Saturday, May 7, 2022

Cold War


Faced with all the heartbreaking images of bombed out buildings and long lines of refugees in the Ukraine, there's no question Canadians are feeling lucky these days living where they do in a world far removed from the war in Europe. Whether it will turn out to be something even larger is yet to be seen but it has governments everywhere increasing the size of their defense budgets in anticipation of changes to the world order. After more than 30 years since the end of the Cold War it's hard to believe it could all be starting again.

The Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) was a system of 63 radar stations installed across the Canadian Arctic in the 1950's to detect incoming Russian bombers or any sea and land invasion. A classic Cold War initiative that lasted until 1988 when it was replaced by a jointly operated upgraded radar system called the North Warning System that could detect intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The North Warning System has now been declared obsolete and it will in turn be upgraded to handle the new hypersonic missile technology that Russia and China have developed. The more things change the more they stay the same and the money spent on this oneupmanship is truly mind boggling.

When you look at the world from an arctic perspective, Russia and Canada are much closer than you would think. Yes they are separated by an ocean that is mostly frozen year round but that's rapidly changing, and both countries have identified passages through the Arctic Ocean that could serve as a major Euro-Asian shipping lane and shortcut to the traditional shipping routes. While both routes are within each country's 200 mile limit they also have the potential to be disputed as an international strait allowing free and unencumbered passage.

As Canada, Russia, the U.S. and others file competing claims of sovereignty over parts of the Arctic, a new Cold War rhetoric is being heard. The U.S. rejects Canada's sovereignty claim to the Northwest Passage and is disputing the maritime border of the Beaufort Sea while meanwhile Russia, Denmark and Canada are disputing ownership of the Lomonosov Ridge as an extension of their respective continental shelves and claim to the underwater resources. To try and assert its sovereignty in addition to committing to a new radar warning system, the Canadian government has promised to open up the Nanisivik naval facility on northern Baffin Island which will service the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard's new fleet of icebreakers and arctic offshore patrol boats currently under construction. With 18 icebreakers Canada has the second largest fleet in the world after Russia which has more than 40, including 6 that are nuclear powered. Russia also has 13 arctic ports compared to Canada's two.

Meanwhile the 40,000 predominantly Inuit people who live in the 25 landlocked communities of Nunavut, the largest and northernmost territory of Canada, that is accessible only by plane or boat, are wondering if some of the billions spent on warships couldn't be better spent to improve their living conditions. If you really want to assert sovereignty in an area then you need to have people living there and make it habitable. In addition to a chronic housing shortage, many communities also have a clean drinking water problem, and suffer from pervasive food insecurity.


In a country that has to endure bitter cold winter for half the year, the words "cold war" have many connotations. In spite of our proximity to Russia we hope it doesn't mean another military front. But with global warming we are losing the real cold war and, over the next few decades, the country will see itself becoming more and more open to development and traffic in the North. How we balance the northern challenges of harsh living conditions, resource extraction, and territorial sovereignty, will determine the winners and losers of the next cold war.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Nature's Way


You could be forgiven if you thought the Aquatic Centre had been bombed or had suffered a fire or something the other day but no, it was just the rusted out facade that had suddenly decided to give way and crash to the ground. Luckily nobody was injured in the crash even though it was at the entrance to the facility. Built in 1974, the Aquatic Centre is 48 years old now and clearly showing its age. Of course being next to the ocean doesn't help with all the wind and salty air. Like all forces of Nature, mold, mildew, and rust never sleeps. 

Seemingly held together by the moss and mould covering the exterior, you would think that for appearance sake, not to mention maintenance, the Parks Board would power wash the building once in a blue moon. They might even want to give it a coat of white paint while they're at it to try and lighten up its Stalinesque neo-bunker appearance. It's not that we have a shortage of water in these parts.

At least the pool at 2nd Beach is getting a nice spring cleaning in preparation for what will be a very busy upcoming summer. The even more popular Kits pool won't be opening after all the damage it sustained during a nasty storm this past winter that flooded the pool, and repairs haven't even started yet. So 2nd Beach will have to do double duty for Vancouver residents even though there is very limited parking for them thanks to the Parks Board obsession with bike lanes. They will be even more surprised to find there are no proper showers, change rooms or lockers either even though they have been promised since 1995 when the pool was first built. There aren't any showers, change rooms, or lockers at English Bay either.

The winter storm didn't just damage Kits pool, it did serious damage to the seawall as well. This is another critical piece of the City's beachfront that is fighting a losing battle with the forces of Nature. Every winter the damage gets worse, the repairs more costly, and a longer term solution postponed.

The logs and debris that comes in from the ocean and covers the beaches is endless. The clean-up crew has a full time job just trying to keep up with the mess on some of the main beaches around English Bay. And that doesn't even count the litter and trash left by people addicted to junk food and take away beverages and the disposable containers they come packaged in.

Oh and did I mention rain? Yes it occasionally rains in Vancouver and guess what we don't have any culverts, drains, or anything else to deal with the run-off so it just pours down the sidewalks and either pools there or washes away sections of the beach. 

The cherry on top of all this mess of course is the stupid barge that nobody can figure out how to remove. Caught on the rocks of a breakwater that was installed to absorb the force of incoming waves and slow the rate of erosion it sits there as yet another testament to the hopelessness of trying to fight Mother Nature.

Walking along the seawall from the Burrard Street bridge to Stanley Park should be a lovely experience but instead it's a dreary litany of decaying buildings, poorly maintained walkways, and substandard swimming facilities. If it wasn't for the beautiful flower gardens around English Bay it would be truly depressing. Every year things keep getting delayed until finally it all starts to fall apart. If we really want to get the most out of the fantastic location our city is in, then we're going to have to spend a lot more money and be a lot more creative in how we approach our beachfront infrastructure and the facilities we need. Blame it on climate change, global warming, or anything you want but it's all Nature's way and we have to accept it and move forward.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

The End

Almost two years to the day it was first officially acknowledged as a world wide pandemic, governments everywhere are now announcing COVID has ended. Maybe not the disease itself but certainly all the masking, vaccine passports, and social distancing. The people couldn't stand the inconveniences any longer, no matter how minor they were or how effective they were at keeping the annual flu/cold season at bay. Furthermore they wanted to get back to travelling and they wanted that to be free of testing as well, even though travel is what caused the disease to spread so rapidly around the world in the first place. What will we do if a biological threat of something much more lethal than COVID appears, either natural or man made?

I wonder if these people could even imagine the inconvenience of living through WW2 where for over 5 years there was rationing of food and fuel, absolutely no travel anywhere, and conscription had every able bodied man over the age of 16 having to register for the armed forces. Unlike the Europeans, North Americans were spared any bombing damage, but that didn't prevent friends and family from getting killed every day while fighting. The cost of the war and the destruction it left in its wake are something the world has never experienced since, no matter how much we were inconvenienced by COVID and all its supply chain disruptions.

And then just as we were getting ready to celebrate the end of COVID the war in Ukraine started and once again were were looking at bombed out European cities and unimaginable suffering. Regardless of the reasons for the war to have started innocent people are getting killed, refugees have no homes to return to, and the cost to repair all this will be enormous. Even worse is the spectre of nuclear war that is now being either threatened or considered. NATO and Russia each have 6,000 nuclear warheads which is more than enough to completely wipe out the entire living world.

And with all our attention now taken by the Russian-Ukraine war, the threat of global warming has taken a back seat in our conciousness. In fact the main concern is keeping the gas and oil pipelines going from Russia into Europe working until other supplies can be arranged. The wishful thinking of wind and solar power enthusiasts coupled with the short sighted closing down of nuclear power plants has made Europe even more dependant on fossil fuels and anyone with these resources, (i.e. Canada) is rushing in to take up any slack in supply.

In 1945 Albert Einstein and the other scientists who helped develop the atomic bomb created the Doomsday Clock, a graphic that counts down the time to the apocalypse (midnight) by the threats to humanity and the planet. The Clock has become the universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive technologies. Every year it's set and as of 2022 it's now at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest ever to civilization ending apocalypse.

With the origins of COVID still to be determined, no meaningful attempts to slow global warming, and the looming threat of nuclear war, we could all be excused for thinking the planet is going to hell in a handbasket. Combine this with the unrelenting false news and disinformation being spread by social media that polarizes discussion and paralyzes any consensus, and we are left rudderless in our response. What we really need right now are leaders who can heal the divisiveness in the world and bring about real change otherwise we are heading for a nasty end.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

All Washed Up


Sitting on the beach in English Bay, after coming loose in a storm, sits an empty barge that has become a major tourist attraction during COVID. It's also a poster child for the once glorious forest economy that in its heyday employed thousands of workers in the forest, booming grounds, sawmills, and pulp & paper mills throughout B.C.  Barges like this used to haul chips, sawdust, and even logs up and down the coastline but not as much anymore.

After over a century of clearcut logging most of the big trees and virgin forest have all but been wiped out and, whatever remains, is being hotly contested by forest companies and protesters, with the Fairy Creek debacle this past summer being the latest example. Yes millions of trees have been planted as replacements but they will take another 100 years to grow and, in the meantime, the ecological balance and rich interconnectedness of multiple species that was maintained by the giant "Mother" trees has been destroyed. A tree farm is not a forest. 

Technological advances, industry consolidation, and a shortage of timber has resulted in the closing of sawmills and pulp & paper mills almost every year with thousands of jobs lost in the process. According to Statistics Canada, the number of people employed in the forest industry is half what it was even 30 years ago. To make matters even worse the Province allows raw logs to be exported instead of ensuring the wood gets at least partially processed here at home. Forestry mismanagement has also led to the spread of bark beetles and resulting forest fires that have devastated entire communities and washed out highways.

Logging used to be a respected profession that was characterized by danger, hard work and good pay but times are changing and a greater awareness of the environment is driving new approaches on how we view the forest industry. Trying to achieve that perfect balance between industry, First Nations, and environmentalists won't be easy but the effort has to be made. The forest industry is heading in the same direction as the fisheries and the barge on the beach is a symbol that, if they aren't careful, then one day soon it's going to be all washed up.