Was Malthus right?

Was Malthus right when he said the world would eventually be too populated to feed itself, asked columnist Lynda Hurst, in the Toronto Star April 12. Today’s crisis is even worse because biofuels, a factor unanticipated in the mid-’70s, has been added to the mix, says David Bell, professor emeritus in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies.

"A false environmental sensibility has led to a push on biofuel production and corn is the product of choice," he says. "There’s been a significant diversion of crops away from food use." The corn needed to produce ethanol fuel has to be grown somewhere and when land available for food farming is converted, food prices are pushed up: "That’s what’s tripped off the food riots this time." And the environmental benefits of corn fuel, he scathingly adds, are "completely illusory."

Critics have continually insisted that Malthus was too pessimistic. Humans would always find alternatives to resources that have been exhausted, they say, develop new technologies to improve crop yield. But how far, asks Bell, can substitution go? After having dismissed Malthus, people are starting to talk about him again, he says. "His warning of a crash as a possible outcome may not be that far wrong. Ultimately, more mouths to feed is going to exacerbate political pressures. There will be more failed societies. We’re a selfish species," says Bell. "But we’re going to have to do things differently."

A pastor’s progress

For all the promise in the Jane-Finch area that one success story demonstrates, there is the painful reality visited on other young sons, wrote the National Post April 12. "Three of our kids were shot in a three-week time frame," says York alumnus Olu Jegede ( BSc ’95), youth pastor at Christian Centre Church on Jane Street.

"If you see that your neighbour is not going to school or is not getting tutored or needs help, then help him," Jegede says of the church’s philosophy. "And that’s what we try to do on a micro level."

The fruits of their labour were on display one recent Thursday, as the centre bustled with the after-school energy of children. Some boys, and a few girls, chased a basketball up and down the gym at neighbouring Brookview Middle School under the watchful eye of referee and York student Johnathan Knight, a community liaison worker the church was able to hire to run its outreach programs.

Back at the church, York student Anne Donalds encouraged a boisterous group of teenage girls with loud voices and shy glances to focus on the task at hand – finishing their homework. "I know as long as I’m at York University, I’ll be helping out here," says the 19-year-old from the Cayman Islands.

Cultivating good mentors is the key to success, says Jegede, who moved as a teenager from Nigeria to Canada, where his father worked as a psychiatrist at the Sarnia General Hospital. He joined the Pentecostal congregation at Christian Centre Church while studying computer science at York, and eventually left a high-paying job to become its full-time youth pastor.

I would melt all the guns, says Osgoode professor

Alan Young , a criminal-law expert at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, doesn’t like handguns, wrote The Globe and Mail April 12. "If I was made king for a day, I would melt all the guns," he says. Nevertheless, he scoffs at the notion that a ban is the answer for Toronto. First, he says we can’t ignore the fact that we have a legal market across the border, in a country where guns are manufactured in huge numbers. Those guns will come on to the black market and replace the guns taken away by the ban, he says.

He also says Canada’s gun laws are already strict. "It’s very difficult to be able to legally possess any type of firearm that you can carry on your person without restriction. Most firearms are prohibited and the ones…that are only restricted have some very serious restrictions on the acquisition, the distribution and the use."  

Converting God’s people

A full-page advertisement in The New York Times urging evangelicals to convert Jews has stirred up an old controversy about whether it is right to evangelize a group that has suffered so much under the weight of historical Christian anti-Semitism , wrote the National Post April 12 .

Barrie Wilson, a professor at York University and biblical scholar, said the ad smacks of an "absolutist spirituality" that says, "My religion and my religion alone is the one true religion. [The ad is] really saying that Judaism has no right to exist, and that basically all Jews should become Christians. Scholars call this the attitude of supersessionism – the view that Christianity has [replaced] Judaism."

Wilson offers a distinct perspective because he was raised in a religious Anglican home but became a Jew. He believes Jesus was a great Jewish prophet, but not divine, and that Jesus had no intention of creating a new religion. His ideas are laid out in his just published book, How Jesus Became Christian. "Judaism has a right to exist. And when you say that Judaism has no right to exist it’s very close to saying Jews have no right to exist," Wilson says.

The rise of the Muslim ghetto

The four poorest of all ethno-racial groups, with more than 50 per cent of their members living below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off, were Somalis, Afghans, Ethiopians and Bangladeshi populations – all from predominately Muslim countries, wrote the Toronto Star April 12, in a featured story on the rise of the Muslim ghetto. At least 30 per cent of Pakistanis and West Asians also qualified as poor, according to a study done by the Institute for Social Research at York University in 2006, which looked at the demographic and social profiles of ethno-racial groups in the city.

Mayor’s trade mission to China includes a visit with York alumni

Toronto Mayor David Miller leaves today on a trade mission to China, despite calls from the local Tibetan community to cancel the trip in light of violent protests there leading up to the Summer Olympics, wrote the Toronto Star April 12. First stop Monday will be Beijing, where the Toronto mayor is to meet municipal officials, business leaders and York University alumni.

Empty school mocks Toronto’s green pledges

I was recently at the Boyne River Natural Science School with Chuck Hopkins, its first principal, now a professor in York University’s Faculty of Education, wrote Cameron Smith in a story about the mothballed facility in the Toronto Star April 12. It was wrenching to watch him stroll through the main building, remembering the past, pained by the present. "What a waste," he then muttered. "I don’t care what children come here, whether they’re from Toronto or not. We need to make use of this fabulous facility."

Hopkins has had a storied career in education. In the 1960s, he was the first principal at the Toronto Island Natural Science School. Then, from 1972 to 1984, he was principal at the Boyne. He retired from the board as a superintendent of curriculum. Now he teaches at York University where he holds the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Teacher Education.

"It took five years to get funding (for the Boyne)," he said. "We bought and built it for half the estimated cost." The land, 182 hectares in the Niagara Escarpment, an hour’s drive northwest from Toronto, cost $67,000 in 1967. The buildings cost $1.1 million.

York staffer’s daughter ‘Pinky’ wins Loran Award

Pinky Langat got her unusual name from her father, York staff member Jackson Langat, who hadn’t decided what to name his first daughter before her birth, wrote the Guelph Mercury April 12. When she arrived and he held her for the first time, he was struck by how pink she was. So Jackson Langat decided that "Pinky" made the perfect handle.

Parents regularly ask Pinky’s father, Jackson, for the secret to raising a successful child. "Actually, I don’t think we did anything special," he says. "We just let her do what she wanted. We encouraged her."

Pinky’s recent awards, including the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation’s Loran Award, are the culmination of years of strong work ethic, her proud father says. She takes her academic inclination from him, who was once a scholarship-winning student himself and is now a lab coordinator in York University’s Geography Department, in the Faculty of Arts. Pinky gets her community involvement from her mother, a volunteer and homemaker. "It came out to be a good mixture," says a smiling dad.

York student sings in first Young Asian Canadian Singing Competition

The day’s most unique performance at the first-ever Young Asian Canadian Singing Competition belonged to Susan "Suyi" Hua, who was the only contestant to not only sing in Chinese but also have her boyfriend accompany her with a beat box, wrote The Toronto Sun April 13.

"My parents say the first thing I ever did was sing Chinese music," laughed the 20-year-old York University student. "Being Chinese, everyone owns a karaoke machine at home. It’s a family thing. That’s how we bond – we sing karaoke."

While her fellow contestants sang everything from Celine Dion to Mariah Carey, Hua chose to be different. "I could sing an English song, sure, but this is all about promoting diversity so I sang in Chinese."

"Asian music is more smooth and soulful," she explained. "I don’t think you always have to scream your lungs out to show you’re a good singer."

Canada moving backwards, grad student finds

Lily Riahi , a 27-year-old master’s student in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spent last week at a conference in Berlin working with Hermann Scheer, president of the World Council for Renewable Energy, as his intern, wrote the Toronto Star April 14 in a story about the discovery of oil in the Bakken Formation in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, and North Dakota. She’s also working on her thesis: cultural barriers to renewable energy adoption.

She says it was tough being a Canadian at the conference, aimed at creating a new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a new global body that will exist to promote and study renewable energy, without her own government there. "You see all these other countries moving ahead, everybody excited, interested, supportive, and you have Canada missing from the talks," says Riahi. "Even the US had an observer. It’s very embarrassing, and makes me feel Canada is moving backwards instead of forward."