SFSS seeks split

This spring, 78 per cent of Simon Fraser University students voted in a non-binding plebiscite to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Students-BC—at least, that’s what the Simon Fraser Student Society says.

SFSS issued a notice of withdrawal following that referendum, but CFS did not accept the plebiscite, which they claim was not conducted in accordance with the federation’s by-laws. However, the organizations have apparently agreed on a schedule to have the referendum by March 2008.

“The result of plebiscite means that students want to get out, and the SFSS is going ahead with the process under CFS by-laws,” said SFSS president Derrick Harder.

CFS alleged that the ballot was written in biased language.

Harder said that according to CFS bylaws, student societies are required to submit a petition signed by 10 per cent of the student body, after which a referendum providing enough time for student groups to respond with “yes” or “no” campaigns would be needed before a student union may quit the federation.

Harder said that he had not spoken to CFS President Amanda Aziz since March. “She is hard to get a hold of,” he said.

Harder said SFU students were dissatisfied with CFS-BC because it was “internally dysfunctional…ineffective as a lobby organization…and costing too much.”

Being federated with the CFS costs SFU students $400,000 a year, he explained, and said he believed that they were not getting any returns from it.

The current board of SFSS executives were elected after seven members of the last board were impeached in a court case involving a controversial fi ring.

SFSS has been part of CFS since 1981.

Power chords

The MTV-effect enveloped the entire world in its fearful web, leaving nothing untouched by its web of glittering glamour. Some may mourn it, others celebrate it, but witness what happened on Sept. 15, 2007 at the William Doo Auditorium.

Most of the audience was on their feet, but a certain section actually emerged from the audience and gathered on stage to join the musicians. They were inspired by the rendition of “Cholo Bangladesh,” (literally, “Let’s Go Bangladesh”) by a group dubbed the “York University Band” (for the lack of a real name) at the Bangladesh Flood Relief Concert, organized by the Bangladeshi Students’ Association as part of a response to the devastating floods, and aiming to raise money for aid. They resorted to local talent, namely Toronto rock bands with a Bangladeshi twist.

“Cholo Bangladesh” was originally written years ago by Cryptic Fate, a band from Dhaka’s young, rock-obsessed underground-music scene written to celebrate the country’s cricketing success, it quickly became an anthem for the concert- going teenage children of the higher income groups. The reaction here is a metaphor for the parallel growth of a twin underground-music culture that has sprung up recently among Bengali residents in Toronto.

Drama was flowing aplenty at the show even before the stage was invaded, with a series of auctions that brought in $1055: a miniature bat with prized signatures from several star cricketers from the Bangladesh national squad and one from the Sri Lankan team, and a pair of Jerseys actually worn during a World Cup Cricket match (which someone claimed had not been washed since), and a hotel-room for two which had nothing to do with cricket.

And then there was even some good music. A distorted, powerchord rendition of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” by Taxivision, which took everyone a few seconds to recognize, but was as interesting as you would expect from such a union of competing schools of pop-rock. Taxivision was impressive because they kept themselves comfortably rooted in Western pop music—their specialty.

Aubak (“Speechless”) landed back on solid ground after their opening instrumental based on the first line of the Bangladeshi national anthem, and produced a unique sound, fusing electric and acoustic guitars with the tabla, rounded off nicely by bass and classical vocal lines in the background.

For the most part, Bengali rock songs monopolized the show, and you really don’t know Bengali rock until you’ve seen it the way the rich punk kids do it. There was some of that too.

Better than the music is the cause. Some $7000 dollars made from the drive will go to a flood response initiative by the name of Prothom Alo, and whether or not in the end it makes a real difference to the annual cycle of devastation, it’s encouraging to see efforts where the disaster is merely a very distant reality

Holloway returns

Holloway brushed the red hair out of her eyes and smiled at me as we sat down for a chat in Robarts. As we discussed everything from the upcoming Ontario provincial elections to the proposed electoral reform, I could barely keep from drowning in charm over the Irish lilt in her voice. The Liberal incumbent, ready to talk business, explained how her change in political labels didn’t reflect a change of heart. Holloway was once upon a time a prominent Green Party national leader. She co-founded the Green Party’s Woman Caucus and ran in the 2004 federal elections as a parachute candidate against Liberal incumbent MP Derek Lee in Scarborough–Rouge River. So what prompted the switch to the Liberals?

Criticism of GPC management may have cost her much of her influence in the environmentalist party. In January 2005, Ms. Holloway was summarily suspended from the GPC Council after then-party-leader Jim Harris called an off-the-record in camera motion to remove her from the Federal Council. No reason was provided, said Holloway, who was denied a copy of the meeting’s minutes.

Nonetheless, her riding rallied around her, and in 2005 she was named the Green candidate for Toronto Centre, only to find her nomination cancelled by party organizers. She resigned her position at the GPC, along with several other prominent members, all of them citing mismanagement of the party. At our meeting, Holloway refused to discuss what her last few controversy- ridden years with the Greens had to do with her decision to turn Liberal. She did say that with Stephane Dion as party leader, differences between the grits and the Greens have narrowed.

“There are no ideological differences between the Green Party and the Liberal Party, no differences in values,” claimed Holloway. “They are both centrist, and care about social justice and quality of life. And now, both the electorate and mainstream politics have woken up to climate and environmental issues.”

“Green issues are local issues,” she said, “but the Green Party is predominantly a federal party, and the issues that are important are transit, energy, hydro, garbage, and these need to be addressed at the provincial and municipal level.

For now, transit is still in a crisis and coal-fired plants are operating in Ontario, including Canada’s largest CO2 dumper, the Nanticoke Generating Station. Perhaps Ms. Holloway’s convictions on the Liberal party’s green policies are more than just hot air.

Jane Goodall to youth: “Break through and change the world”

This past Saturday, world-renowned primatologist, environmentalist and UN Messenger of Peace, Dr. Jane Goodall, swung into Convocation Hall to give a lecture that commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the Jane Goodall Institute. In conjunction with the U of T Centre for Environment, the discussion focused on a number of issues such as her revolutionary scientific research, the conservation of chimpanzee habitats, and the eradication of the bush meat trade, causes with which Goodall has long been associated. Her week long visit to Canada has shed light on another aspect of her work: encouraging the world, especially youth, to take action ensuring the world’s environmental survival.

The JGI’s youth environmental and humanitarian program, Roots and Shoots, strives to foster awareness and respect for all living things, promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and inspire young people to take action by working on one of the program’s projects. Some of these tasks may include reforestation, shoreline cleanup, care for animals, communitycentered development or simply picking up trash on the streets of Toronto. To date, Roots and Shoots has over 8000 groups in 100 countries, with over 10,500 youth participating in Canada alone.

Goodall said that she does not find it surprising that young people can feel desperate, hopeless and helpless. This is exactly why the program is so vital, she adds, because youth need to be told they can make a difference. They must figure out what they are passionate about, and then strive to make change in a positive way. “Young people, when informed and empowered, can break through and change the world.” Why is it that Goodall has such faith in young citizens? Looking over her life and work, it becomes clear that as a scientist and a human being, she has come full circle with her efforts. Goodall was once not dissimilar from youth today who desire to understand and protect the world.

Animals were of noticeable interest to Goodall from a very young age. By the time she was four, she began to observe and inquire into the scientific perplexities around her. When puzzled by the seemingly impossible task of a hen laying an egg, Goodall spent hours in a hen house until her inquiry was answered. A self-proclaimed odd child, she credits her mother as her greatest sponsor and inspiration.

As she entered into early adulthood, Goodall was determined to travel to Africa and pursue her childhood dream of working with animals, but like so many other young adults chasing a dream, the path was not clear and she needed others to help her along the way. After attending secretarial school, Goodall got a job with a London-based documentary film company. It seemed her dreams were being placed firmly on the back burner. But at the age of twenty-three, after only a short stint in the secretarial business, her years of preparation met opportunity when a friend invited her to go to Kenya.

This trip proved to be significant, for it was in Kenya that Goodall met the person that would become her mentor, Dr. Louis Leakey. Upon meeting Goodall, the already-established paleontologist and anthropologist was immediately impressed by her knowledge, and soon asked her to accompany him and his wife on a fossil-hunting expedition in Olduvai Gorge.

Although Goodall was aware of the importance of her work with Dr. Leakey, she still had a strong yearning to work with wild animals. She turned down an offer to continue her work with fossils at the Nairobi Museum because, as she put it, working at the museum or becoming a palaeontologist “had to do with dead animals. And I still wanted to work with living animals. My childhood dream was as strong as ever: somehow I must find a way to watch free, wild animals living their own, undisturbed lives.”

Dr. Leakey could not ignore his protégé’s intense desire, and he decided she was ready to take on her own research project with the chimpanzees at Gombe National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania. However, Goodall faced a demoralizing roadblock when British authorities were reluctant to allow a young person, especially a woman, to go into the depths of Africa alone. Refusing to let her daughter’s dreams be quashed, Goodall’s mother offered to accompany her, and the authorities soon acquiesced.

Although it took several months for the great apes to become accustomed to her, Goodall did not let her eagerness compromise her research. Through patience, she was able to assimilate herself into the animal community. What she found altered the way anthropologists perceive our species’ closest relative. She discovered that these primates make tools, eat meat, have distinct personalities, and engage in warfare. It soon became clear how alike humans and chimpanzees are. “I think I understand people better from working with chimps, and they drive you into concern for people,” she says.

With the founding of the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977, Goodall began to make waves beyond the scientific world, into the humanitarian one. Soon, her lifelong love of nature had developed into a world-wide endeavour.

Perhaps Goodall trusts the world’s youth because she knows first-hand that one person can overcome life’s barricades and change the minds and actions of others. She sees her young self in the children, adolescents and young adults that she continuously inspires to contribute.

In a climate that seems to be plagued with ignorance, fear and thus stagnation, Goodall remains positive about the resolve of humanity. “We have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Surely, then, we can use our problem-solving abilities, our brains, and, joining hands around the world, find ways to live that are in harmony with nature.”

“They really embraced the city”

From Sept. 8 to Sept. 14 the Toronto Urban Film Festival used news screens in subway stations as a medium for showcasing short films. While the event happened to coincide with the Toronto International Film Festival, the two are unlikely to be confused.

Each TUFF film is silent and exactly 60 seconds long, ranging across six general themes: Forgotten Places, Uncommon Spaces, Big Smoke, Big Dreams, The Imaginary City, 905 to 416, Urban Ennui, and My TOwn. Submission was open to anyone with a camera.

Programmer Sharon Switzer dreamt of a festival focussing on “the experience of living in an urban centre.” To Switzer, the subway was “a unique urban environment.”

To produce the festival, Switzer partnered with the Onestop Media Group, who operates the TTC’s network of news screens. After working with OMG last year on a similar project involving photography, they decided to go bigger. TUFF was a perfect fit for Toronto’s filmmaker community, said Switzer, who is also a video artist.

The festival got a late start on publicity, and for a time Switzer was concerned.

“We ran calls for submission on the subway screens and we tried to go through Facebook, word of mouth […] I was really worried. I didn’t know if the world was getting out there.”

Despite the rocky start, Art for Commuters and OMG were pleasantly surprised with the number of submissions.

“We had a great response, over 170 submissions. It was really quite phenomenal,” said Erin Jandciu, OMG’s communications director. “We are really looking forward to making it bigger and better next year, so it is definitely something we are going to continue to do.”

TUFF was a juried by a panel of notable Canadian filmmakers, video artists and curators. Beginning Sept. 8 the public was able to vote for their favourite film online or via text messaging.

On Sept. 14 the best of the festival, as voted by the public, aired once every 10 minutes. The top three films will then be selected by TUFF judge and noted filmmaker Jeremy Podeswa (whose film Fugitive Pieces opened TIFF). An audience favourite will also be selected through online voting. Three viewer’s choice awards will be given out at an awards ceremony to be held at the Drake Hotel on Sept. 22.

Switzer was astonished by the range and quality of the submissions. “I was surprised how much work some people put into it, how fun some films were and how really supportive of Toronto they were. They really embraced the city.”

Earth: I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is less CO2

Currently, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are at an uncomfortable 380 parts per million—a level that hasn’t been seen in over 20 million years. Now, more than ever, it is becoming necessary to know where CO2 is coming from and where it is going. A new project does exactly that, and may be the best tool yet in charting the fate of our feverish world.

In essence, CarbonTracker is a CO2 data assimilation system. It takes atmospheric measurement data from hundreds of places around the globe, charts emissions and uptake in real time, and inserts them into a complicated predictive model. Over the seven years the project has been operational, the system has collected over 36,000 air measurements from the Earth’s surface. As project leader Dr. Wouter Peters, who works for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, explains:

“The atmosphere sees everything that is going on—the atmosphere won’t lie.”

Already, the project is giving startling results. A highball estimate of future carbon emissions made in the year 2000 is now seen as a low estimate compared to the data collected so far. There is a slight silver lining, for us Canadians at least: it turns out that Canada’s vast boreal forests are a carbon sink (a region taking in more CO2 than it gives off). This is no license to burn, however, as this uptake represents only a third of North America’s total carbon output.

Global climate change is a nuanced and complex problem. A key question is how human-driven landscape alteration, including widespread deforestation, will affect carbon uptake and output. Recently, and with great alarm, it has been noted that the permafrost has been thawing in some areas (the prefix ‘perma-’ can be misleading). If this de-icing continues unabated, the huge amounts of carbon that are currently sequestered could be released into the atmosphere. It would be equivalent to burning all the coal reserves in the United States—at once.

Annual variations in carbon movement can be visualized with the CarbonTracker model. Every summer, areas where corn is growing in the Midwestern United States can be clearly seen due to their uptake of atmospheric carbon. Conversely, in drought years the amount of carbon taken up by affected ecosystems across North America drops drastically. With less plant matter growing, less atmospheric CO2 is taken up by photosynthesis. This large reduction in carbon uptake in drought years (by as much as half, compared to nondrought years) was a surprising result to the team.

Peters is clear about the effect humans are having and the need for greater accountability: “Although we can’t blame everything on fossil fuels, we can at least blame everything on humans.”

His model, designed with 15 other collaborators, is open-source, meaning that anyone can download the model’s source code and see its inner workings. Mostly a testament to the unwillingness of American politicians to address climate change, the fact that the project is open to the public allows for maximum transparency, and results that can be completely scrutinized.

High altitude atmospheric measurements and other predictive models have already validated CarbonTracker’s results. By basing its predictions on numerous real observations, the system offers accurate predictions and a clear picture of the movement of carbon around North America. With further expansion of the project and more measurements, the model will eventually be able to give a clear picture of the global carbon cycle, which remains one of the least understood issues in global climate change science. We can only hope a greater understanding of the ecological disaster will force governments and citizens to take action in a meaningful way. A high fever is a sign that something is wrong—and we’d better do something about it soon.

A towering defeat

Toronto is no longer on top of the world: the CN tower was recently stripped of the “world’s tallest building” title, one that the landmark has held for over 30 years.

Last week, the Burj Dubai—a hotel, residential, and business skyscraper under construction in the United Arab Emirates—surpassed the Toronto skyscraper’s 553 metres, officially becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure.

Developed by Dubai-based Emaar Properties with financial backing from the oil-rich country’s government, the $4.2 billion, 165- storey Burj Dubai is estimated to stand 800 metres tall upon its completion in summer 2009.

“The Burj Dubai tower has now reached 555.3 metres, and also scaled 150 livable levels, the largest number of storeys for any building in the world,” announced Mohamed Ali Alabbar, the project’s developer and chairman of Emaar Properties, last week.

The Burj Dubai project was launched in 2004 as part of a new $23.4 billion, 200-hectare downtown waterfront district that will house approximately 30,000 apartments and the world’s largest shopping mall.

It won’t hold the top spot for long, as a second, nearby skyscraper, the Al-Burj, aims to reach 1,200 metres—more than double the CN tower’s stature.

Big man on campus

On Friday, September 15, the halls of Sandford Fleming welcomed back their most prestigious alumnus. In some ways things came full circle for a man who, as he admitted to a room full of overly enthusiastic undergrads, had traveled a long and winding road. Paul Godfrey, a former chairman elect of Metropolitan Toronto, explained to a captivated audience the twists and turns that led a brash engineering student from North York to the big leagues of the Toronto Blue Jays.

“A lot of things that I became involved with, I didn’t plan on. When I became chairman of the city at 34 years of age, it scared the hell out of me because I didn’t know anything about running a city,” he admitted. Godfrey recalled a similar fish-out-ofwater feeling in his early years at U of T. Working towards a degree in chemical engineering, he struggled to keep his grades up and almost didn’t make it through his second year.

On a cool Friday afternoon, reflecting on exactly how far he’d come since then, Godfrey imparted this piece of wisdom:

“The most important skills you can develop are people skills. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or whether you’re an engineer, politician or the president of a baseball team. You’ll go further in life if you have the ability to relate.”

A devoted family man and accomplished entrepreneur, the U of T graduate’s people skills were on full display during the hour-long speech as he charmed the audience with his eloquence and sardonic wit, at one point remarking self-effacingly: “From the time I was twenty-five to the time I was twenty-seven, I couldn’t have been elected dog catcher in this city.”

The venture certainly would have added to an already diverse and eclectic resume, as Godfrey also acted as publisher of the Toronto Sun prior to his Blue Jays days.

He’s certainly grown up a lot since then. Godfrey, now 68, recounted the day he got a call from his former boss at the Sun: “At the time I got the call, a lot of my colleagues were already retiring. We made enough money selling our stake in the newspaper that we never had to work again, but when a guy like Ted Rogers makes you an offer you have to listen.”

What Ted Rogers offered was a vision.

“I want you to run my baseball team,” he said.

Godfrey was incredulous at the time.

“I didn’t know you had a baseball team,” he replied.

The rest, as they say, is history. Rogers Communications bought the Blue Jays from Interbrew on August 31, 2000, and Godfrey was named president and CEO the following day. To an outside observer, Godfrey may seem like the kind of man who has stakes in many different ventures. Even for a man his age, his accomplishments and plans are difficult to imagine. Godfrey said that much could be attributed to his mother’s advice. “She said it’s better to quit two years too early than it is to quit two minutes too late. If you want to win, you have to know when to leave.”

So what constitutes success to this constant striver?

“Success?” he hesitated. “I think it should mean something different to each person. The bottom line is at the end of the day, you want to feel fulfilled personally and professionally, you have to be content with yourself.”