Featuring Phil McGuire. Mothers are the key to our prosperity; thanks for a warm introduction; less publicity and more listening; dam removal’s winning arguments & growing popularity; gravity batteries; counterspinning natural gas a.k.a methane; new song...
Featuring Phil McGuire. Mothers are the key to our prosperity; thanks for a warm introduction; less publicity and more listening; dam removal’s winning arguments & growing popularity; gravity batteries; counterspinning natural gas a.k.a methane; new song: Save the Mothers by Heather McLeod
Referencing:To Be A Water Protectorby Winona LaDuke
Lyrics & chords toSave the Mothersby Heather McLeod inspired by Phil McGuire
(b-) Save the (A) mothers
Let us (f#-) clear their way
Let them (B7) have their say
& (b-) build our (A) tomorrows
Mother (b-) moose, mother (D) fish, mother (A) dragonfly
Mother (b-) water on (D) whom we (A) all rely
Mother (b-) wild, mother (D) wise, mother (A) takes our hands
Mother (b-) leads us (D) towards our (A) promised land
Mother goose, mother wasp, mother mushroom
Mother air who holds us in one shared womb
Mother soil, mother wild, mother takes our hands
Mother leads us towards our promised land
Note that this is a script I prepare before recording - I tend to go off script, I did not transcribe my conversation with Phil, and after recording I edit for time. So this is more of a seed than anything quotable.
Save the Mothers chorus
I am Heather McLeod
And that is the song of the day - Save the Mothers. The chorus, actually. I’ll give you the whole thing later.
The song - and the episode today are Inspired and informed by a conversation with Phil McGuire I can’t wait to share with you.
Theme - Something Different This Way Comes
Speak over guitar
It starts in a bar. Lakehead Beer on Cumberland to be exact.
Back in July, shortly after wrapping season one,
I got a chance to hang with some angels once again:
Barleys Angels, a local branch of a club that gathers beer-loving women in communities all over the world.
I joined Barleys Angels here in Thunder Bay several years ago.
Drea at Sleeping Giant Brewery launched a chapter shortly after she and her husband and their partners launched their brewery, and she’s made sure something gets organized to which we Angels are all invited every few months.
But with COVID I hadn’t seen much of my fellow angels for way too long.
Hadn’t nerded out over beer: that simple, lovely way to render water safe that women have been brewing in so many cultures for so many centuries.
There I go again, happily nerding out over beer.
Anyway, we don’t just talk beer at a Barley;s Angels event, we catch up.
And my news was this podcast, why I started it, why I love doing it, and what is hard.
Finding something to say, not hard
Finding someone to talk to, way harder than it was a decade ago when I was a CBC journalist booking interviews.
Not just because I don”t have the CBC behind me, though perhaps that would help.
But people are leary of going on the record, wary of people asking to take a shared conversation and get to own it, edit it, broadcast it, frame it.
Used to be most people were delighted to share their story with me, to be heard and listened to and get to share their take on things.
And if I only talked with my friends, that would only go so far in meeting my goals for this podcast, which is to learn more, hear new perspectives.
So I was delighted when one of my fellow Barley’s Angels said: you should talk to my friend Phil.
I will introduce you.
Oh those words are such a gift.
Please, if you know someone you think I would like to talk to on this podcast,
And you can introduce me to them. Please do so. What a gift that is.
What a gift Phil is.
My fellow Barley’s Angel said: You should talk to Phil because he wants to Save the Mothers. He has t-shirts and everything.
You will love him.
And she was right. Phil is fantastic.
And with that introduction he not only talked to me
he fit that conversation into a busy visit to town, coming to me so I didn’t have to go see him.
Because Phil McGuire lives in Nipigon, near the Black Sturgeon River.
He is a Metis man.
And the Mothers he is thinking about when he asks us all to Save the Mothers,
aren’t just fellow humans.
He is talking about all of our relations.
I made Phil McGuire a coffee, you can hear his spoon against his mug every once in a while.
And as I started recording he started with an example of mothers he’d like to save:
Phil McGuire is a Metis man who lives near Black Sturgeon River, in Nipigon.
That conversation inspired that song I started off with - here it is again whole:
Save the Mothers…
The theme of this season of Something Different This Way Comes
is What does Good Look Like
Phil McGuire is looking to save the mothers. That’s What Good Looks Like to him.
To prioritize things like making building safe passage for wild creatures
over and under our roads and train tracks.
To get rid of man-made blockages on our rivers.
Because that saves the mothers that need the way clear
to seed our future, restore and rebuild our wild.
Because that is the true source of our food.
The wild is more resilient and powerful, wise and generous
than anything we can do as just the human part of the family.
We need to respect and include all of our relations.
Another thing that I kept thinking after talking with Phil is: where are our ears?
Why is it so hard right now for good ideas, like Phil’s ideas,
good ideas you get when people pay attention to the places they live and work
and think about what might work better,
what good would look like,
why is it so hard to get those ideas heard?
I guess you could try and talk to the MNR about the dam,
And the MTO about the highway
Maybe the railway companies about the railroads
But how, exactly? I feel like most organizations invest a lot more in publicity, in controlling how they are talked about and what their brand is
Than they invest in listening, in engaging in respectful conversation easily, regularly
With the people they serve and support and, either as customers or tax-payers of both, pay them.
I think good looks like more listening, more respecting the expertise of people about where they live and what they do, what they think would be an improvement.
I mean I love me a good survey. I make the most of any comment boxes too.
But a survey is more data collection than actual open conversation and engagement.
It asked closed yes, no or on a scale questions. It boxes you in.
Talking to Phil about Nipigon and the improvements he can argue in support of there, where he has lived his whole life, a thoughtful, smart man who pays attention and really cares,
I kept wishing he had more ears, an easier time being heard.
Because listening is what respect looks like. And respect is good.
And many places are realizing the power of listening
Investing in spaces and people and systems that make it easy to share ideas
And observations and experiences
We need more of that all over the place in Northwestern Ontario.
In our government and our communities and our workplaces.
More listening - that’s what good looks like.
Save the Mothers chorus
I’ve been reading To Be A Water Protector by Winona LaDuke this week,
an Anishnabe woman who lives near here, in Northern Minnesota,
and is brilliant and so dedicated in all the ways she is working to restore our world,
to support justice, build community and protect our wild.
Her book is written so that I feel like I hear her voice speaking to me
So much like natural speaking, not formalized at all but powerful and clear
She pulls me in, such a compelling storyteller
I don’t feel educated though this book is packed with information, it makes me feel inspired.
In To Be A Water Protector, Winona LaDuke talks about how many countries
are choosing to take down their dams.
They weighed the pros and cons,
the value they realize in managing wild waters and generating electricity through dams,
against the cost of the wild migrations and transfer of nutrients upstream
That is lost when a dam floods and chokes off a river’s natural flow.
And countries and communities are deciding all around the world that the dam is not worth it. They are taking down their dams.
She details the removal of the Morelas Dam on the Colorado River in Mexico,
with support from the Trump government as of 2017
- I think that is proof of how strong the argument for open waterways proved in that debate.
The US has removed 900 dams between 1990 and 2015
and continues to remove 50-60 more dams every year since.
Including the Klamath River dams in Oregon and California, the dams on the Snake river.
As soon as the equation to weigh the wealth the wild carries up a river to all the land it feeds, dam removal wins as the better option.
And she says, Canada is behind the trend on this one, so far.
Ontario got rid of our coal plants a decade ago,
and now points to hydro-electic dams as key to how green our power grid currently is.
Similarly old, expensive, inefficient nuclear plants that do not burn fossil fuels
but do produce radioactive waste that remains potently poisonous for millenia,
are included on the green side of the power-generation ledger.
I don’t think that’s what good looks like.
There is some interesting work on smaller, less expensive,
and much less polluting nuclear power mini-plants I want to hear more about.
I haven’t weighed that equation of cost versus benefit.
But I would like Ontario, like Germany, to shut down those old nuclear plants.
And I don’t want Northwestern Ontario to get stuck with that radioactive waste as has been proposed.
Really really - really
Something Different This Way Comes
We absolutely need to ramp up solar and wind -
We need to be building more, everywhere! There is no good reason to delay a minute longer. And there are other ways to generate electricity from wild water without dams.
Wave generated power - I could imagine that being a thing in Terrace Bay.
Running stream generated power, lots of running water we could tap (no pun intended).
Water is even used in alternative batteries.
They call them gravity batteries.
I was just reading about this on the BBC.
Pumped hydro is an old, proven technology:
pump water uphill when you have more power than you need to use just then,
when the sun is bright on your solar panels
or the waves are crashing over your wave energy field.
Then when you need more power than you can capture,
you let gravity pull that water back down
to give you the energy you need when you need it.
There have been pumped hydro gravity batteries working well for decades.
But they tend to take up a lot of land and need just the right topography to work.
There could be more built, a perfect power storage solution for some places.
But Gravity batteries don’t have to use water.
Lately prototypes are being tested and getting people excited
that use gravity to store energy without water.
In Scotland a company called Gravitricity has a 15 m tall steel tower
suspending a 50 tonne iron weight.
When the power is hot, it pulls the weight up.
When power is needed the weight is allowed to slowly drop,
powering a series of electric generators with the downward drag.
They aim to build these gravity-battery towers underground,
in disused mine shafts where the geology of the earth helps hold that weight up.
There are a lot of abandoned mine shafts to choose from.
Another company in Switzerland called Energy Vault is above ground.
It looms 20 stories lifting a series of 30 tonne blocks up when they have energy to store,
and back down when they need to generate it.
Totally look for videos of these things in action
I can imagine adding patience to the equation.
If we valued power efficiency over time efficiency,
why not make storage container management in a port into a dual purpose gravity battery?
wait to lift up the storage containers until there is energy to spare,
then wait to swing them down into place
until we need to capture the energy that descent generates
I think that is also what good looks like.
A new equation to weigh cost, value and opportunity
That a single solution cannot solve everything, is a false argument against change
that I keep hearing in various iterations.
Wind and solar alone cannot generate enough.
Lithium batteries alone cannot store enough or we cannot build enough.
Why assume the solution has only one moving part? Nothing is that simple.
Good looks different in different places.
In Thunder Bay, we have shipping containers that need to be moved,
we have hills, we have rocks.
Maybe along with batteries that use lithium or lead-acid,
we will find opportunities to add gravity batteries to our power storage arsenal
here in Thunder Bay.
Something different This Way Comes
I went to a Mayoral Candidates debate this week - it was a lunch,
and happened to sit down at a table with four guys who all work at Enbridge.
They told me that they had recently attended a conference
where it was explained to them that electrification alone
cannot solve the carbon-generating crisis of our current reliance on burning fossil fuels.
Because it is simply too expensive.
I had to think about that for a minute,
because most fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity,
outside combustion engines in vehicles.
But then I realized they were talking about Natural Gas pipes and propane tanks
that directly power things like furnaces and stoves with no electricity involved.
These Enridge employees told me their company is about power generation,
and runs wind and solar generation farms as well as natural gas systems.
Including the big wind farm near Dorion.
Which is great - can’t be too much renewable energy production.
But my stumbling block was that they were being told that we need to keep
these natural gas systems so we can add renewable natural gas to our power grid.
To address the climate crisis.
I heard two things there.
Firstly, I think these guys wanted to hear how their work is part of the solution,
is doing good stuff.
And that makes me happy. I think we all want to be part of solutions, to do the right thing.
But the fact is that right now Enbridge is mostly managing a fossil fuel.
Enbridge mostly drills and refines and distributes and sells the fossil fuel known as Natural Gas. And frankly that has got to change.
So the second thing I heard there was that Enbridge is trying to put off that change,
and avoid actually, fully answering their employees’ question about sustainability
by playing with words, specifically the words Natural Gas.
I could feel the spin as they spoke.
So since that conversation I went digging online for good information from sources I trust - check out my website atwww.SomethingDifferentThisWayComes.cafor links.
Here is where I got to:
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits less carbon dioxide than coal when burned.
That is their claim to being a low-carbon fuel.
But less is still more than we can afford, when it comes to carbon emission.
And that is the least of the spin here.
Add what happens before and even after that moment of combustion,
and you get a fossil fuel that is at least as bad as coal.
Natural Gas is mostly methane,
and methane is a huge contributor to the climate crisis and global warming.
Extracting it from deep in the earth, transporting and yes, burning it to generate power,
1-9% of that methane escapes into our atmosphere,
often poisoning aquifers at one end and homes at the other.
Look up air pollution from gas home fixtures! It’s scary stuff.
Methane emissions are bad. Really bad.
A huge contributor to the climate crisis, in fact it accounts for about 25% of global warming because Methane traps 80x - 80 times! - more heat than carbon dioxide.
So not only is Natural gas no more natural than any other fossil fuel,
it is a climate-crisis generating monster.
Calling it the low-emitting, greener power production option - that’s a pretty extreme spin.
But the spinning isn’t done - the gentlemen chatting with me over lunch this week
shared that Renewable Natural Gas needs to be a part of our greener energy solutions.
Let us pause a moment here and contemplate the spin in that statement.
Because Renewable Natural Gas is not Natural Gas.
Natural Gas, as I was saying, is a fossil fuel,
the rebranding of Methane extracted from deep in the earth
and releasing thousands of years of carbon when burned.
Renewable Natural Gas is the rebranding of methane emitted through some microbial digestion.
The burps of cows & rotting manure emits methane.
Dumps emit methane
Giant wood chip piles can emit methane.
Bogs emit methane, particularly when they are drying out and dying.
So human activities are upping the planet's methane emissions on many fronts,
which is not a good thing, certainly is something we need to change.
But almost all of this methane is very difficult to capture as a power source.
Though there are exceptions.
The City of Thunder Bay put a methane capture system into our landfill on John St. years ago which fuels a power generation station
that feeds our grid enough energy to power a whole neighbourhood.
It is a proven technology.
So there are methane power generation systems for dumps.
There are methane power generation systems for cattle feed lots,
cooking down the manure that builds up in those over-populated
- or should I say poop-u-lated spaces (sorry - couldn’t help myself).
There are methane power generation systems from cooking down wood fibre,
one is being proposed in Nipigon or Greenstone right now.
Methane capture and power generation is a tool in our tool box we could use more
as we transition from fossil-fuel dependent to net carbon-capturing, absolutely.
But better yet we need to be moving away from methane-emitting activities,
considering it more as we decide whether to do things
like mining in ancient bogs in the Circle of Fire.
As I said last season, I don’t think extracting the rare earth deposits there
are worth the methane & carbon emissions
as well the ecological damage from mining within that watery wild carbon sink.
I want to hear more about urban mining here in Northwestern Ontario,
the extraction of rare metals like Lithium from tailings at former mines
that also cleans those spaces
that I first heard about on Quirks and Quarks last winter.
I have an update on that by the way:
the US has recently announced huge investments
in turning that science into an active industry.
So has Australia.
Check out the articles I linked on the website.
We need many tools in hand to get through this crisis,
and need to be ready to move towards ever better solutions,
which means leaving things behind.
Like that monster of methane emissions, Natural Gas.
Now there is a place for Renewable Natural Gas, that is to say methane, in our near future.
But I can’t see us capturing enough methane from garbage and manure, and even wood fibre, to fill all those gas pipes connecting our homes and businesses.
A barn, maybe.
A city - probably not.
Renewable Natural Gas production can and will play a part
in our transition to sustainable energy systems
but Natural Gas infrastructure and home utilities is a thing of the past
we need to wean ourselves from it just like all the other fossil fuels.
Which is what Enbridge clearly avoided saying
That was the silent hub of the spin
in their presentation to their employees I heard about over lunch this week.
At least, that’s my understanding of what I heard.
Save the Mothers chorus
In fact, as we figure out how to save our mother trees,
our mother blueberry bushes and mother soil
so that we manage our wild woods more sustainably,
I think good looks like a lot less people-produced methane and carbon.
I mean we are still spraying herbicides on our forests here in Northwestern Ontario.
Killing the underbrush and the trees that are not the species the company plans on harvesting. Not because those other living things are competing
with the crop of trees the companies are focused on,
but because a forest dead but for those marketable trees is cheap to harvest.
Purposefully killing living things and releasing carbon in our atmosphere as it dies.
That is how forestry is being done around here. Still!
Gives me images of agent orange sprayed over the forests of Vietnam 60 or 70 years ago.
Herbicide spraying by the Forestry industry kills so much:
it kills bugs and bushes and biodiversity, for so little reason.
That is not what good looks like.
Good leaves more of the carbon captured by a forest to stay in the forest
Even as we harvest what we need
Less bio-mass wasted and emitting methane as they rot in our mills
And less carbon released and life wasted as we manage the trees we grow to harvest
Something Different This Way Comes
We can manage our food waste and shift our food production systems to build
rather than lose soil and diversity.
It’s a proven technology.
Only in recent decades have we fed ourselves any other way.
And even today about 70% of the world is fed by small scale farmers,
almost all of them without chemical fertilizers or pesticides or genetically engineered crops. Almost all of them building instead of depleting their soil.
We can choose to capture carbon instead of releasing it.
Thats what good looks like.
Good looks like take only what you need.
Don’t kill an ecosystem to save a dime.
Good looks like valuing the wild and humbly honouring its power to rebound, renew
and feed us all.
And as we figure out how to look good & do good more often in more ways,
I would expect us to generate less and less methane.
Or Renewable Natural Gas, if you want to call it that.
And saving more mothers, so they can renew our world, rebuild our resilience and our resources.
Thank you Phil MacGuire for our conversation.
Thank you for Saving the Mothers and talking about Saving the Mothers.
Thank you to my niece Leea McKay for helping promote and for designing the look of Something Different This Way Comes.
And Thank you for listening.
If you enjoy this podcast and would like to help make it happen,
maybe buy me a coffee if you were to bump into me at a coffee shop
or a pint if you saw me at a bar,
please consider doing just that by becoming a sponsor.
Just click the GoFundMe link on the front of my website page.
And if you can’t, that’s fine. Someone else will, everyone gets a podcast.
And I get a helping hand, and a meaty thanks.
Which would be great.
I am Heather McLeod and this podcast is my personal project.
I speak on behalf of no one.
I share the things I reference in the show on my website
- along with the script I write before recording, lyrics to the songs,
and some pictures too
Join me again next Tuesday - we’ll be talking about Capital and Income,
and what good looks like when it comes to building our security in an insecure world.
It’ll be fun! Inspiring! Honest.
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