The Plague of Plastic

From National Geographic comes an award-winning series Strange Days On Planet Earth. This documentary focuses on raising public understanding about how each of us are interconnected to our planet’s life systems. The inaugural 4-part PBS series, hosted by Academy-award nominated actor Edward Norton, earned 14 major film festival honors—including Best Series at Wildscreen, the environmental equivalent of the OSCARS®. The summary of this episode states:

Far out at sea and deep in the nation’s heartland, experts are discovering the disturbing consequences of a hitchhiker in our waters—plastic. On the remote islands in the Pacific, a team of researchers is trying to solve the mystery of why albatross chicks with full bellies are starving. Many miles away another team is finding more plastic than plankton in giant garbage patch of ocean called the North Pacific Gyre. Could these two events be related?

What’s equally worrisome is the menacing wake plastic pollution leaves on fresh water and consequently, our health. Scientists in Missouri are finding a gender-bending chemical called bisphenol A in local streams whose source may be plastics. They are also finding this nasty compound leaching out of commonly used plastic products (including baby bottles).


*Thanks to my sister Laurie for sending this my way*

Head over to Plastic Pollution Coalition website, and take the REFUSE disposable plastic pledge:

Disposable plastics are the greatest source of plastic pollution. Designed to be discarded, straws, plastic bottles, plastic utensils, lids, plastic bottles and so many others offer a small convenience but remain forever.  REFUSE disposable plastics! Follow the “4 Rs” of sustainable living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I’m looking for a practical alternative to disposable straws that is available in Canada.  Does anybody have any suggestions? 

More links:

Leap In the Lake For Climate Action

I’ve been rather busy lately, and one of the reasons is that I’m helping to organize an event to focus some attention on the urgent need to address climate change, while there is still a window for action.  So, this Saturday at 11:00 a.m., a hardy group of souls, including me, will be jumping into our local lake and raising money  for a good cause – our local Emergency Shelter’s local food initiative – at the same time.

For those of you who don’t live in northern Ontario, this may not sound like a foolhardy thing to do at the end of April.  However, when we committed to doing this back in March the odds were not good that the ice would be gone on the lake, although the average ice break-up day has been trending earlier over recent decades.  Last year, the ice was gone on April 20th, but the average ice-free day is May 7th.  This year it’s been a cool spring, and the ice is still quite solid.  This is what the dock looked like on April 12:

Town docks, April 12.2011

If the weather had stayed spring-like, we would probably be jumping into open water.  However, that wasn’t the case.  This is what the lake looked like 8 days later:

Town docks. April 20th.2011

There’s actually less open water!

So today I have a dedicated crew (thanks Perry, Chris, and Jordan!) who are going to get out on the ice and cut us a hole to jump into.  Then on Saturday, a local scuba diver trained in ice diving is going to be on hand, along with the local gold mine’s ice rescue team, just in case there’s an unexpected problem (thanks Ed and Mo!).

We are also going to have some guest “Celebrity Leapers”.  Graham Saunders, a meteorologist and lecturer at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay as well as author of “Gardening in a Short Growing Season” is making the 7-hour drive up to Red Lake to participate in the Leap in Red Lake as well as the local Earth Festival that is happening on this weekend.  Graham, who is also the President of Environment North, has been a guest blogger on 350orbust in the past.  Also making the trip from Thunder Bay is Peter Rosenbluth, the Northern Connections Coordinator for Ontario Nature.

I extended the invitation to participate in this local event to each of the candidates running in the federal election – Greg Rickford is the incumbent CONServative MP, Roger Valley is the Liberal candidate, Tania Cameron is running for the NDP, and Mike Schwindt is the Green Party candidate.  I haven’t heard anything back from Rickford’s office, despite several emails.  Mr. Valley declined the invitation but is supposed to be sending a delegate from his campaign team.  Ms. Cameron’s campaign manager told me she had another commitment that day, although I see that on the Facebook event page she is now signed up as “attending”.  And Mike Schwindt, the courageous Green Party candidate, has been an enthusiastic supporter, and willing “leaper”, since he first heard about it.

So, wish us luck on Saturday!  And even more important, consider creative and fun ways to raise the issue of taking action on climate change in your community.  Together, we can do this!

Thanks to Dimitris, Marlene, Suzanne, Perry, Catherine, Kaaren, Eleanor, Kelly and Donna who have stepped up to the plate in an amazing way to help make this event happen.  As well, Miigweech to the Red Lake Indian Friendship Centre for offering their space, and hot chocolate, on Saturday morning.  And, of course, a big shout out to all the “Leapers” who are crazy enough – and committed enough – to take a leap for a really good cause!

Who Are The Real Fear Mongers?

This week, this blog has been visited by some  fossil-fuel lovin’, pro-pollution and anti-science folks who accuse the scientists sounding the alarm about our rapidly warmly planet of “fear-mongering”.  It really is amusing, but for the fact that there are so many of these folks, often funded by those with deep pockets and a vested stake in the fossil fuel industry (see “Manufactured Ignorance” in the American Scientist, and more links below) accusing other people of doing what they, indeed, do at every opportunity. As Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt  points out,  one of the key patterns of the anti-climate science folks is to accuse other people of doing what they do – they misrepresent the scientific evidence, they take data out of context,  they attack the reputations of distinguished scientists, and then they accuse everyone else of doing exactly what they have done.

These funded folks flood the public commentary of any article related to climate science with their anti-science nonsense, and then expect to be given equal time on blogs as well.  If not, they cry foul.  Although they represent a position that is not held by virtually any working climate scientist or any working public health official, they have very successfully pressured the mainstream media into presenting this issue inaccurately as if there are two equal and balanced sides.  These people learned their skills during the tobacco industry’s campaign against the science linking health effects to smoking, and they are honing them in the anti-climate science push.

However, as I make clear in my comment policy, this blog is not a place to debate the science of a warming atmosphere and a global increase in temperatures.  That science is settled.  As I point out, the urgency of the situation commands an “all hands on deck” response, not bickering about the size of the iceberg that has just hit our Titanic as we sink, taking our children and grandchildren’s future with us.  For clarity, I am reposting part of my comment policy here:

In keeping with the critical urgency of this situation, comments that argue that climate change is not happening, that CO2 is good for us, that Al Gore isn’t a scientist (we all know this!!), that as a meteorologist/geologist/etc. you know better than the IPCC and every National Academy of Science, humans are too insignificant to cause climate change, and so on, will be deleted without comment. If you are high on the credibility spectrum – that is, you are a publishing scientist – and you are quoting from a legitimate peer-reviewed source, and you have something to say about the science of climate change, then your comments will be posted. Referencing other blogs DOES NOT count!

Lest I be accused of conspiracy, let me say now that yes, I definitely AM part of a conspiracy. A conspiracy to keep planet earth habitable for humanity. I’m part of a conspiracy to sign a survival, NOT a suicide pact. I would LOVE for climate change to be just a theory. I would love to eat, play, and love without the ever-present knowledge that we are all about to step over a precipice from which we can never return.

As far as credibility spectrum goes, Roger, anybody with an economics degree (I have a brother with one) doesn’t have any, unless it is economics that they are commenting on.  And even then, a bachelor’s degree in economics is a pretty generic kind of thing to boast about – now if you had a Ph.D. in economics, your credibility on statements concerning economics would greatly increase, but not your comments on climate science.  As for generic ranters who make statements like “I am making sure everyone I speak to knows about the Cap & Trade Tax Scam that is going to be FORCED on us IF they vote for NDP, Liberal or Green”, well, clearly, that’s not fear-mongering at all! LOL.

And, for the record, Missy, I agree that Cap-and-Trade isn’t going to stop carbon pollution.  It is going to be used by industry to line their own pockets, not benefit the planet.  What we need is a fee and dividend system that places a fee on carbon where it is first produced, and then distributes that fee evenly among a province’s or nation’s citizens. As Joe Robertson explains in Building a Green Economy: The Economics of Pricing Carbon and the Transition to Clean, Renewable Fuels:

Putting a price on carbon creates a contextual incentive for diversification and innovation in the energy economy. When Germany shifted its tax-base from income to energy, it spurred a decade of aggressive public and private investment in renewable resources. In just four years, it became the world leader in clean energy export, taking 70% of the world market just eight years after the initial policy shift.

German firms are driving investments of €400 billion in the Desertec solar project in North Africa, part of a plan to connect two continents via multi-gigawatt undersea transmission cables and advanced smart-grid technology. The project will revolutionize the energy sector in Europe and Africa, creating wealth for businesses and communities large and small. Morocco, for instance, plans to use its desert and mountain terrain, as well as its wind-intensive coastal areas, to generate enough renewable energy to become an export leader for the European market. This model can be duplicated in mountainous, desert-rich and coastal states across the U.S.

But as for taking these folks seriously, one doesn’t have to read “Climate Cover-up” or “Merchants Of Doubt” to find out about how vested interests are trying to skew the public debate on climate change and other issues that threaten people on the right of the political spectrum.  Early on in our federal election campaign, some ads started showing up on Craig’s list – I snapped a photo of one before it disappeared 24 hours later.  It’s difficult to read, but here’s what it says:

Writers needed to post right-wing comments to social media and news outlets.

We are a social media company working for a political organization, hired to balance the left-wing of the major media outlets by supplying a team of writers who will post to newspaper comments, media forums, Facebook pages, etc.

Your writing must be strong, right-wing, and use the supplied talking points without being bogged down in too much detail. You are creating an on-line persona with a consistent tone. Ideally you can find or construct facts and statistics to stir controversy. Where suited humour is welcome.

You are a news junky who is able to log on to news forums and Facebook pages several times a day. You are able to write comments tailored to new topics while repeating key talking points.

So, it’s clear that we can’t take these folks – and their mock outrage at the suppression of dissent – too seriously, as they and their friends are in the process of undermining the very foundation of free speech and democracy by being paid lackeys to an amoral industry. They are trying to manufacture doubt on scientific fact, and conjure up fear of non-polluting and renewable clean energy. The truth will win out in the end – but will it be too late for our children and grandchildren to be able to avoid global climate instability and all its implications?  As Paul Hawken says in Blessed Unrest, there is a huge, unprecedented global movement for democracy and human rights gathering steam right now, a planetary immune response to the threats to the earth and her children. This quote from Mahatma Ghandi seems appropriate to end with:

Truth is by nature self-evident, as soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.

More links:

Manufactured Ignorance

How The War On Science Works – And How To Respond

An Interview with author Naomi Oreskes, on Merchants of Doubt

Tory Times Are Tough Times, Especially For Our Children’s Future

Why do I keep posting about the importance of electing a new Canadian government that does not include Stephen Harper and his Conservatives?  What does this have to do with climate change?

As a Canadian who knows that there is going to be a price to pay for our addiction to digging up buried carbon and transferring it into the air, I recognize that the next 5 years are crucial in jump-starting the clean energy economy in our country and giving our children a chance at a safe and secure future.  Harper and his cronies have consistently shown that they are firmly ensconced in the Alberta tar sands, and are in lock-step with the fossil fuel industry, which has no interest at all in encouraging an economy run by nonpolluting, renewable energy sources.  Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has become an international pariah at U.N. climate conferences, and Canada has been awarded more “Fossil” awards than any other country. The Harper government has also cut funding to monitor climate changes in our country, and has muzzled by intimidation Environment Canada scientists. Climate Action Network Canada describes Harper’s legacy this way:

The current government has taken a reckless approach to one of the greatest challenges of our time. Despite the fact that the impacts of climate change have become increasingly obvious, the government has failed to take this crisis seriously.

For more background, check out the “What The Heck IS Canada’s Policy?” page, or go to Climate Action Network’s 2011 Election Watch Page.

So, with apologies to my international readers,  here’s another synopsis of the Harper government’s mismanagement of our country. As the video description reads:

Five years after he was first elected, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have shown themselves frightening consistent in their contempt for parliament, inability to tolerate dissent, and hostility towards any truth or facts that do not back up their world view. On May 2nd, let’s end Harper’s reign and bring common sense back to government.


Here’s the list of Harper’s legacy that the video highlights: no tax income trusts .. nuclear safety watchdog fired … in and out scandal … Bernier … fixed election dates anyone? … proroguing .. short term deficits .. long form census … lost UN security council .. torturing prisoners .. misleading the house of commons .. $26 million to promote the economic action plan after it ran out … breached parlimentary privilege twice .. government of Canada replaced by Harper government on all documents

More links:

The Government of Canada’s Record on Climate Change (2006 – present)

It’s Time For Canada’s Fossilized Climate Policy to Be Buried

Climate Action Network Canada Response to Conservative Platform

Science Fact, Not Fiction

Via NASA’s Global Climate Change page comes this 1989 video of science fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov. As the NASA blog points out, if you change the coloring of the video, the facial hair style, and switch out Asimov for someone else, the video could pretty much have been made today. Only Asimov spoke without fear of retaliation from anti-science, pro-pollution wingnuts like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

“I have been talking about the greenhouse effect for 20 years at least,” says Asimov in the video. “And there are other people who have talked about it before I did. I didn’t invent it.” As the NASA website points out, global warming, and the idea that humans can change the climate, is not new. Here’s some science 101 on the greenhouse effect, and it’s connection to our burning of fossil fuels:


More links:

Global Climate Change: NASA’s Eyes on the Earth

10-Year-Old Challenges Canadian Politicians and Big Oil: “Protect Our Coast From Oil Spills”

Meet Ta’Kaiya.  She’s a ten-year-old girl from North Vancouver who, while learning about sea otters in her home-school, became concerned about the devastation oil tankers would cause to B.C.’s coast.

When she learned about Enbridge’s proposal to build an oil pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Great Bear Rainforest, bringing more than 200 oil tankers per year to this pristine coast, she got really worried.  Then she took action. This amazing young woman wrote a letter to Canadian politicians as well as a song that became a music video. Here they are:

March 24, 2011
Open Letter to Canadian politicians,

My name is Ta’Kaiya Blaney. I am 10-years-old. I live in North Vancouver and am from the Sliammon Nation. My name means “special water.”

I am writing to you because the Enbridge Corporation is planning to build a pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to Kitimat, BC. I thought it would be very risky for our coast so I wrote a song, called “Shallow Waters” about an oil spill happening in the shallow waters.

You will be debating Bill C-606 soon, if an election is not triggered, which would ban oil tankers from our northwest coast. I am sharing my song’s music video and a personal message to encourage you to vote in favour of the bill.

Today is the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Even today, 22 years later, oil still remains a few inches under the surface of the water.

With this song, I hope to encourage government officials, people of British Columbia, and people across the world will realize the dangers of oil pollution, replace jobs that destroy the environment with jobs that help the environment. I ask government and corporate officials such as yourselves change your plans stop oil tanker traffic on BC’s coast and in waters around the world.
Please feel free to share my letter and video with others.

All my relations,
Ta’Kaiya Blaney


Join Ta’Kaiya and TAKE ACTION:

More links:

Why Enbridge is Afraid of Ta’Kaiya Blaney

Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Threatens Canadian Wildlife

Michigan Oil Spill Among the Largest in U.S. History: Kalamazoo Spill Soaks Wildlife

Dangerous Goods: New Report Highlights Risks of Shipping Raw Oilsands

Next, U.S. Republicans Vote To Repeal the Law of Gravity

Last Thursday, Democratic Senator Ed Markey responded with sardonic humour to the anti-science, pro-pollution bill introduced by Senators Inhofe and Upton to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on climate pollution, including its endangerment finding:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet.However, I won’t physically rise, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating about the room.

I won’t call for the sunlight of additional hearings, for fear that Republicans might excommunicate the finding that the Earth revolves around the sun.

Instead, I’ll embody Newton’s third law of motion and be an equal and opposing force against this attack on science and on laws that will reduce America’s importation of foreign oil.

This bill will live in the House while simultaneously being dead in the Senate. It will be a legislative Schrodinger’s cat killed by the quantum mechanics of the legislative process!

Arbitrary rejection of scientific fact will not cause us to rise from our seats today. But with this bill, pollution levels will rise. Oil imports will rise. Temperatures will rise.

And with that, I yield back the balance of my time. That is, unless a rejection of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is somewhere in the chair’s amendment pile.


More links:

During Climate Hearing, Markey asks if Anti-Science GOP will repeal Gravity, Heliocentrism, Relativity.

Risky Business: Will Facts Ever Drive the Congressional Debate On Climate Change?

Nature’s Might On Display in Japan: Humans Ignore It At Our Peril

Much of the world’s attention, and thoughts and prayers, are focused on the people of Japan, who are suffering from the deadly effects of last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, and are now facing a nuclear emergency. The devastation to one of the world’s most industrialized countries is unbelievable, yet it is undeniable. It is clear that the death toll will be much higher than the current official one of 2,800.  The survivors are struggling to deal with lack of food and clean water, and the loss of their shelter.

Many of us living in the industrialized world of the 21st century feel that we are we are separate from our environment. Many of us believe that “environmental” issues like water pollution, ocean acidification, and climate change are issues that we can choose to ignore without any consequence to ourselves or our families. We don’t realize that what we do to our surroundings, we also do to ourselves. We, in our hubris, have also come to feel that we are in control of nature, not the other way around. That is the only explanation for our unabated abuse of the gift of fossil fuels, and our ongoing pollution of our water and air.  If we are going to have a future without ever-increasing pictures on our t.v. screens like what we saw from Japan this weekend, and Australia in January, and Bangladesh last August, we need to all agree that what we do to our environment, we do to ourselves, and to our children and their children. Because, of course, it will eventually be us and our communities who are featured in the news headlines.

Derrick Jensen offers a different way of approaching environmental accountability, in a recent article in Orion magazine entitled “Age of Ooops”, where he proposes that environmental risks should be considered through the lens of the precautionary principle:

The solution I dreamed up to this lack of accountability is a robustly enforced legislative version of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle suggests that if an action, or policy, has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that this action is not harmful falls on those proposing to take the action. They can’t act if they can’t prove no harm will come. So, for example, instead of presuming that deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is safe, and only suspending drilling when there is proof of harm, we should presume that this action is harmful until it has been proven otherwise. The same logic should apply to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, there are thousands of examples of harmful actions that would be stopped by any reasonable application of the precautionary principle.

Click here to read the full article. (thanks to Curtis for sending it my way).

More links:

Japanese Disaster Teams Search For Bodies

Nuclear Plants Threatened by Earthquake

Japan Nuclear Plant Rocked By Second Blast

Japan’s Chernobyl: Fukishama Marks the End of the Nuclear Era

Fire and Ice: Melting Glaciers Trigger Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes

Donuts Or the Planet? What Would Alberta Health Minister Liepert Choose?

The creative folks over at have put out an excellent video that underlines the cartoonish proportions of the destruction and deadly legacy that the relentless pursuit of “black gold” has brought to northern Alberta.  Unfortunately for the people of Fort Chipewyan, who are hardest hit by the toxic development that is the Alberta tar sands, this is not a cartoon, it is their every day reality.

I’m certain the feeling of living in some kind of alternate reality hits the citizens of Fort Chipewyan when they hear their Provincial Health Minister, Ron Liepert, stand in front of a microphone with a straight face and assure them that the Alberta government will help those affected by high cancer rates but that those efforts will not focus on the environment.

We need to work with the community to ensure that there may be other factors such as lifestyle and those sorts of things that probably aren’t helping matters any.

Perhaps he should have kept it to “Duhhh”.


More links:

Stand With Fort Chipewyan on Facebook