Displaying items by tag: climate change
It’s happening again. Research confirms agreement among most climate scientists that we are altering the Earth’s climate, mainly by burning fossil fuels. And industrial interests, backed by climate change deniers, pull out every trick to sow doubt and confusion. What will it take for us to start seriously tackling the problem? For the latest study, investigators led by John Cook at Skeptical Science examined abstracts of 12,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate science. They also received comments from 1,200 scientists, who rated more than 2,100 full studies. In both cases, more than 97 per cent of studies that took a position on the causes of global warming said human activity is a primary factor.
Last month, three Canadian premiers provided a public update on interprovincial efforts to develop a national energy strategy. While their update on the Council of the Federation’s plans opened a needed window on the negotiations, missing from public discussions so far is any reference to the stakes - and potential roles - for municipalities in a Canadian energy strategy. Rising public sector energy costs and community energy security questions - as well as local economic and environmental concerns related to energy use, production and transportation - mean that municipalities have important interests in Canadian energy policy.
Future Tense is the title of one of Gwynne Dyer's many best-selling books. His expertise has been war, with detailed analyses of the politics, psychology and circumstances that bring humanity to this most crude and unfortunate behaviour. And this book's title has a ingenious double entendre, suggesting both the future and a time of tension. It aptly represents Dyer's realization that climate change is creating the conditions that could lead to military conflict.
Read this story from the Vancouver Observer on a new report from Desmog Blog, which estimates 3 million cars worth of greenhouse gases in the form of methane are escaping from BC's natural gas operations every year. (May 27, 2013)
The BC provincial government has been throwing around some big numbers and promises with the planned expansion of natural gas operations, but one large number they are not mentioning is the millions of tonnes of heat-trapping methane gas they are not reporting in official government documents.
According to an investigative report appearing on the site DeSmog Canada, by award-winning science journalist, Stephen Leahy, and several experts he interviewed, the planned expansion of natural gas extraction and exports will blow BC's "climate targets way, way out of the water," by as much as 25%, or the equivalent of adding 3 million cars to our province's roads.
That's a lot more climate pollution in the air, when you consider that there are only about 2 million passenger cars currently on the road in BC. The problem, according to Leahy, is methane leaks that are being underreported by the provincial government. Methane is the prominent gas in what we call "natural gas"and a lot of leaks out into the air when drilling for gas and shipping it to market.
One industry pipeline expert describes to Leahy that,
"Seals, valves, joints, compressor pumps all can leak. There are literally hundreds of thousands of points where this can occur."
The problem is that, like carbon dioxide, methane is a very, very powerful gas when it comes to trapping heat that is the cause of climate change and the atmospheric disruption we are seeing today.
Because it would be very hard for the government and industry to detect every single methane leak along hundreds of miles of pipe, the government makes an assumption about how much methane is lost into the atmosphere through leakage.
According to industry experts, the provincial government's estimates are well below the accepted industry standards. While most in the natural gas industry assumes somewhere between 2% and 9% methane leakage, official governent documents show that BC only assumes a leakage rate of .3% to .9% - less than 1%.
Read more: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/environment/climate-bombshell-bc-not-reporting-whopping-3-million-cars-worth-climate-pollution
Read this op-ed in The Globe and Mail by U of T professor and International Panel on Climate Change contributor Danny Harvey on a different economic vision for Canada's future. (May 17, 2013)
The expansion of oil-sands operations and various pipeline proposals to get bitumen to market have increasingly been topics of conversation in Canada, from debates in the House of Commons to discussions around the dinner table. Much of the discussion has focused around tangible things that we can see – devastation of the Alberta landscape from surface mining operations, pollution of downstream rivers, the threat of pipeline spills, and the danger of accidents involving supertankers along the British Columbia coast.
Conspicuously absent from this discussion has been any acknowledgement of limits on the allowed cumulative carbon-dioxide emissions, and the implications of these constraints for the amount of bitumen than can extracted and consumed. Although many in Canada, both in the oil industry and government, may prefer to pretend that there are no climate-related limits, the rest of the world (and many Canadians) are waking up to the fact that projected global warming – due overwhelming to our emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels – poses a real and serious threat to the future well-being of the entire human race and of all life on this planet.
To reduce this risk, the nations of the world gathered in Cancun in 2010 and agreed to keep the global average warming below 2ºC. To have any hope of staying below this limit, the world can burn only the remaining conventional reserves of light oil and conventional natural gas. Global emissions of carbon dioxide will have to drop by 50 to 80 per cent by 2050 – less than 40 years from now – and will have to reach zero before the end of this century.
Fortunately, there are many different ways in which this could be achieved, but expanding production of petroleum from the oil sands and building pipelines that lock in expanded oil-sands extraction for the next 40 years is not among them. In a carbon-limited world – which is where we are heading – expensive and carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as the oil sands will be among the first to go, and those who invest in expansion of the oil sands risk significant financial losses.
The good news is we are on the right track with improvements in vehicle efficiency to which we have committed. With technology advancing and plans on the books, the average fuel consumption of new cars and light trucks will drop by half by 2025 and has the potential to drop to three times as much afterwards. Comparable reductions are possible for transport trucks. Prospects are also very good for the development of economical plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which could be charged with clean, renewable electricity produced from wind, hydro and solar energy. The resulting fuel requirements per kilometre driven for passenger vehicles could be close to nine times less than they are now – low enough that they could be supplied by liquid fuels from biomass or hydrogen produced from renewable electricity sources.
Read more: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/forget-pipelines-canada-must-prepare-for-a-post-carbon-world/article11990144/
Two surprising, important and connected events took place in British Columbia in May, 2013. On Tuesday, May 14, the province's citizens elected a majority Liberal government. Five days earlier, on Thursday, May 9, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million — the last time such a high level existed on Earth was about 3 million years ago. The election of a Liberal majority government was a surprise to almost everyone in the province. Equally surprising was the collapse in support for the New Democrats. Public opinion polls had placed them in the lead — as they had been for months — and all but a few unrealistically optimistic Liberals expected to lose. But the voters surprised both the pundits and the parties.
Read this eye-opening column by Pete McMartin in The Vancouver Sun on the real world climate impacts of plans to turn BC into a major new carbon corridor to Asia, including up to eleven new ports designed to export coal, oil and gas. (May 18, 2013)
This week — and you may have missed it due to Christy Clark’s coming-out party — something called the Sightline Institute released a study about fossil fuels.
Sightline is a regional sustainability think-tank based in Seattle, and it focuses on regional environmental concerns for what we refer to as Cascadia.
The study was entitled Northwest Fossil Fuel Exports and its author was Eric de Place, Sightline’s policy director.
What de Place tried to do was give a numeric value to the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide that would be emitted by all the energy-exporting projects now in the planning stages in B.C., Washington and Oregon.
• Five new coal terminals.
• Two expansions of existing coal terminals.
• Three new oil pipelines.
• Six new natural gas pipelines.
Eleven of those 16 proposals are in B.C.
It’s breathtaking, that kind of industrial concentration: Cascadia has suddenly become the nexus of mining and energy companies anxious to get their products off to power-hungry Asian markets. It’s this century’s gold rush. The troubled American coal industry wants a West Coast outlet. Alberta wants pipelines to the Pacific. Our premier sees our future in liquefied natural gas.
De Place sees a different future.
“British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington each enjoy a reputation for leadership in clean energy and environmental policy,” he wrote.
“Yet the new fossil fuel infrastructure planned for the region would eclipse the region’s green reputation, transforming the Northwest from an aspiring climate leader into a carbon export hub of global consequence.”
The final figure that de Place came up with?
Collectively, these new projects, he estimated, would produce a total of 761 million tonnes of CO2.
That, de Place noted, is 12 times the total amount now emitted by B.C.
De Place recognized that all these projects might not be built. Some are in direct competition with each other. There was the danger, he admitted, of overstating his case.
But he also said, to give the study balance, he purposely understated many factors that contribute to CO2 production — factors like the mining, processing and transportation of those carbon products. He also left out the vast amounts of energy that would be needed to power projects like B.C.’s proposed LNG plants. He counted only the CO2 emitted by the final user of the fuel.
“There were folks who reviewed this who felt I was being far too conservative with the numbers because I only included the carbon inside the fuel and none of the energy used to extract it or process it. But I wanted something clear and defensible, so I went with the more modest number.”
Of special note, de Place cited research from the B.C. environment ministry showing present provincial greenhouse gas production — at least, our domestic production of GHGs, as opposed to that which we export. Many would be surprised to learn that, according to the government, GHG production fell by almost six per cent between 2000 and 2010, the latest year figures were available.
“I think there’s a lot of evidence,” de Place said, “that we can divorce GHG emissions from economic growth. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.”
Read this story on the surprising findings of a UC Santa Barbara study in the Arctic, which suggests that ecosystems adapt to ice melt in ways that minimize the release of carbon levels. (May 16, 2013)
(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– When UC Santa Barbara doctoral student Seeta Sistla and her adviser, environmental studies professor Josh Schimel, went north not long ago to study how long-term warming in the Arctic affects carbon storage, they had made certain assumptions.
"We expected that because of the long-term warming, we would have lost carbon stored in the soil to the atmosphere," said Schimel. The gradual warming, he explained, would accelerate decomposition on the upper layers of what would have previously been frozen or near-frozen earth, releasing the greenhouse gas into the air. Because high latitudes contain nearly half of all global soil carbon in their ancient permafrost –– permanently frozen soil –– even a few degrees' rise in temperature could be enough to release massive quantities, turning a carbon repository into a carbon emitter.
"The Arctic is the most rapidly warming biome on Earth, so understanding how permafrost soils are reacting to this change is of major concern globally," Sistla said.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers visited the longest-running climate warming study in the tundra, the U.S. Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research site at Toolik Lake in northern Alaska. This ecosystem-warming greenhouse experiment was started in 1989 to observe the effects of sustained warming on the Arctic environment.
What they initially found was typical of Arctic warming: low-lying, shallow-rooted vegetation giving way to taller plants with deeper roots; greater wood shrub dominance; and increased thaw depth. What they weren't expecting was that two decades of slow and steady warming had not changed the amounts of carbon in the soil, despite changes in vegetation and even the soil food web.
The answer to that mystery, according to Sistla, might be found in the finer workings of the ecosystem: Increased plant growth appears to have facilitated stabilizing feedbacks to soil carbon loss. Their research is published in the recent edition of the journal Nature.
"We hypothesize that net soil carbon hasn't changed after 20 years because warming-accelerated decomposition has been offset by increased carbon inputs to the soil due to a combination of increased plant growth and changing soil conditions," Sistla said.
The increased plant productivity, caused by the warmer temperatures –– on average 2 degrees Celsius in the air and 1 degree in the soil to the permafrost –– has increased plant litter inputs to the soil. Unexpectedly, the soils in the greenhouse experiment developed higher winter temperatures, while the summer warming effect declined.
"These changes reflect a complicated feedback," Sistla said. "Shrubs trap more snow than the lower-lying vegetation, creating warmer winter soil temperatures that further stimulate both decomposers and plant growth. Shrubs also increase summer shading, which appears to have reduced decomposer activity in the surface soil by reducing the greenhouse effect during the summer."
The increased plant growth and deeper thaw, meanwhile, also may have enabled increased carbon availability in the deeper mineral layer that overlies the permafrost. In fact, the researchers found the strongest biological effects of warming at depth, a "biotic awakening," with mineral soil decomposers showing more activity, along with the increased carbon stock at that level. "It's a surprising counterbalance," said Schimel. "It may be that those soil systems are not quite as vulnerable to warming as initially expected."
Read more: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-05/uoc--ri051613.php
Watch video and read story on Canadian Minster of the Environment Peter Kent's response to mounting criticism of his government for its denial of climate science. (May 7, 2013)
Environment Minister Peter Kent said Tuesday he’s unaffected by environmentalists trying to shame the government with Fossil Awards, saying that “some of those awards are worn with honour.”
Kent was reacting to recent comments about Canada’s oilsands development by Al Gore, who suggested it treated Earth's atmosphere like an open sewer.
But as the environment minister continued to defend the government’s environmental record, he turned to the Fossil Awards.
Canada has been awarded the “Fossil of the Year” award five times for its perceived inaction on climate change. The award, which is meant to be a badge of shame, was last given to Canada at the 2011 UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa. In 2012, it shared the award with New Zealand.
“Some of these awards are worn with honour,” Kent said.
Environmentalists have long criticized the Harper government for its environmental policies. In recent years, that includes Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011, and in March, for being the only country in the world to pull out of a UN convention aimed at fighting droughts in Africa.
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said that as a result, Canada is losing its standing with the rest of the world.
“We’ve lost all credibility on environmental matters generally, and other countries are starting to pay attention to it,” he said.
Critics also take issue with the Conservatives’ position on the oilsands, accusing them of bending environmental rules to exploit the resource.
“The destruction of Canadian environmental laws is making us the object of global scorn,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said.
Former U.S. vice-president and activist Al Gore told CTV News that he hoped Canada would provide more leadership in the fight to combat climate change.
“I do think it’s somewhat surprising. I and many others had hoped that Canada, like Australia, would help to provide some leadership in the world community on this issue,” Gore said.
Kent said that the government is working to address the issue and suggested Gore pay better attention.
The anthropologist's view of capitalism has more perspective than the economist's. The economist examines such details as the rhythms of booms and busts, the dynamics of prosperity and poverty, and the merits of deficits and surpluses. But the anthropologist examines capitalism as a passing cultural phenomenon within great sweeps of time, as an event comparable to the chipping of flint or the beginning of agriculture. Someone who does this with illuminating clarity is Ronald Wright, first in his book, A Short History of Progress.