Category: Environment

Canada and Climate Change Regulation – Politics as Usual

Weasel (from wikipedia)

*Weasel picture courtesy wikipedia

“We need to hear more about the American position, the European position, the Chinese position” before considering the bill, McGuinty told CBC News.

CBC

With that rather weasely statement, Canada’s Liberal Party signalled that it will support a further delay in a vote that would set realistic limits on Canada’s Greenhouse gas emissions. I was too angry yesterday to write a decent post about it, but hey, as my partner often says, “Anger is a positive emotion”. So, here goes.

What is it?
Bill C-311 – The Climate Change Accountability Act. aims to set binding emission targets for greenhouse gas emissions (excluding land use, land use change and forestry) for Canada. Here’s the a short sentence from the preamble:

this legislation is intended to ensure that Canada reduces greenhouse gas emissions to an extent similar to that required by all industrialized countries in order to prevent dangerous climate change, in accordance with the scientific evidence on the impacts of increased levels of global average surface temperature and the corresponding levels of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases;

Okay, ending a long sentence with a semi-colon, strange, but there it is, a very clear and concise statement of fact intending for Canada to set realistic targets for GHG reduction

What are the targets?
25% below 1990 levels by 2020, 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This is in line with IPCC recommendations (pdf) (See page 776, thanks Climate Progress) to stabilize temperature rise to < 2°C and GHG concentrations to 450 ppm CO2 eq.
Hansen, other prominent scientists and activists at 350.org have a more ambitious target in mind, 350 ppm. In comparison, proposed legislation by John Kerry and Barbara Boxer in the US senate would reduce GHG emissions by 20% from 1990 levels, and 80% by 2050. So, this bill proposes targets that are in line with what the world’s greatest polluter (per capita, historical) is proposing and current official consensus. There is a lot of small print in the exemptions, agriculture is a big one on the US side and land use and forestry appear to be a rather significant omission on the Canadian side.

Bottom Line: The targets are exactly what is recommended by the IPCC, are reasonable and in line with what our biggest trading partner has proposed. They need to be strengthened in the near future, but are good for now.

What it doesn’t do
It does not establish a mechanism to bring about these reductions, only specifies that the government come up with scientifically sound interim targets and an emissions reduction regulatory strategy, be it emissions trading, or carbon taxes, etc. That’s fine, given Canada’s balance of powers and separation of province-federal powers, it would be best for an executive approach to regulation writing.

History

Bill C-311 is not new. An identical version passed the House of Commons in 2008 and was stymied by an election call. Since Canada has a bicameral legislature, the bill needed to be passed by the Canadian Senate as well and the election blocked this vote. Right now, it needs a vote to get out of committee and on the floor of the House.

So what happened?
Well, the NDP wanted to get the bill out for vote. The Bloc Quebecois supported them. The Conservatives, in a delaying tactic, wanted to extend the committee study period for another month, citing a “need for more expert testimony”, the Liberals agreed with them and the bill is stalled for now. Why? It is all politics.

The Politics
This is where the story gets interesting, and epitomizes everything that is wrong with Canada’s current political system! Canada is currently (since 2006 and 2 elections on), run by a minority Conservative government. Minority governments work very differently in Canada compared with typical parliamentary democracies such as India, Israel, etc. There are no coalitions, no alliances, especially now since the Conservative party is well to the right of every other party in Parliament. Canada has four other prominent parties, the Liberals, a centrist, business friendly party that has previously governed, the NDP, a left leaning union friendly party, the Green party, an environmental issues and good governance driven party (no seats in parliament), and the Bloc Quebecois, a regional party based in Quebec which wins seats only in Quebec.

For the Conservative party to pass legislation, they need the support of one other party. Of course, to stymie legislation, they can use various parliamentary procedures. This is why C-311 is a private member’s bill, the government, which is vehemently opposed to any meaningful climate change mitigation regulation, would not bring something like this up for vote.

The NDP would like to be responsible for meaningful regulation on climate change as it is in line with their stated principles and also neatly aligns with their desire to be seen as a serious opposition party, and as a party capable of governing at the federal level.

The Liberals, well, they ran their last election on a radical restructuring of the Canadian tax system called the Green Shift. This envisaged a reduction in personal income taxes combined with the establishment of a carbon tax. The Liberals lost the election, and have been a lot more cautious about bringing up environmental issues. I happen to believe that the loss was primarily due to poor election strategy, a leader with the charisma of a freshly painted wall, and a flawed electoral system that allows for too much vote splitting, “wasted” votes and is unrepresentative. But, the media has run with the “it must be the environment” meme, and currently view any environmental legislation as a vote loser. This is in direct contradiction with polling data (pdf) that indicates the opposite to be true.

Anyway, the Liberals appeared to be getting back into the energy game. Their dear leader Michael Ignatieff (@m_ignatieff) recently tweeted about a revolutionary new clean energy plan, which seems sensible enough and forward thinking. Also, the Liberals supported this identical bill last year, and until recently. Here’s the NDP with a collection of helpful quotes from the Liberals on C-311:

“Parliamentarians don’t know where this country is going, as a sovereign nation state, on climate change. The really good news and the good faith behind Bill C-311 is helping to prompt a timely debate of where we’re going in advance of the important Copenhagen negotiation.” – David McGuinty, Environment Committee, June 18, 2009

“[Bill C-311] has been reintroduced under a new MP, a bill that was put forward in the last Parliament by the leader of the NDP. As such, it really has no material changes compared to its predecessor bill.” –David McGuinty, Hansard, March 4, 2009

“It’s very simple: we won’t be taken seriously until we are serious about the environment.” – Speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, October 13, 2009 – MIchael Ignatieff

Unfortunately, the price for success against the government in this half-assed minority government situation is likely an election! Opinion polls indicate that an election held today would likely result in very much the same situation as the last time around, maybe even an increased near majority for the Conservatives.

Nanos_Oct22_poll_291448artw

Image courtesy Globe and Mail

The Conservatives (in blue) have a solid lead over the Liberals (Red) and the NDP (in orange) apparently have a 20% ceiling. In a normal parliamentary system, this would mean an alliance between the NDP and Liberals to win the election pretty handily (note that the votes would not additive, but there is a conservative vote ceiling around 40%). But as long as electoral reform is off the table, and the extremely hidebound Canadian mainstream media does nothing other than bemoan the lack of electoral participation while roundly condemning any alternative that would increase such participation, we are stuck with ths situation in which a Conservative government takes this country slowly rightward where it really does not want to be taken, given that solid majorities are against said conservative policies.

In Conclusion
Canada dithers again on climate change. To the core supporters of the Conservative party, this is as should be. However, for the majority of the country, for the international reputation of the country, and for the political system as a whole, this is an unacceptable delay. The Liberals win no friends by being indecisive and showing no leadership. The NDP is stuck with no amount of “responsible” opposition work giving it any traction in the polls, the political intelligentsia of Canada would not accept an NDP ascendancy. The political system does not reward cooperation. So, we remain stuck, a country of many beautiful words and very little action.

Happy Friday!

* – I like weasels!

US, India and China Talk Climate

The Obama administration is hoping to win new commitments to fight global warming from China and India in back-to-back summits next month, the Guardian has learned, including the first Indian emissions trading scheme.

The US hopes the new commitments will breathe life into the moribund negotiations to seal a global treaty on climate change in Copenhagen in December, by setting out what action each country will take. But many observers say such bilateral deals also risk seriously weakening any Copenhagen agreement by allowing the idea of a global limit on greenhouse gas emissions to be abandoned.

The Guardian

So, as part of Blog Action Day 2009, which is focusing on climate change, I bring you news that the US administration is back, taking some kind of a leadership role in climate change by talking to India and China. The notion that somehow what the US, Europe and Canada do in response to climate change is pointless because China and India are not going to participate is misleadingly inaccurate, sometimes deliberately so. I had written in June about India’s very ambitious solar policy, and China has similar, fairly comprehensive programs on climate change.

The concern that bilateral talks will somehow sabotage the multilateral Copenhagen negotiations is, I think, overstated. More talk is always better, and good things happen when the world’s most high profile polluter signals its willingness to talk, and even initiate talks with countries whose development paths are at a critical stage.

I have not been super hopeful about how things are going to turn out in the next few years. But things have changed quite a bit in the past year. The US appear to have their own climate bill brewing. Europe makes the right noises and has a head start,making the mistakes early. Unfortunately, Canada has given up the ghost thanks to our troglodyte oil man administration. Our main hope now is that the US passes a strong enough bill to affect Canada. Or there is an election leading to a change in administration and Mr Michael Ignatieff and the “liberals” are true to their word on a new, sustainable energy policy.

Canada is now the worst laggard, having extremely high per capita emissions and policy to increase these emissions while actively sabotaging climate talks. We emit a full 2% of all global warming contributors while accounting for about 0.5% of the world’s population. It is understandable given our development path how we got there, but not trying to fix it is criminally negligent and morally bankrupt.

Apparently, the Canadian people could care less, polls indicate that the business as usual administration is increasing its support among Canadians. What is the average Canadian’s responsibility if he/she knowingly supports policy that could lead to mass homelessness, flooding, starvation, wars, species extinction, etc?

On Climate blog action day, I am sad to report that my adoptive country will do nothing but soldier on in its destructive behaviour. No point calling my local MP, she agrees with me!

Al Franken is good for health

You know what's in your food and many beauty products. Senator Al Franken wants to make it possible to see exactly what's in your household cleaning products as well.The Minnesota Democrat introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate requiring producers to fully disclose all ingredients on their product labels, including those suspected of causing long-term harm. Currently the warnings on cleansers are designed to prevent immediate harm due to swallowing, splashing in eyes or other unintended uses.

via Kare 11

It would seem common sense to have information on labels, especially on the harsh and powerful chemicals we use every day. You may not understand what they mean, or how to pronounce the chemical names, but you don’t have to! Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group have extensive information on common high volume chemicals so people can match what they see on the label with what they would like to avoid.

But it is not the law of the land in the US, or Canada for that matter. Al Franken, comedian, talk show host and an intelligent man turned senator would like to change that in the US. Of course, we in Canada would benefit as well.

Chemical manufacturers aren’t having any of this.

There’s always a concern about turning labels into encyclopedias,” Brian Sansoni of the Soap and Detergent Association, in Washington, D.C., told KARE Tuesday.

Pretty insulting, claiming that your consumer does not like encyclopedias, or is not capable of reading and googling.

Information helps drive consumers to safer alternatives. If you see two cleaners, both of which claim to work equally well, a quick read of the ingredients will drive you to the safer (or simpler) choice. Clearly, sale by obfuscation is the preferred marketing strategy here.

If I were American, I would call my senator/congressperson and ask them to support Al Franken.

GE Plumbs the Depths

The very excellent htww blog by Andrew Leonard on Salon brought this “clean coal” video to my attention. It is a year old, but new to us!

Do watch. In a one minute commercial, GE manages to greenwash on clean coal, be incredibly sexist, and, in an act that screams a giant F@#$ You to all involved, use as a soundtrack, a song about the misery of coal mining and the hardship faced by miners. I thought it was a parody, it had to be, apparently, NOT!

Sixteen Tons

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you
Then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

Shame on them.

Nissan goes electric

Nissan Shows Off Its Electric Car, the Leaf – NYTimes.com

What, no Canada? But still,  an electric hatchback, hits all my buttons and dings all my dongs! I only hope to keep my current, explosion powered hatchback long enough to not buy one ever again. Price, of course, will be a consideration. The good news is that Nissan is considering leasing the battery instead of people having to buy it up front, a great idea, not as great as the battery instant replace model from Shai Agassi and Better Place, but one that lessens the battery buying burden.

The future is electric.

Canada's Greatest Scientist

Is apparently someone called Rex Murphy who writes political and social columns for Canada’s premier newspaper, who has done what thousands of scientists all over the world could not do: Solve the issue of global warming by pointing out that Toronto is having a very cool July.

So where’s that global cooling alert? – The Globe and Mail

Now, however, Toronto in July is cool and I am waiting in vain for the lips of just one forecaster to ask how can this be. Waiting just once to hear the familiar phrase “global warming” in a sentence that even hints that the theory behind it is so much more tentative than we have been urged with such fervour to believe.

It was so easy, the solution was in front of us all this time, why did no other scientist not use the obvious connecting equation: Weather (in one’s hometown in July) = Climate?? Damn, there goes my Nobel. Sometimes, it is that easy!

Next week on the Globe and Mail: Isee Flaturtha stands on top of a hill, looks all around, can see nothing but flat land for miles and miles, publishes an opinion piece proving that the Earth is flat and excoriating the so called “Round Earth” scientists.

I am glad that Canada’s best newspaper is open to such great scientific writing. Clearly, Canada’s future is bright.

Climate Talks Sputter

China, India and the other developing nations are upset that commitments to provide financial and technological help made during a U.N. conference in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007 have not translated into anything more tangible.

Mr. Meyer estimated that the United States, Europe and other industrial nations need to come up with $150 billion a year in assistance by 2020 to help develop clean energy technology for developing countries, reduce deforestation that contributes to rising temperatures, and help vulnerable nations adapt to changes attributed to greenhouse gases.

G-8 Nations Fail to Agree on Climate Change Plan – NYTimes.com

Yes, it is true, North America and Europe are responsible for a bulk of the greenhouse gas emissions currently in the atmosphere and need to do the bulk of the work. But it would also behoove India and China to make the right noises. There is no sense that we’re in this together, that we will all be affected, and India and China even more so

Leadership is lacking, the US needs to take a first big step and start things of.

Update

The G8 has agreed to sign on to a limit on warming of 2°C rise in global temperature. Well, how do you get there without reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, which we apparently can’t agree to do? It’s like saying you need to go a 100km more on a road trip, but refusing to agree to fill gas.

There is a chicken and egg problem here. The famously resistant to change US system is working through a climate bill. The world is waiting to see what will happen, but the version of the bill passed by Congress is not strong enough to avert a 2°C rise unless China and India are as aggressive and there is massive technological shift away from fossil fuels. The US system is waiting for signals from the world, reasoning they don’t want to act first and unilaterally. It’s all nice game theory for people watching from the sidelines, but life’s a little more serious…

BC and Carbon

As BC’s Carbon Tax enters the terrible twos, and is the subject of stupid headlines in the CBC trumpeting a 1.5c/L increase in gasoline price (smaller than the price difference between a pump in the Saanich Peninsula and outside), it is worthwhile to see what the rest of the province’s carbon strategy is, or isn’t doing.

Metro – B.C. looks to carbon capture to balance clean-air targets with energy revenues

Economic realities and environmental promises are creating an explosive mixture for the recession-fighting B.C. government as it juggles expansion in its oil and gas industry with the need to cut greenhouse gases.

Massive untapped gas fields in northeastern British Columbia hold billions in potential revenues, but environmentalists are watching to see if Premier Gordon Campbell will stick to his promise to fight global warming by cutting emissions by one-third by 2020.

This is one of the issues with relying solely on a carbon tax to reduce GHG emissions, it is inadequate. A carbon tax is a consumption tax levied at the point of sale, not at the point of production. The BC government has gotten a lot of positive press for the carbon tax, but it is reliant on natural gas and oil to bring in some revenue. After all, the lumber industry is dying with the US housing bust, and something needs to get the province out of deficit as the BC government will not countenance any tax increases whatsoever.

The weakness of the province’s carbon plan is best typified by quotes from a couple of fossil fuel executives/government officials:

“The question is, if I were to make this big investment, who’s going to pay me to do that so I can generate a return for my shareholders? Weilinger asks.

Horne agrees there is no business case for oil and gas companies to justify carbon capture projects to shareholders, but says industry needs to support greenhouse gas reductions.

The notion that industry will somehow support reductions is hilariously disingenuous. Carbon capture and storage is an untested and expensive technology even when it comes to sources where all the CO2 comes out of one tailpipe, like a power plant. The notion that it can be used in an activity as widespread and diffuse as oil/gas drilling is laughable. The best way for these companies can be forced to make their mining more GHG emission friendly is to price their actions according to their GHG production footprint, something a differently designed carbon price would do.

BC’s carbon tax, in my book, was a shrewdly designed political maneuver to undercut traditional environmentalist support for the opposition NDP, which very “smartly” took the bait and campaigned against it in a recent election earning howls of disgust from the mainstream environmental movement.

When it actually comes to cleaning up and taking actions that will actually reduce the province’s GHG footprint, the government is found wanting, as expected.

American Idiot

But Mr. Peterson, when asked by reporters Tuesday about the report’s findings, said they run counter to what many in his region are experiencing

“We’ve just had the biggest floods and coldest winters we’ve ever had,” he said. “They’re saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it’s going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that’s a good thing since they’ll be able to grow more corn.”

Farm Belt Lawmakers Challenge Climate Bill – WSJ.com

So, it appears that every party in power South of the Border needs an influential legislator making ridiculous statements deliberately confusing weather and climate to derail even the weak sauce that is passing through the US congress right now.

Millions of people are in the process of becoming climate refugees while this “Corn”gressman and his big agriculture cronies dither, lie and weaken climate change action.

At what point in time does deliberate obstruction of action that will save lives and homes become sabotage and assault?

Volcanos and Climate Geoengineering

The first thing that occurred to me when I heard about the Sarychev eruption was whether it was going to be large enough to inject significant quantities of sulphate aerosol into the stratosphere. Apparently, it is.

Sarychev Eruption Generates Large Cloud of Sulfur Dioxide

When sulfur dioxide reacts with water vapor, it creates sulfate ions (the precursors to sulfuric acid), which are very reflective. Powerful volcanic eruptions can inject sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, beyond the reach of cleansing rainfall. At these altitudes, the sulfates can linger for months or years, cooling the climate by reflecting incoming sunlight. (The effect is stronger when the eruptions occur at tropical latitudes.) Carn says the persistence of such high concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the OMI data throughout the week indicates that the plume from Sarychev Peak reached high altitudes. Data from other satellites (such as CALIPSO) suggest that the volcanic plume reached altitudes of 10–15 kilometers, and perhaps as high as 21 kilometers.

In 1991, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines injected enough sulphate into the atmosphere to cause a 0.5° C drop in global temperature. This was caused by about 20 million tonnes of SO2. We are nowhere close to these kind of emission levels. After all, Pinatubo was one of the two biggest volcanic events of the century.

Injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere has been proposed for a while now, I first wrote about it in 2006 when a prominent atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen wrote an article proposing this. The science behind this proposal is basic, sulphate aerosols of the size that would be formed from the oxidation of SO2 are the right size to scatter and reflect solar radiation back into space (my Masters thesis did a first order estimate of this effect from Indian emissions!). If injected directly into the stratosphere, they can stay there for a long time and will not deposit to the the Earth’s surface as acid rain. The issue is managing all the crazy regional variations in climate that would result, and the attendant complications in assigning blame, etc. It would also not help the oceans, which would acidify to hell with all the CO2.

Anyway, so much for that, the volcano is causing all kinds of havoc with Pacific travel and making for all kinds of cool pictures, which are about the most interesting thing happening at this point in time. We shall see how the sulphate situation plays out in the days to come when the dust settles.