Devastation in Pakistan is Unimaginable – But You and I Can Make A Difference

U.S. Senator John Kerry has just returned from a trip to flooded Pakistan, and is shaken by what he saw. This is an excerpt from a posting on his Facebook wall:

I just got home to Massachusetts from seeing the floods in Pakistan — and what I saw there was as devastating and gripping as the last humanitarian crisis I emailed you about. Even as I sit here I’m shaken by the fact that this is Pakistan’s Katrina.

It’s not just that one fifth of the country – an area larger than all of New England, New York, New Jersey and Maryland combined – is submerged under historic flooding, or that with weeks left in the monsoon season, it could get even worse.

None of that captures what I saw and heard when our helicopter touched down. I went to Multan in the Punjab plains. This is no isolated hamlet, but an ancient city, a district capital with a population of over 1.5 million. And it’s inundated with water.

I spoke to the people, heard their stories, their desperation for food and water. They talked of the joy when they saw American Chinook helicopters – distinctive for their two big rotors – because they knew help was arriving. But the scale of the disaster hit me as I flew over the city and surrounding valley, mile after mile of Punjabi plains turned into a massive lake, this large city covered in water. Roads were washed out, vehicles abandoned, tall buildings turned into places of desperate refuge. Any flat surface high enough to escape the waters became a life-raft, often packed with people willing to bake in the hot sun rather than face the barrier of the flood-waters. The scene stretched on and on.

You can get a look at some of this – just get a small sense of it – watching this NBC News piece.

Senator Kerry goes on to encourage generosity in response to this disaster. I’ve posted some links on the bottom that enable you to do this, and if you are Canadian keep in mind our federal government is matching donations to Pakistan relief dollar for dollar. But please consider doing more than donating  money; talk about the link between climate change and extreme weather events like this one with your friends and family. Lower your own carbon footprint, then join together with other members of your community to lower its carbon footprint. We are all in this together!

Donation links:

Interaction

MCC

More links:

Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Pakistan: Living on the Edge

Waterborne Disease a Threat To Pakistan’s Children

Climate Change – “This Isn’t Science, This is Reality”

My mood as I prepare to celebrate Earth Day is mixed.  I’m happy to be at home in northwestern Ontario, and able to participate in a local Earth Day Expo. The community response has been fabulous; there are over 30 tables of local “green” businesses and other groups booked to display their information.  This is great, especially for a town of 5,000 that exists mainly because of the local mine that extracts gold out of the depths of the earth.

On the other hand, the lake thawed this week at least 2 days earlier than ever before; the norm is usually early to mid May.  One long-time resident remarked at how little winter we had this year – usually the ice is on the lake from late November to May, but this year we had ice on the lake for only 3 months.  The cross-country ski season was 6 weeks instead of 3 months in the winter of 2009 – 2010. Down the road, the Lakehead Conservation Authority is warning residents to reduce their water use by 10 % due to drought conditions, adding that this could be increased to 20% if there isn’t more precipitation soon.

As Ulamila Kurai Wragg, at the University of Toronto recently as part of the Climate Wise Women tour,  said about climate change’s impacts on weather patterns and lack of fish in her Cook Island home, “This isn’t science, this is reality”.

It is time to wake up to the fact that “fossil” fuels are exactly that, a relic of a old age that has passed. As biologist and author Barbara Kingsolver said recently:

The term “fossil fuels” is not a metaphor or a simile. In the geological sense, it’s over. The internal combustion engine is so 20th Century. Now we can either shift away from a carbon-based economy, or find another place to live.  Imagine it: we raised you on a lie. Everything you plug in, turn on or drive, the out-of-season foods you eat, the music in your ears. We gave you this world and promised you could keep it running on: a fossil substance. Dinosaur slime, and it’s running out. The geologists only disagree on how much is left, and the climate scientists are now saying they’re sorry but that’s not even the point. We won’t get time to use it all. To stabilize the floods and firestorms, we’ll have to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent, within a decade.

The challenge of Earth Day 2010 is to recognize the fact that radical change is coming. Our choice now is whether or not we will embrace the change before the floods and firestorms force it on us.

For more info on actions we can take, check out these links:

100 Months to Save the World

10-10-10 Campaign

Enjoy Earth Day, and hug someone you love!


Is Climate Change a Moral Issue?

I’m busy attending a “Climate Change As a Moral Issue”  conference in Toronto today and tomorrow, followed by a 26-hour bus ride home from 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning to 3:00 a.m. Monday morning.  The conference today was full of excellent discussions as well as information that will make it hard for me to sleep tonight. The roster of speakers – to name just a few – included IPCC Scientist Danny Harvey, from the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto and Alanna Mitchell, journalist and author of “Seasick”, which examines the alarming repercussions of ocean acidification from increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.  And after 8 hours of “climate change as a moral issue”, I headed down to the University of Toronto where3 “Climate-Wise Women” were discussing their different – but equally devastating and disturbing – experiences of climate-change.    Constance Okollet from Uganda shared stories of alternating droughts and floods, Ulamila Kurai Wragg from the Cook Islands talked about how the number of cyclones is increasing in both frequency and intensity, rivers are drying up, and fish are not as plentiful, and Sharon Hanshaw from Biloxi, Mississippi discussed having both her home and business, as well as the community she was connected to, disappear after Hurricane Katrina. I will post more about both conferences once I have more time, but in the meantime here’s a sample of the “Climate Change As a Moral Issue” from a similar conference in Calgary in October. Graham Saul, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada, discusses what will happen if we continue with “business as usual”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEilS7ChqZw]


Will Conservatives Continue Their Anti-Climate Science Push As Parliament Resumes?

Canadian parliament will resume today, after an unexpected two month break brought on when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the unprecedented move to “prorogue”, or dismiss, parliament in the middle of a session. The rather dubious reason he gave for this unscheduled holiday was that the minority government needed to “recalibrate” before introducing a new budget.

This week, therefore, one of the government’s first orders of business will be to introduce a new budget.  Those Canadians concerned about climate change will be watching carefully to see if the Harper government restores funding to The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) that was cut in  the last Conservative budget.  CFCAS is the main funding body for university-based research on climate, atmospheric and related oceanic work in Canada.

A retired MSC scientist puts it this way:

Through the CFCAS a body of expertise and capability has been
built up which is internationally competitive but focused on issues of
importance to Canada. This expertise is presently endangered by a lack of recommitment to fund CFCAS and creating the science necessary for effective environmental policy. In my view, it is very important to support scientific research that is
independent of government in order to forestall any temptation to try to
ignore or worse suppress the scientific knowledge necessary to construct
effective policy.

As reported recently on the Can-West News Service, the result of these cuts is the demolishing of climate-related projects around the country:

The foundation’s projects at universities across the country, which are seen as key to understanding the remarkable change underway in the climate, are already being dismantled. And young scientists, trained at substantial cost to Canadian taxpayers, have begun leaving in the country in search of work.

One project is the Centre for Regional Climate Studies and Simulation, based at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, which involves about a dozen professors, 20 research assistants and 50 graduate students. The team studies interactions governing the climate and how to adapt to coming change that could transform large swaths of Canada.

The project is “about to disappear because of (the) Harper government’s indecisiveness to renew funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences,” say gradate students at the centre, which they liken to an “endangered species.”

It is jaw-dropping that a federal government of a northern nation would cut funding to climate science at this crucial time.  It makes one think that this government doesn’t like what the science is saying, and it working to ensure that Canadians are kept in the dark about it.  For more about the Harper government’s record on climate change go to my What the heck IS Canada’s policy? page.  James Hoggan, from DeSmogblog.com summarizes it this way:

The Canadian government’s climate plan is pure politics – pure public relations. It’s all hot air, with no regulation or legislation to back it up. The government is not passing laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It is not setting science-based targets and it’s not financing renewable energy.

If you’d like to send Prime Minister Harper the message that climate science is important, click here to sign a petition being circulated by students at the University of Montreal. The english portion of the petition is underneath the french, and you need to keep scrolling past both to reach the place to sign.

For more information on CFCAS, click here to go to their website.



Humanitarian Aid Rushes to Haiti

The global response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti has been swift and generous.  American President Obama has pledged $100 million in aid, and the international community has been sending planes and ships with supplies and emergency workers to help the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince. Individuals throughout the rest of the world have been reaching into their pockets and donating money to aid organizations.

It is an hour of dire need for the people of Port-au-Prince who are suffering from the devastation wrought in seconds by an earthquake, and the international response to this crisis is no less than what they deserve.

The response of the global community to the death and destruction in Haiti also says that our international priorities are to respond quickly, with money, supplies, and aid workers when people are dying in a natural disaster. This is a blog about climate change – and people need to know that natural disasters are going to be happening more and more often as our climate is destabilized, and that there are going to be more and more people dying around the world. Most of our leaders aren’t telling us the truth about the risks we are running by pretending that our ice caps and glaciers aren’t melting, and that the carbon dioxide we are spewing into the atmosphere isn’t changing our world.

Don’t take my word for it – EDUCATE yourself about what is happening.  Read Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore.  It is not an easy read.  It may well – and should – make you angry. It is written by a PR expert about the propaganda that corporations, who have become incredibly rich because of our society’s addiction to fossil fuels, have purposely generated to create public confusion about climate change.

When you are educating yourself, be hypervigilant about the sources you are reading. Keep in mind that the world’s Academies of Science agree that climate change is happening, and is caused by humans. So anybody who says otherwise needs to have very good scientific credentials.

Here are some other books that give an overview of the climate change issue:

Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at the New Yorker Magazine, wrote a 3-part series called The Climate of Man, which is available on the New Yorker website. Kolbert followed up the series with a book, entitled Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. If you really want to be alarmed, you can go to Gwynne Dyer’s series on CBC radio, The Climate Wars, or purchase the book of the same name.

You can also educate yourself by checking out what humanitarian organizations who work around the world say about the changes man-made warming of the atmosphere is already bringing about.  Oxfam International , Mennonite Central Committee , and World Vision all have information about how climate change is affecting people around the world.  On their website, World Vision states

The negative effects of climate change are becoming more evident for poor communities forced to live in marginalized locations, which are frequently in areas most vulnerable to natural disasters.

Tim Flanagan, scientist and author of  The Weathermakers says

Sometime this century, the day will arrive when the human influence on the climate will overwhelm all natural factors.

We can’t keep fiddling while Rome (our planet) burns.  Just as the world has responded to Haiti’s humanitarian crisis, so do we need to mobilize about the looming crisis of global climate destabilization caused by climate change. Get educated, and send a message to our elected leaders to deal with emission reduction NOW.  For more ideas on how to address climate change, go to 350.org and StopGlobalWarming.org.

“If the Climate Were a Bank, You Would Have Already Saved it”

If the climate were a bank you would have already saved it.” These were Hugo Chavez’s words at the Copenhagen summit. It’s December 18 and the last day of the international climate summit has arrived. Negotations are in disarray, and it seems that no agreement will be reached. News headlines today read “Disappointment, Disarray” and “Movement But No Breakthrough“. And for its efforts to stall a real deal,  Canada has won the “Colossal Fossil” Award from NGOs and Environmental Groups who said:

“Fossil of the Year goes to CANADA, for bringing a totally unacceptable position into Copenhagen and refusing to strengthen it one bit. Canada’s 2020 target is among the worst in the industrialized world, and leaked cabinet documents revealed that the government is contemplating a cap-and-trade plan so weak that it would put even that target out of reach.

…This government thinks there’s a choice between environment and economy, and for them, tar sands beats climate every time. Canada’s emissions are headed nowhere but up. For all this and more, we name Canada the Colossal Fossil.”

In contrast, here are some voices from Copenhagen speaking out to save the planet:

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wadehe:

Africa is physically threatened. You can see coastal erosion, the fact that lake Chad has shrunk, the Congo basin — a true lung of humanity — has been massacred by European operators…the Sahara desert which, like a steamroller advances toward the south on a broad desert band.

Airam Ramesh, Indian Environment Minister

By trying to shake Kyoto, they (rich nations) are trying to shake one of the basic pillars on which the world had resolved to fight climate change.” (Canada is one of the few industrialized nations whose official policy is to strike down the Kyoto Protocol.)

American Senator John Kerry:

“If (former Vice President) Dick Cheney can argue that even a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack is 100 percent justification for preemptive action, then surely, when scientists tell us that climate change is nearly a 100 percent certainty, we ought to be able to stand together…and join in an all out effort to combat a mortal threat to the life of this planet.”

*Heavy sigh* What is a concerned citizen of the planet to do? When all else fails, turn to comedians to provide much-needed perspective. At least we’ll do down laughing! In that spirit, check out this “moment of clarity” from funny guy Lee Camp, entitled “God Promises a 30% Increase in Global Warming by 2012 While at Copenhagen Climate Conference“:

Copenhagen Day 7 – The Earth Needs Our Prayers

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Copenhagen and around the world this weekend, holding signs that read “There Is No Planet B”, “The World Wants A Real Deal” and “Bla Bla Bla Act Now”,  sending leaders a message that people want a real, binding, and enforceable agreement on climate change. Grown men cried in the UN meetings, pleading for a deal that would save their island nations. The World Council of Churches is calling on churches around the globe to ring the alarm on climate change by ringing their bells  350 times at 3:00 pm local time. As today is Sunday, a day traditionally set aside in North America for spiritual reflection and renewal, I thought it would be appropriate to repost Brian McLaren and Tim Costello‘s Prayer for the Earth.

A Prayer for the Earth

Most gracious God, creator of all good things, we thank you for planet Earth and all creatures that share it.

Have mercy on us, Lord. Through ignorance and carelessness we have poisoned clean air and pure water. For monetary gain we have reduced verdant forests to barren wastes. In our craving for more we have plundered your beloved creation and driven many of our fellow creatures to extinction. Only recently have we begun to realize the dangerous future into which our current patterns of consumption and waste are driving us, especially in relation to Earth’s climate. Only recently have we begun to see our need to find a wiser and better way of life in the future, before it is too late and our choices are limited by the consequences of inaction.

We who join in prayer today believe the time has come, Lord. Please guide us now, our God, at this critical moment in history, to better fulfill our role as stewards of this fragile planet. Guide the leaders of nations who will gather in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. Give them courage to set noble goals that reach beyond short-range political expediency, short-term economic profit, and short-sighted self-interest. Impress upon their conscience our sacred duty to bequeath to our children and grandchildren a healthy and thriving environment rather than a world in climate crisis.

The World Wants A Real Deal Candlelight Vigil

Read moreCopenhagen Day 7 – The Earth Needs Our Prayers

Voices From The Brink – Copenhagen Day 6

Day 6 of the UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen. Here are some voices that are trying to be heard as humanity stands on the precipice of global disaster:

Antonio Lima, of Cape Verde, the vice chair of Alliance of Small Island Nations (AOSIS), said climate change was a looming disaster for the poor — like the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius 2,000 years ago that buried the Roman city of Pompeii. He said

They did not know what they were facing. Now we know what is going to happen. It will be the planet Pompeii.”

Former Canadian Olympic skiier Thomas Grandi delivered a letter from 20 Olympic athletes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s constituency office in Calgary this week. Grandi stated:

Clearly we have seen changes and there’s been a few seasons in the last decade where the whole schedule has been up in the air because there hasn’t been snow where traditionally there has been snow.”

In their letter to the Prime Minister, the athletes warned that outdoor sports such as skiing and snowboarding, which are part of Canada’s winter heritage, are being threatened.

Author, activist, and co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben wrote in “The Physics of Copenhagen: Why Politics-As-Usual May Mean the End of Civilization”:

When it comes to global warming, however, this is precisely why we’re headed off a cliff, why the Copenhagen talks that open this week, almost no matter what happens, will be a disaster. Because climate change is not like any other issue we’ve ever dealt with. Because the adversary here is not Republicans, or socialists, or deficits, or taxes, or misogyny, or racism, or any of the problems we normally face—adversaries that can change over time, or be worn down, or disproved, or cast off. The adversary here is physics.

McKibbon goes on to say:

And here’s the thing: physics doesn’t just impose a bottom line, it imposes a time limit. This is like no other challenge we face because every year we don’t deal with it, it gets much, much worse, and then, at a certain point, it becomes insoluble—because, for instance, thawing permafrost in the Arctic releases so much methane into the atmosphere that we’re never able to get back into the safe zone.

Click here to read the whole column at Grist.org.

This is the Weekend of Action for a Real Deal – go to 350.org and find a vigil near you. Join this weekend’s global actions and candelight vigils.

Without Vision We Perish

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is in its third day, and so far there’s been enough drama, accusations, and threats to put a soap opera to shame. It would be entertaining, if the health of our planet didn’t hang in the balance. To read more of the details, check out this link or this one.  In thinking about what is at stake, consider these voices that are being drowned out by the drama:

  • In Copenhagen this week, in response to the proposal from developed nations of $10 billion dollars a year to combat climate change, Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, the head of the 135-nation bloc of developing countries, said.

If this is the greatest risk that humanity faces, then how do you explain $10 billion?Ten billion will not buy developing countries’ citizens enough coffins.”

Remember, to date, over $1 trillion dollars has been spent on rescuing financial institutions!

  • Joshua Mukusya is a Kenyan farmer who, 30 years ago, set up the Utooni Development Project (UTP) to help rural families improve food and water security by terracing land, building sand dams and planting trees. The UDP’s motto is “Without Vision We Perish”.

For Mr. Mukusya and other Kenyan farmers, climate change is not a debate, it’s a reality.  These subsistence farmers are trying to adjust to the negative effects of climate change, but it is difficult. Mr. Mukusya states:

The climate is changing—it is very clearThe majority of people here have no resources to cope with the situation. If we don’t make changes, we cannot survive… For us, this is a matter of survival. God created abundant land. We need to find solutions to the destruction we have made for ourselves.”

Africa, the world’s poorest continent, is most at risk because of climate change, yet it is the one that has contributed the least to global warming. To hear more about the situation of Mr. Mukusya and other African farmers, check out the video below.  “Taking the Heat” is a Canadian Foodgrains Bank video about African agriculture and climate change:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IFBhKb6Kkk]

Fourteen Days to Seal History’s Judgement on this Generation

Published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages, the editorial 14 Days to Seal History’s Judgement on This Generation, is a call for action from world leaders on climate change:

Today 56newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action,  climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear.

Read moreFourteen Days to Seal History’s Judgement on this Generation