Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Victory Over Iceland Whaling

Conservationists are celebrating a small victory this week after Iceland announced that it will not issue further commercial whaling quotas after existing permits expire on August 31st. Citing poor market demand, particularly from Japan, government officials see no reason to allow more whaling until "market conditions improve".

Iceland created an international uproar last October by announcing a return to commercial whale hunting. Annual quotas were issued totaling 30 minke whales and 9 endangered fin whales. To date, seven of each have been killed with the resulting whale meat relegated to cold storage, as hunters have been unable to find buyers domestically or in Japan. Chief among buyer concerns is the high levels of toxins in North Atlantic whale meat.

Not surprisingly, this outcome was predicted by conservationists at the outset, and Arni Finnsson from the Iceland Nature Conservation Association is looking like Nostradamus himself thanks to his comments made in October of 2006.

"There is no market for this meat in Iceland, there is no possibility to export it to Japan; the government appears to have listened to fishermen who are blaming whales for eating all the fish. This decision is giving the finger to the international community."

Icelandic whalers continue to insist on the need for continued hunts in order to build up markets. And despite this victory against commercial whaling, Iceland continues to hunt whales under the guise of "scientific research", the meat from which is also ending up unused in Icelandic storage facilities.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Western States, BC and Manitoba Join In Climate Goal

The leaders of 6 western states and 2 Canadian provinces have set formal targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Dubbed the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) , California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, British Columbia and Manitoba have agreed to reduce the region's emission to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020.

Though the figure above represents an overall goal, individual states will vary according the policies they have already established. Arizona and New Mexico are promising reductions over their 2000 emissions, while Washington and California used 1990 as a base year, promising 15 percent reductions. Oregon used 1990 as a base year and promised a 10 percent cut by 2020, as did BC.

The key point in the announcement is the agreement to establish a carbon market and cap-and-trade system over within the next year - a key peice of the puzzle that is needed before any region of North America can make substantial progress on climate change.

Think CO2 is "Just Plant Food"? Think again.

Here's a good rebuttal for anyone still running into the C02 - They Call It Pollution, We Call It Life crowd.

A favorite argument of global warming deniers is that the carbon dioxide is harmless because it's "just plant food". It turns out that like any other "food", too much will only cause harm.

Both Grist and Environmental Defense are covering new research showing that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will mean less food value (i.e. decreased nitrogen and protein) in our fruits and vegetables. Think you'll get around that by boosting your meat diet? Once more, think again. Lower food value in plants, means less protein for grazing cows and pigs and therefore less meat produced by each animal. Add to this the exploding demand for meat from developing countries like China and you will need to tell me where we're meant to get all of these food calories from.

Maybe the new denier jingle can be "C02 - They Call It Pollution, We Call It A Cure for Obesity".

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The 11th Hour Opens Tomorrow

The 11th Hour, the new environmental documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio, is now open in New York and LA and is going national tomorrow. The studio itself describes the film as

a feature length documentary concerning the environmental crises caused by human actions and their impact on the planet. "The 11th Hour" documents the cumulative impact of these actions upon the planet's life systems and calls for restorative action through a reshaping of human activity.

More importantly, The 11th Hour is one of the few efforts that place us in our true context. The Earth has survived countless calamities and will ultimately survive the damage we cause. What is far less certain is our own future, as "our consumerism, our mistaken emphasis on economic growth over quality of life, (and) our growing disconnect with the sources of our food and most other things in our lives" increasingly puts our survival as a species in danger. The film drives this point home, while the likes of Stephen Hawking, David Suzuki, Ray Anderson, and Paul Hawken deliver the solutions we have within our grasp.

Early reviews have been solid. Grab the densest knucklehead you know and drag them along to watch. Previews below. You'll need Flash 9 to view.

Oppostion Could End Government Over Kyoto

Opposition parties are ramping up talk of bringing down the minority government after the Conservatives opportunistically posted their comprehensive climate change plan online while political attention was distracted by the ongoing North American leaders summit.

Both the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois are taking exception to the plan which fails to outline a path to meet Canada's greenhouse gas reduction targets agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol. It also flies in the face of a private members bill passed by opposition parties that legally requires Canada to honour it's Kyoto commitments.

(NDP leader) Mr. Layton suggests the lack of action on climate change would force his party to vote against the Conservatives.

The Liberals did not return phone calls yesterday to say whether they would be willing to prop up the government after the lack of action on Mr. Rodriguez's law.

But Bloc Québécois MP Bernard Bigras, who is his party's environment critic, is making threats similar to those of Mr. Layton. The government is taking a "political risk" by ignoring the law, Mr. Bigras said. The plan released this week "is not acceptable, it does not constitute a response as required by the law that was voted upon by Parliament," he said.

At this stage, critics may be right in saying that it's simply too late for Canada to meet its Kyoto commitments. However, what's equally true is that the Conservative alternative is an industry friendly piece of toilet paper that falls far short of what Canada can and should do. The final blow will fall to the Liberals. Although a minority government, the Conservatives need the support of just one of the opposition parties to survive a confidence vote.

In the aftermath of a lengthy leadership race and a mediocre standing in the polls, the Liberals have looked reticent at pushing for an election. But if the NDP and the Bloc stand in opposition to the Conservatives the Liberals will face a real dilemma - show no leadership or credibility by siding with the Conservatives and their farcical environment plan, or face an election they are not equipped to win.

Here's some advice. The Liberals will not gain power again as long as they show zero backbone in the face of Conservative policies. They'd be better served by establishing, then holding true to, some principles rather than playing politics around them. If they do that, the votes will follow. Fail at that, and they will lose either way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Scourge of "Big Wind"

America's first offshore wind project is being proposed for the windy bay of Cape Cod's Nantucket Sound. The 130 wind turbines would produce up to 420 megawatts of clean, renewable energy and supply three quarters of the Cape and Islands electricity needs.

However, in a testament to our societies 'me first' attitude, a coalition of wealthy residents - including Senator Ted Kennedy and prominent environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. - are campaigning against the project because of its potential impact on their seafront views. Witness the scourge of Big Wind first hand courtesy of The Daily Show.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Turf War Brewing Over Alberta Oil Sands

Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed is predicting a "war" between the federal government and Alberta over pollution caused by the growing oil sands industry. He says the conflict could be a threat to national unity that will likely escalate to the Supreme Court of Canada as Alberta fights for the right of the province to develop its natural resources as it sees fit.

It doesn't get more dramatic than that.

Lougheed has a history of being an outspoken critic of provincial and federal politics since leaving office in 1985. He's also let his own concern about the oil sands be known, calling the pace of development "haphazard" and a threat to the environment.

Albertans themselves will hold the key to the conflict. If they make the greening of the oil sands a top political issue, the provincial government will likely be forced to negotiate ways to address this with the feds. Greenhouse gas emissions can start to be brought under control, water diversions can be minimized, and the province can avoid turning nearly a quarter of it's landspace into an open pit oil mine. If they choose to hang their hat on their "right" to develop the oil sands "as they see fit", then Canadian greenhouse emissions will spiral, entire ecosystems will be lost, and the country will be locked in a political turf war that will last decades.

In related news, Imperial Oil announced first half net income of $1.49 billion, up from $1.43 billion for the first half of 2006.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Canada Crips Towards Climate Deal

In the face of inaction by the federal Conservatives, Canada's provinces and territories wrapped up discussions on climate change policy today during the annual premier's conference being held in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Some moderate actions were agreed to, but no consensus was reached on the two big solutions - matching California vehicle emissions standards and establishing an inter-provincial cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases. Twelve of thirteen provinces embraced matching the California standards, which call for a 30% reduction in new car emissions by 2016. Only Ontario refused, saying that the province's troubled auto manufacturing industry was in no position to bear the burden. Meanwhile, Ontario did join British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba in calling for a firm cap-and-trade system that would apply to all industries in the country.

Two questions. First, the provinces endorsing cap-and-trade represent almost 80% of the Canadian population - what's stopping them from establishing a carbon market on their own? Second, where does Ontario plan on selling all of their inefficient vehicles if every other province adopts California's emission standards?

Nobody ever said politicians made sense.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

US Faces the Real Global Warming Hoax

This week's cover story in Newsweek is leveled squarely at global warming deniers, outlining the concerted and well funded plan by certain industries to mislead the public and derail efforts to fight global warming.

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless.

Critical thinking 101 - when you see remarks like these, all coming from the same source, know that the people making these claims do not have a real position based on evidence. They are arguing for a particular result, in this case to stop any action that reduces greenhouse gases. If they had a real position to defend, they use wouldn't change their argument on a monthly basis.

The good news is that the denial machine is slowly failing. Last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change. That figure has now fallen to 39%. However the real discrepancy lies between the opinions of Americans and the understanding of those living in other nations.

In Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia the public is fully aware of the scientific consensus on global warming. Despite the difference in understanding the polls reveal, the continued failure of US to join the world ranks says more about the workings of the country itself than it does about its people.

The fact is that the American people need to confront a very uncomfortable truth about their nation, one that goes far beyond the reality of global warming and touches the core of their culture and society. That is, that while laying claim to the title of the world's leader of democracy and freedom, the United States of America represents the modern world's most sophisticated machine for brainwashing their own populace and ensuring their continued ignorance - to the impacts of their lifestyles, to the loss of their own freedoms, and to the failings of their own democratic state.

Ultimately, the American people need to confront the real hoax being perpetrated by their elected officials, educational institutions, and media conglomerates on a daily basis - that they live in the world's freest country, despite all evidence to the contrary.

To read the scientific information behind the Newsweek article visit Grist.

To learn what you can do about deniers click here.

World Heritage Park Expanded in Canada

On Wednesday Stephen Harper announced that 5,000 square kilometers would be added to the Nahanni National Park Reserve - a spectacular area of the Northwest Territories that, alongside Yellowstone and the Galapagos, was named one the UN's original three World Heritage Sites back in 1978.

"This is arguably the most important act of environmental protection in a generation," the prime minister said Wednesday. The government plans to add 5,400 square kilometres of land within the Greater Nahanni ecosystem, barring it from any kind of further development.

Despite the good news "arguably" is the key word. There has been an ongoing efforts to protect in the Nahanni's entire 38,000 square kilometer watershed by both environmentalists, and local first nations who already have ceded control of 23,000 square kilometers to Parks Canada. However, proposed mining development still threatens the park from upstream sites. Protecting the entire watershed would be a solid a worth effort at protecting the health of ecosystems instead of defending park 'borders'. Two very different aims.

Readers can add their voice of support for protecting the entire Nahanni watershed by sending an email to Canadian officials