Category Archives: Climate Change

Greenwash king Patrick Moore turns climate change denier

Greenwash King Patrick Moore sews seeds of climate change doubt

Greenwash king Patrick Moore turns climate change denier
Greenpeace co-founder-turned-greenwasher extraordinaire Patrick Moore

I hesitate to give the man any more publicity.

Patrick Moore, a former environmentalist and now a constant and consistent spokesman for right-wing causes, had an article on the op-ed page of the Vancouver Province, September 24th edition. In it, he denies the worldwide scientific opinion that global warming here, driven by humans, and a deadly serious problem. The Province, in my view, has become the leading journal of the right and regularly publishes the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Fraser Institute so Moore is a natural for them.

A long way from Greenpeace

Moore has been utterly inactive in environmental matters for years – in fact, being an unspoken foe of those who are. This particularly includes Captain Paul Watson who has, with unbelievable courage, done so much to save whales and other mammals in our oceans. Moore bills himself as an environmentalist, which is Orwellian in the extreme and makes true environmentalists want to retch.

Moore plays on claims that he was a founder of Greenpeace (though this is disputed), a director of Greenpeace Canada and of Greenpeace International. This is somewhat like Satan reminding us that before he was tossed out, he was once a colleague of the Saints in heaven.

In fact, Moore was made unwelcome both at the Canadian and the International level and has been persona non grata ever since.

Moore was last in the news for criticizing the president of Greenpeace International for using airplanes for travel while he, Moore, regularly uses cruise ships to make lectures, and money – cruise ships themselves being a major consumer of fossil fuels.

Downplaying human-caused climate change

The pith and substance of Moore’s article is that there is doubt that global warming is actually taking place. He trots down the usual path, referring to times before the Ice Age and that sort of thing.

What Moore ignores is that since the Industrial Revolution, and particularly for the last hundred years, humankind, both socially and industrially, has dumped ever-increasing amounts of waste into the atmosphere. This makes the situation today vastly different then it was in the years gone by to which Moore refers. One is tempted to think that, given Moore’s self-proclaimed expertise and glibness, this is a deliberate oversight.

Sewing seeds of doubt

Moore then moves into the area of the law in talking about “doubt”. He clearly assumes that if any sort of doubt is raised about a proposition, it must fail.

This is not what standards of proof are all about and the standard cannot be the mere raising of doubt.

We have two choices as to standard of proof required. In civil cases it is called “balance of probabilities”, whereas in criminal cases it is “reasonable doubt” – a much heavier onus.


The question of global warming has to be, of course, subject to standards of proof, as are all allegations that cannot be proved beyond any doubt whatsoever. But if mere doubt were the standard in criminal law, for example, there would be very few ever convicted of a crime. Any good criminal lawyer will tell you that he can raise a “doubt” in the most flagrant of circumstances.

It can even be raised about a man with a gun in his hand standing over a corpse. Even though the man with the gun is demonstrated to have been a bitter enemy of the deceased, a “doubt” can always be raised.

Criminal law sets the standard at “reasonable” doubt. This is surely the standard we must set with respect to global warming.

The science is clear

The scientific community has been investigating this issue very closely for decades. All the doubters, like Moore, have been heard and their arguments more than met. The result by 2014 is a very clear. Beyond a reasonable doubt, climate change is with us, with disastrous consequences for now and the future.

We, the general public, sit as a common jury assessing the evidence before us. We must decide whether or not the virtually unanimous opinion of the scientific community is to be preferred over the bleatings of Patrick Moore and his ilk.

What’s the harm in tackling climate change?

Another way of looking at this is: What if the scientific community is wrong? In that most unlikely event, we will have cleaned up our air and established a far healthier  atmosphere in the world. Surely that would be a very good thing, no matter what impact warming was having.

On the other hand, if we follow Moore, and he is wrong, we have exacerbated in the extreme the catastrophe which faces us.

Patrick Moore is entitled to his opinions and, of course, The Province is entitled to be a shill for neo-lib views – but in evaluating Moore’s opinions one must remember where he is coming from. This former environmentalist is now a proponent of nuclear, supports the tar sands, pipelines, and tanker traffic carrying bitumen.

As that juror, I have no trouble deciding for the scientific community and that Moore has no credibility.

Patrick Moore is likeable and glib but, on a balance of probabilities, dead wrong.

Canadian rockers join 'Blue Dot' tour - David Suzuki's swan song

Canadian rockers join Blue Dot tour – David Suzuki’s swan song

Rock stars join David Suzuki in cross-Canada 'Blue Dot' tour
David Suzuki and rocker Neil Young will be teaming up again for the “Blue Dot” tour (Photo:

A now-famous 1972 photo of Earth taken by Apollo 17 astronauts from 45,000 kilometres away became known as “the blue marble”. The late scientist Carl Sagan described a 1990 picture taken from six billion kilometres away by the unmanned Voyager 1 as a “pale blue dot”.


The vision of Earth from a distance has profoundly moved pretty much anyone who has ever seen it. “When we look down at the earth from space, we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet,” International Space Station astronaut Ron Garan said. “It looks like a living, breathing organism. But it also, at the same time, looks extremely fragile.”

Referring to the atmosphere, Garan added “it’s really sobering … to realize that that little paper-thin layer is all that protects every living thing on Earth.”

Many astronauts report a deep feeling of connection that transcends borders and worldly conflict —referred to by some as the “overview effect”. Apollo 14’s Edgar Mitchell said:

[quote]You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty.[/quote]

How can anyone who has even seen a photo of the Earth treat our small blue home with disdain and carelessness? How can anyone fail to recognize how precious and finite the resources, especially water, are — and that we must share and care for what we have?

Neil Young, Barenaked Ladies join Blue Dot tour

The “blue marble” photo from Apollo 17, the last manned lunar mission, catalyzed the global environmental movement. Now, as people around the world compete for air, water and land — not just with each other, but with corporations bent on profit at any cost — we need a resurgence in action to care for our small blue planet.

That’s why I’m about to embark on what will likely be my last national tour. From September 24 to November 9, I’m crossing the country, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, B.C., with 20 stops along the way. The plan is to work with Canadians from all walks of life to protect the people and places we love. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done.

And it’s going to be fun! Because they care deeply about our country and the planet, many friends are joining me along the way, including Feist, Neil Young, the Barenaked Ladies, Margaret Atwood, Kinnie Starr, Raine Maida, Grimes, Danny Michel, Stephen Lewis, Bruce Cockburn, Robert Bateman, Shane Koyczan and many more.

Tour pushing for constitutional protections for environment

The goal of the Blue Dot Tour is to work with community leaders and groups, local governments, First Nations, musicians, writers, legal experts and — we hope — you on local, regional and national initiatives to ensure all Canadians have access to clean water, fresh air and healthy food. Ultimately, we’d like to see the right to a healthy environment enshrined in the Canadian Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


That may seem like a challenge, but it’s not unusual. More than half the world’s nations — at least 110 — have environmental rights in their constitutions. Not having them is a strange oversight in a country like Canada, where our clean air and water, spectacular nature and abundant wildlife and resources instill a sense of pride and make us the envy of people around the world.

Pollution costs Canada $100 Billion a year

Maybe we take our good fortune for granted. But we shouldn’t. Already, environmental hazards contribute to about 36,000 premature deaths in Canada a year, and half of us live in areas where we’re exposed to unsafe air pollution levels. Pollution costs Canada about $100 billion a year, and many people suffer from illnesses like asthma and heart disease because of environmental contamination.

As the rush to extract, transport and sell fossil fuels while there’s still a market heats up, it will only get worse — unless we all pitch in. It’s not about getting in the way of industry or progress; it’s about building a conversation about the kind of country we want. And it’s about ensuring that our economic activity creates more benefits than harm to people and the natural systems that keep us healthy and alive.

We hope you’ll join us. Visit for more information and tour dates in your area.

Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Canada's cities take lead on climate change

Canada’s green cities take lead on climate change

Canada's cities take lead on climate change
Vancouver is Canada’s climate leader (photo: Wendy / flickr)

Amid the dire warnings about global warming’s impacts, what’s often overlooked is that actions to reduce or prevent them will lead to livable communities, improved air quality, protection of natural spaces and greater economic efficiency, to name just a few benefits. So it’s not surprising that tangible positive action on climate change is happening in Canada’s cities.

[quote]My hometown, Vancouver, is the real leader on Canadian urban climate initiatives.[/quote]

Oil and gas capital also pursuing energy efficiency

Plenty of examples can be found in the National Measures Report, released in mid-July by the Partners for Climate Protection, which includes the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI-Canada, a local government organization dedicated to sustainability.

The report shows that, although Calgary is best known as the epicentre of Canada’s oil and gas sector, its government is investing in greater energy efficiency and tackling greenhouse gas pollution. In just seven years, it has cut emissions from operations by almost 50 per cent through an innovative partnership with energy companies. Cost savings from reduced energy use pay for the city’s investments.

Edmonton breaking new ground with composting program

Edmonton was an early innovator in waste management, establishing one of the first municipal composting programs in 2000. Its facility is the largest of its kind in North America. Not only does it take in organic waste from households, it also processes sewage sludge from the wastewater treatment plant.

Along with its recycling program, the city now keeps up to 60 per cent of its municipal waste out of landfills, and is aiming to increase that to 90 per cent. How does this help with climate change? Diverting waste away from landfills reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Guelph aims for 25% renewable energy

In Ontario, Guelph is enjoying an economic revival and reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Supported by Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the city aims to meet 25 per cent of its total energy needs with locally sourced renewable energy. The policy turned out to be a boon for the manufacturing sector, attracting solar industry plants to Guelph and across the region.

Almost half Vancouver’s trips made without car

My hometown, Vancouver, is the real leader on Canadian urban climate initiatives. It has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major North American city — and they’re continuing to drop. B.C is lucky to be powered by low-carbon hydroelectric power; Vancouver leverages this advantage by making smart urban-planning decisions and encouraging active transportation such as walking, biking and public transit.

Almost half of city trips are now made without a car. Battling sprawl and encouraging sustainable transportation has its advantages beyond reducing the carbon footprint. Good transit and improved liveability have attracted people to Vancouver’s increasingly vibrant downtown core, lush green spaces and seaside pathways.

Local progress can spur even greater momentum as cities collaborate with each other and other levels of government. The C40 Climate Leadership Group, started in 2005, has grown from 18 to 69 megacities around the world, including Toronto and Vancouver — representing one in 12 people on the planet. C40 and related initiatives have allowed cities to set goals together, measure and verify progress and share success stories on how to tackle global warming, while reaching out to smaller centres and co-operating with national governments.

UN recognizes leadership role of cities

The influence and importance of tackling global warming at the municipal level has become so great that the UN now formally recognizes city governments in negotiations on climate change. It makes sense. The UN notes that although cities cover just two per cent of the world’s surface, they produce more than 60 per cent of CO2 emissions.

How can federal and provincial governments get on board? First, they can establish policies that offer financial and program support to urban global warming action, such as investing in public transportation. The B.C government has helped cities develop climate change plans and become carbon neutral, and Nova Scotia has established a Climate Change Adaptation Clearinghouse to assist cities. Other provinces could take similar action. And all provinces and the federal government need to get serious about the greenhouse gas emissions they control.

Our future will be determined by the choices we make now to prioritize clean energy, better transit and smarter urban design. Canadian citizens and governments should recognize the benefits of acting and co-operating on global warming. There’s still a long way to go, but cities are showing the way.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science and Policy Manager Ian Bruce.


Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson tally cost of climate change

Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson tally cost of climate change

Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson tally cost of climate change
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) and former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson

By Jonathan Fahey, The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Climate change is likely to exact enormous costs on U.S. regional economies in the form of lost property, reduced industrial output and more deaths, according to a report backed by a trio of men with vast business experience.

The report, released Tuesday, is designed to convince businesses to factor in the cost of climate change in their long-term decisions and to push for reductions in emissions blamed for heating the planet.

It was commissioned by the Risky Business Project, which describes itself as nonpartisan and is chaired by former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Thomas F. Steyer, a former hedge fund manager.

Among the predictions: Between $66 billion and $106 billion in coastal property will likely be below sea level by 2050, labour productivity of outdoor workers could be reduced by 3 per cent because extremely hot days will be far more frequent, and demand for electricity to power air conditioners will require the construction of more power plants that will cost electricity customers up to $12 billion per year.

“Every year that goes by without a comprehensive public and private sector response to climate change is a year that locks in future climate events that will have a far more devastating effect on our local, regional, and national economies,” warn the report’s authors.

The analysis and calculations in the report were performed by the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm, and Risk Management Solutions, a catastrophe-modeling company that works for insurance companies and other businesses. It was paid for by the philanthropic foundations of Bloomberg, Paulson and Steyer, among others.

The report analyzes impacts of climate change by region to better show how climate change affects the businesses and industries that drive each region’s economy.

  • The Northeast will likely be most affected by sea level rise, which will cost an additional $6 billion to $9 billion in property loss each year.
  • The Southeast will likely be affected both by sea-level rise and extreme temperatures. The region, which has averaged eight days of temperatures over 95 degrees each year, will likely see an additional 17 to 52 of these days by midcentury and up to four months of them by the end of the century. This could lead to 11,000 to 36,000 additional deaths per year.
  • Higher temperatures will reduce Midwest crop yields by 19 per cent by midcentury and by 63 per cent by the end of the century.
  • The Southwest will see an extra month of temperatures above 95 degrees by 2050, which will lead to more frequent droughts and wildfires.

The report does not calculate the cost of these droughts or wildfires, or many other possible costs such as the loss of unique ecosystems and species and the possible compounding effects of extreme weather conditions. Nor does it calculate some of the ways economies could adapt to the changing climate and reduce the costs of climate change.

“There’s a whole litany of things not calculated in the assessment,” said Gary Yohe, an economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University and vice chair of the National Climate Assessment, a U.S. government project set up to study the effects of climate change. Yohe was not part of the Risky Business Project report, but he was asked to review it.

Still, he said, “The general conclusions are right on the money.”

And he said that while other groups have also attempted to calculate the financial impacts of climate change around the world, this report is notable because of the business and financial experience of the people behind it. Beyond the three co-chairs, the members of the group’s risk committee include Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former Cargill CEO Gregory Page, and George Shultz, former treasury secretary and secretary of state.

“These are people who have managed risk all their lives and have made an enormous amount of money doing so,” Yohe said.

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?


Obama gets tough on coal plant emissions with 30% reduction goal

President Obama visits Copper Mountain solar plant (Photo: Sempra U.S. Gas & Power)

By Dina Cappiello, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday rolled out a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 per cent by 2030, setting the first national limits on the chief gas linked to global warming.

The rule, expected to be final next year, is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce the pollution linked to global warming, a step that the administration hopes will get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.

Despite concluding in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, a finding that triggered their regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act, it has taken years for the administration to take on the nation’s fleet of power plants. In December 2010, the Obama administration announced a “modest pace” for setting greenhouse gas standards for power plants, setting a May 2012 deadline.

Power plants are largest source of greenhouse gases

Obama put them on the fast track last summer when he announced his climate action plan and a renewed commitment to climate change after the issue went dormant during his re-election campaign.

Said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defence Council, which has drafted a plan that informed the EPA proposal:

[quote]The purpose of this rule is to really close the loophole on carbon pollution, reduce emissions as we’ve done with lead, arsenic and mercury and improve the health of the American people and unleash a new economic opportunity.[/quote]

Power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., accounting for about a third of the annual emissions that make the U.S. the second largest contributor to global warming on the planet.

New rule tough on coal

Yet the rule carries significant political and legal risks, by further diminishing coal’s role in producing U.S. electricity and offering options for pollution reductions far afield from the power plant, such as increased efficiency. Once the dominant source of energy in the U.S., coal now supplies just under 40 per cent of the nation’s electricity, as it has been replaced by booming supplies of natural gas and renewable sources such as wind and solar.

“Today’s proposal from the EPA could singlehandedly eliminate this competitive advantage by removing reliable and abundant sources of energy from our nation’s energy mix,” Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement issued Sunday.

Partisan battle ahead

The White House said Obama called a group of Democrats from both the House and Senate on Sunday to thank them for their support in advance of the rule’s official release, which is expected to be rigorously attacked by Republicans and make Democrats up for re-election in energy-producing states nervous.

EPA data shows that the nation’s power plants have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 per cent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal the administration will set Monday. The agency is aiming to have about 26 per cent cut by 2020.

But with coal-fired power plants already beleaguered by cheap natural gas prices and other environmental regulations, experts said getting there won’t be easy. The EPA is expected to offer a range of options to states to meet targets that will be based on where they get their electricity and how much carbon dioxide they emit in the process.

Plan contains range of flexible solutions

While some states will be allowed to emit more and others less, overall the reduction will be 30 per cent nationwide.

The options include making power plants more efficient, reducing the frequency at which coal-fired power plants supply power to the grid, and investing in more renewable, low-carbon sources of energy. In addition, states could enhance programs aimed at reducing demand by making households and businesses more energy-efficient. Each of those categories will have a separate target tailor-made for each state.

Obama has already tackled the emissions from the nation’s cars and trucks, announcing rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by doubling fuel economy. That standard will reduce carbon dioxide by more than 2 billion tons over the life of vehicles made in model years 2012-25. The power plant proposal will prevent about 430 million tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere, based on the 30 per cent figure and what power plants have already reduced since 2005.

The EPA refused to confirm the details of the proposal Sunday. People familiar with the proposal shared the details on condition of anonymity, since they have not been officially released.

Beinecke spoke Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” before details of the proposal became public.

The proposal was first reported Sunday by The Wall Street Journal.


Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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.