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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Book Review: “Words Whispered in Water”

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Just over a week ago I got an email from a PR flack that was headed “An activists’ deep dive into the destruction of Katrina, the culprits behind it, and what we can learn from it.” What really bugged me about the email was that it was malformatted. I couldn’t actually read it on my screen as the text didn’t fit – and I had to scroll sideways just to find out the most basic information. However, I was both intrigued and somewhat connected since I have actually been to New Orleans, twice. And, of course, in 2005 everybody had heard about Katrina. And the very curious way that the federal government seemed to have adopted to their responsibility. Not as as bad as the way they have – and are – treating Puerto Rico. But bad enough. I must admit in 2005 I was facing my own issues so my attention to Katrina and its aftermath faded – and during our visits I do not recall seeing or hearing much about it or the aftermath.

I have also had to work with engineers in my career, and have had cause to observe the way that engineering companies and individuals have to work in the intricate overlapping worlds of the consultants and the government agencies that employ them. The penalties for those who do not obey the largely unwritten rules and conventions that govern this relationship mean that those who offend can be cast into the outer darkness and be denied future employment, often on no more than a whim of an official or a rumor – the least reliable sources.

The decisions that were made by the American Army Corps of Engineers, charged with building the flood defences of New Orleans were quite remarkably difficult to determine – deliberately so – and there was extensive collusion between the very people who we rely on to look after all of us to try and create a narrative that shifted attention away to the local government officials. They were branded as inept or even corrupt when that was not the case, but the mainstream media and in particular the leading local newspaper, The Times-Picayune preferred to ignore what should have been fairly obvious. The Corps were responsible for building the levees. When the levees broke it was due to fundamental flaws in design. But the corps did not want to admit that and looked for a scapegoats who would have a hard time explaining that it was the Corps and not the local Levee Board. As the author herself puts it, when a building collapses you look at the architects and the builder not the janitor. But a story had been created to shift the blame to – of all people – environmental activists and local politicians.

Sandy Rosenthal was directly impacted by the disaster and she didn’t buy the story that the Corps, and the media, were peddling. Apart from anything else there are these permanent plaques on the levees, put up by the Corps, recording their appreciation of the work done by those charged with maintenance of the levees and the associated equipment over many years. But she was initially on her own. She created a website Levees.org with the aid of her son and WordPress – the people who provide the same service for this blog. The more she uncovered, the more questions she asked, the more she gathered supporters. But also the trolls who bedevil online activities of all sorts. And, it turns out, the PR company hired by the Corps – and some employees of the Corps itself – joined in by pretending to be concerned local private citizens – textbook astroturfing. There were also the inevitable opportunists who never let any crisis go to waste and who were busy grinding out their own preferred solutions – which would pay them generously.

We now know why the levees broke. And, thanks to the cover of the pressure for answers when everything in New Orleans was in chaos from people who did not have enough time or resources, an eventual revelation of the decisions and why they were so badly wrong. The book itself is 300 pages but a very quick read. There are 503 endnotes for those who want to dig deeper. Sadly there is no index. And for people who do not have detailed knowledge of the complex geography and local nomenclature maps would have been very welcome but there are none. Even so I heartily recommend it.

And if you think that somehow this is just a problem for a distant community with little in common with yours, understand that more than half the population live in places that depend on levees. And we all live on a planet where the climate is becoming much more hostile, and hurricanes much more common and far stronger than before.

PS  The word levee means “an embankment built to prevent the overflow of a river”. In other posts in this blog about risk of flooding I have used the term dike “an embankment for controlling or holding back the waters of the sea or a river”

 

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2020 at 8:13 pm

Alberta might have one last oil boom.

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The marker which shows where the well was

Western Canada’s First Oil Well: Waterton Lakes, Alberta

 

The headline comes from The Globe and Mail.

The cause:

Analysts predict global oil demand could peak as soon as 2022. Even some big oil companies see peak demand by the 2030s.

But between then and now, in the mid-2020s, oil companies such as France’s Total forecast higher prices on a combination of steady demand and tighter supply.

This scenario, if it plays out, won’t mean $100 for a barrel of crude. But it would mean a profitable oil industry – and potentially quite profitable. Given that Alberta is among the biggest producers of oil in the world, this outlook could be very good news for the provincial treasury.

This annoyed me so much I found that I was writing a reply in my Plague Diary. Which will not be seen by anyone – at least not for a very long time. Perhaps they will have fun comparing the prediction with reality.

I cannot imagine that the provincial treasury will see all that much. Mostly because politicians do not have a long term focus. And this seems to apply in spades to Conservatives and Albertans. The early paragraphs of the editorial lists what happened in previous oil booms. My prediction is that while the mistakes may have some differences, the political instinct will be to devote any windfall to spending that will bring enough popularity to improve the chance of winning the next election. That is all the party in power thinks of. Yes, there are lots of good causes, and plenty of lobbyists. The ones that promise significant donations to party funds and other help to win elections will get the most favorable hearing. And the oil and gas lobby is still the biggest and most generous. While the statistics show Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, at 16.12% of GDP, CAPP continues to claim “30% of all economic activity in the province” which is obviously not the case.  But most Albertans and nearly all of the politicians probably don’t see it that way.

What has been happening is that the oil and gas sector has been largely bought up by foreign investors. Large multinationals, most of whose profits get squirrelled away in places where there are no taxes. There is a huge overhang of environmental damage, most of which will remain for the public purse to repair long after the end of the age of oil and gas. I doubt that much will be spent on this in the short term unless there is some major catastrophe to concentrate minds. Some inspiring folk are converting abandoned well sites to  solar capture. But the amount of space that occupies compared to the huge swathes of wrecked boreal forest is tiny. And the first thing that a conservative thinks of when there is a “surplus” is tax cuts. Actually it is the only thing no matter what the state of the balance of revenues to spending – unless it is spending cuts to hurt those least capable of withstanding them.

Of course we all know what works and what doesn’t. Conservatives are not persuaded by evidence, they like stories, and they love the old stories. They keep on doing what they have always done even though the outcome is always the same too.

If oil prices rise so too will oil and gas production. Right now there is a glut and the places to store the surplus are at capacity. Note too that the higher prices are predicted by an oil company. Not exactly an unbiased source.

But we also know that Canada has not a hope of meeting its commitments to reduce ghg emissions – mostly because the Canadian government spends far more on propping up a dying industry instead of promoting the green alternative. “As part of its COVID-19 response, Canada’s government is spending $1.7 billion to clean up “orphan” and inactive oil and gas wells in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.  Industry should be footing the bill…” (source: Suzuki ibid

Many other governments are doing far more than Canada to promote sensible investments in renewables – and they are seeing good rates of return on those investments as well as moving in the right direction. I do not see a Jason Kenney government following that path – but maybe that will not survive long enough to see the predicted boom times.

More likely the predicted boom is unjustified optimism. Or downright lies – which is what I think that CAPP claim is.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 3, 2020 at 2:08 pm

Borrowed Landscape

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Last night we watched the second episode of Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens on Knowledge TV. These programs can be streamed free for the next month if you live in BC.

I learned a new expression “borrowed landscape“. The gardens tend to be fairly small – but by artful trimming of the trees around the garden the natural landscape beyond it becomes incorporated into the view of the garden. This makes the garden seem larger and more impressive. Many formal Japanese gardens are designed carefully to be most impressive from particular viewpoints which can be found by stone markers placed along the foot path – in fact these are known as “stroll gardens“. This concept is actually quite well understood here by landscape gardeners and is something that I sometimes feel is a bit overdone. If you want to get somewhere you will try to walk in a straight line to your desired destination, and the cunningly curved paths are actually frustrating. Indeed desire lines off the paved paths are a real issue to the maintenance of perfect lawns.

I am much more likely, however, to be strolling with no particular purpose these days. I like to indulge myself by being a flaneur. So stroll gardens would actually be an improvement in some locations such as Trafalgar park which has no paths at all and just relies on the street sidewalks. It is also very much a playing field rather than a garden.

But living in Arbutus Village Park, my greatest desire is that we ought to be making more of the location, and borrowing the view of the North Shore mountains should be part of the park’s design. Of course, this would be of no value at all to people walking through the park. The beneficiaries would be the residents of the buildings – at least the taller ones, on the north side of the building. Like us.

The view from our window

Apparently in BC topping trees is regarded as a bad practice by arborists. Elsewhere in the world they have a different perspective. And our love for trees doesn’t seem to extend to the real giants in the old growth which are coming down at an increasing rate.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

“Miracle in the Desert”

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Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south
from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
File:SaltonSeaArielFromSouth.jpg
Created: 31 January 2012

I get offered all sorts of things by email. This time I was offered a “Press Screener” – access to a video on line that will become available soon. I get to write about it in the hopes that people will spread the word about the upcoming release.

This is an excerpt from the email which lead me to ask for access to the video

“…documentary release of filmmaker Greg Bassenian (“CSI: Miami”) eye-opening award-winning documentary Miracle in the Desert: The Rise and Fall of the Salton Sea,” which lays bare the startling environmental disaster that is the Salton Sea in California’s coveted Coachella valley.  Charting the Salton Sea’s creation in 1905 to the current devastating environmental crisis that it faces today, this harrowing journey takes the viewer into the toxic dust. As the largest lake in California begins to dry, millions of lives are in danger as clouds of toxic dust threaten the health of millions of Californians. … Bassenian’s  new documentary carefully plots the course of economic growth that sprouted a shimmering desert riviera laden with costly construction challenges developing into the perfect storm – creating an unstable ecosystem that now lays to waste the health of the Coachella Valley’s community as both local and federal governments look to pass the cost of fixing things onto someone other than themselves. This riveting investigative documentary will be released by Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company across North America on all VOD/Digital & Blu-Ray/DVD platforms beginning on September 22nd, 2020.”

I was aware that the water from the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea. What I did not know was that this was the result of some turn of the century real estate speculation based on the idea of making the desert bloom. It actually went badly wrong from the start. Both due to the unpredictable nature of severe weather events but also due to some remarkable ignorance on the way that rivers work. The idea to build a canal to tap into the massive waterflow of the Colorado just south of the Mexican border and send it back north to a desert a couple hundred feet below sea level seem an attractive proposition. But the notion that the canal would have to deal with a massive quantity of silt didn’t seem to occur to the promoters. Or the need for the diversion to be able to cope with flash floods when the river level rose.

Map of the Salton Sea drainage area
source: wikipedia

Far too much water turns out to be as big a problem as not nearly enough. And in Southern California where the major cities have been growing rapidly and the people there demanding more water as a result seems to have run counter to any idea that having created California’s largest lake, there could be dire consequences from not looking after it properly. Or at all.

Much of the movie is about the failure of the California state government doing anything effective. They have made many plans. There have been plenty of surveys. There has been no real action of any kind – other than trying to persuade farmers who were encouraged to move to the Coachella and Imperial valleys with the promise of irrigation to give up farming all together.

The big, immediate issue is the health of the population. Obviously the impacts are currently greatest locally but the potential problem is going to cover a much wider area, including those large new populations mentioned above. Indeed drying up of lake beds producing air quality problems with widespread health impacts is not new in California. On the other hand while politicians need to be seen to be concerned about public health, as we currently see with COVID, that doesn’t mean that they feel they have to do very much about it. Most Americans are still on their own, or at the mercy of insurance companies, when it comes to healthcare costs.

When I watched the video I was actually quite pleased that there was no mention of the current crises. I don’t think the words COVID or Trump occurred once. The feds do get the odd nod here and there but overwhelmingly the blame is being directed at Sacramento, the state capital. No individual politicians at State level are mentioned, though some local ones are very compelling in their on screen remarks. No political party is mentioned either. In fact the real surprise is how positive so many of the locals are that there are solutions that will work and will cost far less than doing nothing.

I highly recommend looking out for this video on your preferred streaming media source, and I hope that if you are in Southern California – or know people there – that this documentary will encourage you to consider what actions you can take to influence how the decision makers can be made to actually do their jobs for a change. Because a miracle is certainly needed

The featured image for this blog post also comes from Wikipedia
Samboy – I took a picture from the window of an airplane I was on”

Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south

  • CC BY-SA 4.0
  • File:SaltonSeaArielFromSouth.jpg
  • Created: 31 January 2012

Written by Stephen Rees

August 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with , ,

An Expected Disappointment

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Today I signed two petitions. One to divest the Canada Pension Plan from fossil fuels, the other a letter to the Environment Minister to require an environmental assessment of a massive coal mine expansion proposed for Alberta.

Then a news release arrived which I am copying in full below from Environmental Defence Canada which deplores the latest shortfall in the Trudeau government’s lacklustre efforts to meet the challenges of climate change and recovery from the Covid shut down. There has already been a reckoning of how little has been done for a Green New Deal type recovery here and how much thrown at the fossil fuel corporations, (“Canada has funnelled at least $11.86 BILLION to fossils in recent months, while directing only $222.78 million to clean energy”) so this latest failure to perform comes as no surprise. But it still makes me angry.

Environment and Climate Change Canada released their much-anticipated Strategic Assessment of Climate Change today. Copied below (and linked here) is our press release with our reaction. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for further clarification or questions. 


For Immediate Release: July 16, 2020

NEWS RELEASE: Federal government fails to deliver on promise to align infrastructure reviews with climate commitments

Just months after surprising withdrawal of Teck’s tar sands mine application, government wastes best chance to reconcile project decisions with commitment to become net-zero by 2050

Ottawa, Ont. – Today, the government missed the opportunity to implement a critical tool to achieving our climate targets: a climate test on new infrastructure. Public policy experts had hoped that with the introduction of the new Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69), which requires that project reviews consider whether the impacts help or hinder Canada in achieving its climate commitments, Canada could get on track to doing its part to ensure a climate-safe future. The policy announced today falls short of ensuring this will happen

“The government has just made it harder for Canada to get on the right pathway to reach our target of becoming net-neutral by 2050,” said Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “It is inconsistent to commit to a green recovery and serious climate action while simultaneously failing to put into place a mechanism to ensure that only projects that are consistent with those goals are built. When it comes to addressing the climate emergency – especially when we’re not on track to meet our targets – we need to be using every tool in the toolbox.”

Environmental assessments in Canada have long failed to ensure that project approvals are consistent with a climate-safe future. Global fossil fuel companies are planning to produce about 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with keeping warming to less than 1.5 degree Celsius – and 85% of that expansion is slated to come from the United States and Canada. The announced policy, known formally as the  , won’t curtail this emissions growth.

“The point of conducting thorough environmental assessments is to ensure we have the best information available to make decisions that are good for people in Canada,” said Levin. “Instead, the government has created a policy full of loopholes that polluters can exploit. How can we make responsible decisions as a country if we’re not even willing to ensure we have all the right information?”

As advanced by Environmental Defence and allies, a strong climate test would:

  • ensure that Canada’s new infrastructure be compatible with a low carbon future;
  • discourage investment in projects that would become stranded assets as world markets increasingly move away from oil and gas;
  • provide a clear and accountable set of climate guidelines for companies, communities, review panels and the public;
  • account for the significant downstream emissions from oil, natural gas and coal that is mined in Canada but exported to other countries, thereby recognizing the global nature of climate change and Canada’s contribution to it. Research shows that the total amount of greenhouse emissions from Canada’s exports of fossil fuels is greater than all emissions that occur within Canada

Though an improvement from the draft version of the policy – now project proponents will need to submit net-zero emission plans for projects that go beyond 2050 – the policy released today does not ensure any of the above goals. It punts requirements for emissions reductions well into the future rather than ensuring Canada is on the right path to do its fair share over the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.

As a result, Canadians should not expect that future assessments will do a better job of ensuring new projects are consistent with international climate commitments. Projects currently being considered include a proposed LNG pipeline in Quebec (Gazoduq) – which in conjunction with the Énergie Saguenay LNG plant would produce 7.8 million tons of greenhouse gas annually – and the huge expansion of a tar sands mine by Suncor Energy which would produce another 3 million tons of carbon pollution each year.

“Just a few months ago, Teck Resources made the surprising decision to withdraw their own application for a new tar sands mine. Their reason? A lack of a framework that reconciles oil and gas development decisions with climate action,” added Levin. “And yet the government seems not to have learned its lesson and has declined to show bold leadership. Canadians needed this policy to guide industry towards projects that are compatible with a safe and healthy future. Instead, communities will be forced to continue fighting to ensure that life cycle greenhouse gas emissions are adequately included in the impact reviews of new projects.”

Canada continues to lag behind on real climate leadership. The plan unveiled in the United States by the Biden-Bernie Sanders Unity Task Force includes a commitment to implementing a climate test.

Julia Levin 

Climate & Energy Program Manager 

Pronouns: she/her

Written by Stephen Rees

July 16, 2020 at 5:03 pm

The Notebook

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A while ago now, I used to teach adults about energy efficiency. One such venture was concerned with buildings. The students were learning to qualify for a national program, based in the United States, and I travelled to Bellingham as a guest speaker. Nearly everyone else they heard would have been talking about building issues – insulation and so on. Hardware mostly, but also management. I talked about the bigger picture. How a building’s use and location was actually much more significant in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint than the energy used by its HVAC system.

The consulting company that ran the course gave me a nice little memento. The notebook, which was part of the kit given to the students. It is a monument to the principles that were being taught. The cover is made from recycled tyres. The paper, of course, was recycled too – every page has a pale grey logo printed on it.

The pages are all punched and the binding is by four small openable rings. Towards the end of the book there is page printed with the contact information of the maker. So that users can order a refill. Today I contacted them by email as, when I went to their web page, I could not find a refill that would fit this format.

Their reply. “Yes, this is a long discontinued item and we do not carry these refills anymore.
I am sorry about it.”

I won’t embarrass them by publishing their name. It is just a sad reality that business is business, and clearly this product, designed to be reusable for much longer than any one pad of paper might be, was not a commercial success. Which says more about us than them.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 1, 2020 at 11:52 am

Posted in Recycling

THE ECOLOGICAL DISASTER OF PALM OIL

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A guest post from Jim Richards

Jim Richards is the CEO of a company. His thoughts were offered free on my email. Since I have never tried his products – indeed he is a total stranger – I am being cautious lest I seem to be promoting him or his company. But he seems to have the palm oil business bracketed. There were no images accompanying his press release


Quantum mechanics proposes that ours is only one of an infinite number of parallel worlds, all of which exist in the same space and time as our own.  Within the infinite possibilities of this theory is an upside-down version of our world, an opposite one, and yet another where everything is identical except the elephants are purple.  Any and every possibility can, and indeed the theory insists, must exist.  Apparently, a version of each of us likely exists in all or most of them also, that bit boggles the mind almost as much as it tickles the ego.  After-all multiple worlds without multiple versions of us could only indicate the bright minds that build quantum mechanics theories veer off into wacky land at times.

Keeping updated on the emerging data of our climate crises and the actions taken to alleviate its impact, permits a similar idea to bud.  Within our own planet, there also exists worlds in parallel, upside-down and opposite worlds. In one the need for immediate and decisive action on the climate crisis is obvious, while another parallel world prefers its citizens just keep calm and carry on.  In one world we are invited to take up the yoke of responsibility and the other world prefers we just leave things and let the-as-yet-unborn deal with it all.  In one, the doctrines and processes of governments and politics employ cemented static mindsets even as the climate proves a tumultuous cascade of dynamic processes potentially propelling us to who knows what.  Parallel but opposite worlds.

Between the extremes is yet another world, the one we common folk commonly inhabit.  It is our neighborhood, where we live and work, our town, our city.  A place mostly comforting and familiar because over time it has been sculpted and shaped by the actions, motives and cares of local people to fit local needs.  This is our sphere of influence and the world we want to preserve.

We care about orangutans, koalas and polar bears, we really do, but the sheer breadth, scale, and complexity of the problems overwhelm. The many eco-urgencies progressively lose impact as they increase in scale and are located far beyond our reach.  Most of us have skill and geographical constraints on our ability to positively impact big issues like rising sea levels, melting glaciers and bleaching corrals.   We are best placed, and frankly most incentivized, to start where we are and work from the bottom up. Where we can be busy is in saving those things near us that we love, and then enlarging the space of our influence as we go.

Of course, we understand ecosystems are not respecters of town boundaries nor do they care about the depth of our attachment to local amenities like river-walks, and parklands.  We know our homes and towns cannot be insulated from the causal network in which everything is bound together.  Yet that same causal network allows that we can remain local and still have global influence if we choose our actions wisely.

Transportation of all forms is the cause of about 15% of the human-generated carbon, and incredibly palm oil production is the cause of about the same amount of carbon going into the sky!

Our use of transport is not always a choice, it is hard to imagine life without some form of transport.  However, our use of palm oil is always a choice furthermore it’s easy to imagine life without it, after-all humans thrived until the 1960s with most not knowing palm oil even existed.  Not only is palm oil a choice, ultimately and critically, but it’s also our choice.

One important reason we need to actively save that which we love is, the actions of one person always influences the information base of another and on and on the impact grows.  Starting one thing will encourage and engage others and collectively we can improve the long-term destiny of our world with our own self-generated cascade of dynamic processes.

Palm oil is an unnecessary and offensive ecological disaster, the production of this one item is causing as much climatic damage as every single motorcycle, car, truck, train, boat, and airplane on earth.  Further tropical forests have been and are being burned recklessly and extensively to make way for ever-more palm oil monoculture.  The palm oil industry is boasting that our demand for palm oil is set to quadruple, vast and beautiful tropical Peat forests will be burnt to meet that demand, our demand, but only if we allow it.  All this mindless destruction is they say just the law of supply and demand in action.

Obviously, we are not consciously demanding millions of acres of tropical forests be burned on our behalf each year – if we could make the rules, we would, in fact, demand the very opposite.   But we do inadvertently incentivize and fund the destruction through our purchase of items made with palm oil – and we purchase lots of them.

Palm oil is in so many products it is really quite hard to avoid.  Manufacturers love to use palm oil because it is quite versatile and very cheap. But of course, Palm oil actually has, a hidden, but extraordinarily high eco-price, it is costing us the earth.

Palm oil is likely an ingredient in most of your favorite brands.  But if we commit to doing this thing, this one hard-ish thing, that will complicate shopping a bit and require persistence on our part – if we switch to palm oil-free products – we, together, will compel a positive and pertinent eco-impact that is equal to shutting down all transportation globally. Without leaving home we collectively can send a crystal-clear message to manufacturers. They respond to dips in their sales and market share with an alacrity and intensity we wish they reserved for measuring and reducing the eco-impact of their ingredients.

We, the people, can create new laws of supply and demand – any company that supplies products containing palm oil will see demand diminish, and their bright cheerful logo can come to symbolize the dark badge of corporate greed.   It is only our patronage and goodwill that gives power to brands, and it is our purchases that gift fortune to the companies behind them – they prosper only as they serve our needs and wants.  Change those wants and we change a great deal besides.

Watch out for claims of sustainable palm oil.  The truth is there is no such thing as sustainable tropical forest destruction.  Call BS on that sort of virtue signaling nonsense.

Not buying palm oil products will demonstrate even the biggest global issues are not beyond our reach or influence.  As we get strategic about palm oil, corals, glaciers, sea levels and even Borneo’s (oxymoron named) pigmy elephants will directly benefit.  Those koalas, polar bears and orangutans we care about will get to breathe easier also, as will we all.

We may have our backs against the climatic wall (so to speak) but neither the scope of the ecological problems, nor our ineffective leaders loitering in their parallel world, should cause us to ignore the problems that we, and possibly only we, can effectively attend.  We may not be able to address everything – but believe me, we can address this one big thing.

Historically the extraordinary courage of ordinary people manifests clearest in crises when we are rising to defend neighbors, neighborhoods, and homes – like now.  The intensity of stubborn determination and ingenuity we common folk can collectively bring to this fight is one of humanity’s super-powers.

Besides, we have to make our infinite number of parallel selves feel good about us, even that fortunate us living in the world populated by cute purple pygmy elephants.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 15, 2020 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Environment

Climate strikers “naive and unrealistic”

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Climate strikers gathering at Cambie and 10th

No, they are not. They are also on to you. They know what “gaslighting” means.

The headline comes from a Canadian Press story that was published by the National Observer – and others.

“The strikes themselves are not offering any answers. The strikes are not addressing the question of how we reduce carbon demand.”

Actually if Hal Kvisle was paying attention and not indulging in the usual shenanigans, he would be surprised by how well informed some of these young people are. For the last thirty years or so the fossil fuel industry has been spinning the story that not only was there reasonable doubt about climate change and its cause (when there was none) but also that it was essential to expand production in order to meet both rising demand and build the hardware for the eventual transition. This lost us a great opportunity to get ahead of the game. In the same period not only were greenhouse gas emissions expanding exponentially, but the earth’s ability to absorb that carbon was being exhausted. Some oil companies not only knew that to be true but also started down the path of getting ahead of the competition. BP even tried to convince its customers that the letters now stood for “Beyond Petroleum”. Not that that lasted long.

We have always known that we were being profligate and wasteful with energy, and there were already moves under way to cut that waste – especially in the public sector. BC faced a bit of a challenge since nearly all of our electricity came from existing hydro – which meant its cost to consumers was low, and the ghg emissions had already largely occurred during the construction phase. But even so, people knew about air pollution, and wanted something done about that including closing the last gas fired power station. We also knew that building complete communities in a compact urban region with increased transportation choice was key to better air quality and overall well being – we called it “liveability” back then.

In BC the revenues from oil and gas extraction fell precipitously even as production accelerated. The BC Liberals poured money into the sector by cutting taxes and royalties. In Canada, the extraction of the tar sands was only feasible because it was supported by federal and provincial subsidies, again started by the Liberal government. There is also a direct line between politicians supporting oil and gas and contributions from fossil fuel corporations to party funds for elections and propaganda. The lying from the corporations was long, loud and shameless. As was the greed of the elected officials who still promote them.

We know for a certainty that cutting government subsidies to fossil fuels will bring about significant change in short order. It is simply false to claim that there is need for a longer term transition since so many examples of successful transition are already evident. Solar panels and wind turbines are already more financially viable than fossil power for electricity generation. China is producing far more electric cars and buses than North America – and also building high speed electric railways and urban rapid transit systems. We could have been doing the same over the same period: it was not as if the technologies were not well understood and readily available. Instead we built even more freeways, and bought much bigger cars – and trucks – for personal transportation building our way to ever more automobile reliance, personal indebtedness and ill health as a consequence. There is nothing new about this understanding. What is new is that the children are now pointing out – loudly and with increasing credibility – how irresponsible politicians and corporate management have been, and how change must now happen faster, sooner and with much less attention paid to the personal fortune building of both.

But, really—who’s being naïve in this conversation?

See more – and much better – photos

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2019 at 10:46 am

The Last Post

I am going to add a link into the next paragraph, which will take you to an essay in Huffington Post. And then once that article opens up – if you decide to click that link, there is another link to “a long form essay “Facing Extinction“” if you prefer that. But the point of this first paragraph is to explain why I am posting this at all. I have been consciously backing off from the position I have been taking here for the last ten to fifteen years. At first it was more about “what do I do with myself in the absence of worthwhile employment?” Then it was about having solved the immediate issues of how I survive without a large salary every month (not that I ever thought I had a large salary) what do I do about the place I find myself. I long ago recognised that I would not be able to save the world. It turned out that it was immensely difficult to even make the small part of it that I occupied reasonably tolerable. It did not help either that some of the thoughts that had occurred to me actually got implemented. Not that I am about to claim credit for them – or anything. Other people think similar thoughts at the same time, is all. I just thought that I could keep on doing the same sort of policy analysis that I used to do for the government for the people who get governed. Until that seemed futile too. And boring and repetitive. I long ago stopped going on protests. I have stopped supporting political parties – and everyday, without fail, I get another confirmation that was a Good Choice.

So as I read this article, I kept finding myself in agreement. It is better than anything I could write – and there isn’t anything I feel the need to cavil about. And I have stopped myself from thinking that this is all too hard to face up to. It is not as if we have any choice at all. Except you – you who have stuck with me this far – you who still show up on the “like” list. You can stop reading this now. That’s ok. Don’t worry about it. You do not have to face extinction right now, if you don’t want to. But for those of you who are wondering why this post was an even an idea in the first place this is the link. I have checked it by sending it by email to someone else and confirmed that it works.

This is not a matter for comment or discussion. I am going to close comments for this post, and won’t be looking for any feedback. Please take the advice of the author of the article.

Good bye. And thanks for all the fish.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 22, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Eco-Terrorist: Battle for Our Planet

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The stuff that comes into my inbox these days usually gets a quick once over. Not in this case.

Filmmaker and longest-serving Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) crewmember, first mate to Captain Paul Watson and a captain in his own right, Peter Jay Brown reunites his ruthless cast in this Post Whale-Wars feature documentary that captures all sides of the SSCS from its inception to this very day. Included is even more never-before-seen footage of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Campaigns featuring Renegade Environmentalists and their Guerilla Tactics.

This is a sneak peak of an upcoming release due in the fall this year.

I will admit that I have not seen any of the Whale Wars tv shows. But I have followed the adventures of Paul Watson over the years. And, like many people, I have been appalled by the behaviour of the Japanese and their determination to continue commercial whaling. I am glad Sea Shepherd is doing so well, but I also hope that there will come a day when they are no longer needed, because their mission will have been accomplished.

Image: Director Peter Jay Brown at the help of a Sea Shepherd vessel on campaign

Peter J Brown

Written by Stephen Rees

May 22, 2019 at 9:45 am

Posted in Environment

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