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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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

David Suzuki and The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line is as much about people’s mindset toward environmental issues as about the issues themselves. “It’s about what we come to value and believe,” he explains. For example, two programs will be devoted to the oil sands – not simply on the environment, but the social and economic implications for the region and Canada.  “We have a situation today where the Prime Minister has said for four years, ‘We can’t do anything about climate change; it’ll destroy the economy.’ So the economy comes before the very atmosphere that we depend on for our weather and climate and our breathing. “I would suggest that there’s a very radically different bottom line, which is, if you don’t have air for two or three minutes, you’re dead. It’s the same for water. If you don’t have water for a few days, if you don’t have food for a few weeks … Surely to God, it ought to be our highest priority to protect these. But we pour toxic chemicals into them, because that’s the price of doing business.”
The economy  is a subset of the environment - not the other way around.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Rule of Law

I rather like the idea of the rule of law.  I fancy living my life unmolested by gangs of thieves and rapists. I also rather enjoy  peacefully exercising my charter rights - unmolested by the government as far as possible.  Last time I checked, charter rights included the freedom of speech and assembly and protecction against unreasonable search and seizure.   http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/charter/1.html#anchorbo-ga:l_I-gb:s_1
Fundamental Freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
I'd say that freedom of expression includes the right to walk around a city without being arrested on the basis of the Bush doctrine.  (You remember W's preemptive strikes, don't you?)  Apparently I'm naive, and Canadians'  rights can be over ridden by secret cabinet decisions.
Questions are piling up about a secret cabinet decision giving police immense power to search and arrest anyone within five metres of the barrier. Legal experts say a regulation authorizing the searches could be vulnerable to attack not just for potentially violating Charter protections against unreasonable search and seizure.  It could also be challenged on the grounds the public was not given adequate notice of the sweeping changes that required them to identify themselves to police officers or agree to be searched.
When did Canada become a police state where basic freedoms can be over ridden in secrcey by politicians? 1997 at the APEC summit? 2010 at the Winter Olympics?

Syncrude is Guilty


A judge has found oil sands giant Syncrude Canada Ltd. guilty of a pair of environmental charges stemming from the deaths of 1,606 birds two years ago. Provincial Court Judge Ken Tjosvold ruled Friday that Syncrude was indeed responsible for its tailings pond where the ducks were found, and it “did not deploy the [bird] deterrents early enough and quickly enough” around the 12-square-kilometre pond, which contained toxic, oily bitumen byproduct.

Mr. White [the lawyer acting for Syncrude] will recommend his clients appeal because he believes the “judgment is incorrect,” arguing that to find the company guilty when its tailings pond was provincially licensed could effectively make all such ponds illegal.
It is to be hoped that Mr White is correct and that this ruling has serious repercussions for resource extraction industries.  (However, had Syncrude taken steps to prevent ducks from landing on its ponds, it wouldn't have been found guilty. ) June 25, 2010 may be identifiable later as the day where the tide turned against polluters - the day where they became responsible for their "externalities."  How can it be profitable to extract resources if taxpayers are left with the bills for cleanup of horrible messes?  It shouldn't be....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ruling Expected in The Case of the Dead Ducks

No - I haven't found an undiscovered  Agatha Christie manuscript secreted in Grandmother's trunk.  The Globe and Mail contains an excellent article on Syncrude and those ducks that perished in their tailings pond. 

More than two years after 1,606 dead ducks were first found in a northern Alberta industrial tailings pond, a judge is scheduled to rule Friday afternoon on whether the deaths amounted to a violation of provincial or federal law.

A guilty verdict would be a major victory for environmentalists, long critical of Alberta's oil sands. But energy giant Syncrude Canada Ltd., which has been operating in the oil sands for over 30 years, warns such a verdict would effectively make tailings ponds – which are essential in the refining of Alberta's oil sands bitumen – illegal, bringing the economically vital industry to a standstill.

In other words, tar sands miners are worried that the costs of their "externalities" may be brought home to them. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Over Optimistic


Chevron Canada executives defended Monday their decision to pursue an unprecedented exploratory well off Newfoundland, so soon in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

The project has attracted increasing international attention — and scrutiny — because Chevron is drilling a well in more than 2,600 metres of water, significantly deeper than the Deepwater Horizon project in the Gulf of Mexico, where a blowout in April continues to have a devastating environmental impact.

But vice-president Mark MacLeod said Chevron has an industry-leading safety record.

"Chevron has drilled over 300 deepwater wells. We've never had a blowout in deep water," MacLeod told reporters during a conference call.
Hmmmnnn -couldn't BP have said the they had never had a blowout  before April?  Moreover, perhaps Chevron should share their plans for shutting off the Gulf of Mexico gusher.  If that (hypothetical) plan works expeditiously,  perhaps we could belive that they had the ability to shut off a blowout off Newfoundland.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ahem !

But the deeper lessons of the oil spill concern the future of our energy supplies, of regulation, and the shape of our society and economy....Out of crisis comes damage, but also opportunity. This is the opportunity to make a decisive turn in the road towards a post-oil economy: for the US, and for the world. But it needs politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to say it with gusto, rather than spend their time attacking BP. We cannot stop our reliance on oil and gas tomorrow. They are an essential bridge to our energy future. But the question is whether they are a bridge or a stopping point....The renewables industry struggles for finance – while investments in tar sands and other projects get the green light. It is the worst of short-termism: for the planet and for all our economic futures.

But there is no point in railing against the short-termism of markets: it is what they do unless the rules are right.  The job of government is to change this short-termism. The obvious opportunity comes as we consider the future of our banking system.As the oil gushes into the Gulf, this is the time to stand proud and declare that we want a hi-tech clean-tech future faster than ever before. The countries that make the leap first will be the successful economies of this century, exporting technology around the world to cities seeking cleaner air and lower emissions.
What did I just tell you?

Positives from an Oil Spill

The extraction of oil pollutes and destroys livelihoods, lives, and ecosystems. Not much room for argument there: look at the results of BP’s gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, Royal Dutch Shell’s presence in Nigeria, and Chevron’s inherited mess in Ecuador. Then, once the oil is out of the ground our use of it pollutes even more. Burning fossil fuels increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere - warming the planet. W also create deadly smog in our urban areas by zipping around in our cars instead of taking public transit. Moreover, we destroy vast areas of pristine boreal forest by mining tar sands. (“Reclaimed” land is never as biologically diverse as untouched land.) Moreover, those toxic tailings ponds produced by tar sands mining are really nasty - and 7 out of 9 tar sands extractors do not plan to comply with Regulation 074 on capturing and reducing toxic tailings between 2011 and 2013. The decision is in: our use of oil is disastrous.

But, in a bizarre way, BP’s gusher may turn out to be a positive.

Have I gone mad? No – not exactly – I just spotted a glimmer of hope. The Friday, June 11, 2010 Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail contained several promising items. The lead headline reads “Spill Puts New Oil Frontiers at Risk.” (page B1 ) In other words, politicians and regulators and the public are now aware that another spill is inevitable if we continue drilling as we have. A smaller headline reads “Cheap, abundant, politically secure oil in no longer available.” That article continues on page B5. “According to a new Deutsche Bank report, this is the end of the oil age as we knew it….and our behaviour must change to recognize that. “ So this spill, horrible an environmental disaster that it is, is also an opportunity for environmental activists.

We should use increased awareness on the part of the public and politicians to prevent the lifting of the moratorium on drilling for oil off the coast of British Columbia. Write Mr. Campbell and tell him offshore drilling is too risky. We should also work to shutdown the Enbridge Gateway North Pipeline to coastal BC as, once it is in place, oil tankers will sail BC’s pristine coast – and eventually spill oil. (The Dogwood Initiative Project is already fighting this – check out their website at http://dogwoodinitiative.org/ if you want to work on this project.) Thirdly, we should push both provincial and federal governments to invest in light rapid transit and clean energy.  Encourage everyone you know to write to the Right Honorable Stephen Harper, to their federal MP, and to the provincial representatives.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nasty Conclusions

I'm drawing nasty conclusions from the news reports on BP's environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP PLC's 582-page regional spill plan for the Gulf, and its 52-page, site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig vastly understate the dangers posed by an uncontrolled leak and vastly overstate the company's preparedness to deal with one, according to an Associated Press analysis. The lengthy plans were approved by the federal government last year before BP drilled its ill-fated well. ... Among the glaring errors in the report: A professor is listed in BP's 2009 response plan for a Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a national wildlife expert. He died in 2005.
Who's BP's favorite politician ever? If you're just going by the numbers, it's none other than President Barack Obama, who leads BP's lifetime campaign donation list with $77,051. That puts him just ahead of reliable oilmen such as Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, his retired colleague Sen. Ted Stevens, and George W. Bush. According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, BP and its employees have given more than $3.4 million to federal candidates since 1990.
Is it cynical to make a connection between money spent on politicans and favourable regulatory regimes? However cynical, it doesn't happen  in Canada, right?  We don't allow the public interest to be subverted by political connections, do we?   Maybe.  "Oil" sands mining flourishes in Canada - even if it is much less than green.  Jeff Rubin, an economist, notes that:
There’s nothing clean about the production of synthetic oil from tar sands. The production of a single barrel of synthetic oil pollutes some 125 gallons of fresh water and emits over 200 pounds of carbon dioxide, principally as a result of the combustion of the natural gas, over 1,000 cubic feet of it, needed to generate the heat to separate the oil from the sand and then process it.  Currently, Canadian tar sands produce roughly one and a quarter million barrels per day, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) is projecting ultimate production at around 4 million barrels per day. Do the math on carbon emissions and water pollution, and you begin to get a sense of what has made the tar sands the most recent bête noire of the world environmental movement. ...The tar sands aren’t a greener alternative to deep-water oil. They’re just a more expensive alternative. And the more that synthetic oil from tar sands replaces deep-water production, the more you’ll pay to burn it.http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/jeff-rubins-smaller-world/gulf-oil-disaster-doesnt-make-the-tar-sands-green/article1596265/

The government of Canada has subsidized development of the  tar sands in the past and continues to do so to the tune of $ 1 billion per year according to Kairos' report Pumped Up.   Moreover , the party currently in power has ties to the energy sector.  For example, Clarke Cross is a hired lobbyist for Enbridge who formerly worked for Canadian Alliance Party MPs. Yaroslav Baran lobbied the federal government on behalf of Enbridge throughout 2006 and is also a long time Conservative Party staffer (Out on the Tar Sands Mainline , Polaris Institute.)   This cozy relationship between oil and gas corporations and federal politicians has culminated in the  Conservatives tabling an omnibus bill that "is trying to rollback key environmental assessment rules through an omnibus bill currently under review by a House of Commons Committee. " http://www.waterkeeper.ca/2010/05/04/rollbacks-to-canadian-environmental-legislation-come-on-the-heels-of-the-gulf-oil-disaster/  

This cozy intimacy will lead to more environmental destruction in Canada unless the Senate breaks up the bill .  A nasty conclusion indeed .

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Employment Standards

I always  read the business news as doing so gives me a different perspective on  the environment and on climate change.   Today I found a viewpoint poverty and social jsutice activists will be interested in. The June 2010  issue of BC Business contains an article questioning the wisdom of eviserating  the Employment Standards Act in 2002 and of reducing civil service numbers at the same time - from a business perspective.     A roofing contractor explains on page 52 that he pays overtime as required by BC law - but that he strongly suspects his competition doesn't -and uses the cost savings to undercut his bids.  A dry walliing contractor (page 58) states " I don't like more government regulation. ...But realistically, the workers don't have anywhere else to go, and there's no way for people who are trying to operate aove the line to counter that kind of operation. Does that mean the government has to step in? Nobody else is going to do it."

Therefore,  social justice and labour activists can argue that enforcing employment regulations is good for business - and that some business people with the government would do so.  Extrapolating to environmental issues, I bet that some business people wish that governments would strengthen and enforce environmental regulations.  I told you it pays to read business news!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Canada: Accountable and Transparent Government

Environment Canada overestimated by 10 times the amount of emissions reductions that result from government measures when it reported last year on its efforts to meet this country’s obligations under the Kyoto protocol. .... What is more, although Ottawa started handing over the first installments of a five-year $1.5-billion Clean Air and Climate Change Trust fund to the provinces in 2008, the federal government cannot monitor them or verify whether they are being spent for the intended purpose.
The federal government gave out money to the provinces and cannot verify what the provinces did with it? Isn't this the party that promised open, transparent, and accountable government?   And who told them  a prize existed for the most greenhouse gas emissions per capita?  They appear to be attempting to said prize..... *sigh*.

Maternal Health


A leaked draft of the final communiqué for the upcoming G8 summit suggests Canada has dodged a bullet on the thorny issues of abortion and climate change....  There is no agreement yet on specific funding for the maternal initiative, climate change, food security or aid to developing countries, despite strong words urging concrete measures....  On the environment, the only thing G8 negotiators have apparently agreed to is that fighting climate change shouldn't hurt countries' economies — a position the Harper government has been pushing.
The G8 summit at Huntsville rolls over into the the G20 summit in downtown Toronto.  However touching any declaration of concern for maternal health may look, why are the leaders of the world bothering to state that maternal and child health is of great interest  to them if they are not prepared to take meaningful steps on climate change?  They could do more for the health and safety of women if they implemented meaningful measures to prevent / mitigate climate change as that is ALREADY impacting women in a disproportionate and negative manner.

Women are particularly affected by climate change because they generally do not have secure, affordable access to and control over land, water, livestock and trees; thus, they are forced to make do with limited resources and alternatives when their subsistence needs and livelihoods are threatened. Elderly women, disabled women, women widows and indigenous women often face the most acute challenges related to climate change whilst having fewer resources to compensate for and adjust to changes.
Why not plow the $ 11 billion Canada is spending on security for the G20 summit on preventing climate change?  Could it be that maternal health is a "feel good" isssue only - and that no one attending the G20 summit  desires to improve maternal health in reality?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Oil Spill

Far reaching consquences to that oil spill....and it just keeps gushing....perhaps until December!

The Obama administration now says that the “long-term solution” to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could take until August to implement. In fact, some experts are now forecasting that the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may continue gushing into December.
The oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico may or may not exacerbate the "Dead Zone" caused by fertilizers leaching into the Gulf.

Each spring and summer fertilizer from the fields of the U.S. Midwest runs off into the Mississippi River. Old Muddy carries the nutrients down the length of the continent before dumping them into the Gulf of Mexico. Once introduced, the nitrogen and phosphorus prompts a bloom in algae, phytoplankton and other microscopic plants. After the plants die they drift to the bottom and their decomposition sucks the oxygen out of the seawater. The result is a vast dead zone, lethal to sea life that cannot swim out of the way, in inhabitable waters near the Gulf Coast that is sometimes as large as New Jersey—and the as much as 3.8 million liters of oil now spilling into the Gulf per day may make it worse.
The oil is going to be swept into the Atlantic:


Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood.”  The simulations suggest that when the oil that's closest to the surface gets caught up in the Gulf of Mexico's powerful Loop Current, it will likely reach Florida's Atlantic coast by early summer.
The oil spill  has demonstrated that we don't have an easy way of turning the taps off a mile under the ocean.  Nor are we sure of the consequences ... what happens when the oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout reaches the open Atlantic?   Having seen this spill, do we really want to drill  under the Arctic ocean?  Please inform the Right Honorable Stephen Harper of your opposition to offshore drilling .