Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Defeating Terrorism One School at a Time

On Monday Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, a longtime ally of U. S. President Bush, resigned in the face of growing calls for his impeachment. Musharraf was a problematic ally to the United States. Although he agreed to rein in the Islamic extremists and help root out al Queda, both groups have grown and prospered under his command. In spite of the twelve billion dollars that the United States has given Pakistan since 9/11, 90% of which has gone to the military, the Taliban and al Queda are now healthier than ever and using the northern territories of Pakistan as a base for incursions into Afghanistan.

At 169 million, Pakistan has the 5th largest population in the world. Born in the Indian Partition of 1947, it has been ruled by the military for most of its existence. While it has a nuclear arsenal and a modern army it is a “failed state” lacking in basic public infrastructure. It is in fact a feudal system, without a sufficient middle class population to ensure economic and political stability. With the majority illiterate and uneducated, Pakistan is mired in corruption and a breeding ground for Islamic extremism.

The roots of Pakistan’s malaise centers on the military’s longstanding rivalry with India, which started during the 1947 partition of India when the two states fought over who should control Kashmir, with it’s largely Muslim population. Early on, India won control, and the Pakistani military has remained obsessed with getting back at India, fighting a series of costly wars and bringing the world to the brink of a nuclear war twice, in 1999 and 2002. Meanwhile the rulers of Pakistan have consistently neglected economic development to the detriment of the Pakistani people.

Pakistan’s problems have been compounded by their “friendship” with the United States. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the CIA funneled billions into arms and training of Mujehadin insurgents in Pakistan through Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the Americans, under George Bush senior, lost interest in the region. But the Pakistani military and the ISI continued to support Islamic extremists as part of their greater game plan to foment insurgencies in Kashmir and install a weakened regime hostile to India in Afghanistan.

According to Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani author of Descent Into Chaos, one of the best books ever written about the region, the Pakistani army backed the Taliban in the ensuing civil war in Afghanistan “encouraging thousands of Pakistani youngsters to fight and die for the Taliban just as it mobilized thousands of Pakistanis to fight in the Kashmiri insurgency against India.”

“Pakistani militants were providing manpower for both the Taliban and al Queda and running a vast logistics, communication, and transit network in Pakistan on behalf of al Queda… This support base in Pakistan was to prove critical to al Queda’s survival after 9/11”. Meanwhile, George W. Bush was supporting the very Pakistani military and political system that helped fund and arm the Taliban that sheltered al Queda when it attacked the U. S. in 2001.

Let’s stop for a second and consider the following: Suppose that instead of giving military support to Pakistan’s army, the U. S. had given money to build schools in Pakistan. Think what would have happened to Pakistan’s economy and democratic institutions if aid money had gone into building and operating public schools for the last twenty years. . People who remain ignorant are more likely to offer themselves up as suicide bombers for al Queda and the Taliban. When society becomes literate the mullahs become disempowered

 fighting terrorism only perpetuates the cycle of violence.  as one well-known American said:  “You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads, or put in electricity, but unless girls are educated a society won’t change.” When you educate girls infant mortality decreases, population growth slows down, and the general health improves. .

The CIA and the ISI both contain the word “intelligence” and yet that is the very quality that is missing from their actions in the “War on Terror”.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trees Are the Answer

My dad, Clive Justice, has a bumper sticker on his car that says: “Trees are the Answer”. No, he's not a member of a religious tree cult. He just thinks that planting trees can answer a lot of problems: climate change, the food crisis, pollution, urban blight, and many others.

As a landscape architect, he has spent his entire adult life working around trees. When I was a child he designed the grounds of the Vancouver Unitarian Church at 49th and Oak and had trees planted along the main sidewalks and took some of the trees from the original site to complement the church building. Some of the new trees were scraggly looking things then but fifty years later they've grown larger and given the church and it's grounds more maturity and substance.

Many trees live long lives. Trees grow very fast initially and then their growth tapers off and they slowly decline over hundreds of years. The twisty knarled yellow cedar that grows all along the BC coast, can live for thousands of years.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Prince Rupert, was how many trees there were surrounding the town. We are surrounded by mountainous coastline, with forests as far as the eye can see. You'd think that with so many trees in the distance, we wouldn't need so many here in town. But the fact is that trees are important in town as well.

Consider our golf course, the Hays creek ravine, the wooded areas around summit, the beautiful vertical park on Fulton that features maples at the bottom, rhododendrons in the middle and a majestic stand of sitka spruce at the top of the cliff - trees are essential to the identity of these places.

Even individual trees have importance. There are four big oak trees in town I've noticed that include a pair of tall and stately oaks on the grounds of the Masonic Temple. There are two beautiful big linden or lime trees, with their spicy fragrance, one on E 7th and one a couple of blocks away on E 6th. There's a huge Cottonwood down in the “holler” between E7th and 8th. There's a mysterious MonkeyPuzzle Tree on Borden Street across from the little park.

Trees that are commonplace elsewhere can seem exotic in town. Drive up the Skeena valley past Smithers , and quaking aspen are ubiquitous. When the wind blows their circular leaves shake. But, it's hard to find them in Prince Rupert. That's probably why I'm very fond of the aspen that towers over my back yard. Here and there the odd chestnut tree, with it's big palmate leaves gives deep and satisfying shade in the summer.

Trees can keep a house cool in the summer, and protect a house against wind in the winter. They are pleasing to the eye. Their roots help to hold the soil together absorbing excess water and preventing erosion. Trees provide vital nesting habitat for birds. Trees help to moderate dry climates by pulling water up from the ground and allowing it to evaporate into the atmosphere from the leaves. Large forests, like the amazon, actually make their own climate by creating rain clouds. Without trees the Amazon would not get any rain.

Trees give off oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. They are an answer to global warming. Planting trees store carbon in a form that doesn't cause climate change. Trees also absorb pollution, taking mercury up from the soil and up to one and a half pounds of air pollution a day per tree. A recent study from Columbia University showed that children who lived on tree lined streets were 25% less likely to have asthma than children who lived on streets without trees.

We stand to lose many pine trees in the BC interior because global warming has made BC more hospitable to the pine bark beetle. The pine beetle crisis is leading to economic devastation in Northern BC, as a gap in time of more than a generation lies between harvesting the dead and damaged pine and the growth of more mature trees to replace them.

When you plant a tree, you have to plan ahead, because the benefits of trees are often not fulfilled for a generation. It takes decades to build up an orchard. But after twenty-five years you have a renewable harvest of apples, pears, cherries, or what-have-you.

The red and yellow cedar, the sitka spruce, could be used here, on the BC North Coast for timber, for local construction, for furniture making, for boat building. It takes time to grow a tree, and you don't realize the benefits right away. If we develop resources that we have here we can support each other when times get harder. If we let big corporations extract our resources without our say, they won't look out for our future. We need to grow businesses and contractors here that use local wood and get involved, as stakeholders in the sustainable harvesting of our forests. If trees are the answer then we need to take the long view while we still have time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sheep Vegetation Management and Permaculture

Permaculture  Principle no. 11 -  "Use edges and value the marginal"  "The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place, these are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system." - David Holmgren

Let's talk about clearcuts in Northern BC.  Clearcuts are edges, between the forest and cleared land where fast growing broad-leafed plants like fireweed and alder outcompete conifer seedlings.  We think of clearcuts as ugly but they are a valuable food source for browsers like deer and sheep.

Principle no. 5 - "Use and value renewable resources."   "The proverb, "let nature take its course", that control over nature through excessive resource use and high technology is not only expensive, but can only have a negative effect on our environment." - Holmgren

It's cheaper and easier for big forest companies to control broad-leafed vegetation by helicopter spraying with herbicides.  But what are the costs?  Yes it's cheaper for the company but the costs are borne by the critters downstream  and some of those who suffer from the toxic effects of herbicides are people.

About four years ago I met an Australian by the name of Dennis Loxton.  This man is wonderfully articulate.  In less than two minutes he had me fascinated by the idea of sheep farming and silviculture - a combination I had never heard of before.   And the story that he told me about his career and his vision tie in very nicely with permaculture principles and local resilience.

In Australia there were 180 million sheep at peak, before the latest period of droughts.  Loxton got his training in wool classing or grading.  He knows his Merino wool.  Loxton came to Canada in the seventies and started in the tree planting business.  After seventeen years in silviculture he decided to combine his previous experience in Australia with his silviculture business and sheep vegetation management of tree farms in BC became a reality.

Loxton did the research.  He tested Merinos  and dairy sheep.  He found that the clearcuts in the coastal forest were so lush that the Dairy sheep could breed and lactate their lambs on the clearcuts, then be taken back to the farm to be milked in the winter.  Most of the lambs could be sold but the best could be kept as breeders and milkers for the next year.

Well, what about predators I hear you say.  How do you keep the sheep out in the clearcuts from being eaten by wolves and bears?  Loxton maintains that the solution is livestock guardian dogs.  In seventeen years of sheep herding and tree planting, averaging about six thousand sheep per year, he lost only eight sheep, thanks to the dogs.

According to Loxton,  the most expensive dairy product in the world is sheep cheese.  And globally. there is more milk produced from sheep than cows.  "The thing about sheep", says Loxton, "is that they can walk right to the market. They can deliver themselves right to the consumer.

Here's the beauty of it -  sheep don't like conifers.  Sheep won't eat pine or spruce, or fir, but they'll eat the fireweed that grows in the clearing and competes with the seedlings for sunlight.  Then they leave behind a valuable manure  that provides much needed nutrients for the depleted soil, accelerating the growth of the seedlings.  According to Loxton, all the silviculture plantations that were sheep grazed are in superior condition to the plantations that weren't.

"Here's the really interesting thing about northern BC - there's no bloody food up here."  Yep, we in the north are totally dependent on grocery stores and supply lines thousands of miles long to survive.  "  One day", he muses, " the truck won't come - and we'll be sitting here with no food."  "I was brought up in the Australian Outback.  I learned the importance  of bringing food home from the land."

Principle no. 2  -  "Catch and store energy"    Sheep turn thousands of tons of vegetation into meat, dairy, wool, and fertilizer.  Feeding them on clearcuts takes them off the farmer's fields in the summer, eating hay that could otherwise go towards feeding them in the winter.  It should be a win-win situation for sheep farmers, consumers, and forestry companies.  Instead, the sheep vegetation management business, which, in it's heyday was up to 50,000 sheep in BC, is down to zero now.  What with the pine beetle, collapse of the housing bubble, and the end of Skeena Cellulose,  one of Loxton's best customers, it's apparently cheaper for forestry companies to use herbicides.

Am I repeating myself here?  As Loxton opines - "Monsanto wins".  Not if I can help it.  It's about time we saw to our own food security here in the North, instead of foolishly believing that that food truck will always be there when we need it.