Friday, October 27, 2006

The rake's progress

Now that fall is here, and the leaves are scattered on the ground, many of us worry about how to tidy them up. Well, Home Depot has a simple, yet sexy solution... the good old rake! (Thanks to for pointing out the link.)

Not only does this rake look good - you'll look good using it! And the exercise you get from raking your leaves will help you stay in tip-top form. In fact, why not get a few rakes and turn it into a family activity. My daughter just loves raking the leaves - an attitude I'm heartily encouraging!

I'm glad to see Home Depot finally putting some effort into selling low-carbon solutions to yard work. They certainly have big-enough displays of the noisy, gas-guzzling kind at their stores.

And don't think you'll save any time using a leaf-blower. According to this story, a grandmother in her late 50s "cleaned the areas using rakes or brooms faster than any of the battery powered blowers and almost as fast as the gas powered leaf blowers and she did a better job in cleaning up the areas".

I just wish I could send a copy of the Home Depot EcoOptions magazine to a fellow I saw a few weeks ago. Not only was he using a leaf-blower (ick!), but he left it unattended, running, and belching blue-grey smoke out in front of his house. Don't let this happen to you! The moral of the tale is: "For idling hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds a work to do." (Apologies to Igor Stravinsky.)

(An interesting aside - apparently, "it’s a little-known fact that the number of human calories expended world-wide in raking leaves each year roughly equals π times the number of arboreal calories required to make the leaves throughout the preceding year." Believe it - or don't!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Norway 1, Canada 0 on Climate Change

In "Canada: Reality emissions check: business wins, we don't," Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson provides an excellent summary of the sorry state of Canada's climate change foot-dragging, especially when compared to the success of other countries, even oil-producing Norway. He also makes many other good points.

Thanks to for providing access to the full text of this important column, which would otherwise require Globe and Mail registration (the registration is free, but it is still a potential deterrent due to the hassle and privacy concerns). The original Globe and Mail page is here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fooling Most of the People Some of the Time

There have been media reports about widespread opposition to the Tory "Hot Air" Act. But most Canadians might still have been duped into complacency:

Polling Data

The Conservative government led by Stephen Harper has pledged to introduce a new environmental agenda to address smog as well as greenhouse gas emissions. They have said that Canada cannot meet the commitments made under the Kyoto Agreement by the previous Liberal government. How confident are you that the government’s new plan will come to grips with the environmental problems facing Canada?

High confidence


Moderate confidence


Low confidence


Not sure


Source: Ekos Research Associates / Toronto Star
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,211 Canadian adults, conducted from Oct. 10 to Oct. 12, 2006. Margin of error is 2.8 per cent. [As Reported by Angus Reid. Emphasis added.]

Oddly, it does not say "...2.8 per cent 19 times out of 20" which is more common in reporting poll results. But if the poll is correct, we have work to do.

Another interesting question raised by this report is this: are Canadians getting the truth about climate change from pollsters and consultants? Angus Reid's page (linked above) contains this little "gem":
Some theories say that climate change might be the result of human-generated carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases [emphasis added].
Sure, and "some theories" say that most lung cancer "might be the caused by" tobacco smoke.*

In reality,
The prevailing scientific opinion on climate change is that 'most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities'[1]. (Source) '

[The Source link and the links within the quote have been standardized to provide stable URLs.]
Only a few "climate skeptics" still cling to the notion that humans have nothing to do with climate change. The skeptics are the ones who might be said to have "some theories". At least some of these "skeptics" are financed directly or indirectly by fossil-fuel companies like Exxon (see desmogblog coverage; for a Canadian story about of industry and "skeptics," see "Mr. Cool" and the subsequent fallout).

In any event, if most Canadians are confused enough to believe that the Tories' plan is reasonable, then the various obfuscation methods are working. Clarifying the issues and debunking the myths is more important than ever.

* For more on the link between the old tobacco spin-masters and the new climate denial ones, see the post on "Monbiot, TASSC and the tobacco, climate change cover-up" in

Thursday, October 19, 2006

No 'clean air' from Ambrose

The Tories just don't get it. Many leading climatologists have warned us that we have at most 10 years to get our act together and deal seriously with climate change.

So how is it that the best we could do here in Canada is three more years of consultations (after we've already been 'consulting' for eons), only 'intensity-based' targets, and no real cuts to GHG emissions until some time after 2020???

Here is the section of the Notice of Regulatory Intent that lays out the timeline for the so-called targets [our comments in brackets]:

Short-term (2010-2015)

* For air pollutants: the Government intends to adopt a target-setting approach based on fixed caps. [As predicted earlier in this blog.]
* For GHGs: the Government intends to adopt a target-setting approach based on emissions intensity, one that will yield a better outcome for the Canadian environment than under the plan previously proposed on July 16, 2005 and show real progress on the environment here in Canada. [Such lovely spin!]

Medium-term (2020-2025) [What's happening from 2016-2019? Apparently we're just twiddling our thumbs for 4 years!]

* For air pollutants: the Government will continue to employ a fixed cap approach to target-setting.
* For GHGs: the Government will build upon the emissions intensity approach with intensity targets that are ambitious enough to lead to absolute reductions in emissions and thus support the establishment of a fixed cap on emissions during this period. [Well, at least they're ambitious intensity-targets!]

Long-term (2050) [And we're doing what from 2026-2049?]

* For air pollutants: the Government will continue to employ a fixed cap approach to target-setting.
* For GHGs: the Government is committed to achieving an absolute reduction in GHG emissions between 45 and 65% from 2003 levels by 2050, and will ask the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy for advice on the specific target to be selected and scenarios for how the target could be achieved. [Why are they waffling here? The NRTEE has already stated that a 60% reduction by 2050 is achievable!]

The targets and timelines for each sector will be the subject of ongoing analytical work and consultations. [Of course!]

The only items that are being moved on immediately are the emissions from On-Road and Off-Road Vehicles and Engines, and from some commercial and consumer products. It's great to address these problems, but this is very far from what we need to do. We need mandatory GHG emission caps - and the sooner the better!

The introduction to this document makes it clear that the Tories still have not much interest in the problem of climate change - the "Rationale for action" section has a heavy emphasis on air pollution, with only a passing mention of the climate change issue.

Unfortunately, it seems that the only Tory who does understand the serious doo-doo we'll find ourselves in if we don't act urgently has been kicked out of caucus. Not that this will help the Harper government. I'm sure Mr. Turner will continue to have lots to say.

For more commentary on the Tory 'plan', see:

The NDP news release:
"The Conservatives' made-in-Washington green plan means it will be years before any action will be taken to reduce pollution and halt climate change."

They're not kidding about the 'made-in-Washington' bit - the Notice of Regulatory Intent (where they describe their targets and timelines) is full of references to aligning our standards to US standards. If it were truly a made-in-Canada plan, we'd be setting our own targets and standard based on world-wide best practices!

The David Suzuki Foundation news release:

The federal governmentÂ’s new Clean Air Act will actually lead to increased pollution

From the Sierra Club news release:

“No targets means no accountability,” said John Bennett, Senior Policy Advisor - Energy “This announcement is nothing more than a recipe for delay. Adopting the Bush Administrations standards will not lower emissions from vehicles.”

Liberal Environment critic John Godfrey said:
“Will the Environment Minister Rona Abrose admit that her real intention is to delay action on climate change for years when she already has the tools she needs to act today?”

Sustainability Through Oil -- Another Conservative Pipe Dream

As widely reported in Canadian media the Harper Government introduced their much-anticipated "Clean Air Act". It was met with a well-deserved chorus of jeers from everyone except the Tories' patrons at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. (See also today's other post in this Blog.) Meanwhile, Harper revealed his true colours as a political clone of G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney in a truly remarkable speech:
"Speaking to a convention of insurance brokers, Mr. Harper explained that the energy sector's contributions to the Canadian economy make it possible for the nation's high quality of life to continue.

'For international investors, the most important sector story I have to tell is energy,' the Prime Minister told a packed convention hall.

'Canada is an emerging energy superpower.'

Alberta's oil sands, he said, are the 'second-largest proven petroleum reserves on the planet.'"

[Emphasis added.]

And in a truly surreal twist,
"He linked the country's economic sustainability to lower taxes, better child care and Canadians' confidence in the future."
News Flash, Mr. PM:
  • You cannot have any long-term "economic sustainability" based on an inherently non-sustainable, non-renewable resource like oil -- that is guaranteed to run out even sooner thanks to your policies!
  • Prosperity for Alberta and other oil-exporting parts of Canada may mean poverty for other parts of the country.
"The Canadian dollar is increasingly viewed as a petrocurrency. As the price of oil rises, oil-related export revenues rise, and thus constitute a larger compononent of Canadian exports. Thus, the movements of the Canadian dollar have become increasingly correlated with price of oil." (Source)
And the more the Canadian Dollar rises, the harder it is to export anything else, like manufactured goods. Manufacturing-heavy Ontario is already on the brink of a recession this year (2006) according to the Royal Bank. They try to spin it by claiming that a relatively strong Canadian Dollar "...will continue to fuel imports of machinery and equipment by Canadian businesses, investment which eventually should bolster Canada's lagging productivity." But John Johnston, chief strategist, The Harbour Group at RBC Dominion Securities said that
"...the best thing for the struggling manufacturing sector in Ontario would be a five cent drop in the Canadian dollar."
  • Endangering the future of our children by doing nothing serious about climate change is not a way of "caring" for them! (Never mind that your Government's actual "Child Care Plan" is also a sad joke -- but that's a topic for a whole other Blog).
  • It is hard to have "confidence in our future" if glaciers continue to melt, oceans rise, freak storms wreak havoc, thousands of species go extinct, and the rest of the world fries -- which is going to be that much more likely thanks to Harper's policies!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jet Stream Extreme? A Severe Winter Storm in Mid-October, the "Dust Bowl" Creeps Back...

We've just had an unprecedented winter storm in Ontario and Upstate New York -- in autumn. Might this be related to anomalies in the Jet Stream, and is there a link to global warming? I'm not a meteorologist, but I don't remember seeing this sort of Jet Stream before. Usually, the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream is a wavy line circling the entire globe. But Environment Canada's chart for Friday, October 13, 2006 at 18:00 UTC (2:00 PM EDT) was forecasting a small circle of Jet Stream surrounding just the Province of Ontario! Check out the screenshot below (the Jet Stream is represented by the thick red lines):

(Source:, accessed on 2006-10-12, 4:56 PM EDT)

It's fairly well-known that "...the path of the jet stream steers... storm systems at lower levels in the atmosphere...."

Coincidentally (or not)
on October (not November!) 13, 2006, we got this: "'Historic' October snowstorm blasts Niagara Region". Moreover,
Environment Canada said the storm brought 'significant snowfalls of historic proportions.'

'This really does stand out as a historic event and one that will be looked at by meteorologists in a number of years to come,' said Geoff Coulson, a meteorologist with Environment Canada who specializes in warning preparedness.
Nearby, in Buffalo, NY, USA, three people are dead.
'Our street looked like it was hit by a hurricane. It looks like the apocalypse. ItÂ’s unreal,' said [Buffalo resident] Matthew Colken, who lost power at 4 a.m. 'One hundred-year-old trees are down.' (Source: Toronto Star.)
I know that these are the words of a possibly distraught disaster victim in a country where Apocalypticism (or its close relative, Millenarianism) is a known historical current. Still, I cannot help but find this quote to be, how shall we say... chilling.

Yes, it is unscientific to attribute any one weather event to global warming. Global warming deals with patters of weather events (climate), not predicting single events. Still, I cannot help but wonder: are we likely to see more Jet Stream anomalies and extreme weather (both heat and cold) if global warming continues?

By the way, in May 2006, Jet Stream shifts due to warm ocean temperatures were implicated in causing the notorious "dust bowl" of the 1930s. Here's another headline, from later in May 2006: "Report: Jet stream shift is expanding the Earth's tropics and deserts" [emphasis added]. So now we're talking about the present and future. Is the nightmare of the 1930s on its way back? Does the Harper Government care?

Memo to self: Bruce Sterling's novel, Heavy Weather, would make a nice holiday gift for Harper! (Book preview -, local library search -
  • Plot Spoiler warning... If I recall correctly, in this book, the Jet Stream gets so out of hand that it crashes down to ground level and causes unimaginable "F-6" level storms. A bit far-fetched -- or is it?

Hey Harper, To Cut Smog, Reduce Global Warming!

In his speech on October 10, 2006, Stephen Harper promised to “ a holistic approach that doesn't treat the related issues of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in isolation." Does this sound too good to be true, when it comes from Mr. Harper? Unfortunately, it is! His main target is smog rather than global warming. But his plan may achieve nothing, or even make things worse -– for both global warming and smog.

The Globe and Mail reports: responding to questions in Vancouver, Mr. Harper uttered a phrase that had the opposition fuming. 'We will produce intensity-based targets over the short range and the long term and they will cover a range of emissions, not just carbon dioxide, but nitrous oxide, sulphur oxide, sulphur dioxide; so it will be a comprehensive plan,' the Prime Minister said.

[...] 'intensity-based' [...] means industries would have to reduce emissions per unit of production, such as per barrel of oil.

Lowering emissions per unit, however, does not mean that Canada's total output of greenhouse gases will decline. If, for example, there is an expansion in the oil sands, total levels of emissions would increase even if per-unit emissions decrease.
So Harper still doesn't get global warming.

Ironically, Harper does not even understand his chosen target, smog. As Elizabeth May said in the Globe & Mail on October 11, 2006,

...a failure to confront the climate crisis, directly and soon, will result in more extreme heat conditions. The more 30-degree days that Canadians experience, the more smog days will occur.

Some people, like Blair King from Langley, Canada, say that May got it wrong, and Harper's plan would actually reduce smog. Further, "...environmental protection has to include more than just Kyoto. Let’s not let this useful piece of legislation get hijacked by special interests who seem unable to concentrate on more than a single issue at a time." But implementing Kyoto would actually help reduce smog. The two issues are linked, and it's people like May who understand this linkage. Here are two more reasons why she is right:

Combining the two effects, we could get:
more extremely hot days + a net increase in smog-causing emissions = even more smog
  • A hard limit on smog-causing chemicals but not on greenhouse gases could also prove ineffective. This "compromise" idea is not too far-fetched. Harper repeatedly referes to the environmental achievements of the Mulroney Government, whose Acid Rain control program had limited net sulphur dioxide. But studies suggest that sulphur dioxide (an aerosol) actually creates a bit of shade from all that haze. This shading can counteract warming to some extent, regionallly or even globally. Scientists call it the "global dimming" effect. So if Harper decides on a net reduction in sulphur dioxide, it could reduce "global dimming" -- and cause more warming. Again, the net reduction in smog could be less than expected, due to the hot weather connection above -- unless there is also a net reduction in the causes of global warming, like carbon dioxide!
To sum up, the most effective way to cut smog is to reduce global warming at the same time. This means producing less net carbon dioxide. The Tories just don't get it. I hope that the Canadian people will.


* Michael H from Edmonton, Canada makes a similar point.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Introducing a Guest Blogger ...

Climate change is a frequent topic of discussion in our household. Having commented on a few past entries in this blog (anonymously), my husband has decided to contribute guest posts on occasion.

Please give a warm welcome to ydzabelishensky!