The Dark Green City

Photo by Nicolas Haro

Smart urban technology has the potential to transform our cities — but watch out for unintended consequences.

What would cities look like if they were built from scratch, from the internet up? This is the question being asked by Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. What’s emerging from this thought experiment is a new approach to city-building, one that sees urban districts as platforms for testing and refining technologies that improve quality of life. Sidewalk Labs’ mission, it claims, is not to create a city of the future, but to create the future of cities. Continue reading

Don’t talk

Re Saudi, Canadian Meeting Draws Criticism (Nov. 3): It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia is a pariah state. It practices institutional apartheid (against women and non-Muslims). It violently suppresses not only free speech but also free thought; in 2014, it brought in laws that equate “atheist thought” with terrorism, which is punishable by death.

For Canadian officials to have met with a Saudi state-backed “human rights” commission on Parliament Hill, and to have flown the Saudi flag, is an affront to liberal values.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The Globe & Mail.

Questions of great ape personhood

recent op-ed in The Globe & Mail discussed the current ethical implications and debate over the possibility of extending the status of personhood to non-human primates. In response, a letter writer expressed doubt that it should be extended because “they don’t possess rule-structured language” and “without that, we can’t know that they exercise rationality, understanding and self-awareness like we do.”

But is this true? Continue reading

Religious watchdog

Re: It’s About Rights, Not Politics

In her attempt to persuade readers that Canada’s new Office of Religious Freedom is a much-needed institution, Lorna Dueck asks us to “count the dozens of warring conflicts on our planet and try to find one where religion isn’t complicit or at least a factor.” She then presents accounts of human-rights abuses committed by people of a particular religious persuasion against others with opposing beliefs.

Herein lies the paradox: Yes, we should be campaigning for protection of free thought and human rights worldwide; but the very belief systems that this office seeks to protect are often the source of these human-rights abuses in the first place. As political satirist Jon Stewart once said: “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”

Note: This appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Globe & Mail.

Blasphemy is a victimless crime

The Globe & Mail’s editorial called on Canada “to speak out against the archaic blasphemy laws in other countries”. Views of this kind need to be expressed in public more often, especially considering the fact that some countries and groups like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, unhappy with the fact that their inane anti-blasphemy laws don’t extend beyond their borders, have long been lobbying the UN to adopt a resolution that would prohibit any criticism of religion anywhere in the world. For the sake of free speech (and free thought), countries like Canada need to prevent this from happening. After all, blasphemy is a victimless crime.

#tweetcrime

Re: Saudi Deported Home To Face Fallout Over Mohammed Tweets

I hope this case will help spur those of us in more enlightened societies to publicly and relentlessly denounce any state that executes people for the “crime” of apostasy. Forget about “thoughtcrime” in 1984 – “tweetcrime” in 2012 must have George Orwell rolling in his grave.

Note: This appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Globe & Mail.

When in Ecuador …

Re: What If Mother Nature Had Rights? She Does in Ecuador

David Suzuki is right: Ecuador and Bolivia may not have all the answers, but at least their laws are beginning to take into account the intrinsic value of the natural systems within their borders and their right to exist and flourish.

The anthropocentric view of the world, one that posits that nature is merely a repository of resources waiting to be exploited for short-term economic gain, is a dangerous illusion. It will take a lot to break free from this illusion, especially when most government and industry leaders have successfully deceived us (and themselves) into believing that our well-being depends on consuming more and more “stuff.”

After all, as Kenneth Boulding, an adviser to John Kennedy, said almost 50 years ago, “anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physically finite planet is either mad, or an economist.”

Note: This appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Globe & Mail.