Tag Archives: climate change

Juggling the balls of climate change



New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s determination to be on the right side of history may be one of the signature features of his term in office.

And, why not?

Political leaders far older than he struggle daily to balance the competing and often conflicting demands and expectations of the people they represent. It is only the hubris of youth that convinces such jugglers that they, above all others, can keep all the balls in the air and, so, astonish and mollify a disparate and peevish crowd of voters.

Sometimes, it works just fine.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (elected at age 44) had his Camelot and moonshots, his Peace Corps.

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (elected at age 44) has his clean-technology agenda and climate-change avowals, which he hopes will bring this nation closer to its true identity as an advocate for green sensibilities the world over.

Again, why not?

The problem, of course, is reality. It pulls and pushes, warps and wrinkles even the noblest aspirations. In the public sphere, fear and alarm masquerade as legitimate, dissenting voices. Paid lobbyists practice their smooth alchemy; industry associations exert their influence; and poorly educated citizen groups caterwaul from the sidelines of relevance.

The result is almost always inevitable: The political juggler drops the balls; bold, youthful aspirations fall to the ground; and the status quo remains intact.

I can’t confirm that this is happening in New Brunswick, but I will say that we’re getting there.

Fresh off the plane from Vancouver, where he met with his provincial counterparts and the prime minister, Mr. Gallant now vows he will “consider” pricing carbon in the province. As the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported recently, the premier is “now listing a hike in the gas tax among an ‘array’ of carbon-pricing mechanisms the province could choose in efforts to strengthen its role in a pan-Canadian climate change plan.”

But, if Mr. Gallant was ever serious about ameliorating the effects of global warming in New Brunswick – and aligning himself to federal priorities on this issue – why was his campaign for office scrupulously devoid of such considerations? Why was his most recent provincial budget largely silent on these matters?

The province’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 offers little explanation.

“In New Brunswick, the impacts of climate change have already begun to appear,” it reminds us. “Temperatures are rising, high-intensity precipitation events are becoming more common, sea levels are rising and inland and coastal areas are experiencing greater rates of erosion and more frequent flooding. In other words, New Brunswick’s ‘normal’ weather is no longer what it used to be, and more change is anticipated in the future.”

As for “visions, principles and goals”, the report has this to say: “The actions put forward in New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 recognize that: Decisions must be based on reliable and accurate information; decisions must consider the implications of long-term climate predictions and their anticipated impacts on future generations; and that all New Brunswickers share the responsibility of responding to climate change and should therefore be informed and engaged.”

No kidding Sherlock. We know this. The only reason why this province has not embraced a truly effective policy to battle climate change has to do with competing interests that constantly agitate for keeping the province’s economy tethered to the past.

If Mr. Gallant and his crew are serious about transforming this small corner of the world, he and they will have to cross over the line into the right side of history, where no political jugglers need apply.

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Food inglorious food


When my forebears, fresh off the boat from Scotland, settled in the vicinity of Guysborough, N.S., on that province’s far eastern shore, they new a little something about everything that was crucial to survival in the late 18th Century.

They could wield an axe, build a house, milk a cow and, maybe most importantly, till, sow and reap the soil – which was saying something given that the ground was, and still is, 80 per cent boulders.

I am often struck by the sheer number of things we’ve forgotten how to do; how much practical knowledge has leached away over the centuries, decades, even scant years. I was skippering my own sailboat alone when I was 11. I’m not sure I could do that today – not, at least, without a refresher course in knot tying and dead reckoning.

Still, the one ancient task my wife and I have been determined to reintroduce to our small branch of the family is that of growing stuff to eat safely and well. We would call this ‘farming’, except we actually know a few farmers and, let us assure you, we’re no farmers.

We do, however, maintain a small south-facing plot in our Moncton backyard where, in the spring, summer and a good portion of the fall we grow potatoes in rotation, carrots, peas, beans, broccoli. Out front, we cultivate tomatoes and peppers.

None of this will be especially surprising to anyone who lives and works in and around a small city in Canada. Private and community gardens are springing up like efficacious weeds almost everywhere you go, and the trend continues to grow. I suspect there are good reasons for this.

Late last year, just in time for Christmas, the CBC reported on research from the University of Guelph’s Food Institute that estimated, “the average Canadian household spent an additional $325 on food (in 2015). On top of that, consumers should expect an additional annual increase of about $345 in 2016.

“Since 81 per cent of all vegetables and fruit consumed in Canada are imported, they are highly vulnerable to currency fluctuations. They are pegged to increase in price by four to 4.5 per cent in the new year. ‘It means that essentially families will have to spend more without many options, unfortunately,’ says Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the university’s sixth annual Food Price Report.

Other organizations contend that food prices cannot be untethered to murky global forces that human civilization has, fairly recently, unleashed upon the world. Says Oxfam Canada’s website: “Droughts, floods and storms have played havoc with harvests over the past few years, and climate scientists predict the problem is only going to get worse. Some experts feel that the financial crisis that swept the world beginning in 2008 also had an impact on food prices. Investing in the rising price of food seemed to make it a safe bet.”

Finally, “crops that once were used for food are now used to make what is known as “biofuel, primarily ethanol and biodiesel. A full 40 per cent of the corn crop in the United States, and a similar percentage in Canada, now ends up in cars instead of stomachs.”

Whatever are the reasons for the escalating cost of food, the most prudent response, it seems to me, is to grow as much of your own stuff as you can (organically, naturally).

My wife and I might even double-down on the arable land we tend this year. After all, the old Guysborough homestead is good for more than the rocks in its ground.

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A fossilized vision of the future



As the planet continues to warm, the battles lines in the debate over the causes continue to retrench and harden.

Where once climate science informed popular understanding about carbon dioxide emissions from human industry, and the effect these have had on average global temperatures over the past century, now this research is being hijacked by two diametrically opposed ideological camps bent on formulating fundamentally irreconcilable solutions to the present crisis.

On the one hand, the rising tide of environmental radicalism argues that the only way to save the world from ecological catastrophe is to abandon every mine and every drill. “Leave the carbon in the ground, where it belongs,” the mantra goes. “We must become clean and renewable; and we must do it now.”

It’s a nice, even necessary, idea. But it fails to recognize the essential truth about global society’s dependence on the stuff: It’s cheap and addictive. Virtually nothing we do or consume is unaffected by oil, gas and coal. Going cold turkey overnight is simply no option.

On the other hand, the burgeoning call for more drilling, more mining posits that fossil fuels are the glue that binds civilizations together. Without them, the argument goes, humanity will simply devolve into brutal clans forever warring over scarce resources; after all, internationalism is predicated on more or less equal access to the same suite of energy resources.

This, too, can be persuasive. Still, the reasoning also conveniently ignores the inconvenient truth of our shared predicament: Science indisputably proves that our time plundering the earth for cheap sources of energy is running out; sooner or later our industrial habits will make much of the planet uninhabitable.

In either scenario, the outcome is disastrously similar: millions will die and millions more will become economic refugees, merely waiting to die.

To avoid the coming zombie apocalypse, there is, of course, a third option: We could start using our minds (which are, I am reliably informed, in great abundance) and stop flapping our gums from the ramparts of our two fortresses of solitude.

If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we can’t live with them as we do today, then why don’t we stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to deploy in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, use them as the feedstock for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy. Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, eliminate them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development.

To some extent, this process is already underway in countries that maintain offshore drilling operations and yet pull as much as a third of their non-locomotive energy from clean, renewable sources.

Lamentably, it’s not underway in any convincing fashion in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick may possess one of the world’s greatest wind resources, but its infrastructure woefully lags its renewable energy potential. Thanks to its high concentration of universities and advanced institutes, this province could become a living laboratory for this type of urgent research, the results of which might actually spark a durable, sustainable economic development boom with global consequences.

Naturally, this would require the sort of foresight, vision and collaborative determination we rarely witness in this province.

But without this resource available to policy makers, politicians, industry representatives, and environmentalists, our fossilized vision of the future is secure.

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The year of living gob-smacked


I can think of only one other year when circumstances conspired to render “yours truly” utterly speechless.

1995 saw me accidentally sever all the tendons in my right hand, deliberately dismiss my business partner of four years, and unwittingly lose my wherewithal in a reversal inspired (if not actually engineered) by the Halifax-based cadre of one-per-centers for which I worked.

Still, all things properly considered, 2015 was also a tongue-numbing moment in time for most of us on the East Coast.

To begin with, no one imagined that a Christmas holiday in late December 2014, when the temperatures hovered around the 15-degree Celsius mark, would transform into this:

“If you’re feeling like this winter is one of the worst you can remember, you’re probably right,” a CTV report confirmed last February. “A ‘misery index’ released by U.S. National Weather Service meteorologists shows the winter of 2014-15 is one of the most miserable on record. The Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index puts the ‘badness’ or ‘goodness’ of winter in context by looking at daily temperature, snowfall, snow depth or precipitation records to show the season’s severity compared to other years.”

Then again, no one thought to check the science around climate change and how a new phenomenon, the “polar vortex”, might be related to trending warmer temperatures in the Arctic and lower ones in the south.

Oh well, we believe in our political leaders who seem to know exactly what we’re thinking until, of course, they don’t.

When former Prime Minister Stephen Harper told us all to relax and relish the fact that he would balance the federal budget, we assumed he was as good as his word. We assumed, in other words, that oil prices would persist and that most Canadians would, as a result, return him to his perch at 24 Sussex Drive. Most Canadians didn’t.

Now, a scion of political history, Justin Trudeau, is charged with restoring the nation’s international reputation for fairness, environmental responsibility, justice, law, and the rest well in time for his state visit to the White House on March 10, before the cherry blossoms open; before the price of a barrel of oil drops down below thirty bucks.

So, then, what do we do with this economic calculus in New Brunswick? 2015 showed us that a very young premier, only 33 years old, can move in the polls from 45 per cent approval, to 24, and back to 45 within the span of 15 months. He showed us that youth does not beggar age or wisdom.

But where now is that wisdom in a place that needs to reinvent itself in the Canadian context on its own terms?

New Brunswick’s past year has been nothing short of miraculous, if miracles are built on faith, alone. Life, unfortunately, is built on hard, cold reality. And this province has become a place where too many believe in the big, rock candy mountains of government and not enough in the granite and grit that originally made this province and this nation from coast to coast.

What was 2015?

It was the year of living astonished by the climate of our attitudes in New Brunswick; by the weather report that our economy would never improve; by the signs of storm clouds, blizzards and downpours that just never seem to disappear.

A $500-million annual deficit should curb our fat tongues; a $12-billion debt should render us utterly speechless.

Unless, of course, we decide to speak, and do, and make, and build, and create, and turn to conspire to succeed together.

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Tripping up on climate change


When it comes to the phrase, “the tipping point”, in all matters related to global warming, our cups now runneth over.

It is, perhaps, inevitable that a discipline as complex, as frustratingly imprecise, as climate change should attract oversimplifications to the point of cliché the way a garden invites dandelions.

Still, the use of this expression seems to have spiked recently as scientists struggle to explain why we’re not already stewing in our own juices.

According to a story in MarketWatch online last week, “In June, Pope Francis, in his encyclical on the environment, called upon humanity to take responsibility for the planet, including climate change. Yet millions of Americans just don’t trust scientists warning of a ’95 per cent certainty’ humans cause global warming.”

That figure was originally published in a MarketWatch story a year ago in which writer Paul B. Farrell noted, “But they do trust Big Oil, the GOP, God. They honestly believe climate science is a dangerous fear-mongering liberal conspiracy.”

That’s because most people can’t, or refuse to, observe the largely subtle changes that accumulate in their environment – and even those who can don’t automatically perceive them as evidence of manmade global warming.

Yet, anyone who spends any time at all lounging in his backyard this New Brunswick summer must surely notice the virtual absence of the little brown bat at dusk. This once-plentiful species filled the sky only five years ago. And then, seemingly overnight, it was gone, a victim of a virulent fungus, the proliferation of which, zoologists believe, is directly related to long-term warming weather trends along the northeast U.S.

That, dear reader, is what the experts call a tipping point. Everything proceeds apace – business as usual, move along, nothing to see here – and then, one day, boom! The new normal rears its frightful head and you don’t know what the dickens slammed into you.

All of which puts paid to the notion that we humans have plenty of time to consider our options. The tricky thing about tipping points is that you ever know when they’re going to occur. Noted environmentalist Bill McKibben alluded to this in an article he penned for Foreign Policy some years ago.

“Time might be the toughest part of the equation,” he wrote. “That melting Arctic ice is unsettling not only because it proves the planet is warming rapidly, but also because it will help speed up the warming. That old white ice reflected 80 per cent of incoming solar radiation back to space; the new blue water left behind absorbs 80 per cent of that sunshine. The process amps up.”

What’s more, he warned, “There are many other such feedback loops. Another occurs as northern permafrost thaws. Huge amounts of methane long trapped below the ice begin to escape into the atmosphere; methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

In fact, his piece is fairly dripping with tipping points. Indeed, can we ever tip in a way that not necessarily catastrophic?

That’s a question Andrew Simms asked in an editorial last April for The Guardian: “One of the great environmental stories is of how catastrophe can creep up and be noticed only when it is too late to act. Examples range from the sudden, inexplicable collapse of bee colonies, to ice cores revealing the potential for dramatic climatic upheavals that happen not in millennia or centuries, but the time it takes to pass through a coalition government or two.”

All of which suggests, sadly, that we may have already tipped beyond the point of no return


Mum’s the word on climate change


Whole election campaigns have been sacrificed on the altar of global warming. Entire political careers have been cremated under the magnifying glass of climate change. Remember poor Stephane Dion?

Is it any wonder, then, why this year’s contenders for the democratic throne of Canada are treading gingerly around the subject?

Well, for the most part.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair had a moment earlier this month when he told a Hamilton radio talk-show host that the federal government’s inaction on climate change is tantamount to wartime isolationism.

“Whenever we’ve taken on these big fights internationally, we were always one of the smaller players,” he said.

“But it didn’t mean that we didn’t go in. In the Second World War, the same argument could have been made. ‘Oh, we only represent a couple of per cent of the forces.’ But we knew that we had a job to do. This is a battle that the world has to take on. Climate change is real. Reducing greenhouse gases has to be made a priority. It can be done. Mr. Harper doesn’t believe in the science of climate change, so he’s not doing anything.”

In reality, what the current prime minister has never done much of is talk about global warming. That’s been both deliberate and shrewd. For the cunning and the calculating, there is almost nothing to be gained by weighing into the debate (let alone becoming a thought-leader, as did Stephane Dion) in a country where attitudes are so mightily polarized. Indeed, there’s every indication that they’re about to grow even further apart, thanks to research released last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to an article by Katherine Bagley, writing for InsideClimate News, “The long-debated hiatus or pause in global warming, championed by climate denialists who tried to claim it proved scientists’ projections on climate change are inaccurate or overblown, probably did not happen at all.

A new study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that the world’s warming never really stalled during the last 15 years – it was just masked by incomplete data records that have been improved and expanded in recent years.

Remarked Tom Karl, the director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and principal author of the study: “The rate of temperature increase during the last half of the 20th century is virtually identical to that of the 21st century.”

That’s the sort of comment that gets “denialists” howling mad. Just ask New York based financial and business writer John Steele Gordon. In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, he insists, “climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions. Why did the warming trend between 1978 and 1998 cease, although computer climate models predict steady warming? How sensitive is the climate to increased carbon-dioxide levels? What feedback mechanisms are there that would increase or decrease that sensitivity? Why did episodes of high carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere earlier in Earth’s history have temperature levels both above and below the average?”

Indeed, he ponders pointedly, “If anthropogenic climate change is a reality, then that would be a huge problem only government could deal with. It would be a heaven-sent opportunity for the left to vastly increase government control over the economy and the personal lives of citizens.”

In a country – namely ours – that depends so heavily on greenhouse-gas emitting fuels, politicians (with a few notable exceptions) have clearly decided that when it comes to climate change, discretion is the better part of, if not valour, political survival.

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Battle lines in the war on science


The scientific community and the rest of us enjoy, let’s just say, a complicated relationship.

The rest us of understand, at some basic level, that outside of nature virtually nothing we see, smell, hear, taste or touch has been unaffected by the ingenuity of the human mind. Still, according to a National Science Foundation survey last year, nearly 25 per cent of Americans believe that Copernicus was a dunderhead, or worse.

“To the question ‘Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth,’ 26 per cent of those surveyed answered incorrectly,” a report for National Public Radio in the United States revealed.

Incidentally, “in the same survey, just 39 per cent answered correctly (true) that ‘The universe began with a huge explosion’ and only 48 per cent said ‘Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.’ Just over half understood that antibiotics are not effective against viruses”. (They kill bacteria).

It’s one thing to admit that fantasy is more alluring than fact; it’s quite another to insist that the fantastical is, indeed, factual.

The Flat Earth Society describes itself as “a place for free thinkers and the intellectual exchange of ideas.” Meanwhile, millions apparently still believe that the world, have missed its date with the Apocalypse back in 2012, still has it coming in the not too-distant future.

Yet, talk to many of them about the devastating effects of empirically proven climate change on this orb, and they’re likely to call you barking mad, a gullible fool, or a willing conspirator of the international-scientific-complex, determined to separate poor citizens from their tax dollars to fatten already swollen research banks.

It is, perhaps, not a moment too soon, then, that some scientists in Canada are hitting back with the only weapon they can reliably trust: the truth about what they do for a living.

According to a Globe and Mail piece early last week, Molly Shoichet, a biomedical engineer at the University of Toronto, “is set to officially launch Research2Reality, a $400,000 social-media campaign she is spearheading that is designed to shine a spotlight on the work of academic researchers across the country. It is one of the most ambitious outreach efforts of its kind in Canada to date and it comes at a time when research advocates worldwide are trying to persuade governments of the importance of basic, curiosity-driven research.”

As she says, “We’re not a lobby group. Our focus is on capturing the imagination and the curiosity of the public.”

In fact, government dogma – especially in Canada over the past decade of Conservative rule – has been an even peskier problem than the sure-footed intransigence of the blissfully ignorant John Q. Public.

It is not science that some bureaucrats and their elected masters mistrust, but scientists – particularly those that can’t seem to get it through their eggheads that the work they do must evince some practical applications before their fellow citizens are willing to fund it.

This, of course, misses the point as most false dichotomies do. As Lauren Reinerman-Jones and Stephanie Lackey of Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida noted in 2011, “If no distinct difference or opposition of basic and applied research exists, then it should be assumed that all research conducted has practical application with a theoretical foundation.”

Unfortunately, that proposition makes too much sense to find much purchase outside the halls of academe.

We may hope, however, that Dr. Shoichet will have better luck for the sake of both the scientific community and, of course, the rest of us

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Canada gets gassier and gassier


It’s hard to decide wether Prime Minister Stephen Harper deserves applause for his candor or jeers for his revelation.

In either case, for the first time in 20 years, Canada, he says, will not match the United States in greenhouse gas reduction targets. “It’s unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States, but they will be targets of similar levels of ambition to other major industrialized countries,” he declared publicly last week.

That, of course, worries environmentalists who note that several developed countries – the ones, presumably, the prime minister now wants to emulate – are relaxing their standards and setting lower goals in the wake of tough economic times.

“We believe three Rs should define Canada’s approach to climate protection: Respect, Responsibility and Restraint,” reads a recent note on the Climate Action Network Canada’s website. “Respect requires humility in accepting the scientific facts that tell us the atmosphere has a limit to the amount of carbon pollution it can take before shifting in ways that put people and the environment we rely on at risk. Responsibility requires accepting that we should care about the harm climate disruption will bring, especially to the most vulnerable at home and around the world, and to doing our fair share to stop it. Restraint requires that we accept that we must set ambitious, enforceable targets to manage carbon pollution at home and to invest around the world to help others reduce their carbon pollution and to adapt to climate change.”

None of which, it’s safe to say, the “federalistas” appear particularly interested in pursuing, despite their protestations to the contrary. “The Government of Canada is committed to addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while keeping the Canadian economy strong. We are achieving success from 2005 to 2012, Canadian GHG emissions have decreased by 5.1 per cent while the economy has grown by 10.6 per cent. The 2014 Canada’s Emissions Trends report estimates that, as a result of collective action to reduce GHGs since 2005, Canada’s 2020 GHG emissions are projected to be 130 megatonnes (Mt) lower than if no action was taken, an amount roughly equivalent to one year’s worth of GHG emissions from all of Canada’s road transportation.”

And yet, according to Carl Meyer, writing in Embassy News earlier this month, “A new National Inventory Report from Environment Canada released April 17 shows the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in the previous report have spiked upward by megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in every comparable year now assessed.” 

In fact, “Canada’s GHG emissions, which contribute to climate change, stood at 726 megatonnes in 2013, up from 715 megatonnes in 2012. That increase is equivalent to the annual emissions from over two million extra cars on the road, according to a calculator provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.” 

Mr. Myers observes that, “in the prior report, the department reported the 2012 number was at 699 megatonnes. The result is that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18.43 per cent from 1990 to 2013. The previous report had an increase of 18.27 per cent from 1990 to 2012. Canada has redone its inventory submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change following revised reporting guidelines, the report says.”

In reality, the federal government now appears broadly enthusiastic about what it jauntily refers to as “adaptation”, which is the policy wonk’s version of “if you’re stuck with lemons, better make lemonade” (especially as the summers grow hotter). Apparently, this involves helping Canadians make “adjustments” in their “thinking” to “reduce harm” or even exploit “new opportunities” from global warming.

And why not? Such promise of new enterprise might actually argue for higher, not lower, emissions. Bravo (and boo), indeed.

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My big picture on world views


In recent months, readers of this column have sometimes complained that my opinions about politics, the economy and life as we live it in this alternately blessed and benighted corner of the unpredictable planet are inconsistent, unreconcilable and, therefore, incoherent.

What, they have invariably demanded, is my world view?

I’d give them one, if I had one.

Frankly, the one unshakeable opinion to which I cleave is that world views, such as they are, are for dictators and salesmen.

One wants you to knuckle under; the other wants to rob you blind. In either case, you’re left with few choices, other than those your political or corporatist overlords prescribe.

Still, the complaints ring with such predictable complacency that they might as well be a popular gospel.

“Why do you hate the wonderful earth we cherish so much?” one scribe asked me in early August. “How can you support the shale gas industry in New Brunswick when, as an intelligent man, you must know how much harm it causes?”

Precisely three days later, another reader accused me of runaway tree-hugging: “It boggles my mind that you, as an intelligent man, slam the only industry that has any chance of rejuvenating the New Brunswick economy.”

Again, with the “intelligent man” stuff!

Yes, I have an IQ above room temperature, but I like to think that this fortunate happenstance engenders a predilection for at least a modicum of critical thinking.

For those of you out there who are similarly equipped, here’s a question: Is it not possible to walk and chew gum at the same time?

The shale gas industry in New Brunswick has operated without incident for more than 10 years. No spills, no poisoning of water tables, no soil decimation, no air pollution have ever been recorded, reported or, even, imagined.

These facts, alone, should prove that the industry, here, understands (at least, intuitively) its “social licence”. And if it doesn’t, provincial rules and regulations governing the locations of, and practices involved in, hydraulic fracturing (which are still on the books, despite the recent moratorium) evidently enjoins it to smarten up.

That said, other jurisdictions around the world have not demonstrated New Brunswick’s perspicacity on this socially volatile energy issue. North Dakota and parts of Appalachia have all but abandoned their side of the social-licence bargain, preferring, instead, to let the industry have its rapacious way with privately-held lots, paid for willingly with up-front buy-downs and long-term royalty agreements.

The result is exactly what New Brunswick opponents of shale-gas development fear: pollution, social dislocation and (let’s face it) death by fossil fuel.

But simply transplanting other provinces’ and states’ experiences and decisions here is a meaningless exercise in organized paranoia. It supplants the agency of our own minds with that of those who are determined to dictate or sell their own agendas, either quasi-corporatist or pseudo-environmentalist.

The middle of the road, negotiating the traffic to the left and right of us, is where we must live now if we have any hope of charting a sustainable, prosperous future.

Those who demand that the world’s petrol-economy can and must end today are either hypocritical or deranged.

At the same time, those who insist that fossil fuels still promise an eternity of risk-free, environmentally benign energy are either sadly delusional or deliberately prevaricating.

The bucket slung around the world’s neck is full of oil. Currently, there’s so much sloshing around in capital markets, literally no one knows how to prevent its pricing from decimating resource-producing economies (including Canada’s).

Still, let’s say that we – all of us in this province, at least – engage in a thought experiment. Let us suppose that oil and gas were not primary commodities, but rather seed capital for sustainable energy research, manufacturing and deployment.

Let us imagine that the engines and factories that burn fossil fuel are actually generating new ways to radically curtail its casual use.

Let us hope that the judicious, reasonable use of “black gold” produces a sea-change in attitudes about the way we treat the planet we share.

Finally, let us propose that partisan bickering about “world views” falls silently, gently, coherently to the good earth we vow to protect from (who else?) ourselves.

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Canada’s climate chickens now come home to roost


For months, even years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that he is as environmentally friendly as the next guy, and so is his government.

In fact, with the leader of Canada’s largest trading partner, he has played a high-stakes game of truth or dare. Just as soon as U.S. President Barack Obama announces a convincing program to dramatically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, he has said, so will he.

Now that the former has done just, to the surprise of the developed and developing world, alike, it remains to the latter to answer the only question that matters on an inexorably warming planet: Now what, Captain Canada?

Indeed, the policy change south of the border, announced last week, is not merely surprising; it’s stunning. The new U.S.-China joint agreement would see the Yanks cut GHG output 26 per cent from 2005 quantities by 2025. The previous commitment had been a reduction of 17 per cent by 2020, a target the Americans are, in any case, quite likely to hit.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have thrown themselves into a multi-billon-dollar build-out of renewable energy technologies and production facilities (including, it should be noted, nuclear) – an initiative that should help them fulfill their new pledge to cap the production of GHGs to levels comparable with the United States by 2030.

Why this accord, and why now?

As different as are their respective political conventions, economic institutions and societies, the U.S. and China still share one embarrassing habit in the arena of energy production: their relatively heavy use of coal, a fossil fuel that makes oil and particularly natural gas seem, by comparison, pristine.

According to the Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions, “In the United States, coal is the third-largest primary energy source, accounting for 18 per cent of all energy consumed in 2012 with the electric power sector accounting for 91 per cent of U.S. coal consumption.

“With the highest carbon content of all the fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion represented 24.5 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. . .Globally, coal is one of the most widely distributed energy resources with recoverable reserves in nearly 70 countries. The U.S., China, and India are the top producers and consumers of coal. Worldwide, coal supplies 29.7 per cent of energy use and is responsible for 44 per cent of global CO2 emissions.”

Of course, given the most recent news from the front lines of the global-warming wars, some sort of U.S.-China compact on the issue was not entirely unexpected.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth word on the subject in as many years. It makes for chilling reading.

Reported the Guardian: “The new overarching IPCC report builds on previous reports on the science, impacts and solutions for climate change. It concludes that global warming is ‘unequivocal’, that humanity’s role in causing it is ‘clear’ and that many effects will last for hundreds to thousands of years even if the planet’s rising temperature is halted.”

Added Bill McKibben, a climate crusader of the first and most popular order, in the piece: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. . .Thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”

No, they won’t, Mr. Harper. So, again, what say you?

The federal government’s reduction target, even before the new agreement between its two biggest export markets, was doomed from the outset. Only the rosiest prognosticators suggested that a 17 per cent cut in GHGs from 2005 in this country had a hope in Hades of materializing by 2020. The reason is simple.

This government’s political and ideological capital is invested entirely in the success of the western tar sands. That’s where it wants derelict Canucks from the East and the Centre to work. That’s where it wants to find its tax revenues and corporate royalties.

It cares very little about anything else that might have been considered, at some point in the elegiac past, authentically Canadian.

The Tories’ current conundrum is that the world, through the U.S. and China, is beginning to turn a corner (late, perhaps) that might well leave their atavistic thinking behind, along with their government.

They just might be thinking about using the fuel in the ground to build the infrastructure necessary to, one day, abandon it forever, except as seed for renewable manufactures.

Then what, Captain Canada?

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