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Archive for October, 2010

Just published: my review of Tim Jackson’s ‘Prosperity without Growth’

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

My review of ‘Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a finite planet‘ by Tim Jackson has just been published in the latest issue of Alternatives Journal. Here it is below…

Prosperity Without Growth: Economics
for a Finite Planet, Tim Jackson, London,
UK: Earthscan, 2009, 264 pages.
Reviewed by Mark Brooks


Former Alberta environment minister
Lorne Taylor was reported to have
remarked to David Suzuki that without
a strong, growing economy, Canadians
simply could not afford to protect the
environment.

Most economists today continue to
promote the idea that the wealthier the
economy, the more money we will have
to reduce pollution, invest in green technologies
and protect wilderness areas. So
why on Earth would we want to dispense
with the pursuit of economic growth,
particularly when the global economy is
so vulnerable?

Read more…

Is this the beginning of the end for bullfighting?

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Anyone who has seen footage of the barbaric and anachronistic “sport” known as bullfighting (as if the bull has any fighting chance whatsoever) will be delighted to know that, in at least one part of Spain, bullfighting has finally been banned. In doing so, the parliament of Catalonia becomes the first mainland region of the country to ban an activity that anti-bullfighting activists have long called brutal and inhumane. José Ramón Mallén, a representative of Fundación Equanimal, an animal rights organization, said “This is not about politics and Catalan identity, but about ethics and showing that it’s simply wrong to enjoy watching an animal getting killed in public.”

Of course, some see the vote as a political statement by a wealthy and powerful region that likes to assert how different it is from the rest of Spain, rather than an expression of concern over cruelty. Nonetheless, it’s good news as far as I’m concerned and we can only hope that this will be a catalyst for similar bans or restrictions in other parts of Spain. In a released statement, the World Society for the Protection of Animals has  pledged it “will continue to push hard for European Union condemnation of the practice,” which “goes against the European Union’s stance on animal welfare.”

The time is long overdue.

Categories: Animal welfare Tags:

Mmmmm MEAT! Eeeeewww MEAT!

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

I know, I know…it sure tastes good. Juicy steaks, BBQ chicken, turkey dinners, ham sandwiches. Who can deny the primal and sensual appeal of meat to many of us? But the problem seems to be that we’re just getting too darn much of a good thing…way too much. In fact, according to a recently published article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people will have to substantially cut meat from their diets if the world is to stay within safer limits of planet-warming greenhouse gases, nitrate pollution and habitat destruction.

The fact is that the sustainability of current means of livestock production is seriously in doubt. The study finds that livestock production will consume a huge portion of the earth’s resources and account for high levels of pollution by 2050.

“We need to look at how much animal protein is needed in our diet,” said the report author Peter Tyedmers. “In Australia, in North America, in Europe, we consume a lot more animal protein than we need biologically.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), humans are on track to eat 465 million tonnes of meat and consume more than 1 billion tonnes of milk in 2050, up from 229 million and 580 million tonnes respectively, in 2000. And according to PETA, every year in the U.S., more than 27 billion animals are slaughtered for food.

Wait a minute…did I read that correctly? 27 billion animals per year are killed for meat production in the U.S. alone? That’s the equivalent of roughly 74 million per day or 3 million deaths each and every hour. That statistic alone seems absolutely mind-boggling. And lets remember that, even when they are alive, most of these animals endure conditions in factory farms that would make us shudder with disgust.

Yet if all this weren’t enough, the Dalhousie study points out livestock production will account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, up from 52% in 2000.  “We have to think about how we can change consumption patterns,” says Pelletier, “It doesn’t necessarily mean we stop producing livestock. I don’t think that’s realistic, but it’s equally unrealistic to expect that we can bring the entire planet up to the level of meat consumption of North Americans.”

The most urgent environmental problem? Not climate change…it’s water

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

According to Britain’s chief scientific advisor, John Beddington, water shortages will be the world’s most pressing problem in the next decade. Yet look a little deeper and, once again, climate change seems to be the real culprit here. One of the principal reasons Beddington feels water shortages will be so serious is due to disrupted rainfall patterns around the globe as a result of our changing climate. And a rapidly growing world population will lead to a “perfect storm” of food, energy and water shortages by 2030. Unless, of course, we have the foresight and political will to do something about it!

Beddington was speaking this week at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit.

Air pollution and breast cancer

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

A new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has found that, in the city where I live – Montreal, there seems to be a correlation between higher incidences of breast cancer in post-menopausal women and increases in local air pollution, specifically ambient concentrations of nitrogen dioxide which is a component of traffic-related pollution.

Post-menopausal women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas.  As reported by CBC News, the researchers “found around a 30 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer for every increase of five parts per billion of this tracer gas, nitrogen dioxide,” said Goldberg, who is a clinical epidemiologist and professor of medicine at McGill.

This doesn’t sound like an awfully large increase to me – 5 parts per billion – but the study does not say how much exposure to exhaust would be considered dangerous. Nitrogen dioxide in itself doesn’t cause cancer; however, its presence is associated with other pollutants from vehicle emissions, some of which are known carcinogens.

None of this is entirely surprising as previous  studies have also shown possible links between cancer and air pollution. [And if you think about it, doesn't it just make sense? After all, we know with certainty that smoking causes cancer. Why would excessive exposure to toxic fumes somehow be different?] What is surprising is that we continue to cling to our fossil fuel-obsessed culture despite mounting evidence of the toll it is taking on our health and the environment. Montreal is not even a particularly bad case in terms of big cities with traffic congestion problems. Just imagine the toll that pollution must be taking on public health in places such as Beijing and Mexico City.

Although the researchers said their findings should be taken with caution and they are recommending further study into the possible link between breast cancer and air quality, this seems to be just the latest wake-up call reminding us once again that it is time to put an end to our addiction to oil. What will it take for us finally to kick the habit?

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Categories: Health, Pollution Tags: , ,

China officially the world’s largest energy user

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

China has become the world’s largest energy user, having overtaken the United States, the head of the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday. This may not be particularly surprising in itself but what is startling is the pace at which China’s energy consumption is growing.

Since 2000, China’s energy demand has doubled, yet it is also a world leader in developing clean energy technologies – perhaps out of necessity more than altruism. Per capita energy consumption remains quite low of course – several times lower than that of the United States and Canada. But with a rapidly growing economy, total energy consumption in China is expected to continue to rise dramatically in the coming years.

Where will all this new energy come from? To date, much is being powered by coal and the country is grappling with very serious pollution problems as a result. Prospects for a new global climate change treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Accord are already looking dim. If China’s growth is to be powered by burning more coal and the world’s other big polluter, the United States, continues to refuse to address its disproportionately high emissions, the likelihood that any meaningful action on  climate change will be taken is becoming more and more remote.

 

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Categories: Economic growth, Energy

Europe and the tar sands

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s been a lot of talk about the Alberta tar/oil sands of late (and deservedly so). Hollywood director James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) recently paid a visit to the Athabasca region to witness the devastation for himself – and to talk with various political and petroleum industry leaders. [Aside: could the Ed Stalmach government of Alberta be any friendlier to the oil industry in Alberta? It's as if they speak with one voice. Governments surely want to create a business friendly environment but isn't it also their responsibility to ensure that human health and the environment are protected?]

Following his visit, Cameron, who is Canadian, ended up saying the oil/tar sands will become a curse for Canada without science-based regulations. His visit followed on the heels of other high-profile visits from the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham was so enamored with the beauty of open pit oil mines and devastated landscapes, he has since gone on to introduce a pro-Alberta oil sands bill in the U.S. Senate that would ensure unrestricted flow to United States.

Meanwhile, European Union MPs in Brussels have been debating a motion to classify the oil sands as a high-emissions fuel in the EU’s fuel quality directive that promotes use of greener energy. Not surprisingly, the Canadian government, in yet another nod to the beloved petroleum industry, is challenging the EU ruling in the World Trade Organization.

The EU vote has been put on hold for the time being but one thing is for sure: the issue of what to do about Canada’s tar sands is heating up as both sides become more and more entrenched. We surely haven’t heard the end of this story.

Categories: Energy, Oil Tags: , ,

Scotland charts a clean energy future

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The Guardian newspaper in the UK is reporting that Scotland could theoretically generate all its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. A bold claim indeed. And whether this objective can actually be accomplished is another matter.

Industry is anxious about how easily and quickly these goals can be reached and a government  study said these ambitions “were not easy to achieve”. But at least the country is setting its sights high and creating a plan to develop its onshore wind, offshore wind, hydro and biomass industries. This is the future of energy. So where is Canada’s national green energy plan?

Categories: Energy economics Tags:

Earthgauge interview with David Suzuki

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I had the privilege of speaking with the well-known scientist and broadcaster Dr David Suzuki when he was in Montreal last week to give a speech at McGill University to promote his latest book called ‘The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future‘. For over 30 years as the host of CBC’s The Nature of Things, Suzuki has opened the eyes of Canadians to the beauty and fragility of our planet. He is also the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides science-based education, advocacy and policy work, and acts as a catalyst for social change.

Suzuki’s latest book is a sort of final lecture from a man who has dedicated his life to education and public service. In the book, Suzuki talks about his formative years as a young geneticist as well as the inspiration he has found from Aboriginal societies who have fought for the survival of their lands and traditional ways of life. Now that he is an “elder” as he describes it, the book is also a reflection of Suzuki’s own legacy and his vision for a sustainable future.

Click the audio player above to hear my conversation with him (8 mins). The interview can be downloaded by right-clicking here and selecting ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.

You can also hear Suzuki’s entire speech at McGill by clicking the audio player below or right-clicking here to download.

Plants in peril

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Not to be a total downer (see the uplifting post below on the state of the world’s rivers), but according to new research released this week, more than a fifth of the world’s plant species faces the threat of extinction, a trend with potentially catastrophic effects for life on Earth. Up until now, the earth’s mammals were thought to be more seriously imperiled by the risk of extinction but the study, entitled Sampled Red List Index for Plants, concludes that plants are just as threatened as mammals. The research provides a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world’s estimated 380,000 plant species is known.

Why should we care about some trees and shrubs? Quite simply, because plants provide the foundation for most of the world’s ecosystems and are vital for providing food, clean water and soil, medicine and regulating our climate. And the reason for the demise of plants? You guessed it – humans. One of the greatest threats facing plants today, is the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture or livestock use. The report says that human activities (81 percent) far outweigh natural threats (19 percent) to plant biodiversity and are being fueled by agriculture, logging, plantations and livestock. And the most threatened habitat is tropical rainforest.

Read more…

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