Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Road to 350: part 1

So post-Copennhagen, it is clear that our national governments are going to be little if no help in getting us back under 350 ppm of CO². At least, not now and not for a while. Unless you live in Germany, which has taken its environmental responsibilities quite a bit more seriously since Kyoto than our Canadian national government ever did. Between '97 and '07, Germany reduced its emissions by about 6%. Canada's have risen by a similar amount. But Under the Harper Conservatives, we've also become an international pariah nation; the Commonwealth is moving to kick Canada out because of our obstructionist tactics viz. global warming at the last couple of meetings for example.
 And our behaviour at Copenhagen was pathetic at best (I hope the Honourable Jim Prentice was suitably embarrassed at giving Harper's speech for him, that he refuses such an assignment again. If our PM really had the strength of his own convictions, he'd have given the speech himself).
But what is made clear from Copenhagen is the strength and impact of our provincial and municipal governments in addressing climate change. We need the federal government to step up, but until they do, there is a lot that can be accomplished at the municipal and provincial level. Say what you will about Gordon Campbell (and he likely deserves it), at least he appears to have heard about global warming and the need to reduce carbon emissions. And he has, however poorly executed or followed up on, instituted a carbon tax in BC.
So getting to 350 (or less, as several undeveloped nations suggested at Copenhagen), is going to be tricky. No one wants to go first, extractive businesses don't want to go at all, and most of us have no idea how to move forward. So where do we start?
On a personal level, the most effect you can have is not, funnily enough, to stop driving. Yes, that's a good idea. And we need more people on transit to make it carbon-effective (a replacement I humbly offer up for "cost-effective"). But the number one action we can take is to significantly reduce our intake of animal protein. If we each restricted our diet tomorrow to three servings of animal protein a week, we could change to world. Well, as long as we didn't allow the surplus to be exported.
The energy input costs for animal protein are in excess of 30-1. Thirty calories in for every calorie out. That's a recipe for disaster in any system. And I can't think of any "green meat" (with the possible exception of a couple of backyard chickens), Dr. Seuss notwithstanding.

Weapon of Global destruction.

I'm as guilty as anyone; I purchase cruelty-free pork from my local grocer (who gets only two hogs/week to sell; so small producer and local), but that doesn't really change the carbon footprint of the meat that much. And its not transportation that's the culprit. It's the raising of the animal that causes the most problems.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (in 2006):
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain

Worldwide, about 13.5% of GHGs are produced by transportation in various forms. Livestock, worldwide, contribute about 18% of the world's GHGs (at least in 2006).
In Canada, 55% of nitrogen fertilizer is used to produce feed and pasture forage, also according to the FAO. In Germany, that number is 62%, and in the UK, 70%. The raising of calories to feed livestock is a massive energy sink.
Worldwide, since the signing of the Kyoto protocol, meat consumption has gone from 214,940,709 metric tonnes in 1997, to 246,771,601 tonnes in 2002 (the last year for which records are available), a net increase of 31,830,892 tonnes in five years. (In Canada it was 2,906,689 tonnes to 3,380,823 tonnes in the same period--a period during which our corruption index (Bribe Payer's Index (Transparency International) Units: index units: 10=bribes never occur; 1=bribes often occur) went from 8.1 in 1999 to 7.5 in 2006. Though this may have a lot more to do with our descent into petro-state status (see Andrew Nikiforuk).

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Running, Not Walking

Visualize the planet as a globe. Now put a belt around it. Put another belt above and below that one. These are climatic zones; and they are expanding. The belt around the middle is widening, and the one above and the one below are slipping up towards the poles as the middle one gets bigger. How fast is this happening? About 0.42 kilometres (0.26 miles) per year. But that speed is not constant. To quote from the Carnegie Institute for Science release:
The researchers found that as a global average, the expected temperature velocity for the 21st century is 0.42 kilometers (0.26 miles) per year. But this figure varies widely according to topography and habitat. In areas of high topographic relief, where species can find cooler temperatures by climbing a nearby mountain, velocities are relatively low. In flatter regions, such as deserts, grasslands, and coastal areas, species will have to travel farther to stay in their comfort zone and velocities may exceed a kilometer per year.
That's fast. Forests may have moved that fast after the last ice age, but they didn't then face the fragmented landscape they now face. Agricultural land, cities, etc. mean that a lot of species--not just plants and trees, but vertebrates and invertebrates--may have simply nowhere to go. The question is not whether they can adapt to shifting climate zones, but whether they can move with the zone they currently live in.  Below is an interview with Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology and a co-author of the study on the speed of climate movement.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What They Won't Tell You

It won't matter. Nothing I say will make the slightest bit of difference--but, hell, that's never stopped me before. Avatar is not a good movie. It's a crap re-make of a second-rate Dances With Wolves. It didn't matter that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was a bloated, incoherent, ego-driven piece-of-crap film, and it won't matter with Avatar either. Millions of us will still spend our money on it. Hell, it might even make a buck or two, even with its absurd price tag (something around a quarter billion dollars!). A lot will be written about how good a movie it is, about how it "invents a new kind of film-making," but it will all be crap. Contrary to the hype, Cameron is not an innovative film-maker. He is a film-maker with a real talent for action sequences, and we'd all probably be better off if Hollywood took on the Hong Kong idea of letting one director make the film, with a second director given the action sequences. That way Cameron could play to his strengths, and the rest of us could watch decent films with wow passages. But instead we are suffering under the auteur theory of film-making, and we are often the poorer for it.
Cameron has a talent (or maybe only a knack) for taking existing film-making techniques and pushing it to its limit, while marrying it to a decent story with some kick-ass action sequences. Take a look at his (actually small and limited) canon of film. Terminator, where he takes blue-screen and stop motion and pushes it, smartly using the stop motion to animate a robot, so that any flaws in the technique will be hidden in the character. In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, he takes a new piece of software and uses it as a visual metaphor for the mutability of evil (as opposed to the mechanical implacability nature of it in the first film). But in all his earlier work (Titanic excepted), he is kept in check by producers, money, and limitations of the medium.
Almost none of this applies to Avatar. This is Cameron's return to feature films after the blockbuster success (even in the world of event films) of Titanic. But unlike Titanic, ninety minutes into Avatar, I was offering to leave. Don't get me wrong, the action sequences left me twitching like a brook trout on a fly, and that's what the action sequences were supposed to do. But in terms of story and character, I was bored. Seriously bored. And an hour later I was praying for a planet-killing strike from space that would take out both sides of this over-wrought and pointless tale. "Kill them all and release me from this hell," I whispered, but it was not to be.
3-D has been around since forever, and like having seen Ray Harryhausen's work before seeing Terminator, I've seen a fair bit of it. Up, last summer, was a lovely little film. And the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon is still, I think, a superlative film.

The Creature--still rockin' the house since 1954

Cameron, as is usual, ramps it up, pushing the new 3-D as far as its been pushed in modern film. But that doesn't, in and of itself, make the film any better. In fact, I found that the 3-D actually interfered with my ability to watch the film some of the time, getting in the way of what story there was. The CGI? Well, its the logical next step, the next phase as long as you have the $$$$$$$ to do it. Impressive, but doesn't replace the need for characterization. Or story. Or coherence or complexity. And while the luminous nature of the world on Pandora (the planet Avatar takes place upon) is interesting, it too becomes a distraction. And yes, I got the double meaning of Avatar; both the representation of a person in a virtual world and the embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life. Or even the incarnation of a deity (after all, the central character was blessed by the tree/deity of the Pandorans not once, but a couple of times). Doesn't make the film the least bit better, though.
So go--you know you're going to--and spend your money and you can even talk about how good it was afterwards (but really, isn't it more like The Dark Crystal? High concept, beautifully realized world, but the script really sucked?). But seriously, you'd be better off with the old cellophane and cardboard glasses and a copy of Creature. 'Cause there's a lot more going on there than in Avatar.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Comedy God

Jon Stewart take apart Glenn Beck, mocking with perfect mimicry. I cannot say enough about this performance--it is simply perfect.

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So what did Canada get from our little trip to Copenhagen? Well, our PM made it clear that when it comes to photo opportunities, he's your guy--witness all the shots with various heads of state on his carbon-intensive journey pre-Copenhagen. But when it comes to facing up to the results of his beliefs and actions, he's really not so ready to get in front of a camera (well, to be fair, with the exception of his trip to China where only the sight of him crawling would really satisfy the Chinese leadership. But I think back to a year ago when Harper wouldn't face parliament after a major miscalculation either. Not really good at owning up to mistakes, our PM.). So poor old Jim Prentiss was trotted out to deliver 9 paragraphs of irrelevancy.
But Canada did get what our government wanted; nothing really changed. A vague commitment to reduce our emissions by 20% from 2006 levels (non-binding and unenforceable) and a promise to contribute to an international fund (dollars that are likely to come out of our current Foreign Affairs budget anyway).
But in terms of real change? Well, all we're going to get is more of the same. Enbridge is trying to build a pipeline across northern BC to haul bitumen (our vaunted "heavy oil") from Fort MacMurray to a tanker terminal at Prince Rupert. The Dogwood Initiative is working hard to keep that from happening, and is experiencing some success. But the extraction at the oil sands is still set to expand without any controls or limitations.
Which is one of the reasons Harper was willing to eat shit in China; China doesn't care what people do in their own country, as long as they fulfil their contractual obligations. So war criminal, genocidal lunatic, or environmental criminal, none of it matters as long as the resources keep flowing. And the US has pointed out that it does have some reservations about Alberta's bitumen extraction process. Several states are now refusing to accept oil from the tar sands, and President Obama announced on his arrival in Copenhagen that the EPA was going to be able to regulate CO² emissions. So Canada is facing growing restrictions on its ability to export dirty oil to the US.
As an aside, the move to declare CO² a pollutant and regulate it through the EPA is an important step for the US. Recent studies have indicated that the introduction of pollution controls in the US in the 1970s was important to the US remaining an economic powerhouse through the rest of the century. By forcing industries to clean up their act, the US government forced production efficiencies on those industries, making them much more competitive. This despite the extra imposed costs. It seems obvious that the same reasoning and results would apply to restrictions on CO².
So our PM, having no intention of imposing restrictions of any type on Alberta's bitumen production (he is, after all, the son of an oil executive, and beholding to oil companies), has realized that its necessary to find new markets that will not put restrictions on methods of production. Enter China.
China indicated at Copenhagen that while they are willing to agree to CO² reductions, they really have no interest in international verification procedures. Regretfully, NASA failed the launch of a satellite capable of doing that monitoring; currently the satellite rests on the bottom of the ocean near the Antarctic ice shelf. So until the US comes up with another 230 million dollars, international monitoring of CO² emissions is nothing but a dream.
But despite their dislike of international monitoring, China bids fair to become the renewable/green energy powerhouse of the 21st century. With the ability to totally ignore local opposition, China has begun building large wind and solar installations to supplement their coal and oil power producing infrastructure. In Canada, we've lost that opportunity with the Harper government's decision to spend infrastructure funds on partisan projects. Instead of taking the opportunity to help Canada into the 21st century, Harper decided instead to continue to believe that its the 1950s, and spend on old school projects. And unless there's someone presenting an oversized Conservative-logo'd novelty cheque, good luck on finding out where our billions of dollars are being spent. The Bush regime perfected the art of spending the country into impotence as a technique of hobbling future governments. Harper does it by cutting taxes (yes, we've gone from an inherited 13 billion surplus back to deficit spending--mostly down to Harper's cutting of the GST and other taxes)(as an aside, I'm actually in favour of taxes like the GST/HST; being strictly consumption-based and applying across the board, they tend to act to discourage spending and encourage saving).
So post-Copenhagen, we're really no further along to where we need to be. No international binding agreement on CO² reduction. The sea levels continue to rise, the poles continue to melt, the death of billions over the next 50-100 years still looms, and future of human life on Earth still hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So the Copenhagen talks on climate change are under-way. They come on the heels of hacked emails out of East Anglia, the announcement that Barack Obama will attend after all, and Stephen Harper being compelled to attend (in all fairness to Harper, there is no upside for him; as a climate-change denier, he views the whole thing as a waste of his time. As the Prime Minister of a petro-state that is an international pariah all he can hope for is abuse internationally, and no help to his reputation at home. He's much more comfortable in Korea, talking neo-con bullshit economics to a country that knows better than most how full of crap he is). SO what happens? Someone freaks out and leaks the "Danish Text," not a Rosetta Stone, but an agreement between the US, UK, and Denmark (and clearly some others, still unidentified)to apply the global system of Third World exploitation to the climate change crisis.
Briefly put, the Danish Test suggests that the developing world be restricted to emissions of 1.44 tonnes per person, while the First World be restricted to 2.67 tonnes per person. In exchange, the World Bank will pay out funds for climate change adjustments (from purchasing ameliorating technologies to paying the boat fares to allow your citizens to flee while their county and homes disappear under the waves of an advancing ocean) as long as the countries affected follow rules set down by the World Bank and the First World governments footing the bill.

"A confidential analysis of the text by developing countries [...] seen by the Guardian shows deep unease over details of the text. In particular, it is understood to:

• Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;

• Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called "the most vulnerable";

• Weaken the UN's role in handling climate finance" (The Guardian)

As usual, the First World is finding democracy--even the sad and crippled version typified by the U.N.--to be an impediment to their own desires. So, as usual, the goal is to take any constraints on the developed nations off the table, and to screw those who are trying to have better lives--not lives as good as the developed world, just lives that are better than the hell they currently live in.

James Hansen, "[t]he scientist who convinced the world to take notice of the looming danger of global warming says it would be better for the planet and for future generations if next week's Copenhagen climate change summit ended in collapse." He figures the direction of the developed world at Copenhagen is so wrong that it would set us on the wrong path for decades, condemning us all to the hell of +6°C warming.

The Deniers are so clearly on the wrong side that they've been reduced into hacking email accounts and mis-representing the results, and, here in Canada, breaking into the office of a UVic climate scientist. Is it any wonder that I think we're alll doomed?

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Meanwhile, Here At Home

From The Guardian:

Attempts have been made to break into the offices of one of Canada's leading climate scientists, it was revealed yesterday. The victim was Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria scientist and a key contributor to the work of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In one incident, an old computer was stolen and papers were disturbed.
In addition, individuals have attempted to impersonate technicians in a bid to access data from his office, said Weaver. The attempted breaches, on top of the hacking of files from British climate researcher Phil Jones, have heightened fears that climate-change deniers are mounting a campaign to discredit the work of leading meteorologists before the start of the Copenhagen climate summit tomorrow.
"The key thing is to try to find anybody who's involved in any aspect of the IPCC and find something that you can … take out of context," said Weaver. The prospect of more break-ins and hacking has forced researchers to step up computer security.

The International Editorial

Copenhagen climate change conference: 'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation'

This editorial calling for action from world leaders on climate change is published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages
Copenhagen climate change summit - opening day liveblog

Editorial logo

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

• How the Copenhagen global leader came about
• Write your own editorial
• Bryony Worthington: How to make an impact
In pictures: How newspapers around the world ran the editorial

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

This editorial is free to reproduce under Creative Commons

Creative Commons License
'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation' by The Guardian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at guardian.co.uk.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/02/guardian-environment-team
(please note this Creative Commons license is valid until 18 December 2009)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bubbleicious Boogeymen!

Apparently, these giant jellyfish are invading Japanese waters. The Guardian has some great video--I love the moment when the diver hugs one. The Guardian doesn't allow embedding, so you have to view it here.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monbiot Comes To Canada

From The Guardian:
When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world's peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country's government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee's tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I've broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

So writes George Monbiot in The Guardian today. I think my favourite line is "[Canada] is now to climate what Japan is to whaling." Although he gets one thing wrong; when he says that Canada is "turning itself into a corrupt petro-state," I'd have to point out that Alberta's been one for forty or fifty years, and the Canadian government has been following suit since Mulroney at least.
Heard Andrew Nikiforuk talk this past week. He too calls Canada a corrupt petro-state. In his recent book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, he carefully explains the defining characteristics of a petro-state and how Alberta and Canada fit that definition. He then sums it up with what should be a rallying cry (but will never be so): There is no representation without taxation. In his article Declaration of a Political Emergency (pdf) he continues; "Oil hinders democracy and corrupts the political process through the absence of transparent reporting and clear fiscal accounting. Alberta, a classic petrostate, has one of the least accountable governments in Canada as well as the lowest voter turnout."

Monday, November 23, 2009

and England's dreaming...

Well, it's worked. We're all going to die, and it will be ugly. From The Guardian:

Climate change sceptics and fossil fuel companies that have lobbied against action on greenhouse gas emissions have squandered the world's chance to avoid dangerous global warming, a key adviser to the government has said.

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, said a decade of inaction on climate change meant it was now virtually impossible to limit global temperature rise to 2C. He said the delay meant the world would now do well to stabilise warming between 3C and 4C.

His comments come ahead of key UN negotiations on a new global climate treaty in Copenhagen next month that the UK government insists should still aim for a 2C goal, despite doubts over whether a meaningful deal can be sealed.

In an interview with the Guardian, Watson said: "Those that have opposed a deal on climate, which would include elements of the fossil fuel industry, have clearly made making a 2C target much, much harder, if not impossible. They've clearly put the world at risk of far more adverse effects of climate change."

Water gone, across the board decreases in cereal grain production, sea level rise, and inconsistent weather patterns (meaning no year-over-year understanding of what the weather is likely to do, to say nothing of more and more frequent extreme weather events), man, the next century is going to really suck.

The UN released a press release today saying that we've never (since recording started in the late 1700s) seen GHG levels this high (CO², methane, and nitrous oxide).

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Peak Oil

According to The Guardian:

The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.

The allegations raise serious questions about the accuracy of the organisation's latest World Energy Outlook on oil demand and supply to be published tomorrow – which is used by the British and many other governments to help guide their wider energy and climate change policies.

Listen to an audio clip with Terry Macalister here.

A report by the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) said worldwide production of conventionally extracted oil could "peak" and go into terminal decline before 2020.

The world has used less than half of the planet's conventionally extracted oil, but the remaining resources will be more difficult and expensive to get out of the ground, slowing production and increasing prices of crude.

With exploitation of the world's reserves running at more than 80m barrels a day, even major new discoveries such as the oil fields recently found in the Gulf of Mexico by BP would only delay a peak by a few days or weeks, the report said as reported by The Guardian.

The risk to the UK from falling oil production in coming years is greater than the threat posed by terrorism, according to an industry taskforce report published today.

The report, from the Peak Oil group, warns that the problem of declining availability of oil will hit the UK earlier than generally expected - possibly within the next five years and as early as 2011. [Also reported in The Guardian]

We don't have any plans in place to deal with peak oil: in Canada, we import the oil we use, and export the oil we produce (leaving most of us feeling WTF?). We peak out, everything falls apart. Our government is in denial, our corporate heads seem to be suffering a complete meltdown,and the general public just doesn't want to know. Any wonder why I'm a bit despairing of our future?

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Canada and the World

Even 20 months ago, no one knew what 350 meant, nor why it mattered. That's less than 2 years back. Then 10,000 year old ice sheets disappeared in the Arctic, Stephen Harper got a north of 60 hard-on, the IPCC released a report based on data that was already out of date (some of it a decade out of date), and a book detailing how James Hansen's work was censored came out. We shook our collective head, and some of us began to realize that we had entered what James Kunstler has called The Long Emergency.
It didn't take long to realize that 350 was the upper limit of atmospheric CO2 that could be considered "safe" (meaning that we might be able to keep global warming to 2°C and we might be able to live with the consequences of that rise), and here we are today looking at 390 ppm of carbon dioxide, no significant efforts being made to reduce carbon emissions, and a future that's looking at a minimum of 4°C warming and 6 metres of sea level rise--meanwhile emissions continue to increase and atmospheric CO2 rises at about 2ppm/year.
Here in Canada, we've got a Conservative government that is lead by a Prime Minister who still yet to convince anyone that he actually believes global warming may be a problem. Stephen "American Corporate Lackey" Harper is busy fiddling while the globe--including the nation of which he is nominally a member--burns. All our divorced-from-reality leader can see is the NorthWest Passage opening up and all that lovely ocean open to commercial exploitation.
Last week, the British Meteorological Office released a map of what we can expect to happen when we hit 4°C. The equatorial countries will get hotter, true, but the further you get from the equator, the more extreme the changes. But even now, Environment Minister Jim Prentice wants special treatment for Canada, allowing us--well, really just Alberta and the oil sands--to continue increasing our GHG emissions, while insisting that developing nations like China and India agree to hard caps that we ourselves will not accept. And the Canadian Government still refuses to release specifics of its plan to reduce our GHG emissions by 20% from our 2006 levels--which is light-years from our commitment under Kyoto.
Today comes the release of a new report. Quite unlike anything released in Canada before, it was financed by the Toronto Dominion Bank, produced by the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation, with economic modeling by the well-respected economic consultants, M.K. Jaccard and Associates Inc. As John Ibbitson writes in the Globe and Mail; "A major bank has paid two environmental organizations to produce a groundbreaking report that, for the first time, calculates the costs of both the Harper government's modest plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and the much more ambitious targets set by the environmental community, nationally and regionally."
The report offers a regional breakdown of economic impacts based on both the Harper government's vague commitment to 20% by 2020 (from 2006 levels) and  the impact from the deeper and harder cuts that environmentalists are calling for and that would put Canada in line with our international obligations. And guess what? Neither scenario would kill us!
According to the report,"The Conservative government's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 can be achieved, but only by limiting growth in Alberta and Saskatchewan." Alberta's growth would be 8.5% less in 2020 than it would be under a BAU (Business As Usual) approach, the report concludes. Under the  same scenario, Saskatchewan would lose 2.8% of its projected growth. Central Canada, on the other hand, might well see some additional growth added to its projection. To quote Shawn McCarthy's article in the G&M; "Despite the steep costs involved in meeting targets, the analysis concludes the Canadian economy would continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace, and that investment in renewable energy and efficiency measures would result in an overall increase in employment compared to a “business-as-usual” scenario.
And even with the significant reduction in Alberta's potential growth and employment prospects, the province would still lead the country economically over the next 10 years."
So our economy would continue to grow AND there would probably be an increase in employment as well. And the cost? A reduction in projected growth an Alberta and Saskatchewan, and a significant out-migration from both provinces back to central Canada.
To further quote Shawn McCarthy's article: "TD's chief economist, Don Drummond, said the bank has not endorsed any targets, though it has supported a policy of a national emissions cap. He said the bank's interest was to shed light on an area where there has been little informed debate: the likely cost of imposing regulations."
I'm actually not seeing any real downside here. The Globe and Mail editorial board does though. In today's editorial, we read: "[T]he study acknowledges that what is proposed is no less than an economic upheaval: “There is a migration of capital and labour out of carbon and trade exposed sectors (e.g., fossil fuels) to sectors that are less carbon and trade exposed (e.g., manufacturing, services and renewable electricity).”
Canada cannot take its national unity for granted and must not, in the service of international obligations, allow itself to be immolated by a government policy of such wrenching dislocation." And the editorial concludes: "[T]he target [of carbon dioxide emission reduction] may be unreachable without unacceptable damage to Canada's economy and national unity. In which case, it is time for new targets, and new policies."
I can't help but think that no-one raised much of a stink about the "wrenching dislocation" caused by the development of the oil sands on the communities of Atlantic Canada. And even Jeffrey Simpson concludes that the Harper government's targets are just so much smoke being blown up our collective asses.
And so we have serious economic modelling of the potential and problems with trying to meet our international obligations regarding global warming and CO2 emissions. And we can now point to the report and say, "Tough, yes. But it won't kill us, and will probably make us stronger." And what of the complaints sure to come from the political and ruling classes of Alberta and Saskatchewan? Well, both provinces have had a great decade, with both provinces posting significant surpluses in their budgets, and neither has done a damn thing to prepare for the inevitable crash (particularly Alberta under Ralph Klein). For Alberta, that's two oil-based booms they've pissed away under Conservative governments. So honestly, I have no great sympathy for the Alberta government. And regardless of any future whining, we can look at the economic model contained in the M.K. Jaccard and Associates Inc. report, and read again the conclusion that "even with the significant reduction in Alberta's potential growth and employment prospects, the province would still lead the country economically over the next 10 years." And the planet (well, the human part of it) would thank us for facing up to our responsibilities.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Copenhagen, Canada, and the End of the World

The Globe and Mail is reporting on an interview with Environment Minister Jim Prentice, saying that the chance of an agreement on climate change in Copenhagen is pretty much non-existent.
The world wants a climate change agreement in Copenhagen. The US is even onside, with President Obama actually understanding both the science and political realities of global warming. The EU wants an agreement, with Germany busy poaching Canadian alternative energy companies and the Brits launching the 10-10 campaign. China is even pursuing lower carbon emissions. So what's the problem?
The problem is the Canadian government. Canada has become the biggest roadblock to an international agreement to lower carbon emissions. According the the G&M article (23 October 2009, p A1 Ottawa dashes hope for treaty in Copenhagen) Canada is continuing to "insist that it should have a less aggressive target for emission reductions[...] because of its faster-growing population and energy-intensive industrial structure". The Harper government is also going to insist that any cap on industrial emissions will not be applied uniformly across the country, but will allow the Alberta oil sands to continue expanding. To quote the Environment Minister; "The Canadian approach has to reflect the diversity of the country and the sheer size of the country, and the very different economic characteristics and industrial structure across the country." The Harper government has also demanded that emerging economies (like China and India) agree to binding caps on carbon emissions, and has refused to release its own plan for carbon reduction until there is clarity on what the Americans are planning to do.
The New Democratic Party has a bill currently in committee that would commit Canada to an emission reduction of 25% from 1990 levels by 2020--a target that would meet our commitment under Kyoto and would be consistent with the EU's approach in the next round of negotiations. Ottawa has proposed a reduction of 20% from 2006 levels of emissions by 2020--our obligation under Kyoto was a cut of 6% from 1990 levels by 2012. The plan proposed by the Harper government would result in a 3% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020. Chief climate negotiator Michael Martin said to the committee considering the NDP bill that the Harper government's targets are "comparable" because they will be just as costly to achieve as the more aggressive NDP targets.
What becomes clear, as we follow the progress towards significant carbon emission reductions, is that the Harper government has no intention of ever reducing carbon emissions. Harper simply does not consider carbon emissions to be a problem (how can I say that? By simply looking at his record).
And our Prime Minister is dragging a lot of sceptics along with him. World-wide, temperatures maxed out in 1998, leading deniers to claim that temperatures have levelled off or are even declining. But new research to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The research, "is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity and the El Niño southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.

The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niño episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.

The study comes within days of announcements from climatologists that the world is entering a new El Niño warm spell. This suggests that temperature rises in the next year could be even more marked than Lean and Rind's paper suggests." (The Guardian Online).

The British Meteorological Office released a new map of the world (below) showing the current thinking on what the world will look like with a 4°C rise in the average global temperature. The 4°C rise mostly happens at the equator--the further you move away from the equator, the greater the changes. Here on Vancouver Island, we may only see an average 5°C rise, but up in Hudson's Bay, its looking more like 16°C. What this doesn't indicate is just how this will affect global weather patterns. If it was just going to get warmer, that wouldn't be the end of the world.But all that extra energy is going to change things in ways we can't imagine yet, much less model.

The Met Office says that climate researchers have discovered that:

  • levels of CO2 have risen 40% since the Industrial Revolution
  • Global sea levels have risen 10cm in the last 50 years [and that's a hell of a lot of water]
  • temperatures in the Arctic have risen at twice the global average [which suits our Prime Minister just fine]
  • snow cover in the northern hemisphere has dropped 5% in the last 2 decades
And researchers figure that extreme temperatures will affect eastern North America, with Toronto and Ottawa seeing the temperatures of their hottest days jumping by up to 10°C to 12°C. Anyone having suffered through a GTA summer will be white with fear about now....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Conversations For A Better World

is actually the name of a blog. Check them out for the best condom adverts ever.

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Ah, I Can Feel It Working

From over at IPS:
In recent weeks, Greenpeace has staged three daring protests inside tar sands mines, temporarily shutting down parts of the world's largest energy project. On Oct. 3 and 4, activists blocked construction of an upgrader needed to refine heavy tar sands oil, belonging to Shell in Ft. Saskatchewan, Alberta.
Civil disobedience from Greenpeace, leading to 37 arrests, has enraged Alberta's conservative government. "We're coddling people who are breaking the law," complained Premier Ed Stelmach during a media scrum in early October.
"Premier Stelmach's public suggestion that he will use the 'force of the law to deal with these people' confirms his lack of knowledge of the limits of his authority and the clear rule that our system of justice cannot be interfered with or manipulated for political reasons," responded Brian Beresh, the defence lawyer representing arrested activists, at a news conference in Edmonton.

This is one of the uses of civil disobedience--like one of the uses of terrorism--to provoke those in power into over-reacting and doing something stupid that makes the instigator's point for them. Like the US after 9-11 made Al Qaeda's point that they were an imperial power by invading Iraq, the Alberta government is going to make Greenpeace's point for them. They are actually threatening to use anti-terrorism legislation to shut down civil disobedience at the tar sands.
"Canada's tar sands will singlehandedly produce more greenhouse gas emissions than Denmark, Ireland, Austria or Portugal by 2020 if the development continues expanding at its current rate, according to a recent report written by award-winning business reporter Andrew Nikiforuk. The tar sands already spew more greenhouse gas emissions than Estonia or Lithuania", the article continues.
It's not like Greenpeace stands alone on this; the head of the IPCC has also said that the tar sands should be shut down.
Keep in mind that this Saturday--October 24th--is 350 day, the international day of climate action. The 350 refers to the accepted maximum concentration of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere--the number we've blown past already. Last I checked, we were at 385. Write an MP, get out and be counted, ride a bike, whatever. Check the website for ideas. In Victoria, there will be a day of activities at Centennial Square on Saturday.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


8 Foods You Think Are Healthy ... But Aren't is a fscinating look at "healthy alternative" processed foods by Sarah Irani.
An example:

2. Annie’s Organic Alfredo Shells and Cheddar is one of my all-time comfort foods, but with 670 mg sodium per serving I should reconsider my definition of comfort!

3. GardenBurger’s Flame Grilled Soy Burger, though vegan, contains 500 mg sodium per serving.

It really seems to be that processing is what's killing us--not even whether something is organic or not. When food gets processed, the economic requirements of processing it impose large economic incentives on the processors to adulterate the food. When you have to sell millions of units, you have to do what it takes to sell those units, and that seems to be the addition of sugar, salt, HFCS, etc. All those things that our palates have come to know, love, and expect in our food. So if they're not there, we won't buy multiple units.
The lesson? Work to minimize your consumption of processed foods--do your own processing. Cut, chop, peel, fry, bake, etc all on your own. When it comes to health and the environment, we really don't have a choice.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yes Men

It looked – at first – eerily like a routine news event. A man in a nondescript dark suit standing at a podium in one of the smaller meeting rooms on the 13th floor of the National Press Club. But then suddenly it wasn't.

"There is only one way to do business and that is to pass a climate bill quickly so this December President Obama can go to Copenhagen and negotiate with a strong position," said the speaker – who said he represented the US Chamber of Commerce.

The statement represented a complete repudiation of the Chamber's earlier opposition to climate change legislation. The hard line had triggered walk-outs from Apple and a handful of other high-profile companies in the past few weeks.

From the Guardian Newspaper, who are reporting that the news conference was later boken up by an actual member of the US Chamber of Commerce screaming that it was all a hoax. This is typical of the Yes Men, who famously held a news conference claiming to be Dow Chemical and taking full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, and promising to care for anyone injured in the incident. Dow lost $2bn off its share price and was later forced to announce that it was doing nothing of the kind. And, as with the Dow story, the Guardian reports: "And while a number of reporters still pressed Wohlschlegel for signs of a shift in the Chamber's position, he soon set them straight. The Chamber was as opposed to climate change legislation as ever."

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mad, And With Good Reason

Stephen Maher is mad as hell. Out in Nova Scotia, he writes in the Chronicle Herald:

In order to create a database of federal stimulus spending in Nova Scotia, it was necessary to look at all kinds of different federal websites, all with scraps of information, and then find out from other levels of government how much money was spent on each project and figure out where the shovels were hitting the ground.

In the United States, on the recovery.gov website, you can, in seconds, download exhaustively detailed databases showing where and how stimulus is being spent, who is getting the contracts, for how much, when, and how many jobs are created.
In Canada, on the actionplan.gc.ca site, there’s a map with icons showing where projects are located, but if you click on the icons, you get a popup with a charming picture of what’s his name, our prime minister, but no dollar amount.
There is a link to a video of the same guy singing a Beatles song, but there’s no database of projects available for download.

Not just one guy's experience, this is being noted by journalists across the country. The Harper government has no intention of telling the people anything. They've figured out that if you can't actually tell where the billions of dollars they claim to be spending are being spent (or not being spent), then they can claim and reclaim and re-re-claim to be spending that money. We saw this before the crisis when they would re-announce the same spending every two to three months, to make it appear that they were actually doing things that Canadians wanted.

Now, of course, they've been handed the gift of a lifetime; a demand for stimulus spending that Canadians understand and support. Not that they have any desire to actually spend it where it will do any serious long-term good, but still, they get to hand out those oversize novelty cheques and people won't be mad at them for doing so.

The rule is that the government in power gets to hand out the cheques, not the MP in a riding. Although, that point is moot when you're only spending real money in riding's that either voted Conservative or you hope you can swing Conservative. But the Harperites aren't content with politics as usual. They have to go one further and add big Conservative Party logos to the novelty cheques and have them signed with the signature of the local MP.

But this isn't the Conservative Party's money. This is money from the taxpayers of Canada to the taxpayers of Canada via their federal government. The MP gets to say "It is due to my efforts that this project was approved for funding, and I get to present this cheque." He (and, painfully, it's still primarily he in this country) does NOT get to say "My party and I are giving you this money." It's not only untrue, but it has been recognized as an unreasonable intrusion of partisan politics into the operation of government. Partisanship and governing are supposed to have a firewall between them: the visibility of being the ruling party is supposed to be all the partisan gain the ruling party gets. The linking of government spending to the way a riding voted is called (what's that name again? oh yeah,) pork-barrelling. And it's been falling out of favour among the electorate for the past half-century.

And the reason it's been falling out of favour is the blatant unfairness of pork-barrel politics. It doesn't serve the public good. Yes, it continues. After all, you have to repay the faithful somehow. But this is more in the vein of "Hey, we can finally fund those projects we think are valuable" rather than "Here's the payoff for voting Liberal (or Conservative)." One can be seen as being sympathetic with "them that brung ya" and still be seen as governing and spending with the best interests of the country at heart.

This is not true of the current government. They are not governing with the best interests of the country at heart. They are governing, and spending, only with the best interests of the Conservative Party at heart. They are proving to be incompetent at practical politics--the art of governing for all while supporting your own. The Conservative Party, Under Stephen Harper, has taken on the Prime Minister's own paranoia. Liberals, the NDP, etc. are not Canadians with differing views, but are at best unwitting dupes of pure evil in the Harperite worldview. Their belief that sometime in the past there was a perfect Canadian world and that we've gotten off track with all this crap about rights for bitches, hos, and faggots, that we need to have respect for our betters (you know them, they already have money and power), and (to quote Denny Crane) "I'm here to enjoy nature. Don't talk to me about the environment" approach to industry and the environment, well, if they had organized supporters who used physical intimidation to shut down dissent, the party would fit nicely into pre-WW II Italy. It's the same line of crap, fuelled by the same hate, the same fear, as we heard then. Thankfully, Canwest-Global is collapsing and the National Post is losing money hand over fist. Canada doesn't quite have a Fox propaganda network yet. That gives us some breathing room to fight this worldwide rightward drift here in our own country.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Buzzing In My Ears

Earlier this year Dawa Steven Sherpa was resting at Everest base camp when he and his companions heard something buzzing. "What the heck is that?" asked the young Nepali climber. They searched and found a big black house fly, something unimaginable just a few years ago when no insect could have survived at 5,360 metres.

So begins this story in the Guardian. It's becoming depressingly familiar at this point; insects where they don't belong, glaciers retreating at an appalling pace, and (in this case) glofs, or glacial lake outburst floods.
So have a read, then pop over to the review of Superfreakonomics and have a read of this:

A large chunk of Superfreakonomics is given over to what Levitt and Dubner present as a simple, cheap alternative to all this depressing futility. They profile Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, is exploring the possibility of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth's stratosphere through an 18-mile-long hose, held up by helium balloons, at an initial cost of around $20m. The chemical would reflect some of the sun's rays back into space, cooling the planet, exactly as happened following the massive 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines. The primary objection to this plan, as with other "geoengineering" schemes, is that there's no predicting the unknown negative effects of meddling in such a complex natural system. And it's strange, given how much is made in both Freakonomics books of the law of unintended consequences, that they don't mention this in the context of Myhrvold's plan.

This is where we wait and wait and wait and then begin grasping at straws and stupid ideas, looking for the quick fix. The problem is not sunlight falling on the Earth, its the CO2 in the atmosphere. The sulphur dioxide "fix" does nothing but to help buy a little time. The ocean is still gong acidic (as one example), crashing what few food stocks are left. That will not be slowed by altering the amount of sunlight getting through the atmosphere. (Freakonomics; a bunch of untested and unproven correlations and ideas masquerading as breakthrough carved-in-stone facts. Mediocre speculative mutton dressed up as scientific lamb).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Power Shift

I cannot remember the last time I (or anyone I know) had this much fun at a climate change rally. (The video will start automatically). Without this sense of joy and energy, we're going to get nowhere, and that isn't something we can afford. Without those of us in middle age with our "respectability" and (more importantly) dollars and commitment, things will be difficult. But without this kind of joy and energy, things will be impossible.
Great social movements arise in a sense of fear and excitement; from the sense of taking control of power and realizing that it's in each of us. It's a scary and exciting place to be. There's a sense of comradeship, of shared joy, that suddenly we really are all in this together.And for some reason, grim death marches don't really attract the crowds, the popular support, that you'd expect.
We need more of this; more dancing, more laughing, more joy. Greenpeace continues to draw people because there's always the chance to get arrested--as the protesters in Fort McMurray showed in mid-September.

Protesters from Greenpeace occupied two dump
trucks and unfurled a banner on the ground at Shell's
 Albian Sands oilsands site in northern Alberta Tuesday.
(image from the CBC website)

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Saturday, October 10, 2009


Frequently we hear the passions declaimed against by unthinking orators who forget that these passions supply the spark that sets alight the lantern of philosophy; who forget that 'tis to impassioned men we owe the overthrow of all those religious idiocies wherewith for so long the world was plagued. 'Twas nought but the fires of emotion cindered that odious scare, the Divinity, in whose name so many throats were cut for so many centuries; passion alone dared obliterate those foul altars. Ah, had the passions rendered man no other service, is this one not great enough to make us indulgent toward the passions' mischievous pranks?

Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade
Page 88

Interesting to see how the great materialist philosopher de Sade dealt with the question of religion in the late 1700s: already he viewed it to be past tense, the playground of fools and exploiters. So if he saw religion as defunct by 1790 (Justine was already in the public domain by then) why is it still with us? What needs does it satisfy that other philosophies do not?

Mostly, this is to try out a new program, Blog Entry Poster for Linux, that I just downloaded and installed. Seems to be extremely simple and effective. Been having problems with Scribefire under Shiretoko, so thought I'd try this.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Propaganda; Shouldn't It Really Be The Word Of God?

Over at the Conservapedia, there's a proposal being floated to re-translate the Bible. The Conservative Bible Project suggest that:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

The nutbars Conservatives over at Conservapedia are really worried about the liberal bias in the Bible.They state that:

    As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]

    1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
    2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
    3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
    4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
    5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
    6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
    7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
    8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
    9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
    10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

I'm particularly fascinated by #6 & #7: "Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning" and "Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story." To state so baldly next to each other that you want to remove what you think is liberal cant and insert what can only be described as conservative cant, and that you don't see a problem with this, is, to me, mind-boggling. But apparently this is not so on the far right: the belief that others have done something--whether or not that belief is supported by evidence--is apparently justification for doing the exact same thing. Instantly any concept of "truth" disappears and is replaced by the concept of competing propagandas. Any appeal to evidence is immediately seen to be a call on biased propaganda. "Things fall" is liberal propaganda, and any appeal to the senses (look out the window! Gravity is in operation!) as dismissed as biased and propagandistic nonsense ("that's just what they want you to believe! Gravity doesn't even work on those who believe in it!). This kind of thinking is completely resistant to argument; it is thouroughly magical and any appeal to reason, evidence, or even sanity is, by definition, biased and propagandistic, and can be dismissed out of hand. Logic and reason have no place in a hermetically sealed belief system, and are seen as enemies of faith or belief.
This program, on the part of the Amerikan Right, to create a political community where spiritual, economic, and political concepts are adopted and are then unchangeable proceeds apace. Mutually antithetical concepts like "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" are normal inside this doublethink groupmind. Regretfully, this type of thinking and political community building has spread into Canada as well. Alberta and Saskatchewan are hotbeds of it.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009


Yeah, 40 years on. Still some standout performances. The Guardian has a couple of pieces on the anniversary: Michael Lang, one of the organisers reflects, and Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, the iconic couple off the poster, briefly talk about Woodstock and their now forty-year marriage.
You know, the right in Amerika are still fighting the sixties culture wars. But try as they might, there was that bright shining moment across the Western world, and it shocked the hell out of the powers that rule us still.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BC Power Generation Ruling

In an interesting decision yesterday, the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) ruled that current BC Hydro acquisition plans are “not in the public interest” and refused to allow them to go ahead. This includes the Campbell governments plans for privately-owned “run of river” hydro projects that were intended to change the numbers in the government's greenhouse gas emission policy.
The Campbell government is possibly Canada's greenest government, having passed into law a requirement that BC reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2007 levels by at least 33% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. One of the methods by which they hoped to achieve these targets was to increase power production in the province, but have that power generated by smaller-scale hydro projects (the “run-of-river” projects). Then, in a very controversial move, the Campbell government decided that they would encourage these projects to be privately owned and developed.
Typically, this set off a firestorm of protest in the province (BC, after all, keeps its conservatives in check by occasionally electing the social-democrat NDP—in the last election less than 5000 strategic votes would have flipped the outcome). A broad spectrum of affected citizens, spearheaded by Rafe Mair, a former radio talk-show host and currently writing regularly in The Tyee, have been keeping the heat on both the private power companies (primarily Plutonic Power Corp, who saw their share price fall 24% yesterday), called IPPs or independent power producers, and the provincial government. The heat comes mostly from broad-based environmental concerns—we've learned over the years that even hydro power comes at a price—from the effect on communities, the forests, and on the sport and commercial fisheries.
One of the interesting rulings from BCUC is that BC Hydro will not be allowed to downgrade their Burrard Generating Station from 5000 GWh to 3000 Gwh. If the ruling stands, private power generation projects will have to be reduced by a similar amount—thus the fall in Plutonic's share price yesterday.
The ruling suggests that the government and BC Hydro have been purposely overestimating BC's power requirements in order to justify IPP entry into the market. Lori Winstanley of COPE, quoted in the 29 July '09 Globe and Mail, says quite plainly that “[w]e have a very flawed energy plan in this province...the government cannot continue to exaggerate the need for power.” The BCUC did approve a BC Hydro plan to spend $418 million on demand side management, which is a good thing as there are significant gains that can be realized by simply reducing demand in the province. But one of the reasons for increased demand on generation capacity is that a large amount of power from BC is sold south into the US, and BC Hydro isn't seeing that demand drop at any time in the future. Particularly with the growing demand for low greenhouse gas emitting power, which is only set to grow from south of the border. And US dollars are important to BC Hydro—they made billions on Enron's whipsawing of the California utility market.
And the BCUC also approved BC Hydro's spending of $41 million on continued consultation on the proposed Site C mega-project dam on the Peace River, so there's still hope for US dollars to flow long-term into BC Hydro's coffers. 'Caused it's always about the money, innit?

The Oil Refiners Conundrum

Irving Oil Ltd. and their partner BP PLC have decided to stop their planned construction of an $8B oil refinery that was to have been built in St. John, and they have done so on the basis of a report that looking out over the next thirty years, oil consumption has now peaked. There are now a number of analysts that believe that even if the economy recovers, gasoline consumption peaked last year, and we will never achieve those levels again.
Some analysts are suggesting that with the economy still tanking and excess inventory of gasoline and other refined products piling up (there's a million barrels per day of production capacity sitting idle in North America at the moment, and surplus inventory has hit a 24-year high), crude oil prices can be expected to tank—possibly as low as $20/barrel.
So even though refiners have seen their margins rising to a ten-year high (according to numbers released by MJ Ervin and Assoc. in 1998 refiners were seeing an annual average margin of 6.7¢/litre which has risen to a year-to-date average of 15.6¢/litre this year), they are not planning any more production capacity and are, in fact, abandoning planned expansion. Plans such as Royal Dutch Shell's now abandoned plans for a refinery near Sarnia, Ont., that was to handle production from the Alberta oil sands. Shell has also delayed the expansion of its Texas plant for two years—obviously wanting a better read on future North American consumption patterns before building what may well prove to be capacity that's surplus before it even comes on line.
Of course, if crude prices do fall to $20/bbl, a massive oversupply could trigger a steep fall in gasoline prices, and stimulate demand. But if North American governments hold to improved mileage rate requirements for new cars, even increased demand may not make up for the current oversupply.
But other analysts are suggesting that, particularly with the Saudis keeping a lid on their production in order to stabilize prices, prices may yet rebound to the $100/bbl level before dropping back into the $50-$60 range. If that is the case, demand is likely to fall even more than projected, leaving North America with a growing oversupply problem and refiners facing decent margins, but considerably less volume from which to get those margins.
So refiners are caught in a bind; legislated drop in demand and oversupply means falling volumes and lowered overall profits. Or legislated drop in demand, higher crude prices bringing a corresponding drop in consumer demand, and oversupply at refineries meaning lower consumption and a steadily rising oversupply. Either way, there's not going to be a lot of construction going on—even as the current refineries age. And if North American governments ever get really serious about global warming, these antiquated refineries will not only not be expanded, but will begin closing to meet emission requirements—which will finally take out the excess capacity, but will not encourage anyone to build new plants. Ultimately, this could mean that North America will be entirely reliant on shipping crude overseas ( that is, oil sand crude, making it even less economically viable than it is today) and importing refined hydrocarbons. Which is, contrary to my expectations, already happening.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

So What's the Big Whoop about Deflation?

So Canada has registered it first “technical deflation” in 15 years in June 2009. More than a few people are having a very quiet freakout about this. A few, like Ken Rogoff (former research director at the IMF, now Harvard economics professor), John Makin (economist with the American Enterprise Institute, a hard-right conservative outfit) and Paul McCulley (portfolio manager at Pimco—who run the world's largest bond mutual fund) suggesting that this might be the time to bring back inflation—perhaps as high as 6% for a couple of years.
The spark behind this is the release of the consumer price index for the last couple of months, showing that in May and June, prices for consumers fell for the first time in years. While you and I might think this is good news, economists and businesses think differently about this. If the CPI is dropping, it begins to make sense, as a consumer, to put off spending money on anything. Why buy now, if in a month the price will have dropped? Does it make sense to spend 20K on a car if, by waiting a year, you can save $1100 (assuming an annual 6% deflation rate)? Of course not, particularly when not buying accelerates the deflation rate.
Again, as a consumer, this sounds great. Prices falling, money worth more instead of less (inflation eats away at the value of the dollar, making it worth less. Deflation reverses that), it sounds like good times for all. But with everyone sitting on their money, businesses find no reason to stay in business, or if they do, they certainly don't need to be as big. So as consumer spending falls, unemployment rises and the economy contracts. And if nothing kicks this pattern apart, it stabilizes into a long-term nation-crippling problem. Just ask the Japanese, who have been grappling with a structural deflation problem for over a decade now, since the collapse of the commercial real estate bubble.
We're not necessarily in that position here in Canada, as the major reason for our fall in the CPI is primarily the result of a 19% fall in gasoline prices. Although, nationally, prices increased at the pump 6.8% from May to June, prices have dropped 24.3% since this time last year. It should be noted that natural gas, car, and house carrying costs have all fallen over the last year as well, helping drive the CPI into negative territory. Phillip Verleger, a U of C professor and energy economist, is now forecasting a drop in the price of oil to $20/barrel (as predicted by peak oil theory, which forecasts a series of spikes and slumps in oil prices), which will hammer Oilberta—not so much in resource revenues, but in cancelled oil sands projects, unemployment, and concurrent collapse in consumer spending which will ripple out through the economy—and will continue to push the CPI into negative numbers. But, if you strip out the effect of oil/energy pricing from the current numbers, inflation is still tripping along at 2.1%, which is why this period is referred to as “technical deflation.”
So this is why our governments are all Keynesian now. The possibility of structural deflation is scaring the hell out of all of them and the corporate community. The system we live under is predicated on continual growth, and stabilizing that growth (removing the bubbles and crashes, inflationary and deflationary cycles) has been made job one for governments. Both corporations and the public dislike uncertainty, so uncertainty must go.
From an environmental point of view, a sustained period of deflation might be just the thing we need. But a deflating economy will have more trouble making the shift to a green(er) future than one that is growing. An expectation of profit is essential for businesses in order to get them to make changes in their business models.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


OMFG. I've woken up from a nightmare that was driving me crazy. I had this nightmare that George Lucas, the guy who directed that reasonably nice little film American Graffiti had made an SF-like film called Star Wars that had destroyed cinema for thirty years. Thankfully, I know its only a dream because today I saw Moon, directed and original story by Duncan Jones. Thankfully, we now have an heir to Kubrick, Wise, and Roeg.
A tremendously self-assured debut feature from Duncan Jones, the film has a feel not unlike 2001, Silent Running, and even The Day The Earth Stood Still (not the remake). The film concentrates on a small story told against a very large backdrop, and Jones never bothers to tell you everything. Just as Kubrick dropped you onto a Pan-Am flight into orbit and didn't bother to backstory it, Jones does much the same. Why is Sam 1 dying? Well, Jones doesn't tell us, he let's us figure it out. The story about Sam and his wife and child? Maybe I'm the only one, but I didn't see the twist of the knife waiting at the end of that thread. Just hadn't thought of it.
The film develops slowly, focusing tightly on Rockwell's character of Sam Bell (very tightly—the credits list only 8 actors and one of them, Kevin Spacey, exists only as a voice). Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract running a mining station on the border between light and dark on the moon. With 14 days to go, there's a problem; Sam grabs a crawler,heads out to fix the rock-combine, and has an accident. He awakens back in the base, cared for by Gertie (voice of Kevin Spacey), the HAL-like operating system that supports Sam. Restricted to base, Sam decides to head back out to the mining unit (yeah, it really looks like a combine harvester) where he finds the previous crawler. He climbs in and finds himself, dying in the driver's seat.
This is a film about loneliness and exile, about the things that make us human and the things that keep us human, about those who would exploit them for their own ends and those of us who are unthinkingly complicit. That this is a young man's film is obvious in the ending, where there still remains a belief that there are things that people will not put up with. Had Jones been twenty or thirty years older when he developed this film, I don't think that the casual belief would appear. We can be conditioned to accept anything, just ask Bush and Cheney.
I don't want to give away the ending—not that it's that important, but its the process of getting there I don't want to deprive you of. This is a tightly observed, carefully directed film that accomplishes the unthinkable—it makes me appreciate Sam Rockwell as an actor, not something I ever thought would happen. The twists and turns, the expectations set up and knocked down show a confidence with the idiom, and a strong awareness of the pop culture effect Jones' predecessors had. Whether this film will have the same type of effect remains to be seen, but this is a first feature from a young director, made for about 5 million, and is entering its third week running in Victoria. It's getting great reviews and solid word of mouth, so who knows, this may turn out to be one of the most significant films of the summer. Just don't go expecting Transformers—this is way smarter and way more adult.