I blog about environmental and social justice issues because I am very concerned about the health of the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.

Melting Arctic ice.......beautiful and frightening!

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Peak Oil - Again

Most forms of unconventional oil and gas (including, by the way, shale gas) are invariably very hard on the environment. Although tar sands production draws most of the world’s criticism, we are quickly discovering that deep-water wells and the pressure surges they engender run the risk of wreaking even greater ecological and environmental devastation. ...Why is this so potentially devastating to America’s oil future? The Gulf of Mexico was the only area of the country where there was any reasonable hope of expanding domestic supply. Production in the lower 48 states peaked in the early 1970s....If you’re wondering why we’re risking catastrophic environmental consequences by drilling wells miles below the ocean floor, the answer is simple enough. It’s the same answer to the question of why we’re pouring billions of dollars into the tar sands.

It’s all that’s left.
Addicts usually deny they have a problem.  When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance, substance dependence may be diagnosed.  As a society, we're addicted to oil. We don't care that our use of fossil fuels destroys the environment - or the freedom of whole peoples.  (If you don't believe me, do some research on the Ogoni in Nigeria.  Or on Ken Saro Wiwa ring a bell.)   We don't care that we're running out - we don't wnat to plan an energy descent.   We just want to continue doing what we're doing......consequences be damned.

We're addicted to oil.

OIl Rig Disaster

The Wall Street Journal reported that the well lacked a remote-control shutoff switch required by some oil producing countries, including Norway and Brazil. BP was at the forefront of recent lobbying of the US government against stronger safety controls for offshore drilling.  Fund managers and analysts in the City of London said they were deeply worried about the financial cost to BP of the kind of legal action that could be taken in the US by those damaged by the accident. More than £13bn has been knocked off the oil company's stock market value since the rig caught fire.
Under George Bush the need for lobbying muscle was minimal, but since the arrival of a new president in the White House, BP has poured millions into Washington, mainly through third-party lobby groups. Organisations such as the American Petroleum Institute, funded in part by BP, have done the company's dirty work for them. Supposedly spontaneous citizen demonstrations against climate legislation have sprung up around the US, before journalists revealed they were actually populated by employees of the oil companies themselves....What BP will never admit, among their glossy corporate brochures and extensive environmental assessments, is that its entire business model is predicated on an ever increasing demand for oil, decades into the future. These growth predictions rely on a world in which there is no collective action to tackle global emissions, no concerted effort to transfer clean technology to the developing world, and almost no chance of maintaining anything like a stable climate.
The oil spill is washing up on Louisiana's shores amd destroying the fragile ecosystems there as I type - and fund managers are worried that BP will face legal actions! 
Do we really want a world in which BP can profit?  That would be a world in which democracy is subverted by lobbying -  one where the developed world continues to hog most resources - and a world where no one does anything meaningful about climate change because fossil fuel extractors might not be able to make a profit.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arctic Sea Ice Loss

The Arctic is locked into a destructive cycle that could see its icy cover rapidly disappear, scientists have confirmed. A new analysis shows that dwindling levels of sea ice are responsible for unusual levels of global warming in the region. The findings reinforce suggestions that a positive feedback between ice loss and temperature rise has emerged in the Arctic, which increases the chances of further rapid ice loss and warming.....Temperatures in the Arctic have risen twice as fast as the rest of the world in recent decades, a phenomena known as Arctic amplification. Scientists have long suspected that loss of sea ice was responsible, but other factors such as changes in wind, clouds and ocean currents have also been blamed.
The more the polar ice melts, the less heat is reflected from those white polar caps.  Open water absorbs more heat..... and the melting continues.  It must be getting harder and harder for deniers to find any evidence.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Impacts of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Fossil-fuel subsidies drive to the heart of sustainable development: removing them has the potential to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and open investment pathways for cleaner sources of energy; it frees vast sums of money – for both developed and developing country budgets – to spend on other priorities such as healthcare and education; and it helps to move us away from our dependency on what we know well to be a finite resource.
Groups from across Canada today renewed calls for the federal government to eliminate massive tax subsidies to the country's booming oil and gas industry. Last fall the groups formally petitioned Canada's Auditor General to investigate the billions of dollars in government tax breaks to oil and gas companies....The most recent data, based on government figures, show that the industry receives $1.4 billion annually in federal tax breaks.
Why does the fossil fuel extraction industry need tax breaks and government subsidies?  Does that poor, pitiful struggling industry  need  help  from governments of all stripes including  the Canadian government?  It must - it receives them.  So, we the taxpayers, are helping the fossil fuel industry belch greenhouse gas emissions!  As the former President of Costa Rica, J.M. Figueres, stated, "if you don't want more of something, then don't subsidize it."  

Friday, April 23, 2010

More on Those Dead Ducks

Documents obtained by CTV News show oil giant Syncrude knew several birds had been landing on its tailings ponds before more than 1,600 ducks were found coated in bitumen.  This comes as a series of employee interviews were entered as evidence at the company trial.  The documents show details from interviews conducted with about 20 Syncrude employees.  And on one page, an e-mail was shown suggesting the company knew about the waterfowl landing on the tailings ponds before the May 2008 incident.
Senior Syncrude officials couldn't tell federal and provincial investigators why resources for the company's waterfowl protection plan declined in the years prior to the 2008, when more than 1,600 ducks died on a tailings pond.  Court documents show Alberta Environment investigator Sean Harris raised the issue with Syncrude managers a month after the ducks died, asking why the number of scare cannons being deployed to deter waterfowl dropped from 150 in 2001 to 67 in 2007. He also noted the number of deployed effigies or scarecrows dropped from 100 in 2001 to 27 in 2007.
Perhaps Syncrude needed to pinch pennies and decided not to worry about a few dead ducks.  (The Oil Sands Project reported earnings of only $ 737 million for the year ended 2007.)  They may regret their parsimony now that the chickens of bad publicity are coming home to roost. 

Naomi Klein on Bolivia and Climate Change

The Bolivian government got the ball rolling by proposing four big ideas: that nature should be granted rights that protect ecosystems from annihilation (a "universal declaration of Mother Earth rights"); that those who violate those rights and other international environmental agreements should face legal consequences (a "climate justice tribunal"); that poor countries should receive various forms of compensation for a crisis they are facing but had little role in creating ("climate debt"); and that there should be a mechanism for people around the world to express their views on these topics ("world people's referendum on climate change").

The next stage was to invite global civil society to hash out the details. Seventeen working groups were struck and, after weeks of online discussion, they met for a week in Cochabamba with the goal of presenting their final recommendations at the summit's end. ..... Yet Bolivia's enthusiastic commitment to participatory democracy may well prove the summit's most important contribution.  That's because, after the Copenhagen debacle, an exceedingly dangerous talking point went viral: the real culprit of the breakdown was democracy itself. The UN process, giving equal votes to 192 countries, was simply too unwieldy – better to find the solutions in small groups.
Could there be a greater contrast between the two conferences?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

May Dr Andrew Weaver Win!


A prominent University of Victoria climate researcher says he's been repeatedly defamed by the National Post and has launched a lawsuit against the national newspaper.
Why would he sue?  West Coast Environmental Law has pointed out the benefits of a lawsuit against climate change deniers.

Discovery – Under the rules of court the defendant could be forced to disclose the sources of their funding and to explain where their information comes from; Climate change deniers have historically been reluctant to reveal their funding sources.
Court ruling on the credibility of attacks on climate change science – A court is likely to hold that the climate change denier cannot prove his/her statements on a balance of probabilities or is actually misleading the public.
Potential for a damages award – In addition to damages to the scientist’s reputation (likely nominal, if no financial loss was suffered), the court could award aggravated damages. While the amount of the award, at least in Canada, would probably not be huge, the message sent would be priceless. In other jurisdictions there may be potential for more significant damages awards.
Targeting the funders – A conspiracy claim could name funders of climate change deniers, drawing them into the spotlight – which is where they do not want to be.
Let us hope Dr Weaver is quickly successful in court. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Volcanic Eruptions and CO2 Emissions

Along with the ash and lava, there have been many interesting asides tossed into the air for our consideration by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. We have noticed just how reliant our globalised systems are on air travel. We have been reminded of nature's brute force and primordial beauty. ....But one opportunity the volcano has gifted us in particular is the chance to put to bed once and for all that barrel-aged climate sceptic canard which maintains that volcanoes emit far more carbon dioxide than anthropogenic sources.....Experts stressed that the volcano contributed just a tiny amount – less than a third of one percentage point – of global emissions of greenhouse gases.
So , deniers, this argument won't fly.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Those Dead Ducks

A few dead ducks in Syncrude's tailings ponds don't matter: after all, hunters kill millions of ducks per annum.   And wind power kills birds - so it must be OK that ducks drown in toxic goo.  Why are we wasting money on a trial?  We are only damaging the reputation - and that reputation was carefully built  too - of a great Canadian energy company - and perhaps the entire industry.  This isn't my opinion - it is that of Gwyn Morgan's in the Monday, April 19th business section of the Globe and Mail.  On page B7 to be exact.

I hope his eyes are brown!  Syncrude is on trial as prosecutors allege that the company broke the law.  Remember those stupid kids who sluiced ducks out of season and posted their hilarious video on You Tube?  They were charged  with killing migratory birds - and convicted.  Afterwards, one of them said:

"What happened was severe," he added. "A few ducks were killed and that's tragic. But this has been getting coast to coast and international coverage when endangered species are being killed everywhere, all over the planet." http://www.cbc.ca/canada/saskatchewan/story/2009/08/11/sask-youtube-duck-hunter-convicted-observations.html
Sounds rather like the arguments Mr Gwyn Morgan used.  Yes, we killed a few ducks - but other people do worse things.  I hope Syncrude's lawyers have better arguments than that to present in court.  Is he suggesting that , since trials are expensive, that we shouldn't charge and try alleged child abusers?  After all, worse things have happened - look at the Holocaust! 

I think Mr Morgan is  spinning on behalf of tar sands producers and their carefully built reputation.   I'm sure he is worried about the effects on the industry if Syndcrude is convicted - and is therfore attempting to build support for the industry.   However, suggesting that Syncrude and the industry should be exempt from the rule of law seems a tad excessive to me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Food Security

The eruption of a volcano on Iceland is threatening to turn into a major headache for businesses across Europe and around the world as a spreading ash cloud closes more European airports.  Airlines are already counting the cost of grounded planes, and there are growing fears about the transportation of food supplies and other essential goods should the flight disruptions persist for several days — or longer.
Another argument in favour of local food!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NAFTA and The Tar Sands

A coalition of environmental organizations and citizens filed a citizens’ submission today with the environmental side-body of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The submission alleges that the Canadian government is failing to enforce the anti-pollution provisions of the federal Fisheries Act by allowing the tar sands tailings ponds to leak contaminated materials into both surface waters and groundwater in the Athabasca watershed.  The citizens’ submission documents cases where contaminated tailings leakage has reached surface waters in addition to the ongoing massive and increasing leakage from un-lined tar sands tailings ponds into the region’s groundwater. The Fisheries Act prohibits the discharge of substances harmful to fish, yet the federal government has never prosecuted documented infractions nor has it enacted regulations that would permit the discharge.
A very interesting tactic!  Let's hope it works .  Think of the long term implications to industry if they  are forced to accountand pay for their "externalities."   Gee , clean water and viable ecoysystems for the rest of us versus theri profits - I know which I prefer!

It is shameful that the Canadian government doesn't enforce its own regulations.  Particularly when a paper published in the peer reviewed Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences concludes that " oil sands development is a greater source of contamination than previously realized."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth
Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 19 to 22, 2010

You are able to register for online groups or in person attendance:

Online discussions are being carried out to develop draft proposals that will serve as the basis of debate at the conference. All those registered may participate.

In solidarity with this global gathering and in celebration of Earth Day, JS APMDD and the Right to Essential Services and Natural Resources urge all its members and friends to organize actions on this day and use this occasion in raising our demands for climate justice and opposition to water and power privatization projects that exacerbate climate change.  Through these actions, we will put forward the following demands:

1. For North countries to give full reparations for the ecological debt and climate debt they owe to the South.

2. For North countries to undertake deep, drastic cuts of GHG emissions through domestic measures.

3. Southern nations to assert their right to develop and meet the needs of its people through a system that is ecologically sound, just, equitable and democratic.

4. End the policies, operations and projects of IFIs that exacerbate climate change, including water and power projects. Stop IFIs, especially the WB and regional development banks, from claiming major roles in addressing the climate crisis and using it to push more privatization projects.

5. For all governments to recognize and ensure peoples’ rights and access to sufficient, affordable, clean, quality water and adequate, reliable, affordable, safe, clean and sustainable power services and energy.

6. For all governments to recognize that the use of very critical ecological and environmental resources in water and power services necessitate that these services remain under the public domain and protected from intrusion by corporations.

7. Cancel all illegitimate debts claimed from the South as a matter of justice and as a major step towards enabling countries to deal with the economic and climate crises.

We will give prominence to the following calls:




Climate Change Sceptics In Error

Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun's activity.  The research contradicts a favoured theory of climate "sceptics", that changes in cosmic rays coming to Earth determine cloudiness and temperature.  The idea is that variations in solar activity affect cosmic ray intensity. But UK scientists found there has been no significant link between cosmic rays and cloudiness in the last 20 years.
Will the media publicize this the way they publicized "ClimateGate?"  They should - because we all need to understand that climate change is real and that we need to deal with it now.

Climate CHange

A massive ice block broke from a glacier and crashed into a lake in the Peruvian Andes, unleashing a 23-metre tsunami and sending muddy torrents through nearby towns, killing at least one person.....César Álvarez, governor of Ancash region, which includes the affected area, blamed climate change. "Because of global warming the glaciers are going to detach and fall on these overflowing lakes. This is what happened,"...It was the latest evidence that glaciers are vanishing from Peru, which has 70% of the world's tropical icefields. They have retreated by 22% since 1975, according to a World Bank report, and warmer temperatures are expected to erase them entirely within 20 years.  The same phenomenon is under way in neighbouring Bolivia, where the Chacaltaya glacier, 5,000 metres (17,400ft) up in the Andes, used to be the world's highest ski run. Predictions that it would survive until 2015 seem to be optimistic: according to recent pictures a few lumps of ice near the summit are all that remains.  The World Bank report warned that the disappearance of Andean ice sheets would threaten hydro-electric power and the water supplies of nearly 80 million people.
More evidence - are we going to do something? 

Write the Prime Minister a letter instructing him to meet the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil.
Ditto your Premier.   Explore starting or getting involved in a Transition Town at your local level.
Belonging to a community that shares your concerns  about the effects of climate change is very empowering. The last is probably the most important step you can take for two reasons.  It is realatively easy to influence local politics - and you won't feel  insignicant , alone, and powerless.  Your community will create the velvet climate revolution!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peak Oil Explained (Left Click on the Video for a Larger Version)

Listen carefully: one of the men interviewed states that our God is petroleum.   It is hard to disagree....

Peak Oil

“In our minds, the Sinopec deal reflects the appetite and lower cost of capital of eager Chinese buyers,” said a report from energy analyst Greg Pardy at RBC Dominion Securities.
After running the numbers, with an 8.5 per cent tax discount rate, Mr. Pardy concluded the $4.65-billion price tag on this deal imples a long-term oil price of $95 a barrel.
At Peters & Co., analyst Jeff Martin used a 10 per cent tax discount rate for his projections, and concluded the Sinopec purchase is based on a $106-a-barrel expectation on oil.
Chinese purchasers seem to think that light sweet crude prices are headed up.  Think of the impacts high oil prices will have on our unsustainable way of life.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Peak Oil

The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.  The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel. 
"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day," says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis.
Does anyone still believe the reassuring forecasts from discredited feel-good organizations like the International Energy Agency about new sources of cheap supply, like those that once flowed from places like Prudhoe Bay in Alaska or the North Sea? If so, where is that supply of new affordable oil coming from? Surely not from tar sands or from ultra-deep water fields six miles below the ocean’s floor.  By the fourth quarter of this year, oil prices will be back in triple-digit range, and by next year oil prices will rise to record highs, taking out the high-water mark of $147 per barrel that was set back before the recession began in 2008.
Shouldn't we be using the cheap energy aka oil remaining to build a more sustainable way of life?  Obviously, cheap oil isn't going to last forever:  why not use what we've got left to create light rapid transit, local food supplies, alternate sources of electricity, and a happier way of life?
Moreover, we'd be working to solve the problem of climate change instead of playing of  "Last One Standing."    Why live in denial until disaster strikes?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Insurance Companies Worry About Climate CHange

In the wake of skyrocketing insurance claims due to natural disasters—hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, blizzards and the like—insurers have been imposing steep rate hikes and, in some cases, fleeing high-risk areas, leaving consumers out in the cold. It's gotten so out of hand, consumer advocates say, that insurers now are even crying climate change as a factor in raising premiums or dumping clients.

As the crisis mounts, hard hit states such as Florida and Louisiana are increasingly stepping up as insurance companies check out, providing coverage for residents dropped by their insurers. And signs are things will get worse before they get better: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting that this year's hurricane season—which officially began June 1—will be "very active," with three to five major hurricanes in the Atlantic.
Hmmmmnnn - insurance companies are worried about business risks created by climate change.   Are  climate change deniers going to refuse to buy insurance or  insurance company shares? Are deniers going to heap abuse upon inusrance companies?  Call insurers liars?  Accuse them of falsifying data?  Of course not - their denials are not based upon fact.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Were this to pass, I predict that groups like the Hutarees would scream that the UN was taking over thier lives.  
A campaign to declare the mass destruction of ecosystems an international crime against peace - alongside genocide and crimes against humanity - is being launched in the UK.  The proposal for the United Nations to accept "ecocide" as a fifth "crime against peace", which could be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), is the brainchild of British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins.   The radical idea would have a profound effect on industries blamed for widespread damage to the environment like fossil fuels, mining, agriculture, chemicals and forestry.  Supporters of a new ecocide law also believe it could be used to prosecute "climate deniers" who distort science and facts to discourage voters and politicians from taking action to tackle global warming and climate change.
I think it is a great idea: it is a way of making industries and corporations accountanble for costs currently downloaded to the populace at large or the gloabal commons.
Higgins will launch her campaign through a website – thisisecocide.com – asking for global support to pressure national governments to vote for the proposed law if it is accepted by the UN Law commission. The deadline for the text is January, and a vote has been scheduled on other amendments in 2012. It would need a two-thirds majority of the 197 member countries to pass.
Check out Polly Higgins website above for more information and actions you can take.   (Please notice Canada made it to a list of the worst examples of ecocide - thanks - Alberta tar sands producers.)

More Evidence to Come

The melting of sea ice, ice caps and glaciers across the planet is one of the clearest signs of global warming and the UK-led team of scientists will use the data from CryoSat-2 to track how this is affecting ocean currents, sea levels and the overall global climate.  Scientists have already shown that the amount of sea ice in the Arctic is falling, and the latest data confirms the long-term trend. But some data also suggests that the ice that remains is thinning. If the measurements from CryoSat-2 bear out this thinning theory, it would mean the ice is being lost more quickly. Scientists are concerned that the loss of sea ice is leading to a feedback effect where the newly exposed, darker ocean absorbs more sunlight, warming the water yet further. In addition, sea ice can block glaciers on land from falling into the ocean, so its loss could raise sea levels.
One has to be deep in denial to ignore the evidence that climate change is happening....

Drill, Baby, Drill

In the dark icy waters off Canada’s most northerly island coasts, a small yellow submarine called Discovery and a team of researchers in helicopters are busily building the case for drawing a new line, a line Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon calls the “last border of Canada.”  Although the work takes place in one of the most remote locations on earth, the researchers are not alone. Americans, Norwegians, Danes and Russians are all rushing to do the same. Canada has until 2013 to submit its research to a United Nations body that reports on the legitimacy of international border claims.  The high-stakes race has long-term financial implications as the melting arctic opens up to resource development and new shipping routes.
Is the government of Canada deep in denial? Or are they mentally ill?   On one hand, they acknowledge that Arctic ice is melting - and that that fact may give rise to an  opportunity to obtain  resources now under Arctic ice.  On the other hand, they refuse to take serious steps to reverse climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  

The answer to both questions is no.  Why then the discrepancy?  There is none - both sets of actions benefit the oil and gas industry.  Refusing  to reduce greenhouse gas emissions benefits tar sands producers right now.  Staking out Canada's claim on oil and gas reserves under Arctic ice may benefit the same in the future.  Canada's motto may be Sarah Palin's - "Drill, baby, drill."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Greenland's Ice Losses

A new international study finds that ice losses from Greenland's ice sheet, which have been increasing over the past decade in its southern region, are now spreading rapidly up its northwest coast.

The researchers, including Isabella Velicogna, jointly of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California, Irvine, compared data from the JPL-built and managed Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) mission with continuous GPS measurements made from long-term sites on bedrock on the ice sheet's edges. The Grace and GPS data gave the researchers monthly averages of crustal uplift caused by ice mass loss. They found that the acceleration in ice loss began moving up the northwest coast of Greenland in late 2005. The authors speculate the dramatic ice mass losses on Greenland's northwest coast are caused by some of the big glaciers in the region sliding downhill faster and dumping more ice into the sea.

"These changes on the Greenland ice sheet are happening fast, and we are definitely losing more mass than we had anticipated," says Velicogna. "We also are seeing this trend in Antarctica, a sign that warming temperatures really are having an effect on ice in Earth's cold regions."
How much evidence does one need to pass meaningful legislation?  How long will we live in denial?  Perhaps we should direct these questions to the Right Honorable Stephen Harper.