Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The National Energy Board is conducting hearings on Enbridge’s proposal for a pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to the town of Kitimat in the heart of BC’s Great Bear Rainforest. If approved, over 200 oil tankers would be navigating the difficult waters off BC’s Northwest Coast each year, making widespread environmental damage to BC’s coastline only a matter of time. Moreover, it will facilitate the marketing of even more dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands, fueling that unfolding ecological catastrophe with profound consequences for the rest of Canada and the world.

The project is meeting fierce opposition, especially in northern BC, and the federal government has declared war on anyone who opposes this project. In Winnipeg, a coalition of environmental groups banded together to hold a public forum on February 16, 2012 at the University of Winnipeg entitled Tar Sands, Pipelines and Tankers. Over 300 people turned out to view an excellent 16-minute documentary by Pacific Wild entitled Oil in Eden and to dialogue with an expert panel, moderated by journalist Ricard Cloutier.

The Panel

Dr. Wade Davis is Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society, Visiting Professor and Senior Fellow of the Masters in Development Practice (MDP) Indigenous Development program, University of Winnipeg.

As well, he is the author of The Sacred Headwaters: the fight to save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass.

Gerald Amos was Chief Councillor for the Haisla First Nation for 12 years. He has been a leading voice for conservation in Canada for thirty years.

He is the author of an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver “No apology forthcoming.”

Lynne Fernandez, of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives has an MA in economics from the University of Manitoba. As a research associate at the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Lynne has studied municipal and provincial social and economic policy. She is also interested in labour and environmental issues.

Anne Lindsey is former executive director of the Manitoba Eco-Network. Since 1984, Anne has worked on such Manitoba and national issues as nuclear waste, forestry, food, pesticides and environmental reviews.

This event was organized by the Manitoba Eco-Network, Green Action Centre, Climate Change Connection, the Council of Canadians (Winnipeg), and the Green Action Committee of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church, with the support of the University of Manitoba’s Global Political Economy Program and the University of Winnipeg.

I hope you can schedule some time to view the video report I prepared in collaboration with Ken Harasym for Winnipeg Community TV. At two-and-a-half hours, it is long, but it is crammed with information and analysis that make it well worth the time.

When asked if her party would support a moratorium on transporting radioactive nuclear fuel waste through Manitoba, Progressive Conservative candidate Heather Stephanson equivocated, saying she would not answer a “hypothetical question.”

By contrast, Green Party Leader James Beddome answered with a thunderous denunciation of allowing nuclear waste on Manitoba soil and declared the possibility of a Conservative government being elected Oct. 4 to be “hypothetical.”

Judging from the applause for Beddome and the lack of it for Stephanson, it was clear where the audience stood on this issue.

This is not a hypothetical issue. A movement has sprung up in Saskatchewan to prevent the establishment of a nuclear waste dump.  A respected aboriginal elder, Emil Bell, is on a hunger strike against storing nuclear waste in Saskatchewan.

Kudos to Beddome for clearly stating his party’s anti-nuke position.

You can see the whole debate at here.

Manitoba citizens will elect a new provincial government Oct. 4, 2011 and environmental issues will play an important role in determining which political party forms that government.

Where should Manitoba Hydro construct its planned Bipole 3 transmission line – or should it be built at all?

How should we save Lake Winnipeg from choking to death on toxic algae?

How best can Manitobans respond to rising energy costs and climate change?

These are only some of the issues that representatives of four political parties debated in this two-and-a-half hour public forum held Sept. 14., 2011 in Winnipeg. Naturally, I brought my video camera.

Moderator: Terry MacLeod, CBC Information Radio

– James Beddome, Green Party of Manitoba
– Paul Hesse: Liberal Party of Manitoba
– Jennifer Howard: New Democratic Party of Manitoba
– Heather Stephanson: Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba

Manitoba Eco-Network
Green Action Centre
Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba
Green Action Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg

I’m half-way through “Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to economic, social and ecological decay” by Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler and I’m already regretting my decision, a year ago, to replace my aging Mazda with a brand new Kia Soul. I would have been better off with a bus pass and the world would have been one infinitesimally tiny step closer to sanity.

By every conceivable measure, private automobile ownership is an irrational choice that drains our health, destroys our environment and locks us in a downward spiral of indebtedness. In a discussion hosted by the Manitoba Eco-Network on July 7, 2011 in Winnipeg, Yves Engler explains why.

“What if the Gulf could sue BP?” asks Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “What if the ocean around Japan could sue the owners of the nuclear facility? What if the Athabasca River could sue everybody? What if Lake Winnipeg could sue for the nitrates we dump into it everyday?”

On International Mother Earth Day, April 22, 2011, Barlow spoke to a packed hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba on the international campaign for the Rights of Nature and the need to retake the Commons from corporate predators. Her appearance was sponsored by the Council of Canadians (Winnipeg Chapter) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Manitoba Office).

This is an excerpt from her speech that I recorded at the Fort Garry Hotel.

April 20, 2011: Dennis Lewycky (NDP), Ilona Niemczyk (Liberal) and Jacqueline Romanow (Green) at a Federal Election Forum on the Environment at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

If the state of our environment is a defining issue for you in this Canadian federal election, you must be disappointed at the scant, superficial mainstream media coverage to date. Despair no more.

I attended an “all-candidates” forum on the environment in Winnipeg last night (April 20, 2011), and posted a two hour video on YouTube to redress this portion of our democratic deficit. (For other insightful creations, go to – but I digress.)

The phrase “all candidates” sits between inverted commas because the Conservative Party, true to form, chose not to participate. The Bloc Quebecois was not invited, understandably, because it is not running in Winnipeg (or elsewhere outside of Quebec). Other parties were excluded because they are not running candidates in all ridings.

Nonetheless, representatives of the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals were there. All gave good accounts of their respective parties’ positions. The questions put by the organizers were challenging in substance and comprehensive in scope. Panelists and audience members addressed each other intelligently, thoughtfully and respectfully. In short, it was an informative, educational evening, refreshingly free of the rhetorical bombast that passes for political discourse in this era of spin doctors and attack ads.

The candidates were:

The forum was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church and moderated by CJOB Radio’s morning talk show host Richard Cloutier. It was sponsored by:

Grab some non-GM popcorn if you can find some, kick back and enjoy. And don’t forget to share this with friends and family, because it may be one of the few opportunities they will have to compare the environmental positions of three of the four main parties running across Canada. As for the Tories, the silent empty chair on the stage pretty much illustrates their environmental platform.

With the annual retreat of snow and ice blessedly underway, the crap and crud that mysteriously didn’t make it into my back lane dumpster is revealed in all of its putrescence. I call this a mystery because I don’t know how apparently sentient, reasonably healthy, bipedally-capable adults with opposable thumbs could miss the dumpster’s gaping maw and deposit their refuse behind it, under it, beside it — anywhere but in the damn dumpster. But they did. And because it apparently  bothers me more than my neighbours, I suppose I will have to clean it up.

After I stopped fuming at the unfairness of it all, I started thinking about garbage. We make a lot of it. Even little Winnipeg (pop. 684,000) manages to dispose of over 200,000 tonnes annually. While this is a minuscule share of the estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of municipal waste that is tossed away every year around the world, it’s still a lot. Judging from what doesn’t make it to the landfill, such as the recently mapped Atlantic Garbage Patch, it’s probably a lot more and definitely unsustainable.

Strangely, I’m grateful for my messy neighbours. Were it not for their disagreeable practices, I wouldn’t have taken the time to think about garbage at all. Bag it. Toss it (hopefully in the dumpster). Forget it. Out of sight, out of mind. Somebody takes it away, never to be seen again.

But most garbage doesn’t really go far. Nor does it go away. Not for decades. As it slowly decomposes, it leaches poisons into the groundwater and expels noxious gases into the atmosphere. Garbage is both a symptom and a cause of serious, potentially game ending challenges to human survival – which brings me to Canada’s federal election, replete as it is with the toxic flatulence that passes for political wisdom these days.

I gotta tell ya, looking at the sorry record of politicians of all stripes, I’m almost at the point of erecting a billboard in my yard that screams “DON’T VOTE. YOU’LL ONLY ENCOURAGE THEM!”

Yes, yes. I know. Stephen Harper is a contemptible, war-mongering, fossil-fueled son of a bitch and if he gets a majority he’ll shred the social safety net, torch the CBC and declare the Fourth Reich. (I don’t really think he’s a Nazi, but he has twice shut down Parliament to avoid the embarrassment of being held accountable by the Official Opposition. This betrays a certain contempt for democracy. It could become habit forming.)

Michael Ignatieff? Ummm. No. No thank you. I have nothing against Iggy personally (except for his support for the Iraq war and torture, until it became a political liability). But no. He leads the Liberal Party that has governed Canada for most of the last 143 years with unswerving loyalty to big business. In this respect their role is indistinguishable from that of the Conservatives. Stephen and Iggy: two little corporate castrati singing the Hallelujah Capitalist Chorus.

This brings us to Jack Layton and the NDP. (Though I like his style, I won’t bother with Gilles Duceppe until he does the anatomically impossible and runs candidates in the rest of Canada.)

I have voted NDP since I was old enough to vote – and that was a long time ago. In my youth I supported them because of their ties to labour, their socialist roots (sadly all but plucked out by now) and their willingness to take risks on behalf of working people (think Tommy Douglas and Medicare).

As I grew older and, if not wiser at least more experienced, I voted NDP because it represented the lesser of evils. The NDP might not be perfect, I reasoned, but at least it wasn’t as bad as the others. Or so it seemed.

After countless focus groups and rebrandings “Today’s NDP” (as we call it in Manitoba) has morphed into something approximating the Liberal Party – which is good news for the Liberal Party and bad news for the New Democrats.

Grits and Dippers want to put a human face on the economic system that creates all the garbage I was kvetching about at the top of the page. Tories aren’t so sentimental. So, while there are differences between the three parties, they owe a common allegiance to capitalism. And while all of them, to varying degrees, talk about environmental issues, none are willing to put The Environment front and centre in their vision for Canada.

Which brings me to Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada. Canada’s Green Party is unique in Canadian electoral politics because it has put the environment front and centre, where it belongs. They put forward a set of principles and proposals which, if adopted, would give me a measure of confidence about my grandchildren’s future.

Check out their program. I don’t agree with everything (who does?) but I like their approach. Intelligent. Straightforward. Thoughtfully developed and thought provoking. It won’t fit into a series of TV sound bites. You’ll be challenged and pleasantly inspired.

Can the Greens form the government? Not this time, but that shouldn’t disqualify them. Part of the reason we’re in this mess is because we vote for the “lesser of evils.” Motivated by fear, we support something we don’t want to block something we fear more. Or, because we don’t want to “waste our vote,” we give it to someone we think might win, even if they don’t really have that much to offer – a brain deadening strategy if ever there was one.

If you like the Green Program, vote Green. Your vote will not be wasted. To quote Tennyson, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The same applies to voting.

Anyone even remotely familiar with environmental issues finds it difficult these days to be optimistic about the future of civilization. Global climate change is now accepted, and the debate is not whether it is happening, but how bad it will be.

How bad will it be? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its most recent report, charts various scenarios. Leaving no doubt that the planet will continue to warm for centuries to come even if we stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at year 2000 levels, its worst case scenario suggests increased average temperatures (as much as 4 degrees Celsius) and higher sea levels (up to 69 centimeters) by the end of this century.

What this would mean in practical terms pretty much depends on where you live. While those of us who inhabit the frozen, mid-continental wastes of Manitoba might appreciate a bit of temperature relief this time of year, the implications of this kind of respite are serious enough that most thoughtful northerners would forego them.

The IPCC views the Hollywood’s nightmare scenario (in The Day After Tomorrow, the Gulf Stream shuts down, plunging the northern hemisphere into an Ice Age overnight) as unlikely. Neither is there any support for Al Gore’s predicted 6 meter increase in sea levels, however much he might secretly want Florida to disappear. That said, the impacts will be sustained and serious, especially for Asia, Africa and Latin America.

According to IPCC:

. . . all regions are likely to experience some adverse effects of climate change. . . Some regions are particularly vulnerable because of their physical exposure to climate change hazards and/or their limited adaptive capacity. Most less-developed regions are especially vulnerable because a larger share of their economies are in climate-sensitive sectors and their adaptive capacity is low due to low levels of human, financial, and natural resources, as well as limited institutional and technological capability. For example, small island states and low-lying coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to increases in sea level and storms, and most of them have limited capabilities for adaptation. Climate change impacts in polar regions are expected to be large and rapid, including reduction in sea-ice extent and thickness and degradation of permafrost. Adverse changes in seasonal river flows, floods and droughts, food security, fisheries, health effects, and loss of biodiversity are among the major regional vulnerabilities and concerns of Africa, Latin America, and Asia where adaptation opportunities are generally low. Even in regions with higher adaptive capacity, such as North America and Australia and New Zealand, there are vulnerable communities, such as indigenous peoples, and the possibility of adaptation of ecosystems is very limited. In Europe, vulnerability is significantly greater in the south and in the Arctic than elsewhere in the region.

The carefully measured language and the studiously academic tone of the IPCC report does not begin to convey the wide scale human suffering that will result from global warming.

Large numbers of people around the globe will either starve or be forced to move, retreating from floods and from droughts. Where will they move and how will they be received? Who will help and where will the necessary resources come from?

While the IPCC believes the impacts will be worst in the South, if anyone seriously believes that the more affluent North can or will escape, I have some soon to be flooded swampland in Florida they are welcome to purchase.

Perhaps it is this vision of the future that has scientist James Lovelock lamenting in the January 16, 2007 issue of The Independent that

. . . before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.

Lovelock is a highly respected scientist, best known for putting forward the “Gaia Theory” – the notion that the earth is a self-regulating organism. In his January 16th article, Lovelock observes

We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.”

Lovelock’s prognosis is considerably more pessimistic than that of the IPCC, but perhaps unfettered by the need to appear scientifically objective he is freer to call ‘em as he sees ‘em.

Both the IPCC’s worst case scenario and Lovelock’s warnings are premised on continued unchecked use of fossil fuels. But what if they are wrong? What if we run out?

Peak Oil

The idea that we will run out of oil in this century is gaining adherents worldwide. The theory that has come to be known as “Peak Oil” was proposed in 1956 by American geophysicist Marion Hubbert, who predicted that US oil reserves would peak around 1970 and that world reserves would peak sometime in the early part of the 21st century (about now, in case you hadn’t noticed). Most observers have concluded that Hubbert was bang on in predicting the US peak; there is considerable debate as to whether world oil reserves have peaked already or whether they will in the near future.

I’m not going to quibble over whether oil reserves peaked in 2005 or whether they will do so in 2020. The significance of the peak oil discussion can be summarized as follows:

  1. The world runs on oil. Our jobs, our food supplies, our technology, our economy are all, in one way or another, reliant on abundant supplies of relatively inexpensive petroleum.
  2. If half of all the oil in existence has been used up, and demand continues apace, remaining supplies will be consumed more quickly. Not only will they be used more rapidly, they will become increasingly more difficult and more expensive to recover.
  3. Worse yet, there is no substitute. All of our proven alternative energy technologies, including so called renewable energy technologies, rely on petroleum in one way or another. And none of the alternatives, with the exception of nuclear power, are nearly as productive as oil.
  4. When oil supplies become severely constrained, economic collapse will not be far behind. And this collapse will occur in the context of a world seriously stressed by global climate change.

Try and imagine a world without oil. We lived like that once upon a time. But there weren’t as many of us. And it appears there won’t be as many of us the next time around. (Gandhi was once asked by a journalist what he thought of western civilization. He is reported to have said he thought it would be a good idea.)

Trying to imagine civilization, western or otherwise, without oil is a daunting task. The good citizens of Portland, Oregon are going through that exercise in a big way. Displaying considerably more imagination than most governments, Portland’s City Council established a Peak Oil Task Force to consider the impact of constrained energy supplies on that community.

Their draft report is available online, and contains recommendations that should be considered by all urban centres. You know they are taking the problem seriously when their first recommendation is to “Reduce oil and natural gas consumption by 50 percent over the next 25 years.”

It wasn’t lost on me that measures appropriate to addressing petroleum shortages will also help mitigate global warming.

Reading through Portland’s task force report shines one small ray of optimistic light on an otherwise gloomy landscape. If the government of one major city is capable of responding in this way, perhaps others will be similarly capable and motivated.

Can you hear me, Stephen Harper?