Sunday, June 4, 2017

After The Goldrush

After what has surely been the dreariest and wettest winter/spring on record, an early start to summer appeared with the Queen Victoria Day weekend.  The sun was shining, the outdoor patios & beaches were crowded and everyone had forgotten about the provincial election which had resulted in no clear winner. A brief respite from the unending trio of Vancouver woes; real estate prices, traffic congestion, and pipelines.

After a week of sunshine the rain returned and so did the three headed hydra. The Liberals attempt to dismiss the monster as a figment of people's imaginations didn't work but the NDP/Green plan to slay the beast wasn't all that credible either. The NIMBYism of certain Vancouver neighbourhoods wasn't going to allow for denser, low cost housing solutions, and neither was the absence of a speculator's tax, so people were fleeing to the suburbs and getting caught up in oil fuelled traffic jams on obsolete roads & bridges that nobody wants to pay for upgrading or replacing.

Just as in the olden days of previous gold rushes, the speculators and people with money continue to pour into the city hoping to cash in on a slice of paradise. An entire house of cards economy is built upon ever increasing layers of loans and finance to keep everything in motion.  Luxury shops spring up everywhere to take money from the rich for overpriced, trinkets, baubles, and articles of clothing while elsewhere merchants for the regular folks struggle to stay in business with ever increasing rents and competition from the Internet.

Oblivious to the more dangerous threat of oil being delivered by rail car as opposed to pipelines, the city`s futurists plan for an economy driven by video game programming, craft breweries, and installing made in China solar panels, with people cycling everywhere.  Meanwhile people living outside the lower mainland wonder what they will do for a living once all the oil & gas exploration, mining, and logging has been shut down.

The history of B.C. has always been one of boom and bust, which is what happens when the lure of easy money becomes stronger than the desire to be grounded in reality. In a land of super abundance it always seems like the good times will never end. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and the question we should be asking ourselves now is what happens after the goldrush?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The In Crowd

For the second year in a row Vancouver's annual 4/20 event was held at Sunset Beach and police estimated the crowd at more than 35,000 which was even bigger than last year's. 4/20 (which stands for April 20th) is, for anyone who didn't already know, the world recognized day of celebration for the planet's dope smokers. Throughout the day the Vancouver locals make their way to the designated rally point and spend the day skipping out (if they work or go to school) lighting up, and waiting until 4:20 precisely when everyone exhales at the same time and blows a cloud of marijuana smoke into the atmosphere. In Vancouver this has been going on for 22 years.

Getting together to smoke some pot at 4:20 p.m. has been allegedly happening since 1971 when some high school students in San Francisco coined the term. In past years the event was held in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was formerly the city's courthouse, in a none too subtle dig at the forces of law and order which, until this year, had deemed cannabis to be an illegal substance. As with alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or any other substance governments try to ban under the hypocritical guise of morality, it only serves to drive it underground and into the hands of criminals who thrive on the profits. With a government that has finally seen the light, Canadians will soon be free to get drunk or stoned with impunity.

On the 3rd/4th Sunday of every April a very different sort of get together happens and that is the Vancouver Sun Run. For 33 years now thousands of people have been getting together for a 10 km run/walk through the downtown to promote health, fitness and community spirit and to support amateur athletics. It has grown to be one of the world's largest race events that even Vancouver's occasional rain can't suppress.

What the two events do have in common however is group think. Not for these folks the quiet contemplation of life while getting a buzz or leaving footprints in the sand/snow where nobody has gone before. Yes it's all in good fun but it's also another example of sheep-like behaviour where collective actions overrule individual thinking. Too often this has been the cause of most world problems and not enough of the solutions when everyone so desperately wants to be part of the "in crowd".

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In

Nelson back in English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
Nice to be back in the ocean again after such a long winter. While in theory I could have kept swimming in the ocean and stayed warm enough in my 5mm wetsuit, it was a nice change to be inside for a few months and work out with some of my Aquatic Centre buddies. Needless to say it's a completely different experience with all the crowded lanes and everyone rushing to beat the clock.

Crowded Vancouver Aquatic Centre
 As someone who has to compete everyday in the workplace I can't understand why people would want to spend their leisure time in such a competitive training frenzy instead of just enjoying the pleasure and exercise of a good swim.There's more to life than competition and anyways, they haven't a hope of beating any of Michael Phelps' Olympic records. Out in English Bay there are no time clocks or crowds, just some birds, the occasional seal, and the opportunity to contemplate life as you float in Nature's watery embrace.

 Vancouver Aquatic Centre from the inside - photo by Junie Quiroga
The first thing you notice about the Aquatic Centre is that it's completely closed off from the outside world. Not a window in sight to let in any light or to share the view of English Bay even though the building itself is right on the beach. A truly ugly, concrete bunker that must have been designed by a blind man or someone who specialized in Cold War bomb shelters.

Vancouver Aquatic Centre from the outside
Crystal Pool from the inside

Crystal Pool from the outside
Even its predecessor the old Crystal Pool, which lasted from 1928 - 1974 until the Aquatic Centre opened a few blocks away, had at least one window. It was also the pool where Elaine Tanner, Canada's last great female swimmer and winner of Olympic, Pan Am and Commonwealth medals, trained. Thankfully the time is coming soon for the Aquatic Centre to be replaced with a new facility, but, where it goes and what it will look like, are closely held secrets.

Sunset Beach
The most obvious place to build a new facility would be around Sunset Beach which right now is nothing but a hot dog stand, a muddy playing field, and an empty parking lot. The view of the ocean and mountains is fabulous and, with a little imagination, a world class facility could be built that really highlights West Coast design. A new Aquatic Centre could be built for free by one of the big developers and, in exchange, the old site could be turned over as compensation. Whether or not the City and Parks Board can arrange something this simple or get bogged down in all sorts of social housing, density, and bike lane arguments is another matter altogether.

English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
 As long as I have the ocean to swim in I don't really care what they do with the Aquatic Centre. As much as I appreciate the lifestyle of a high density city, being able to get away from all the people by simply slipping into the ocean is magical. I don't need windows either and, if this is my age of Aquarius, all I can say is let the sunshine in.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Laughing Men - photo by Junie Quiroga
The biggest story so far this year in Vancouver has been the snow, the snow that just won't go away. Vancouverites pay big bucks to live here (as everyone knows) and one of the reasons is because we don't have to put up with snow like the rest of Canada. A little snow over the Xmas holidays is fine and, of course, all the snow the ski hills can handle is also okay, but it's not supposed to fall in the city. When it does it's not supposed to last and, once we get things all cleaned up and washed away, we don't want it to return.

Crying Men - photo by Junie Quiroga
But this year things were different and, as a result, the laughing men were no longer laughing, the mayor's bicycle obsession came to a screeching halt, and everywhere there were people stranded at bus stops while those in automobiles were playing bumper cars on the slippery unsalted streets.  The only people smiling were the auto body repair shops who had more work than they could handle. While parents fretted over school closures and losing their free daycare service the children themselves were happy at being able to legitimately cut class. For those who worry about the lack of exercise kids seem to get these days it was almost as if an "act of God" finally got them to put down their electronic toys and go outside to play.

Snow covered bikes - photo by Junie Quiroga
Most upset of all were the resident Canada geese population who were left scratching their heads at this change of circumstance. Used to not having to fly south in the winter or north in the summer they wondered what the heck was going on. Rain was one thing but snow was definitely not what the travel agent had promised. Angrily protesting on the beach they even nudged out the anti-tanker crowd who had to join forces instead with the anti-Trump protesters on Georgia Street.

Angry birds - photo by Junie Quiroga
While things got even tougher for the homeless people who continue to flock to the capital of British California in spite of all the bad drugs, the geese were more concerned with a lack of the good grass that was always legal no matter who was elected Prime Minister.

Birds searching for good grass - photo by Junie Quiroga
But the geese needn't worry because, in the West End there are plenty of misguided but goodhearted folks who are hoping global warming will one day become a reality but in the meantime are happy to contribute to the confusion and provide gluten free snacks to their feathered friends. This type of winter only happens every 20 years or so and, if the latest predictions are correct, this may be the last one before our weather changes to be more like San Diego's. If that happens none of us will ever have to think about going southbound anymore and all will be good.

Geese on English Bay in the winter - photo by Junie Quiroga

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Vancouver the Beautiful

Most city skylines are defined by some sort of iconic building; the CN tower for Toronto, the Empire State Building for New York, the Sydney Opera House, or the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower in Shanghai but for Vancouver that signature building has yet to appear amongst the high rise forest in the downtown peninsula.

Some cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York, and Chicago have so many interesting buildings it's hard to know where to begin. There can also be a monument like the Eiffel Tower for Paris, the Statue of Liberty for New York, Christ the Redeemer in Rio, or Big Ben in London that defines a city.

It could even be something as practical as a bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco, the Brooklyn bridge in New York or London's Tower bridge.

Nearby ruins and/or ancient buildings are often what defines a city like the Parthenon in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, the Forbidden City in Bejing, the Giza Pyramids of Cairo, or the Aztec Pyramids of the Sun & Moon in Teotihuacan/Mexico City. There's also those that ended up a little further away like the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza, the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu, and the Great Wall of China.

There are also all the religious monuments such as Ankgor Wat, the  St Peter's Basillica in Rome/Vatican, Mecca, Stonehenge, or St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, 

But none of these cities has the natural backdrop that makes Vancouver so unique. Rio and Hong Kong may have their forested hills and magnificent beaches but neither they or any other city has the snowy mountains on their doorstep in addition to the ocean that allows for residents to ski in the morning and sail or swim in the afternoon. It's what makes Vancouver unique and simply the most beautiful city on earth.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pipeline (Hypocrisy)

Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters along Vancouver's Cambie Street
Watching the pipeline protesters walking down the street waving placards and chanting, I couldn't believe the ignorance, hypocrisy, and lack of logic they were really demonstrating when it came to debating the transport of oil. Hypocrisy, because most of them drive an SUV, ignorance because just about everything in their consumer driven lifestyle is dependant on the petrochemical industry, and their lack of logic when it comes to understanding the alternatives.
In addition to gasoline there are thousands of products we consume on a daily basis that are all made from refined oil. Unless we are willing to give these things up, which I doubt is possible even if we wanted to, we need to give our views of the oil and gas industry a bit of a reality check. Are we really prepared to give up our cars, stop buying processed foods and over packaged goods including bottled beverages, and wear clothing that is only made from natural fibres? In other words if we aren't prepared to reduce our own personal footprint we can't really blame companies for giving us what we seem to want.

One way out of this moral dilemma is to start taxing carbon (which is what the oil & gas industry is all about) and there are currently two models to choose from. The first is a simple per tonne price that is currently set at $30.00/tonne in B.C. or $0.07 cents per litre of gas and will soon to be copied by most of the other provinces. The second is a cap and trade plan that is dependant on a complicated emissions trading market full of regulations and loopholes. Not surprisingly this is the system favoured by Ontario and Quebec. In theory both could work but in practise nobody wants to pay and, regardless, oil from Alberta still needs to get to market which it will by either rail or pipeline.

Persistent (crude) oil vs non-persistent (refined) oil
By rejecting the Northern Gateway proposal and bringing in a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic in B.C.'s north coast, part of the problem with oil tankers goes away. Crude oil is indeed a serious hazard if it spills because it will spread everywhere and cover everything in sight. But if it's refined then this becomes something much easier to deal with as it will rapidly dissipate. This is why David Black's proposal to build a refinery in Kitimat to process crude oil, before it is loaded onto tankers, makes so much more sense. It won't be affected by the crude oil tanker ban and it will also provide thousands of high paying jobs.

Chevron refinery in Burnaby
Why they aren't building a massive refinery somewhere in the Lower Mainland to process the oil from the Kinder Morgan pipeline and keeping jobs here instead of sending unprocessed crude oil somewhere else should be the real discussion. We used to have four of them but now we are down to just one 55,000 barrel per day facility in Burnaby that can only provide 30% of our gasoline and 40% of our jet fuel requirements. The rest is being purchased from a Washington State refinery and being transported back to us by truck. Somehow the illogic of this has gotten lost in all the banner waving, not to mention the fact crude oil is still being transported here by rail which is much riskier than pipelines.

There are those who would like to see a tanker ban along the entire north coast from the top of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border which would make it impossible for tankers to leave Prince Rupert or Kitimat. Not very practical for the various LNG proposals under discussion, as well as David Black's refinery plan, which then puts even more pressure on Vancouver. As anyone can see, the route from Vancouver to the open ocean is pretty straightforward (unlike the Douglas Channel route from Kitimat) and, when you combine that with a tug escort the entire way, it's basically impossible for anything to go wrong and why there won't ever be a tanker ban here.

Freighters in English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
Meanwhile sitting at anchor in English Bay are all the freighters and container ships carrying all sorts of things, other than oil, to fulfil our consumer requirements, and all the while quietly posing a considerable environmental hazard. If they have a bilge or fuel leak, like what happened a year ago, the whole bay is at risk and that means I can't go for my daily ocean swim. Also, according to Environment Canada, these oceangoing vessels are the largest contributors of sulphur oxides in the Lower Mainland, surpassing even that of all the cars. In the end it's all about compromise and, if we don't want to save our whales and ocean by building a refinery on our own doorstep, but we still want all our creature comforts, then we need to quit worrying about tankers and embrace the pipeline.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hello, Goodbye

Aurora and Qila
Aurora, Vancouver's beloved 30 year old beluga has died and this marks the end of a tragic era for the captive belugas in the Vancouver Aquarium. Less than two weeks earlier Qila, Aurora's first born, and the first beluga ever born in captivity, also died and she was only 21. In 2010 another of Aurora's children born in captivity, Nala, died at the age of one. There was another of Qila's siblings born in captivity named Tuvaq but he died in 1995 at the age of three and Qila's own daughter Tiqa, granddaughter of Aurora, also born in captivity, died in 2011 at the age of three.

Other Vancouver Aquarium belugas include; Kavna, who died in 2012 at the age of 46 after being here since 1976. Already pregnant when she arrived, she gave birth to a calf named Tuaq who only lived for a few months. There was also Nanuq, the father of Qila, who died in 2015 at the age of 31 while on a breeding loan to the infamous SeaWorld. Nanuq also fathered three other belugas, Grayson, Qinu, and Atla who are on loan to other American aquariums. Imaq, the father of Tuvaq and Nala is still alive but is on a breeding loan to SeaWorld.  Finally there is Allua, who was never able to conceive while living in Vancouver, and who is now also on a breeding loan to SeaWorld. I'm sure some of these five remaining belugas will be returning to Vancouver to take up residence in the now empty beluga pool.

Beluga pool at Vancouver Aquarium
In 1976 Kavna was captured in the waters near Churchill Manitoba as was Allua in 1985 and Aurora in 1990 but after 1996 this practise was stopped and the Vancouver Aquarium has since embarked on a captive breeding program to supply it with whales for what it euphemistically calls "research & education" programs. While the belugas undoubtedly delight audiences with their antics and beguiling facial expressions, and are the love of their trainers and handlers, it's all to easy to ignore the fact these poor creatures are being held prisoner. Watching the whales "pacing" about in their repetitious swimming patterns clearly illustrates that no matter how ambitious the Aquarium's plans are for bigger whale pools they will never be big enough to give the animals enough room to freely swim about. I have more room when I swim in the Aquatic Centre or Kits Pool never mind out in English Bay and I'm certainly no whale.

Belugas in Churchill
There's a disturbing pattern emerging here that clearly illustrates beluga whales (or any other whales for that matter) do not last long in aquariums and we should be putting an end to these breeding programs. It's one thing to look after an injured cetacean and keep them in captivity if they can't be rehabilitated but it's not okay to deliberately bring them into the world and keep them in captivity just for our own amusement.  These are extremely intelligent, sociable creatures, and they belong in the wild.  If we really care about them we would concentrate on preserving their natural habitat not creating an artificial one. It's time we said hello to them in the wild and goodbye to them in captivity.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hot Fun In The Summertime

Crystal Serenity 
Whether or not you believe the earth is warming and whether or not that's a good or a bad thing, there's no denying the ice has been melting enough lately to allow ships to transit the Northwest Passage and this summer saw the largest ship yet to make the journey. Following a route that would have made Sir John Franklin green with envy, not to mention this writer, the Crystal Serenity took 900 passengers from Seward, Alaska all the way to New York City with stops along the way in Greenland and Baffin Island and other Canadian outposts. Though the price started at $20,000.00 per person it was by all accounts a stunning success with unbelievable scenery, wildlife encounters and a cultural experience all rolled into the 32 day cruise.

Of course as any dinosaur fan would know the earth was much warmer in the old days (colder as well) and, during the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago, most of the earth was covered in a lush rain forest. Times were certainly changing in those days with the single land mass known as Pangaea splitting into Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. There were no polar ice caps at either end and ships would have been free to transit the north without worrying about encountering any icebergs. Of course the passengers wouldn't have seen any polar bears either.

Continental formations prior to the Jurassic period

Nelson & the dinosaurs at the ROM
Whether the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid hitting the earth, or the volcanic eruptions that were creating havoc everywhere, they certainly wouldn't have survived either the ice age that preceded them or the last one that came along afterwards and only ended 11,000 years ago. The earth's climate has been undergoing some very severe fluctuations over the ages and, as the sun continues to brighten, it will probably continue to do so.

Since the last ice age the planet has gone through half a dozen periods of warming and cooling and, if Franklin would have timed things better, he too might have been able to get through. During the.Medieval "warm period" Vikings under Eric the Red came to Greenland and established settlements that lasted until the 15th century and the onset of the "little ice age". Trees and various herbaceous plants flourished there and the Norsemen were even able to grow barley.and raise livestock. They shared the land with the Dorset who were the original inhabitants and then later the Thule Inuit who settled all of what is now Alaska and Northern Canada.

Norse ruins in Greenland
Until the start of the "little ice age" the waters of the high arctic were free of pack ice in the summer months which made it possible to hunt whales, particularly the bowhead whale, a slow swimming animal that sleeps near the water's surface. Fish, other sea mammals and caribou were also important food sources for the Thule but it was the bowhead whale whose summer range expanded from the Bering Sea to the Beaufort Sea and the Canadian Archipelago that really provided the most bang for the buck. With global cooling this all changed and the Thule communities were broken up as people were forced further south and had to rely on other hunting strategies.

Revival of the bowhead whale hunt for Inuit people
Commercial whaling in the 19th century nearly wiped out the bowhead whale population but, since 1972 when all commercial whaling was outlawed, the species has since recovered and the Inuit are now permitted to have a limited hunt as part of their traditional culture. Melting ice may or may not make things more difficult for the polar bear but it might also help revive the Inuit way of life and improve things for other creatures that cruise the arctic waters. Slightly warmer waters may also improve fish stocks such as cod and herring.

Polar bear on an ice flow off Baffin Island
The dead dinosaurs and vegetation lying buried in the Canadian soil are what formed our oil sands, and have since been identified as one of the world's largest petroleum reserves. With the retreat of the glaciers and the end of the ice age, these oil sands are now able to be exploited and they form the basis of our oil & gas industry. In addition to being able to navigate our northern waters there's another potential upside to global warming for Canadians as this could make more of the country available for agriculture and habitation. As the world's second largest country but also having one of the lowest population densities, we certainly have plenty of room for all those fleeing the tropics.

Air & sea temperatures in Cambridge Bay
For all the talk about global warming we need to remember that for 9 months of the year the area around the Northwest Passage is frozen solid. Birds fly south, bears hibernate and everyone else does their best to just try and keep warm. It's dark all day and night and the only way to get around is by ski-do, snowshoe or airplane. But come summertime things change radically as things heat up, the ice starts to melt and it becomes the land of the midnight sun. With the open water beckoning it's hot fun in the summertime once again and a chance for others to check out life in the true north.

Canadian icebreaker