Of Coppers, Knippers, and Composters

By Tooker Gomberg, World Citizen, Toronto, Canada.

Fighting for peace, Tooker is deported to Toronto to fight for compost and biogas.

As I enter the jumbo jet, I’m struck by the fact that it’s empty. Just me, being escorted to the very back row by two armed cops. The foreign police are being careful. They don’t want me to make a sudden run for it. My eight days in jail are behind me. I’m being deported.

I have no regrets. I did my piece for peace.

The Dutch call it “knipping”. One “knips” through a chain link fence. Our newfound friends at the Vredes Aktie Kamp, the Peace Action Camp, were master knippers. And my friend Kelly and I decided to join them for the holiday season. Where better to put ‘Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards All’ into practice than at a nuclear weapons base?

We made our way, on Christmas Eve, to the forest named the Atoomvrijstaat, the Nuclear Free State. The peace camp was just across the way from Nato’s Volkel Air Force Base, home to 3,000 pilots and plumbers, and three squadrons of F-16 fighter planes (54 total). And eleven nuclear bombs, under control of the United States.

Around the campfire, we learned about the illegality of nuclear weapons. In 1996, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the Netherlands, determined that the use of nuclear weapons, and the preparation for the use of nuclear weapons, was illegal according to international law.

As well, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the Netherlands and Canada are signatories, clearly requires action to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. Even though the nuclear threat has fallen off the radar screens of people around the world, the threat is probably greater now than it ever has been.

More countries have been joining the nuclear “club”. India and Pakistan both have the A-bomb, making for a tense situation and a catastrophe in waiting. And with the breakup of the Soviet Union, nuclear scientists are finding there is no money to buy food for their families. They’re looking to put their skills to work for whoever will pay them.

With 36,000 nuclear bombs peppered around the planet, and $5.5 trillion spent by the US alone on these weapons of mass destruction, one can’t help but wonder how much pollution and poverty could be eradicated with that kind of cash.

Consider garbage. Returning home to Toronto, my eyes bugged out when I read that the city was going to scrap its restaurant composting pilot program. For a measly $73,656, nutrient-rich food scraps were being magically transformed into biogas and fertilizer, rather than hauled by truck 400 km south to the US and dumped in a hole in the ground.

Mayor Mel had to answer for this madness. After all, recycling was his number one election issue.

“Are you going to the Mayor’s office, or is he coming here?” queried one of three of Toronto’s boys-in-yellow, bike cops dressed in banana-yellow-and-black outfits. They awaited me as I pedaled up to Queen Street’s Fressen restaurant and juice bar. I was there for the news conference organized by SCAM (Stop Considering the Adams Mine and Start Composting and Alternative Measures).

Then their Intelligence antennae inadvertently broadcast their high security concern: “You’re not going to dump it on the carpet or anything, are you?” one asked. I assured him that all we were going to do is deliver some non-toxic compostables to the Mayor’s office. Like a letter, or a petition. Then it would be for the Mayor to decide what to do with it.

Perhaps they were worried about biogas-powered molotov cocktails?

Uninvited, they escorted Jean and me with our basket of food scraps to City Hall, but not before giving us $310 worth of bogus tickets. Were they threatened by the bushel of orange peels and carrot pulp strapped to the back of my bike? Or were they peeved that we sped off, leaving them blocks behind us? Oh, well. Never let the cops ruin the fun of activism. Now I know what the yellow/black combo is: hornets.

Good thing I did not tell him that we are implementing a bicycle-powered compost pickup-and-delivery program. We pick up anywhere, and deliver it to City Hall. You choose if you want it to go to the Mayor, your Councillor, or a particular member of the city administration (head of the Works Department, Barry Gutteridge, is another obvious choice.)

Fact is, commercial and residential composting could reduce our waste stream by more than a third or more in one fell swoop. Heck, we could be exporting the biogas produced – a.k.a. natural gas or methane – to Alberta! And we could cut our city’s total greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 5%!

It’s a simple technology. When Angela and I were in China three years ago, we discovered that tens of millions of Chinese households were producing their own energy needs on a small-scale, household level. Each household (2 adults, one child, three pigs) would generate – from its kitchen scraps, and people and pig poop – all the fuel for their cooking, hot water, and lighting, in their own back yards. And still have fertilizer for their farms.

Then there’s the 12 biogas-powered buses in Trollhättan, Norway. These buses run on a mixture of the residents’ own sewage, and wastes from a nearby fish processing factory.

But it’s happening right here too, just north of Toronto, in Newmarket, where Canada Composting Inc. has a large operation turning food scraps into fuel. This is where Toronto’s pilot composting program’s food scraps were being shipped before that was scrapped by the city’s shortsighted administration.

The only way to keep the Adam’s Mine monster from resurfacing is to invest in the alternatives – with biogas and composting at the top of the heap. And if you say we don’t have money for it, just make your choice: more nuclear arms, or clean energy, compost for the earth, and local jobs. I’ll knip to that.