Tag Archives: climate change

Heading for the hot seat of global warming

 

Beyond the headland, off to meet the horizon

It’s been four years since the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted the end of the world. In that interval, the doom-saying industry has grown to meet the rising demands of the self-flagellating, environmentally righteous among us. Still, no one does moral masochism better than the IPCC.

In a fat, new report, released Monday, the Nobel prize-winning body effectively declared that unless world leaders start taking global warming seriously, the rest of us can stick our heads between our legs and kiss our derrieres goodbye. In fact, we may already be too late.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” the report says. “Glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide. . .Climate change is causing permafrost warming and thawing in high-latitude and high-elevation regions. . .Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions 

What’s more, “while only a few recent species extinctions have been attributed as yet to climate change, natural global climate change at rates slower than current anthropogenic climate change caused significant ecosystem shifts and species extinctions during the past millions of years.”

Said IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri on Monday: “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

Added report co-author Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University in Bangladesh: “Things are worse than we had predicted (in the first report issued in 2007). . .We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated.”

Indeed, observed Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, another of the report’s authors, in an interview with The Associated Press, “We’re all sitting ducks.”

Perhaps a better metaphor is: ostriches with our heads in the sand. It certainly seemed that way during Question Period this week when Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq staunchly defended her government’s record. “Since 2006 we have invested more than $10 billion in green infrastructure, energy efficiency, adaption, clean technology, and cleaner fuels,” she said.

It’s also true, however, that since 2006, the federal government has consistently failed to meet its greenhouse gas reduction objectives. (In fact, it hasn’t even come close). Today, Ottawa couldn’t care less about the environmental impact of new oil sands projects, just as long as it gets enough pipe built to transport the black gold to all points on the map 

“Government has not met key commitments, deadlines and obligations to protect Canada’s wildlife and natural spaces,” Neil Maxwell, interim commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, declared last November.

“(There is a) wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to do and what it is achieving. . .the approval processes currently under way for large oil and gas pipelines in North America have shown that widespread acceptance of resource development depends, in part, on due consideration for protecting nature,” he said, adding,“Our trading partners see Canada as a steward of globally significant resources. Canada’s success as a trading nation depends on continued leadership in meeting international expectations for environmental protection.”

That, in fact, may be wishful thinking. If Stephen Harper evinces any concern for what his trading partners expect of him on the environmental front, it was’t readily evident last week. 

Speaking to a business crowd in Germany, he was asked for his opinion about that country’s decision to wean itself from fossil fuels and nuclear energy, in favour of renewables, such as wind and solar. Thusly replied our estimable prime minister, off-handedly, if not exactly derisively: “So this is a brave new world you’re attempting? We wish you well with it.”

Actually, he doesn’t. Over the past eight years, this country’s political establishment and accompanying officialdom have slipped backwards in all fields that require evidence and critical thinking to penetrate. Today, it seems, the only thing our leadership class respects more than oil and gas is its own high opinion of itself.  

Clearly, environmental doom-saying annoys those who are vested in regressive policies that contribute to our planet’s woes, but the science of global warming is irrefutable.

And the IPCC’s moral masochism is nothing compared with the real McCoy if we don’t start changing our minds before the climate changes them for us.

 

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Snow-bound by the weather gods

 

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“Across Prince Edward Island, all public and private school systems, along with colleges and universities, shut down in the midst of a howling snowstorm,” The Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar helpfully reports. 

Hello, Canadian spring. You seem awfully familiar to me. Have you, by any chance, met Canadian winter? Oh yes, Canadian winter and I go way back. 

Friends of mine from England are visiting. Months ago, when they began planning for this trip – which would begin in Halifax, wend through the Maritimes en route to central Canada and points west of the American prairies – they asked me what sort of outerwear would be suitable for the Maritimes at the end of March.

I said something like, “Well, that sort of depends on the year, but you can be pretty safe with a sweater and sturdy raincoat, maybe some rubber boots.” 

Friends of mine from England are no longer speaking to me. Fortunately for what’s left of our relationship, they’re staying in a hotel. Besides, it’s not as if they can get out my front door any time soon. 

But, really, how was I supposed to know? The weather app on my iPhone is less than useless. Only four days ago, it seems, meteorologists were calmly predicting steadily improving, springlike weather. It was just possible to imagine the crocuses, narcissuses and tulips peaking up from the good earth. And then. . .

“Across a large swath of Atlantic Canada, people who ventured outside Wednesday felt the cold sting of a massive spring blizzard that brought much of the region to a standstill,” The National Post reported on Wednesday. “Most schools and government offices were closed in the Maritimes, flights were cancelled and traffic along some of the busiest streets and highways was virtually non-existent amid knee-high drifts. Even the Confederation Bridge to P.E.I. was temporarily closed as powerful gusts howled across the Northumberland Strait.”

Isn’t it marvelous that when the central Canadian media report on something as verifiable and straightforward a storm they still manage to get the facts about our region wrong? Note to NP editors: It doesn’t stake Snowmaggedon 2014 to close the Confederation Bridge; sometimes a light breeze and a dash of sea fog will do the trick.

But I digress.

The experts are divided on what all of this actually means. Of course, that’s what experts do; they become divided at the drop of mukluk. 

Some think the unusually cold, unusually long and unusually snowy winter this year is proof positive of global warming’s effect on the climate (extreme events and seasons – a product of increasing amounts of energy in the atmosphere – are what the models predict). “Scientists call it Santa’s revenge,” The Globe and Mail reported in February. “It’s the theory that persistent weather patterns at the mid-latitudes – like this winter’s tediously long-lasting polar vortex or California’s severe drought – are a direct consequence of climate change heating up the Arctic.”

Others think the persistently inclement weather doesn’t mean a thing. Or, at least, not yet. According to to Scientific American piece in 2009, “‘You can’t tell much about the climate or where it’s headed by focusing on a particularly frigid day, or season, or year, even,’ writes Eoin O’Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor. ‘It’s all in the long-term trends,’ concurs Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.”

Still others have thrown up their hands, turned off their cell phones and headed south for the remainder of whatever season we in the Great White North have decided to call this.  

In fact, the only point on which everyone in the business of forecasting the weather seems to agree is that they all got it horribly, embarrassingly wrong. (Everyone, that is, except the decidedly unscientific Farmer’s Almanac).

“Not one of our better forecasts,” Mike Halpert, the acting director of the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, told Bloomberg Businessweek last month. 

The piece continues: “The center grades itself on what it calls the Heidke skill score, which ranges from 100 (perfection) to -50 (monkeys throwing darts would have done better). October’s forecast for the three-month period of November through January came in at -22.”

On the other hand, unpredictable weather generates its own, comforting precedents. 

Here’s the rest of that Weather Trivia Calendar report: “Federal and provincial offices also closed, including Canada Post mail delivery, and seniors couldn’t get Meals on Wheels.”

In fact, that was March 27, exactly two years ago. 

Funny how it seems like only yesterday.

 

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If it’s flooding or frozen, it must be March

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We don’t talk about it, not really, at any rate; for to talk about it would hex us forever.

Oh, sure, we chat discursively around the subject. We say things like, “Oh well, what are you going to do?” and “Geez, we weren’t expecting this” and “Maybe, it isn’t as bad as we think.”

No, it’s not the frightening situation in the Ukraine and the threat of reigniting the Cold War with Russia. It’s not the slightly less frightening situation in Ottawa and the threat of John Baird and/or Jason Kenney replacing the off-message (which means sensible and well-meaning) Jim Flaherty as finance minister just in time for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s next appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

It’s none of these or other legitimate, though contrived, concerns that has us trembling in our mukluks. It is, however, a bug-a-bear that’s distinctly, uniquely Canadian at this time of the year. It’s (gasp!) the weather.

As to this – to quote a phrase in a book I once loved to read when the snow was as high as an elephant’s arse – what in the blue-blazes and billions of blue blistering boiled and barbecued barnacles is going on around here? (Apologies to Captain Archibald Haddock of “Tintin” fame).

There, now: I’m talking about it. Bad luck be-damned. It’s March 6, and it’s time for an earnest intervention with Planet Earth. I’ll start. Dear Gaia, are you kidding me?

I mean, I get that you’re peeved about all the junk we’ve been pouring into the atmosphere. But that’s supposed to warm things up a might. What’s with the walk-in freezer two weeks before the official start of spring?

Still, to a weather junkie, it’s all perfectly explicable.

“The latest public enemy No. 1 comes complete with an ominous, super-villain name and a tendency to waver drunkenly around the Northern Hemisphere, leaking great, vast gasps of frigid Arctic air into normally more temperate latitudes,” writes Larry O’Hanlon in Discovery magazine’s online edition. He is, of course, referring to the polar vortex which, he acknowledges has “always been there, but most of the time it minds its own business and serves as a wall of wind to hold wintry Arctic air where it belongs.”

Not this winter. This winter it has been, quite literally, all over the map. Hence the pronounced and prolonged cold. There’s even some suggestion that the active vortex is linked to – if not a direct result of – global warming.

“It may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. (and Canada) even more likely,” Bryan Walsh writes in Time Magazine’s online edition. “Usually the fast winds in the vortex – which can top 100 mph (161 k/h) – keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it.”

Essentially, warmer than normal air sinking from the stratosphere upsets the vortex’s flow and sends it madly off in all directions.

Good science is always a palliative for high anxiety, but history also provides a much-needed cold comfort. My trusty Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar 2014 proves that, for we citizens of the Great White North, March truly is, and always has been, the cruelest month.

March 5, 1900: “Snows whipped into monstrous drifts blocked trains near Brantford, ON. Two young passengers volunteered to get food at a nearby town. When they returned the hungry crowd began to devour everything in sight. After the meal, cigars were indulged and in and around 12 o’clock all retired to any spot providing comfort. Two men froze their ears walking 1 kilometer from one express train to another.”

Then, of course, only last year on March 20, the first day of spring, a storm “dumped 19 cm of snow on Moncton, NB, and nearly 40 cm of snow in Fredericton. The storm closed schools, caused power outage, and shut down offices.”

All of which confirms, if nothing else, that if it seems that the weather can’t get any weirder, it only seems that way.

The bottom line: There’s no use in complaining. Indeed, it’s best not to talk at all. With these temperatures, why waste energy?

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Counting down the days to the Great Transformation

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The world as we know it has been coming to end for years now. We haven’t had to look far to perceive the portents of impending doom: in the entrails of Wall Street corpses; in the tea leaves of governments that no longer work; in the uromancy that predicts widening income gaps between the rich and the rest.

We just haven’t been able to reliably nail down a year for the Great Transformation. Until now.

A researcher at the University of Hawaii, who used to work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., thinks he knows. The point of no return will arrive. . .wait for it. . .in 2047. . .give or take.

Camillo Mora, who studies numbers for a living, tells the Globe and Mail’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk that, overall, this is the year in which climate change will become a permanent feature of life on Earth. . .more or less.

According to the article, “The turning point arrives. . .as a worldwide average, if fossil fuel consumption continues unabated; as late as 2069 if carbon emissions are curbed. City by city, the numbers are a bit more revealing. In Montreal, for example, the new normal will arrive in 2046, and for Vancouver not until 2056. But the real spotlight of Dr. Mora’s study is the tropics, where profound changes could be entrenched in little more than a decade.”

As the good doctor says, “Today, when people talk about climate change, the images that come to mind are melting ice and polar bears. People might infer from this that the tropics will be less affected.”

People would be wrong.

But, then, there’s nothing new about that.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that economic globalization would insert several chickens in pots from Beijing to Kalamazoo – that gross domestic products around the world would rise like juggernauts, heedless of any and all counterforces they may encounter.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that democratically elected governments served the best, common interests of the majority of voters – that reason and circumspection would effectively quell fanatical and reactionary figures intent on reshaping the public sphere in their own ideologically pinched and impoverished image.

Now comes word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, generally speaking, the world’s got itself in an economic ringer – one from which it is not likely to emerge any time soon. Welcome to the age of slow growth.

“Emerging economies have cooled off,” an item in The New York Times reveals. “Europe remains in the doldrums. The United States is facing fiscal uncertainty, and its powerful central bank is contemplating easing up on its extraordinary stimulus efforts, with potentially global ramifications.”

As things stand, the IMF “foresees the world economy increasing by about 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2014. That is down from 5.4 per cent in 2007, before the global recession hit.”

If its predictions pan out, a few will be spared, thanks to their impenetrable cocoons of wealth and privilege. But most can expect lower standards of living, fewer good jobs, higher costs and increasing poverty and homelessness.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., legislators are twiddling their thumbs.

“The federal government shutdown and looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling have merged into one major problem on Capitol Hill, though neither issue has a resolution in sight as the government shutdown heads into its second week,” CBS News reports. “Democrats and Republicans (have) dug further into their respective positions: Republicans are calling on Democrats to negotiate over a short-term spending bill and a debt-ceiling increase, and President Obama says he is ready to negotiate over any topic – once the Republicans pass legislation to re-open the government and raise the U.S. borrowing limit without any conditions.”

All of which prompted Laurence Booth of the University of Toronto’s esteemed Rotman School of Management to tell the Toronto Star, “Any sane person obviously believes the U.S. isn’t going to default. That would cause an earthquake in financial markets around the globe.”

Of course, once upon a time, any sane person obviously believed that climate change could very well spell the end of the world – at least, as we know it.

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Counting down the days to the Great Transformation

DSC_0074

The world as we know it has been coming to end for years now. We haven’t had to look far to perceive the portents of impending doom: in the entrails of Wall Street corpses; in the tea leaves of governments that no longer work; in the uromancy that predicts widening income gaps between the rich and the rest.

We just haven’t been able to reliably nail down a year for the Great Transformation. Until now.

A researcher at the University of Hawaii, who used to work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., thinks he knows. The point of no return will arrive. . .wait for it. . .in 2047. . .give or take.

Camillo Mora, who studies numbers for a living, tells the Globe and Mail’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk that, overall, this is the year in which climate change will become a permanent feature of life on Earth. . .more or less.

According to the article, “The turning point arrives. . .as a worldwide average, if fossil fuel consumption continues unabated; as late as 2069 if carbon emissions are curbed. City by city, the numbers are a bit more revealing. In Montreal, for example, the new normal will arrive in 2046, and for Vancouver not until 2056. But the real spotlight of Dr. Mora’s study is the tropics, where profound changes could be entrenched in little more than a decade.”

As the good doctor says, “Today, when people talk about climate change, the images that come to mind are melting ice and polar bears. People might infer from this that the tropics will be less affected.”

People would be wrong.

But, then, there’s nothing new about that.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that economic globalization would insert several chickens in pots from Beijing to Kalamazoo – that gross domestic products around the world would rise like juggernauts, heedless of any and all counterforces they may encounter.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that democratically elected governments served the best, common interests of the majority of voters – that reason and circumspection would effectively quell fanatical and reactionary figures intent on reshaping the public sphere in their own ideologically pinched and impoverished image.

Now comes word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, generally speaking, the world’s got itself in an economic ringer – one from which it is not likely to emerge any time soon. Welcome to the age of slow growth.

“Emerging economies have cooled off,” an item in The New York Times reveals. “Europe remains in the doldrums. The United States is facing fiscal uncertainty, and its powerful central bank is contemplating easing up on its extraordinary stimulus efforts, with potentially global ramifications.”

As things stand, the IMF “foresees the world economy increasing by about 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2014. That is down from 5.4 per cent in 2007, before the global recession hit.”

If its predictions pan out, a few will be spared, thanks to their impenetrable cocoons of wealth and privilege. But most can expect lower standards of living, fewer good jobs, higher costs and increasing poverty and homelessness.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., legislators are twiddling their thumbs.

“The federal government shutdown and looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling have merged into one major problem on Capitol Hill, though neither issue has a resolution in sight as the government shutdown heads into its second week,” CBS News reports. “Democrats and Republicans (have) dug further into their respective positions: Republicans are calling on Democrats to negotiate over a short-term spending bill and a debt-ceiling increase, and President Obama says he is ready to negotiate over any topic – once the Republicans pass legislation to re-open the government and raise the U.S. borrowing limit without any conditions.”

All of which prompted Laurence Booth of the University of Toronto’s esteemed Rotman School of Management to tell the Toronto Star, “Any sane person obviously believes the U.S. isn’t going to default. That would cause an earthquake in financial markets around the globe.”

Of course, once upon a time, any sane person obviously believed that climate change could very well spell the end of the world – at least, as we know it.

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Climate science’s vaporous certainties

Ooops! Are my windmills suddenly blowing hot air?

Ooops! Are my windmills suddenly blowing hot air?

 

Mother Nature abhors a pigeon hole. Just when we think we’ve labelled and tagged her and put her to bed for the night, she flies the coop, leaving us with the uneasy feeling that when it comes to the vagaries of creation we don’t actually know as much as we thought we did.

That proposition must be dawning in the minds of several scientists these days as they prepare to receive the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth report on global warming. Conventional wisdom would expect the document to confirm the inexorable, upward rise of global temperature as a result, in large part, to manmade sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Conventional wisdom would be wrong.

Instead, according to information leaked to the world’s media, the report will likely observe that the planet’s average surface temperature has held pretty much steadily since the turn of the century and that increases in the near-to-medium-term will probably not be as dramatic as was once predicted back in 2007, when Al Gore and co. snagged a Nobel Peace Prize for playing the environment’s Cassandra.

It is, to say the least, an inconvenient truth. Or, as IPCC member Shang-Ping Xie, a California-based oceanographer, told the Los Angeles Times last week, “It’s contentious. The stakes have been raised by various people, especially the skeptics.”

So, what went wrong? The broad consensus is: Nobody knows.

Some criticize the IPCC for its bloody-minded swagger over the past several years. Judith Curry, a Georgia Institute of Technology climatologist – who was herself a panel assessor – told the LA Times, “All other things being equal, adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will have a warming effect on the planet. However, all things are never equal, and what we are seeing is natural climate variability dominating over human impact.”

Others insist that anthropogenic warming is still extant. It’s just on vacation. Meanwhile, researchers, including Xie, are floating a theory that the Pacific Ocean – the world’s largest body of water – has been sucking the heat out of the atmosphere and storing it presumably until such time as it belches it back out.

Evidence for this phenomenon apparently shows up in average sea levels, which are continuing to rise. Quoting one climate scientist, the LA Times writes that this proves  “that greenhouse gases are continuing to heat the planet. . .(because). . .as ocean water warms, it expands and drives sea levels higher.”

Still, if we can’t reliably predict how the climate will behave, we have no such difficulty anticipating the opprobrium among the world’s chattering skeptics. A virtual tidal wave of “I-told-you-so” now threatens to drown what remains of the science.

“Too many people have too much invested in perpetuating this fiction,” Cal Thomas of the Tribune Content Agency writes, without actually commenting on the latest IPCC report. “Billions of dollars and other currencies have been diverted into ‘green’ projects in a Chicken Little attempt to stop the sky from falling. The BBC reports it as fact in virtually every story it does on the environment. Ditto the American media. Most media ignore evidence that counters climate change proponents.

“Former Vice President Al Gore has made a personal fortune promoting the cult of global warming, a cult being partially defined as a belief system that ignores proof contrary to its beliefs. Perhaps the climate change counter-revolutionaries should adopt the yo-yo as their symbol and send Gore and his apostles a box of them.”

The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente comments more circumspectly: “When it comes to the intricacies of climate change, the science is notoriously unsettled. the only consensus that exists is the well-established fact that human activity is contributing to global warming. Beyond that, it’s all hypothesis and speculation.”

What’s more, there’s now less certainty in research circles about the deleterious effects of climate change. Some experts (though, not many) are beginning to suggest that slightly milder temperatures might actually benefit societies, especially those north of the equator.

Again, though, who’s to say?

About the only certain comfort the world’s climatologists can take from all of this is that the renewed uncertainty about the weather is not born of inexpert opinion.

They, the scientists themselves, observe nature’s fickle response to the incontrovertible facts they thought they knew.

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The mysteries of life on Earth abound

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Nietzsche was wrong. God is not dead. But he is. . .well, uninteresting.

Or that’s what the latest issue of The Atlantic reports in a wee item entitled, “We’ve figured Out the Universe – and It’s Boring.” The magazine’s Rebecca J. Rosen, a senior associate editor, quotes several scientists suffering from mild depression, a not-yet-diagnosed malady I’ll call “post-Higgs boson syndrome.”

Having borne witness, last year, to the discovery of the particle that was supposed to explain everything (and, in fact, does, just as predicted) British mathematician Stephen Wolfram complained, “At some level I’m actually a little disappointed.”

Why? The formidable Stephen Hawking, the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, put it this way: “The great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn’t expect.” Added Columbia University physicist Peter Woit, “I always felt the best possible thing. . .would be to not see the Higgs.”

All of which only proves what every nerd and geek knows in his or her ComiCon-drenched soul: Poets can’t hold a candle to scientists for unalloyed sentimentality.

But if the cosmos is entirely explicable, what are we to make of its constituents – specifically, this third rock from a yellow dwarf star in the suburbs of the average-sized galaxy we call The Milky Way? The mysteries that attend life of Earth show no sign of remission. If anything, they advance in perfect marching step.

Today, Egyptians rejoice at the removal, by their unelected military, of their duly elected president Mohammed Morsi. As the Globe and Mail’s Patrick Martin notes, “Historic Tahrir Square exploded in joy shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday when, for the second time in two years, Egypt’s military leaders announced they have forced the country’s president from office, relieving him of his command and replacing him with an executive of their choosing. . .It was an odd thing to celebrate. Just 29 months ago, many of these same people had occupied Tahrir Square and cheered the prospects of democracy finally coming to Egypt. This warm night in July, they were welcoming back a military-led transition in place of a democratically elected president.”

Today, U.S. President Obama (who doesn’t know what to think about the latest developments in Egypt) is hell-bent on completing his man hunt for Edward Snowdon, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked specifics about American and British surveillance programs that target, essentially, everyone.

According to the Guardian this week, “The plane carrying the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, from Russia has been rerouted to Austria, following suspicions that (Mr. Snowdon) was on board, leading to a major diplomatic incident. The Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said French and Portuguese authorities refused to allow the plane to fly through their airspace. He added that rumours Snowden was on board were unfounded. ‘We don’t know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,’ Choquehuanca told Associated Press.”

Today, a new study from the World Meteorological Organization finds that the ten-year span between 2001 and 2010 was the warmest decade in 160 years. Says the WMO news release: “The world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes during the 2001-2010 decade, which was the warmest since the start of modern measurements in 1850 and continued an extended period of pronounced global warming. More national temperature records were reported broken than in any previous decade. . .Global-average concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 389 parts per million in 2010 (an increase of 39 per cent since the start of the industrial era in 1750), methane to 1808.0 parts per billion (15 per cent) and nitrous oxide to 323.2 parts per billion (20 per cent).”

Still, other research paints a somewhat different picture. In May, Scientific American reported: “The Earth is now warming faster than at any time in the last 11,000 years, but scientists do not understand clearly why the atmosphere has warmed less than they expected over the last decade or so – and more slowly than in the 1990s.”

God may be boring. We, on the other hand, continue to ignore His example.

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A cold-water wake-up call from Mother Nature

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As the flood waters in Calgary begin to abate, the question turns – as it so often does in such cases – to the issue of culpability. Who’s to blame?

Was Mother Nature having an especially bad day when she dumped more than 100 millimeters of rain in less than a day on the western city? Or was there more to the deluge than met the eye? Did we humans exacerbate the hydrological cycle through global warming and then promptly ignore the predictable consequences?

In his commentary, which appeared in major newspapers across the country last week, nationally award-winning energy writer and Calgarian Andrew Nikiforuk answers definitively. “If nothing else the city’s often arrogant elites have been reminded that the province’s Chinese-style economic growth is vulnerable to extreme events,” he notes. “A crowded and overdeveloped province of four million is nowhere near as resilient as a province of one million. . .Albertans have also learned that climate change delivers two extremes: more water when you don’t need it, and not enough water when you do. The geographically challenged have also become learned, once again, that water travels downhill and even inundates flood plains. So climate change is not a mirage. Nor is it weird science or tomorrow’s news. It is now part of the flow of daily life.”

In fact, according to a Global News report (also covered by other print and broadcast outlets), “Strategies to prevent another devastating Albertan deluge sat on the provincial government’s desk for more than half-a-dozen years. George Groeneveld headed a flood mitigation committee after record-breaking rainfall and river levels soaked the Calgary region in 2005. They were tasked with figuring out how to lessen the risk of a recurrence and spent a year coming up with 18 recommendations.”

The suggestions included ensuring the Alberta Environment “coordinate the completion of flood risk maps for the identified urban flood risk areas in the province; develop a map maintenance program to ensure that the flood risk maps are updated when appropriate; identify priority rural flood risk areas that require flood risk mapping and develop a program to prepare the maps.”

In an interview with Global News, Mr. Groeneveld said “Of course I’ve always been disappointed. . .People have very short memories with floods: Go through one good year and they start to relax again.”

The signature feature of climate change is the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events. On the East Coast, that means the number and severity of hurricanes is rising. On the Great Plains and prairies, the number of super cells producing supremely destructive tornadoes is on the upswing. It means more and longer droughts; more and deadlier wildfires; and it means more water falling from on high. Much more.

According to an item in the Calgary Herald, John Pomeroy, a Canada research chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, says the floods in the Alberta foothills has “changed changed the Rockies. . .forever. . .He says the overflowing waters have changed everything from how the landscape will handle future flooding to the animals that live in it. Pomeroy says Alberta towns and cities will need much better flood defences in the future to handle high rainfall events. He says the Bow River has swallowed so much silt from eroding banks that its status as a blue-ribbon trout stream is in doubt. Pomeroy says many of the developments that have been affected by the flooding should never have been built in the first place.”

Given the crucial role Alberta now plays in the Canadian economy, these so-called “natural disasters” are no longer local calamities; they are clear and present threats to national security.

And while it may be one thing to turn a blind eye to the science of global warming, it is quite another to reject the evidence one’s own eye gathers as the sky proceeds to fall on one’s head.

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Are Canada’s oil sands on shaky ground?

The tar sands may be moot in moments, people!

The tar sands may be moot in moments, people!

There he went again, raining all over Canada’s petroleum parade with the sort of gusto one expects from a former American vice president, nobel laureate and, arguably, the planet’s leading climate-change critic.

Al Gore thinks the nation to the north of him has lost its way and in an interview published in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, he pulled no punches. “The resource curse has multiple dimensions,” he said, “and [that includes] damage to some extremely beautiful landscapes, not to mention the core issue of adding to the reckless spewing of pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere as if it’s an open sewer.”

To which Canada’s Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver shot back (again, in an interview with the Globe), “Well, he’s off the mark. . .[Those were] wildly inaccurate and exaggerated comments.”

This is not the first time the two gentlemen have sparred over Alberta’s oil sands, which occupy a tract of land about the size of England (though only a fraction of this is actually under development) and which can be seen from space. And it won’t be the last. As the glittering example all that’s wrong with our greedy, self-destructive, fossil-fuel-addicted society, this bitumen-producing region is, for environmentalists, simply too sexy to resist.

Still, though they continue to provoke discussion, there is some indication that their battles over the production of synthetic crude are becoming less relevant to the global energy debate, which is moving in increasingly new and intriguing directions.

British Columbia’s Liberal Leader Christy Clark, who is campaigning for a second term as the province’s premier, touched on this the other day when she told the Globe’s editorial board, “The pipelines that are of most interest to British Columbians are liquefied natural gas,” she said. “That’s something we can do and we don’t need the federal government and we don’t need Alberta.”

It’s the sort of statement that comes with the electioneering territory. But at least one decidedly sober source openly wonders whether our conventional attitudes and assumptions about petroleum products deserve a makeover.

One such assumption is that the world is running out of commercially exploitable reserves, a condition that makes the still plentiful Alberta fields crucially important. But, as Charles C. Mann notes in the Atlantic magazine’s cover story this month, “Even as companies drain off the easy oil, innovation keeps pushing down the cost of getting the rest. From this vantage, the race between declining oil and advancing technology determines the size of a reserve – not the number of hydrocarbon molecules.”

Mr. Mann says, “This perspective has a corollary: natural resources cannot be used up. If one deposit gets too expensive to drill, social scientists (most of them economists) say, people will either find cheaper deposits or shift to a different energy source altogether. Because the costliest stuff is left in the ground, there will always be petroleum to mine later. ‘When will the world’s supply of oil be exhausted?’ asked the MIT economist Morris Adelman, perhaps the most important exponent of this view. ‘The best one-word answer: never.’ Effectively, energy supplies are infinite.”

The article’s author does not endorse this argument; he merely raises it by way of explaining that technology is transforming our notions of what is and is not exploitable   – just as it once did in Alberta. Now, shale gas from hydraulic fracturing is flooding the North American marketplace, promising to do the once unthinkable: make the United States energy self-sufficient in less than 20 years.

And, on the horizon, is another, even more promising, fossil fuel source awaiting the steady march of innovation to set it free. “In the 1970s, geologists discovered crystalline natural gas – methane hydrate, in the jargon – beneath the seafloor,” Mr. Mann explains. “Stored mostly in broad, shallow layers on continental margins, methane hydrate exists in immense quantities; by some estimates, it is twice as abundant as all other fossil fuels combined.”

It’s also much cleaner and, therefore, potentially less costly (environmentally and financially) to produce.

But if all this sounds like so much science fiction, it’s worth remembering that’s what the experts once said about shale gas and, yes, Alberta’s oil sands when technology was still in its infancy.

The future is about to give bitumen a run for its money.

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