Month: September 2012

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-30

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Dear Mulcair: Connect your short term oil goals with energy transformation

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has finally listened to the legions of Globe and Mail comment thread participants (and some other people, of course!) who repeatedly urge policy makers and oil companies to build a pipeline West -> East. I believe Bob Rae has talked about this idea approvingly as well. Why? Because Western Canada exports oil at a “discount”, and Eastern Canada pays “full price” from non-Canadian sources.

In a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto at the Royal York Hotel, the federal NDP leader gave his clearest sign of support yet for the notion of a West to East pipeline that would allow producers to receive higher prices for their crude oil.

The NDP leader’s speech also repeated his concern that western energy developers are not paying the full cost of the environmental consequences of their projects. He said this is leading to an artificially high Canadian dollar, which hurts other sectors of the economy.

Mulcair wants East-West Pipeline

The full text of his comments can be seen at iPolitics and has much more than Globe and Mail Report (it wouldn’t have fanned the flames otherwise).

Mulcair spoke about this pipeline, he also talked a lot about income inequality, robust government, and making polluters pay. He talked about strengthening environmental safeguards, ending fossil fuel subsidies and more.

What he didn’t say: That tackling climate change requires a fundamental transformation of our system.

Sometimes, what is not said is more important than what is said.

If this proposal to use Canadian oil more “judiciously” by building a short-term closed supply chain is just part of a clear plan to go to a renewables and demand-reduction based energy transformation, propose away. We do need to hold both these truths in our heads at once: The tarsands are a big source of short-term revenue feeding our fossil fuel based culture, and unchecked climate change will kill many. It isn’t possible to cut fossil fuel use to zero next year, but it is imperative to cut emissions from fossil fuel use to near zero in the medium-term. Any policy that makes sense within that main objective should be looked at on its merits, but ending fossil fuel emissions soon HAS to be a cornerstone of any progressive energy policy, the crisis demands no less.

So Mr Mulcair, propose oil pipelines if you wish, it may make for good short-term politics (read comments below the article), and who knows, maybe even tolerable policy. But remember to frame it as part of the necessary energy transformation. Politics is messy, and lasting change requires a broad coalition, don’t alienate progressive supporters right away.


Readability and the Writer’s Diet

I read this abstract, laughed a bit, then entered it into The Writers Diet. Try it.

I wish science abstracts, especially those dealing with human impact, and climate change is a huge human impact, were written with specific emphasis on readability and the big picture.

I will read the paper, as well, sounds interesting. The title is “The Optimal Carbon Tax and Economic Growth” – Exciting! But I could not let the abstract go unshared.

In a calibrated integrated assessment model we investigate the differential impact of additive and multiplicative damages from climate change for both a socially optimal and a business-as-usual scenario in the market economy within the context of a Ramsey model of economic growth. The sources of energy are fossil fuel which is available at a cost which rises as reserves diminish and a carbon-free backstop supplied at a decreasing cost. If damages are not proportional to aggregate production output, and the economy is along a development path, the social cost of carbon and the optimal carbon tax are smaller as damages can more easily be compensated for by higher output. As a result, the economy switches later from fossil fuel to the carbon-free backstop and leaves less fossil fuel in situ. This is in contrast to a partial equilibrium analysis with damages in utility rather than in production which finds that the willingness to forsake current consumption to avoid future global warming is higher lower under additive damages in a growing economy if the elasticity of intertemporal substitution is smaller bigger than one.

via OxCarre: The Optimal Carbon Tax and Economic Growth.

Update: Now, to type in some of my paper abstracts into Writer’s Diet and see what happens. I plopped in three abstracts from papers I published for my PhD, you guessed it, all FLABBY!

Helen Sword, the originator of this test has a couple of books on writing that are worth checking out, especially the one called “Stylish Academic Writing”

Update: Via Boing Boing, an article at the Huff Po on how to read abstracts.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-23

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Alcohol Retail Privatization and Health

I had a conversation recently about alcohol retail store privatization where I mentioned that there is quite a bit of research linking privatization of previously public sector alcohol retail outlets and increased incidence of adverse events, especially in alcohol dependent people. Since I’ve forgotten who it was I had this conversation with, here are three studies on this issue, dear conversation partner:

From British Columbia, where a 2002 decision by a new BC Liberal government to greatly expand private liquor stores was studied. Here’s a link to the full study ($$) and the press release is below:

Excerpting from the study abstract:

Findings  The total number of liquor stores per 1000 residents was associated significantly and positively with population rates of alcohol-related death (P < 0.01). A conservative estimate is that rates of alcohol-related death increased by 3.25% for each 20% increase in private store density. The percentage of liquor stores in private ownership was also associated independently with local rates of alcohol-related death after controlling for overall liquor store density (P < 0.05). Alternative models confirmed significant relationships between changes in private store density and mortality over time.

Conclusions  The rapidly rising densities of private liquor stores in British Columbia from 2003 to 2008 was associated with a significant local-area increase in rates of alcohol-related death.

From Alberta: A study linking greater alcohol privatization with increased alcohol related suicides.

We examine the impact of privatization of retail sale of alcohol in Alberta, Canada, between 1985 and 1995 on mortality rates from suicide. Privatization took place in three stages: The opening of privately owned wine stores in 1985, the opening of privately owned cold beer stores and the selling of spirits and wine in hotels in the rural area in 1989–90, and finally privatization of all liquor stores in 1994. Interrupted time series analysis with Auto Regressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA) modeling was applied to male and female suicide rates to assess the impact of the three stages of privatization. The analyses demonstrated that most of the privatization events resulted in either temporary or permanent increases in suicide mortality rates. Other alcohol-related factors, including consumption levels and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) membership rates, also affected suicide mortality rates. These analyses suggest that privatization in Alberta has acted to increase suicide mortality rates in that province.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive review of 17 studies, which was conducted by the American Centres for Disease Control (CDC).



A total of 17 studies assessed the impact of privatizing retail alcohol sales on the per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive alcohol consumption; 9 of these studies also examined the effects of privatization on the per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages that were not privatized. One cohort study in Finland assessed the impact of privatizing the sales of medium-strength beer (MSB) on self-reported alcohol consumption. One study in Sweden assessed the impact of re-monopolizing the sale of MSB on alcohol-related harms. Across the 17 studies, there was a 44.4% median increase in the per capita sales of privatized beverages in locations that privatized retail alcohol sales (interquartile interval: 4.5% to 122.5%). During the same time period, sales of nonprivatized alcoholic beverages decreased by a median of 2.2% (interquartile interval: -6.6% to -0.1%). Privatizing the sale of MSB in Finland was associated with a mean increase in alcohol consumption of 1.7 liters of pure alcohol per person per year. Re-monopolization of the sale of MSB in Sweden was associated with a general reduction in alcohol-related harms.


According to Community Guide rules of evidence, there is strong evidence that privatization of retail alcohol sales leads to increases in excessive alcohol consumption.

This Mothers against Drunken Driving (MADD) document has a comprehensive bibliography, so does the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

I would characterize myself as part of the majority of people who believe their alcohol consumption is well under control, and as a consequence, does not mind the proliferation of liquor stores open till late, on Sundays, and running promotions. But as a public health issue, the huge costs of alcohol consumption are well known and extensively studied. It is surprising that jurisdictions rush headlong into liquor privatization when this kind of literature showing clear correlation (and good causal relations) between increased retail privatization and adverse outcomes for vulnerable populations is out there.


  1. Stockwell, Tim, Jinhui Zhao, Scott Macdonald, Kate Vallance, Paul Gruenewald, William Ponicki, Harold Holder, and Andrew Treno. “Impact on Alcohol-related Mortality of a Rapid Rise in the Density of Private Liquor Outlets in British Columbia: a Local Area Multi-level Analysis.” Addiction 106, no. 4 (2011): 768–776.
  2. Zalcman, Rosely Flam, and Robert E. Mann. “Effects of Privatization of Alcohol Sales in Alberta on Suicide Mortality Rates, The.” Contemporary Drug Problems 34 (2007): 589.
  3. Hahn, Robert A., Jennifer Cook Middleton, Randy Elder, Robert Brewer, Jonathan Fielding, Timothy S. Naimi, Traci L. Toomey, Sajal Chattopadhyay, Briana Lawrence, and Carla Alexia Campbell. “Effects of Alcohol Retail Privatization on Excessive Alcohol Consumption and Related Harms: A Community Guide Systematic Review.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 42, no. 4 (April 2012): 418–427.
  4. Provincial Liquor Boards: Meeting the Best Interests of Canadians. Mothers Against Drunken Driving (MADD), 2012.
  5. Alcohol Retail Monopolies and Privatization of Retail Sales. Centre for Addiction  and Mental Health, 2010.
Wine image from public domain used under a creative commons licence.

Lasers shooting into irises

I did not think my first minor surgery would involve someone shooting lasers to make holes in my iris. It sounds like more fun than it actually was, but was mostly painless and here I am, looking at a computer screen 3 hours later. My eyes feel like they’ve had about 5 hours of sleep, which is good considering they’re now sporting two brand new drain holes.

Laser iridotomy is also performed prophylactically(preventively) on asymptomatic individuals with narrow angles and those with pigment dispersion. Individuals with a narrow angle are at higher risk of an acute angle closure, especially upon dilation of the eye

I also just started reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, which is about the use and misuse of the banner of science by a large group of people including nutritionists, pharmaceutical companies and “alternative” treatment specialists. It has a great chapter on the “placebo” effect, how much of it is culturally mediated, and how much doctor demeanour and confidence in their skills and outcome affects results. The doctor shooting holes in my eye was extremely confident in their skills and their results, and normally, my brain would be sending off all kinds of hubris warnings. In this case, their confidence reassured me a bit, and Bad Science definitely helped. It was also interesting to see a large section on homeopathy in the book, since I’ve written about my contact with homeopathy and felt that the cultural practices of a good homeopath can be of some use to people as long as they don’t go too far. The book confirmed some of that.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-16

Canada to stop asbestos mining and stop defending it.

Canada’s long and sorry saga of exporting death (asbestos) and defending it loudly and proudly in international fora is over and I needed to mark this happy day on the blog. The newly elected provincial government in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois have followed through on their campaign promise to finally end this small “industry” employing a few workers. Canada will no longer produce asbestos, or fight the listing of asbestos as a toxic substance.

It is going to take $50 million in government funds, a fraction of the cost of one fighter jet, to transition the workers away (if they get the money, not the mine owners). That’s it, why were we exporting death to India and other countries for this, I don’t know.

Canada’s many conservative and liberal governments fought hard for years to preserve the industry, using techniques lifted from tobacco propaganda, or today’s climate change challenges. I leave you with the ruling Canadian government’s response: Finely tuned to appeal to everyone who likes mesothelioma, cancer and death.

“Mrs. Marois’s decision to prohibit chrysotile mining in Quebec will have a negative impact on the future prosperity of the area,” (Industry Minister) Mr. Paradis said in a statement.

That about sums it up. But, it is a good day for public health, nevertheless.

Citing PQ pressure, Canada to cease defending asbestos mining – The Globe and Mail.

Featured image courtesy wikipedia used under a Creative Commons license (a micrograph of asbestos fibres causing lesions in the lung).

A Bus Corridor for Douglas Street?

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission has set a one-year deadline to have rush-hour, bus-only lanes up and down Douglas Street.

B.C. Transit’s long-range plans call for a $1-billion Light Rapid Transit line between downtown Victoria and Langford in the West Shore. Fortin said bus-only corridors might help forestall the need for that work.

“If it solves our problem by putting some paint on the ground in this dedicated lane, then perfect,” Fortin said. “If it delays our need to invest in Light Rapid Transit for another 10 or 15 years, that’s good, too.”

Interesting and promising. Let’s hope the provincial government in its election year avoidance of all things important can come through with the right of ways required. Also interesting that Dean Fortin explicitly mentions that the success of these bus lanes, a Bus Rapid Transit Lite, could postpone, or even forestall the Light Rail Transit plans. Given the  reluctance of North American governments to invest in any infrastructure other than defence (or roofs for football stadiums), finding $1.1B for LRT in addition to building a sewage treatment plant was going to be difficult.

Let’s see how this develops.

PS: I am tired of posting stuff to facebook where I can’t find it 6 months later. So, quick hits to the blog it is for the foreseeable future (1 day-6 months).


Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-09

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