Oh the shame. Canada last week emerged as the only developed country to oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, prompting a litany of criticism from around the world. If approved, the known carcinogen would have been listed on Annex III of the hazardous chemicals convention, which would require exporters to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Putting us in fine company, Canada is one of only a handful of countries – including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Vietnam – that continue to export asbestos.
The World Health Organization has warned that “at least 90,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures.” Doctors from Canada (including Quebec) and abroad have signed petitions, sent letters, organized delegations – all to no avail. It would seem Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is more concerned with protecting the asbestos industry in Canada (particularly Quebec) than with those pesky health hazards of chrysotile asbestos.
As Jeffrey Simpson points out in this recent article, the government “vigorously defends mining asbestos because of one little corner of Quebec, near Thetford Mines, where the asbestos is mined and shipped to developing countries, mostly in Asia. Stephen Harper’s top Quebec minister, Christian Paradis, used to head the Thetford Mines chamber of commerce. Mr. Harper campaigned in the area and supported the mining. He spent part of Friday, St. Jean Baptiste Day, in Thetford Mines, thereby reinforcing his government’s political marriage to asbestos.”
Bizarrely, the Montreal Gazette is reporting that the Canadian delegation to the summit agreed with the work of a United Nations scientific panel that wants to limit the export of chrysotile asbestos, but Canada still wouldn’t back the proposal. Billions of dollars will be spent to upgrade the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in the coming years and one of the reasons for the repairs is the fact that they are full of asbestos, a cancer-causing substance that is no longer used in Canada. But for export to other countries? It seems we have no problem with that.
In the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Al Gore has a 7000-word article entitled ‘Climate of Denial: Can science and the truth withstand the merchants of poison?‘. In the article, Gore takes aim at some of the usual suspects (big oil and coal companies) who deny the truth about global warming, obfuscate the facts and spend millions in campaigns to mislead the public.
Perhaps more surprisingly, he also has some heated words for President Obama, whom Gore feels has failed to take the lead on an issue of such critical importance to the future of humanity. I’ve copied some excerpts of what Gore had to say about Obama below. Are his comments fair game? What can Obama do in such a politically-poisoned environment in which a significant proportion of the population either don’t believe that climate change is happening or, if it is, that humans are responsible?
But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that “drill, baby, drill” is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil.
The failure to pass legislation to limit global-warming pollution ensured that the much-anticipated Copenhagen summit on a global treaty in 2009 would also end in failure. The president showed courage in attending the summit and securing a rhetorical agreement to prevent a complete collapse of the international process, but that’s all it was — a rhetorical agreement. During the final years of the Bush-Cheney administration, the rest of the world was waiting for a new president who would aggressively tackle the climate crisis — and when it became clear that there would be no real change from the Bush era, the agenda at Copenhagen changed from “How do we complete this historic breakthrough?” to “How can we paper over this embarrassing disappointment?”
Without presidential leadership that focuses intensely on making the public aware of the reality we face, nothing will change. The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is “the power to persuade.” Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.
Here is the core of it: we are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now…The President has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.
The BBC is reporting that the oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists. In a new report, they warn that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.
They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.
The impacts, they say, are already affecting humanity.
“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University.
Life on Earth has gone through five “mass extinction events” caused by events such as asteroid impacts; and it is often said that humanity’s combined impact is causing a sixth such event.
ScienceDaily (2011-06-20) — The rate of sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast is greater now than at any time in the past 2,000 years — and has shown a consistent link between changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level. read full article
The Center for Investigative Reporting has put together an interesting 5 min video explaining the true cost of gasoline to the American public. While gas may be hovering around $4 a gallon in the U.S. in recent weeks (still well below the price in Canada and European countries), the video explains how Americans are really paying closer to $15 a gallon through costs such as health impacts due to auto pollution, the clean-up costs for spills and accidents, and reduced crop yields due to pollution. Worth a view.
Happy Father’s Day from Earthgauge. This is priceless. (I can relate.)
In June 2008, the United Nations designated June 8 as World Oceans Day. The world’s oceans account for roughly 70% of the Earth’s surface and they are in peril with threats ranging from depleted fisheries, dying coral reefs, marine pollution, ocean acidification and climate change.
Courtesy of the Living Oceans Society, here are 5 simple things you can do to celebrate and help our oceans:
- Get informed about ecosystem threats and ocean conservation
- Conserve water. Canadians use 4 times as much water per year as the average person in Sweden. Reduce your use of water and show the Swedes we can take care of our rivers and lakes too.
- Use organic vegetables and all-natural cleaning products. The pesticides and fertilizers we use on our fields and everything we put down the sink eventually end up in the ocean.
- Avoid plastic water bottles, plastic bags, plastic anything! The ocean is full of plastic garbage. Be part of the global effort to clean the ocean but using less plastic.
- Walk outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. Every second breath you take contains oxygen made by the ocean.
My post yesterday reported more dire news on the climate change front and now, in a timely response to my question below, it seems we are still quite unwilling to do much of anything about the problem.
Reuters is reporting today that UN talks have run out of time to meet a December 2012 deadline to put in place a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gases.
More bad news on the climate change front…
ScienceDaily (June 6, 2011) — The tropics and much of the Northern Hemisphere are likely to experience an irreversible rise in summer temperatures within the next 20 to 60 years if atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, according to a new climate study by Stanford University scientists.
In the study, the Stanford team concluded that many tropical regions in Africa, Asia and South America could see “the permanent emergence of unprecedented summer heat” in the next two decades.
“According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years,” said the study’s lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science and fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford.
The warnings from scientists just keep on coming. So what are we going to do about it?
Driven by powerful agribusiness interests, a bill is moving through the Brazilian Congress that could cripple the decades-long effort to protect the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest stores massive amounts of carbon, which, if released, would make a major contribution to changing the global climate. According to a 2010 World Bank study, a 20% reduction in forest cover, combined with droughts, fires and climate change, could cause a dramatic dieback of the Amazon, converting large areas to savannah.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, tracked closely by Brazil’s National Space Research Agency (INPE), dropped dramatically in recent years. From 2006 to 2010, it was two-thirds below the annual average from 1996 to 2005. But in March and April, it spiked 470% compared with the same period last year, which experts link to an expected relaxation of the Forest Code.