Of 345 species at risk in Canada, more than 160 have waited far too long for recovery strategies. Thanks to a recent federal court decision, four luckier ones are finally getting overdue plans detailing steps needed to save and protect them, including identifying habitat they need to survive. But to make it happen, environmental groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, with the help of Ecojustice lawyers, had to take the federal government to court. It wasn’t the first time we’ve gone to court to protect wildlife.
In what the judge called “the tip of the iceberg,” the court found an enormous systemic problem in the two ministries responsible for protecting endangered and threatened wildlife. Both the environment and fisheries ministers broke the law for the species in question by allowing multi-year delays in meeting deadlines required under the Species at Risk Act.
This legal win is good news for Pacific humpback whales, marbled murrelets, Nechako white sturgeon and southern mountain caribou. But their fate and that of many other federally recognized endangered and threatened species remains in jeopardy. Court victories are just a start. It will take political will to ensure species and their habitats get the protection they need.
The yellow-breasted chat, northern goshawk and spotted turtle are just some of the endangered species that continue to wait—some for as long as seven years now. The eastern whip-poor-will—known for its distinct nocturnal cries—struggles to survive pollution, pesticides and climate change, while the grey fox and prairie loggerhead shrike confront agricultural and pesticide threats as they contend with recovery strategy delays.
When plans come this late, impacts of large development projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline aren’t adequately considered before projects are approved. We’ll never know if the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation to support the Enbridge project would have been different had it considered recovery impacts on threatened species such as the humpback whale.
Recovery strategies are not the only slow-moving part of the species-at-risk process. Just getting status assessments for species may take up to five years. Five more years could be required for government to decide whether to accept these scientific assessments and give species protection. Then, legal timelines kick in, followed by recovery strategies—many delayed—and still more years for action plans, which have no timelines, to take effect. For killer whales, whose overdue action plan was just released, the process has taken about 13 years and a court challenge from the David Suzuki Foundation and others, which concluded government was failing to protect the whale’s critical habitat. Many species have been waiting even longer.
The Species at Risk Act was adopted in 2002 to protect Canada’s plants and animals. Although the act itself is sound, implementation leaves much to be desired. Some species that need help, such as the porbeagle shark, are excluded from the list, along with other fish that have high economic value. Despite a 90 percent decline in population, the shark was denied protection because of possible impacts on the fishing industry.
The act only automatically applies to a small fraction of species at risk, since most are not guaranteed protection on provincial lands, and allows the federal government to step in if a province is failing to protect a species. But this has only happened once, for the greater sage grouse. Despite a recent federal emergency order to improve protection for the bird and its prairie habitat, concerns remain around continued delays on recovery actions.
The main threat to more than 85 percent of species at risk is habitat loss and degradation. Recovery plans identify habitat, which can then be protected and restored to help wildlife survive. Strategies are now required for 192 species. Successful court challenges—such as our 2009 Nooksack dace case involving a small minnow on the brink of extinction—helped enforce the act’s requirement that the federal government identify critical habitat. Government can speed the process by following a precautionary approach in the absence of scientific certainty.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to resort to court challenges to protect threatened wildlife? Endangered species caught in long delays are like emergency patients denied life support. If we really care about them, we need to do a better job of supporting them.
It probably isn’t a surprise that as a writer for TreeHugger, I spend a lot of time thinking about recycling. As I report on how policy makers and companies deal with waste, it naturally makes me think about the choices I make in my personal life.
My thinking about recycling has been heavily influenced by the book “Cradle to Cradle” by Michael Braungart and William McDonough. In an ideal world, products would be designed to be recycled or composted. When it’s useful to be able to dispose of something, say tampons or toilet paper or medical devices, we could have materials that are totally nontoxic and would just biodegrade. For items that we want to last a long time, say cell phones and shoes, I would be able to slap a shipping label on my used up product and send it back to the manufacturer, who would use those materials to make more shoes or cell phones.
I don’t live in an ideal world, I live in New York. We actually have a pretty decent recycling system. There’s no curbside pickup for compost like there is in Portland yet, but there is door-to-door collection for paper, metal and glass. The city also recently expanded its plastic recycling, and will now collect all rigid plastics, from yogurt cups to Solo cups. To recycle plastic bags or food waste, you’ll have to work a little harder to find a collection point. The same goes for electronics and batteries.
There are a few categories that are much more frustrating, and clothing is a big one. I frequently sell or give away clothing that I no longer wear, but just as often I end up wearing out beyond repair.
One solution is to donate these items to the textile recycling program run by Grow NYC, which has drop off spots at a number of farmer’s markets and also has a program that installs clothing recycling bins at apartments and schools.
Another solution is to go DIY, and treat my old clothes as raw material. The clothing I’m most likely to wear out is the clothing I love wearing, clothing that’s attached to stories and memories. I’ve tried my hand at re-making garments, and for the most part have concluded that I’d better leave tailoring up to the professionals. However, I’ve fallen in love with quilting.
I make crazy quilts, which don’t follow a pattern and tend to be heavily embroidered. It is very time consuming, but for me the process is enjoyable. So far, I’ve finished one small quilt, and am working on a larger second one. The fact that I’m recycling has become secondary to the pleasures of sewing, although I started quilting initially as a way of giving a second life to worn out clothing.
Katherine: Recycling used to make me feel good!
When Maggie suggested we write about recycling for our Town & Country column, I thought her timing was impeccable. I’ve just made a resolution for Lent – to create as little recycling as possible for the next forty days. My goal is to not even fill a single blue box, though I don’t know if I’ll succeed. It’s part of the bigger Zero Waste quest in which I’m trying to minimize all waste generated by my home and family.
You might be wondering why I’d want to minimize something like recycling. It’s supposed to be a good thing, isn’t it? Yes, and it is, in some ways. Recycling used to make me feel good, too. “Look at all this stuff I’m recycling!” I’d think as I hauled the blue bin out to the curb for biweekly pickup. I shopped for groceries with the blue bin in mind, always selecting items that came in recyclable packaging over those that didn’t.
That was before I’d read books such as “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson and “Garbology” by Edward Humes. Now my opinion has changed. Recycling still has its place, but I’ve come to realize that it’s far from being an adequate solution to North America’s serious trash problem. Recycling can be a cop-out for consumers, making us feel justified about buying stuff in excessive packaging.
The sad reality is that many of the things we toss in the recycling never get recycled because they disappear from the recycling stream and are never accounted for. And plastic is never recycled; it’s always downcycled into a lesser form, until eventually it ends up in landfills. My goal now is to avoid packaging of all kinds whenever possible, but if I can’t, to choose glass, metal, paper, and wood over plastic, giving preference always to reusables.
The blue bin, however, is only one aspect of the recycling I do. I also have a composter in the backyard that receives all food scraps, minus meat and dairy, since my town doesn’t offer green bin pickup. At least my garden benefits from the rich composted soil.
I can relate to Maggie’s dilemma about what to do with old clothes, specifically those that are too worn out to donate to a thrift store. There are only so many rags a household can use! Currently I have a big box of ancient clothes and holey cotton diapers that need to be recycled, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful at figuring out where to send them. I’m no seamstress, so converting them into something else is beyond my ability.
I’ll be thinking a lot about recycling over the next forty days as I try to reduce, repurpose, and reuse as many items as possible. I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of April.
Beijing’s notorious air pollution has reached beyond hazardous levels in recent years, with the city covered in thick, toxic smog for a good part of the year. While the Chinese government has implemented various pollution-battling policies like car bans and the planting of green roofs, others like London-based design firm Orproject have gone down the road of more extreme design measures — suggesting the building of bubble-like biomes, sealed from outside pollution, that would allow residents to actually breathe clean air.
Dubbed Bubbles, Orproject is proposing a series of transparent domes that are made with ETFE plastic, the same kind of material used for Beijing’s aquatic stadium during the 2008 Olympics. Not only is the material economical, flexible and durable, it also allows for a 30 percent reduction in energy costs in terms of heating and lighting (we’ve already seen ETFE used in greenhousesand other institutional applications).
Designed using a computer algorithm to mimic the veining of leaves and butterfly wings, the complex would be heated and cooled by a ground source heat exchange system and its air would be cleaned by solar-powered filters. Orproject co-founder and Beijing resident Christoph Klemmt explains onCo.Exist that Bubbles would be a kind of botanical garden around which people can live, shop and work in a healthy environment:
We suffer daily from smog. Our concept can happen on a very small scale, but we are hoping we can enclose a large area of the city, where we have a greenhouse with a botanical garden inside.
Klemmt envisions the complex to act as an enclosed public space or park. Though the concept has had some precedents, its future feasibility will depend largely on the interest of developers and the will of local bureaucracy, says Klemmt:
This construction system which we’ve developed could work on various scales. The big park is our dream, which depends on a lot of other people, including the government. If we were to realize this for a schoolyard, it’d be much easier for it to happen.
It’s dubious that Beijing’s “airpocalypse” would be solved by a single stopgap design measure such as this, but let’s hope that unconventional designs like this will be complemented with sound policy in Beijing’s battle for cleaner air. More over at Orproject and Co.Exist.