Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quick action urgently needed on renewables

Two great articles and discussion over at

Bill McKibben's piece (also available in the Toronto Star) urges Canadians to get past the green energy backlash and get to work building renewable energy projects:

In the ideal world, we’d do everything slowly and carefully - but this planet is rapidly becoming the worst of all possible worlds, a place that before my daughter dies may well see temperatures exceeding anything since before the dawn of primate evolution. A planet facing hundreds of millions of environmental refugees as a result of rising seas, with heat waves like the one that killed 35,000 in Europe becoming commonplace occurrences.

The evidence gets worse by the day: already whole nations are evacuating, the Arctic is melting and we have begun to release the massive storehouse of carbon trapped under the polar ice. Scientists figure the “safe” level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 350 parts per million. This is the most important number in the world. Go beyond it for very long and we will trigger “feedbacks” that will result in runaway warming spiraling out of any human control and resulting in a largely inhospitable planet.

We are already well beyond 350 and accelerating rapidly in the wrong direction.

So when local efforts to delay or stop low-carbon energy projects come into conflict with the imperative to act urgently on global warming, they have to take second place. Because even if we win every other battle, if we lose 350, it won’t make any difference at all. You can “keep” every river and bay and lake and mountain and wilderness, but if the temperature goes up 3 degrees globally, it won’t matter. The fish that live there won’t be able to survive, the trees that anchor the landscape will die, the coral reefs will bleach and crumble. Whatever the particular part of the world that we’re each working on, it’s still a part of the world. Global warming is the whole thing.

Dr. Andrew Weaver's piece is along the same lines:

The public debate has become a caricature. People complain about windmills blocking their view. Kayakers complain about seeing a transmission line on their weekend excursions. The public dialogue is riddled with outlandish and demonstrably false assertions such as windmills will devastate local bird populations or a hydro project will create more greenhouse emissions than it will displace by eliminating a coal-burning power plant. Some of the most insidious arguments attempt to slow things down: that we should do more planning, that we should do energy conservation first and build renewable energy later, that we shouldn’t do anything until China does.

These arguments are fundamentally not serious. They come from groups and spokespeople that have simply not grappled with the math — with the scale and speed at which we must eliminate fossil fuel emissions.


We need a global agreement and action. This means rich countries like Canada must take decisive action and demonstrate that we are willing to shoulder the responsibility for what our emissions have done to the rest of the world. To that end:

We need to build and transition to entirely emissions-free energy.

We need to tax carbon emissions and legislate their elimination.

We need aggressive efficiency policies.

These measures must happen extremely quickly and on an unprecedented scale. We desperately need all civil society organizations advocating as hard as possible for this effort and we cannot afford to have so-called environmentalists opposing what science shows to be necessary.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Earth Hour: Don't forget to sign up!

Earth Hour begins March 28, 8:30 pm! If you sign up at the WWF site, you can enter to win a trip to Churchill Manitoba. If you live in Toronto, you can enter the "How Low Can We Go" contest to win a cool prize pack!

Our daughter had such a great time last year, that she keeps asking when we'll do it again. Actually, she often enjoys an evening "rest time" with the lights turned off or down low, and listening to music.

Here's how we spent last year's Earth Hour. What are you doing for Earth Hour? Let us know!

Monday, March 02, 2009

On wild cards and delusions...

Another excellent piece from Tyler Hamilton in The Star:

Canada's oil and gas sector is a crucial engine of our economy and isn't going away, so any technologies that help reduce or capture emissions are both welcome and necessary.

But can these technologies help us right now, particularly to justify rapid expansion of oil-sands projects? And, taken alone, are they enough?

Don't bet on it. Climate expert James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, got it right earlier this month when he called the oil sands a climate-change "wild card" that shouldn't be played. "You just can't do it, that's what politicians and international leaders have got to understand."

Canada, however, is playing that card. It's gambling that technology will make sure the house wins.

But here's the rub: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is delusional if he believes that capturing carbon dioxide from coal plants and oil-sands operations and storing it underground is going to have a material impact on reducing greenhouse-gases over the next decade, let alone the next two decades.

Not because the technology doesn't work or isn't safe, which is still up for debate, but because it's too expensive and risky to deploy on the scale that's required.

The thing is, Harper isn't really delusional. He's just greenwashing, which according to Wikipedia occurs when "significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green."

Compare that to Chantal Hebert's piece in the same edition (Oil sands exposé deserves more energetic response). It's hard to tell from her column if she thinks that Harper should actually do something about the environmental problems of the oil sands, or if they just need better PR!