Category Archives: Climate Science

Four choices for shaping the climate future we want

Four choices for shaping the climate future we want


Four choices for shaping the climate future we want

Choices are one of the many benefits provided by our modern, affluent, consumer culture. A television universe of 500 channels should provide something for everyone’s viewing preferences. Toothpaste? More different kinds than can be imagined. Breakfast cereal? The varieties are overwhelming. Cars? A model with specifications for every possible need. Don’t like the long cold seasons? Just choose a warmer place for a winter holiday.

Such choices are more than comforting. Beyond lightening the burden of inconvenience, reducing the stress of adapting, and creating the illusion of security, our choices come with a satisfying sense of control and plentitude. And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, we can even chose our climate.

Yes, just like adjusting a thermostat, turn to the desired temperature, wait patiently for the greenhouse gases to take effect, and that’s the climate we’ll get. Furthermore, the science is so accurate that it even offers a range. This is why the October 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided choices between 0.3°C and 4.8°C by 2100. It all depends on what we want.

The IPCC does regret the rather slow response but that’s the best they can do given the complexity of climate dynamics and the geophysical inertia to be overcome. But they have done their best. And now, in collaboration with the thoughtful people at NewScientist (Catherine Brahic, Oct. 5/13) and the expertise of Dr. Richard Moss of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., we are provided with four — not two or three but four — distinct and easily identified climate options for 2100.

Option One: The quick response

A heavy investment in renewable energies and R&D, with some geo-engineering and considerable political resolve to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, has held atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 400 ppm — they are now falling due to new sequestration technologies. Billions of trees have been planted, forests revived, meat consumption reduced, and the world’s population stabilized at 9 billion. Arctic sea ice has stopped melting, Antarctica has stabilized and ocean acidification has slowed. Sea level rise has been limited to 0.26 – 0.55 metres. Temperature increases have been held to 0.3 – 1.7°C.

Option Two: A slight delay

A slow response in transitioning to renewable energies and implementing climate treaties are having measurable effects. Increasing efficiencies and the widespread use of natural gas, together with nuclear power and other green technologies have stabilized carbon dioxide levels at 550 ppm. Less pastureland, more compact cities, better mass transit and a general endorsement of a low-carbon economy have slowed the rate of climate change. Sea level rise is between 0.32 – 0.63 metres. Global temperature rise is 1.1 – 2.6°C.

Option Three: Too little, too late

Fossil fuel use continued unabated until late in the 21st century, then dropped to 75 percent of energy consumption in the last few decades — not much less than the 82 percent in 2011. Lifestyle changes were largely unaltered until extreme weather events prompted panicking governments to institute unambitious controls on inefficiencies, greenhouse gas emissions and even travel. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at 650 ppm. The global population is 9.5 billion, oceans continue to acidify, sea level rise is 0.33 – 0.63 metres. The temperature increase is 1.4 – 3.1°C.

Option Four: Addicted to carbon

Fossil fuels still energize a booming economy that is structurally similar to 2014. The global population of 12.5 billion is proud of its consumer and high-tech identity. With carbon dioxide levels at 950 ppm, human health is suffering, food production is faltering, water shortages are acute, and biodiversity crashes are threatening essential “ecosystem services”. Extreme droughts and floods are creating widespread political instability.

Tropical diseases and pests have become common in northern latitudes. Ocean acidification is severe with primary marine ecologies in jeopardy. The Arctic has not had summer ice for decades. Melting has accelerated in glaciers, Greenland and Western Antarctica. Sea level rise of 0.45 – 0.82 metres is displacing cities, settlements and agriculture in coastal regions. Because the temperature increase of 2.6 – 4.8°C is registered as an average, some places have become too seasonally hot for human habitation.

These options for 2100 will be the consequences of our choices, the ones we make in the succession of moments that constitute the unfolding importance of the present — a particularly special present because it is pivotal in the history of humanity and our planet. We obviously have some crucial choices to make — or to not make.

Canada’s choice: Develop the tar sands

The choice of Canada’s federal government is to develop Alberta’s tar sand and make BC’s West Coast an export terminus for its bitumen. Several pipelines are being planned: the Norther Gateway from the tar sands to Kitimat; the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain from Calgary to Burnaby; David Black’s proposed refinery at Kitimat would require at least two more pipelines, one for dilbit and another for natural gas; and the proposed LNG plants for northern BC ports would require more gas pipelines.

Meanwhile, the BC government continues to encourage the mining and export of provincial coal, while using its southern ports as conduits for the offshore shipment of American coal. Such choices will determine the future choices we have — or do not have.

We cannot be faulted for the unpredictable consequences of our choices — this is why we excuse children for their innocence of cause and effect. But fully functioning adults, those who know, or should have known, or could have known, are not excused from responsibility for their choices. Intentional denial and willful blindness are not defences in law, are dubious excuses in morality, and are harshly judged in history.

This is the sobering side of our modern, affluent, consumer culture. Because its information density educates us in unprecedented ways, many of the choices we now make carry a weight that can no longer be excused by innocence or ignorance. Sophisticated climate science is able to accurately describe the inescapable consequences of our choices. Of the four options suggested, which one would you choose?

White House climate report is clear: Global warming is here

White House climate report is clear: Global warming is here


White House climate report is clear: Global warming is here

Because we enjoy relatively pure air, clean water and healthy food systems, Canadians sometimes take the environment for granted. Many scarcely blink if oil from a pipeline spills into a river, a forest is cleared for tar sands operations or agricultural land is fracked for gas. If Arctic ice melts and part of the Antarctic ice sheet collapses, well… they’re far away.

Some see climate change as a distant threat, if they see it as a threat at all. But the scientific evidence is overwhelming: climate change is here, and unless we curb behaviours that contribute to it, it will get worse, putting our food, air, water and security at risk. A recent White House report confirms the findings of this year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment report, and concludes global warming is a clear and present danger to the U.S.

Climate change already affecting America

“Climate change is not a distant threat, but is affecting the American people already,” says White House science adviser John Holdren in a video about the report.

[quote]Summers are longer and hotter, with longer periods of extended heat. Wildfires start earlier in the spring and continue later into the fall. Rain comes down in heavier downpours. People are experiencing changes in the length and severity of allergies. And climate disruptions to water resources and agriculture have been increasing.[/quote]

Recognizing the problem’s severity is a start, but whether the U.S. will actually do anything is another question. Action to curb climate change is constantly stalled — thanks to the powerful fossil fuel industry, political and media denial, extensive fossil fuel-based infrastructure and citizen complacency.

Canada lags behind

But at least the U.S. and its president have unequivocally called for action. It’s disturbing that political leaders in Canada — a northern country already feeling impacts, with a long coastline particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels — ignore the issue in their drive to make Canada a petro-power.

Our government prefers to spend taxpayers’ money to support the fossil fuel industry with advertising campaigns and billions of dollars in subsidies. A recent New York Times ad, worth US$207,000, touts oil sands and pipelines as “environmentally responsible.” Despite opposition from communities throughout B.C. and the rest of Canada, including many First Nations, approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project is expected next month.

Perceived economic benefits (mostly short-term) trump the needs of all Canadians and their children and grandchildren for clean air and water, healthy food and a stable climate. Droughts, floods, water shortages, insect-plagued forests, extreme weather events, rising sea levels and melting glaciers don’t matter as much as getting the oil, gas and coal out of the ground and sold as quickly as possible.

BC fracking its way to “prosperity”

B.C. once showed promise with climate policies such as a carbon tax. Now the government in my home province is also pinning its hopes on the fossil fuel market, fracking our way to “prosperity” at the expense of long-term human and economic health, farmland and climate.

How can we allow governments and industry to continue leading us down this destructive path?

Some people say we must choose between the human-created economy and the natural environment — an absurd argument on many levels, and a false dichotomy. Even within the current flawed economic paradigm, it’s far more financially sound to invest in renewable energy and diversification than in a dying industry.

Others, often driven by fossil fuel industry propaganda, doubt the evidence and question the credentials of thousands of scientists worldwide studying the issue.

Reputable groups all agree climate change is real

The IPCC report involved hundreds of scientists and experts worldwide who analyzed the latest peer-reviewed scientific literature and other relevant materials on climate change. The White House report was overseen by 13 government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was written by close to 300 scientists and experts and reviewed by numerous others, including the National Academy of Sciences. It was also vetted by groups ranging from oil companies to environmental organizations. As an article on Desmog Blog points out, “If anything, this report is conservative in its findings.”

The IPCC and White House reports are clear: solutions are available. But the longer we delay the more difficult and expensive they will be to implement. We can’t just sit by and do nothing.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

With LNG, BC will fail to meet greenhouse gas targets

Environment Ministry staff warn BC govt about LNG emissions


With LNG, BC will fail to meet greenhouse gas targets

VANCOUVER – British Columbia Environment Ministry staff have warned their minister that the province’s dreamed-of liquefied natural gas industry poses some big challenges with greenhouse gas emissions.

Internal briefing notes prepared for Environment Minister Mary Polak since she took office last year and obtained by The Canadian Press, single out methane emissions for concern.

On top of emissions from combustion and flaring of natural gas, methane and carbon dioxide escape during hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, the documents said. One July briefing note warned:

[quote]Methane emissions are a particular concern since they have a global warming impact 21 times higher than carbon dioxide. A small increase in the percentage of natural gas that escapes can have a significant impact on overall emissions.[/quote]

At a meeting last November, staff warned Polak that the federal government has updated its formula for calculating greenhouse gas emissions and that alone will increase methane values by 20 per cent. The province will need to follow suit, members of the Climate Action Secretariat told Polak.

Premier Christy Clark says B.C. is poised to develop a trillion-dollar LNG industry.

But emissions remain a hurdle for the provinces, which has legislated targets for reductions. Legislation dictates that emissions are to be reduced by at least a third below 2007 levels by 2020.

Polak has also been told that while B.C. estimates that between 0.3 and three per cent of natural gas extracted is lost as fugitive methane emissions, other North American jurisdictions and scientific literature estimate that rate is between seven and eight per cent.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates between four and nine per cent is lost.

However, in B.C. regulations are significantly different, the briefing notes pointed out. Because B.C. gas contains toxic hydrogen sulfide, leaks are more tightly regulated.

The province’s Climate Action Secretariat and Natural Gas Development Ministry are working with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to test technology to curb emissions, said the internal documents.

“Though significant, this work does not address concerns about potential fracking-related emissions from geological formations, poor cement casing or produced water storage tanks,” said the briefing prepared last July.

Polak declined a request for an interview.  In an emailed statement to The Canadian Press, the ministry said:

[quote]Based on academic research and work in the United States, there is concern that fugitive or unplanned emissions from oil and gas facilities are higher than currently reported in B.C.[/quote]

The federal government has updated its greenhouse gas emissions formula and the province “is examining” when to update its own regulations, it said.

The Climate Action Secretariat is working with the association and industry to find ways to reduce emissions and “ensure emissions levels are properly understood,” it said.

They’ve initiated a joint study of emissions levels and, as a result of updated information, the province has removed an outdated metering requirement, the statement said.

“International greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting and measurement practices are changing as research and the understanding of science evolves,” the ministry said.

B.C. has been underestimating the impact of methane, said Tom Pedersen, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, a collaboration between the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Northern British Columbia.

But provincial officials are very aware of the challenges, he said.

[quote]This is not something that they are trying to sweep under the rug. They are concerned about it and they are trying to put in place appropriate regulations to deal with it.[/quote]

That will require intensive monitoring and enforcement of regulations, he said.

“At the same time, one does have to be realistic about this, there is pushback from industry. They would prefer not to have regulations of course.”

A very human dilemma - Population woes vs. biological imperative

A very human dilemma: Population woes vs. biological imperative


A very human dilemma - Population woes vs. biological imperative

Every baby is a biological miracle. In its development from conception to birth it undergoes a remarkable process summarized by “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” — a fetus growing into a human being moves through the entire succession of animal phyla, from the most simple unicellular organism to the most complicated of the multicellular. This process not only confirms the evolutionary history of life but highlights the incredible memory and genetic intelligence contained within a single fertilized cell.

Concurrent with this development of the fetus is the utter wonder of becoming sentient, of ascending through levels of consciousness until awareness is even aware of itself. “When you think about life, there’s nothing quite like it,” noted the philosopher, theologian and writer, Ron Atkinson. People who are only remotely aware of the implications of this notion are justifiably awestruck by everything that is alive — but, also, by the question of how everything came to be alive.

Genetically programmed to reproduce

In case anyone should forget about the importance of this question, however, biology looks after any lapses in memory. We are genetically programmed to be reproductive organisms, constantly being reminded of this by nature’s ingenuity. The mutual attraction of male and female is guaranteed by multiple mechanisms that range from subliminal pheromones and alluring odours to conspicuous shapes and subtle movements.

The pleasure of sex is just one obvious enticement to mate and reproduce. Most of our social structures, domestic traditions, dress habits, entertainment pastimes, eating rituals, philosophical notions and even religious precepts are strongly influenced or directly driven by sexuality and the biological imperative to regenerate the species. The urge to merge is so powerful that in some moments of reflection we must wonder whether our lives are served by sex, or sex is served by our lives.

The population explosion

Source: Population Reference Bureau
Source: Population Reference Bureau

This question is best answered by numbers. For hundreds of millennia we were a few million scattered beings dispersed sparingly around the world’s continents. By the 16th century our entire human population was only 450 million. We have just recently become a species of billions. After centuries of incremental growth, our population reached 1 billion in 1804, then 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011. It reached 7.3 billion in the early months of 2014, and is expected to be at 8.1 billion in 2025, 9.6 billion in 2050 and perhaps 10.9 billion in 2100.

Of course, the accuracy of these projected numbers is subject to many variables, including human-inflicted ecological disaster. But the proliferation of billions upon billions of people presents sobering uncertainties for the future of each additional baby. What will be the quality of life it inherits in a world of diminishing space and resources?

Biological miracle or ecological problem?

Each baby, despite being a biological miracle, is now part of a biological problem. What we have been doing naturally has now become unnatural — the reproductive success that our biology has always been attempting was never allowed by previous circumstances.

The constraints of fatal disease, food shortage, extreme climate and geographical isolation that once limited our numbers have mostly been removed by modern civilization. Indeed, population increases are a direct measure of the success of our organized institutions and technologies. The brutish cruelty of our long history is increasingly being replaced by abundance, comfort, health and longevity — in Sir Kenneth Clark’s personal view of Western history, Civilisation, he notes that one of greatest achievements of the 19th century was humanitarianism with all the variants of kindness that come with it. We have revolutionized the quality of our lives but the primordial biological urge continues unabated.

Population flatlining in affluent countries

In many affluent countries, sex has become more recreational than procreational. In these circumstances, the making of babies tends to be deliberate rather than inadvertent. The maternalistic and paternalistic drives of biology’s insistence may be as persuasive as ever but nature’s reproductive intentions can be controlled. Consequently, in many affluent cultures, the upward population curve is flattening, while in some countries it is falling — a 2012 United Nations study expects a population decline in 43 countries by 2050, a demographic skew that is already creating a different kind of demographic challenge.

Educating women the key in developing nations

This means that most of the projected population increases for 2050 and 2100 will be occurring in cultures that can least afford it. These are the places where biology’s harsh methods of trimming the excessive number of a species collide with humanity’s evolving sense of kindness. The humanitarian solution to too many people making too many babies is to encourage gender equality, to educate women, and to raise living standards — each reduces reproduction and population growth.

The reality of limits

The principal obstacle to raising living standards for large numbers of even more people is the reality of limits. The consumption that can be supported by a finite planet has already been exceeded by the existing affluent cultures. They are already using more resources than can be replaced by the biosphere. Any increase in the material well-being of significantly more people would raise the level of exploitation even further beyond sustainability.

The sobering conclusion is that the most humane solution to the population problem would probably create a catastrophic environmental one. Humanity has reproduced itself into a situation where the choices are either intolerable or untenable.

What to do?

What to do? No one really knows. It’s another of the unfolding dilemmas invented by our remarkable cleverness and inadequate foresight. As always, the individual choices we make and the specific things we do all combine to create a tide of consequences for which no one in particular is responsible, yet everyone in general is culpable. And now the biological urge to reproduce is in collision with the ecological warning to refrain.

At least, that’s what we would like to believe — that we can choose. But biology may be more powerful than thoughts, more insistent than restraint, more demanding than control. Reproduction is in our genes. It’s the principal driving mechanism of life, and we are unlikely to be exempt. This is confirmed by the miracle of each and every baby.


David Suzuki: Earth Month should be a time for action



April is Earth Month, and April 22 Earth Day. We should really celebrate our small blue planet and all it provides every day, but recent events give us particular cause to reflect on our home and how we’re treating it.

Through an amazingly ordered combination of factors, this spinning ball of earth, air, fire and water – with its hydrological, carbon, nitrogen and rock cycles, biological diversity and ideal distance from the sun – provides perfect conditions for human life to flourish. But with our vast and rapidly increasing numbers, breakneck technological advances, profligate use of resources and lack of concern for where we dump our wastes, we’re upsetting the balance.

We’re a relatively new species, but we’re altering the geological properties of Earth to the extent that many scientists refer to this epoch as the Anthropocene – from the Greek anthropos meaning “human” and kainos meaning “recent”.

Maritime garbage obscures search for Flight 370

Five oceanic gyres concentrate much of the world's growing maritime debris
5 oceanic gyres concentrate much of the world’s growing debris

When Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8, crews in planes and boats set out to search the Indian Ocean. Debris sightings raised hopes that the crash site was located, but they turned out to be endless streams of garbage that humans have been dumping into the oceans for ages – plastic bottles and bags, fishing gear, household wastes, cigarette butts, detritus from shipping containers, even bits of space shuttle rocket boosters.

We now have massive swirling garbage patches in our oceans, and thousands of birds and fish from remote seas turning up dead, their bellies full of plastic and flotsam.

We’re also upsetting the delicate carbon cycle of the planet and its atmosphere, mostly through wasteful burning of fossil fuels. This, in turn, is shifting other natural processes, including the ways water circulates around the globe and climate and weather are regulated.

IPCC’s latest report

For a disturbing illustration of the damage we’ve done and how much more we’ll do unless we change our ways, we need only look to the recent installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. Findings show we’re already experiencing the ever-increasing impacts of global warming: ice caps and Arctic sea ice melting and collapsing; more extreme weather-related events like droughts and floods; dying corals; stressed water supplies; rising, increasingly acidic oceans; and fish and other animals migrating with some going extinct. Unless we act quickly, our food and water supplies, critical infrastructure, security, health, economies and communities will face ever-escalating risks, leading to increased human displacement, migration and violent conflict.

Some argue we must choose between “growing” the economy and protecting the planet. In response, the report states:

[quote]Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.[/quote]

That’s if we do little or nothing – which is not a viable option. We must reduce our individual impacts, but more importantly, we must tell industry and governments at all levels that we’ll no longer support the fouling of our planet and the madness of putting short-term economic growth ahead of protecting everything that keeps us alive and healthy.

The answer is blowing in the wind

We elect governments to act in our best interests, not to promote polluting industries at the expense of human health and long-term prosperity. One of our species’ unique abilities is foresight, the capacity to look ahead to avoid dangers and exploit opportunity. It’s time for our leaders to be visionary and steer away from hazards while taking the enormous opportunities offered by renewable energy sources. As I said in last week’s column, climate change is serious, and “Confronting it will take a radical change in the way we produce and consume energy – another industrial revolution, this time for clean energy, conservation and efficiency.”

Meeting this challenge, through reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to changes we can no longer prevent, will offer myriad side benefits, from better health and lower health-care costs to greater economic opportunities through cleaner and longer-lasting technologies.

There’s no excuse to keep on destroying our home. If we are to observe Earth Day and Earth Month, let’s make it a time to celebrate, not to despair.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Study: Arctic getting darker, making Earth warmer

Study: Arctic getting darker, making Earth warmer

Study: Arctic getting darker, making Earth warmer
Photo by Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren, NOAA Corps, ret., courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Arctic isn’t nearly as bright and white as it used to be because of more ice melting in the ocean, and that’s turning out to be a global problem, a new study says.

With more dark, open water in the summer, less of the sun’s heat is reflected back into space. So the entire Earth is absorbing more heat than expected, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That extra absorbed energy is so big that it measures about one-quarter of the entire heat-trapping effect of carbon dioxide, said the study’s lead author, Ian Eisenman, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

The Arctic grew eight per cent darker between 1979 and 2011, Eisenman found, measuring how much sunlight is reflected back into space.

“Basically, it means more warming,” Eisenman said in an interview.

The North Pole region is an ocean that mostly is crusted at the top with ice that shrinks in the summer and grows back in the fall. At its peak melt in September, the ice has shrunk on average by nearly 35,000 square miles — about the size of Maine — per year since 1979.

Snow-covered ice reflects several times more heat than dark, open ocean, which replaces the ice when it melts, Eisenman said.

As more summer sunlight dumps into the ocean, the water gets warmer, and ittakes longer forice to form again in the fall, Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland said in an email. He was not part of the study.

While earlier studies used computer models, Eisenman said his is the first to use satellite measurements to gauge sunlight reflection and to take into account cloud cover. The results show the darkening is as much as two to three times bigger than previous estimates, he said.

Box and University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati, who was not part of the research, called the work important in understanding how much heat is getting trapped on Earth.

PNAS journal:

State Dept. report rumoured to bode well for Keystone XL pipeline

State Dept. report rumoured to bode well for Keystone XL pipeline


State Dept. report rumoured to bode well for Keystone XL pipeline

by Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – Canadian officials say they’re encouraged by what they’re hearing about a long-awaited report on the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline that could be released imminently by the U.S. State Department.

Those sources in Washington and Ottawa say they’ve been told the report could be ready for release within a few days — and that it will bolster the case for the controversial energy project.

“What we’re hearing is that it’s going to be positive for the project — and therefore positive for Canada,” said one diplomat in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he hadn’t seen the report himself, although he had discussed its contents with American contacts.

“The rumours certainly are that it’s very thorough and that the analysis will support the project.”

He said there was optimism amongst Canadian officials but no celebration just yet: “You’re not going to be seeing people high-fiving and toasting with champagne,” he said.

“It’s just another step (in the process).”

Canada ramps up pipeline pressure

Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in Washington pleading for a decision soon. He said enough time had been lost on the project and didn’t want to see another construction season wasted.

His U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, responded that there would be no fast-tracking the process.

The actual writing of the report began in August, according to the Canadian source in D.C. With the threat of almost-certain lawsuits looming, regardless of what the final Keystone decision might be, he said he’d heard from U.S. officials that the report authors were under pressure to be especially rigorous.

“What we need is an (environmental impact statement),” he said, “that is so thoroughly done that it will stand up to litigation.”

The report is the latest environmental impact statement on the $7-billion TransCanada project to come from the State Department, which has jurisdiction because the pipeline crosses an international boundary.

Supporters say pipeline won’t significantly affect climate change

The last report, released a year ago, concluded the project would not significantly impact the rate of oilsands development or crude oil demand, nor would it pose any greater risk to the environment than other modes of transportation. President Barack Obama has since declared that he will only approve the pipeline if it can be shown that it will not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Wednesday that he expected the forthcoming report to draw the same conclusions as the last one. “There are no new facts on the ground,” Oliver said. “So you know, it’s to be expected that they would come out in the same way.”

Once that step is taken, the U.S. administration will conduct a 90-day review to determine if the project is in the national interest.

Not so fast…

Another Canadian diplomat warned against concluding that the report’s release is automatically imminent. Even if it’s slated to come in the next few days, there’s always a chance someone, somewhere, could hold up its release.

For starters, the accepted wisdom in Washington has been that the State Department document would not be released until an inspector general’s review of conflict-of-interest allegations against a consultant working on the report.

That review into the activities of contractor Environmental Resources Managament came after news that several of its consultants working on the project had also worked for TransCanada and its subsidiaries, without that previous work having been disclosed.

Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., refused to speculate on the timing or content.

“We have no certainty on the timing,” Doer said in an interview.

But he expressed faith that the Canadian position would prevail: that the pipeline would be the safest, cleanest way to ship oil that would be transported to the U.S., one way or the other.

Oil-by-rail spills used to promote pipelines

Referring to train accidents, including the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que., Doer said events since the last State Department review had only served to reinforce the earlier conclusion.

“We believe that the facts have, regrettably, become only stronger on oil vs. rail,” he said. “We believe that (the earlier conclusion by the State Department) will be maintained: higher cost, higher (greenhouse gases) without a pipeline.”

A State Department spokesperson wouldn’t confirm anything.

“The State Department is working on the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Final SEIS), addressing issues in more than 1.5 million public comments, as appropriate. There is no time line for the release of the Final SEIS,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “The Department continues to review the Presidential Permit application for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in a rigorous, transparent, and objective manner.”

Canada failing to meet even domestic climate targets

Canada failing to meet even domestic climate targets; Huge GHG spike expected post-2020


Canada failing to meet even domestic climate targets

by Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Never mind those international targets, the federal government appears to be having trouble meeting even its own internal operational goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

An internal PowerPoint presentation prepared by Public Works and Government Services Canada asks each federal department to ante up its emissions reductions number for the coming 2014-15 fiscal year.

And it prods departments to “please consider increasing your commitment to help bridge the current five per cent gap.”

“They’re clearly going to miss their targets,” said John McKay, the Liberal environment critic.

[quote]I can’t say I’m overly surprised by that given that they’re not serious about national targets, so why would they be serious about government targets.[/quote]

As part of a “greening government operations” exercise, the Conservatives have committed to reducing GHG emissions from federal buildings and transportation fleets by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

That’s the same target the Harper government agreed to for Canada as a whole as part of the Copenhagen accord in 2009.

Canadian climate targets slipping further away

A fall report from Environment Canada shows the country is slipping further away from meeting its Copenhagen emissions goal, although the government likes to claim Canada is halfway to the target.

Similarly, when Public Works says there’s a five per cent gap in operational emissions cuts, it doesn’t mean the government’s work is 95 per cent complete.

A 2012 report by Environment Canada on the federal sustainable development strategy makes clear “the government is on track to achieve a 12 per cent decrease in emission levels relative to the base year by fiscal year 2020-2021. A projected gap of about five per cent highlights the need for additional efforts in order to achieve the 17 per cent federal target.”

In other words, the government is currently on pace to miss its self-imposed internal 17-per-cent target by five percentage points — or almost 30 per cent. And it would seem no headway has been made on that front since 2012.

Public Works says the current reductions are “more significant … than what was anticipated for the second year of implementation of the federal sustainable development strategy.”

Spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold said in an email that the current reductions are “subject to change over time as departments analyze their data, adjust their plans and adopt new plans in order to reach the targets by 2020.”

It’s not the only troubling progress report that’s come to light on Canada’s efforts to reduce emissions.

Canada’s carbon footprint to climb sharply after 2020

The government quietly submitted two reports last month to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that show Canada’s emissions will spike sharply upward after 2020, driven largely by expansion of the oil sands.

Emissions between 2020 and 2030 are predicted to climb by 81 million tonnes, taking Canada 11 per cent above 2005 levels — notwithstanding hopes that a new round of international climate negotiations in 2016 are supposed to find further global reductions from the 2005 base year.

“Under all scenarios over the forecast period, emissions are expected to grow the fastest in oil sands extraction and upgrading,” says the Canadian report to the U.N.

McKay, the Liberal critic, says if the government can’t get its own emissions under control, it can’t push other sectors of the economy, noting the federal government accounts for almost 15 per cent of Canada’s GDP. Said the Liberal MP:

[quote]If you don’t get leadership out of the federal government in getting their own house in order, how can you actually reasonably expect the rest of the citizens of Canada to be serious about greenhouse gases?[/quote]

McKay acknowledged not nearly enough was done under the previous Liberal governments to reduce Canadian emissions as per the 1997 Kyoto protocol.

“But after a while the blame exercise gets a little tired, especially since you’ve had six or seven years to get your main emitter under control, which is the oil and gas industry.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a year-end interview that long-delayed regulations on the oil and gas sector will be announced “over the next couple of years.”

2013 in review: No platitudes, please

Ray Grigg’s 2013 review: No platitudes, please

2013 in review: No platitudes, please
Typhoon Haiyan was a reminder in 2013 of the need for dramatic action on climate change

Platitudes are wholly incompatible with our present environmental situation on planet Earth, so saccharine pleasantries would be quite inappropriate to summarize the events of 2013. The natural world continues to be under ominous assault. The collective awareness of humanity and its political leadership has still not registered the urgency of the problem with enough clarity to effect the required changes in our behaviour. Global remedial action has been halting at best, leaving limited initiatives to be taken by communities, cities and a few countries. However heroic these efforts may be, they are insufficient to address the magnitude of the challenge.

If modern science is correct, the opportunity for avoiding critical ecological instability is rapidly shrinking — if it’s not already too late — and the pressure is building for corrective measures. So 2014 arrives with an anxious dread brought by a sense of impending inevitability, and a sense of frail hope inspired by remote possibility.

Hope and dread

The dread presently exceeds the hope because none of the major ecological problems facing the planet are being successfully addressed. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, so temperatures are increasing in tandem — albeit more slowly for unknown reasons — and ocean acidification worsens. Species extinction is in free-fall due to climate change, habitat loss and biological homogenization. Soil, water and forest resources are either threatened or in decline almost everywhere.

Shortages in oil and gas supplies has been alleviated by extensive fracking but this has exacerbated the carbon dioxide problem, abetted by increases in global coal consumption. Glaciers and ice sheets are melting so ocean levels continue to rise. Industrial ocean fisheries are still ravaging most of the world’s marine stocks while mercury toxicity contaminates the remaining large fish. Coral reefs are dying and oceanic dead zones are proliferating. The threatening health effects of chemical and plastic pollution have become ubiquitous. Climate change refugees are a new and growing challenge to social, economic and political stability. Even our world-wide financial system is showing signs of vulnerability.

The law of limits

Optimism is shrinking as we encounter complexities that seem beyond our character, resolve and ability to address. Yes, we are making notable advances in technology, biology, physics, medicine, communication and general knowledge. But these accomplishments are occurring with the dawning realization that we may have a fundamental defect in the structure of civilization itself, together with our inability to recognize, confront, accept or alter its course. As the momentum of global industrialization leaves nature in tatters, we have so far avoided a predicted collision with the law of limits. But a haunting and collective nervousness is beginning to emerge as our human population soars, as the speed of our technological and consumer enthusiasm spreads, and as the ominous wall of limits seems to loom closer.

Even an assessment of our social ecology is sobering. A economic philosophy continues to widen the gap between rich and poor, threatening the civic adhesives of justice, fairness and opportunity that keep societies contented and peaceful. Serious questions are being asked about the ability of free-market capitalism to function within the bounds of nature’s imperatives.

The folly of 2008’s gross financial irresponsibility in international monetary dealings continues to cause worldwide personal and collective strife. Constraining regulations have been vigorously resisted by financial institutions, underscoring the danger of combining human greed with unfettered financial markets as a viable model for managing humanity’s economic interests. And finally, global demographic changes are unsettling many social ecologies.

Increasing population, complexity

Humanity’s population continues to rise, although a few countries are now dealing with the social and economic problems posed by falling populations — a measure of the degree to which perpetual growth has been equated to our sense of progress. Adjusting to an eventually stable human population is going to be difficult enough; adjusting to unequal demographic changes among countries is going to be even more difficult.

Perhaps the most subtle, powerful and discernible development during 2013 has been the penetrating insights about our human character arising from sophisticated thinkers. They are now articulating their serious doubts about our ability to manage a civilization that is rising exponentially in complexity. Neuroscience has added considerably to our understanding of the individual and collective psychology that motivates and governs our behaviour. The indications are not reassuring. We are not, for example, as rational, pragmatic or foresighted as we like to think we are. Our confidence usually overshadows our competence. Our survival strategies as individuals are more evolved than they are as groups — this is why we have persisted as a species but most human civilizations have not.

Capacity for self-reflection


The high opinion we have of ourselves is constantly being lowered by the honesty of self-examination. Our relative status continues to decline as we learn of the other marvellous living creatures that are indispensable components of the incredible intricacy of life on Earth. If we are any more amazing than ants and elephants or mosses and lichen, if we have any uniquely commendable attributes, it would seem to be the range of our awareness and our capacity to be reflectively conscious.

If this is the case, then our abusive treatment of the miracle of a living Earth would be all the more abject, deprived and inexcusable, our squandering and pillaging of its treasures even worse than wanton. Our present behaviour not only diminishes the planet but it also diminishes us. As our tiny measure of time ticks off another year, we need to weigh our small gains and accomplishments against our great failings and losses.

Maybe 2014 will be a wiser year.

Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices

Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices

Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices
Hurricane Earl strikes Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, in 2010. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

David Suzuki Foundation supporters who live in Western Canada often have eyes riveted on Ottawa to see what the federal government’s next move will be when it comes to environmental issues. So we sometimes too easily overlook Canadians in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador – coastal regions, like ours, on the front lines of climate change.

As oceans warm, water expands and sea levels rise. Melting glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets add to the water volume. Scientists predict oceans could rise by more than a metre before the end of the century. They’re also increasingly convinced that escalating carbon emissions are linked to the risk of extreme weather events and intensified storms, such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or super storm Sandy in the U.S. in 2012. A key finding from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that Atlantic Canada faces similar risks if climate change is left unchecked, with more severe storms causing surging tides, flooding and widespread coastal erosion.

Climate change already affecting Atlantic Canada

For his captivating documentary, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, interviewed farmers, fishers, local residents, First Nations community members, scientists and business people from all around the Atlantic provinces. All say climate change is affecting their communities and livelihoods. They also agree something must be done and that the “business as usual” scenario is no longer an option.

Extreme energy, extreme weather

The heart of the problem is our seemingly unquenchable thirst for mainly fossil-fuel based energy resources. As our desire for comfort and efficiency grows, so does our energy consumption, prompting the search for sources increasingly difficult to extract. The words tar sands, shale gas, offshore drilling and fracking have only entered our vocabulary in just the past few decades – including in Atlantic communities, many of which now also rely on these fossil-based industries to fuel economic prosperity.

But with current talks about oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, shale gas fracking in New Brunswick, and moving tar sands bitumen from Alberta to the East Coast, we must ask if economic profit and prosperity for a few are worth the environmental and social risks to so many – especially when the latest IPCC report suggests that to avoid global catastrophic climate chaos, we must leave much of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.

Increased wealth ≠ improved health

In light of what the scientific community is telling us about the scope and impacts of climate change – largely a result of burning fossil fuels – we owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren to consider the implications of the choices we’re about to make in Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country. As former Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan reminded us before leaving his position earlier this year, Canada is not prepared for a major oil spill off the East Coast. And, as New Brunswick Chief Medical Health Officer Eilish Cleary points out regarding the economics of shale gas development:

[quote][We] cannot simply assume that more money equates to a healthier population.[/quote]

Oil and gas development threatens valuable tourism economy

Coastal regions such as Atlantic Canada have a long cultural history based largely on fishing, tourism and other marine activities. Although fossil-fuel activities have been in Atlantic Canada for decades, proposed new on- and offshore energy projects will likely put Atlantic Canada’s existing economy and way of life at risk, affecting tourism and fishing in the ocean and on rivers like New Brunswick’s famous Miramichi.

We have a choice

When it comes to climate change, our future will not be determined by chance but by choice. We can choose to ignore the science, or we can change our ways and reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s up to us and our leaders to consider and promote energy alternatives and other solutions that modernize our energy systems, provide a clean, healthy environment for our families and offer long-term economic prosperity.

I’ll be touring Atlantic Canada with local and national experts at the end of November, premiering Mauro’s film and holding conversations with Atlantic communities about climate change and energy issues. Please join us and be part of the solution!

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation-Quebec Science Project Manager Jean-Patrick Toussaint.