Elizabeth Hand

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Elizabeth Hand is a novelist and educator in the fields of writing and science. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her short fiction and book reviews have appeared in various prominent Canadian publications. She comes to Desmog from a coordinator position at the Portland Hotel Society where she worked in social housing, outreach and harm reduction. As a former social services worker, she is professionally invested in Aboriginal rights and civil liberties issues in Canada. As a Canadian and an American, she aspires to strengthen the dialogue between the two countries concerning environmental issues, and to address such topics with an international perspective.

War Against Science Waged in B.C. Classrooms


As is often the case with change, some people welcome the opportunity while others are wary of making things worse. For B.C. teachers, changes to the B.C. curriculum drafts in the areas of science and environmental education might be a cause to be wary. While the general decision to revise the B.C. curriculum may be rooted in good intentions, some teachers are concerned this shift provides an opportunity to cut vital learning objectives from public education.

Recently, B.C. teacher Lenny Ross expressed concern about the implications of these curriculum changes. His essay, “Concerns With the Transformation of the B.C. Curriculum,” which was sent to colleagues and educators province-wide, highlights his dismay with the proposed changes, which have nearly eliminated environmental education from B.C. curriculum.

Ross, who has a Master's in environmental education from the University of Victoria, is a grade 4/5 teacher in the Greater Victoria School District. In his essay, he points out that the current curriculum includes a consistent environment sciences framework, which is built up from K-12 to develop eco-literacy. The latest draft revision dismantles this specifically structured environmental curriculum.

The Mine Next Door Part 4: Physicians Say Ajax Could Be A Threat To Public Health

KGHM Ajax Mine Kamloops

Part 4 of the series The Mine Next Door, an in-depth look at the proposed Ajax mine near Kamloops, British Columbia. Read Part 1 of this series: KGHM Open-Pit Mine Proposal Within Kamloops City Limits, Part 2: The Price of the Ajax Mine and Part 3: An Interview with Ryan Day of Secwépemc Nation.

Kamloops Moms for Clean Air is not just a group for moms, we are for anyone who cares about clean air, healthy lungs, and preserving the freedom we have to run outside anytime we want, to breathe deeply while doing all the things we love to do outdoors,” said Gina Morris from Kamloops Moms for Clean Air at an event they organized to educate Kamloopians about the possible risks the KGHM Ajax Mine may cause in terms of air pollution.

As Kamloops faces the complicated decision of whether or not to welcome the Ajax open-pit gold and copper mine, public health is possibly the most pressing issue. Mining operations are expected to take place within less than 2 kilometres of schools, hospitals and residential areas. Since open-pit mines are known to produce harmful particulate dust and affect water supplies, many local health professionals and preservation societies are concerned that Ajax will compromise the air and water quality of Kamloops.

The Mine Next Door Part 3: An Interview With Ryan Day Of Secwépemc Nation

jacko lake

Part 3 of the series The Mine Next Door, an in-depth look at the proposed Ajax mine near Kamloops, British Columbia. Read Part 1 of this series: KGHM Open-Pit Mine Proposal Within Kamloops City Limits and Part 2: The Price of the Ajax Mine.

Ryan Day is a marathon runner who is completing graduate studies in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. He's also from St'uxwtéws, a community of the Secwépemc Nation near Kamloops, B.C. Last year, Day won the Kamloops Marathon, which is one of many outdoor sporting events that take place in the city that, because of a newly proposed open-pit mining project, faces the threat of losing its prized title as “Canada’s Tournament Capital.”

In a recent interview with DeSmog, Day told us that, as a runner, his goal is not the competition. It’s about “modeling a healthy lifestyle and being visible to others.”

“The sport of running,” he says, “has given me a great deal in my lifetime and if I am able to inspire anyone, particularly youth to take up the sport for fun or competition, that is important to me. Given that placing high in a race creates somewhat of a captive audience I also used it to model taking a principled stance on a very important issue, that of the proposed Ajax mine.”

His position on the KGHM Ajax mine proposal is clear. As a runner, he believes that the construction of the mine will absolutely impact the decision of marathoners like himself to come to Kamloops to run. “If the sport is competed outside,” he told DeSmog, “and there is a possible air quality issue, athletes will not want to risk their health and will seek the next alternative. Likewise, Kamloops may be less likely to win bids to host outdoor sporting events. Perhaps the 'Tournament Capital' may cease to be an accurate title for the city.”

The Mine Next Door Part 2: The Price of the Ajax Mine

open pit mine

Part 2 of the series The Mine Next Door, an in-depth look at the proposed Ajax mine near Kamloops, British Columbia. Read Part 1 of this series: KGHM Open-Pit Mine Proposal Within Kamloops City Limits.

Despite concerns about public and environmental health, some Kamloops residents still support the KGHM Ajax open-pit mine proposal due to optimism about jobs and economic returns through federal and provincial taxes.

The perspective of the supporters isn't new. Resource exploration is common in the area. However, open-pit mines are a relatively recent development in B.C. According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which is responsible for the Core Review of the project, “Throughout the [last] century following the Fraser River Gold Rush, most mining activities in British Columbia took place underground. But in the early 1960s, the feasibility of open-pit production increased tremendously, and as a result, several huge copper mines opened, including Highland Valley Copper—the largest open-pit operation in all of North America.” 

However, many Kamloopians are hoping that the future of Kamloops will head in a different direction. Today the city is known for a great many things besides resources. Since Kamloops  is “Canada’s Tournament Capital,” a growing university town with the Thompson Rivers University, where the largest employer is the Royal Inlands Hospital (RIH), the economics of the Ajax project may not be as simple as they seem.

Most Kamloopians are comfortable with a certain amount of mining activity and resource exploration so long as it doesn't put priorities like health and livability in jeopardy. What makes the Ajax project problematic is it’s potential to threaten other industries, drive down property values and distort the healthy-city image that the title, “Canada’s Tournament Capital,” implies.

The Mine Next Door Part 1: KGHM Ajax Open-Pit Mine Proposal Within Kamloops City Limits

Kennecott Mine, Salt Lake City, Utah

Tony Brumell is a poet, a fisherman and a former miner, happily retired in Kamloops B.C. He’s the kind of man that doesn’t have an email address or a laptop. He drives a red pick-up truck with a wooden canoe strapped to the top—ready to cut into the lake at a moment’s notice. Tony is the first to point out that he shouldn't have to meet with us, that his time should be spent canoeing Jacko Lake and dreaming up new lyrical ideas. Instead he volunteers his time to take anyone who’ll listen on environmental tours of the proposed site for KGHM Ajax open-pit gold and copper mine.

It was a grey day in August—a luxury in the Okanagan where mid-summer temperatures can reach upwards of 40˚C—when we, a group of writers and researchers from DeSmog Canada, met with Tony and some members of local preservation organizations. Tony took us on his tour of the rolling hills and glassy lakes that could soon be replaced with a dusty open-pit mine and tailings storage piles.

As a miner and an environmental activist, Tony understands the scale and implications of the project very well. Throughout his career, he’s been involved in everything from blasting, scaling, slope stabilization to surveying. He knows exactly what a mine like Ajax will mean for Kamloops and he is extremely worried.

Leave Us the Birds and the Bees, Please? Canadian Government Lags Behind in the Move to Ban Neonicotinoid Pesticides

bee pollinating flower

For about a decade, bee populations around the world have been experiencing massive declines for mysterious reasons. The phenomenon, often called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is characterized by a rapid loss of worker bees and has been linked to a wide range of causes: cell phone frequencies, mites and pesticides. It isn’t until recently that the massive bee deaths have been directly linked to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are neuro-active insecticides, chemically related to nicotine. They came into development in the 1980’s and 90’s by Shell Oil Company and then Bayer pharmaceuticals. Neonics are hyper-toxic pesticides that are designed to be water soluble, so they are able to travel and contaminate pollen-dense plant life far and wide. The wide reach and long life of neonics has proven to be deadly to pollinators like bees and birds and detrimental to humans as it has penetrated groundwater systems into drinking water.

Recently, when they found 50,000 dead bees in a department store parking lot, the state of Oregon temporarily banned the use of these pesticides. The bans are in place until the research can show that the chemicals will not threaten bee populations. Likewise, the European Parliament put out a report in 2012 that specifically links the use of neonics to irreversible hive destruction. A moratorium has been placed on these pesticides in the European Union.

Fresh, PRV-Infected, B.C. Salmon: Now Available at a Supermarket Near You

superstore skinny salmon

A report, published on July 11th of this year, reveals that the Piscine Reovirus (PRV) is decimating British Columbia salmon populations. This report, published in Virology Journal, was co-authored by researchers from the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, Centro de Investigaciones Biologicas in Chile and, and the Raincoast Research Society in British Columbia. The research shows that B.C. fish tested positive in both farmed and wild salmon sources.

Yet, despite the report’s findings, officials for the Canadian government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) claim that the virus is no cause for alarm. As with any of the three deadly European viruses found on the coasts of B.C., the DFO doesn’t consider the appearance of a virus as a threat. They will only take action in the event of a major disease outbreak.

Twyla Roscovich sought to find out why in her Documentary, Salmon Confidential. In it, she asked Dr. Gary Marty, B.C. Health Vet, what his conclusions were about PRV contamination, in relation to the drastic decline in fish populations in the Fraser River and Rivers Inlet Sockeye. Dr. Marty said that he doesn’t know what the problem is, so the virus shouldn’t be blamed.

The CFIA's PR War On Salmon: Internationally Renowned Canadian OIE Research Lab Loses The Battle They Shouldn't Have to Fight

salmon prespawn mortality
Early detection of a lethal virus in salmon won’t win you any gratitude in Canada, but it could get you internationally discredited. That’s what happened Dr. Frederick Kibenge and associates at his lab at the Atlantic Veterinary College of Prince Edward Island when he positively identified the presence of the Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAv) in samples taken from B.C. fish. 
Dr. Kibenge, internationally renowned expert on the ISA, runs one of only two independent research labs recognized by World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). His lab is responsible for diagnosing Chile’s fish farms with the ISA in 2007. The virus was tracked back to eggs originating in Norway. When he detected the ISA virus in B.C. salmon, he found that he was up against more than just a lethal epidemic—he had to fear for his scientific credibility. 
Because of his findings, “Dr. Kibenge was subpoenaed to testify at the Cohen Commission. In December 2011, he told he Commission about the positive test results for ISA virus sequences he obtained from Rivers Inlet Fraser River Salmon.” The CFIA claimed that because his lab could not recreate the original results, his international certification ought to be revoked. 

Contaminated Water, Land Damage, and Earthquakes: The Legacy of Waste Injection Wells

contaminated water from wastewater injection well

Early scientific analysis predicted that the risks associated with hazardous waste injection wells would be negligible. Unfortunately, experience has indicated that disposing of hazardous waste deep underground has been linked to water contamination, destroyed ecosystems, toxic leaks and earthquakes.

Now we are learning that there is a difference between scientific analysis and scientific evidence.

In a recent extensive report by ProPublica, John Apps, leading geoscientist, who advises the Department of Energy for Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, said that the science used to go forward with disposal wells was not sound.

“Every statement is based on a collection of experts that offer you their opinions. Then you do a scientific analysis of their opinions and get some probability out of it. This is a wonderful way to go when you don't have any evidence one way or another… But it really doesn't mean anything scientifically.”

Canada Invests $4.7 Million in CCS That May Affect Subsurface "Extremophiles," Says Expert

Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is the process of extracting CO2 from stationary sources and piping it into deep underground storage. It's an old idea that’s been getting a lot of attention this year. Until now, CCS has been considered too expensive and inefficient to be a worthwhile endeavour. 
Over the past fifteen years, the Quebec-based company, CO2 Solutions has been developing a way to make the process less expensive and more environmentally viable. With their advancements in the field of enzyme-enabled carbon capture, they are doing something that most environmental companies only dream about—they’re getting funding. The real possibility of scaled-up CCS, however, has some experts wondering if we really know what implications the largely experimental tecnology might have on subsurface environments.