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Green IT

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Ottawa to Washington by Canoe


A group of determined paddlers, with support from environmental groups, have achieved their goal of travelling 1800 kilometres by voyageur canoe from Ottawa to Washington, D.C. The 42-day Capital to Capitol by Canoe trip aimed to raise awareness of the need to protect and restore the health of waterways.

Max Finkelstein, an Ottawa resident and long-distance canoeist, had the idea to canoe between the two national capitals, but the initiative grew as friends, fellow paddlers and organizations came on board. Launched September 5 and finishing October 17, the journey engaged hundreds of people on both sides of the border. 

The Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) offered materials and other support, and the Ottawa Riverkeeper provided contacts with Waterkeepers along the route. Both organizations worked with Finkelstein and his team to plan the trip and promote the message. 

"The purpose of the trip was really to strengthen connections among environmental groups whose purpose is to take care of our waters, because we realized that rivers have no boundaries," explains Finkelstein.

Dot Bonnenfant, one of the trip organizers, says that in Canada and the U.S. "there are so many groups doing amazing work in the face of sometimes devastating challenges to the watersheds. There is hope and there's really a need for people to work together on all levels." 

 The 36-foot voyageur canoe was just one of the factors that made the trip unusual. The route was not straightforward, and the paddlers followed rivers, canals and lakes, even passing through New York City. Five of the paddlers made the entire trip, but the canoe required at least eight, so others from Ottawa and the U.S. joined along the way. "We had to juggle paddlers," says Finkelstein. "But that's also been the strength of it; we had some wonderful people join us, some quite spontaneously."

Paddlers Clive Doucet, Max Finkelstein, and Christine Kelly unveil the Capital to Capital by Canoe flag at the Ottawa launch. Photo: Denise Deby. 

Finkelstein says the physical demands of the trip and the close relationships required for the paddlers to work as a team made the trip intense. "It's been a hard trip, physically and mentally. The distances are long, the winds were usually in our face, some of the water bodies are extremely large, and there's a lot of uncertainty." Still, the paddlers say they found inspiration, fun and good humour along the way, mainly in the people they met.

For Finkelstein and fellow paddler Clive Doucet, the trip was an extension of what they've been trying to achieve for many years, Finkelstein in river conservation and Doucet as a municipal politician. Doucet says, "the only way we're going to get a sustainable world is to have a really large cultural change, a change in the way people think about what's important. And what better way than to start thinking about water, because we all depend on water."

Ottawa Riverkeeper's Meredith Brown, says the trip underscores the cultural and historical significance of the Ottawa River, as well as the need to protect its health. "If we're connected by these waterways, we're all impacting each other. We're all downstream. And everybody has to do a little bit of something. You don't have to be anybody special. You just have to have a little bit of knowledge and understanding."

Capital to Capital by Canoe starts its first leg on the Ottawa River, 20 September. Photo: Denise Deby.

Christine Kelly, CWF's Education Development Manager, says, "The hope is that one day you'll be able to swim in these waterways, fish in them, drink from them."

Capital to Capitol by Canoe plans to continue the effort through speaking engagements, possible future trips, and a campaign to establish a program of sister rivers to strengthen connections between groups. Doucet says people can help out by writing to the City of Ottawa to ask for a sister river program, starting with the Ottawa and Potomac Rivers. People can also get involved with the Ottawa Riverkeeper and CWF, and encourage municipal and federal governments to protect river health.


For more information: 

Capital to Capitol by Canoe:


Ottawa Riverkeeper:


Denise Deby writes on environmental and social justice issues.


In this issue..

Energy East -- A Present Danger
A project to pipe massive amounts of bitumen-based oil from Alberta to Canada's east coast is drawing opposition from communities along its proposed route.
TransCanada Pipeline's Energy East project is being promoted as a means of moving oil from Alberta's tar sands to ports in Quebec and New Brunswick, primarily for export overseas. TransCanada claims this project will expand oil refineries and related industry and create jobs. Energy East would be larger than either the Trans-Mountain, Northern Gateway or the controversial Keystone XL projects.
The issue motivated a discussion, "Energy East: Our Risk - Their Reward," hosted recently in Ottawa by the Council of Canadians and Ecology Ottawa. The meeting was one of a series of forums organized by the Council with local concerned groups in towns along the possible pipeline.
The evening featured a panel composed of Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, and Graham Saul of Ecology Ottawa.
Eriel Deranger stated that Treaty number 8, an agreement signed by (among other First Nations) the Chipewyan people and the Crown in 1899, guarantees its First Nations signatories hunting, fishing, trapping, and cultural preservation rights. These rights, which were later reinforced by the Canadian Constitution and Bill of Rights, are now threatened by the oil sands development in the Athabasca region.
Tar sands, she said, are destroying local ecology and poisoning First Nations peoples. Many Chipewyan have no running water or are subject to years-long boiling water advisories. They suffer increased cancer rates.
Water pollution 
The Tar sands reportedly use four barrels of water for every barrel of oil. Tailings ponds are suspected of leaking millions of litres of toxins into the McKenzie and Athabasca Rivers daily. The mining has caused acres of forest to be cleared, disrupting animal habitats and migratory patterns. Tests on local wildlife indicate probable contamination and a risk to the First Nations practice of sustainable hunting.
Deranger stated that the Harper government threatens democracy and environmental protection. She cites Bill C-45 (2012), which deregulates the management--and protection--of lakes and waterways, as an example. Critical habitats are now vulnerable.
The ACFN, she said is suing Shell Oil Canada for failure to honour agreements with the Chipewyan First Nation regarding resource exploitation on their land. Furthermore, the ACFN is legally protesting the Federal government's approval (with stipulations) of Shell's proposed Jackpine mine project to expand tar sands production.
"Canada has become the playground for oil companies. " Deranger commented. "Aboriginals' traditional territory is being sold."
Maude Barlow explained that TransCanada's use of Benzene (an organic chemical compound) to facilitate the flow of piped bitumen makes spillage extremely toxic. In such an event, the oil would sink into--not float on--water and make the clean-up "a nightmare." Some of the pipes TransCanada uses are old and ill-equipped to handle pressure.
Energy East, she said, will cross 90 waterways systems and provide "a new threat to the Great Lakes, which are already in danger." Barlow explained that U.S. authorities allow fracking wastewater to cross the Great Lakes, with spillage a constant possibility.
The global water supply, Barlow said, is itself threatened.
"The planet," she said, "is running out of water. "
Water is being pumped out faster than it can be (naturally) replaced. The Great Lakes are being drained of so much water that they might be depleted in 80 years. Half of China's rivers have disappeared since 1990. The dumping of waste water into oceans adds further damage.
"We have a responsibility not to destroy this water," she stated. "This is part of a larger struggle."
Local impacts
Part of the Energy East pipeline will cross the Rideau River just south of Ottawa, along with the Oxford aquifer, and a groundwater recharge area [a pumping station is planned in Stittsville]. A spill could thus close down Ottawa's water supply.
Barlow advocated building a strong movement against Energy East. She recommended that citizens tweet and otherwise contact representatives such as Jim Watson to have a risk assessment done regarding an oil pipeline in the Ottawa area.
Graham Saul stated that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently found that, while global warming will increase by 3 ¼ to 4 ¼ if coal and gas are continually burnt for energy, mitigating this is still possible. The IPCC says that alternative energies do not, despite what their critics say, really damage economies.
Saul explained that while Norway and Germany are increasingly using energies such as solar power, Canada does the opposite. The Harper government has reduced federal energy programs while promoting "radical, reckless, ultimately unethical projects such as the tar sands."
Saul said that Kitimat, BC recently held a non-binding plebiscite on the construction of a pipeline and an oil tanker terminal for Enbridge's Northern Gateway project. Enbridge claimed that Northern Gateway would create 180 jobs locally. Nonetheless, 60 per cent of citizens rejected the project. This, Saul said, proves the power of grassroots opposition. (The plebiscite motivated a BC environmental group, Dogwood Initiative, to campaign to have Northern Gateway subject to a popular provincial referendum). He said that communities in New Brunswick and Quebec affected by Energy East are mobilizing against it.
Saul advised that citizens in the National Capital Region lobby the Ontario Energy Board and the federal government regarding the risks associated with Energy East. People should express their concerns to candidates in the upcoming Ontario provincial election.
"We have to stand up and say we do not want this pipeline," he stated. "The time to organize is now."
David Mills writes on environmental and social justice issues.

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