Month: April 2009

Canada – No new coal plants?

For a minute I thought the pain from playing volleyball last night, plus opening my computer up sleepily at 5:45 in the morning before catching an early bus to work had me hallucinating, but yes, the Canadian federal government actually wants to impose a moratorium on the construction of new coal fired power plants unless they include sequestration (which to me means no new power plants).

The federal government is planning sweeping new climate-change regulations for Canada's electricity sector that will phase out traditional coal-fired power

Any new coal plants will have to include highly expensive – and unproven – technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions and inject it underground for permanent storage, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said in an interview yesterday.

Ottawa also plans to impose absolute emission caps on utilities' existing coal-fired power plants and establish a market-based system to allow them to buy credits to meet those targets, Mr. Prentice said.

via Ottawa takes aim at coal power.

I have a certain distrust for this government, so details are crucial. The right things are being said:

  1. All new plants will need sequestration
  2. A cap and trade to deal with existing coal fired power plants
  3. Phase out of facilities after “fully amortized life” – Not clear on exactly what that means
  4. 90% Emissions free power sector by 2025

As the article points out, Canada relies on coal much less than a lot of other countries, only 18% of current emissions are from coal, as opposed to the US, where about 40% is from coal.

So, time to celebrate? Not exactly. Canada’s latest release of 2007 data indicates horrendous performance.

Canada 2007 GHG Inventory

Overall, total increase was 6 Megatonnes from 2004 to 2007. But the increases from the Tar Sands were nearly 16 Mt, meaning most of Canada’s other sectors saw decreases, thanks to a number of mild winters and greater efficiency.

Clearly, this performance is going to continue until the Tar Sands are included in any CO2 reduction strategies, whatever we do, or don’t do with the coal will have a little bit of impact, but will definitely not help Canada achieve any of its short or long term goals.

So, one cheer for this announcement. I suspect that the administration needs something to take to meetings, and is hoping that a coal moratorium will distract people from the biggest culprits, the Tar Sands and our insanely high per capita GHG footprint. A “no new coal” moratorium would be a huge deal in the States, and off the charts in China or India as far as reducing emissions go. But Canada, not bad, but definitely not good enough!

The Tar Sands will only be stopped when the US steps up to the plate and gets its Cap and Trade going.

Goldman Prize – The Green Nobel – Google Earth Narrative

This is very inspiring, and wonderful to watch.

The Goldman Prize has developed a tour that uses 3-D Google Earth imagery to tell the stories of the 2009 Prize recipients. Narrated by Robert Redford, the tour allows viewers to travel the world, visiting huge mountaintop removal mines, ship breaking yards and other locations where the Prize winners live and work.

Goldman Prize – Google Earth Tour

The Goldman honours grassroots environmentalists all over the world.

Canada and Greenhouse Gases – Epic Fail

Canada’s greenhouse emissions soaring: UN report

The figures are based on the 2009 national inventory report that Environment Canada quietly filed last week with the United Nations to meet its international reporting obligations. The full 673-page inventory is available on the UN’s website and shows Canada has the dubious distinction of having its emissions climb more since 1990 than any other G8 nation.

Canada ranks “first among the G8 nations” for increasing emissions, the report notes, even though Canada had committed to cut them. It notes that while Canada’s emissions have soared, Germany chopped its emissions by 18 per cent between 1990 and 2006, and the United Kingdom slashed its by 15 per cent.

Hey, we’re first in the G8 in something! The increase was driven primarily by increasing Tar Sands emissions thanks to the oil boom. Cars and coal also contributed.

Obama to regulate 'pollutant' CO2

The US government is to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, having decided that it and five other greenhouse gases may endanger human health and well-being. The Environmental Protection Agency EPA announced the move following a review of the scientific evidence.

via BBC

Not unexpected, was the long culmination of a series of events resulting from a 2007 Supreme Court verdict.

Obama is playing the cards right here, using the EPA to ratchet pressure on congress to come up with a carbon pricing scheme, using the EPA as a cautionary tale. If there is anything anti-environmentalists hate more than carbon regulation, it is carbon regulation written by the EPA! Expect a whole lot of lobbying for a cap and trade bill to pass through congress. Aldo expect a lot of back room dealing about offsets, auctions, allowances, words you will be hearing and reading about a lot more.

Meanwhile, in our great white North, the official silence is deafening. A recent report released by the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy speaks very seriously about the urgent need to get a federal Cap and Trade system in place before the US does it for us. Expect nothing to happen unless there is regime change. Even then, as the NY Times points out, provincial resistance to cede control will doom any deal. Ask an Albertan about the National Energy Program!

In our provincial BC election, carbon pricing is front and centre and has captured quite a bit of attention even south of the border. A post on that will follow sometime this weekend, unless I get distracted, which happens more often than not!

Circumcision and AIDS – Revisited


A post I wrote quite a while back on circumcision and AIDS remains my most commented post ever. In it (if you’re too lazy to click) I said that while research indicating a reduction in HIV infection in circumcised men was promising, there were a couple of concerns. One, that this could be a distraction from the single most effective prevention measure (no, not abstinence!), condom use. And two, that in certain cultures, especially among Hindus, this would be an absolute no no because circumcision is identified with being Muslim.

Anyway, in a review article, the Cochrane Centre in South Africa summarizes results from a meta analysis of a number of trials indicating a 50% reduction in HIV incidence among circumcised males. At this point in time, it is clear that circumcision is effective in reducing HIV incidence among heterosexual males. Based on this, the institute encourages the widespread use of circumcision as an AIDS prevention strategy.

So, am I still circumspect? Absolutely. I am still concerned that this research will be misinterpreted in a way that discourages condom use. In fact, the authors note that circumcised men indulged in more risky behaviour. Also, the incidence of HIV in the women these men were sleeping with increased from 9.6% to 13.8%, a 40% uptick. This increase was not statistically significant. No arguing with that, though the study was stopped early once it was clear that the men were helped, never mind the women, or reaching statistical significance in their case.

Given that it is very unclear what the effects of circumcision are on anything other than circumcised penises, which are only one half of the equation (or less!), I don’t think it is responsible to call for widespread use of circumcision as a public health strategy for the prevention of HIV until its effects on the other parties are known. While people are aware of this issue, I don’t think the science or the cultural landscape promote the use of circumcision as a HIV prevention strategy until its proven that women are not at risk from increased HIV incidence either biologically from a yet unknown mechanism, or socially from increased risk taking.

Men have more power in most societies to demand and receive sex on their terms. So the male centric nature of this research, and the conclusions drawn are disturbing. How irresponsible is it to encourage a public health strategy that appears to increase risk taking behaviour among men when the effects on the women are yet unknown, with only a statistically “insignificant” 40% increase in HIV incidence among women being observed?

I am. for very good reason, still circumspect on circumcision.

Whisky flavoured condoms courtesy bruno  girin’s photostream used under a creative commons license. Now how’s that for a turn on, whisky!

Health Canada report ties asbestos to lung cancer

Health Canada sat for more than a year on a report by a panel of international experts that concludes there is a “strong relationship” between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos mined in Canada.

Health Canada received the report in March 2008, resisting calls from the panel chairman to release the findings despite his plea last fall that the delay was “an annoying piece of needless government secrecy.”

Canwest News Service obtained the report under Access to Information legislation, but the request took more than 10 months to process.

Vancouver Sun

Yes, dog bites man anywhere else except Canada, which has a hard time accepting that it routinely exports products that kill people. The “annoying piece of needless government secrecy” is neither needless or annoying. It protects a dying industry with a few, powerful stakeholders in Quebec, an important swing political province, so there’s need for it! Annoying – your seat “buddy” on the bus yammering on their cellphone, cancer, well, I don’t know, you tell me!

Expect little to change from this report. It does mention that there is little danger from “Canadian exposure levels”, conveniently forgetting that 90% of the export is to developing countries where there are fewer safeguards. This feeds into the Canadian government line that “chrysotile” is safe if used correctly. If you think this line of reasoning is familiar, it is. The tobacco industry used it routinely till recently.


A Year in BC

Or at least, it was when I started this post, now it’s almost 13 months!

  •  It is still beautiful, breathtakingly so
  •  We feel more settled for some reason, even though it is a new place
  •  Definitely more relaxed than I’ve ever been, which is saying a lot
  •  The cat is getting fatter, wait, that’s always been true
  •  Making friends is not easy in a non-university setting, but I’ve managed
  •  Fresh start, new habits, new zeal/drive, new person, not so much!
  •  The cable/cellphone/internet services make me long for the states. Rude monopolists abound and there is no competition/innovation.
  •  The “establishment” is very strong here, and the news media is very deferential
  •  Our famous social safety net is fraying, but it does not have the American charity/philanthropic base to replace the funding cuts
  •  We think we are an environmental leader, we are not and it is getting worse
  •  I worry that we are making no efforts to transition to the 21st century
  •  I still follow Carolina basketball, Go Heels!
  •  Facebook has made it very easy to keep in touch, given I am a terrible phone caller
  •  I still do not get hockey, did I mention I do not like fights?
  •  Let’s just say I’ve gone DIY on alcohol
  •  The BC Liberals are anything, but!
  •  Victoria feels like a slightly more urban Chapel Hill-Carrboro, but needs a Weaver Street Market.
  • Blogging has gotten non-existent, for a number of reasons.