Special Report: Climate Change

Don McLean and the Local Implications of Climate Change

There is a growing understanding of what can be done to slow the nightmare of climate change that is unfolding and change direction.

By Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko
Published March 22, 2016

There's a storm coming.

The idea is for people to concentrate some attention on climate beyond what the weather is. Because we have become such a force on this planet, generating waste, using up resources, it is coming back to kick us.
—Don McLean

Don McLean is scared. Unlike the many of us with a nebulous awareness of what is really going down, Don understands - truly, deeply, the science, the reality, the cause and effect - that what we humans are doing to the climate of our home, the Earth, is something like no one has seen before, ever.

"We are making the kinds of changes to the planet that no other generation has had to face, and there are consequences," warns the co-founder of Environment Hamilton, Hamilton 350 committee member and a Stoney Creek resident. "It's a path that is unclear. The real issue is that we don't know what is coming."

Simply put, we can't predict the extent of the damage our ignorance will cause.

Don is thinking about the extreme ways we are changing civilization. Human made climate change is already forcing the collapse of countries-for example, the Mediterranean basin (Portugal, the Balkan areas, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt) is seeing the worst drought in 900 years, causing countless people to deal with immense disruption and revolution.

But this horror is presented as "just more news," according to Don. The severity of the problem has not been explained. Meanwhile, "It's terrifying to the people it is happening to, but not to us."


Don McLean
Don McLean

Implications of Consumption

"We are feeling a little bit of what might be coming - people getting flooded, tornadoes becoming more severe. These seem like short-term emergencies but when food sources are at risk because of extreme weather, we start to gain perspective," Don is hitting hard.

Reality check: We grow mostly corn and soybeans to feed cattle. Don points to California and the drought there, and how we get most of our food products from this region until now, where we are seeing food in the grocery stores coming from places like Chile and Mexico.

"But when we cut into those markets, someone else is losing out, as we go bouncing around the world in search for the best priced strawberries."

Everything we purchase has implications for the planet. And for Don, consumption is not necessarily an answer to happiness. "I think we can all agree, deep down inside us, we know the products aren't worth it. All the while, interrelationships and caring for others gets pushed aside."

But Don remains positive: "I don't think it is something we are stuck in; we fell into it. I think this is something we can change. People are ready for it."

Climate Change a Justice Issue

What's more, people are feeling the pressure to think about climate change as a justice issue. The wealthy cause it and the poor pay for it.

"The wealthy countries like Canada are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, the poor countries are the most vulnerable to rising seas, extreme storms and escalating food prices," Don says.

"In Canada, the well-off have far more cars per household than those living in poverty. They consume far more electronic goods whose mining and manufacture are trashing the planet, and whose disposal adds to the mess. In Hamilton, the better off drive cars, those with low incomes ride the HSR or walk. The roads budget expands and the transit budget is frozen."

What we need to do is re-establish our ability to protect ourselves. "One of the pieces we can do on a day to day basis is producing and buying locally," says Don. "Another way is avoiding over-purchasing of goods entirely because it doesn't deal with our relationships."

Calling City Hall

There is a growing understanding of what can be done to slow the nightmare of climate change that is unfolding and change direction. Governments can do a lot.

For the past twelve years, Don has coordinated Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), a group that monitors and reports on civic affairs in Hamilton.

Don asks himself, "What is it that our local governments can do, what changes do we need to make as a city?"

He answers:

  1. We can look at the larger source of GHG emission. Transportation is an area that we can do. "Taking two tonnes of metal everywhere they go; that's not sustainable."

  2. Another large area for action is the amount of energy we use heating and cooling our homes. City of Hamilton can change things in that expensive low interest loans to homeowners could be paid back on taxes attached to the home.

  3. We need to protect farmland. We need to protect farmland. We need to protect farmland. Can we say it enough times? We have less and less food security but we can change the decision-making, the economics of that. Currently, it is cheaper for developers to build on Greenbelt sites than on areas that have fewer populations.

"The point is, Council is receptive to pressure," concludes Don. "That pressure needs to be coming from the public at large."

Things are Shaking at Environment Hamilton

Don reports that Environment Hamilton has hired two climate coordinators (a result of generous donors) to do advocacy around climate change. They will be dealing with some of the issues above.

EH will continue to screen climate-related films and offer presentations and discussions. The next screening is Do the Math on Friday, April 8 at Laidlaw United Church, 155 Ottawa Street North, 7:00 PM. The film is followed by a presentation with Don McLean.

EH's Annual General Meeting is on March 30 and Don will be telling attendees exactly what the City of Hamilton - and you - can do about climate change.

Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a member of the dedicated team at Environment Hamilton.


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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 09:09:07

I do not listen to Don Mclean ever since he and Turkstra cost us multi-millions over the Red Hill Creek Expressway. Even if he has a good heart, and given that the issue is correct, coming from him I cannot hear it. Manipulating Sheila Copps and Bob Rae and squandering millions on bogus environmental assessments was as wasteful to the environment as anything - and to no end. Money comes from hard working people whose personal environments were squandered by the efforts of guy.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2016-03-22 09:15:38

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By mememine69 (registered) | Posted March 27, 2016 at 09:24:47 in reply to Comment 117116

All of us and Raise The Hammer need to get ahead of the curve and doubt the certainty of a climate change end of days crisis for our children. They have only agreed it was "99% real" and NEVER as real as they already agree smoking causes cancer. Wanting scientific certainty begs who's the real redneck. It's been 35 of climate action delay to save the planet, tipping point deadlines and global disbelief and debate. But the reality is; Another 35 MORE years of climate action delay is certain and unstoppable. And now fracking's abundance after decades of rare Smog Warning Days is giving us all reliable fossil energy for countless generations to come. Who's the CO2Y2K joke in history? *Occupy no longer mentions CO2 in it's list of demands. They see the future.

Comment edited by mememine69 on 2016-03-27 09:28:20

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By boGus (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 10:12:39 in reply to Comment 117116

Want to complain about wasted time and money, look at the useless lawsuit the city filed against the feds accusing them of misusing the environmental assessment act. If the assessment was "bogus" why did we spend millions only to withdraw it last year after 12 years.

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By Dee Niall (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 10:08:10 in reply to Comment 117116

Of course! I've seen the light now! Because people like Don and many others waste our money standing in the way of what I want, by trying to protect the environment or something. Why do we want to do that? Who needs clean air, water, nah we can do without right? Trees? irrelevant. Climate change is obviously not true because Don and many others benefit so much from fighting it right? So much money and prestige, they are the top of society because of the time they take trying to steer our community from harmful actions like polluting and environmental destruction. Because in the end it's all about money right? And its electronic now too so you don't even need trees! Money and convenience. If I can clear cut through a valley to make my commute 5 minutes faster its totally worth it. I am sure technology will clean up my water and provide oxygen somehow in the future so there is no need to try and stop "progress"! Oh and of course, since I disagree with someone once, I can blame everything on them and disregard anything they say. It's my right, am I right? Ya, you tell em' Charles! I too will ignore Climate Change because I didn't like the Red Hill Controversy and blame it all on the machinations of Don MacLean and he says Climate change is real so it can't be. I was just looking for the perfect excuse to ignore it all and do nothing. Thanks!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2016 at 09:58:46 in reply to Comment 117116

From CBC Hamilton:

According to city traffic counts, single-day traffic at Barton and Centennial was 29,007 vehicles in 2002. That was five years before the RHVP opened. In June 2008, seven months after the new highway, there were 24,628 vehicles. In 2013, it was back up to 30,651.

Other areas aren't quite at pre-RHVP levels, but they're getting there. At Mud Street, for example, there were 37,695 vehicles on a day in 2006, and 19,473 in 2008, post-RHVP. In 2013, the count was 30,345.

Numbers on the highway itself show an even steeper increase. In October 2008, there were 45,749 vehicles compared to 59,833 in October 2010, only two years later. The city's most recent data is May 2014, when there were 58,444.

These numbers don't surprise Don McLean, a Stoney Creek environmental activist who fought the highway project for years. He predicted it would only cause induced demand — the concept that the more roads you build, the more traffic it causes.

I do listen to Don McLean ever since he has been proven correct over and over again on policy issues in which the evidence runs contradictory to the political status quo.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2016-03-22 09:59:18

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 10:50:29 in reply to Comment 117122

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Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2016-03-22 10:52:22

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 11:15:23 in reply to Comment 117127

Scream to stop greenfield development. That is the better cause.

Isn't that a big part of Don McLean's message, re: 3.

As for the logic on the RHVP ... Arcade Fire got it mostly right in Wasted Hours:

First they built the road, then they built the town

That's why we're still driving around and around

And all we see

Are kids in buses longing to be free

Comment edited by RobF on 2016-03-22 11:15:37

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 14:06:39 in reply to Comment 117132

I think you misread my post.

I do not fault him for his views. I fault him and Turkstra for their subterfuge that costs all of us tens of millions of pure and simple waste.

If he apologized for that I might sing a different tune.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2016-03-22 14:07:06

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By Nottheirfault (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 12:02:14 in reply to Comment 117143

They only advocated. It's not their fault that the powers that be listened to them.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 23, 2016 at 08:16:27 in reply to Comment 117143

I wasn't here for the RHVP battle. What did Don and Turkstra do that qualifies as subterfuge, as opposed to principled opposition?

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By dontknow (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 11:59:39 in reply to Comment 117170

You'd have to ask them. But the project was shovel in the ground ready after 30 years of planning and study. One of Bob Rea's first acts was to suspend it. Suddenly Copps is involved with a bogus (according to the lawsuit) environmental study. Rae or Copps didn't do it for nothing.

Could you imagine if Premier Lloyd Ferguson, after meeting with some anti LRT folks, pulled funding on a started LRT project and then Conservative Minister whoever suddenly sends in the feds because they found some new rare bacteria that needed protection in a sewer on the LRT Route? Wouldn't you go apeshit?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 14:57:07 in reply to Comment 117143

Yes we get it, you fault him for following his principles in trying to stop something he knew would be a bad idea and has been proven to be a bad idea. How's that lawsuit against the federal government coming along?

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By proven correct? (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 15:13:39 in reply to Comment 117145

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 15:55:02 in reply to Comment 117146

Allan Taylor, is that you?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2016 at 11:14:08 in reply to Comment 117127

Cities can grow in many different ways. Smart cities grow up by increasing the density, diversity and quality of housing within the existing urbanized area and expanding multi-modal transportation to give people choice and flexibility with the most efficient use of scarce public right-of-way.

Hamilton decided instead to continue the blinkered postwar practice of growing out, by building a new municipal expressway (facepalm) to service and open up a bonanza of cheap greenfield land on the east mountain and reward the property speculators who were central in pushing the political movement to build the highway.

What folks like McLean predicted was going to happen is exactly what has happened, including our infrastructure debt crisis and the total failure of the RHVP to alleviate traffic congestion. You can hand-wave all you want about some imaginary distinction between the law of induced demand and "predicted demand" but things didn't have to turn out this way. We had a choice to make, and we made the choice that produced the outcome we observe today.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 11:17:03 in reply to Comment 117130

New development does not have to be car dominated and require expressways for cars.

One doesn't get more greenfield than land reclaimed from the sea bed. Yet somehow it does seem possible to build a new city that isn't car dominated. See:


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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 09:34:20 in reply to Comment 117116

Yeah, due diligence and civic engagement are such a drag. We all know the Red Hill has worked just fine and none of the warnings about flooding or induced demand or increased sprawl have come true.

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By Abdullah (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 11:08:07

When the earth is shaken with its final earthquake
And when the earth throws out its burdens,
And man says, "what is the matter with it?"
That Day it will declare news of what happened over it of good and evil
Because your Lord has inspired it
That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds
So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom, shall see it
And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom, shall see it

(The Qur'an, The Earthquake)

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 12:16:04

If you think the refugee crisis is bad now, imagine what will happen if the equatorial countries are no longer suitable for human habitation. Imagine a billion Chinese, Indians, Africans, etc. fleeing from heat waves that crack 50°C and droughts that make the land worthless.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 19:33:19 in reply to Comment 117137

If you think the refugee crisis is bad now

If you think that, you're paranoid and racist. It's not bad, it's that there are too many people scared of a group of people they know nothing about, aside from anecdotes, 5-second news bites and hearsay.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted March 23, 2016 at 07:25:06 in reply to Comment 117162

"If you think that, you're paranoid and racist..."

You shouldn’t call people names. In Europe and Turkey, the refugee crisis is seriously bad. There have been serious suggestions that the conflicts in Libya, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere have resulted partly from food insecurity caused by droughts exacerbated by climate change.

He is correct both that the refugee situation is bad (I suppose it’s a lot less bad if you’re not a refugee), and also that there is great potential for even worse situations when densely populated places like Bangladesh feel the effects of climate change.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 06:18:30 in reply to Comment 117169

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By Stephen (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 16:23:38 in reply to Comment 117241

I'm trying to understand what your point is. Is it that people have historically been displaced by violence and other causes in the past, so it's no big deal if it happens in the future, and the causes of displacement aren't worth mitigating against? The failures of several governments in the Middle East and North Africa have among their causes food insecurity exacerbated by climate change. No question that they'll ultimately be resettled somewhere (not that they "should" be- inevitably, they will) but why shouldn't we be cognizant of the risks of future mass displacements, and try to prevent them?

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By war (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 18:10:36 in reply to Comment 117252

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By jakchgh (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 14:22:12

a well deserved bio of one of this city's most tenacious and committed activists. Don and CATCH regularly publish fantastic articles on the most important issues facing our city and he never draws any attention to himself.

By the way Larry Di Ianni is going to read this article shortly and call Don a communist. 5-4-3-2-1...

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 16:26:17

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 19:27:53

I was in university when the RHVP was approved and getting ready to begin construction. I had an urban geography course and used the RHVP for the basis of a paper, about whether mid-century road design should apply to current day. I spoke with Don, the City, and others for their input. I recall the paper came out to something like "the road is necessary, but not the way it's been implemented". Thinking back now, I think that still rings true.

The Red Hill has moved a lot of truck traffic off of our downtown roads and onto the 403, Linc and RHVP (what it was supposed to do). It has also made accessibility easier, since I can now reach the east end without having to drive through the lower city to get from A to B. But it's also led to massive sprawl, ridiculous driving (how many drivers have been tagged with stunt driving in the past couple of months since active enforcement has resumed?). It has super inadequate lighting, inferior safety (limited guardrails, nothing to slow you down if you were to go into the median, flooding, etc), and destroyed an ecosystem (flooding, dead trees all along the roadway, trash everywhere).

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By cyberfarer (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 19:28:11

I wish to be clear that I intend no disrespect to Don McLean. I value and appreciate his activism, but I think I must address this narrative: "People are feeling the pressure to think about climate change as a justice issue. The wealthy cause it and the poor pay for it."

Often, news and media reporting will focus on the risks to the world's poor as a result of catastrophic climate change. And as much as I agree the poor will carry an unequal and unjust burden, to the ears of the rich Northern world, it is a siren call to business as usual.

I don't mean to say that to be dismissive or cruel or lacking empathy, but to state clearly a fact: Our societies, in general, do not care about the poor. Since 9/11 four million people have been killed through violence, globally, and almost all of them in the global south. Last year, 2.2 million people died, ninety percent of them children, from water borne and preventable disease.

In Canada, two-thirds of First Nations communities face issues around poor quality drinking water. The inaugural Liberal budget allocates $618M for water on reserves when $6B is needed just to address existing deficiencies. Provincially we can't agree working people deserve a living wage and we argue, implicitly if not explicitly, that the working poor are obligated to subsidize lower prices or higher profits with deprivation. Here in Hamilton we have a crisis emerging around affordable housing but few dollars to address the growing deficit generating real human costs.

That the poor disproportionately carry the burden of the costs of our society is not news. Arguing the poor will continue to carry the burden under a climate changed regime is a call to inaction. I'm sorry. It is also only partly accurate.

Naomi Klein, in her book This Changes Everything, details how some rich believe they can buy their way out of the consequences of climate change. This is the perception that must be addressed.

From the flooding in Calgary and Toronto to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to the California drought to rising sea waters to the new research showing industrial agriculture could face sever negative consequences (http://phys.org/news/2016-03-impact-climate-agriculture-underestimated.html) contributing to higher food costs and shortages, rich economies and peoples are not immune to the impacts of climate change.

If the worst case scenarios for abrupt climate change come true, and we remain on a business as usual trajectory, rich countries will collapse right along with poor countries. There is no wealth immunity. If we can understand that and communicate it, we might have a chance.

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By cyberfarer (registered) | Posted March 29, 2016 at 20:06:05 in reply to Comment 117232

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By Point (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 10:25:26 in reply to Comment 117232

I am sorry but you miss the point. It's about propaganda not reality.

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By cyberfarer (registered) | Posted March 25, 2016 at 21:46:02 in reply to Comment 117244

If you're arguing climate change is propaganda you're either ignorant or delusional.

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