PhD researcher reveals truth behind deforestation in Laos

A new false solution has recently emerged, duly greenwashed in order to create confusion – and greater business opportunities, wrote the World Rainforest Movement in an article published by Australia’s Nov. 24. The story included a case study of a REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) project in Laos by one of the world’s largest paper companies, Oji Paper.

Between 2004 and 2006, said the article, Keith Barney (MES ’02), a York PhD candidate in geography and a member of the York Centre for Asian Research, carried out a study in the village of Ban Pak Veng in Hinboun District, Laos. Barney described the village as suffering a “double displacement effect”, the first caused by being downstream of the recently constructed Theun Hinboun Power Company (THPC) dam and the second by Oji’s plantations. “Through the land reform program,” Barney writes, “village degraded forests, which are crucial for village food security and swidden production, have been zoned for industrial plantation production and bulldozed.”

In 2006, Oji commissioned the Global Environment Centre Foundation to carry out a feasibility study to investigate how Oji could gain carbon credits through the clean development mechanism (CDM). The report described villagers as carrying out “illegal slash-and-burn (or swidden) farming,” and noted that they have “no other means to secure food.”

As Barney pointed out, the report omitted to mention that villagers in Ban Pak Veng were “undertaking swidden farming not out of timeless tradition, but largely due to the loss of access to lowland paddy from the THPC hydro power project.”

Barney added that the CDM feasibility study “ignores at least 20 years of research in Laos on the importance of upland farming and swidden-based, non-timber forest products in the rural economy.” Barney documented in detail the complex relationship the villagers have with their land and forests and noted that the state officials, who are responsible for producing the maps for the land reform program, “do not use anything like the same terms for landscape and forests as villagers do.”

York to meet with Rabbi Hoch

Canadian universities have become “hotbeds of anti-Israel activity” where Jewish students face intimidation, a Toronto MP told the House of Commons on Tuesday, wrote the National Post Nov. 23.

Joe Volpe – whose Toronto riding is home to the rabbi at the centre of a public row with York University – said “anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated, especially under the cloak of free speech.” The Liberal MP condemned the University, which has since requested a meeting with the rabbi, for what he called a “dreadful way to deal with those who oppose hatred.”

Alex Bilyk, a York University spokesperson, said “a member of Parliament is entitled to their opinion – that’s their entitlement under free speech.” Last week, he told the National Post that the school “does not tolerate any racism or anti-Semitism on our campus.”

Bilyk said the University has reached out to Rabbi Ahron Hoch since it sent a Nov. 15 letter [requesting he cease and desist making damaging comments about York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri], which was signed by the school’s general counsel. “We’re looking at setting up a meeting whereby we can have a discussion,” he said. “We want to work with all community members to ensure that they understand our position on free speech and academic freedom.”

Rabbi Hoch, of the Dan Family Village Shul, said he is “very glad the University wants to meet,” and said he wants to “ensure a positive, solution-oriented atmosphere.”

Bilyk said the University “welcomes” Rabbi Hoch’s public clarification that “he did not mean to imply that Dr. Shoukri was anti-Semitic.”

The cats really are fat

The problem of obesity isn’t confined to just humans. A new study finds increased rates of obesity in mammals ranging from feral rats and mice to domestic pets and laboratory primates, reported Nov. 23.

“It just highlights how little we understand about what’s happening in terms of why we see this rise in body weight in our population,” said Jennifer Kuk, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, who was not involved in the research.

“Perhaps this problem isn’t as simple as just energy intake and energy expenditure, which has been the prevailing message over the last 10 years.”

While it’s not surprising that pets should be getting fatter along with their owners, or even that rats might be getting bigger by eating calorie-rich human garbage, Kuk said, the increase in body weight in controlled lab animals is unexpected.

Child poverty rate on the rise in Ontario

After growing up in poverty and spending a decade cycling through “dead-end training” and low-wage jobs, Toronto single mother Teisha James is hoping to make a better life for her daughters Sharieff, 13, and Cush, 2, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 24 in a story about an increase in child poverty rates.

“I am proof that these programs don’t help people escape poverty,” says James, who struggles to survive on about $1,300 a month in welfare and child benefits.

The determined 30-year-old, who has just completed a two-year program to help single mothers access postsecondary education, has set her sights on a social work degree from York University.

But welfare isn’t available to university or college students. And James is reluctant to take out student loans she fears she may never be able to repay. “The system should encourage people to fulfill their dreams,” she says. “But instead it traps us in dead-end, low-wage jobs.”

Chemistry student plans to run a marathon to help special kids

York student Isaac (Zac) Maresky has been committed to helping people with disabilities for several years now, and his current initiative is participating in the Miami Marathon this January in support of The Hebrew Academy for Special Children, wrote the Jewish Tribune Nov. 24.

Maresky, a third-year chemistry student at York University, who holds a part-time job at RBC Securities and volunteers as head coach of the Netivot Panthers basketball team, will be flying to Miami to join the marathon on Jan. 30, and he will dedicate his run to his cousin who is undergoing serious medical treatment.

On air

  • David Dewitt, York political science professor and associate vice-president research, social sciences & humanities, spoke about the recent confrontation between North and South Korea, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” Nov. 23.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Ireland’s request for international financial aid, on BNN-TV Nov. 23.
  • Jose Etcheverry, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about rising hydro rates, on Sun TV’s Canoe Live Nov. 23.