Elderview archives

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    Is there a cancer threat from the oil sands industry?

    April 19, 2011 | Posted in | 5 comments
    Photo: Is there a cancer threat from the oil sands industry?

    By Peggy Olive

    Those of us who watched "Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands" on The Nature of Things at the end of January i are legitimately concerned by this question. Kelly and Schindler, writing in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,ii provided evidence that mining the Athabasca oil sands has increased carcinogen levels in the environment downstream, and it follows that more carcinogens in the environment could mean a higher risk of developing cancer for the exposed population.

    Demonstrating that the oil sands have caused an increase in cancer incidence is another matter. This is largely because cancer is so prevalent; one in three of us can expect to develop cancer over a lifetime and one in five may die from it. According to the 2010 Canadian Cancer Statistics,iii the incidence rates for all cancers have not changed much across Canada in 30 years, and the current incidence of cancer in Alberta is somewhat lower than that in the Atlantic provinces. Rates of incidence for all cancers between 2004 and 2006 in the Northern Lights Regional Authority, which includes the small town of Fort Chipewyan downstream of the oil sands, are lower or equal to the Alberta provincial average.iv However, in 2009, Alberta Health Services presented a comprehensive study of cancer incidence in Fort Chipewyan residents between 1995 and 2006, concluding that there was an increase (51 cases observed with 39 expected in about 1,200 people); this included two cases of a very rare form of bile duct cancer.v With so few total cases, caution was correctly placed on the interpretation of this observation and whether the increase could be attributed to the oil sands chemicals alone. Nonetheless, continued monitoring of this population was advised because of the unexpected cancer incidence.

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    Let's elect a future for our grandkids

    April 5, 2011 | Posted in | 2 comments
    Photo: Let's elect a future for our grandkids

    Timmy Mac via Flickr

    By The Association of Suzuki Elders

    Two benchmarks of a sustainable future for our grandchildren are careful management of Canada's natural environment and its resources, and promotion of a low-carbon economy.

    Let's use the forthcoming federal election campaign to engage our candidates in meaningful discussion about the environment. Our grandchildren can't elect their future, but we elders can.

    Question to the candidates: "Please describe how you and your party's policies will promote a sustainable future for my grandchildren. For example, what are your specific commitments to the following important issues?

    • A sustainable low-carbon economy that includes a national clean energy plan, financial support for renewable energy production and energy use efficiency, implementation of a revenue-neutral federal carbon tax, removal of all subsidies to coal, oil, gas and coal-bed methane industries, and support for rapid transit and new public transportation systems.
    • Sustained national action on climate change, including international agreements on technology transfer, financing and co-operation on emissions reductions and adaptation in developing countries in exchange for their agreement to limit emissions.
    • Ensuring Canada's future as a food production and exporting country by establishing a national food and farmlands policy, restructuring of our agricultural markets to sustain farming, encouragement of family farms and ensuring that farm families receive a fair share of consumer income, and support for organic agriculture instead of subsidizing costly agro-chemicals and genetically modified crops.
    • Protection of our irreplaceable marine fish habitats by placing a permanent legislated moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in ecologically sensitive areas such as the west coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and by eliminating open-ocean net-pen aquaculture practices.

    Please share these questions widely.

    An elder's guide to climate scepticism

    February 14, 2011 | Posted in | 1 comment
    Photo: An elder's guide to climate scepticism

    By Stan Hirst

    The other elders may drive me from the village with brooms and pitchforks when they read my confession. But the truth must out. I am, alas, a skeptic.

    I am skeptical that my beloved Earth is going to self-destruct on 31 December 2012. I think it's more likely the Mayans ran out of the wild fig bark on which they were drawing their calendars. I am skeptical that I am by nature diplomatic, charming and easygoing because Jupiter was hanging out with Venus in the Fourth House of the night sky right about the time I came into the world 70-odd years ago. I am skeptical that the people responsible for the multi-billion dollar homeopathic remedy business have never learned to spell the words p-l-a-c-e-b-o and g-u-l-l-i-b-i-l-i-t-y. And all this scepticism flies in the teeth of the billions of people worldwide who buy into this stuff.

    We sceptics are in good company. Albert Einstein was one. In 1933 he famously stated that black holes do not and cannot exist. He couldn't see one and couldn't find the rationale for them in his famous equations. Today, his successors have no such problems and not only think they have identified nearly 30 black hole candidates in the Milky Way galaxy but are now getting the proof that the holes behave in the relativistic way that Einstein's theories predict.

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    A right royal Elder

    December 14, 2010 | Posted in | 3 comments
    Photo: A right royal Elder

    By Stan Hirst

    One word that is notably absent from my tattered CV is monarchist.
    It probably started out as pure jealousy in my, um, more youthful days when I was subjected to grainy pictures in the Sunday Scream or Movietone news clips of rich, spoiled royals racing around in Maseratis or flying their personal jets, always accompanied by gorgeous princesses called Sophia. My rancour deepened during the '60s and '70s when Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was caught pocketing a US$1 million bribe from the Lockheed Corporation. Once my plain old envy had been cleared away, it was replaced by the cold logic of the maturing elder. What on earth was the relevancy of this corrupt and mediaeval clique in the 21st century?

    "It's part of the fabric of British, and Dutch, and Swedish, and definitely Monégasque society," said my detractors. I didn't really buy into that until I had spent a decade and a half of my valuable life working in Africa's two remaining monarchies, Lesotho and Swaziland. It was not difficult to appreciate the reverence those folks have for their royals. Both the Basotho and the Swazi literally owe their existence as nations to their earlier monarchs. For the Basotho it was the 19th century monarch, Moshoeshoe, who gave both Brit and Boer a run for their money and eventually forged a nation out of a scattering of loose tribes. The late Swazi king Sobhuza II had a nominal reign of 82 years and nine months, the longest documented reign of any monarch since antiquity, during which he took his country from colony to protectorate to independent kingdom.

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    Change management

    November 23, 2010 | Posted in | Leave a comment
    Photo: Change management


    By Stan Hirst

    If there is one thing that Elders might be better at than other folks, it is awareness of change. For one thing, we have a longer time frame for comparison of the "then" and "now". For another, it seems to be a basic human characteristic to hanker for the good old days. Thanks to a very well developed sense of selective recall, most of us are pretty good at comparing the "now" with the "then". For me, the "now" might be a few minutes in the company of my grandchildren and their electric guitars, and the grateful "then" would be my dusty collection of Willie Nelson CDs.

    Change is a theme that has attracted most of the well-versed philosophic Elders. More than two millennia ago, the Buddha stated it quite plainly: "Everything changes; nothing remains without change." A few thousand years later, the famous "weeping philosopher", Heraclitus, underpinned his doctrine of change being central to the universe with his famous saying, "You cannot step twice into the same river." On into the 19th and 20th centuries the theme was picked up by philosophers (Alfred North Whitehead: "The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order."), biologists (Charles Darwin: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.") and statesmen (Abraham Lincoln: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.").

    Getting a little closer to our own times, probably the most famous modern statement on change was that by Rachel Carson:

    "Change is the only element of life which is constant. Though it sounds contradictory, it is true. Change is the most important element of life. It is this change that defines life. Had there been no change, life would have become still. We can see that change occurs in all natural phenomena such as weather and time. Change is also a vital element in any relationship. If there are no alternating periods of highs and lows then any relationship will become stagnant. Change keeps the relationship and life going and gives reasons for living. Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world."

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