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Archive for December, 2011

December 15 Earthgauge radio podcast: less garbage, less stress and more enjoyment this holiday season

December 15, 2011 1 comment

Click the audio player to listen to the latest edition of Earthgauge radio, which is a bi-weekly broadcast every other Thursday morning from 7-8 AM on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa. You can also right click here to download the show.

On Earthgauge this week, it’s our holiday season special show. Huge amounts of waste are produced during the holiday season, more than any other time of year. I talk with Paula Richardson of the Canadian Hunger Foundation about their Gifts That Matter campaign. We also hear from Trevor Hache of Ecology Ottawa about the City of Ottawa’s plans to deal with its growing waste problem by signing a long-term contract with Plasco Energy. Also an update from journalist Felix Von Geyer on the recently concluded climate summit in Durban, South Africa and the Canadian government’s announcement that it is officially bailing on the Kyoto Protocol. Way to go Canada! Read more…

Hockey fights and climate change

December 11, 2011 1 comment

What climate change campaigners can learn from hockey

What does hockey have to do with climate change? This may seem an odd connection at first but bear with me for a moment.

News that hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard’s brain showed signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition related to Alzheimer’s, has been met mostly with a collective shrug from members of that sport’s fraternity.

Surveys done by the NHL Players’ Association show the majority of NHL players want to keep fighting in hockey. As New Jersey Devils tough-guy David Clarkson said: “I wouldn’t be in the league if I didn’t play that type of style.”

Yet the risks are becoming increasingly clear. Boogaard’s was the fourth NHLer whose brain was examined by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. All four showed signs of CTE. Autopsies on former fighters’ brains, including Bob Probert who died in 2010 from a heart attack and old-timer Reggie Fleming, showed severe brain damage.

How then do we reconcile what science is telling us about the link between repeated head trauma and CTE with the fact that, almost to a man, the NHL’s fighters say their jobs are worth the risk? Understanding this proclivity to accept serious, perhaps fatal, risks could shed some light on another issue currently being debated in Durban, South Africa under the auspices of the United Nations climate change summit (COP 17).

Climate science has evolved considerably over the last 20 years to the point that we are now virtually certain that humans, through the emissions of greenhouse gases, are causing climate change. We also know that the impacts of climate change are likely to be very serious if nothing is done to reign in global emissions dramatically. Even the International Energy Agency, hardly an environmental advocacy group, recently warned that the “door is closing” to avert catastrophic climate change.

Yet despite years of repeated, urgent warnings from the scientific community, global emissions are up 49% since 1990 and it seems increasingly likely that there will be no new deal coming out of Durban to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol. In Canada, our total emissions are now more than 34 per cent above our Kyoto targets.

For the most part, the public and the media recognize and acknowledge the risks of continuing to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, yet we have thus far been unwilling to accept or support any substantive economic measures that might impact us personally. As with fighting in hockey, we know climate change might cause serious problems, even death for some, but as the current system is our meal ticket, it’s worth the price.

Clearly, an appeal to leaders to “do the right thing” has not been successful. In both cases, we have individuals such as Gary Bettman and Stephen Harper, who either question the validity of the science or refuse to take commensurate action in the face of mounting evidence.

So what can climate change campaigners learn from hockey? Emphasizing extreme future risks may not be nearly as effective as appealing for solutions that do not appear to pose a personal economic threat. In the case of hockey, this could be a continuing role for tough guys absent injurious blows to the head. For climate change, it may mean building an urgent case for a thriving, clean energy economy with better jobs, healthier communities and less pollution.

Like Derek Boogaard, who reportedly loved what fighting brought him but did not like fighting itself, we don’t love fossil fuels. We love what they do for us and we won’t be persuaded to give them up easily no matter the risk – unless of course there is a compelling alternative.

What do you think?

‘Stephen Harper’s climate death-wish’: Read my most recent article in the Common Sense Canadian

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment


I am pleased to be acting as an Ottawa correspondent for the excellent online publication The Common Sense Canadian, British Columbia’s premier environmental news journal. CSC combines cutting-edge video, audio, and reporting and editorials from former BC Environment Minister and Hall of Fame broadcaster Rafe Mair, documentary filmmaker Damien Gillis, and a host of formidable contributors and guest editorialists who bring you the stories and opinions our establishment media won’t publish.

My latest article, reprinted below, examines the negotiating position the Canadian government has adopted at the ongoing Durban climate change summit and in international climate negotiations more generally. You can read it here in full on the CSC website.

Harper’s Climate Death-Wish:
Withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol only the latest effort to derail climate change
action

Amidst the ongoing circus that constitutes the United Nations climate change summit (COP 17) currently underway in Durban, South Africa, Canada has once again distinguished itself as the country most hostile to virtually any serious international effort to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada has long been considered a climate change pariah by the international community. We were the only signatory to the Kyoto Protocol to simply ignore its responsibilities following ratification and our country’s total emissions are now more than 34 per cent above our Kyoto targets. Not only did the previous Liberal government fail to do anything to meet its Kyoto obligations, in recent years the government of Stephen Harper has gone a step further, becoming increasingly obdurate in its efforts to deliberately obstruct the progress of international climate talks.

Why the antipathy of the Harper government toward limits to carbon emissions? Well, as you might expect, the tar sands are one factor. Tar sands reserves are now valued at a stunning $14 trillion and oil companies are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in exploiting the resource, money that could boost federal tax revenues considerably.

This is only part of the story however.

Read more…

Yet more evidence of the need for aggressive, immediate action to curb carbon emissions

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

My post yesterday (see below) discussed the increasing likelihood that, given the current rate of increasing carbon emissions, we are going to shoot past the 2 degree global warming threshold. Today, I came across this very interesting/frightening article by David Roberts of Grist. Based on the research of Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change who was, until recently, director of the U.K.’s leading climate research institution, the Tyndall Energy Program, Roberts explains why the 2 degree target is likely already out of reach and what this means for our planetary future. This is a must-read. Here is an excerpt:

“This, then, is the brutal logic of climate change: With immediate, concerted action at global scale, we have a slim chance to halt climate change at the extremely dangerous level of 2 degrees C. If we delay even a decade — waiting for better technology or a more amenable political situation or whatever — we will have no chance.”

And if we sail past 2 degrees warming this century? In Roberts words…

…if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.

“Based on current scientific understanding, positive climate feedbacks — the ones that accelerate the process — considerably outweigh negative feedbacks. At some level of temperature rise, some of those positive feedbacks are likely to become self-reinforcing and effectively unstoppable, no matter how much emissions are cut. These are the “tipping points” you hear so much about.

“That makes the notion of “adapting” to 4 degrees C a bit of a farce. A climate in which conditions are changing that fast just isn’t suitable for stable human civilization (or for the continued existence of a majority of the planet’s species).

Oh, and by the way: According to the International Energy Agency, we’re currently on course for 6 degrees C [10.8 degrees F]. That is, beyond any reasonable doubt, game over.”

Oh dear. How do we digest this kind of information? And, more importantly, how do we convey research like this to a broad audience without being dismissed as “alarmist” or “fear-mongering”?

Global carbon emissions reach record 10 billion tons, threatening 2 degree target

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

As politicians dither and bicker in Durban in climate change negotiations to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol, a new study indicates that global emissions are up 49% since 1990 (which was Kyoto’s base year for emissions reductions). Meanwhile, Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, confirmed in Durban that his Conservative government would not commit to a second round of Kyoto, saying that Ottawa wants Kyoto to be replaced with an international treaty that would include all major emitters, including the United States, China and India.

Fine. But any such treaty will likely not be negotiated until 2020, which will be too late to keep warming below the 2 degree threshold, as world leaders agreed to do two years ago in Copenhagen. Many climate scientists feel that 2 degrees is the absolute maximum amount of warming that we can tolerate before we are likely to see catastrophic climate impacts. So, Mr Kent, if not Kyoto, what is your plan exactly?

December 1 Earthgauge radio podcast: the Durban climate summit special

December 1, 2011 5 comments

Click the audio player to listen to the latest edition of Earthgauge radio, which is a bi-weekly broadcast every other Thursday morning from 7-8 AM on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa. You can also right click here to download the show.

On today’s show, a special program on the climate change summit that started this week in Durban, South Africa. Interviews with Andrew Weaver, Canada Research Chair in Climate Modeling and Analysis at UVic and one of the key authors of several of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and with Felix Von Geyer who is a sustainable development journalist based in Montreal specializing in climate change politics. We’ll also hear a very interesting perspective from South Africa courtesy of our friend Alex Smith who runs the syndicated radio show EcoShock. He had a discussion recently with Patrick Bond of the University of KwaZulu Natal, director of the Centre for Civil Society in South Africa.

What is this Durban Summit on climate change all about? It is formally known as the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, quite a mouthful so people just call it COP 17 for short.  As you may have heard already, expectations for Cop 17 are low. The summit is widely expected not to result in any new international climate change agreement, so I’m not sure if the organizers of COP 17 were trying to be ironic or wildly optimistic when they chose the slogan ‘Saving Tomorrow Today’ for this year’s summit. In any case, on today’s show, we look at the reasons why many people think COP 17 and indeed the entire international climate change negotiation process is on life support and is doing anything but saving tomorrow today.

If the international climate change negotiation process is fundamentally broken, where do we go from here? And what role has Canada played in undermining global action on climate change? Well, it’s more than you might think as we’ll hear. As we all know well, the Cdn government has a considerable vested interest in seeing that tar sands developments continue unabated so, since the arrival of Stephen Harper in 2006, the government has shown very little enthusiasm for the climate change issue. This is no different this time round in Durban.

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