Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pull Over

Last Friday I was caught in a speed trap on Main Street in Ottawa. Unfortunately, I was going 58 in a 50 zone. I was also taking up the full lane so that I could not be passed. That's right, I was pulled over while cycling. Although I've been pulled over before, it's always been in a car. So this was really something new - and a real lesson in how law enforcement view cyclists.

When I came to the speed trap, I was ordered to the side of the road by the officer. He asked me why I was taking up the whole lane. I told him that one of the safest practices on a road for a cyclist is to take as much room as you need so that if you get into a tricky situation, you have somewhere to go other than an endo. He didn't really appreciate my response and said that motorist find it annoying when they can't pass a slow cyclist. My response was that I was speeding, so I should hope that nobody aimed to be passing me. Moreover, the road has two lanes in either direction, giving virtually any vehicle plenty of room to pass.

What I found most unfortunate about this encounter was the attitude which the officer took. He felt as though he should be lecturing me as a cyclist, and he framed everything from the point of safety. As much as I can appreciate that concern, there is nobody on the road more aware of my safety than I am.

He also didn't seem to mind applying some misguided stereotypes. He asked me if I was a "professional", to which I replied that I compete. Then he told me that we think we "rule the road" and that we are a "nuisance". While I will agree that many professionals are not good ambassadors for cyclists, there is no group that is any better or worse than others. I have seen cyclists from many groups - couriers, professionals, commuters, recreationers - who respect the rules of the road and share the space allotted to them. Naturally, I have seen people from all of these groups act in ways that are dangerous and disrespectful.

He told me that he was not going to fine me, but he did tell me that the Ottawa Police Service does routinely hand out infractions. We had a positive discussion at that point agreeing that cyclists should be given tickets for disobeying the rules of the road. Common infractions include biking on the sidewalk, failing to stop for a traffic light or stop sign, and cutting other vehicles off. We both agreed at that point that I may have been speeding, but not enough to warrant a ticket. And since I certainly wasn't blocking traffic, there was no need for me to be penalised.

I think that one of the major points on which the officer and I agreed was that we both felt that many cyclists take both their safety and their place on the road for granted. As a cyclist, you may feel that you are in the right sometimes, but remember that in a collision, your chances of survival are significantly lesser than someone in a vehicle. With respect to our place on the road, I'm of the opinion that we must earn it, just like someone driving a car. Licences and registrations for cyclists should be introduced, with the money that is collected going toward maintaining and expanding infrastructure. Remember, cyclists only fund the roads they ride if they have a car.

When all was said and done, I think I may have changed his perspective slightly. And that is all due to the fact that I showed the officer respect so that he may also respect me. I hope that everyone out there - pedestrian, motorist, or cyclist - knows that the road must be shared. Let's work together to keep them safe through respect and awareness.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Power Politics

In 2005 the Government of Ontario's Energy Ministry decided to open a new gas-fired power plant. After surveying potential sites, sections of land along the shore in Mississauga and Oakville were selected. Following five years of organised resistance, these two communities were able to change the government's mind. As a result, other communities that had been shortlisted were now reselected. Currently, there is discussion around finding a suitable location in the Greater Toronto Area.

I was listening to CBC's "Ontario Today" and I was dismayed at the discussion generated around this issue. The question seemed to be around where it could be moved and how it could be stopped. Essentially, ignoring the greater question of the our needs, both perceived and real, for electricity and what needs to be done to satisfy them.

The most significant problem with the discourse is around location. The community solidarity is impressive, but the way it is framed is interesting - it wasn't about saying no to building more plants, it was saying no to building a plant in a specific community. This notion of "not in my backyard" is problematic, as it means that some people deserve to live near a hazard while others, presumably those with less money, have to. This is obviously unacceptable, but it is a reality. Communities with lower incomes (often with less access to resources, less free time, less sympathy from the press, less skilled leaders etc) generally have much less ability to mobilise and keep hazards out.

So that leads to the next logical question: If we can't find a reasonable place for a plant, then how do we move forward? It makes sense that if nobody wants to take on the hazard, then the conversation should centre on conservation. As it stands, coal and gas plants (such as the proposed one in the GTA) are only designed to provide relief in the summer. The current logic behind the Ministry of the Environment's push for gas-fired plants is based on idea that in the summer demand for power peaks, so gas-fired plants are supposed to provide this extra seasonal supply. Ontario Power Generation, which supplies the province with electricity, relies on nuclear power for about 41 per cent of its energy, hydroelectric damns for about 23 per cent, and coal and gas for just less than 20 per cent. While the nuclear and hydroelectric plants run at roughly the same level continuously, coal and gas fired plants are designed to meet demand.

With this in mind, why don't we focus the question on the supply and demand of electricity? While there is much controversy around methods of generation such as nuclear, geothermal, and hydroelectric, there are virtually no real advocates of coal and gas fired plants. If this is the case, then perhaps the province's plan should rely on using wind and solar energy during peak demand in the summer. Both have shown significant growth in reliability and quality in the past decades, and both are affordable and ecological. Perhaps the best part of the pairing of wind and solar is that there generally at least one is always going to be harnessable.

Moreover, in the coming months residents of the GTA will hopefully come to realise that the power they use comes from somewhere, but only if they take the initiative to go online to their local supplier or to an excellent site called the International Energy Agency. While this may certainly spur movements to tell the government to find another place to get power, I would be far more pleased to see a growth in conversation about finding ways to be more responsible with our energy usage.

We all have a part to play in being smart about our energy consumption. There are plenty of great resources out there to help you find better ways to consume power. Conservation really isn't difficult either, as you will find if you check out this great link.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


I just recently read a book that many of you have heard of. It's called The Book of Awesome, based off the 1000 Awesome Things site. This book has been championed by many as an excellent self-help resource. Moreover, it's connected with Maxwell House for its Brew Some Good campaign. Essentially, this two-pronged attack is supposed to help make us realise that there is so much out there to make us happy.

Just what is it out there that we are so worried about? According to the introductory paragraph of 1000 Awesome Things:

"Polar ice caps are melting, hurricanes swirl in the seas, wars are heating up around the world, and the job market is in a deep freeze. That's why one chilly spring night I started a tiny website called 1000 awesome things."

Interesting. So this project, which is framed as an "escape", is essentially designed to help us find distractions in a world where we need to stop ignoring the awful. Not surprisingly, many of the 1000 awesome things that he refers to relate in some way or another to consumption. Some leading examples include: "When the vending machine gives you two things instead of one", "Getting gas just before the price goes up", "Having a whole row to yourself on a flight", or "Eating a free sample of something you have no intention of buying".

Not only are all of these things related to consumption, they are also very Anglocentric. The way that this book is written, many of these short summaries of awesome things sound incredibly attractive, even when I'm trying to read them critically. As someone who has grown up in North America, all of these examples appeal to my upbringing - such as living in a house, not an apartment; or driving a car, not taking public transit. Interestingly enough, he combines these two quite nicely in "Driving through your old neighbourhood and stopping to see the house you grew up in".

To get to my point, though. While I certainly don't want people to overlook the small things that make us happy, I question the message that this book sends about happiness in our lives. Rather than being happy about resolving conflicts, fighting inequality, or working towards making our lives more sustainable, this book teaches us that what matters is the little things like finding money in your coat pocket or eating fries. Also, it seems that happiness is something that happens to us as individuals, not something shared with others. This compartmentalisation is very harmful because it disconnects us from others, preventing people from working together.

While there are certainly good examples from the book that emphasise relationships with others or getting in touch with the environment, these make up such a small component of the project. And what's more, this book is a best seller, it's tied into a marketing campaign for coffee, and is even being used in schools!! I know that the author isn't consciously writing to pacify us - in fact, I would suggest that this is just a byproduct of our society constantly drilling this into us. Just thing - would it not be an amazing idea of someone were to come up with a site that was devoted to the awesome things that we could achieve collectively to make our world a truly better place? Let's get started!