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!

The Impossible Hamster

Crazy consumption and really gross domestic product….


Go to or these supporting organizations:

Nef (the new economics foundation)

One Hundred or 100 months to save the

Wake up, Freak out – Then Get a Grip (tipping point ahead)

Optimism In Trying Times

I’ve been feeling discouraged lately – there are so many people trying to alert the rest of the world to the dangerous and suicidal course that we are on with our addiction to fossil fuels, and yet so very many powerful and loud voices are trying to drown out the voices of sanity and science.  And addiction is a difficult thing to change, whether it’s heroin or fossil fuels.  Will we be able to wean ourselves before our addiction kills us?  The next twenty years will tell.

Oh, right, I was going to write about optimism.  Sorry. As I mentioned a few days ago, I just read “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan, and would highly recommend it (and I should thank my daughter’s boyfriend, Krystofer, who bought the book and then graciously allowed me to read it before he did). Marion Nestle, author of “What to Eat” describes the book as:

A riveting account of the year in which Colin Beavan and his wife attempt what most of us would consider impossible. What might seem inconvenient to the point of absurdity instead teaches lessons that all of us need to learn. We as individuals can take action to address important social problems. One person can make a difference.”

At the beginning of his year of living no-impact, Beavan examined the work of psychologists who study happy people and what makes them happier than the rest of us.

What the positive psychologists had learned was that, while getting a new cell phone or a new car or a new house did give us a burst of pleasure, the pleasure did not last. If we wanted to feel the same spike of happiness, we would have to get another fix – yet another phone, yet another car. They called that mode of pleasure-seeking the “hedonic treadmill”.

The happiest people, the shrinks discovered, did not live their lives in this perpetual loop. Rather, these folks had raised their baseline mood in ways that did not require repeated doses of new stuff. The people most satisfied with life, it turned out, had strong social connections, found meaning in their work, got to exercise what they considered to be their highest talents, and had a sense of some higher purpose.

The positive psychologists confirmed scientifically, in other words, what simple-living advocates have been asserting for so long anecdotally: a life lived with less emphasis on acquisition might have the effect of leaving more time for richer, less resource-intensive life awards, making both the planet and the people happier.

So, it turns out that all of this consuming and working long hours to make money so we can consume even more isn’t making us any happier – less so, actually!  Some voices in the climate change debate encourage passivity and inaction by  saying things like  “there might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.” These voices are trying to send us the message that the choices that we make aren’t important, and that we should just carry on in our usual way. It turns out, as Beavan’s story demonstrates, one person’s choices can make a difference at the same time as that person becomes happier, healthier (with a better sex life, too, according to Beavan:).

Here’s a video from the folks at The Fun, a site dedicated to the thought that human behavior can be changed for the better by making the change fun.  The video shows how 66% more people ended up taking the stairs rather than the escalator by making climbing the stairs more fun that usual:


Have a fun, planet-loving kind of Friday!

Bill Gates: Climate Change Greatest Threat to Human Health

Microsoft founder and world’s richest philanthropist Bill Gates spoke about energy and climate change last Friday at a TED (Technology-Environment-Design) conference in Long Beach, California.  Gates has come under fire in the past for working to help the world’s poor without taking seriously current and future climate change effects.  For example, at last year’s TED conference Gates focused on insect-borne diseases, particularly malaria, which he presented as the world’s #1 problem without mentioning climate change.  This despite the fact that a changing climate will cause the spread of insect-borne diseases.

This changed on Friday. Gates told his audience that the deadline for the world to cut all of its carbon emissions is 2050. Gates reminded his listeners that climate change will cause poverty and famine that will disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people. The world’s number one problem is dirty energy, Gates asserted, and the burning of fossil fuels that drives climate change. About the science of climate change Gates said:

“Now the exact amount of how you map from a certain increase in CO2 to what temperature will be and where the positive feedbacks are, there’s some uncertainty there — but not very much.  And there’s certainly uncertainty about how bad the effects will be, but they will be extremely bad.

Gates went on to say that:

The formula is a very straightforward one. More carbon dioxide equals temperature increase equals negative effects like collapsed ecosystems. We have to get to zero.

Gates asserted that what the world needs is an “energy miracle”, and said that he is investing in high tech that could turn spent fuel rods into clean energy. The Huffington Post reported:

The world’s energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas, he said, and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

Not everyone who is concerned about climate change agrees with Gates’ proffered solutions.  Indeed, Gates told his audience that he would be sending them Al Gore’s latest book, Our Choice, which focuses on already available solutions to the climate crisis.  In his introduction, Gore writes:

It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will.

Despite disagreement on his view of solutions, Gates’ contribution is still a welcome, and high-profile, addition to this debate.  For an interesting discussion check out “Bill Gates is Wrong about ‘Energy Miracles’ ” on Climate Progress.