Archive for March, 2012

Pesticides can have devastating impact on bees

March 31, 2012 1 comment

For years now, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many bees have been disappearing around the world. In what’s become known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), entire colonies have vanished in unprecedented numbers. Now new research suggests that, surprise surprise, it may our profligate use of potent pesticides that is causing the collapse of bee populations.

A controversial type of pesticide appears to scramble bees’ sense of direction, making it hard for them to find home. Starved of foragers and the pollen they carry, colonies produce fewer queens, and eventually collapse.

The phenomenon is described in two new studies published March 29 in Science.

Why should we care about bees? This article in the Guardian provides a good explanation of why bees are very important to us. Writes Alison Benjamin:

“Insects pollinate a third of everything we humans eat – most fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and forage for our livestock. As we become more and more dependent on a monoculture system of growing food, we become more reliant on the honeybee to do the bulk of this work; trucked into an area for just a few days or weeks when a single crop is blossoming, they can be moved in their hives to more fertile pastures when the orchards and fields turn into a barren wasteland. Not so the bumblebees, solitary bees, moths and butterflies who have suffered a sharp decline as a result of modern farming practices…with honeybees dying around the world, our global food production is far from secure.”

Researchers say there is an “urgent need” to re-evaluate the safety of the pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, and do followup studies in this country where some bumblebees are teetering on extinction.

Budget 2012 continued: Has the Conservative government declared war on the environment?

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

The Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert said on CBC’s At Issue panel last night that the Conservative Budget 2012 (announced yesterday) was the worst environmental budget she had seen in her 20 years working on Parliament Hill. Remember that Hebert is not exactly an environmental radical – she is a respected pundit who is somewhat moderate in her views in fact.

I already discussed the government’s intention to eliminate the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (see post below). More attacks on the environment in the budget include:

  • Environment Canada’s budget is being cut again, this time by 6%. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is in line for a 40 per cent cut in the new budget year.
  • Touting a ‘one project, one review’ principle, the CEAA is up for an overhaul with some responsibilities being downloaded on provinces, newly imposed timelines and a limiting of the scope of reviews. Joint panel environmental reviews are to be limited to 24 months, National Energy Board hearings to 18 months and standard environmental assessments to one year. This will jeopardize peoples’ capacity to participate in reviews and further undermines the ultimate goal of reviews in ensuring environmental protection is a priority in all projects – even if this means refusing to approve certain projects.
  • Does anyone doubt that the “streamlining” (read gutting) of environmental review processes has something to do with getting tar sands oil to market as fast as possible through the construction of pipeline projects like the highly controversial Keystone XL to the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Gateway to the coast of B.C.? As Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in his Budget speech “…it has become clear that we must develop new export markets for Canada’s energy and natural resources, to reduce our dependence on markets in the United States. The booming economies of the Asia- Pacific region are a huge and increasing source of demand, but Canada is not the only country to which they can turn. If we fail to act now, this historic window of opportunity will close.”
  • The budget does not renew funding for the EcoENERGY energy efficiency program.
  • Budget 2012 does give minimal tax support to ‘clean energy’ and energy efficiency, to the tune of $2 million.
  • According to Andrea Harden-Donohue of $1.38 billion a year is allocated to energy development through subsidies. Some changes are planned for subsidies to the oil and gas industry on Canada’s East coast but tar sands subsidies remain untouched.

What to make of all this? Does this budget amount to what is ostensibly a government declaration of war on environmental advocacy groups in Canada? Perhaps Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre put it best when he summarized the budget this way: “In a budget that seems to have been written for, and even by, big oil interests, the Harper government is gutting the environmental protections that Canadians have depended on for decades to safeguard our families and nature from pollution, toxic contamination and other environmental problems.” Read their full statement.

Budget 2012: Conservatives axe respected, 24 year-old environment and economy panel

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Among the shocking anti-environment revelations of yesterday’s federal Budget comes the government decision to eliminate the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which was a panel of business and environmental leaders who made policy recommendations to the government on a variety of sustainability issues.

A widely respected, non-partisan agency, the NRTEE was founded by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1988. Its reports of late, however, had irked the government as they were mildly critical of government plans to achieve its stated objective of reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. The NRTEE had offered policy road maps on how to achieve this objective that did not square with official government policy (or lack thereof) on climate change.

The result? The Harper government axed them – not just cut their funding mind you – but eliminated the agency completely. They’re gone along with all the policy and support staff who worked there. And according to reporter Mike De Souza of Canadian Press, the Conservatives seemed to take quite a delight in doing so. De Souza tweeted today that in Question Period, the Environment Minister Peter Kent and others on the front bench “grinned and chuckled when asked a question about the demise of the NRTEE.” Meanwhile, wrote De Souza in another tweet, “Former enviro min Baird applauded when Ndp’s dennis bevington said gov’t had killed NRTEE”.

I will have more comment to come shortly on the astonishingly retrograde  assaults of Budget 2012 on the environment. For now, I suppose I will consider myself lucky that I didn’t accept that job offer a couple years ago as a policy analyst at NRTEE.

Click the link below to read more about the demise of NRTEE.

Conservatives cut environment panel, turn to Internet for information.

Planet Under Pressure: Time-lapse history of human global CO2 emissions

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

This is worth a minute of your time. Coinciding with this week’s Planet under Pressure conference in the UK, this video shows an animated time-lapse of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in map form, spanning the 18th century until this current first decade of the 21st century. Shows the start in England and radiating to Europe, US and then Asia. Now reaching virtually every corner of the Earth.

In their State of the Planet declaration, delegates at Planet Under Pressure concluded that “Research now demonstrates that the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk. Without urgent action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources: these threats risk intensifying economic, ecological and social crises, creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale.”

It’s official: Scientists say the Holocene is over and the age of human planetary domination is here

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

We humans have officially conquered the world! Hurrah! But wait, is this any cause for celebration?

This from Deutsche Welle Living Planet:

Scientists are calling for the official designation of a new earth epoch: the Anthropocene. Addressing the ‘Planet under Pressure’ gathering in London, they say one species has left an indelible mark.

Scientists are pushing to officially change the name of the current geological epoch, as the world prepares to take stock of its 20-year record of addressing global environmental problems.

Experts say designating the arrival of the ‘Anthropocene,’ or age of man, would capture the nature and extent of changes on the planet, and could spark a shift in how humanity thinks of its presence on Earth.

Pointing to climate change, dwindling fish stocks, continued deforestation, rapid species decline, and human population growth, Erle Ellis, an ecologist at the University of Maryland, said the vast majority of ecosystems on the planet now reflect the presence of people.

Anthony Giddens, the British political scientist known for his holistic view of societies, described the Anthopocene as a “runaway world” in which we have unleashed processes more powerful than our attempts to control them.

Categories: Environment general, News

Bill McKibben speaks out against tar sands expansion and the Northern Gateway pipeline

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Video courtesy of The Common Sense Canadian and The Tyee from a speech activist and author Bill McKibben gave in Vancouver yesterday. The rally was organized on the 23rd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill to oppose both the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s planned expansion to its Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver.

An excerpt: “Don’t let them ever call you a ‘radical’. The radicals work at Kinder Morgan and Enbridge. They are willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere in order to make money.”

Why are young people becoming less interested in environmental issues?

March 27, 2012 1 comment

On the heels of news that young Americans are less interested in the environment and in conserving resources comes a very timely independent film called Play Again. It offers some possible explanations for why youth are less concerned about the environment these days. Not surprisingly, one of the main culprits is the fact that kids simply don’t spend as much time in nature as previous generations. What are the broader implications of a whole generation growing up completely disconnected from the natural world? As the film synopsis suggests, the consequences may be serious.

“The average American child now spends over eight hours in front of a screen each day. She emails, texts, and updates her status incessantly. He can name hundreds of corporate logos, but less than ten native plants. She aspires to have hundreds of online friends, most she may never meet in person.  He masters complicated situations presented in game after game, but often avoids simple person-to-person conversation. They are almost entirely out of contact with the world that, over millions of years of evolution, shaped human beings — the natural world…What are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet? 

“The long-term consequences of this experiment on human development remain to be seen, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. By most accounts, this generation will face multiple crises — environmental, economic and social. Will this screen world — and its bevy of virtual experiences — have adequately prepared these “digital natives” to address the problems they’ll face, problems on whose resolution their own survival may depend?”

Categories: Education, Sustainability Tags:

Extreme weather events have increased and were “very likely” caused by global warming

March 26, 2012 1 comment

Yet more evidence (as if any were needed)…

“Extreme weather events over the past decade have increased and were “very likely” caused by manmade global warming, a study in the journal Nature Climate Change said on Sunday.

The past decade was probably the warmest globally for at least a millennium. Last year was the eleventh hottest on record, the World Meteorological Organization said on Friday.

Extreme weather events were devastating in their impacts and affected nearly all regions of the globe.

They included severe floods and record hot summers in Europe; a record number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic in 2005; the hottest Russian summer since 1500 in 2010 and the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history.”

This all comes at the same time that the World Meteorological Organization is reporting human activity kept global temperatures close to a record high in 2011 despite the cooling influence of a powerful La Nina weather pattern.

Click the link below for more info:
World Environment News – Link Builds Between Weather Extremes And Warming

Harper Conservatives planning to gut Fisheries Act: “this is huge”

March 25, 2012 1 comment

In yet another shocking display of antipathy towards all things environmental, Canada’s Conservative government is widely suspected to be planning to gut key conservation provisions of the country’s Fisheries Act.

Otto Langer, a retired biologist who used to work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada said he received leaked information that the Conservatives are proposing to remove the term “habitat” from the Fisheries Act, which is the nation’s most significant and oldest piece of environmental legislation. According to Langer, the change would now read: “no person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity other than fishing, that results in an adverse effect on a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.”

The NDP’s Fisheries and Oceans critic, Fin Donnelly, has not been able to receive any details about the proposed changes from the Fisheries Minister, Keith Ashfield. “They are obviously keeping this secret,” said Donnelly. “This is huge. This is one of the biggest things that I’ve seen. … Now they are removing a key element of the Fisheries Act that protects the fishery and the marine ecosystem. They are doing it without consultation and without consulting their own departments involved. As far as I know, many of the departmental scientists and bureaucrats are unaware of this.”

More than 625 Canadian scientists have mobilized in opposition to the proposed changes, including the world famous ecologist David Schindler, demanding that the Canadian government abandon its plans. Comparing the division of fish into valuable and non-valuable species to the Nazi idea that some humans are more racially fit than others, Schindler told The Tyee, “It’s exactly like eugenics. It’s a stupid idea. What do they think all these commercially important fish eat? Did they ask the fish who is fit and unfit and which fish is of ecological value?”

And as Queen’s biologist John Smol pointed out, given the multiplication of stresses on rivers and waterways including nutrient pollution, climate change, and invading species, the act should be strengthened, not weakened. Don’t hold your breath. Not under this government.

Of course, many observers believe the real reason for the rumoured changes is to facilitate approvals for tar sands projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would have to cross more than 600 rivers and streams on its way from northern Alberta to the coast of B.C., threatening vital fish habitat with the very real possibility of a pipeline spill.

What will it take before Canadians wake up to the agenda of this government, the most right-wing, anti-environmental gang of thugs in Canadian history? Since 2009, the government of Stephen Harper has weakened the Navigable Waters Protection Act, exempted big infrastructure projects from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and repeatedly downgraded commitments to address atmospheric pollution and climate change. Environment Minister Peter Kent is being sued for refusing to uphold the Species At Risk Act and protect woodland caribou in northern Alberta in the oil sands region. Even the prestigious journal Nature has weighed in, strongly condemning the extent to which the Harper government has muzzled its scientists and demanding that it was “time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”

The next federal election is in 2015 so we still have 3 more years, at least, of this kind of nonsense. How much damage will be done before this band of adolescent impostors (39% majority!) is finally given the boot? Will the opposition parties get their collective acts together in time to recognize the threat this government poses? With the election of Thomas Mulcair as the new and seemingly capable leader of the NDP, one can only hope.

March temperature records smashed all over North America: is it global warming?

March 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I live in Ottawa where we have experienced an unprecedented heat wave this week. In fact, nine daily maximum temperature records have been broken over the past 12 days. And six of those records were broken consecutively. Keep in mind that these records weren’t just broken, they were smashed.

According to the Pinhey’s Point weather station, which has collected data since 1889, on Tuesday the temperature hit 25.5 C, obliterating the previous record of 14.7 C set in 1995. On Wednesday it was 27.4 C, which was the warmest March day in the history of Ottawa.

Just how unlikely is all this? According to David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada, “It’s like snowing in July. It just doesn’t happen.” So what on Earth is going on? Is this just a weird weather anomaly or does it fit the larger trend of a changing climate?

Naturally, people in Ottawa love this early gift of summer and local media are happily playing along with the celebrations. No one seems to be asking the really important question about this bizarre weather: Why is it happening and is this connected to climate change?

Now I know it’s all unexpected and wonderful and who would complain about warm weather at a time of year when snow is not at all unusual and temperatures are typically in the single digits? But I’m going to be a bit of a killjoy here by pointing out that this weather is part of a completely unprecedented March heat wave across North America — 2,000 records fell just last week (2000!) as cities like Chicago broke records dating back to the 19th century.

This all comes on the tail of a year when the US set a new record for multi-billion dollar weather disasters. And just this week new climate studies revealed that the world is warming even more than previously thought. This week we celebrated World Water Day. A rapidly increasing global population is already putting a massive strain on the world’s water supplies in some parts of the world and it is widely anticipated that climate change is only going to exacerbate these problems. So, if there was ever a moment for talking about global warming, this would be it.

But are we talking? We’re certainly reveling in the wonderful weather but doesn’t this all feel like something’s just not quite right here? I wonder at what point does all the anecdotal evidence trigger some kind of shift in public consciousness. Or do we all just go on blissfully enjoying the sunny skies and warm days without giving it a second thought? Don’t get me wrong – I love wearing my shorts in mid-March too, but you have to wonder what other bizarre (and dangerous) weather we may be in for in the future as climate change really starts to kick in in the coming years. It’s sure nice now but it may not be so benign next time.


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