Friday, September 30, 2016

Justin and Christy's Pipe Dream

What have those two been smoking? Justin Trudeau, Christy Clark and the stoner's dream of vast wealth to be had flogging liquid natural gas (fracked) to Asia.

It culminated in a photo-op vaguely reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz. There was natural resources minister, Jim Carr, as the scarecrow.  Fisheries minister Dominic Leblanc as the tin man. EnviroMin, Dame Catherine McKenna, as Dorothy, and, in their midst, Christy Clark as the cowardly lion. They were all bundled up to Richmond, B.C. to stage the announcement of federal approval for the Petronas/Lelu island LNG project.

The announcement sparked a wave of criticism and anger, especially among British Columbians growing a bit tired of Justin's bullshit.

But I suppose Trudeau must have thought it was worth it. Wait, what's that? Petronas, the Malaysian energy giant behind the project, confirms it's looking to get out of the deal.

Petroliam Nasional, or Petronas, is weighing options for the project as its finances have been squeezed after crude oil prices have collapsed by more than 50 per cent since mid-2014.

Additionally, the economics of the project have been called into question as LNG prices for delivery into the main markets in northeast Asia have slumped more than 70 per cent over nearly the same time period.

...Other options are also being considered, including putting it on ice, as finding a buyer in current market conditions would be difficult.

Petronas signed on for the project in 2012 through acquisition of Canada's Progress Energy. That year, LNG prices climbed as high as $18.17 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), but have fallen to $5.75 per mmBtu since then.

Were these nitwits in Ottawa and Victoria blindsided by Petronas? Now they're left with egg on their faces, looking like a gang of naive incompetents. Okay, maybe more than just "looking like."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Next Time Your Surly Old Uncle Insists Climate Change Isn't Man Made

Here's a complete answer to those annoying gits who claim that climate change isn't man made.

Step One

Show them this list.

Global warming and severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; both cyclical and sustained droughts and floods; sea level rise; ocean acidification; deforestation; desertification; the freshwater crisis; the accelerating loss of biodiversity; pest and disease migration; species extinction and migration, especially the collapse of global fisheries; accumulating waste and pollution of all descriptions; the energy crisis including the transition to clean alternative energy; nuclear proliferation; the spread of terrorism and organized crime; overpopulation and unsustainable consumption of natural resources.

Step Two

Ask them to select, out of the 8.7 million species of eukaryotic life on Earth, one species without which none of these catastrophes would have happened. Just one.

It's the one that has exhausted once viable fertile farmland around the planet, turning it into sterile desert. It's the same one that has destroyed vast swathes of the Earth's forests. The same one that has rapaciously destroyed one global fishery after another. It's the same species that has spawned nuclear proliferation, terrorism and organized crime. The same one that has grown in numbers from a record one billion to a record seven plus billion in less than three centuries. That's the species that is driving global warming and climate change. That's the species without which Earth wouldn't be in this mess.

That's mankind.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

This time it's Windsor, Ontario. Insurers won't carry the losses any longer. Governments are expected to make good "once in a century" calamities that now arrive every few years. That can't last. It won't.

Welcome to the Anthropocene.

The Tyee Asks - Has Justin Out-Harpered the Conservatives?

I'm sorry to you Liberal faithful but it's a more than fair question. What happened to all that stuff about the Liberals being progressive? Oh dear.

The key players in Stephen Harper’s government would have been high-fiving after the month Justin Trudeau’s is finishing up.

In September, the Liberal government took a hard line stance with a public union, held steady to the Conservatives’ greenhouse gas targets, approved a liquefied natural gas plant and pipeline assailed by environmentalists and Indigenous groups, and some say signalled it may extend, rather than curtail, powers to spy on citizens granted by the Harper government’s controversial Bill C-51.

For good measure, Trudeau’s Liberals also suggested making it easier for businesses to bring more temporary foreign workers to Canada, taking a position even Harper had backed away from after abuses of the federal program hit the headlines. The Conservatives tightened restrictions on who can hire foreign workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Earlier this month, a Liberal-dominated Parliamentary committee released a report recommending easier access to the program for businesses. 
If you're a devout Liberal, I feel deeply sorry for you. After the better part of a decade spent fearlessly castigating Stephen Harper for these very same things, now it's your boy who is carrying on Shifty Steve's mission. How must that make you feel?

Who Needs the Pundits' Take When We've Got Samantha Bee

The presidential debate in a nutshell

Let's Stop Digging this Hole

Shortly after I started my blog, 2005 if I recall correctly, I began putting together a list of the major challenges confronting mankind, indeed all life on Earth. Let me see if I can recall it from memory - global warming and severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; both cyclical and sustained droughts and floods; sea level rise; ocean acidification; deforestation; desertification; the freshwater crisis; the accelerating loss of biodiversity; pest and disease migration; species extinction and migration, especially the collapse of global fisheries; accumulating waste and pollution of all descriptions; the energy crisis including the transition to clean alternative energy; nuclear proliferation; the spread of terrorism and organized crime; overpopulation and unsustainable consumption of natural resources.

As I assembled my list I realized all of these problems had to be connected, inter-related. I would regularly challenge my readers to identify the common threads that ran through them even as I lacked the answers myself.

Slowly it emerged that what linked all of these troubles and woes was the manner in which we, mankind, had become organized - socially, politically, economically, industrially, even militarily. Go back to the pre-industrial era, remove just one species, and none of these existential threats occurs. Turn the clock back 200 years, eliminate humanity from the mix, and the world would continue in a state of natural equilibrium. The world would remain in the gentle geological epoch called the Holocene. Eliminate but one of the 8.7 million eukaryotic species of life on Earth. Just one. Wowser.

What flowed from that epiphany was the realization that our modes of organization - social, economic, political and industrial - had outlived their utility to mankind even as they increasingly served the narrow interests of a very small and select group of humans. We had created our own plague.

In Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse," I found the compelling argument that we face a host of existential threats that are so powerfully yet subtly interconnected that, to have any hope of solving any of them, we had to accept the remedies necessary to solve them all. If you've got five guns pointed at your head, removing the bullets from one or two won't be of much help.

The problem with our modes of organization was how well they served mankind across most of the span from the industrial revolution until quite recently. Much of it was rooted in our mastery of cheap energy - first wind power, then coal and finally oil. Without that there would have been no industrial revolution. But thanks to people like Watts we were able to redesign civilization, expand and grow. Growth of every description.

Here's an example. It took until the early 1800s (1814 is often used) for mankind to grow to one billion in number. That's almost all of the 11,000 year history of civilization. Then look what happened. Just one century later that number had doubled. When I was born, a few years after the end of WWII, the global population stood at just over 2.5 billion. Today, in the span of less than one lifetime, we've trebled that again to 7+ billion heading, we're told, to 9 billion or more. There aren't many lifeforms that grow that way - bacteria and cancer the exceptions.

Our modes of organization facilitated this incredible growth and, in the process, achieved a powerful inertia that propels them along today. We still cling tenaciously to this dogma of perpetual GDP growth. Even Adam Smith, in his 1776 classic, "The Wealth of Nations," knew that the sort of growth we pursue today could not last more than a century or two before we would have to revert to some form of "steady state" economy.

Every prime minister that I know of has been a faithful disciple of growth. In the west we've settled on 3% annual growth as the ideal. What madness. I can illustrate this by using any of the compound interest calculators on the internet.

Let's start with Year One. The total GDP in Year One is 1. Now let's grow that by 3% per annum. Year Two will be 3% greater than Year One. Year Three will be 3% greater than Year Two and so on.

Let's assume an adult lifespan to be 50 years - 30 to 40 years of working, the remainder retirement. Over the course of that first 50 year term the economy at 3% annual growth would swell by a factor of 4.38. That's 4.4 times as much economic activity. 4.4 times as much production. 4.4 times as much consumption. 4.4 times as much waste and pollution. Wow, that's really something - 438% growth in GDP.

Add another adult lifespan, make it a full 100 years. At the end of that century of 3% annual growth, GDP would have grown to 19.22 times the entire GDP of Year One. How about 3 adult lifespans? Now you're up to 84.25 times bigger than Year One. 4 lifespans? You're up 369.26 fold. 370 times as much economic activity as you had in Year One. 370 times as much production and consumption. 370 times as much waste and pollution. Just for a giggle, how about three centuries of 3% annual growth. Brace yourselves. The GDP in Year 300 would be 7,098.5 times bigger than it was when you began at Year One.

The biggest problem with even modest exponential growth is that we have a decidedly finite planet, our one and only biosphere, Spaceship Earth. It's all we got, you and me and every other living creature. Just the one.

Some time in the early 1970s we hit a wall, the point at which human consumption of Earth's renewable resources - air, water, biomass - exceeded our planet's carrying capacity. Since then we've been in a state of what scientists have named "overshoot." They've even pegged Earth Overshoot Day. When I first stumbled upon it, Earth Overshoot Day fell in late October. Yet we've been rapidly increasing our consumption, rapaciously wading through the planet's resource reserves, something called "eating your seed corn." This year Earth Overshoot Day had moved up to early August. That means we exhaust the Earth's production of renewables on August 8th and go after the seed corn for the remaining five months of the year. We're getting to the point where we need 1.7 planet Earths worth of resources. Sort of like taking home $1,000 a month and spending $1,700. It doesn't end well.

The worst part isn't that we're doing this. It's that we have made ourselves absolutely dependent on doing it. We can't stop. We have neither the political will nor the public will to doing anything but continue, year by year, ever faster. Sort of like the closing scene in Thelma and Louise where you've just slammed the pedal to the metal as the cliff edge draws ever closer.

So what are the solutions? I could say there aren't any. I thought that until a friend put me on to Thomas Homer-Dixon and his 2006 book, "The Upside of Down." THD is a professor and the former head of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.

Like me, Homer-Dixon doesn't see any easy way out of our predicament. There are too many tectonic forces in play, building a negative synergy, and nearing confluence. We've left it too late to stop what's coming. This eminently level-headed thinker sees two options. One is Jared Diamond's hypothesis, collapse. The other is something akin to a civilizational equivalent of a crash landing -  seat tray and back in the upright position, shoes off, bend over and brace for impact sort of thing. THD thinks, if we prepare for it correctly, this landing could be hard but survivable. He argues that we have to accept decline as a best-possible outcome, certainly preferable to outright collapse. He sees it as a way to discover our "reset" button and liberate ourselves from what I have described as our outdated modes of organization. We have to start anew, re-invent our civilization. That, among other things, means a new form of capitalism, a rebirth of democracy.

Homer-Dixon's caution, however, is that to have much chance of a survivable, crash landing we must do the essential preparation in advance which starts with acknowledging what confronts us and resolving to prepare for it. We're not there yet, not even close.

Maybe the way forward begins by having these conversations. I hope so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Clinton Bags More Endorsements

The Washington Post endorsed Clinton for president weeks before the first debate. The New York Times took a little longer but came to the same conclusion. Okay, it is Donald Trump after all. Not a tough call.

But what about reliably Republican newspapers? Papers like the venerable Arizona Republic? It's never endorsed a Democrat - until now.

"Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles. This year is different. The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified," the editorial in the Republic, the state's largest, says.

The Arizona Republic isn't some outlier either. Other conservative papers including the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and the Cincinnati Enquirer have also rallied to Clinton.

The BBC notes that Trump has yet to receive the endorsement of a single major publication. Not one.

We Broke Through - And We're Here to Stay

There was a great stir a couple of years back when atmospheric CO2 levels first spiked through the 400 ppm mark, a harbinger for ever more global warming to come. It was an on/off thing affected by seasonal change. It was - back then.

It's no longer an on/off thing. We've passed 400 ppm and we're going to stay past it for the rest of your natural life and then a bit more.

In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million (ppm).

That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

September is usually the month when carbon dioxide is at its lowest after a summer of plants growing and sucking it up in the northern hemisphere. As fall wears on, those plants lose their leaves, which in turn decompose, releasing the stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. At Mauna Loa Observatory, the world’s marquee site for monitoring carbon dioxide, there are signs that the process has begun but levels have remained above 400 ppm.

Now keep this to yourself. We don't want you telling Justin, not after he's just tossed a giant carbon bomb in British Columbia. And we wouldn't want to rattle him when he's about to rubber stamp our corrupt National Energy Board's approval of the Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline. That would never do.

Welcome To the Age of the Id

It's the sleaziest, most despicable and effective political weapon to be had. It's fear or, more specifically, fearmongering. It's gotten Donald Trump to the point where he's a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton for the presidency. It's worked magic for ambitious thugs in Europe and elsewhere.

If you take a look around the world right now, it’s hard to escape the feeling that
Donald Trump is the candidate who’s in sync with the zeitgeist. It’s a deeply depressing thought. But Clinton ignores it at her peril.

Much of the world currently finds itself in the grip of dark emotions. The democracies of the West seem to be suffering from a collective nervous breakdown. Anxiety about sluggish economic growth is fusing with fears about terrorism and migration to devastating effect. There’s a widespread sense that remote political elites are completely out of touch with the anxieties of ordinary voters.

In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson deftly exploited these fears in their campaign to persuade Britons to leave the EU; Johnson has now become the U.K.’s foreign minister. France’s Marine Le Pen, who has made a career out of channeling resentment against immigrants, has a real shot at becoming her country’s next president. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has vowed to end liberal democracy in his country. Meanwhile, Germans have been voting in droves for a party called the Alternative for Germany, a nativist movement that’s been causing big headaches for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Certainly some of reasons for the current populist revolt have to do with economics — the sense that an age of turbocharged technological change and free trade agreements has left too many behind. But purely economic explanations only go so far. What we’re seeing now around the world can’t always be reduced to rational thinking about economic self-interest.

Take that pesky fact that the illiberal surge has coincided in some countries with positive economic trends. In the U.K., one of the strongest pro-Brexit votes came from Cornwall, the county that has received huge amounts of EU subsidies. For voters there, worries about immigration and the loss of sovereignty to Brussels outweighed the potential damage to their pocketbooks. Poland has posted some of its region’s highest growth rates in the past two decades — but that didn’t dissuade voters from choosing a populist right-wing government with a disturbingly authoritarian streak last year. Clearly, growth wasn’t enough. The same goes for the Philippines, where a long-running economic boom has fueled a rise in crime, corruption, and government dysfunction, thus creating the perfect opening for Duterte.

Welcome to the age of the id. More than any other generation in human history, we currently inhabit a world of constant and unrelenting change, and many people are quite naturally responding with uncertainty and fear. They’re not looking primarily for someone who’s proposing rational policy fixes — they’re looking for security, reassurance, and trust, impulses that are all too often salved by strident promises of tribalism or nationalism.

In this world, voters are all too ready to reject the calm voices of reason and experience and to opt instead for a desperate leap into the arms of the demagogue, the leader who promises protection from all the messy turbulence of a world in constant flux. Voters gravitate to strongmen — and note that most of the leaders I’ve mentioned above are democratically elected — when they feel the need for protection: from change, from instability, from “the other.”

To his credit, our current prime minister has steered clear of the politics of fear. That was his predecessor's favourite flavour of political intercourse and it remains the stock in trade of upcoming Tories like Kellie Leitch. Yet the world serves as a powerful warning of what may be in store for Canadians if some effort isn't made at pushback. 

Couldn't They Have Placed a Conference Call?

The timing couldn't have been much creepier. One day after the federal government announced approval of a major LNG "carbon bomb" in British Columbia, experts are gathering at the White House for the first, Arctic science ministerial meeting to focus on climate change and the far north.

America, thanks to Alaska is a genuine Arctic nation. I think Canada is too, eh? So, while we're tossing carbon bombs, the great minds in Washington are delivering a blunt message - "we've run out of time." Note that's not future tense. It's present tense as in, "we've run out."

In anticipation of the meeting, the Columbia Climate Center hosted a workshop in July in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and other NGOs, which produced a white paper called 'A 5 C Arctic in a 2 C World.'

"We've run out of time," says Peter Schlosser, the centre's director and lead author of the paper.

Simply implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change — which was hashed out in a major international conference in late 2015 — will not be enough, he argues.

At some point we need to realize that Canada's government - yes, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau - is caught in the throes of cognitive dissonance. It believes Canada can expand our fossil fuel production while pretending to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It's a joke, a lethal jest, but, then again, don't we all know that?

It's too bad Obama hasn't invited Justin to his party. Would a conference call have been too much to expect?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

But, Surely, That's the Whole Point

The CBC's blaring headline, "Ottawa fails to protect law-abiding Canadians from security surveillance, watchdog warns."

The federal government is failing to protect the privacy of law-abiding Canadians under a sweeping new information-sharing regime, warns Canada's privacy watchdog.

The privacy commissioner said there was no proper evaluation before key parts of that law went into effect — and not enough oversight now to keep the new powers in check.

...Therrien warned the potential for large-scale sharing combined with technological advances could allow personal information to be "analyzed algorithmically to spot trends, predict behaviour and potentially profile ordinary Canadians with a view to identifying security threats among them."

I don't think the government or its surveillance apparatus sees itself as "failing" at anything. After all, how are they to know that we're really "law-abiding Canadians" without keeping an eye on us? Besides if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to worry about, eh?

Each of us is now just one big Facebook page to our government and its cohorts and it's logical that those who abuse your privacy will get increasingly more careful at covering their tracks.

It's pretty hard to give the prime minister's surveillance cadre the benefit of the doubt when they're so unwilling to afford us the same.

Give Justin a Break.

Maybe I've been too hard on Justin Trudeau. Maybe, despite some troubling indications to the contrary, Canada remains a genuine, liberal democracy. Maybe, in the face of the gravest threat to civilization in the history of mankind, it's okay for our prime minister to look the other way. Maybe we're the problem, not him.

I've been pretty critical of this prime minister whom I've called "Slick" drawing the ire of some true believers. I called the last guy much worse - Shifty, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub. I think Slick is fair. The guy is a bit of a hustler, master of the photo op, form over substance.

The current prime minister began with great flair and promise. He showed he could do all the easy things, the "feel good" stuff, even if it was the low-hanging fruit. No problems there.

It was when it came to the hard stuff that he proved a disappointment.

The Saudi death wagons deal. He shamed Canada with that one even if it did elevate us, temporarily to be sure, to the 2nd largest weapons supplier to that den of murderous iniquity, the Middle East.

Then, for obvious partisan purposes, he had his legislative cadre back the Tory motion to censure BDS. Can you imagine his father putting up with that? Can you imagine his dad bending his knee to become Netanyahu's bootlicker?

Bill C-51 that completed Canada's transformation into a surveillance state. Yeah, he backed that bit of Harperian perfidy too. The Privacy Commissioner is giving the young whelp a caning over that one today.

Did I mention the TPP and CETA?

Then there's Canada's fossil fuel industry that, under Harper's petro-statehood, achieved both political and regulatory capture. Parliament still remains indentured to the fossil giants who have retained their control of the regulator, the National Energy Board, despite the current prime minister's election promise to clean house. His heel-dragging is so reminiscent of his immediate predecessor.

The biggie, of course, is climate change - the greatest threat to civilization in the history of mankind. We mocked Harper when he unveiled Canada's targets for greenhouse gas emissions. Harper richly deserved our contempt. He promised to reduce emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030 while, like every government before his, doing bugger all to achieve that thin-gruel target.

But, of course, this is a new day and we're not bound by Harper's miserly targets any more. Sunny ways, my friends. Except the former prime minister's laughable targets are now the current prime minister's laughable targets and we're not even on track to meet that commitment. Hardy, har, har to you, sucker.

This issue, the most important, is also the most dangerous politically, especially to a prime minister who shuns the tough calls. Slick just does not seem up to this job.

There's a problem. Actually doing something that will curb Canada's greenhouse gas emissions to any significant degree is going to be painful. Like it or not, we've allowed our country to become a petro-state which creates all sorts of political and economic vulnerabilities. As reported in The Globe last February:

Last Friday, Environment and Climate Change Canada, as the federal department has been renamed, very quietly posted its latest GHG projections for 2020 and 2030. They aren’t good.

In 2020, emissions will hit 768 megatonnes of carbon dioxide – way above Canada’s target of 622. By 2030, they will have jumped to 815 megatonnes, compared with a target for that year of 524.

...Justin Trudeau came to power with a promise to cut GHG emissions and put a price on carbon. He made a show of attending the Paris climate talks in December, where he got a warm welcome. But that was the easy part. Now he has to find ways to reverse the runaway emissions train that Canada has been riding for years.

Decisions by some provinces to put a price on carbon, through taxes or a cap-and-trade system, should slow the increase in GHG emissions. Higher oil prices that reduce consumption might also help. But to produce the kind of sharp drop needed between now and 2030, Canada will have to amputate, not nip and tuck.

GHG emissions from the oil sands, for instance, will amount to half the increase in total emissions between now and 2030.

...The next four years in the fight against climate change will be critical ones. It’s put-up or shut-up time. Canada must finally meet its targets, while growing the economy at the same time. And it’s Mr. Trudeau who has to get that done.

There's your problem. Trudeau is going to have to wear this. Harper dodged this bullet. Trudeau either has to catch it with his teeth or find his own way to dodge it at the expense of Canada and future generations.

I do sympathize with Slick. It's no fun having to inflict real pain on a populace whose support you're going to need in just a few years time. It would be a different matter if there was some great groundswell from the public calling for strong action to sharply curb emissions only there isn't. Weaning an unwilling public off fossil fuels is going to leave a lot of people sullen or even angry. 

The government pretty much stands alone. It's got the environmentalists on one side and they're steamed at the pathetic reductions target and the even more pathetic efforts demonstrated by the government to date. On the other side it has a bunch of premiers, a couple whose provinces are economically dependent on the fossil fuel industry; it has the industry itself that has managed to embed itself both within the legislature and the national regulator; and it has a public that has shown scant interest in the sort of sacrifices that even the meagre targets would create. Can you define "double bind hypothesis"?

It's a hell of a predicament for a relatively spineless prime minister.

Harper's Folly Goes Back to Work

No, it's not Mike Duffy and it's sure as hell not Bruce Carson or the gaggle of backroom miscreants. It's senator Patrick Brazeau and, after three years in exile, he's going back to work today.

Who Won?

New York Times columnist, Dave Leonhardt, sums up last night's presidential debate succinctly:

He lied about the loan his father once gave him.

He lied about his company’s bankruptcies.

He lied about his federal financial-disclosure forms.

He lied about his endorsements.

He lied about “stop and frisk.”

He lied about “birtherism.”

He lied about New York.

He lied about Michigan and Ohio.

He lied about Palm Beach, Fla.

He lied about Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve.

He lied about the trade deficit.

He lied about Hillary Clinton’s tax plan.

He lied about her child-care plan.

He lied about China devaluing its currency.

He lied about Mexico having the world’s largest factories.

He lied about the United States’s nuclear arsenal.

He lied about NATO’s budget.

He lied about NATO’s terrorism policy.

He lied about ISIS.

He lied about his past position on the Iraq War.

He lied about his past position on the national debt.

He lied about his past position on climate change.

He lied about calling pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers.

He lied about calling women “pigs.”

He lied about calling women “dogs.”

He lied about calling women “slobs.”

So… who won the debate?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Well, That Makes a Lot of Sense

How do you get someone who is suicidal to change her ways? Wait, I know. How about 14-days in solitary confinement? Yeah, sure, a little mental torture should fix everything right up.

Military officials have sentenced Manning to 14 days in The Hole for her July suicide attempt. Manning was convicted on 3 counts of misconduct including interfering with the serenity of the glasshouse where she's serving her 35-year sentence.

During the hearing, which Manning said took four hours, she was not allowed access to an attorney or advocate. No publicly available record or transcript of the hearing exists apart from Manning’s own description.

Chris Hedges on Boycott, Divest, Sanction.

It speaks volumes that Justin Trudeau's position on the Boycott/Divest/Sanction movement is in lockstep with Stephen Harper's. Those two and their parties are of one mind. Their kid sister, Elizabeth May, is with them even if her Green Party membership, for now at least, isn't.

Chris Hedges cuts through their bullshit on BDS.

It'll Drive You Nuts

I took some time this summer to look into the mental health effects of climate change. I put together a collection of links. Serious stuff - the Lancet, American Psychological Association, Center for Disease Control, that sort of thing.

It began with the burnout phenomenon. Professionals, scientists, directly and indirectly involved with climate change, month after month, who just can't handle it and flee to industry or some backwater community college to protect what's left of their sanity. Plenty of horror stories there.

Then it was on to the public at large - first those already savaged by severe weather events such as floods, droughts, heatwaves or cyclonic storms, the post-traumatic stress disorder crowd. That led me to an even larger group. This last group has not yet been hammered by climate change but they see it coming and it preys on their minds. They're being called the "pre-traumatic stress disorder" victims. Climate change will drive you nuts.

Then, this morning, there it was in the Toronto Star - "Climate change is wreaking havoc on our mental health, experts say." Yep.

As a provincial coroner and past palliative care physician, Dr. David Ouchterlony has seen suffering and death up close, experiences that have occasionally led to brief moments of sadness. But Ouchterlony describes such emotions as “trivial” compared to the dread he feels when thoughts about climate change linger, as they often do. He worries almost obsessively about a future he won’t see. How will younger generations be affected? Why are we failing to act on the threat?

“I was completely blind to it, and then five years ago it just hit me,” Ouchterlony, 74, said. “I went through this stage of losing sleep, thinking about my grandchild, wondering what I could do.”

He described the feeling as an “absence of hope” characterized by despair and, at times, exhausting guilt. Some researchers have called it a “pre-traumatic” stress disorder that, in some, is feeding anxiety and depressive thoughts.

Even the US National Wildlife Federation has weighed in.

“We may not currently be thinking about how heavy the toll on our psyche will be, but, before long, we will know only too well,” warned a 2012 report from the U.S. National Wildlife Federation.

It predicted that cases of mental and social disorders will rise steeply as the signs of climate change become clearer and more frequent, and as more people are directly affected by heat waves, drought and other extreme events that put pressure on clean water resources, food prices and public infrastructure.

“These will include depressive and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides and widespread outbreaks of violence,” predicted the report. It singled out children, the poor, the elderly and those with existing mental health problems as those likely to be hardest hit.

“People may, indeed, suffer from anxiety about climate change but not know it. They will have a vague unease about what is happening around them, the changes they see in nature, the weather events and the fact that records are being broken month after month. But they won’t be sufficiently aware of the source, and furthermore, we all conflate and layer one anxiety upon another.”

Bear in mind that what we're seeing, what is making its way into the professional research and analysis, is all the "early onset" stuff. We're now at 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. With the greenhouse gases we have already emitted we've "locked in" 1.5C of warming but it may take a decade or two to manifest. Every extra tank of SUV juice we burn adds to that 1.5C which is why we're looking at a realistic 3+ degrees Celsius of warming by the time we get around to banning fossil fuels. But there's a kicker. That is man-made global warming. That's our part.

What's not factored in to those numbers are sources of natural warming that have been triggered by the man-made component. The loss of Arctic sea ice, the retreat of glaciers and especially the Greenland ice sheet, the warming (and acidifying) oceans, the release of lakebed and seabed methane, major shifts in atmospheric circulation patterns (jet streams), the thawing of the permafrost - for starters. These are called "natural feedback loops" which are the tipping points we've been warned could trigger runaway global warming. These things that are underway now are the very things we were supposed to avoid triggering.

With this mental health blight setting in, and worsening, we're left with yet another reason to transition Canada - our society and our economy - away from fossil energy as rapidly as possible. Yet our current prime minister, just like the prime minister he replaced, sees it as his solemn and overriding duty to pimp as much bitumen as he can onto world markets. Think of it as Justin Trudeau's way of saying that he really doesn't care what this may be doing to your mind. We have come to the point where we have to choose. No matter how much lipstick he puts on that pig, Trudeau has made his choice.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Brilliant, Simple Idea. The "Dutch Reach"

Check this out. You and every cyclist will be glad you did.

Democracy on Death Watch

It wasn't supposed to end up like this but liberal democracy is reeling around the world, the United States included. Harvard prof and Foreign Policy columnist, Stephen Walt, puts it down to a bit of miscalculation and a whole lot of hubris.

Once upon a time — that is, back in the 1990s — a lot of smart and serious people believed liberal political orders were the wave of the future and would inevitably encompass most of the globe. The United States and its democratic allies had defeated fascism and then communism, supposedly leaving humankind at “the end of history.” The European Union seemed like a bold experiment in shared sovereignty that had banished war from most of Europe. Indeed, many Europeans believed its unique combination of democratic institutions, integrated markets, the rule of law, and open borders made Europe’s “civilian power” an equal if not superior counterpart to the crude “hard power” of the United States. For its part, the United States committed itself to “enlarging the sphere of democratic rule, getting rid of pesky autocrats, solidifying the “democratic peace,” and thereby ushering in a benevolent and enduring world order.

...In Russia, China, India, Turkey, Egypt — and yes, even here in the United States — one sees either resurgent authoritarianism or a yearning for a “strong leader” whose bold actions will sweep away present discontents. According to democracy expert Larry Diamond, “between 2000 and 2015, democracy broke down in 27 countries,” while “many existing authoritarian regimes have become even less open, transparent, and responsive to their citizens.” Great Britain has now voted to leave the EU; Poland, Hungary, and Israel are heading in illiberal directions; and one of America’s two major political parties is about to nominate a presidential candidate who openly disdains the tolerance that is central to a liberal society, repeatedly expresses racist beliefs and baseless conspiracy theories, and has even questioned the idea of an independent judiciary. For those of us committed to core liberal ideals, these are not happy times.

...The first problem was that liberalism’s defenders oversold the product. We were told that if dictators kept falling and more states held free elections, defended free speech, implemented the rule of law, and adopted competitive markets, and joined the EU and/or NATO, then a vast “zone of peace” would be created, prosperity would spread, and any lingering political disagreements would be easily addressed within the framework of a liberal order.

When matters didn’t go quite so smoothly, and when some groups in these liberal societies were in fact harmed by these developments, a degree of backlash was inevitable. It didn’t help that elites in many liberal countries made some critical blunders, including the creation of the euro, the invasion of Iraq, the misguided attempt to nation-build in Afghanistan, and the 2008 financial crisis. These and other mistakes helped undermine the legitimacy of the post-Cold War order, open the door to illiberal forces, and left some segments of society vulnerable to nativist appeals.

...It is also abundantly clear that post-Cold War liberals underestimated the role of nationalism and other forms of local identity, including sectarianism, ethnicity, tribal bonds, and the like. They assumed that such atavistic attachments would gradually die out, be confined to apolitical, cultural expressions, or be adroitly balanced and managed within well-designed democratic institutions.

But it turns out that many people in many places care more about national identities, historic enmities, territorial symbols, and traditional cultural values than they care about “freedom” as liberals define it.

Most important of all, liberal societies are in trouble today because they are vulnerable to being hijacked by groups or individuals who take advantage of the very freedoms upon which liberal societies are based. As Donald Trump has been proving all year (and as Jean-Marie Le Pen, Recep Erdogan, Geert Wilders, and other political entrepreneurs have shown in the past), leaders or movements whose commitment to liberal principles is at best skin-deep can take advantage of the principles of open society and use it to rally a popular following. And there is nothing about a democratic order that ensures such efforts will invariably fail.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Okay, Right. Now China Wants More Babies.

Chinese authorities seem eager to scrap the "one child" policy for the nation of nearly 1.4-billion. They want more babies.

On Sept. 17, officials in the central Chinese city of Yichang sent an open letter urging Communist Party members to have a second child and help replenish the city’s falling birth rates. This follows a nationwide move to a two-child policy in early 2016, prompted by fears the country’s shrinking worker base could act as a continuing drag on economic growth.

In short, China’s unpopular and controversial system of population control known as “one-child” policy is becoming “have one more child” policy. But the move may be too little and too late for a country that has become synonymous with the most restrictive birth policies in the world.

As a policy matter, China’s switch to the beginnings of a pronatalist policy is sensible. As with many other modern societies, family sizes in China have shrunk due to the combined forces of urbanization and female empowerment, which has created more opportunities for women.

Several countries have tried to stem the downturn in their own birth rates by offering financial incentives — cash payments called “baby bonuses,” as well as tax breaks. Others have been more blatant in telling their citizens to, quite simply, do it for their country. Italy just launched its first annual “Fertility Day,” a much criticized campaign that follows on the heels of similar movements in Denmark, South Korea, and Turkey. In 2010, South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare designated days when it turned off office lights early as “family days” in hopes its workers would go home and make babies.

Okay, whatever. More Chinese babies it is then even though some credible studies by Chinese experts contend the country is already well on its way to hit 1.5 billion by 2035. 

The Natives are Restless. Be Grateful.

First Nations groups have earned a lot of respect from other Canadians for their stalwart leadership in the fight against the fossil fuelers. Now Canadian tribes have signed a treaty with their American counterparts to unite in the fight against further Tar Sands pipelines.

The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion was signed by 50 aboriginal groups in North America, who also plan to oppose tanker and rail projects in both countries, they said in a statement.

Targets include projects proposed by Kinder Morgan Inc, TransCanada Corp and Enbridge Inc.

While aboriginal groups have long opposed oil sands development, the treaty signals a more coordinated approach to
fight proposals.

And the Ig Nobel Goes To...

Hang your head, Canada. This year's Ig Nobel peace prize has been awarded to a team of philosophers from the University of Waterloo for their research paper entitled, "On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit."

In a fairly damning passage from the paper, it says that those who were more receptive to the bulls*** statements and who tended to rate them higher were "less reflective, lower in cognitive ability(i.e verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy,) and are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation."

This year's prize winners became instant trillionaires. The prize consisted of a $10tn Zimbabwean note equivalent to about 40-cents U.S.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Christ Killers Burn in Hell, So There.

Catholic bishops from Alberta and the Northwest Territories have weighed in on the issue of assisted dying with a 32-page missive about who will and won't be going to Heaven. Cut to the chase: Catholics who go the assisted dying route are Christ killers and will definitely not be heading to the Pearly Gates.

“If the penitent, having been made aware of the gravity of the situation, is open to learning the Church’s teaching on this issue, and open to reconsidering the decision, the priest can absolve,” it says. “There is at least the beginning of contrition, a willingness to reconsider and thus possibly rectify their situation.”

“If they are not open at least to prayerfully considering the rescinding of their request — now that they know it is a grave sin – they would be choosing to do something gravely wrong, that is to say, deciding to remain in a situation of sin rather than seek to amend their life,” the bishops write.

“In this case, the minister would need to delay absolution to a later time when the person may be properly disposed.”

The anointing of the sick usually follows reconciliation or confession, the bishops write, but it can be given to an unconscious person. It presumes repentance. Those who refuse to repent, who are not contrite, are not “properly disposed” to receive the sacrament.

“The request for euthanasia or assisted suicide is in direct contradiction to the baptismal call of the dying believer to proclaim at all times, especially at the approach of death, that ‘It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,'” the bishops write. The priest is encouraged to “implore the sick person with gentle firmness to turn away from this determination in repentance and trust.”

If you're looking for a full-dress Catholic funeral it seems your chances are better if you just off yourself - gun, knife, rope, pills - that sort of thing. Go the assisted dying route and you're on your own, pal.

“The Church does, in fact, celebrate Christian funerals for those who have been found after the fact to have committed suicide,” they write. “We are not able to judge the reason the person has taken that decision or the disposition of their heart.”

“The case of assisted suicide or euthanasia, however, is a situation where more can sometimes be known of the disposition of the person and the freedom of the chronically ill man or woman, particularly if it is high-profile or notorious,” they write.

“In such cases, it may not be possible to celebrate a Christian funeral. If the Church were to refuse a funeral to someone, it is not to punish the person but to recognise his or her decision – a decision that has brought him or her to an action that is contrary to the Christian faith, that is somehow notorious and public, and would do harm to the Christian community and the larger culture.”

That "Carbon Budget"? It's Gone.

Because the battle against climate change is predominantly a political question, reality often gets marginalized if not ignored entirely. When you hear our political leadership discuss climate change it's always about cutting greenhouse gas emissions by some percentage of some past year's emissions by some year in the future - maybe. Politicians set "goals" that provide enough wiggle room that their commitments are nonsense, pure bullshit.

Justin Trudeau is using Stephen Harper's numbers of a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 emissions levels by 2030. To hear him tell it, anything above that would destroy the country or at least our economy. Pure bullshit.

Then there's a new article from Bill McKibbon in The New Republic. You'll be wanting to sit down to read this:

The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new study released Thursday are the most ominous yet.

Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do?

Here’s the answer: zero.

That’s right: If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.

The new numbers are startling. Only four years ago, I wrote an essay called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” In the piece, I drew on research from a London-based think tank, the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The research showed that the untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas identified by the world’s fossil fuel industry contained five times more carbon than we can burn if we want to keep from raising the planet’s temperature by more than two degrees Celsius.

...“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

...To have just a break-even chance of meeting that 1.5 degree goal we solemnly set in Paris, we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted.

“Absent some incredible breakthrough in mythical carbon-sucking unicorns, the numbers say we’re done with the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” says Kretzmann. “Living up to the Paris Agreement means we must start a managed decline in the fossil fuel industry immediately—and manage that decline as quickly as possible.”

A "managed decline." In Paris last December, Potsdam Institute director, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, used a different term, "induced implosion," in imploring our political caste to use their power to shut down the fossil energy giants as soon as possible.

There's your problem - a scientific diagnosis that is unacceptable politically. That goes, in spades, for Canada. If you're going to have a "managed decline" or an "induced implosion" you would begin by shutting down the dirtiest, highest-carbon fossil fuels. Coal is one. Then there's the highest-carbon variety of ersatz petroleum, bitumen. That means the Tar Sands. 

A "managed decline" means that we have to put ourselves on a carbon diet which begins by switching to conventional, lower-carbon fossil fuels while we speed up the transition to alternate, clean energy. That may be good news for the sweet crude resources of the Middle East but that only gives us cause to redouble our efforts to transition off fossil energy.

Or we can take the politically favoured alternative, the one our grandkids will pay dearly for in the decades to come. That's the clear choice of the government of Canada.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Is This the First Crack in Fossil Fuel's Dike?

The Amalgamated Bank of America is divesting its fossil fuel holdings.  It's not a big deal, just 4-billion dollars, but it's the bank's reasoning that could spark seismic change.

The decision to divest its $4 billion USD commercial assets from fossil fuel holdings is supported by new legal research presented on Wednesday by global investment consultant Mercer and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). Their research bolsters the recent decision by leading Canadian foundations to drop high-risk fossil fuel holdings and decarbonise their investment portfolios.

Mercer’s analysis of fiduciary duty suggests that pension trustees should now be factoring in climate change and energy transition risks into their decision-making process.

According to new legal analysis, investment fiduciaries who overlook the implications of the transition to clean energy and the wind-down of fossil fuels now underway could face legal challenges. With the world expecting Canada to ratify the Paris Agreement any day, Canadian institutions and philanthropic investors are only just coming to grips with the investment risks and opportunities linked to the low carbon energy transition.

...From the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock to the Amalgamated Bank, global leaders agree that the transformation of our energy system is both urgent and a great investment opportunity. According to Ed Waitzer, Professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, “trustees are increasingly expected to look beyond portfolio performance to the intentional management of systemic risks and rewards, reflecting the longer term interests of their beneficiaries. Over time, this will likely become an enforceable obligation.”

While modern portfolio theory and related standards of fiduciary prudence require maximum diversification to spread financial risk, this does not have application to a dying industry like the fossil fuel sector. "The structural shift away from fossil fuel assets is a real phenomenon. This makes climate changeand the Divest-Invest movement an inextricable part of the dialogue for institutional investors who have a fiduciary duty to maximize returns for investors over a long-term horizon," said Wayne Wachell, the CEO and chief investment officer of Genus Capital Management. "Our recent research substantiates that divesting from fossil fuels doesn't entail sacrificing returns or taking on undue risk, even in a resource-based market like Canada."

Clara Vondrich, Global Director of Divest-Invest Philanthropy stressed that “old guard investment managers claim divestment violates fiduciary duty because it constrains diversification. But independent analyses from prominent legal scholars in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada flips this idea on its head. Today, at this brink of climate chaos, it is a nonprofit [i.e. pension fund] fiduciary’s duty to divest from fossil fuels and sidestep the carbon bubble.”

Sounds Like Putin Wants His Own CSIS

I think this paragraph from Foreign Policy speaks volumes:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Kommersant, is planning a major overhaul of the country’s security services. The Russian daily reported that the idea of the reforms is to merge the Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, with the Federal Security Service, or FSB, which keeps an eye on domestic affairs. This new supersized secret service will be given a new name: the Ministry of State Security. If that sounds familiar, it should — this was the name given to the most powerful and feared of Joseph Stalin’s secret services, from 1943 to 1953. And if its combination of foreign espionage and domestic surveillance looks familiar, well, it should: In all but name, we are seeing a resurrection of the Committee for State Security — otherwise known as the KGB.

Remind Me, Why Do We Put Up With This Garbage from China?

Imagine a drug so potent and dangerous that the US government limits production of it to just 19 grams, barely half an ounce.

Now imagine why someone in China tried to smuggle a kilo of it into Vancouver. A kilo, enough to kill every person in Canada with enough left over to wipe out most of Scandinavia.

Early this summer, the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted a kilo of a drug called carfentanil in Vancouver. It was in a package sent from China to a Calgary address. CBSA, the RCMP and the Vancouver and Calgary police forces conducted a joint operation and arrested the addressee, Joshua Wrenn, 24.

For veterinary purposes, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration allows an annual carfentanil production of just 19 grams — a little over half an ounce.

...The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that “Carfentanil is said to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.” As a dust, it could be inhaled or attach to mucous membranes, like the tongue, with almost instantly fatal effect.

Chinese opioid manufacturers can evidently produce large quantities of carfentanil without running into occupational health and safety issues, and they know how to mail it to Canada without leaving a telltale trail of dead postal clerks, parcel handlers, and CBSA inspectors.

...A recent Pennsylvania health department news release warned first responders to use “appropriate personal protective equipment” when treating known or suspected heroin overdoses.

“The Department of Health recommends that first responders and health professionals who treat an individual suspected of taking the drug, or encounter the drug itself, should use extreme caution. Carfentanil is absorbed through skin contact, inhalation, oral exposure, or ingestion, which may lead to an accidental drug poisoning.”

Worse yet, carfentanil’s effect is so toxic that one spray of naloxone isn’t enough. According to the New York Times, Ohio first responders are having to use up to four or five doses to save a single overdose case.

Too Much Truth to Bear?

From AlterNet:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that black men in Boston who avoid run-ins with police officers may be justifiably motivated by a desire to “avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled,” and their flight should not be automatically interpreted as evidence of “criminal activity.”
The ruling throws out an unlawful firearm possession conviction against Jimmy Warren, whose arrest nearly five years ago appears to be a case study in racial profiling.
Warren was apprehended and searched by police, who “found no contraband on his person,” according to the ruling. Immediately following the arrest, police spotted a .22 caliber firearm nearby, and Warren was eventually charged and convicted of illegally possessing the gun.

In its Tuesday ruling, the high court determined that police were not justified in stopping Warren. “Lacking any information about facial features, hairstyles, skin tone, height, weight, or other physical characteristics, the victim's description 'contribute nothing to the officers' ability to distinguish the defendant from any other black male' wearing dark clothes and a 'hoodie' in Roxbury," the decision states.

In perhaps its most far-reaching determination, the court then argued that Warren and other black men in Boston may be justified in running from law enforcement, given the city's poor track record with racial profiling.

America's Institutional Racism

I caught a few moments of live coverage of US Secretary of State, John Kerry's lecture to the UN Security Council this morning in response to an apparent Russian or Syrian bombing of a UN relief column.

It's as tragic as it is outrageous, no question, but what got me was when Kerry described Syria as the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII.

Really? What about the 800,000 innocents butchered in Rwanda? What about the 5-million victims of sectarian slaughter in Congo?

Oh, sorry, I get it. Those were black people, Africans. Which might explain why America didn't lift a finger to help them.


Here are a few more for Kerry's memory list: 1966, Nigeria, 3-million; Vietnam War, 3-million; Afghanistan (post 1999), 2-million; 1983, Second Sudanese civil war, 2-million; 1971, Bangladesh liberation war, 3-million; 1975, Cambodian "killing fields", 1.4-million; 1947, massacres of the Indian partition, 2-million; 1950, occupation of Tibet (China), 1.2-million; 1971, Bangladesh genocide, 3-million. The list goes on. Syria may, however, be the greatest humanitarian disaster the U.S. gave two shits about.

Harper's Favourite Jailbird - A Man of Many Convictions.

Bruce "The Mechanic" Carson has added to his score. This time it's three counts of illegal lobbying.

Carson broke the law while pushing Harper’s fossil fuels friendly agenda from two perches. One was an oil lobby group, and the other was a federally funded think tank at the University of Calgary billed as a clean energy research centre before Carson helped bend it to oil sands advocacy.

Under Canada’s weak and little used Lobbying Act, it is illegal for public office holders to communicate or influence other public office holders for at least five years after they have left office. The act also requires anyone being paid to influence decision-makers to register their activities.

In a lengthy 97-page decision, Justice Catherine Kehoe found that the Harper aide broke the law by repeatedly communicating with public office holders for payment about oil sands issues during the five-year prohibition period. Despite warnings, Carson never bothered to register as a paid lobbyist either.

Carson's hidey-hole, the University of Calgary, didn't come out unscathed either:

David Keith, now a Harvard professor, worked as one the University of Calgary’s top energy and climate experts while the Carson affair unfolded at the University of Calgary.

In a 2015 Tyee interview, Keith emphasized that Carson’s thinly disguised political lobbying promoted a one-sided and distorted perspective on the oil sands and climate change in Canada that ignored national risks.

“What disturbed me most was that a university think tank refused to do what a university should do: bring in diverse views and have strong debate. The government and industry didn’t want that.”

Unfortunately, no one has much appetite any longer for exploring who egged Carson on, who aided and abetted his efforts on behalf of the federal government's Tar Sands initiative. I suspect there could be a really great book chronicling the relationship between Stephen Harper and Bruce Carson.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is the Carbon Tax Talk Just Hot Air?

According to sustainable energy professor, Marc Jaccard, all the talk about carbon pricing is just hot air. The Simon Fraser prof has crunched the numbers and concludes that for Canada to meet its commitments from last year's Paris climate summit, the carbon price would have to come in at about $200 per tonne or almost seven times the $30 per tonne levied in British Columbia. That, in Dr. Jaccard's view, would be political suicide.

Jaccard points instead to a tool that is already reducing carbon in some of the world's largest economies — regulation.

"All climate policies that are actually effective are politically difficult," he said. "The only issue is which ones are more politically difficult.

"Taxes are more difficult than regulation."

Ottawa is grappling with climate-change policy in advance of an expected federal-provincial meeting on the matter later this year. Canada is on the hook to devise a way to meet its Paris goal of 30 per cent carbon reduction over 2005 levels by 2030.

Cabinet ministers have mused about imposing a national carbon price, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested regulations could be part of the mix.

Jaccard proposes what he calls flexible regulations on industries, vehicles and power generation that focus on setting caps or standards rather than imposing solutions.

The regulations would phase out coal-fired power, require car builders to sell an increasing number of zero-emission vehicles, force trucks and buses to use more biodiesel and would cap the amount of carbon manufacturers are allowed to release per unit of production.

You Want a Carbon Tax? Then Do It Right.

One of the greatest hurdles facing mankind in the struggle with climate change is the political factor. It's a terrible thing to leave the major decisions on this up to our political caste.  They're far more focused on getting elected in three or four years than they are in what might befall your grandkid 40 years down the road. Of course it's a massive conflict of interest and of course they get to decide whether they'll come down on their own side or your grandkid's. How do you think that's bound to turn out?

Carbon "pricing." Apparently Justin Trudeau intends to go that route. It's actually carbon taxing but what politician can bear to be that honest?

This is where we run into trouble. Carbon pricing is an exercise in political number fixing. Most of the numbers that constitute climate change orthodoxy are political numbers. That's because politics overrides science. We'll have no scientific numbers thank you very much. That would be irresponsible.

It'll be a gathering of the sphincters. Justin will pull a number out of his ass. Rachel will pull another number out of her ass. Brad will hunt around endlessly before angrily insisting there is no number up his ass.

The idea is that a carbon price discourages consumption of fossil fuels and it does, somewhat. Yet it only works if it hurts and if it hurts you've got another political football. Brad Wall has chosen to kick.

The sop for the hurt is to claim the tax will be revenue neutral. You're paying more at the pump but that'll be offset by cost reductions elsewhere. At the end of the day you'll come out about the same. Don't worry, be happy.

I've got a better idea. The first one concerns Canada's ailing, aging infrastructure. Even if we hadn't kicked Earth's climate into overdrive, a lot of our once awesome infrastructure is crumbling. Highways, overpasses, bridges, electrical grids, sewers and water mains - that sort of thing. It has served us well in the post-war era. It has allowed us to enjoy incredible prosperity. Yet now it's nearing terminal mode.

That infrastructure is what keeps the economy ticking over. It goes down, the economy goes with it. Think of it as the roof that keeps the rain out of your house. It doesn't last forever. Every 20 to 40-years it has to be replaced. Your house won't last long if you don't.

Climate change makes our infrastructure predicament much worse. I was reminded of this last night when we received another of our newfound biblical downpours. My eavestroughs were doing fine until the series of squalls passed overhead and then they quickly were overrun. Message: if we're going to be getting rains like this, and worse, I need new, larger capacity eavestroughs, downspouts and, probably, drainage tiles. Think of it as the first greeting card from the Anthropocene.

Climate change will be bringing the same reality to our core (can't live without it) infrastructure. Our aging infrastructure was designed by engineers to meet conditions of their day. It was not designed for today's severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. The deluges that swamped first Toronto and then Calgary, utterly defeating their storm sewer systems demonstrate how vulnerable we've become. When a once-a-century flood starts turning up once in every five or ten years, you're facing a new reality and you have to figure out how to cope with it.

From sea to shining sea to shining sea we've got a looming infrastructure crisis of massive proportions. Think several hundreds of billions of dollars to do the job. One Canadian expert suggested it could reach upwards of a trillion. He also pointed out that the cost of not dealing with it will be far greater, potentially an economy killer.

Money isn't the only problem. As with most aspects of climate change, there's a big time factor. Time is not on our side. Even a Herculean effort would probably take 20 to 30-years. There's a lot of process involved - study, analyze, propose, evaluate, decide, plan, fund, contract and implement. That takes time.

What if, instead of fixing our carbon price based on some half-assed, negotiated political number reflecting a notional revenue-neutral pipedream, we decided to be honest? What if we decided the carbon taxes should be used, federally and provincially, for essential infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement? Why not take those carbon taxes and invest them in assets, infrastructure, that will yield economic dividends for decades to come?

If we're not going to let the economy and, with it, our society collapse, we're going to have to find the money somewhere for a massive infrastructure makeover. That's code for "tax." Why not get some estimates for how much this is going to cost and work out what percentage of that cost should and could be realized through carbon taxes?

See what that does? That cuts out a whole lot of political numbers. Politicians instead would have to use numbers of calculated precision formulated by engineers, scientists and contractors. It won't be pretty but at least it will be grounded in reality. Doesn't that sound like a good idea?

Monday, September 19, 2016

If You're a Liberal, This Question is For You.

Your guy has been in power for almost a year now. We all recall his promises from last year's election campaign and we've seen how he's dealt with those commitments.

To be sure I think most of us are glad to see Stephen Harper gone. Many of us, however, have reason to lament he's not gone but lives on in his successor, Justin Trudeau.

So here's the question. If you have to put up with three more Harper-esque years like the past one, will you still be voting Liberal in the next election?

Because We Need to Hear This Again - and Again.

The world is pretty thoroughly screwed up and a big part of that is the fallout of fundamentalist Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The late Chris Hitchens makes the point we must never overlook.