Archive for February, 2012

Mark Jaccard: You can’t take the tar sands out of the climate change problem

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

[Seriously, how could I resist posting at least once on February 29th? I’ll have to wait another four years for the opportunity to arrive again.]

Last week I wrote about the recent article published in the journal Nature, which analyzes how burning all global stocks of fossil fuels would influence global temperatures. The authors of the study, Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart of the University of Victoria, contend that mining and burning all of the tar sands oil of northern Alberta would raise global temperatures by about .36 degrees C. By contrast, burning all of the world’s vast coal deposits would increase temperatures by 15 degrees.

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail published a rather bristling response to this study by none other than the renowned climate economist, Mark Jaccard, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University and lead author for sustainable energy policy in the coming Global Energy Assessment. Jaccard writes that “Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart of the University of Victoria are surely about to receive a major award from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Alberta government and even the Canadian government for their just-released paper in Nature on the potential contribution of Alberta tar sands to global warming. Usually, CAPP and its allied governments have to pay someone…to justify a continuation of fossil fuel profiteering in Canada at the planet’s expense. For once, they get it for free.”

Ouch. Jaccard goes on to argue that Weaver and Swart have committed a “fallacy of composition”, which occurs when one infers that “an individual component on its own is not a problem, then it isn’t part of a problem that exists when all components are added together…even if we just hope to keep the (global average temperature) increase below four degrees, then we can’t allow any expansion of the tar sands, and certainly no new pipelines such as Keystone and Northern Gateway to support any expanded use of fossil fuels.”

I agree with Jaccard but would take exception with his contention that the oil industry and the Canadian government will be thrilled by the results of this research. Climate scientists have made it clear that we must limit warming to an absolute maximum of 2 degrees (compared to pre-industrial times) to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change. Yet burning fossil fuels has already resulted in warming of 0.8 degrees. This leaves us only 1.2 degrees of wiggle room, meaning that the tar sands, if fully exploited as the Canadian government wishes, would contribute .36 degrees of warming and would thereby be singly responsible for almost one-third of the entire planet’s remaining allowable temperature increase. This seems like a huge contribution to me and not one to be celebrated.

You can’t take the tar sands out of the climate equation – The Globe and Mail.

Oil: In perpetuity no more – Al Jazeera English

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

This article in Al Jazeera English provides a good overview of the looming economic problem of peak oil. Here is an excerpt:

“Even if demand remained steady, the world would have to find the equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to maintain production, and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up with the expected increase in demand between now and 2030.”

Of course, the elephant in the room here is coal. We may well run out of conventional oil in the next few decades but coal supplies, which when burned are much worse than oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, will last for centuries. If we burn all this coal, it is projected that the average global temperature would increase by an astonishing 15 degrees Celsius. If even 2 degrees of warming is considered by scientists to be dangerous, we can safely assume that 15 degrees of warming would be game over for humanity.

Incidentally, one of the analysts quoted in this Al Jazeera story, was interviewed on Earthgauge a few weeks ago for our Earthgauge Radio special on the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Earthgauge interview with federal NDP leadership candidate NathanCullen

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I caught up with NDP MP Nathan Cullen recently when he spoke at the University of Ottawa in support of his campaign to replace Jack Layton as the new Leader of the Opposition. Cullen has served as the environment critic for the NDP so I asked him some questions about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, an issue we have discussed at length on Earthgauge. If constructed, the pipeline would transport tar sands crude from northern Alberta through Cullen’s riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley in northern B.C. to the port of Kitimat. He has some strong opinions about the pipeline as well as some provocative ideas about how opposition parties can team up to defeat the governing Conservatives in the next general election. His proposal, which would be unprecedented in Canadian political history, has been generating a lot of controversy so I wanted to find out how it would work and why he feels so strongly about it.

Earthgauge radio podcast February 23, 2012: rethinking money and wealth // plus an interview with NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve often said that on Earthgauge radio we discuss topics that do not, at first glance, seem to be related to environmental issues. Well this is the case today. On Earthgauge radio this week, we’re talking money and politics. Click the audio player above to stream the podcast or right click here to download. I have two interviews for you on today’s podcast:

No, this is not our take on the growing interference of big money in the political system. Instead, we first take a look at the meaning of wealth in our society and how the concept of wealth been co-opted. Most of us now tend to associate wealth with money but, as Gwendolyn Hallsmith explains, being wealthy means so much more than this. We likely all know individuals who may be financially wealthy yet are unhappy, spiritually or emotionally poor. Likewise, how many people with limited financial means are thriving, active members of their communities, leading fulfilling lives they enjoy and making contributions to improve the lives of others. Are these people not wealthy?

Hallsmith argues that rethinking wealth is of critical importance in this age of environmental and economic uncertainty as we urgently need to think about how we can build the economic and environmental resilience of local communities. She is a Director in the Department of Planning and Community Development for the City of Montpelier, VT and is the co-author of a recent book called ‘Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies’.

What does this have to do with the environment? Well, a lot actually. As she tells me in our interview “if you’re interested in the environment, you ought to be interested in the monetary system.” We all know that building strong, sustainable local economies will be critical to increasing both economic and environmental sustainability in the future. Creating Wealth demonstrates how a healthy society can be attained through developing new systems of exchange. This can be done by adopting alternative local currencies to be used as complements to national currencies or by implementing creative initiatives such as time banks, and systems of barter and exchange. Hallsmith believes that these measures can empower cities and towns to build vibrant, healthy, sustainable local economies and in our interview she explains why she is so passionate about the potential transformative power of alternative currencies and why there is such a desperate need to improve our monetary system.

Now for the politics. I also have an interview today with federal NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen who spoke at the University of Ottawa last week. He was the environment critic for the NDP so I caught up with him and asked him some questions about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline which, if constructed, would transport tar sands crude from northern Alberta through Cullen’s riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley in northern B.C. He has some strong opinions about the pipeline as well as some provocative ideas about how opposition parties can team up to defeat the governing Conservatives in the next general election. His proposal has been generating a lot of controversy so I wanted to find out how it would work and why he feels defeating the government is such an imperative.

I also have some Canadian eco-news on the show and we have our usual segment with Kathy of Ecology Ottawa who updates us on local environmental events and campaigns. I have listed some of the upcoming events below or you can click here to see a complete list with full details.

Contact us at earthgaugeradio ‘at’ Please get in touch if you have story ideas, a comment on something you’ve heard or want to get involved or contribute to the show. You can also download our podcasts on iTunes. Just type “earthgauge” into the search bar and you’ll find us.

Upcoming local environmental events (courtesy of Ecology Ottawa)

  • Sunday, February 26, 2012 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm the Kanata Environmental Network (KEN) will host a Sunday afternoon walk in the South March Highlands near Kizzel Pond with Martha Weber. RSVP at
  • Monday, February 27, 2012 there will be a City Council Meeting of the: Ottawa Forests and Greenspace Advisory Committee from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. City Hall in the  Colonel By Room
  • Tuesday, February 28, 2012 there will be a City Council Meeting of Planning Committee from  9:30 am to 12:30 pm at City Hall, Champlain Room.
    Organizer: Caitlin Salter MacDonald, 613-580-2424, ext. 28136,
  • Tuesday February 28th there will be a meeting of the Transition Ottawa Peak Oil Discussion Group from 7 to 9 pm at the  Montgomery Legion, 330 Kent Street. Come to this informational monthly discussion group meeting to discuss ideas and actions on how to survive the consequences of the inevitable decline in oil production and economic collapse. You can get the contact information to RSVP for this meeting form the website. Or email the moderator at
  • Just Food Ottawa is hosting a “Storage of Vegetables and Fruits Workshop” on the 28th from 7 to 9. at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre at 88 Main St. Space is limited, so contact Emily at or call 613-699-6850 x12 to reserve your spot.
  • Wednesday, February 29, 2012 City Council Meeting: Transit Commission from 9:30 to 11:30 am at City Hall, Andrew S. Haydon Hall
  • Wednesday, February 29th Just Food and FarmStart, will be offering an “Exploring Your New Farm Dream Workshop”for people who are thinking about starting a commercial farm business. The course helps aspiring farmers learn what it would take to start and manage their own farm dream For more information and to register, please go to: the workshop will take place from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at yet to be announced location.
  • Wednesday Feb 29th and Wednesday march 7th Just voices, Ottawa’s only environmental and social-justice themed choir. Will hold their Weekly Environmental Choir Rehearsal from 7 to 9 at the Bronson Centre.
  • Did you know It can take up to a year (or more) to get a Community Garden started? Now is the time to start planning for next year so come to the How to Start a Community Garden Workshop. On Thursday, March 1st, 2012 from 6 to 8pm at the carlington health centre located at 900 merivale road. You can reserve your spot by contacting Emily at
  • Seedy Saturday is being held on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 from 10 am to 3 pm at the Ron Kolbus community centre located at 102 greenview avenue. Seedy Saturday is the foremost opportunity to buy, trade, ask about and learn about seeds adapted to the Ottawa area.  For more information  visit and click on “Events” to find out more.
  • Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 City Council Meeting: Transportation Committee from 9:30 am to 11:30 am City Hall, Champlain Room
  • Wednesday March 7th there will be a presentation as part of the Urban Parks are for People Dundonald Park Project from 7:00 to 10:00 pm at Montgomery Legion, 330 Kent Street. Gil Penalosa, an internationally sought-out speaker and advisor, will deliver one of his trademark lively presentations on making urban spaces healthier. The goal of this project is to educate and empower communities with the tools to transform parks and public spaces into vibrant and active destinations that promote social interaction, mental health and well being for all. .There will also be a series of focus groups and stakeholder meetings from March 7th to March 10th

Earthgauge interview with IPCC Climate Scientist Andrew Weaver

February 21, 2012 2 comments

I interviewed Dr. Andrew Weaver in December 2011 just before the latest round of international climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa. He is the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modeling and Analysis at the University of Victoria and one of the key authors of several of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I thought it would be worth posting this interview now in its entirety given that Dr. Weaver is once again in the news today.

It seems he has just published an article in the journal Nature in which he analyzes how burning all global stocks of fossil fuels would influence global temperatures. He found that mining and burning all of the tar sands oil of northern Alberta would raise global temperatures by about .36 degrees C. By contrast, burning all of the world’s vast coal deposits would increase temperatures by 15 degrees.

Naturally, we can expect tar sands advocates to jump all over this analysis but they should probably think twice before leaping to any premature conclusions. Dr. Weaver’s analysis does not consider the other, very significant impacts of tar sands developments including the destruction of boreal forest, pollution, water consumption, health impacts and so on. Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations are still higher than conventional oil and the various tar sands projects underway constitute the largest industrial project on Earth.

Dr. Weaver has also made it explicitly clear on many occasions (as he did in our interview in no uncertain terms) that he feels we have to get ourselves off fossil fuels as soon as possible by putting a price on carbon. He believes governments have an active role to play in helping us do so. In our chat, he expressed his extreme disappointment and dismay with the current Canadian government and speculated as to why they are so obstructionist in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence about the serious dangers of continued fossil fuel use. His latest analysis simply looks at the relative contributions to global warming from the various sources of fossil fuels and concludes that coal and gas are by far our biggest long-term problems, not oil.

“This idea that we’re going to somehow run out of coal and natural gas and fossil fuels is really misplaced,” says Weaver. “We’ll run out of human ability to live on the planet long before we run out of them.”

“I have always said that the tar sands are a symptom of a very big problem. The problem is dependence on fossil fuels.”

Marine mammals are ‘swimming in sick seas’ of pathogens

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Parasites and pathogens are increasingly being detected in marine mammals such as sea otters, porpoises, harbour seals and killer whales along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada, according to a panel of scientific experts. It seems this is the inevitable result of diminishing wetland marshes, increased run-off from urban areas near the coast, and lower water quality.

Why does it matter? Here’s how Andrew Trites of UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit puts it: “We can expect increased health risks for humans, pets and marine mammals sharing the same polluted marine habitat — including along the shorelines right here in downtown Vancouver. In a way, marine mammals are the canary in the coal mine — we must consider ourselves warned and take appropriate action.”

Marine mammals are ‘swimming in sick seas’ of terrestrial pathogens.

Environmental Policy news: Fracking impacts reviewed in major study

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

An independent major study of fracking has found that there is no evidence to suggest that the practice – in which water, sand, chemicals are pumped into wells to break up deep layers of shale and release natural gas – has contaminated groundwater. However, the report does conclude that contamination tends to happen closer to the surface when gas and drilling fluid escapes from poorly lined wells or storage ponds.

The study, which appears to be wholly independent from undue influence by the natural gas industry, did not see a need for new regulations specific to fracking, but for better enforcement of existing regulations of drilling in general—such as those covering well casing and disposal of wastewater from drilling.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the ongoing battles over fracking in the U.S. and Canada. But is the larger question here not about fracking itself but the increasingly apparent need to move away from fossil-fuel based forms of energy? Doesn’t fracking represent the growing extremes to which we are willing to go in order to extract and burn every last drop of the earth’s diminishing fossil fuel reserves? Maybe it’s high time we figure out a plan for how we as a global community are going to wean ourselves off the “crack” once and for all.

Environmental Policy news: Fracking impacts reviewed in major study.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 538 other followers

%d bloggers like this: