Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Boom Boom Out Go The Lights

Luna the Whale

Once upon a time the West End was a dark and dreary place as the days grew shorter and the winter season began. But in 2015, in a tribute to all the whales living in the waters around Vancouver, Luna arrived to brighten things up by sporting over 6,000 LED bulbs in a magnificent display of artistic genius. Created by the folks at MK Illumination, Luna was an immediate hit with the neighbourhood and, during the course of his winter sojourn, thousands of photographs were taken.

Eugenia the Oak Tree - photo by Junie Quiroga

In 2017 the MK folks added Eugenia the oak tree that plays homage to an oak tree that decorated the English Bay skyline for 30 years on top of the Eugenia Place residency. Lit up with 7,600 mini LED lights that are constantly changing colour Eugenia provided a magical entrance to the seawall.

Stanley the Heron - photo by Junie Quiroga

In 2018 Luna was joined by a new friend named Stanley the Heron. With nearby Stanley Park home to one of North America's largest colonies of blue herons this MK creation was a perfect match and, standing 13.5 feet tall with over 10,000 LED lights, he gracefully lit up another section of the area around Morton Park.

Davie the Bear - photo by Junie Quiroga

In 2019 MK Illumination really knocked it out of the park with a 24 foot tall Grizzly Bear named Davie who was lit up with more lights than anyone could count. While there aren't any grizzly bears in the Vancouver area anymore, the sculpture hightlighted the magnificence of these creatures and the need to protect them in their wilderness habitat.

Barclay the Beaver

In 2021 came Barclay the Beaver, all 12 feet of him happily chewing his way through a piece of crystal and reminding everyone of who Canada's national symbol really is. There are two beaver colonies in Stanley Park, in Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon and, just like Barclay, the best time to see them is at dawn or dusk.

But then something strange happened. After 7 years of enjoying all these light installations suddenly, without any warning, in 2022, they all disappeared. Not only were there no new creations, the old ones had been taken away somewhere and there was no public explanation. After submitting an inquiry to MK Installations I was directed to the West End Business Association who explained that costs to maintain, store, set-up and take down these iconic displays had gotten too expensive and they couldn't afford to continue. Apparently the old Parks Board (who thankfully have been kicked out of office) didn't want to contribute to sharing the cost and considered the fact they allowed the installations to be placed on Parks territory enough of a contribution. The West End was plunged back into the dark ages just as we were entering a very cold winter.

So while the heart of the West End is no longer lit up with festive creatures and folks are once again forced to stumble around in the darkness, thankfully there is one tiny beacon of light to guide them. This of course would be the Sylvia Hotel where the lights are always on and warm cheer can always be found no matter the weather or the Scrooge like behaviour of the Parks Board. When the lights go out everywhere else, at least there is one place you can still count on.


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Return To Sender


Olive Ridley Turtle

On a recent holiday to Mexico, my wife and I had the opportunity to participate in a fascinating turtle release conservation project. There are 7 different types of sea turtles in the world; Green, Loggerhead, Kemps Ridley, Hawksbill, Flatback, Leatherback, and Olive Ridley and all of them are endangered. In many parts of Mexico there are efforts being made to protect and improve the status of these turtles, and approximately 50 km. up the road from Zihuatanejo, located on a deserted stretch of beach, was the turtle camp we were introduced to that was focused on the Olive Ridley Turtle.

Female sea turtles return to the beach where they were hatched, to lay their eggs each year and, while in this part of Mexico nesting occurs throughout the year, peak nesting is between September and December. Nesting occurs at night when the female comes on shore and laboriously digs out a 1.5 feet deep nest with her hind flippers and deposits approximately 100 eggs. To save the eggs from predators, Felix, a tireless volunteer who had made his home on this stretch of beach, patrols the beach and carefully collects the eggs and re-buries them in carefully marked nests that are fenced off and kept shaded and watered to maintain the optimum temperature. Eggs incubated at temperatures of 31-32 degrees Celsius produce only females, eggs incubated at 28 degrees Celsius or less produce only males and eggs incubated at 29-30 degrees Celsius produce a mixed sex clutch.

The eggs typically hatch after 45 days and Felix directs us to one of the marked nests and shows us how to carefully dig out the baby turtles. Sure enough the squirming creatures are frantically trying to come out of the sand and we start collecting our 100 babies, each one a perfect miniature of a full grown adult, into a plastic bucket.

Once we have made sure none of the little guys have been left behind we take our almost overflowing buckets to a table where the turtles can take some time to shake the sand off themselves and get comfortable breathing in a little ocean air. Proud parents of the most adorable babies ever, we of course need to pose with them a little.

As sunset approached it was time to join up with the others for the big race to the ocean. This was the event we were all waiting for, or rather the turtles were, and we were there to cheer them on as they unerringly made their way to the water with their little legs going as fast as they could. It only took a few minutes and they were in the sea.

It was a perilous race to the water with seabirds trying to pick them off from the air and who knew what other creatures and hazards were waiting for them in the ocean, but everyone gave it their best effort and they all made it to the first leg of what would be at least a 10-20 year journey before they would mature and the females could return to the same place and repeat the cycle. On average however, only one of the 100 eggs in a nest will survive to adulthood, but we had our money on this little guy who was determined to return to his sender.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


The murder of RCMP officer Shaelyn Yang, (immediately following the Province wide municipal elections where the number 1 issue was the out of control crime and stranger attacks by drugged out homeless people) couldn't have made the point any clearer that it's way past time to do something meaningful about this out of control situation. The bleeding heart woke crowd, who can't seem to acknowledge that everything they have tried to do up until now has only made things worse, need to step aside and let the rest of us, who believe in law & order and civil society, take charge. Reality has to take over and harsh measures are needed to get things back to some semblance of normality.

The tent cities, drug dealing, and stolen goods markets that have taken over the sidewalks of the downtown eastside are so beyond the pale that no sane person could imagine people living like they do. Photos of the area are now becoming postcards and the area is a tourist attraction for those foolhardy enough to think it will add a little colour to their vacation in otherwise beautiful Vancouver. The filth, squalor, and crime these people wallow in is only possible because they are hopelessly addicted to powerful drugs that bare no resemblance to any sort of recreational high you might get from smoking a joint or even dropping a hit of LSD.

It's no exaggeration to say that all these people living in the downtown eastside have a severe mental problem, and at one time we had a place for these people to live and get treatment for their mental illness. Located in Coquitlam, Riverview Hospital originally opened in 1913 with room for 480 patients but by the end of the year there were 919 living there. The population continued to grow until by 1956 the facility had more than 4,000 patients. The facility had a nursery, botanical garden and even a farm (Colony Farm) that produced over 700 tons of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk every year using patient labour. It also had an Industrial Therapy Building that had shops for teaching cabinet making, upholstery, furniture finishing, metal work, printing, electronics, tailoring, shoemaking etc. to the patients so they could have a vocation when they resumed life after being discharged from the hospital.

Sadly all of that is gone now and the remaining buildings are now only used as film locations by the film industry. Starting in the 1960's the government started downsizing Riverview with promises to build smaller, more regional facilities elsewhere in a phased in approach. By 2002 Riverview was down to only 800 beds and then in 2012 it was completely closed and the promised regional facilities were never built. The provincial government at the time said that institutionalization was not the solution to homelessness or drug addiction and it was gaps in the community health care system needed to be addressed. Unfortunately, the gaps were never addressed and the patients were left to their own devices with most of them moving to the downtown eastside.

Almost immediately governments at every level realized this was a mistake and in 2015 the government promised to replace the obsolete buildings with new mental health facilities but, as of 2022, no new construction has started. In the meantime we have to endure the lawlessness taking over the downtown business area and creeping into every other neighbourhood. But there is a solution, and all that's required is rounding up these people and housing them in a secure, temporary facility with work camp style trailers. Once they are locked up they can undergo addiction and mental health treatment and then when that has been completed they can work on their vocational training before they are released. For those who can't make it on their own in society we need to put them in a permanent care facility, and this is something the government should be building with all speed.

Over the years there have been many advances in psychiatric care, and modern hospitals don't bear any resemblance to the old lunatic asylums of the past. We need to start building a new Riverview right away and, in the meantime, we shouldn't be dragging our feet on getting treatment for those who need it, regardless if they think differently. It's time to clean up the streets once and for all, return the parks to the use they were intended, and quit kidding ourselves that the problem will just go away if we give everyone free drugs and handouts. Tough love is what's required. We once had good facilities, now we have nothing which is bad, and it's only going to get uglier if we don't make some radical changes.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Give Thanks


Once again it's that time of year when Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Unlike the Americans, whose celebration marks the day of when they started their campaign of Indigenous genocide, ours is a time of giving thanks for a good harvest and celebrating being able to survive for another year. This year the wheat harvest in particular is set to be a record breaker which is good news for the farmers and even better for those in the rest of the world who depend on the harvest for their own diet. 

Meanwhile in the Horn of Africa they are experiencing their worst drought and famine in 60 years and between 12-18 million people are facing varying degrees of malnutrition and starvation. Contrast this with people living in North America who have an obesity rate of over 60% and climbing. A lifestyle of junk food, large portions, and too much sugar has brought on an epidemic of diabetes and tooth decay while at the same time ignoring the plight of those with nothing to eat.

But it's not just food that we have too much of an abundance. We have too much stuff in general; too many clothes, too many things in our home, too many toys, and too many distractions. We've created a consumer culture that's a complicated mixture of competitive consumption, advertising, built-in obsolescence, and influencer trends that have become essential to keeping the economy running. But while consumer spending accounts for 60% of the economy it also accounts for an ever increasing level of household debt that now stands at $1.86 worth of credit for every $1.00 of disposable income.

And all this consumption generates a tremendous amount of garbage and packaging waste that ends up in our landfills, or worse, gets sent off to some impoverished country for them to dispose of. In fact, when you talk about waste, few Canadians realize that 58% of all food produced in this country is lost or wasted and yet 4 million Canadians, including 1.4 million children, struggle to access healthy food. The more you look at our lifestyle the more you realize we don't just have a culture of consumption we have a culture of gluttony.

Perhaps we could put up with all this waste if everyone on this planet had a somewhat equal standard of living but the reality is quite different. Global inequality is something people are just starting to get their heads around and when they do there will probably be a revolution. How can we put up with the fact that 10% of the population owns 76% of the wealth and 52% of all the income while the bottom 50% have only 2% of the wealth and 8% of all the income. Even in Canada the top 20% have more than 67% of all the wealth while the bottom 40% have less than 3% of the wealth.

Maybe Thanksgiving should be time of thinking how we can make the world a more equitable place to live by finding ways of sharing the wealth. Wealth taxes for the rich are the most obvious but ideas like a guaranteed income or sharing the profits of natural resources, since they are owned by all, also come to mind. Since the poor are often the least educated, free education could also be offered as a way to lift people out of poverty. There are many possibilities and ideas if our business and government leaders really wanted to solve the problem before it's too late.

It feels good to share and at this time of year there's nothing more satisfying than sharing a Thanksgiving meal with friends and/or family. Perhaps it's that spirit of sharing that will inspire us to find a way to make the changes necessary so that everyone in the world can give thanks.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Down To The Waterline


This past summer there have been some disturbing photos about water, or the lack of it, in the news with Lake Mead being one particular example. A reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, it supplies electricity to 350,000 homes as well as irrigation and drinking water to 25 million people but, owing to a megadrought that started in 2000, it is now at a record low level. Currently the Lake Mead water level is 1,040 feet, a 160 foot drop since the year 2000 with the so-called "bathtub rings" on the hillsides indicating previous water levels. If the water level drops below 950 feet the Hoover Dam will cease generating electricity and at 895 feet a condition called "dead pool" occurs which means no water will flow past the Hoover Dam thus cutting off water to anyone in Arizona or California. In the meantime people are discovering all sorts of things that once rested on the bottom of the lake including boats, bodies, and assorted trash.

The Rhine River in Germany was another example of waterways falling to dangerously low levels and impeding river boat traffic. Ships are running aground and having to reduce their cargo so as to minimize the amount of draft, all of which is very costly and disruptive to the economy which is already struggling thanks to the war in Ukraine. 

Over in the Danube River there's a similar situation with low water levels and one made even worse by the exposure of German warships that were scuttled in WW2 and whose explosive laden hulks now threaten any shipping.

There was also the drought in Spain that has left reservoirs with less than half of their capacity and, as a result of the heat wave over western Europe, there were severe forest fires over Portugal, Spain and France.

In China the drought has caused the Yangtze and other rivers to dry up which has not only severely impacted shipping but also caused disruptions at manufacturing plants because of reduced hydro electric output. To try and combat the drought China has been resorting to launching rockets with cloud seeding silver iodide in an effort to induce rainfall. 

Drought in the Horn of Africa after four consecutive years of no rainfall has left millions of cattle dead as well as hundreds of thousands of people. The area is plagued with famine and war and millions are facing famine and water shortages. 

Global warming is of course the main culprit for expanding drought conditions around the world but pressure from an increasing world population, improving living standards, expansion of irrigated agriculture, deforestation, changing consumption patterns, and wasteful uses of water are also contributing factors. But in some places global warming is having the opposite effect of drought by bringing in extreme rainfall and causing glaciers to melt, which adds more fresh water run-off than areas can handle.

This year epic flooding hit Pakistan and left it with 1/3 of the country under water, more than 30 million people affected, and a death toll rising into the thousands. Heavier than usual monsoon rains and more than normal glacier melt in the Himalayas are the culprits with global warming being the root cause for both. 

Australia was also hit with epic flooding this year as a result of shifting global weather patterns that are bringing in extreme rainfall.

Water scarcity is where there is a lack of fresh water to meet the demand. Water scarcity of course varies around the globe with particularly arid countries and/or those with high population densities typically affected the most. Worldwide there is enough fresh water to meet the demand but there is a mismatch between water sources and where the people actually live. This is called physical scarcity.

Of more interest perhaps is what is referred to as economic scarcity which is caused by a lack of investment in the infrastructure or technology required to draw the water from rivers, aquifers, or other water sources to satisfy the demand. Because this is about money it affects poorer parts of the globe with sub-sahara Africa being particularly affected.

97% of the world's water is saltwater and only 3% is fresh. Of that most is tied up in glaciers leaving less than 1% accessible. Of that the African Great Lakes take up 29%, Lake Baikal takes up 22% and the the Great Lakes of North America take up 21%. Without adequate rainfall the rest of the world is extremely vulnerable to drought unless they can access the groundwater in aquifers. For those of us living in British Columbia we should never complain about the rain because, unfortunately, the rest of the world is increasingly getting down to the waterline.