Profile: Angela Bischoff
What makes the Ontario Clean Air Alliance's Outreach Director tick?
Chair Jack Gibbons and Outreach Director Angela Bischoff staff the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. Bischoff came to the attention of the Advocate through sending us a media release and newsletter several years ago. Since then, she and Gibbons have continued to fight to bring the dangers and impracticality of nuclear power to the attention of the public. Bischoff, a committed activist, consented to an interview with the Advocate's editor. The Advocate admires the commitment she and Gibbons demonstrate daily.
Advocate: Who are you? What makes you unique?
Bischoff: I come from a big Catholic family of artists and teachers. I'm a dancer, piano player, bicycle commuter, vegetarian and lover of yoga. I moved from Edmonton to the Big Smoke for work in 1999. I'm supercharged by big cities and wilderness alike. I'm an optimist by nature and laugh a lot. I'm very animated and dance around when I speak.
Advocate: You ride your bicycle everywhere. How and when did your dedication to cycling start? Does cycling in Toronto make you nervous?
Bischoff: I started commuting by bike when I was 24, around the same time that I became a vegetarian. As a dancer and environmentalist, I found cycling was a natural extension. My favourite time of day is when I'm on my 2-wheeled steed. But I do thank heavens every time I arrive safely at my destination.
Advocate: How did you become an environmental activist?
Bischoff: I was always committed to social justice, from my early days in the playground to my university studies in sociology. Then I met my husband, Tooker Gomberg. Together we founded a non-profit group called EcoCity Society, and spent 17 years in several cities advocating for environmental change. While we won many campaigns -- from bike racks on buses, to water and energy conservation programs, to elimination of pesticides -- he lost his life to prescripticide and the earth lost a warrior.
Advocate: What do you see as the most pressing environmental issues?
Bischoff: Climate change and nuclear proliferation. But how can one person take on those giant issues? By riding my bike, going veg, and working with all my might for a renewable, non-nuclear future.
Advocate: What inspires your work for a safe, environmentally sustainable future?
Bischoff: I've travelled extensively through 19 countries, many of them by bike. I've witnessed dire poverty and environmental wasteland. But I've also basked in the exquisite beauty of this blue and green planet, and received great gifts of the heart from people from all walks of life. Working for environmental change is my duty and my great privilege; it's the rent I pay for the gift of life on this splendid earth.
Advocate: You are currently fighting against nuclear power. What forms of renewable energy do you support?
Bischoff: Rather than spending tens of billions of dollars on nuclear extensions and rebuilds, Ontario should transition to 100% renewable energy — water power from Quebec, made-in-Ontario solar, wind, biomass, biogas, advanced geothermal, combined with conservation to reduce demand — these are all low impact gifts from the earth. They are also lower cost, lower risk and lower emission technologies, available today. The whole world is going renewable.
Advocate: How do you and Jack Gibbons keep OCAA afloat?
Bischoff: We get donations from lots of people who support our call for a renewable Ontario, and a few larger donations from foundations. We're a very low budget organization. We rely on volunteers to distribute our leaflets. I dream of having the ad budget that OPG has.
Advocate: Do you see much in the antinuclear fight that makes you smile or even laugh, if somewhat bitterly? For example, pro-nuke people keep a straight face about the safety of nuclear power while distributing KI (anti-radiation) pills to nearby residents. There is a lot about the pro-nuke effort that seems ironic.
Bischoff: What drives me bonkers is how the industry promotes itself as cheap, safe and emissions-free. The industry releases radioactive tritium into the air and water daily. There is no safe dose of radiation — it is a carcinogen, mutagen and teratogen (meaning it crosses the placental barrier to the fetus). The Pickering plant alone sucks in 17 billion litres of lake water daily, killing thousands of fish and releasing the water back to the lake 30 degrees warmer, harming the biology of the lake. If it's so safe, why can't the industry get insurance? Homeowners and private businesses cannot buy insurance against a nuclear catastrophe; every private insurance policy has a "nuclear exclusion" clause that voids all coverage in the event of a radioactive contamination. And since every nuclear project in Ontario's history has gone over budget by, on average, two and a half times, nuclear power is actually very expensive -- that's why Ontarians pay twice as much for our electricity as do Quebeckers and Manitobans, because we get our power from nuclear while they get their power from water. We're still paying down the debt from the nuclear stations built decades ago. And then there's the issue of nuclear waste that even the industry claims needs to be isolated from the environment for a million years — talk about bunting our deadly garbage off to future generations just so we can enjoy a few decades of electricity. Renewables are the answer to solving the climate crisis and reducing the dangers of nuclear proliferation and catastrophic accidents. Green energy is an indicator of cultural maturity. It's time for Ontario to grow up and go green.