Tag Archives: global warming

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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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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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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The winter of our discontent

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

“Atrocious” is the adjective that Canada’s central banker, Stephen Poloz, chooses in order to characterize the effects of low oil prices on the Canadian economy in the frigid months ahead. Sort of like the weather, which is, on the East Coast, equally vile.

Four-hundred-some-odd centimeters of the white stuff alighted on fair Moncton this winter. A good 350 cms of it still perches stubbornly on the ground. The long-range forecast calls for another 40 in the days ahead, bringing us right into daffodil season. It’s a safe bet we’ll beat our 1974 record and top the scales at more than 18.5 feet of dirty, frozen water before the deluge is finally over. If it will be over.

Atrocious, indeed.

I’m taking safe bets that the last of Moncton’s cheerless snow mountains will not be gone before Canada Day, and while the rest of the country celebrates the arrival of summer by beach-combing with ice-cream cones, we’ll be repurposing our shovels as snowboards (having abandoned our gardens to the inevitable effects of short- and long-term climate change).

Oil and gas production, we are told, has something to do with this anomalous circumstance. As David Suzuki writes in a recent blog post, “Rising average temperatures do not simply mean balmier winters. Some regions will experience more extreme heat while others may cool slightly. Flooding, drought and intense summer heat could result.”

He’s kidding, right?

In fact, according to the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, he’s onto something. It writes: “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible (medium confidence). The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend show a warming of 0.85 (0.65 to 1.06) °C 2 over the period 1880 to 2012, when multiple independently produced datasets exist.”

So what accounts for this (and last) winter’s brutal encroachment into spring along the northeastern seaboard of North America?

Blame it on the “polar vortex”. Here’s what Discovery.news.com has to say about the lately observed phenomenon:

“Some researchers suggest that. . .kinks in the jet stream that allow. . .cold air to spill out could actually become more common in a warming world because of changes to the environment where that cold air originates – the Arctic. Rutgers University sea ice researcher Jennifer Francis was one of the first to suggest a link between the steady decline of Arctic sea ice caused by warming and the extreme twists and turns that the jet stream – the fast-moving river of air miles up in the atmosphere – can take northward and southward. (At the same time that a dip in the jet stream sends polar air southward, a corresponding ridge can push warmer conditions up into the Arctic.)

“The idea is that as white, reflective sea ice has been increasingly melting to lower and lower areas in the summer, there is more dark, open ocean that can absorb the sun’s rays. As sea ice begins to reform as fall progresses, the water releases that heat into the atmosphere. That added heat could be pushing atmospheric patterns in a way that destabilizes the polar vortex.”

Lovely! Or is the proper word “atrocious”?

In any case, the oil and gas chickens in this country may have finally come home to roost. I’m buying a Canada Goose parka in July, when Moncton’s snow mountains of 2015 might just be gone – just in time for winter.

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Exactly why it’s not easy being green


We’d love to protect the planet, its environment, its splendid ecosystems, its various “bio-dromes” – just don’t ask us to pony up the bucks to do it. That’s some other poor sap’s responsibility.

A new poll conducted for the Globe and Mail by Nanos Research concludes that a goodly number of Canadians are disappointed in the federal government’s failure to lead the nation into a greener, friendlier future. They want corporate Canada to pay through the nose, in taxes, for its despicable habit of poisoning the planet.

But when it comes to the downstream consequences of insisting that the upstream carry the burden of consumerism – well, you know, don’t tread on my oil and gas bills, thank you very much.

According to the Globe report last week, “A majority of Canadians says Canada’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have been dismal and they want the federal government to take the lead in creating tax policies for curbing emissions, a new poll suggests. But a much smaller number of participants in the survey said they want to see those taxes reflected at the gas pumps or on home heating bills.”

In fact, “When asked to assess Canada’s efforts to cut the output of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, just 14 per cent of respondents rated them to be ‘good’ or ‘very good.’ That compared with the 29 per cent who described the country’s performance as ‘poor and another 28 per cent who said it was ‘very poor.’”

On the other hand, “While 71 per cent said they ‘support’ or ‘somewhat support’ imposing new taxes on businesses that emit greenhouse gases, just 41 per cent were willing to consider new taxes on gasoline, and only 37 per cent supported hiking taxes on home heating oil.”

This is not the first time in recent years when the awful, yawning gap between logic and sheer, unadulterated idiocy has groaned its inevitable intention to widen ever more. A couple of years ago, a Yale University research project concluded:

“Our recent statewide surveys of Californians, Coloradans, Ohioans, and Texans find that majorities in each state say global warming is happening. This belief is most widespread in California (79 per cent), but seven in ten in Colorado, Ohio, and Texas agree as well (70 per cent in each).

“There are also important differences between the states, however. For example:

Over half of Californians say that, if global warming is happening, it is caused mostly by human activities (58 per cent). By contrast, only 44 per cent of Texans say global warming is caused mostly by human activities, and 31 per cent say it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment.

“Half or more of Californians (55 per cent) and Texans (52 per cent) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming. Fewer in Colorado (48 per cent) and Ohio (45 per cent) say that they have.

“A majority of Californians (55 per cent) understands that most scientists think global warming is happening. In the other three states surveyed, however, people are more likely to say that scientists disagree about whether or not global warming is happening.”

But here’s the rub. In all states the project considers, the indiscriminate use of water – for lawns that should not exists, golf courses that are nothing more than chemical sinks, and public fountains that no one actually appreciates – is criminally absurd.

Meanwhile, reports the Globe piece, “The Conservative government has, so far, refused to regulate emissions from the oil and gas industries.”

Really? What a surprise.

As long as my personal stash of hydrocarbons stays cheap. . .what, me worry?

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In praise of magical thinking


I’m with Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament Rick Nicholls.

He says he doesn’t believe in evolution though, he allows, this doesn’t mean he speaks for everyone in his Tory caucus.

His is just the private view of a pubic official charged with the best interests – educational, or otherwise – of those who elected him.

Hey, no biggie, right?

In fact, truth be told, I’m not so sure about all this global warming folderol. I mean, have you looked out your back door recently? Those aren’t palm fronds nestled up against your garden trellises. For one thing, their round and white. (How’s that for  empirical observation in action)?

Then, there’s the whole gravity thing.

Back in the 17th century, some English guy with obviously way too much time on his hands stated that he “deduced that the forces which keep the planets in their orbs must (be) reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the Earth; and found them answer pretty nearly.”

On Earth, the eggheads say, gravity can be expressed as an equation, thusly: g = 9.80665 meters per second (squared).

But, as I don’t know what the devil (who is a real dude, don’t you know) this actually means, I can’t really get behind any of it.

As I’m fond of saying: “I know what I like; and I like what I know.” That, dear reader, is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you.

Here, then, are some things I do like:

The Flat Earth Society, the Book of Revelations, Nostradamus, numerology, palmistry, paranormal research, transubstantiation, and movies about the Apocalypse (you know, the documentaries).

I also like Julie Andrews singing “a few of my favorite things”, the late Isaac Asimov writing about the secret, space-faring history of the human race in the far distant future, Scientology, sidewalk magicians who can somehow levitate at will, and unicorns (before they went extinct on the ninth day after Creation, which was, I believe, a Tuesday – never an auspicious time in anyone’s week).

And, lest I forget, there is always AC/DC (though I am perturbed by their claim that something called E-L-E-C-T-R-I-C-I-T-Y is what makes them sound so loud).

I used to hate snow. But that changed not long ago when Old Man Winter appeared to me in a dream and made a few promises I have not yet forgotten.

“Hey, fella,” he said, tripping over his cascading, white beard, “I’ll make you a deal: If you shovel out your driveway and sidewalks regularly, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that the depth of the white stuff I belch from my maw won’t be nearly as deep as it will be on the driveways and sidewalks of your neighbours.”

In my stupor, I mumbled, “Honestly?”

Of course, he explained, that’s how these things work in a simple, straightforward universe where science is, after all, just a matter of opinion. In fact, I believe his exact words were: “Buddy, paisano, you can take it to the bank.”
So, that’s what I’ve been doing – one might say, religiously – since the middle of November: shoveling, re-shoveling, re-shoveling again sometimes for hours a day.

And do you know what? He was right.

My pavement is clearer, less encumbered, more passable than it would otherwise be had I ignored the advice of my friendly, household deity.

How’s that for evolution?

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Canada’s contribution to climate change: More hot air


In the endlessly inelegant waltz Canada performs with the international community on the dance floor that is global warming, our federal government is again taking one baby-step forward and another giant leap backward.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq travelled to the UN climate-change confab in New York over the weekend to deliver the following message to delegates already bemused by her masters’ bewildering stance on environmental stewardship: The oils sands of Alberta are, in effect, off the table, but Canada will introduce strict, new standards on the chemicals that air conditioners produce.

That’s rich, coming from a cold country; but richer, still, coming from this nation’s environment minister, who must surely know that emissions from such manufactured products produced in China – and exported for sale in the Great White North – account for less than one per cent of our annual GHG load.

It’s a bit like saying that a Ford 150 is better for Planet Earth because it fits more people than does a Toyota Prius. But that is, in fact, the essence of the argument about climate change emanating — has always emanated — from Ottawa since before Stephan Harper grabbed the reins of a gigantic, gas-guzzling sleigh ride to 1950s-style complacence.

As the rest of the developed world has been doing its level best to heed the warnings of climate research, Canada has all but ignored them. Officialdom, in this country, has taken its position on what it deems to be science fiction: Let the nerds worry about the future; for now, which is the here and now, the economy begins and ends with fossil fuel.

Or, as Minister Aglukkaq opined for the Globe and Mail just prior to her cotillion in New York, “What I can say is that it is too early or give a date and target timelines (regarding Canada’s previously stated commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions). It is important to remember that Canada’s commitments are national which means that the provinces and the territories will have to play a role in that.”

Meanwhile, she added, “Our government will continue to work constructively with our international partners to establish a fair and effective international agreement that includes all major emitters, and we remain committed to that”

The problem with this line of argument is two-fold: first, it’s spun from threads of propaganda and, therefore, utterly specious; second, the world’s two largest emitters have already come to such an agreement without Canada’s involvement, let alone concurrence.

And yet, as the Globe reported prior to last weekend’s Aglukkag appearance, “The environment minister is expected to highlight Canada’s action on hydrofluorocarbons, which have been used by the cooling and heating industry since they were forced to phase out ozone-depleting chloroflurocarbons several years ago.”

As Dale Marshall, a spokesman of the group, Environmental Defence, declared for the hungry press, “I would say they (the feds) are showing up with another meaningless announcement. What they need to be regulating is the oil and gas sector, which is the fastest-growing source of emissions in the country.”

Still, the good fellow is only half-right. Certainly, the minister of the environment has delivered another absurd proclamation. That is her purview, after all. But the fact remains that the developed world is hopelessly addicted to fossil fuels, and the only way out of this downward spiral is to cleave to another, less deleterious, dependency.

No state, provincial or local government in North America – which enjoys the fruits of technological innovation as no other in the world does – has properly reckoned that the petrochemical industry is a means to, not the end of, civilization’s next great advance.

What stops an enlightened politician from stipulating the patently sensible? Cheap, accessible, abundantly available oil and gas must be deployed to build even cheaper, even more accessible, even more available sources of environmentally neutral energy.

If, as geophysicists claim, the world contains 500 years worth of exploitable oil and gas reserves, then let it fuel the brainpower required to produce 1,000 years worth of commercially viable clean-energy and clean-manufacturing technology.

And let us begin now, not later – before the waltz we dance with the fate of the Earth becomes the walk we take around the pyre we lit to burn it down.

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Opposing lessons in crisis management


If single-minded attention to a gathering emergency is the measure of leadership in government, then Stephen Harper’s Torytown manages to both pass and fail in spectacularly simultaneous fashion.

This week, a deeply ambivalent House of Commons issued its imprimatur for Canadian combat operations to commence in the treacherous reaches of northern Iraq, where the Islamic State (IS) currently wreaks havoc. The mission is modest (it includes nine airplanes and about 600 military personnel), but the purpose is definitive.

“We are undertaking a range of actions, and we are very fortunate to have men and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line to undertake those actions on our behalf,” the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. “What the world understands very clearly is that in the absence of any response, (the Islamic State) was growing like a cancer over the summer, over an entire region. This constitutes a threat and not just to the region, to the global community entirely and also to Canada.”

It’s the brand of tough talk and focussed reaction for which Mr. Harper has become justly famous. Posit a gun-toting enemy with sharp teeth and dastardly intentions, and you can count on Captain Canada to swoop into the fray, his six-shooters a-blazing.

Indeed, whether the evil-doers in our midst (or just over the horizon) are stalkers, cyber-bullies, pedophiles, or murderous jihadis, this prime minister has never let down his rhetorical guard whilst demonstrating his country’s determination to wipe out vicious hellions wherever he may find them.

Unfortunately, without an obvious, two-legged enemy at which he can shake his big stick, Mr. Harper – and, in fact, every one of his political lieutenants – appear, all too often, hopelessly distracted or, worse, mindfully disengaged from even greater threats than those IS now poses to the world’s well being.

“At the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the Government of Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020,” writes Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her Fall 2014 report, her first since accepting the job last March.

Realistically, though, “Environment Canada’s latest projections show that Canada will not likely meet its commitment.” That’s because “the federal government has chosen to reduce GHG emissions by establishing regulations on a sector-by-sector basis.” In this fashion, “it has introduced several such regulations to date, notably in the transportation and the electricity generation sectors.” At the same time, “in 2006, the government first announced its intent to regulate GHG emissions from the oil and gas industry but has not yet done so even though emissions are growing fastest in this sector.”

The bottom line is straightforward and chilling:

“If Canada does not honour its climate-change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs. If countries fail to reduce their emissions, the large environmental and economic liabilities we will leave our children and our grandchildren – such as more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases – will likely outweigh any potentially positive effects, such as a longer growing season.”

None of which should come as any great surprise to those who have kept a watchful eye trained on this federal government’s policies concerning the environment. Agents provocateurs of the blue zone on Parliament Hill routinely pillory critics of big oil and gas, drubbing them for their allegedly anti-business, anti-prosperity, anti-technology agitations. Meanwhile, the bigger picture goes deliberately unappreciated, with nauseatingly predictable results.

“While the Government of Canada has recognized the need to urgently combat climate change, its planning has been ineffective and the action it has taken has been slow and not well coordinated,” Ms. Gelfand concludes.

“The sector-by-sector regulatory approach led by Environment Canada has made some gains, but the measures currently in place are expected to close the gap in greenhouse gas emissions by only 7 per cent by 2020, and the actual effects of these measures have not yet been assessed.”

And likely never will. Unless we somehow manage to transform global warming into a sword-brandishing terrorist on which Mr. Harper can draw a bead, this is one crisis that will continue to loom.

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Lions, tigers and bears, oh my, and say goodbye!


Nothing induces data fatigue more profoundly than the bitstream of doomsaying numbers the industrial-climate-change-complex throws our way every minute of every day.

Is the earth warming by .05 per cent a year, or is the gradient closer to a catastrophic two per cent? Has our planet’s oceans acidified by fractional parts per million over the past century, or have they already become largely uninhabitable for great swathes of marine life? Will the Gulf Stream, which keeps our maritime weather moderate, suddenly grind to a halt and, as a paradoxical consequence of global warming, usher a new ice age into northern climes?

So many questions; so many glazed-over eyes.

But one statistic this week – shone like a headlight into the eyes of the last deer on Earth – stopped me dead in my tracks.

According to the latest World Wild Fund for Nature’s Living Planet index, this third rock from the sun has lost more than half of its native animals since 1970.

That doesn’t mean cats, dogs and other domesticated creatures, including those we husband for food. It’s the fauna that, decreasingly, live in our rivers, seas, forests, mountains, and on our plains, plateaus and islands.

The report’s ‘key findings’ read like a shopping list for the grim reaper.

“Populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined by 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010. Humanity’s demand on the planet is more than 50 per cent larger than what nature can renew. We are currently using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our activities – if everyone on Earth lived as the average Canadian does, we’d need 3.7 planets to support our demand.”

What’s more, “research cited in the report found that climate change is already responsible for the possible extinction of species. Canada has the 11th largest per capita Ecological Footprint of the 130 countries included, behind: Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Belgium, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore, the United States of America, Bahrain, and Sweden.”

The WWF stipulates that, to generate its dire conclusions, it deployed a new methodology – which it says “aims to be more representative of global biodiversity” – for this year’s iteration of its biennial study. But if that’s true, then the data is even more troubling for its enhanced credibility.

Says a CNN story out of London this week: “The decline in animals living in rivers, lakes and wetlands is the worst – 76 per cent of freshwater wildlife disappeared in just 40 years. Marine species and animals living on land suffered a 39 per cent decline in their populations. Animals living in the tropics are the worst hit by what WWF calls ‘the biggest recorded threats to our planet’s wildlife’ as 63 per cent of wildlife living in the tropics has vanished. Central and South America show the most dramatic regional decline, with a fall of 83 per cent.”

All of which tends to support the miserable proposition of a growing number of environmental biologists and zoologists that the planet is in the throws of a major extinction event, the sixth in its four-billion-year history.

The difference, this time around, is that it has been engineered almost entirely by human, industrial activity.

And still, the agents of organized rapacity in our own species will argue that all we need do is adapt to changing global conditions. We’ll lose a few birds, whales and rhinos. But isn’t that worth preserving our various standards of living and qualities of life? Or shall we all just recede into time and chuck our smart phones into the already plastic-clogged oceans?

It’s always an “either-or” conundrum with these folks.

What it isn’t (yet should be) is an economic opportunity to embrace.

Utter madness is magically thinking that our fossil-fuel technologies are durable beyond their abilities to bridge our efforts to reinvent our energy and manufacturing processes as demonstrably, provably sustainable – both commercially and environmentally.

The window through which we have to do this is just barely open. The WWF research strongly suggests that it’s closing faster than any of us had expected.

The data may be fatiguing, but it is, with each minute of each day that passes, becoming frighteningly clear.

Either we remake the world that created us, or we destroy it, and, with it, ourselves.

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Political palaver is making global warming worse



If Prime Minister Stephen Harper is waiting for his frenemy in statecraft, U.S. President Barack Obama, to establish a regulatory agenda for carbon emissions before he raises any finger but his middle ones to his critics in the environmental lobby, his patience will soon be rewarded.

Today, the putative leader of the free world introduces what one news report describes as “the most significant action on climate change in American history.”  According to the Guardian online, “The proposed regulations Obama will launch at the White House on Monday could cut carbon pollution by as much as 25 per cent from about 1,600 power plants in operation today.”

Consider that these facilities account for as much 40 per cent of all emissions in the United States, and you can’t help suspect that these rules might actually possess some gravitas for a change. 

Consider, also, that Mr. Obama is using his executive authority without the imprimatur of Congress, where nearly half of sitting Republicans publicly reject the science behind climate change. That means no pesky horse-trading when it comes to the language and substance of the new regs.

In effect, reports the Guardian, “The rules, which were drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and are under review by the White House, are expected to do more than Obama, or any other president, has done so far to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change. They will put America on course to meet its international climate goal, and put US diplomats in a better position to leverage climate commitments from big polluters such as China and India.”

Or as the president told graduates of West Point during a speech last week, “I intend to make sure America is out front in a global framework to preserve our planet. American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We can not exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”

Hmmm. What say you now, Mr. Harper?

For years, Canada’s prime minister has insisted he can’t do much to further his international commitments – particularly, the ones he made in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate change conference – to reducing this nation’s carbon footprint without a clear signal and comprehensive guidelines from its largest trading partner.

Now, he has it. 

In fact, one could argue, he’s had it for nearly a year. 

“Today, President Obama is putting forward a broad-based plan to cut the carbon pollution that causes climate change and affects public health. The plan, which consists of a wide variety of executive actions, has three key pillars: Cut carbon pollution in America; prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change; lead international efforts to combat global climate change and prepare for its impacts.”

That’s an excerpt from a document entitled, “The President’s Climate Action Plan”, dated June 25, 2013. It is, apparently, the fountainhead for this week’s regulations. And, according to a recent report in the Globe and Mail, somebody in the environment ministry was well aware of the plan on the day of its unveiling last summer.

“The United States has implemented limits on emissions from the oil and gas sector that are ‘significant’ and ‘comparable‘ to those the Conservative government is considering, says a newly releases Environment Canada memo, one that contradicts Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assertion that Canada is waiting for the U.S. regulations before it will act,” the Globe piece revealed. “The June, 2013, memo. . .was produced after President Barack Obama released his Climate Action Plan that day.”

How curious, then, that Mr. Harper – apparently oblivious to Mr. Obama’s initiative – should tell Global News in December, that regulating Canada’s oil and gas  emissions “would be best done if we could do this in concert with our major trading partner…so that’s what I’m hoping we’ll be able to do over the next couple of years.”

The good news is, of course, nothing now prevents Mr. Harper from boldly going where no westernized, reform Tory has gone before: To the front lines in the battle to save the planet from too much hot air; a commodity, it seems, that’s common to polluters and politicians, in equal measure.


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