Month: February 2009

Obama seeks U.S. carbon emissions cap

President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to send him legislation that places a market-based cap on U.S. carbon polluting emissions and pushes the production of more renewable energy.

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama said that “to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.

Good, Canada will have to harmonize. Stephen Harper was last seen pretending that his “intensity based”” approach was just a “different” way of measuring emissions. You can say that speed and distance are just two ways of measuring travel!

It is still early and we will see what the US congress can come up with, and what egregious exemptions and offsets it will provide for. Lobbying is already fast and furious. But the news emanating from Obama is promising on the climate change front.

James Hansen disses the Tar Sands

James Hansen: Obama’s Canada trip defines our critical carbon moment | Comment is free |

The tar sands of Canada constitute one of our planet’s greatest threats. They are a double-barrelled threat. First, producing oil from tar sands emits two-to-three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. But the process also diminishes one of the best carbon-reduction tools on the planet: Canada’s Boreal Forest.

This forest plays a key role in the global carbon equation by serving as a major storehouse for terrestrial carbon – indeed, it is believed to store more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem on Earth. When this pristine forest is strip mined for tar sands development, much of its stored carbon is lost. Canada’s Boreal Forest is also the reservoir for a large fraction of North America’s clean, fresh water, home to some five billion migratory birds, and some of largest remaining populations of caribou, moose, bear and wolves on the planet.

Nothing more to say, except that he does a good job of connecting both the inefficiency of the extraction process, a carbon source, and the destruction of the boreal forest, the removal of a carbon sink. If carbon accounting was in place, the economics would not work. Harper knows this, hence all the aggressive PR to get ahead of the game.

Pothole power for cars

Via the TNR E&E blog comes this story of capturing some of the energy wasted when a vehicle moves over bumps and potholes on the road. Indian drivers are waiting with bated breath for this prototype to become a reality! The takeaway messages are that most of the mechanical devices we use today have many points where waste energy can be captured and put to use.

A team of MIT undergraduate students has invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks. The students hope to initially find customers among companies that operate large fleets of heavy vehicles. They have already drawn interest from the U.S. military and several truck manufacturers.

Tar Sands Don't Fit in the Clean Energy Economy

On February 19 President Obama will visit Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked to discuss a North American agreement on global warming and energy, and it has been widely reported that under such a deal he will seek to shelter the tar sands in Alberta from the same greenhouse gas cuts that other polluters must make.

We can not be on be on the path to fight global warming and build a clean energy future by ignoring the facts. The tar sands are one of the most destructive projects on earth. They produce oil that has three times the carbon impact per barrel in the production process as regular oil while leaving a long term legacy of toxic tailings lakes and Boreal forest destruction.

There is a better way. Both the U.S. and Canada have tremendous economic potential in new energy industries and energy efficiency. The tar sands industry must do its fair share in reducing emissions as we make the transition to a new energy economy in North America.

Tell President Obama that he needs to stay on course to a clean energy future.

via Obama2Canada

This is a new cross-border effort by a whole host of Canadian and US environmental big guns including Greenpeace, Environment Defence, the Dogwood Initiative, etc. aimed at lobbying Obama on the Oil (Tar) sands of Alberta.

A few years ago, only 4% of all Americans knew that Canada was the their largest supplier of oil. So, any efforts aimed at educating Americans on where their oil comes from and the dirtiness of the process involved is welcome.

Once again, I will say that the future of the Oil Sands is not in Canadian hands, but in American hands. No Canadian government will turn off the tap, not now in this recession, not 3 years from now when we are on our next boom. It is going to take American pressure and the institution of a robust climate change mitigation program in the US. We shall see what happens in 2-3 years time.

I do not believe this campaign will make any difference whatsoever, Obama is in Canada for something like 3 hours, and presumably will have other things to talk about.


Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – A new Resource

Critical Windows of Development is a timeline of how the human body develops in the womb, with animal research showing when low-dose exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during development results in altered health outcomes.

Critical Windows of Development

This promises to be an easy to use database showing development timelines of infants, and the documented effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals at these timelines. The prime focus is bisphenol A and phthalates at this point in time. The Environmental Health News has more about the program here. It is not out for public consumption yet, so stay tuned…

Lack of science funding risks brain drain, CMAJ editorial warns

In the Jan. 27 budget, Canada's three research councils collectively had their budgets cut by $147.9 million, or five per cent, the editorial said. Neither Genome Canada nor the Canada Research Chair program, which allows universities and research institutes to attract top scientists from around the world, received any new money.

In contrast, the U.S. government is pledging $11.9 billion–$13 billion US for scientific research, and the United Kingdom is continuing its investment of 1.7 billion pounds $3.1 billion Cdn for applied health research in 2009/2010, although both countries have been hit hard by the economic crisis.

The more I read about the Canadian Budget, the more worried I get. Cutting research funds is the easiest way to completely gut scientific talent and nobble Canada for years to come. What takes years to develop will be gone in one year. Cue all the Canadian scientists taking jobs in the US or anywhere else they are available.

This is disgusting and something must be done. You can read the entire CMAJ editorial here (pdf).

Canadian Federal Government GHG Mitigation – FAIL

Two central programs that the Conservative government has claimed will result in significant reductions in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are nearly impossible to verify, the federal environment commissioner says.

A tax credit intended to encourage public transit use, part of the maiden Tory budget in 2006, will “lead to negligible reductions” in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and the tools to measure its impact don't yet exist, Scott Vaughn's audit of the government's tools for cutting air emissions found.

And impressive claims that a $1.5-billion climate change trust fund would lead to an 80-megatonne cut in emissions by giving provinces money to go green appears to be based more on a best-case scenario that may be flawed, the audit found.

Not that the Conservative government is serious about its climate change mitigation strategies. Their programs were easily tagged as worse than useless. A transit tax credit is useless without increasing transit options, discouraging urban sprawl and increasing automobile fuel efficiency. I like the fact that I can get $10 off a monthly bus pass with this program, but in the end, most people will pay 10 bucks a month if it means getting to work in half an hour, instead of an hour and 15 minutes. When you use exclusively tax based solutions, everyone optimizes their short term gains and nothing happens in the long term.

Bolivia's Lithium

In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world’s lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia — a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.

via In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism –

Dear American reporter:

Your country does not have God given rights to all the resources of the world. The fact that a country like Bolivia is not only wary of being exploited, but seems to have recently changed its constitution to ensure that its native people get a fair share of any resource exploitation is something to celebrate. I don’t think they should “surrender” their resources to your country, however much you lose your so called journalistic neutrality.

Yours Sincerely

The Olive Ridley Crawler

Canada's Budget – FAIL on Renewables

Canada's Conservative government released a federal budget last week that would kill off the country's main program for developing renewables and channel most of the money from a new “Green Infrastructure Fund” into carbon capture and storage CCS technology, or so-called “clean” coal.

Of course, the carbon capture is not aimed at coal here specifically, but at the oil sands. More bad news –

The new pro-coal budget effectively killed all support for the nation’s ecoENERGY Program for Renewable Energy (equivalent to America’s Production Tax Credit for renewables). The program was the nation’s main support mechanism for developing renewable energy. The Pembina Institute, a Canada-based sustainable energy think tank, reacts to the budget defeat:

“The federal government’s failure to renew and expand this program has jeopardized at least 1,500 megawatts of “shovel read” wind energy projects across the country, while putting the brakes on billions of dollars of potential future investment.”

The renewable energy industry had hoped for a five-year extension of the program in the budget, which would have spurred over $6 billion of private investment in the Canadian economy and created 8,000 jobs, according to the Institute.

Note that this is not just the Conservatives. The Liberals are supporting this budget, and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has spoken glowingly about the oil sands industry.

At this point, we do not control our own environmental future. The Conservatives are an Alberta centred party and their motivation is not surprising. The Liberals clearly want back in power and do not have the money to fight another election next month. Canadians seem to not favour the most logical option, a coalition government of the left leaning parties which make up a majority of seats and voting percentages in parliament, so the Liberals have to support the Conservative budget or face an election soon.

With Ignatieff leading the Liberals, they know that all they need a little time to get money and reverse their losses from the previous election. His personal popularity advantage over previous Liberal leader Stephane Dion will most probably lead to better election results, especially if the Canadian economy continues to tank. A Liberal budget would have not killed the renewables, but would have not done anything to make the oil sands projects pay for all their externalities either.

With the two main parties objectively in favour of unproven boondoggles and greenwashing, only firm decisive action by the US administration to institute some kind of carbon controls will change the game in Canada. My fear is that by killing money support at a critical time, you kill the renewables industry and disperse its people elsewhere, and no reversing course in 3 years will get those people and companies back.