Friday, June 30, 2006

The Melting of Greenland: The Photos

Here is a short photo post illustrating the melting of Greenland's ice sheets. The speed and scale of the melt moving far more quickly then predicted, with startling changes over the past number of years.

Greenland ice sheet, 1992 vs. 2002 (via BBC):

Greenland ice sheet, 2005 (via Union of Concerned Scientists):

According to scientists, glacial surface meltwater is a factor in ice sheet collapse. As water melts at the surface, it flows downward through the ice through crevaces and moulins where it breaks up ice pacs from the inside and lubricates the surface between glacial undersides and rock.

A river flowing over the glacial surface into a large moulin (via Nasa).

A glacial surface lake 4.5 Miles South of Swiss Camp, inland from Disko Bay in West Greenland (via Greenpeace).

Aerial view of a meltwater pond (via The Flight Academy).

The Melting of Greenland: The Science

Courtesy of Daily Kos, here is a story outlining the science behind the potentially rapid and devastating melting of the Greenland ice sheets.

For many, the view of climate change is one of a slow creeping process where seas rise at a rate of the odd millimetre per year; however, following the 2002 collapse of Antarctica's massive Larsen B iceshelf, scientists now realize the startling speed of glacier collapse. In the case of Larsen B, an ice plate 650 miles long and weighing 500 billion tonnes broke apart in just 35 days.

Sea level didn't rise then because that ice was already located on the water surface. If the landlocked ice sheets of Greenland were to collapse in a similar way, global sea levels would increase by 7m.

Follow the link for the full science behind glacier break-up.

Sea the next post for photos of the glacier melt in Greenland.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The New Era of Accountability

The Conservatives campaigned hard on bringing improved accountability to Ottawa. They are about to face there first test.

It was reported today that the Conservatives may have illegally accepted up to 1.7 million dollars in donations last year because they "didn't understand political financing laws". This amount includes corporate donations, which have been illegal since 2004.

Aside from the obvious point that its pretty tough to be an upright member of any community if you do not understand the laws that apply to it, this is also the latest in a series of issues that this government apparently has little understanding of.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose scrapped two popular climate change programs, the One-Tonne Challenge and the Energuide program, despite strong warnings from her own department that these programs were fundamental to addressing climate change.

I am not saying that these programs were offering all the answers to Canada's climate change commitments, but if you are going to scrap two initiatives that are successfully addressing the nations greatest problem, then at the very least you should be introducing new programs to pick up the slack.

My prediction is that we can look forward to a great deal more of this type of decision making. The Conservatives are proceeding according to their own agenda accross a host of issues, regardless of the opinion of Canadians and the advice of experts. It will be left to ordinary Canadians during the next election to provide real accountability at the ballot box.

Al Gore On The Daily Show Tonight

A heads up that Al Gore will be appearing on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show tonight. If you can't catch it on television, check out the video posting from Comedy Central after it airs.

Also, remember to see the Truth, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Video of the Week: CO2. They call it pollution. We call it life.

Courtesy the Gristmill, here's one that pre-dates The Conscious Earth, but worth it for fans of accidental parody.

A group of wizards at a industry sponsored think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute produced a series of TV ads to combat the evil image of carbon dioxide. As the article says, Saturday Night Live would be hard pressed to create a better satire. Too bad these guys are serious.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Earth Running a Fever - Temperatures At 400 Year High

The latest climate change study by the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the Earth's recent warming is unprecendented at least the psat 400 years and possibly the last several thousand years.

The study was done upon a request by US Congress for a broad review of available scientific work.

Canada Maps Out New Position on Kyoto - Rebuttal

It feels like it's been around 120 minutes since I first began reading this long winded speech by Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. Reading this is an undertaking that I did not take lightly and a responsibility I should not have underestimated. I thought I'd share with your some of my thoughts and experiences.

I arrived at this speech without the preconceived notions and silo mentality that exists all to often in analysing the vacuous arguments of Minister Ambrose and her Conservative party members. I know now what an advantage it is to approach future addresses by Ms. Ambrose with the delete key at the ready, without the fear to question the malarkey that regularly spills from the lips of elected officials when a law doesn't sit well with their supporters from the oil and gas industry.

Rona claims to have arrived into the climate change debate and as the Chair over the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (C. of CPUNFCCC for 'short') with the belief that "being honest about the challenge Canada was facing may be helpful to other countries who found themselves in the same circumstances" and that "we have not allowed these voices to silence Canada’s will to lead the world in an urgent, transparent, honest debate about the challenges that we and our international partners are facing when it comes to finding a truly global solution to climate change."
(A corn silo)

Ms. Ambrose can congratulate herself on one success. We may indeed be leading the world in the climate change debate, by volume if nothing else, but unfortunately we have failed miserably in leading the world in actually addressing climate change. That will come through meaningful action, not through 8 pages and 3,500 words of dialogue. If speeches of this sort continue to be the sum total of the Conservatives "Made in Canada" plan to tackle climate change, then Rona Ambrose should herself be purchasing greenhouse gas offsets, because I shudder to think about the volume of CO2 she personally added to the atmosphere in spewing this rhetoric.

Minister Ambrose's complete speech is available here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tar Sands from Space via Google Maps

Tar sands development is set to triple and Canada could very soon be among the largest oil producing countries in the world - with a horrific environmental damage to follow.

As an addendum to my previous post on the tar sands, here is a direct link on Google Maps clearly showing a massive project outside Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Zoom in on the marked coordinates to clearly see the development, including several large tailings ponds.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Canada to Lead in Banning Non-Stick Chemicals

The media and political fall out from the release of Environmental Defence's report Polluted Children continues to echo.

On June 1st, the report revealed the widespread toxic contamination of Canadian families, regardless of age, location or career with a range of chemicals including flame retardents, heavy metals and stain repellants.

Today Environment Canada announced aggressive new actions to ban or place strict limits on a group of chemicals known as long-chain perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFCAs) - stain repellents for short. In addition to plans to work with companies to sharply reduce emissions of these chemicals federal regulators are will block the import of new grease and water repellent products that could potentially break down into long chain PFCAs.

The move is thought to be a world's first and will act to protect generations of Canadians from cancer and developmental defects.

Ass-inine Quote - More Roads Equals Stable Climate

How do we solve climate change? We just keep driving. Gordon Campbell is positioning Greater Vancouver's $3 billion highway infrastructure improvement plan - the Gateway Project - as a climate change solution.
"Campbell said he's concerned about the rising emissions, much of them due to increased auto and truck use. But he still believes the province's gateway program — to build more roads and bridges — will help, not hurt."
Nice theory. The problem being that more lanes always lead to increased traffic volume and subsequently more greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the anticipated population growth of the region, I can readily concede that the Greater Vancouver area will need significant infrastructure improvements. But Gordo, if you are truly keen on selling this as a solution to greenhouse gas emissions, you had best rethink your PR strategy before someone gets the wrong idea about your common sense and decision making ability.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Japan Gains Key Whaling Victory

After two decades of ceaseless lobbying, campaigning, and backroom deals, Japan has won the first step in their fight for the return of commercial whaling. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has voted 33 to 32 in favour of the eventual return of commercial whaling.

Over the past twenty years, Japan has been working behind the scenes to bring "sympathetic" countries into the IWC by exchanging foreign aid for pro-whaling votes, as reported in The Guardian last month:
"Japan is also known to have increased aid to countries such as Belize, Mali, Togo, Gambia and others which have joined the IWC recently but who have so far not voted. Earlier this year it pledged more than $1m (£538,000) to the Pacific island of Tuvalu, a pro-whaling IWC member, and has reached similar deals with Nauru and Kiribati and other desperately poor countries in the Pacific. In the last week it is believed to have offered a large aid package to other Pacific countries. It has also invited the heads of state of seven African countries and eight Caribbean and central American countries to visit Tokyo in the last year. All are expected to vote with Japan at St Kitts."
- The Guardian, May 30th, 2006
The successful pro-whaling campaign represents a devastating loss to conservation efforts. For the past twenty years, the ban on commercial whaling has been held as a milestone for conservation efforts, a single ideal glimpse of what the world is capable of achieving for the betterment of the planet. Now, the pro-whaling minority is poised to begin dismantling the international laws and infrastructure that brought these creatures back from the brink of extinction, for the sake of a minority of consumers and the status and wealth of the kill.

Just as importantly, it represents the continued failing of democratic voice in the modern corporate dominated world. Increasingly, protest and the will of the majority is being successfully muted for the sake of advancing corporate funded aims.

Whether the issue is the killing of whales, the invasion of Iraq, or the 2004 Presidential election, public opinion and dissent is increasingly irrelevant in the major decisions of the world as existing power bases solidify their control through every means at their disposal.

For the whale populations of the world, Japan's recent 'victory' could be a catastrophic blow. Anti-whaling countries need to take immediate action in order to ensure the continued conservation of these great species. A good place to start is for Canada to join the International Whaling Commission and represent the views of the majority of Canadians that these creatures should be protected, not hunted.

Write to your elected officials and push for Canada to join the IWC and continue the ban on commercial whaling.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper -

Environment Min. Rona Ambrose -

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay -

Friday, June 16, 2006

Quebec Unveils Carbon Tax

Quebec has announced what is possibly the strongest action to curb climate change in the country, unveiling a 1.2 billion dollar plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions through a carbon tax on the oil and gas industry.

It is a move that is not only visionary but logical. In order to to stop climate change, governments and citizens will need to come to grips with the simple fact that it is our dependence on fossil fuels that is the primary cause of global warming, and it is the fossil fuel industry which needs to be held to task in order to win this battle - a fact sorely lost on the minority conservative government as they continue their work against the Kyoto Accord by rewriting the Government of Canada website to systematically remove any references to the accord, while failing to put forward any meaningful action to address climate change.

Harper and his Conservative party are not governing with a mandate from the people of Canada. Their minority government came to power with just 36% of the popular vote, and while Harper and his cronies do not see climate change as a problem, the people of Canada do. He would do well to remember this as he seeks to win additional seats in the next election. Especially when the greatest in-roads will need to occur in Quebec - the province most strongly advancing meaningful action on climate change.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Feds Refuse to End Oil & Gas Subsidies

In a time of record profitability, the oil and gas industry is continuing to receive $1.4 billion dollars in federal subsidies per year - a practice the government is fully defending. That makes sense....

Video of the Week - A Case of the Humans

Check out this great animated video clip featuring a poor planet earth with a bad case of the "humans". A must watch.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Nuclear Energy for Moms

Yesterday, the Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS), the non-profit propaganda arm of the Canadian Nuclear Agency, announced that their annual conference would be held at the Toronto Marriot Hotel from June 11th - 14th. Among the agenda items listed are "Winning Public & Political Support for Nuclear," and my personal favorite, "Playing the Gender Card - Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Female Demographic".

In year that marked the 20 anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the nuclear contamination of an aquifer in Normandy, and the Canadian government dedicating $520 million towards the clean up of nuclear waste, the CNS should have its work cut out for it.

Unfortunately, the so called benefits of nuclear keep gaining significant media play, with Ontario announcing today a plan to invest billions in new nuclear power - a move that will wed the citizens of Ontario to costs and risks of nuclear energy for decades to come.

Policy makers would better advised to genuinely address "the hearts and minds" of both the female demographic and all concerned Canadians by saying no to nuclear and providing real incentive for conservation and green energy choices. The victims of Chernobyl would agree. So would Mom.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Link Between Household Plastics & Prostate Cancer

A recent article in the Globe and Mail cites the first research linking bisphenol A, a widely used chemical that leaks from plastic products, and prostate cancer in animal lab experiments.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Water or Oil? The True Cost of Tar Sands

Last month the Pembina Institute released a report revealing the true impact of tar sands developments on Alberta's water resources.

A staggering degree of water rights has been granted to the largely American owned oil industry, with 359 million litres of diversions from the Athabasca River already authorized - twice the volume used by the city of Calgary in an single year. Further, less than 10% of that volume is returned to the river. The rest remains contaminated and is stored in vast tailing ponds which already total 50 square kilometers in area.

With no end in site for tar sands development Alberta is rapidly facing what amounts to an all or nothing decision - preserve the water system, or preserve the oil industry. We will need the our pristine water resources for infinite generations. How long will the oil last? And what will we be left with when it has run out?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Oilsands Ouput to Triple

With oil prices remaining strong Canada's production will continue to rise. The National Energy Board is now forecasting the tripling of oil production from Alberta's oil sands by 2015, with massive impacts in store for climate and the Canadian environment.

With an estimated 180 billion barrels of recoverable crude, Canada is second only to Saudi Arabia in known reserves, and this is only the beginning. In total, Canada's reserves are closer to 1.7 trillion barrels in volume, with 180 billion barrels recoverable with current technology and market prices. If better technology becomes available, or commodity prices continue to rise, Canada may become the world's primary supplier of crude. However, the toll on the environment could be catastrophic.

According to the industry itself, each barrel recovered requires two to five barrels of water, carves up four tons of earth and uses enough natural gas to heat a home for between one and five days.

The resulting impact is a moonscape of open pit mines, polluted air and degraded water, with the physical scars of current projects clearly visible from space.

For a better perspective on the environmental costs of these projects visit google maps and search for "Fort McMurray, Alberta". In the satellite map you can clearly see the major developments just north of the city.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wal-Mart Goes Organic - No Victory for Greens Though

Wal-Mart indicated a significant expansion in their organic line of groceries last month, and a plan to price organics just 10 percent above conventional food (see previous posting here).

The move will likely lead to an explosion in the market share for organic products, a boon to organic farmers, a windfall in terms of healthy consumer choices, and a sharp reduction in the volume of antibiotics and pesticides that millions of people are exposed to in their foods. Unfortunately, what all progressives should be hailing as a victory may ultimately result in environmentalists alienating themselves from future debates due to their chronic inability to see a difference between pragmatics and ideals by embracing an obvious victory, imperfect as it may be.

Case in point, there has been sharp criticism from some environmental commentators following this announcement citing Wal-Mart's pricing strategy, the potential globalization of organic food production, and the industrialization of the organic farming process as problems. On price they've specifically noted that,
"to index the price of organic to the price of conventional food is to give up, right from the start, on the idea — once enshrined in the organic movement — that food should be priced responsibly. Cheap industrial food, the organic movement has argued, only seems cheap, because the real costs are charged to the environment (in the form of water and air pollution and depletion of the soil); to the public purse (in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity producers); and to the public health (in the cost of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease), not to mention to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers and the well-being of the animals."
Nobody will argue the facts surrounding industrial agriculture and its effects on various social, environmental and political problems; however, the fact remains that the single greatest barrier to the widespread adoption of organic foods is price.

Come the bottom line, most people cannot afford to pay 20-25% more than the next available option for food. Given a fair opportunity, no person would choose to consume chemical additives, pesticides and antibiotics through their food let alone expose their children to such substances. However, for millions of North Americans their is little choice so long as the price for organics remains out of reach. Scant financial resources need to be stretched between far too many priorities including expensive rent, clothing for themselves and children, transportation costs and, if you live in the States, on the exorbitant cost of health care. Without lower prices, society's poor are deprived of the opportunity to benefit from organic food choices.

Unfortunately, what critics are failing to do is to step away from their ideals and recognize that victory and progress usually come in small steps and not through overnight and wholesale changes to society. Yes, it would be better if we could overhaul Wal-Mart's poor business practices, end the inequalities from globalized trade, and ensure that industrial farming practices are prohibited from (further) use in organic foods production. But those assurances are not going to come in one single change. In all likelihood, they will need to be won each step of the way, each issue at a time.

On a broad level, people will be far better served by embracing the opportunity to make pesticide and antibiotic free food more readily available to every consumer. The remaining issues can be fought for and one on a future battle field.

For the present time, the organic and environmental community would serve their constituencies, and the public as a whole, in a far better way by hailing this substantial victory and using it to create momentum for further change, rather than alienating themselves from potential new constituents and the decision makers who they will ultimately need to work with in achieving the next steps of sustainable change.

America the Fascist -- A Democracy Usurped

After nearly two years of speculation, conspiracy theories and conjecture, solid, factual and irrefutable evidence that the 2004 election was stolen is readily available to the American public and the world.

Authored by Robert Kennedy Jr, the article cites evidence of uncounted votes, voter exclusion, and media complicity. Most damning is the citing of massive disparities between exit polling and the actual vote count.

This is more than a numbers game. Exit polling has been crafted to be an exacting science through the past forty years, and it rarely deviates from the actual election result by more than a few tenths of a percentage point. But in 2004, exit polls differed from election results by as much as 9.5%. An unprecedented number in the United States and a clear sign of election fraud.

However, this article does not go far enough in its assertions. It talks about voters, and statistical anomolies but it fails to say what the real story is - that for the past 6 years, the United States of America, the leader of Democratic principles throughout the world, has been a operating as a fascist state. Elections have become meaningless as the interests in power decide who will be elected prior to elections, and orchestrate their strategies to assure that their desired outcomes take place.

The reason why this is posted here is because the enviroment as a movement needs a functioning democratic process to realize true progress. There are no totalitarian or unrepresentative regimes that embrace sustainability as an overarching value. The nature of despotic power structures is the pursuit of their own power, and progressive values such as the environment, freedom of expression, universal education, and universal health care do not figure into that model because they offer no means of increasing power for those in control.

With each stolen election the rights and liberties of every citizen is eroded. Cherished values and safequards will continue to fall if the ucpoming congressional election and the 2008 presidential election follow suit.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Wal-Mart Targets the Organic Market

A late but important posting. Wal-Mart announced in May that not only would they be expanding their selection of organic food, but that they would be pricing organic foods at just 10 percent above conventional foods:

Wal-Mart targets the organic market - May. 1, 2006