Archive for the ‘energy & resources’ Category

Letter of Comment on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion

Flickr: Mark Koltz

Flickr: Mark Koltz

17 August 2015

Attention: Sheri Young, Secretary of the Board

Re: Application for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (OH-001-2014) Letter of Comment

Dear Ms. Young,

I have lived in BC for 20 years. I chose to move to Victoria BC 8 years ago because of its beauty and the quality of life here, and I am an active user of Vancouver Island beaches and coastal areas.

I’m very concerned about the increase in shipping traffic and risk of an oil spill that would be caused by this pipeline expansion; in particular, impacts to water quality, fish populations, marine mammals, migratory birds, and the sensitive Coastal Bluff ecosystems of Victoria. Trans Mountain has acknowledged in its application that the increase in tanker traffic would have significant sensory disturbance effects on resident killer whales—an endangered species whose critical habitat includes the area that would be affected by a spill. In my region, there are 1,147km of marine shoreline directly along the proposed shipping route, and over 1,200 species that could be impacted.[1] A spill could have devastating effects on this region’s economy, and the movement of toxic compounds from bitumen through local foodwebs and ecosystems would put my community’s health at risk. It became very clear in April 2015, with the spill of bunker fuel from the MV Marathassa in English Bay, that the current capacity for response to even minor oil spills along BC’s coast is woefully inadequate.

We know Kinder Morgan believes there are positive effects of oil spills and would financially profit from a spill. Its subsidiary Trans Mountain Pipeline owns 50.9% of the Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation, the corporation that would respond to a spill in BC and benefit from related business and revenue.[2] In its application, Kinder Morgan stated:

Marine spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies over the short- and long-term. Spill response and clean-up creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and clean-up service providers, particularly in those communities where spill response equipment is, or would be, staged (Section 5.6.1.1).[3]

Given the City of Burnaby’s opposition to Kinder Morgan’s survey work and test drilling on Burnaby Mountain, it appears the community itself disagrees with Kinder Morgan’s analysis of what would be good for them. Kinder Morgan has already demonstrated how it will respond to the concerns of affected communities. It has used the courts to overrule this opposition, filing a $5.6 million SLAPP suit against Burnaby citizens for speaking out against it.

We cannot expect this Texas-based multinational firm to care about the interests of communities. That’s why your job exists: to protect and serve the interests of Canadians.

Instead, the NEB has shown itself to be acting in the interest of Kinder Morgan and unable to assess the public interest. It appears that, for all intents and purposes, the decision has already been made. If it is the Board’s position that this is untrue, perhaps you might review your own actions and decisions in the process thus far, and consider whether, as reasonable independent citizens, you would come to the same conclusion as myself and others. Since I am convinced that regardless of whether I continue to restrict my comments to the “12 approved issues,” it will not make a difference to the final decision, I will use this opportunity to bear witness to these concerns on the public record.

There are many people who would be directly affected by this proposed pipeline expansion that were barred from having a chance to comment in the first place when their applications were rejected. Over 900 people and groups had their applications downgraded or rejected. Furthermore, the Board failed to provide adequate funding to facilitate the meaningful participation of parties that were approved.

The Board should not have the power to decide in advance who is directly affected “enough” to listen to. There are implications for the lives of all who live directly in the path of the proposed pipeline and tanker route, and all those who will be affected by its broader long term consequences for the climate and the health of our environment and economy. In a legitimate public process, all people who wish to comment on any impacts they are concerned about should have the right to be included. If they are not included, then the Board is unable to properly fulfill its self-stated function of serving the public and determining what projects are truly in the public interest.

The Board is also unable to provide a full and fair review because it has chosen to exclude the effects of the upstream and downstream activities of tar sands exploitation. The NEB does not consider that such effects, “including those of GHG emissions, are relevant.”[4] This is ironic since the NEB considers upstream and downstream economic benefits to be relevant. I don’t have to be a climate expert to know these social and environmental effects are highly relevant to the proposed project and to my community. The Board should be ashamed at its ludicrous error in judgment on this matter—or, perhaps more accurately, its intentional disregard for legitimate concerns of the public. The people, not the Board, should have the power to decide what issues matter to this decision.

Furthermore, the unexplained decision to allow Kinder Morgan to evade oral cross-examination serves Kinder Morgan’s interests. This is a critical part of oil pipeline hearings that is designed to increase the accountability of the Proponent in responding to important questions from the public. Canada’s Department of Justice has pointed out to the Board that “Canada’s position is that cross-examination is necessary to ensure a proper evidentiary record” and that evidence given without cross-examination should be rejected.

The Board stated that elimination of cross-examination could be addressed through written Information Requests from Intervenors. However, the Board is clearly not compelling Kinder Morgan to answer these important questions. When Kinder Morgan was unwilling to address approximately 2000 questions from Intervenors—including 80 questions from the Province of BC—the Board endorsed this decision, rejecting 95% of the questions. The Province stated that this failure to provide requested evidence “denies the Board, the Province and other Intervenors access to the information required to fully understand the risk posed by the Project, how Trans Mountain proposes to mitigate such risk and Trans Mountain’s ability to effectively respond to a spill related to the Project.”[5]

The Province also took issue with Kinder Morgan’s redactions to its emergency response plan, which were made without sufficient justification. The Board responded by endorsing Kinder Morgan’s decision to keep these details secret.[6] The Board has essentially said that it, and the public, do not need to know the full details of Trans Mountain’s emergency response plan in order for it to be approved.

This represents a new level of hubris and arrogant disregard by the NEB for the role of a democratically-elected government in representing its citizens. It puts citizens at risk, and undermines the Board’s basic credibility in the eyes of the public.

This lack of transparency and withholding of information also affects the ability of groups to provide free, prior and informed consent. Twelve First Nations whose unceded territories would be affected by the project have questioned the constitutionality of the approach, stating that the NEB and the Crown have failed in their duty to adequately consult First Nations. As a result, they argue that the NEB’s assessment “will fail to fully consider or assess potential adverse impacts on Aboriginal title, rights, including Treaty rights or interests and will not, therefore, provide the Crown with the information it requires.”[7]

In accordance with its own responsibility and inherent jurisdiction and laws, which exist independently of, and predate the assertion of sovereignty by Canada, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation conducted a thorough review of the project. Because the project fails the first lens test of their Stewardship Policy, the Nation does not consent to the project, will not grant Kinder Morgan the legal authority to proceed in its territory, and will “take all lawful means necessary to ensure that Tsleil-Waututh’s decision in relation to the TMEX Proposal is recognized, respected, and enforced.”[8] An NEB decision in favour of the project would ignore the interests and authority of the First Peoples of this land.

With regard to the many other problems with this process, I refer to and concur with the comments of former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen[9] and former president and CEO of ICBC Robyn Allan[10] in their letters of withdrawal as Intervenors. A few of the many instances they found in which the restricted scope of review was inappropriate included:

  • Not requesting assistance from Interveners to determine the issues to be included in the review, and denying their requests to expand the list of issues
  • Not holding Trans Mountain accountable for a known lack of source verification, references, or full disclosure in its studies
  • Restricting review to the applied-for pipeline capacity, not what it is designed to carry—thus allowing Kinder Morgan to receive future NEB approval to increase throughput by nearly 50% without the same level of review
  • Restricting assessment of marine shipping activities to 12 nautical miles offshore
  • Excluding from review the impact and risk of the existing 60-year old legacy line, terminals and storage tanks

Eliesen concluded that the Board is “engaged in a public deception” and that “this Board has a predetermined course of action to recommend approval of the Project and a strong bias in favour of the Proponent. In effect, this so-called public hearing process has become a farce, and this Board a truly industry captured regulator.”

In the past 3 weeks, the NEB’s actions have only served to reinforce public perceptions that it serves the interests of Kinder Morgan, not the public. On July 31st, 2015, Steven Kelly was appointed as a full-time NEB board member. In 2013, Mr. Kelly authored and submitted the 203-page Kinder Morgan report to the NEB providing an economic justification for the pipeline expansion.[11] The fact that Mr. Kelly will soon sit in a position of power in close proximity to those who will make the final ruling on this project is a major conflict of interest. Unfortunately it also seems to be par for the course for the NEB: the majority of NEB board members are now oil industry professionals.

The NEB has also shown disregard for the process by making multiple last minute changes to the deadline for commenters, and finally setting the deadline to be just 6 days after it released its Draft Conditions. This does not give commenters sufficient time to thoroughly review and provide feedback on the conditions, and certainly does not give Kinder Morgan enough time to meaningfully review and respond to the hundreds of Commenter letters—a mere 48 hours.

At least 35 Commenters and Intervenors have withdrawn from the process due to some of the same concerns I have mentioned.[12] It is clear that the NEB has already lost its credibility in the eyes of the public.

Under no circumstances should the Board approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, because it no longer has a social license to make a legitimate decision on this matter. It has failed in its key function of providing an independent, fair and thorough review. It has shown that it is completely inadequate to assess the health and safety risks of this proposed pipeline. This process is based on incomplete information and is not in the public interest. My participation in this process should not be considered as my endorsement of it.

I recommend that the entire process be put on hold, and I call on the Province of British Columbia to initiate its own environmental assessment of the process. In the meantime, I urge the NEB to review its own statements as to why it exists:

In order for the Board to effectively serve the Canadian public, we know they need to have confidence in the regulatory regime…We are here to serve the Public. We want to make certain that Canadians know they have a regulator they can rely on, because the Canadian Public interest is at the heart of everything we do.[13]

With all due respect, please do not forget who you really work for.

Sincerely,

Kat Zimmer

[1] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2450810/2478756/2797364/Letter_of_Comment_-_A4R1T4.pdf?nodeid=2796675&vernum=-2

[2] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2451003/2478117/B40-1_-_Trans_Mountain_Response_to_Allan_R_IR_No._1_-_A3X5V9.pdf?nodeid=2480550&vernum=-2

[3] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2451003/2393783/V8A_5.5.2_F5.5.2_TO_5.6.2.2_MAR_TRANS_ASSESS_-_A3S5Q3.pdf?nodeid=2393564&vernum=-2

[4] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2449981/2487600/A63-1_-_Ruling_No._25_-_A3Z5I4.pdf?nodeid=2487522&vernum=-2

[5] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2449925/2451398/2485159/C289-3-2_-_Province_of_BC_Notice_of_Motion_%231_-_A3Y8R3.pdf?nodeid=2484869&vernum=-2

[6] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2449981/2586924/A129-1_-_Ruling_No._50_-_A4G5I9.pdf?nodeid=2586142&vernum=1

[7] http://twnsacredtrust.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-11-28-FN-Open-Let-Rickford.pdf

[8] http://twnsacredtrust.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015-05-21-TWN-BCR-re-TMEX.pdf

[9] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2449925/2451033/2543157/C118-6-1_-_Marc_Eliesen_Letter_of_Withdrawal_-_A4E1Q6.pdf?nodeid=2543843&vernum=-2

[10] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll?func=ll&objId=2776410&objAction=browse&viewType=1

[11] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2451003/2385938/B1-5_-_V2_4of4_PROJ_OVERVIEW_-_A3S0R1.pdf?nodeid=2392869&vernum=-2

[12] https://docs.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/llisapi.dll/fetch/2000/90464/90552/548311/956726/2392873/2449925/2452085/2810545/C387-2-1_-_Withdrawal_Letter_-_A4S1L8.pdf?nodeid=2810924&vernum=-2

[13] https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/bts/index-eng.html

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Village culture in Portland and beyond

Portland

I just love that my research is the kind that necessitates a road trip to Portland. I’d take any excuse to visit, really. But although Portland carries a particular allure in the Pacific Northwest psyche, there are few tangible tourist attractions. The most interesting stuff going on in Portland is the kind of stuff you need to know someone in order to find out about. So that’s what I did.

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Foster Village (straw bale house on the left)

With the Couchsurfing network, tapping into that community seemed almost effortless. The moment I arrived, my host, Christy, took me to a fundraiser at Foster Village, an 11-person urban intentional community in the Foster neighbourhood of Southeast Portland. There are two century-old houses, one natural strawbale house, and two tiny homes on two adjacent lots. The lots have been combined into one big shared garden, and the side doors of the original houses have been reworked as the front doors facing the garden. This public place has been transformed from pavement into a diverse, multistory forest garden with fruit trees, berries, medicinal herbs, other perennials, and veggies. There’s a happy flock of egg-laying ducks and a huge covered bike zone. The houses are common space, so all residents have access to the craft room, the workshop, the deep freeze, the soaker tub, and all the other perks of a big home, while keeping their individual footprints very small. The main bathrooms have even been remodeled with composting toilets.

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Auctioning baby chicks at Foster Village

The fundraiser was to support the community’s long-term aspirations for common ownership of all three homes. It was a “top dollar” auction: everyone could only bid a dollar at a time. Stacks of dollar bills would pile up as people competed to win each item by being the last person to throw a dollar on the table. It’s an ingenious idea for a fundraiser when you have a few key ingredients: loud and costumed auctioneers, a human bank machine with an endless supply of dollar bills, a close and supportive community beyond the official residents, and really fantastic auction items. Here’s where the fruits of Portland are sweetest: everyone is a maker. The auction was a showcase of homebaked pie, fruit liqueurs and specialty preserves from the Foster Village garden, mead and raw honey, and homemade gift certificates for massages, house cleaning, landscaping, garden design, and hand-knit mittens, all offered by friends of the village. Someone even brought two baby chicks to auction off! But hands-down, the hottest competition was for the Lite Brite. It was definitely a successful fundraiser: I had loads of fun drinking $1 drinks and meeting the community, and even though I didn’t walk away with any wins, I sure dropped a lot of dollar bills.

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Classic Lite Brite, the top auction item of the night

That sense of inclusive, engaged community was present at Christy’s house too. Her many roommates included Trip, a filmmaker and producer of SPOIL – a eco-documentary about the Great Bear Rainforest. Trip is working on starting a new cooperative homestead in the countryside outside of Portland. And there was Iain, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who is facilitating weekly gatherings to share personal defense skills. Christy runs a forest preschool where the children are outside nearly all the time. Except on very rare snow days, one of which I happened to experience. It was like a snow day in Victoria – there isn’t really any snow on the ground, but the entire city shuts down.

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The ducks of Foster Village

The Willamette Valley

Needless to say, it’s a funny time of year to be visiting permaculture sites. But the season hasn’t fazed me. My first stop was in Forest Grove, where Fine Arts Professor Terry O’Day gave me a tour Pacific University’s B-Street Project. I first read about the project a few years ago, so it was neat to finally see it in person. Terry teaches permaculture at the university with focus on arts and design, and B-Street was developed as a 3-acre permaculture demonstration site. Students in a variety of programs use the site for experiential and community-based learning. Over time, the site has transitioned towards organic food production, supplying the campus dining hall. It also serves as an education and experimentation site for a local migrant women’s group aiming to generate sustainable livelihoods through food production. A local charter school started by Terry brings the children there regularly, where they learn how to weave living shelters with willow shoots.

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The Willamette Valley is one of the nation’s leading regions for local and organic agriculture. I’ve been told that it’s where the modern organic food movement really began to take hold. So it’s no wonder there are a number of Oregon universities integrating permaculture into education. Heading south to Corvallis, I visited Andrew Millison, a permaculture designer and teacher at Oregon State University. Andrew took me for a walk around his neighbourhood. Virtually every yard had been transformed into a big garden. He’s been working on a design with a new cohousing development down the block, and they are now in the early stages of implementation. The pathways between the front doors are lined with bamboo and edible perennials. Across the nearby floodplain grows a line of willows, which will eventually be woven together into a living bridge for traversing during the wet months.

Down the street, we landed at a front yard berry maze Andrew had helped to construct. The maze was at street level, with deep ditches for water recharge surrounding the pathways. Andrew invited me to try finding my way to the bamboo island in the middle. Even in November, it was really hard! I suspect it would take much longer if one were getting distracted by eating fresh berries along the way. These fanciful yet functional designs are a good reminder that getting prepared for a low-energy future can be fun, joyful and creative.

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My last permaculture stop was Wilson Creek Gardens, the home of Jude Hobbs. Jude’s name is known by many in my neck of the woods; she regularly offers permaculture teacher trainings at O.U.R. Ecovillage. The brains behind Cascadia Permaculture Institute and Agro-Ecology Northwest, she works with farmers to ensure their operations near creeks don’t harm salmon habitat and to design “multi-functional hedgerows.” These are cropland borders that can provide a huge variety of yields: wildlife habitat, nectar for pollinators, biodiversity, food for humans and farm animals, timber and firewood, erosion control, wind protection, and much more. Jude walks the talk at her home with a large edible landscape, including an orchard lined with berry canes and many vertical layers of perennials thriving amidst the forest canopy. It’s no wonder that creek restoration is an issue close to Jude’s heart: the day I visited, the creek beside her house was literally bursting from the November rains and had taken down some of the streambed with it.

Foster Village and Beyond

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Robin and I

My next couchsurf host, Robin, lives in a 9-person cooperative house with chickens in the garden and a slew of interesting roommates. The “Jungle People” have various skills and aspirations including Traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy, medicinal herb CSAs, urban farming and homesteading education for children. Robin is working at a farm-to-table restaurant, hoping to transition toward food growing and creating an intentional community. I happened to land there on Robin’s birthday, so I invited him along to visit some new friends I had met at Foster Village.

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Bamboo grove in Robin’s garden

After stopping for shiatsu massage treatments from Alpha, an intuitive bodyworker, we headed to Foster Village where I’d been invited to return for dinner. After a delightful vegetarian meal from the Foster garden, I pulled out a locally baked marionberry pie to celebrate Robin’s birthday. Robin and the “Foster Villains” hit it off instantly, of course, and they already have plans to connect their two communities.

I had been invited back by a new friend named Jas, a fascinating individual who gave me the full tour of Foster Village. We went for a soak at Common Ground, a wellness cooperative with a mineral bath and sauna in one of the buildings he owns. We also spent a hilarious night at HUMP! Tour, a sex-positive film festival hosted by one of my favourite podcasters, relationship/love/sex advice columnist Dan Savage. Jas was a perfect companion for this: he’s the founder of Love Tribe, a network that celebrates and includes people of all orientations and is “committed to creating heart-conscious, touch-positive culture by fostering communal opportunities to share authentic connection, affection and play.”

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Having tea with Jas

With several new friendships and community connections sparked, Christy, Robin, Jas, me, and some other village friends joined forces to hear a talk at Portland State University by Jon Young. The founder of Art of Mentoring and the most recognized expert in Bird Language, Jon gave an inspiring talk about cultivating our ability to understand the language of birds. A master storyteller, he painted a picture of an emerging mass movement in North America founded on the recognition of the power of deep nature connection – one with the power to turn the tide on a disturbing downward trend in conservation engagement.

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Taking a tour of Foster Village with Jas

Jon was joined by Mark Lakeman, who is well-known in Victoria as the initiator behind City Repair. City Repair is an organized group action that began in Portland and has spread to communities across North America. Based on the premise that localization is a necessary foundation of sustainability, its focus is placemaking and empowerment through reclaiming urban space and connecting neighbourhoods. City Repair hosts the Village Building Convergence (VBC), where community members take part in natural building workshops and ecologically-oriented artistic projects to transform urban spaces and intersections into community-oriented, welcoming places. One of Jas’s properties, a holistic health centre, has been a major VBC site. In fact, a few of the Foster Villains have been intimately involved with the event. I’ve wanted to attend the VBC for a few years, and now I’ve been invited back to stay and join in the fun with the Foster Villains. Now that I have a community in Portland, I’m already planning my return trip!

Kat photo by Corey Hodge

Photo Credit: Corey Hodge

And that’s where I’m going to leave this series. Thanks for sticking with me through to the end! I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed my travels… These past five weeks have been exploding with inspiration and have stoked up my energy and passion, and I hope some of this got passed along. I promise there will be more in 2015 (especially if I’m going to the Village Building Convergence!) and I’ll be posting up my video about permaculture in higher education when it’s ready.

Till next time ~

Vermont and… Omega-dness – a wee detour to New York!

Burlington, Vermont

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The Basin

On Kate’s urging, I headed north to Vermont through scenic Franconia Notch. This mountain pass, an entrancepoint to the 3,500km Appalachian Trail, has historically drawn visitors to its natural rugged beauty.   Thoreau wrote about the storied landmarks around Franconia Notch, probably contributing to their oversized fame.   But that day the clouds were sunk low; pelting rain and harsh winds whipped through the valley. I briefly visited the Flume and the Basin, unique canyons carved by the path of water over millennia.

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The Pemigewasset River in Franconia Notch

I pulled over to see if I could glimpse the famous Old Man of the Mountain, a distinct profile of an old man’s face jutting out of the rock high on the peak. But I learned that even on a clear day, I wouldn’t be able to see the Man – years ago, his face broke suddenly due to erosion, the official symbol of New Hampshire crumbling down the hill. All that’s left is the lonely decaying infrastructure of a cheesy tourist stop.

Driving across Vermont was a pure delight, twisting through the rolling hills dotted with dairy farms and rusted silos from a bygone era. Roadside sugarhouses lured me in to buy maple cream and taste test various syrups from the nearby maples. In these sleepy New England towns, the original brick buildings and stately white clapboard homes with black shutters have remained for a century or sometimes two. Pumpkins and dried cornstalks decorated the entranceways.

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1200 pound pumpkin

I was still struggling my way through Walden, and I have to admit that I absorbed only a small fraction of his careful words. Our patterns of speech and word choices have changed so much. Thoreau would be horrified to know that I was attempting to listen to Walden rather than read it. One section of the book that stood out was a longwinded explanation of his disdain for the spoken form. Reading seems to be one of the few things he approved of. He spent most of his free time engaged in reading the ancient Greek and Roman classics, or writing about the importance of reading them.

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Gnarnia, my Burlington home

I arrived at my Burlington couchsurf destination to find a cooperative household of nine people around their twenties, with chickens in the garden and a stocked bike repair shop in the backyard. This intentional community is decidedly urban. Will, Alex, Elora, Amalia, Nick, Jakob, Hannah, Chris, and Noelle share the space with a constant flow of couchsurfers curling up in the cozy attic nook. They have weekly meetings and a complex system of rotating chores, including things like baking bread for the household, and buying shared groceries at the co-op. Homebrew beers, fermented krauts, and homemade herbal preparations stock the shelves.

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Lake Champlain sunset

I pinpointed their home by searching the word “permaculture” on the Couchsurfing site. It turned out that most housemates had taken their permaculture design course through the University of Vermont – exactly the kind of students I’d been hoping to connect with! It was interesting to see what kinds of goals and choices they were making in their lives. Several were involved in local food initiatives like establishing public orchards, doing garden education with kids, or work trading with local farms for a truckload of cider apples or a quart of kimchi.

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Megan and I, reunited at last!

Burlington is renowned for being dripping with cyclists, locavores, outdoor adventurists, and a bustling arts and culture scene. It didn’t disappoint. Immediately after my arrival, I was dancing up a storm with my housemates to the funky R&B of local sensation Kat Wright and the Indomitable Blues Band. I was excited to visit my friend Megan, who lived in Victoria for many years and had just recently returned to New England. We swallowed some strong local brews on the shores of Lake Champlain, watching the sun set into the streaky clouds before gobbling Vietnamese pho and wandering pedestrian-only Church Street, where it seemed every second building was a bustling pub.

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Painting Will’s wall mural

The last night, I stayed in to get to know Will’s story while we painted a community mural on his wall. Will linked me with several folks to visit and stay with, and I’m grateful for the connection.

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Edible landscaping at University of Vermont (yep, that’s dinosaur kale!)

Right. About the permaculture stuff. I had the fortune of joining a University of Vermont PDC class as they practiced site analysis at Rock Point School. After walking the grounds – a mix of maple forest, conference and education buildings, community gardens, and rocky coastline – a design charette ensued. Groups created base maps of the land outlining the permaculture zones, sectors, flows, microclimates, infrastructure, and the vibe or sense of place in various points on the landscape. I shot footage for my video and watched their presentations with excited nostalgia, remembering my own PDC. I could tell they were already starting to read landscapes differently.

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Greenhouse on wheels

One highlight was visiting Keith Morris, a permaculture designer who is well-known in the region (ie. everyone I met in Burlington seemed to know him). The founder of Prospect Rock Permaculture, Keith toured me around Willow Crossing Farm. He’s been doing a lot of tree research with hazelnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans – and some new-to-me hybrids: butternuts, “buartnuts,” “butter-buarts,” and “hicans.” Oh the joys of genetic diversity!

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Geodesic dome greenhouse at Willow Crossing Farm

His farm also seeks, as he says, to make an example of profitable reforestation of river corridors while creating wetland habitat and stabilizing riverbanks with native and multipurpose trees. At least 10 feet of earth disappeared from the crumbling riverbank bordering his land during a serious flood last year. It’s just steps away from the yurt classroom, the composting toilets, and the solar outdoor showers used by his PDC students. Keith has a lot at stake in this experimentation, using vegetation to hold down the riverbank over time with their roots. But there’s also a focus on the other uses of the trees like coppicing for firewood, or structural poles for building materials. It’s a great example of how permaculture design can help to solve real-world land management challenges while producing a yield of food, fibre and energy.

The Omega Institute

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The Omega Institute

Keith imparted to me another gift: an invitation to the Northeast Permaculture Retreat at the Omega Institute! I’d already had great success with my interviews, capturing good film footage, and having a ball with my new couchsurfing buds. But this last-minute trip to New York state really blew my expectations for this trip out of the water. I got to spend three days living in a rustic cabin, eating three tantalizing mostly-vegetarian, mostly-local and mostly-organic buffet meals a day, steaming in the sauna, and learning Tai Chi at dawn. And instead of trying to cram in visits to folks all over the region, they all came to one spot, allowing me to connect with over thirty permies from Pennsylvania to Maine! There were CSA farmers, mushroom cultivators, environmental educators, horticulturalists, community organizers, leaders of successful permaculture design businesses, and some folks who actually teach permaculture in the academic world. I was in heaven.

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The Center for Sustainable Living

The highly regarded Omega Institute is an intentional community that hosts workshops on the beautiful site of an old Jewish summer camp near Rhinebeck NY, and is a frequent destination for retreats from New York City. Unlike the very white, homogenous towns and intentional communities I visited elsewhere in New England, the attendees were ethnically and culturally diverse. The gathering was held in Omega’s Center for Sustainable Living. This building meets LEED Platinum designation and the Living Building Challenge requirements, which are much tougher than LEED – a building must demonstrate that it can actually help to restore the environment.  Shifting from being “less bad” and the concept of sustainability to being regenerative is a key idea in permaculture.  Included in twenty imperatives relating to a healthy environment and habitat protection are requirements that virtually all waste from construction and operations must be eliminated, that the building must generate all of its own energy with renewable sources, and that it must capture and treat all of its own water.  This follows the permaculture philosophy that there’s no such thing as waste – only stuff in the wrong place.

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The Lagoon – part meeting space, part sewage treatment facility!

The building’s water cycling system is the most fascinating part. It was designed around Omega’s desire for an educational – and aesthetically pleasing – example of ecological water recycling onsite. Grey and black water are piped down to holding tanks where a complex web of microbial agents voraciously devour the nutrients. The water enters the “Lagoon,” a beautiful indoor paradise, where it feeds the roots of tropical plants along with another set of microorganisms and insects. By this time, the water doesn’t have the faintest odour. It is then released into a rocky constructed wetland, where the water will continue to be purified as it sinks into the ground, recharging the aquifer and ultimately being re-pumped by the well to rejoin the cycle of use. Can you imagine if all infrastructure operated like this?

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The Lagoon’s constructed wetland

Our gathering was designed to reflect how the most valuable moments at retreats often don’t occur in the sessions at all, but over evening tea, or on walks together in the woods. I was inspired by the collaborative approach to facilitation, consensus-building, active listening, and negotiation that characterized its organization. Actually, very little had been organized: we held two days of open space sessions, in which the agenda and topics for the day were generated each morning by anyone who wanted to convene a session, and attended by anyone who felt like showing up. We talked about the nuts and bolts of the design biz, the future of the Permaculture Design Certificate, decolonizing permaculture, and including diverse and marginalized communities. I soaked it up, hoping to bring back my learnings and renewed energy to fuel creative projects back home.

Feeling supported to rub up against my comfort zone, I decided to convene a session on permaculture in higher education. There were a lot of people interested in this subject! We shared an engaging discussion on the challenges and opportunities of bringing permaculture into the academic realm, and what it might mean for the teachers and students involved. My sense was that people in the group generally supported the idea of integrating academia and permaculture. I made key connections during this retreat with folks like Abrah Dresdale at Greenfield Community College, and Steve Gabriel at Cornell University, who is working to connect people involved in permaculture research and education at universities.

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The Omega garden

Being there really reinforced my sense that this kind of network building is a need and perhaps a niche looking to be filled further. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my research can be utilized for its highest use in the permaculture world. As you can imagine, I’ve been feeling pretty grateful lately. I’ve had many folks thank me for doing this research and for articulating to me that it is important and needed. It’s not to toot my own horn (the usefulness of the results is yet to be determined!) but rather a noticing that not every Master’s student gets to hear things like this regularly, and to combine their passion so closely with their research. And have some pretty sweet travel adventures to boot!

Living the New Economy

An industrial landscape has dominated the part of Songhees territory known to most people as Vic West for at least a century. In its heart, there’s an unassuming and drafty brick building called the Roundhouse. Now surrounded by high-rise condos, it’s slated for redesign as a marketplace to serve the swelling crowd of urban dwellers. Over seven days in December, where railway workers tinkered with the train cars of a century ago, a new economy was being midwifed into existence. “Living the New Economy” was an exuberant convergence of visionaries and idea jammers who are working together to create and articulate this new economy.

Living the New Economy

The old economy is crumbling: globally, this has been obvious since at least 2008. The old models just aren’t working anymore, and many have started to realize they probably weren’t worth saving in the first place.

What does the new economy look like? This city’s dilapidated heavy industrial base is being transformed into a burgeoning knowledge economy of tech firms and services. In Victoria, at least, the trend isn’t toward globalized chains and big box stores: it’s small-scale entrepreneurs producing high quality goods for a niche market. It’s local renewable energy projects like the Art Turbine that are not only functional, but are truly pieces of art. It’s an explosion in DIY culture, with creative startups like the Makehouse and the MakerSpace, where makers of all sorts will share tools, resources, and knowledge. Or Remove and Reuse, an online hub where upcyclers and artisans can share salvaged building materials and reduce the need for consuming new. It’s people realizing that together, we can achieve so much more:Raven Wireless, a proposed nationwide co-operative telecom company, hopes to provide an alternative to the “Big Three.”

The new economy tastes like dark and thick microbrews handcrafted locally. It smells like locally cured and smoked meats, crisp vegetables harvested within a hundred miles, and specialty baked goods prepared in Victoria’s proposed new food hub, a shared kitchen space for local food producers. I took part in a collaborative session to redesign the downtown core with hubs for enjoying these delights together, in community. The vision is to create a vital space where people “live out loud.” In the new economy, shopping isn’t a substitute for this kind of creativity. The new economy feels like community being built in a thousand different ways. The Fernwood Urban Village cohousing project and O.U.R. Ecovillage are reclaiming what it is to be in community, while creating options for community to invest in community. It’s individuals moving their money to credit unions, which in turn reinvest it locally: Vancity’s support of “social purpose real estate” is a great example. It’s people stepping up to lend to each other through the Victoria Community Micro-Lending Society. A new Community Investment Fund being launched in 2014 by the Community Social Planning Council (CSPC) will finally give people an option for local retirement savings investments.

This is the power of raising local forms of capital: putting our money where our homes are. CSPC’s Sarah Amyot says that redirecting even 2 percent of the investment money that flows out of this region every year would allow us to reinvest 7.5 million locally.

But why does this seem so revolutionary? In the past few decades, we’ve made it virtually impossible to invest locally. People who are interested in doing so (apparently a very high proportion of investors) are discouraged by their advisors, who say there’s no money in it. Not so, says Stephen Whipp, a specialist in socially responsible investment. By grabbing the reins of large capital and redirecting it into local projects, Whipp says we can generate good income and make good local projects happen at the same time.

Yes, the cost of living is high, and most of us don’t have much extra cash lying around for making big investments. But we need to understand the incredible privilege we have in this region – despite the struggles – and recognize that we have a responsibility to use this privilege to make changes in how we act in the world.

Critically, it’s acknowledging that many of the struggles we’re facing – and the privilege we have – are a result of living in a colonial system. Without a radical shift in the Indigenous-settler relationship, colonialism can simply be re-entrenched by such new forms of ownership and economy. So asking for and supporting Indigenous leadership amid these rapid changes is going to be essential. This recognition was embodied at a session called “Indigenomics,” where we learned from Indigenous women that have modeled leadership in redefining what economy is. As Carol-Ann Hilton of the Indigenous business group Transformation pointed out, a new economy questions the pathway by which we came here: who was left out? Who’s included in the new economy? And will it be a decolonized economy?

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Ana Maria Peredo, Director of UVic’s Centre for Cooperative and Community-Based Economy, pointed out that the new economy is the OLD economy – and the REAL economy. It needs to be reclaimed from its brief sojourn into global market capitalism. There are many kinds of economy – green, sharing, collaborative, gift, social – that can bring value to society.

Peredo shared a story of a visit she made to an Andean village in Peru. Arriving hungry, she went to try to purchase some food to eat. Although she could see plenty of people with food, nobody could sell to her: for them, money wasn’t worth using because nobody needed it to meet their daily needs. People would ask how it was that, in their poor country, everyone had a home – yet in our rich nation, so many are homeless.

In most of the Western world, the economy is framed by those in power as the overarching structure of existence. As Peredo pointed out, the “modernization theory” of development says there’s only one way to approach economic development – and that’s to submit to the global forces of the market. This ethnocentric model perpetuates a narrative about developing an “entrepreneurial spirit” among Indigenous people that assumes they have none.

Meghan Champion of Cowichan Tribes debunked such mainstream myths. In her culture, Indigenous people have always had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. Trade and forms of currency have been a feature of life on this coast for thousands of years. The potlatch ceremony was, in her words, a form of investment through a system of debt obligation and relationship building. The way people earned prestige was not by accumulating wealth, but by giving it away. As Champion points out, it’s pretty hard to practice your culture if you don’t have an economy to sustain it. But one thing that makes this new economy distinct from the old one is that reputation is key: in the age of social networking, it’s a lot harder to hide when you rip someone off. It’s about building relationships.

It’s with this in mind that Champion created the Cowichan Tribes’ Tetla Dollar. Community currencies keep value circulating within the community, rather than flowing out. Lately, the’ve been springing up all over the region: SeedStock in Vancouver, Salt Spring Dollars, and the Comox Vally Community Way. The fully digital Vancouver Island Dollar is in the process of being launched.

“Living the New Economy” aimed to be a living example of an economy that encourages us to redefine value locally and build inclusive community. After each session, people could receive 100% of their money back with no questions asked; they could hold with the original ticket price, or they could add an extra donation if they felt the event had particular value. Or, they could exchange the full dollar amount for the same number of Vancouver Island Dollars.

As permaculture designer Ethan Roland told us, we need to reclaim the real meaning of the word “entrepreneurship,” which is simply “to take on a project.” In the Andean community-based economies, Peredo says, the community acts collectively as both entrepreneur and enterprise. In this regard, it’s about every single one of us considering ourselves entrepreneurs.

One part of this involves changing our unhealthy relationship with money. And I don’t just mean becoming less driven by it. I’m also talking about the revulsion to money that many “do-gooder” types have: the way that when the word “economics” is used, many of us plug our ears. I’ve always had an uncomfortable relationship with economics. I don’t really understand it, and I know it causes a lot of harm these days. I also know that some kind of economy is essential.

We’ve forgotten that money is simply a tool – a very useful one. At “Permanomics,” a session linking permaculture and economics, Roland showed how redefining “capital” can allow us to meet human needs while increasing the health of ecosystems. Roland identified eight forms of capital: living, material, social, experiential, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and – of course – financial. Understanding these many forms of capital can help us see how the system functions as a whole, and where the leverage points for creating society-level changes are. Roland says we need not abandon financial capital: we can use it to cultivate other forms of capital that it has been decimating of late. Financial capital can grow or decrease, as long as shared cultural capital and living capital (Earth’s life systems) are being regenerated.

Regeneration, as opposed to the much-abused word “sustainability,” was an overriding theme throughout the week. Through new kinds of enterprise, we can not simply sustain, but regenerate our communities and the natural world. It’s a tangible shift in what the economy looks like – social finance, green buildings, cooperatives, and cohousing projects.

But what’s going to truly make the difference is a shift in the interior dimensions that what we can’t always see: the stories, the culture, and the values. It’s the community.

Kat gratefully acknowledges a prize from SFU’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development, which allowed her to attend the week of events.

PowerShift: Unleashing a New Generation

Meet Ta’kaiya Blaney. At 12 years old, she’s the face of the newly unleashed chapter in the movement for climate justice. This past weekend, over 1000 youth and elders converged on the unceded Coast Salish territories commonly known as Victoria to participate in the biggest climate summit in BC history. Though many who attended the opening night of PowerShift may have been drawn in by the chance to listen to David Suzuki, it was Ta’kaiya who won everyone’s hearts.

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From the Sliammon First Nation, Ta’kaiya captivated the crowd with her remarkable voice, singing an Indigenous welcome with her aunt Rose Henry, a local Indigenous activist. With steady strength, Ta’kaiya spoke of her own motivation to protect the lands of her ancestors from toxic pollution. She ended the night by belting out her own original songs like “Earth Revolution,” backed by Vancouver-based band the Boom Booms in an example of what can be possible when Indigenous and settler energies are joined in creative solidarity.

This is why PowerShift was a milestone in the fight for a clean, safe future for our communities. The history of rocky relationships between environmental groups and First Nations was summed up by Janet Rogers during the Idle No More rally at the close of the weekend: “Don’t poach us for your issues and then forget about us when we need help.”

The event was far from perfect, of course. But PowerShift was built on the recognition that this movement must be Indigenous-led and anti-racist at its core. Not only is it simply the right thing to do based on the historical dispossession of First Nations, but there’s a recognition that their rights and title are increasingly the only legal force standing in the way of more dirty energy projects in BC.

So we listened to youth voices from the front lines in the north. Voices like 19-year old Satsi Naziel, who has been successfully blockading pipeline development on her ancestral territories by building a community with traditional pit houses and permaculture gardens at the Unist’ot’en camp. Or Caleb Behn, a young Dene hunter who went to law school to fight dangerous fracking operations in the northeast, now ironically silenced from telling much of what he knows about the industry as a result of his career choice. Or Melina Laboucan Massimo, a Lubicon Cree who witnessed the destruction of her lands when 4.5 million litres of oil spilled into its wetlands and river systems, exacerbating the epidemic of rare and unusual cancers and other health problems faced by her community as a result of tar sands development. Melina lost multiple women in her life this year, including her little sister, to the violence against First Nations women that is a sad reflection of structural injustice and the violence reaped on the land.

As we bustled from one workshop to another on the UVic campus, I couldn’t help but think about these stories. I was uplifted to see so many youth younger than myself at PowerShift – not just the “usual suspects,” but many privileged high school students and undergrads wanting to get involved, a large number of whom were obviously being confronted with the idea of decolonization for the first time. This was one of PowerShift’s real successes.

Another of PowerShift’s real successes was the diversity of content. I gravitated toward the skill-building workshops, which included topics like non-violent direct action, community oil spill response, investigative journalism, working effectively in organizations, and practicing self-care. All pretty positive-sounding. But I found that even in these kinds of sessions, which were meant to be empowering, a lot of energy was spent on problem identification, leaving little time to get down to business figuring out solutions.

I met with my friends to debrief and compare notes. It seemed that this experience was a common thread. All the stories of destruction were wearing people down. It was a microcosm of the constant tension many of us feel in the work that we do: how can we strike a balance between being fighting against the urgent problems and working to build the solutions we so desperately need?

There is no final answer to this question, only a lifetime dedicated to that careful dance. But ultimately I did find some answers at PowerShift that stoked my motivational fire. For one thing, it was clear that people want more permaculture, so I’m going to keep throwing my energy into building that community. For another, this weekend empowered me with the knowledge that I, too, could step into more of a leadership role, and I know others felt the same.

Most importantly, though, the space was created for people from all backgrounds and corners of this province to meet, build relationships, and strengthen our community. It counters the feeling of isolation this system breeds – the sense of being alone in a huge struggle that powerful interests rely upon for their success. This was only the first of six regional PowerShift events to be held across the country. When you want to build a movement, you have to think in much longer timescales than our instant-message generation is used to. And you need to take the time to define the problem together. Seeing Indigenous youth and elders who have endured this destruction of their heritage for centuries, now reaching out to take our hands and share their songs with us, was a historic moment. Our willingness to be present and bear witness to their struggles was, as Indigenous hip hop performer JP The First Lady told us, “real reconciliation.”

legislature rally

The weekend ended the way it had begun: led by Indigenous women singing a women’s warrior song to the beat of their drums. But this time, they shared it with us. As a visitor on these threatened lands and as a woman angered by the authorities’ neglect of the countless missing and murdered Indigenous women from coast to coast, I was honoured to be invited to sing their song. On the steps of the legislature, on the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, we linked arms to say “No” to pipelines, supertankers, tar sands, and fracking, and “Yes” to a new generation of relationship.

Because it’s not a Right or Left issue; it’s not just a “Native issue”. As Maude Barlow and so many others insisted this weekend, it concerns every single one of us. Because we all drink water, and we all breathe air.

Top photograph courtesy of Priscilla Skylar Lee
Bottom photograph courtesy of Zack Embree @ zackembree.com

the energy of this island

Yesterday I experienced firsthand the colourful and dynamic community on Molokai, famed for its seeming love of controversy. The day did not disappoint. Connie and I went to the Energy Festival in Kaunakakai, the main town on the island. The organizer was I Aloha Molokai, a grassroots group that seems to be a voice for a myriad of development concerns, including plans for an industrial scale wind turbine project. But wait–isn’t wind a progressive, “clean” renewable energy? Well, along with problems like noise pollution, endangerment of native species and sacred sites, increases in electricity rates, and decreases in property values, the main issue on Molokai is who controls the development, and who will ultimately benefit. It turns out that the energy would not be destined for this island at all, but for powering Oahu’s bright lights in the tourist hub of Honolulu. No wonder the locals are pissed.

Here’s what their response looks like: a cheery group of people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds wearing grass leis and Hawaiian shirts, engaged in passionate, articulate discussion about Molokai’s energy future and the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people. I discovered that the entire island’s electricity is produced by a giant diesel generator! No wonder people are looking for island-based solutions. A guy from the Big Island recounted the horrors of industrial geothermal development in his neighbourhood. In short, don’t try to build a ‘closed-loop’ system full of heavy metals and toxic gas beside a residential neighbourhood in an area of constant volcanic activity (in Canada, steam geothermal doesn’t pose the same risks, but it’s salient to remember that a one-solution-fits-all energy policy just won’t work).

One of the talks was a group from the Quechan Native American tribe, who discussed their experiences challenging a big wind farm slated to be built on the graves of their ancestors. As the Idle No More movement gains steam on the mainland, I have to reflect that from a historical perspective, it’s only very recently that panels of Indigenous movement-builders would talk openly about the occupation of their lands and the need for education and the reclamation of their culture, and that a crowd full of haoles (white people) would show up to listen with nodding heads. Though there is a long road still ahead when it comes to justice for Indigenous peoples, we have to stop and celebrate such successes. There seems to be a complicated tension here between Indigenous Hawaiians and haoles that I’m only just beginning to understand, but parallels can be drawn with the challenges in the territories I’ve resided in over the years. Poverty, abuse, and addiction live here–as they do in every community, but like back home, their cruel touch seems to be more pronounced among the Indigenous population. The destructive legacy of colonialism is alive and well here, but there are a lot of inspiring native Hawaiians I listened to yesterday that are motivated for change–frequently using words and concepts from their own language, they are serious about keeping their culture alive. And there does seem to be a lot of haoles who are committed to changing the dynamics of this relationship for the better.

In fact, there’s something everyone seems to be able to agree on: solar energy. If there’s one thing Hawai’i has in copious amounts, it’s sunshine. Even the smallest homesteads by the highway have rickety solar panels on the roof. Although solar is not without its problems, the technology is moving incredibly fast, and many on the island are poised to take advantage of this. At the festival, we examined a working homemade solar hot water heater, built with salvaged parts. From what I heard there, the major appeal of solar is that it empowers people. Instead of giant wind farms or dangerous geothermal plants owned by people who don’t have to live with the local consequences, solar allows people on the island to become more energy independent. A few speakers hit on a subtler effect of this kind of independence: the will of an individual and of a community gains strength, and becomes a more difficult force for outside interests to trample on.

I promised pictures, and I figure it would be fitting to share some of Molokai’s glorious sun. Here are some favourite sun shots from my beach adventures this week.

 

This is Pohaku Mauliuli at sunset (I mistakenly called it Kephui beach in my last post)

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These are from Mo’omomi Preserve at sunrise. The world’s highest coastal cliffs are just barely visible in the background.

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ImageThis is Papohaku beach, Hawai’i’s longest white sand beach.

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