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Archive for November, 2010

Good news! GOP admits defeat on climate change

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, not quite. If only it were so simple. Still, it’s a start. Friday’s Washington Post features a remarkable op-ed by former House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who represented New York’s 24th congressional district for over two decades before retiring in 2007. In the article he states:

Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.

In a trio of reports released in May, the prestigious and nonpartisan National Academy concluded that “a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Our nation’s most authoritative and respected scientific body couldn’t make it any clearer or more conclusive.

Boehlert’s op-ed piece ran the same week Rep. Bob Inglis, a S. Carolina Republican defeated in his party’s primary earlier this year by a Tea Party candidate, criticized fellow GOPers for doubting climate change science.

“Tom Friedman gave me this great analogy yesterday,” Inglis said. “Your child is sick. Ninety-eight doctors say ‘treat him this way.’ Two say ‘no, this other [way] is the way to go.’ I’ll go with the two. You’re taking a big risk with those kids. Because 98 of the doctors say, ‘do this thing,’ two say, ‘do the other.’”

I’m not holding my breath that other members of his party will also come to their senses but at least we know that two Republicans are not in total denial when it comes to the reality of human-caused climate change.

Meanwhile, US climate scientists are fighting back after a difficult year of (mostly unfounded) attacks on climate science and the scientists themselves. Today a new web site was launched called the Climate Science Rapid Response that aims to close the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding of global warming.  Already, Grist is reporting that they tried out the new web site to question claims that infamous climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg had made downplaying (once again) the significance of climate change impacts.

The scientists who responded to Grist’s inquiry – the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology’s Ken Caldeira, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Josh Willis, and Rutgers University’s Alan Robock – independently confirmed that  Lomborg had misrepresented the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report. They also found that he had mischaracterized the work of the world scientific community when he argued that those who call for the immediate reduction of global warming pollution are relying on “fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse.”

All in all, a pretty good day for climate science.

Interview with Jeffrey Sachs

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Click the audio player to hear my interview (5:30) with the esteemed economist and academic Jeffrey Sachs.

I have the utmost respect for Mr. Sachs and the tireless work he is doing on sustainability and poverty alleviation. I have my doubts, however, about his comments in our interview that we can somehow achieve high living standards for all while also limiting climate change and environmental deterioration. He didn’t go into detail about how this could be achieved and I’m still waiting for an economist to explain this to me. Facing an extremely serious environmental predicament and a population projected to grow to 9 billion by mid-century, we will likely have to think hard about what we mean by “better living conditions for all” as Sachs describes it. Is he talking about western-style living standards for everyone or some other notion of prosperity?

Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. In 2004 and 2005 he was named among the 100 most influential leaders in the world by Time Magazine. He is also Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. From 2002 to 2006, he was Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed goals to reduce extreme poverty, disease, and hunger by the year 2015. Sachs is also President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty.

He is widely considered to be the leading international economic advisor of his generation. For more than 20 years Professor Sachs has been in the forefront of the challenges of economic development, poverty alleviation, and enlightened globalization, promoting policies to help all parts of the world to benefit from expanding economic opportunities and wellbeing. He is also one of the leading voices for combining economic development with environmental sustainability, and as Director of the Earth Institute leads large-scale efforts to promote the mitigation of human-induced climate change.

Canada’s Senate kills climate change bill

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

This won’t make big news but it is quite astonishing all the same. For the first time in 70 years, Canada’s Senate (which is unelected) has killed a bill without debate that was passed by the elected representatives of the House of Commons. The Climate Change Accountability Act, or Bill C-311 as it is known, was a private member’s bill that had been introduced by the New Democratic Party. It is now officially dead.

Since taking power in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tilted the membership of the Senate in favour of his Conservative Party so that they now have a majority of votes (this despite the fact that the Conservatives received the support of a mere 36% of voters in the last federal election and their polling numbers haven’t budged since). Harper has made no secret of his disdain for Bill C-311 and it seems the Senate’s Conservative members were well aware of his antipathy. They acted accordingly.

Canada’s former Minster of the Environment, Jim Prentice, recently resigned his post. Now, with international climate change negotiations in Cancun just two weeks away, Canada’s delegation is set to arrive with a stand-in environment minister and absolutely no plan for climate change mitigation. In the wake of Canada’s rejected bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, is there any wonder why Canada’s reputation around the world is plummeting?

Indigenous perspectives on the Alberta tar sands

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Click the audio player to hear the first in a series of special Earthgauge podcasts produced for CKUT radio.

The first episode looks at the tar sands of northern Alberta from the perspective of the people who are most directly affected by these massive industrial projects: namely, the First Nations communities living in the region. These are the communities of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray and Fort McKay First Nations and the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation.

For this podcast, I spoke with several individuals who are familiar with the impacts the tar sands projects are having on First Nations communities: Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network; Inuit activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier; Shannon Walsh, director of the documentary H2Oil; and Dr. John O’Connor, the former physician in the community of Fort Chipewyan.

What do these First Nations communities think of having the largest industrial development on Earth in their own backyard? Some are dependent on the jobs and income that the tar sands have created. Others are angry about the severe health and environmental impacts their communities have suffered. And now they want justice.

To download the podcast, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.

IEA World Energy Outlook 2010

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Hot off the press, the International Energy Agency has just released the 2010 edition of its World Energy Outlook. The report projects global energy production and consumption out to 2035 based on three scenarios: current policies; policies promised since the agreement of the Copenhagen Climate Change Accord last December; and the IEA’s best case scenario of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (we are currently sitting at roughly 390 ppm and rising fast).

There’s a lot to chew on in a report of this magnitude. And although you can’t actually read it without paying a fee, you can read an executive summary and early excerpt by clicking here and scrolling down to find the download.

It is worth noting one quite startling assertion in this year’s report: the IEA maintains that abolishing fossil fuel subsidies would in fact boost the world’s economy, environment and energy security. And to what extent are fossil fuel industries subsidized you might wonder? According to the IEA, which is the respected energy watchdog to 28 industrialized countries, such subsidies were estimated to be $312 billion in 2009 compared with $57 billion for renewable energy. Fossil fuel subsidies are on course to reach $600 billion by 2015.

In this age of energy insecurity, air pollution, oil spills and climate change, it is simply incredible to think that we are spending 6 times more on subsidies to the oil, coal and gas industries than we are on clean, renewable energy technologies.

Without taking any other action to mitigate climate change, the IEA estimates that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies alone by 2020 would cut global energy demand by 5 percent and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 6 percent.

So what are we waiting for?

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How much is left?

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

This is pretty cool. Scientific American has created an interactive web page that provides a visual accounting of the earth’s remaining resources. You can click on different years and icons to discover all sorts of fascinating and sobering information about the current state of global commodities, biodiversity, water supplies, as well as projections for the future.

They have also embedded videos in which experts from various fields talk about the stark resource limitations that confront humanity as the global population continues its ascendancy towards an estimated 9 billion by mid-century. As they say in the introduction,

The constraints on our resources and environment – compounded by the rise in the middle class in India and China – will shape the rest of this century and beyond.

We hear a lot about economic growth and the dazzling rise of emerging economic superpowers in Asia, but economists are much less inclined to discuss the resource limits that are coming increasingly into plain view as population and consumption levels rise. How are we to equitably provide sufficient resources for all 9 billion of us a mere 40 years from now?

Here are just a few tidbits of info from the site that I found quite shocking:

  • Hammerhead sharks have declined by 89 percent since 1986. They are hunted for their fins, which are a delicacy in soups (for some).
  • We are living in the midst of one of the greatest extinction periods of all time. Due to habitat loss, hunting, environmental pollutants and climate change, 18% of all mammals are considered endangered. 30% of amphibians are endangered.
  • 90% of all the planet’s oil reserves are projected to be exhausted by 2050.

Burning Water interview

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Interview with Frederic Bohbot, producer of the new documentary film Burning Water

Click the audio player to hear my recent interview with the producer of the new documentary film, Burning Water. Directed by Cameron Esler and Tadzio Richards, Burning Water is about a family living in a small town in Alberta where an oil and gas boom is underway. Yet there’s a catch: their water can be lit on fire.

Canada’s largest natural gas company, Encana, has been drilling for coal bed methane in the area using a process called ‘fracking‘, which uses chemicals for drilling. Now methane is turning up in large quantities in the wells and the water supply of local farmers.

Is coal bed mining to blame? The Lauridsen family thinks so but the government of Alberta has other ideas. As other jurisdictions in North America consider their own oil and gas exploitation (such as shale gas drilling here in Quebec), Burning Water is a timely contribution to the debate. It serves as a cautionary tale that raises some very serious questions we all need to consider.

To download the interview, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.

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