, in which he states (among other things) that the Afghanistan conflict is a moral war and one Canadians need to not only be engaged in, but better informed about.
“A moral war is defined by the immorality of our enemies,” said Capt. Wiss in a telephone interview from Toronto.
He did not start out to intentionally write a book; instead, he maintained a diary while on his first tour of duty, and that evolved into the book.
This book will probably not change the minds of those who are adamantly against the war, but it may give them a greater appreciation of the hardships and difficulties that men and women in the CF have to endure to do their jobs in Kandahar.
More than that though, Capt. Wiss wants Canadians to know about the impact the CF is having on the lives of people in Kandahar.
He tells a story about a Canadian ambulance crew who helped a girl who was injured in a Taliban bomb attack last August. While the crew were helping the girl, her mother got inside the ambulance, took off her burka, and in English, not only thanked the medics, but expressed bewilderment as to why Canadians would come all this distance to help them.
For much of his tour, Capt. Wiss stayed in the Canadian Forward Operating Bases – otherwise known as FOBS. The facilities and amenities he describes in the book are primitive but functional.
The book is illustrated with more than 100 photographs that give the reader a good idea of life in one of the FOBs and at the Kandahar Air Field, where the majority of the CF stay.
Capt. Wiss describes Kandahar province (the birthplace of the Taliban) as a socially barren environment where women have been excluded from the social milieu and where the lives of boys and young men are limited to home, mosque, limited educational and employment opportunities and no interaction with women.
One question that always gets asked is why won’t the civilian population fight the Taliban more? Capt. Wiss says they do, but they have to be very cautious.
“They come to our FOBs in the middle of the night or will whisper something to us when we are out on one of our combat patrols,” said Capt. Wiss. “But they have to been exceedingly careful. They don’t have the guns – the Taliban do. The Taliban will come into a village at night and settle scores with anyone who they think has been cooperating with the coalition.”
Capt. Wiss wishes Canadians knew more about the successes the Canadian Forces have achieved in Kandahar. His book details highly successful combat operations where Canadian, British and Afghan troops routed the Taliban without suffering any losses themselves, nor take any civilian casualties.
Despite the military successes the coalition has achieved, and the fact that Afghanistan receives millions of dollars in international aid, it is ranked second to last on the United Nations Human Development Index.
Royalties from the book will be donated to the Military Families Fund.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Photo: Andrew Wilder speaking at the University of Ottawa.
As the body count increases in Afghanistan and the war’s popularity decreases in the west, politicians and military leaders are scrambling to find ways to win the hearts and minds of Afghan civilians.
Afghanistan is one of the world’s largest recipients of developmental aid, but continues to be one of the least secure places on Earth.
That was the theme Tufts University professor, Andrew Wilder, talked about yesterday at the University of Ottawa. As part of his presentation, he questioned the effectiveness of aid in promoting stability in Afghanistan.
He and his fellow researchers have made several trips to the country and have spent hours interviewing a wide variety of stakeholders – politicians, aid workers, soldiers and tribal elders.
After reviewing information gathered, Mr. Wilder was able to make a list of the reasons why interview subjects did not feel secure and did not believe that aid had lead to significant improvements in their lives.
According to the interviews, many Afghans believe that the government is both bad and corrupt; and that NATO forces show disrespect for their culture, religion and traditions. Locals in the south believe neighbouring countries play a role in their instability. Unemployment (currently estimated at approximately 40 per cent) and ethnic conflicts were also mentioned.
Ironically, the Taliban were listed near the bottom of the list of reasons for not feeling secure in parts of the country.
Mr. Wilder is still finishing his report. Some of his preliminary recommendations include: Policies should be evidence-based; prioritize quality over quantity; recognize that big development projects are not always better; reward security and not insecurity by doing more developmental work in the north, not just in the southern provinces.
"Security is the number one issue in Afghanistan - not poverty," said Mr. Wilder.