Friday, April 27, 2007

Pass the Conservative Climate Change Plan

Update May 2nd: Though the sentiment in the summary below is right, one correction needs to be made. The Conservative plan is not legislative but rather regulatory in nature. What does this mean? Essentially that it is not a Bill and does not have to be passed or ratified by government, and that it becomes very easy for government to simply not enforce it. The opinion below would hold if they would legislate the same provisions in law.

On Thursday, the Conservatives unveiled their new climate change plan. It's a weak plan. It does promise results, but far behind those of the rest of the world. Under the Tory plan, Canada would still be 30% short of its Kyoto commitments by the year 2020.

The facts of the situation are as follows; this plan will not meet Canada's Kyoto commitments; industry, which is responsible for 50% of Canada's emissions, is only being asked to shoulder 40% of the burden; intensity based targets will not reduce emissions if production increases at a significant rate; and there is no firm incentive for reductions by industry until 2010 when a proposed carbon tax of $15 per tonne kicks in.

So what should the opposition do? That part is easy. Pass it - with one strict condition.

With less than 5 years remaining under the current Kyoto treaty, it's time to let pragmatics take the lead over ideals. Canada has been a complete laggard in addressing climate change - thanks to both the Liberals AND the Conservatives - and we will continue to do so until some firm policy is in place. If the opposition forces an election over this issue, the result will likely be another minority government and another year of political wrangling before there is any hope of action being taken.

Canada needs to begin taking action now. And the one condition opposition parties need to insist on in passing this plan is that the $15 per tonne carbon tax needs to go into effect in 2008, not 2010 as the Conservatives are proposing.

This would provide genuine incentive for reducing greenhouse gases next year, but more importantly, it provides a policy foundation that Canada can build on. Subsequent governments will then have the tools and the regulatory framework in place to be more aggressive on emissions. Being more aggressive is also going to get a lot easier, once Canadian industry and the economy as a whole, takes the first steps along this road. To date, we've been standing at the starting line watching other nations sprint towards the finish line.

It has become clear that, on this issue, Canada will need to learn to walk before it can run. Passing this bill will start us walking. The next government can work towards getting us running by adding new measures to it.

Political Knowledge. How Do You Rank?

Earlier this week, I posted a tongue-in-cheek article about certain people's ignorance about global warming. Given the results of this year's Political Knowledge Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, that article should not have surprised anyone.

Pew has been using this survey to evaluate the political savvy of the American population for almost twenty years now. Questions include such doozies as "Can you name the current vice president?"

The results?....not good.

Despite the proliferation of news media and internet access, the average American is less likely to be able to name the VP, their state's governor or the President of Russia than they were in 1989 - by 5%, 8% and 11% respectively.

Other key info includes a breakdown of the educational value of different news sources. If you watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Colbert Report or read major newspaper websites, you probably know what you're talking about. If you like Fox News, or your various local/morning news shows, you'd be better served by turning off the tube and having a political discussion with your morning bagel.

On a positive note, this has given me an idea for a new anti-troll policy. Anyone wanting to post comments would first need to reach a minimum score on this survey. U.S. readers would be required to score above 50% to comment on global warming and other environmental political issues. Given that the survey is strictly American in subject matter, Canadian readers would only need to score 55%.

You can try your hand at the survey here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Conscious Earth Receives Thinking Blogger Award

Thanks to Karl Lindgren for giving The Conscious Earth the nod for the Thinking Blogger Award.

The award kicked off a couple months ago as a peer driven effort to weed through the fat of the blogosphere and deliver to readers the highest quality and most thought provoking content available. The winners, in turn, nominate five blogs that make them think, thus passing the torch throughout the online community and giving us all something to think about.

With heartfelt thanks to all of The CE's readers throughout the past 11 months, here are my own nominations for the Thinking Blogger Award. As the first rule of thinking is independence of thought, sharp readers will notice that not all of these are, strictly speaking, 'blogs'. My priority was in offering choices that genuinely made me think, regardless of the nature of the site.


Desmogblog - Clearing the PR pollution that clouds the science of climate change. Begun here in my home town by local public relations professional Jim Hoggan, Desmogblog's mission is to counter the spin of global warming deniers with the facts about this critical issue. Included on the site is a database supplying background information on the top deniers, as well as critical resources outlining the genuine scientific consensus about the dangers of global warming.

Fireraven Tarot - A compatriot from down under, Fireraven is an environmentalist and Tarot card reader who, on every full moon, gives a reading for our planet Earth. Insightful and thought provoking, the site is a great reminder about the limits of scientific/rational thought, and how far we as westerners have been led away from the wisdom of the Earth.

Planetfesto - Simple and visionary, Planetfesto's mission is to build a virtual ribbon around the Earth, six inches at a time. Each visitor can add their own photo to the ribbon, alongside their words about the importance and beauty of the natural world.

The Alan Watts Library - Regular listening of mine, the wisdom of the late Alan Watts is as accessible and relevant today as it was throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s. A host of books and lectures are available for order, as is a free weekly podcast.

Satan's Laundromat - A picture is worth a thousand thoughts. The Laundromat is a photolog of New York, with an emphasis on urban decay, strange signage, and general weirdness. There is nothing more thought provoking that the random expression of our fellow people.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bye Bye Bad Bulbs?......Great Idea!

The sale of inefficient incandescent light bulbs will be banned in Canada by 2012.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn made the announcement earlier today, stating that the move would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than six million tonnes a year and save homeowners about $60 annually in electricity costs.

The news was also welcomed by Canada's largest light bulb retailer - Home Depot. The home renovation giant is boasting a 350% increase in sales of compact fluorescents since 2004, and they are working with Phillips Lighting to launch a national recycling program for the high efficiency bulbs by 2008.

Recognizing Canadians need a convenient and simple way to recycle CFLs properly, The Home Depot Canada in partnership with Phillips Lighting announced today it will test an in-store CFL recycling program this summer, with the expectation of making the program available nationally by 2008.

Great news.

Schwarzenegger Welcomes BC to Carbon Trading Market

Yesterday, the British Columbia government announced that it is joining 5 western states in an international carbon trading market designed to tackle global warming and aggressively reduce greenhouse gases.

BC joins California, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Arizona in a growing partnership that now includes close to 60 million people. In the next few days, several Australian states are also expected to join, and Governor Schwarzenegger hopes to recruit at least four or five more Canadian provinces in the coming months.

Critics of the plan note that BC has promised to join such efforts in the past, but has failed to follow through because there were no hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions. To date, California has legislated hard caps under law. BC has not.

Mark Jaccard, Simon Fraser University's internationally respected global-warming expert, noted that B.C. politicians declared their support for a similar carbon trading system about 15 years ago. It quickly foundered because the New Democratic Party government never took the tough step of actually capping greenhouse gas emissions, meaning there was never a real incentive to buy carbon credits.

"We've already had governments make these announcements, but then they never come through with the greenhouse gas caps," said Jaccard. "In the absence of the government setting caps that are serious, an announcement of a trading system is meaningless.

BC's announcement follows up February's crown speech which stated that the province would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 33% by the year 2020.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tories Vote for Hard Caps on Emissions,...Accidentally?

In a move that has stunned the House of Commons, the Conservatives have supported of a Bloc Quebecois motion calling for "absolute limits on greenhouse gas emissions to meet the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol".

The Bloc motion calls for the government to urgently set absolute targets for cutting greenhouse emissions so as to achieve the objectives of Kyoto, and as a preliminary condition for establishing a carbon exchange market in Montreal.

The Canadian Press is reporting that the motion was passed unanimously earlier this afternoon in the nation's capital - a move that appears to be a complete flip-flop in Tory policy. As early as last week, Environment Minister John Baird had stated that meeting Kyoto would ruin the Canadian economy, and the Conservatives have consistently opposed hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

However, more controversy is afoot. There are rumblings out of Conservative corners that they voted in favour of the Bloc motion because it was presented in French and they never understood it.

Incredulous opposition MPs initially attributed the government's support for the Bloc motion to a translation error, which translated "absolute" targets as "fixed" targets. But after the error was corrected, the government voted in favour.

Given the strange nature of these events, it remains to be seen what this means for Canada's stance on Kyoto and for the country's global warming policy. In the mean time, the Conservative's are scheduled to unveil their plans to address greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands on Thursday.

More to come as the situation develops.

The Birds and the .......

We all know how the saying in the title finishes. Our next generation may not.

For the past year, scientists have been following one of the most baffling and alarming situations yet seen in nature - the abrupt collapse of bee colonies throughout the world.

Termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), it occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers.

Concerns were first raised last fall in the US, and to date the American West Coast is thought to have lost 60% of its commercial bee population and a further 70% on the East Coast. CCD has since spread to Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and most recently the UK, where one of London's largest bee-keepers has recently announced that 23 of 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

The cause has not been identified with certainty. Deceased bees are being found with massive amounts of pathogens and widespread disease, leading some to blame pollution and environmental toxins. Others are finding evidence that the navigation systems of bees are being disrupted by radiation from the growing number of mobile phones going into use.

Either way, the situation is alarming and represents a huge risk to the environment and our food supply. Most of the pollination for US food crops is accomplished through honey bees, at an annual value of $14 billion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Global Warming Gaffe

Writing about environmental issues is an enormous communications challenge. The biggest part of that challenge is ensuring that people understand the problems we face and have the right information about how to solve them. Some days it feels like that battle is being won. Then, on other days......

Sunday, April 22, 2007

April 22nd, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

EPA Spin Praises Bush

The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency is claiming a victory in the fight against global warming, and crediting the visionary climate change policies of George Bush for the results.

On Monday, EPA Administrator Dave Johnson announced that US greenhouse gas emissions grew by only 1% in 2005.

"The Bush administration's unparalleled financial, international and domestic commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is delivering real results," Johnson proclaimed in a statement.

Back in the real world, calling a growth in greenhouse gases a climate change victory is a bit like shooting a hockey puck into your own goal. More to the point, Mr. Johnson's counterparts in other US government departments had a more sober perspective on the situation. The people responsible for tracking US energy usage credit 2005's slower rise in greenhouse emissions to market factors and oil supply disruptions along the storm battered Gulf Coast - storms that may well grow more frequent, as global temperatures rise.

The slow growth in emissions from 2004 to 2005 can be attributed mainly to higher energy prices that suppressed demand, low or negative growth in several energy-intensive industries, and weather-related disruptions in the energy infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. As a result, while the economy grew by 3.2 percent, energy consumption fell by 0.3 percent.

More perspective on the US emissions can be found in the graph below:

Monday, April 16, 2007

US Cuts Lead in Toys

The US government has issued a notice that companies that make or distribute toys or other children's products that include lead will face increased scrutiny as a part of a move to avoid lead poisoning in children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will now be making contact with up to 120 importing and manufacturing companies by the end of April to instruct them to provide health and safety studies if any lead might be found in the products they make for children.

The risks posed by lead poisoning have been known for decades and are so severe that in the 1980s the petroleum industry was forced to eliminate lead from gasoline - and it's certainly not every day that the oil industry changes its product line in the face of social and health concerns.

So the question is, why is there any lead in children's products in the first place?

Making children's toys from lead is about as intelligent as allowing mercury into the food chain or dumping sewage into drinking water sources. Rather than patting the government on the back for this move, its time to get aggressive with the companies that are placing known poisons in children's toys in the first place.

An Inconvenient Truth for BC High Schools

Every public high school will get be receiving a free copy of An Inconvenient Truth. The announcement came this morning during a press conference outside the Vancouver School Board offices.

Funding for the project comes courtesy of the Tides Canada Foundation, while the distribution of the DVDs will be taken care of through the Novex Courier's clean fleet of hybrid and low-emission vehicles and bicycle courier service. The original vision for the project came courtesy of Gregor Robertson, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver Fairview and former CEO of Happy Planet beverages.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dion and May Join Efforts to Defeat Mackay

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May have announced that they will work together to oust Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay from his seat in the next federal election. The move could lead to the Canada's first Green Party Member of Parliament.

Earlier today, Dion announced that the Liberals would not run a candidate in Mackay's Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova during the next federal election where Elizabeth May plans to run. With a second place showing to her credit from November's by-election in London North Centre, May stands and excellent chance of defeating Mackay - a high profile, but vulnerable member of the Conservative Party.

Peter Mackay is best known for his sad sack personal life that includes being publicly and politically dumped by former Conservative Leadership hopeful Belinda Stronach, and later for his high profile date with Condeleeza Rice at a Nova Scotia Tim Horton's. His 'affair' with Rice had the convenient side benefit of deflecting public and media attention away from the secret North American merger discussions that were going on simultaneously in Banff, Alberta.

In short, a three legged dog should be able to beat Mackay, provided they run the right campaign. Best luck to Ms. May!

Good News for Whales (I Think)

In some potential good news for the anti-whaling movement, it appears that Nicaragua will no longer vote for alongside pro-whaling nations at the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

I say "appears" only because the article in question is in Spanish and the Babel Fish translation was nearly incomprehensible.

The pro-whaling camp has been making significant progress in recent years, thanks in large part to the Japanese efforts to stack the international panel in their favour. Japan has been bringing "sympathetic" countries into the IWC by exchanging foreign aid and IWC membership fees for pro-whaling votes.

The pro-whaling camp gained a key victory last June when the IWC voted 33 to 32 in favour of the eventual return of commercial whaling. In highly contested and tight voting environment, Nicaragua's apparent shift in policy will be key for efforts to maintain the commercial whaling ban.

If any Spanish speaking readers would like to give their interpretation, your input in the comments section is more than welcome.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

GM - Brown Suits, Green Image

The International Auto Show has been making the rounds of North America, with my home town of Vancouver being the latest stop on the tour.

Front and centre in this year's show is an increasingly aggressive campaign of green posturing by the major car manufacturers as they line up their latest high tech, fuel efficient models for the market and press. Highest profile among them is the Chevrolet Volt, GM's new "plug-in hybrid" concept car.

Doesn't it look pretty!

And as various bloggers and journalists are chaperoned through the Detroit autoshow (so as to better tow the GM line), give them credit for making a pass at something resembling balanced reporting. They do raise concerns with the Volt - about the potential hazards in disposing of electric batteries, of relying on coal powered electricity to charge battery powered vehicles, and of the potential recycling issues with the Volt's interior materials - all while being dazzled by the glitz of surface design.

That was part of the plan, we learned -- "green vehicles" aren't always particularly sexy, so Chevy wanted to bring some of the emotional attachment of the Corvette and Camaro to a greener vehicle.

"Green companies" aren't always sexy either, and what the rest of us have learned is how easy it is to get a environmental writer to lose sight of the ball.

Though valid, the criticisms above utterly miss the point. Namely, that while GM is flogging their green credentials, they are firmly entrenched as one North America's fiercest opponents of global warming action, thanks to their persistent lawsuits against states trying to pass tougher vehicle emissions standards.

GM is the lead plaintiff among a coalition of auto manufacturers in the highly publicized lawsuit against California over their landmark automobile emissions law. They were also the lead witness in a similar suit launched by automakers in the state of Vermont this past Tuesday, while yet another GM backed lawsuit is underway in Rhode Island. All in, nine states are trying to move forward with meaningful action to reduce automobile emissions under tremendous opposition from GM and the auto industry as a whole.

While green writers are being hypnotized by a public relations slight of hand, GM continues a full out legal campaign against some of the most progressive actions on climate change we have.

The bright spot is that thanks to last week's precedent at the US Supreme Court that recognized co2 as a pollutant, GM's efforts stand and excellent chance of failing. But regardless, automakers can make no claim to green credentials so long as they continue to use the courts to derail laws and policies that will lead to a healthier planet - no matter how many green poster cars they roll out for the cameras.

GM can have their Volt, so long as they quit interfering with real climate change solutions.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Help Put An Inconvenient Truth in Every High School

Vancouver businessman Will Cole-Hamilton has begun a national initiative to place a copy of An Inconvenient Truth in every Canadian secondary school. Through his newly founded non profit group, the Learning Climate Educational Society, Cole-Hamilton and his partners are looking to raise $50,000 to fund the project.

In a few short weeks they have already raised $10,000.
Now you can help benefit the project, Canadian students, and the global warming issue by donating online, or you can mail your cheque payable to the Learning Climate Education Society at the following address:

Learning Climate Educational Society
c/o 1834 B Napier Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 2N3

More updates to come as the campaign moves forward.

How To Meet Kyoto? Live Like a New Yorker

A study released on Tuesday revealed that New York was responsible for a full 1% of the United States' greenhouse gases. Coming much later in the article is the key point - that at 8.7 million people the Big Apple accounts for almost 3% of the total US population, meaning that the footprint of your average New Yorker is about 1/3 that of your average American.

The lesson? If every American lived like a New Yorker the US wouldn't have to agree to the Kyoto Protocol - because they already would have reached its targets.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had commissioned the study to evaluate the city's progress in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030. Cheers to real leadership.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Radical Plan to Save the Tasmanian Devil

A radical plan is being suggested to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction.

The rare marsupial once inhabited wide areas of Australia, but predation and human impacts wiped it out everywhere but the small island state of Tasmania. A healthy population of 150,000 had flourished there until the mid 1990s when a mysterious facial cancer began sweeping through the island.

Dubbed devil facial tumor disease, the infectious cancer spreads through mouth to mouth conflict and infects the face with large visible tumours. Eventually, the cancer crowds out the animal's teeth, essentially starving it to death as eating and hunting become more difficult.

Scientists believe that many as 70,000 have already perished, with 65% of the remaining population infected. In the northeast of the state where the disease was first diagnosed, 90% of the population has disappeared.

Now, scientists are proposing a controversial plan to transfer 30 healthy animals to nearby Maria Island - a national park that is also home to several endangered bird species.

Critics are concerned about the impact that the new species will have on local species, an understandable fear given Australia's previous failed experiments in introducing foreign species to sensitive habitats. However, unless a new home or a miracle cure is found there will be no uninfected Tasmanian devils in as little as 5 years.

Those wanting to help save the species can visit the Save the Tasmanian Devil website to donate or find out more.

A Dose of "Truth" for Every Canadian High School

Update: Members of the public can contribute directly to the campaign with their financial contribution. Visit the Conscious Earth post here, or the Learning Climate Education Society for information on donating online, or mailing your cheque.

Calling An Inconvenient Truth a "life altering event", Vancouver businessman Will Cole-Hamilton has launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the distribution of the global warming documentary to every high school in Canada.

Through their recently founded Learning Climate Educational Society, Cole-Hamilton and his partners have already raised $10,000 of the $50,000 they need, and they are also working on an educational package to accompany the film.

"Young people are going to be dealing with the opportunities and the challenges of climate change for the rest of their lives. And I think that a film that can give them a clear and comprehensible introduction to the scope and shape of that challenge is something that they need as they head forward."

Their efforts have so far been welcomed, which is in stark contrast to the situation in the United States. Four months ago, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) created an uproar when they refused 50,000 free copies of the DVD. It was later revealed that Exxon-Mobil is among the NSTA's funders.

Though better than the efforts made down south, Canada still lags noticeably behind the world leaders. In Britain, the government is distributing the movie to every secondary school in the nation, and it is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.

However, provided the initiative isn't derailed by irrational parents (as was the case in Washington State) Canada's students, and the education system, stand to be the better for Cole-Hamilton's efforts.

If anyone has information regarding how the public can support this fundraising drive, email me at

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Global Warming's "Highway to Extinction"

A new report from the United Nations is slated for release on Good Friday, will outline the effects of global warming with every degree of temperature rise in what key researcher Andrew Weaving calls a "Highway to Extinction".

The missing link in many discussions of global warming is how temperature rises affect the ecosystem as a whole, and subsequently our own society. The upcoming report promises to make those connections in frightening detail. Details include:

A 1 degree Celsius increase would means up to 1.7 billion extra people (equivalent to the entire population of the United States and China) will not have enough water, some infectious diseases and allergenic pollens rise, and some amphibians go extinct. The world’s food supply, especially in northern areas, could increase. This is the likely world outcome for the year 2020.

A further 1 degree rise means as many as 2 billion people could be without water and about 20 percent to 30 percent of the world’s species will be near extinction. More people start dying because of malnutrition, disease, heat waves, floods and droughts. This is the likely world outcome for the year 2050.

The report's authors give these findings a 90% level of confidence.

For those who think this is too far into the future to do anything about, it's time to start looking beyond the end of your own nose. I will personally be 44 and 74 at these intervals. On behalf of the under forty crowd I can assure you these problems are far to close to the horizon to continue to ignore.

However, there's good news. The report also stresses that these projections are based on a status quo of failing to curb greenhouse gases. There are "many turnoffs" along the highway to extinction and ultimately its up to us to take control of the wheel and head for one of them. Oceanographer James McCarthy summed it up even better,

“The worst stuff is not going to happen because we can’t be that stupid,” said Harvard University oceanographer James McCarthy, who was a top author of the 2001 version of this report. “Not that I think the projections aren’t that good, but because we can’t be that stupid.”

Monday, April 02, 2007

Global Warming Win at the Supreme Court

The Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

That was the 5-4 verdict of the US Supreme Court today earlier today in Washington, DC. For the past 4 years the Bush Administration and the EPA had insisted that they could not regulate co2 because its not a "pollutant". The Supreme Court disagreed.

Earthjustice led a coalition of states, municipalities, and environmental and public health groups in challenging EPA's inaction. Lead attorney Howard Fox's response was ecstatic with the ruling,

"Today is a great day for the environment. In one of the most important environmental cases of its history, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed what we have been saying all along: The Clean Air Act gives EPA authority to fight global warming. The EPA must act immediately and issue regulations that limit greenhouse gases from motor vehicles that contribute to global warming."

With the question of whether the EPA can regulate co2 over, the debate will now move to whether or not they should. The court refused to address that question; however, the Clean Air Act itself seems to provide a clear answer,

...the Clean Air Act provides that the EPA Administrator "shall" set emission standards for "any air pollutant" from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines "which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare."

Global warming has now emerged as one of the greatest threats to public welfare we've yet faced. That combined with today's Supreme Court ruling and a Democrat party keen on pushing through climate change legislation may make it a matter of time before the EPA is forced to start doing its part in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Costa Rica to Be World's 1st Carbon Neutral Nation

Costa Rica has announced is developing plans to become the world's first carbon neutral nation.

According to their Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles, they will reach neutrality through a basket of measures including budgeting, laws, and new incentives to encourage biofuels, hybrid vehicles, and clean energy. They will also implement a “C-Neutral” label to certify that tourism and industrial practices mitigate all of the carbon dioxide they emit alongside a voluntary “tax” of $10 per tone of carbon emitted. Money from the tax would fund conservation, reforestation, and research in protected areas.

The UN is watching their efforts with the hope of encouraging successful strategies elsewhere in the world. Time will tell their ultimate success; however, their thriving eco-trourism industry gives them a good head start in making greater environmental investments in their economy.