Canada’s Environment Minister Doesn’t Know What Ozone Is, But Approves Cuts To Ozone Monitoring

Unfortunately, this is the fellow in charge of preserving Canada’s water, air, and climate for future generations. The video below shows Environment Minister Peter Kent can’t respond to Justin Trudeau’s straightforward question about what ozone is, and the difference between ozone at high and low levels of the atmosphere. This is the same Environment Minister who just cut funding to Canada’s important ozone monitoring network, as Graham Saunders just explained (see Solving The Big Environmental Calamities Requires Measuring, Research, Monitoring). Shameful.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=o8wma_bRHCM]

More links:

Kent Sidesteps Science Question on Ozone

Senior Bureaucrat Cast Doubt About Ozone Monitoring Cuts

Canada Cuts Environment Spending: Stephen Harper’s Government Is Cutting Budgets For Climate, Conservation, and Ozone Monitoring Projects

Solving The Big Environmental Calamities Requires Measuring, Research, Monitoring

Today’s guest blogger is Graham Saunders. Graham’s weather and climate background includes work with the Australian Weather Bureau, the Atmospheric Environment Service of Canada and forest fire weather prediction for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He does research and writing for several publications about weather, climate, Lake Superior, agriculture and northern gardening issues, including a “Weather Whys” column in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal for the last11 years. Graham is also the author of “Gardening with Short Growing Seasons”, published in 2009. He teaches meteorology and has taught Climate Change and other courses at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Graham is a board member of the Bay Credit Union and the former president of Environment North, a group of long standing in Northwestern Ontario.

Last August, the Harper government announced plans to disable most functions of the ozone measuring network in Canada. Tom Duck, a Dalhousie atmospheric scientist commented, “This is kind of like taking the batteries out of your smoke detector.”

Everybody’s talking about the weather these days. But contrary to Mark Twain’s quip, collectively we have done something about it — or at least about looming hazards such as acid rain and ozone depletion.

Four decades ago, acid rain stories made headlines, due to the death of our lakes and die back of some forests. In some lakes in eastern Canada, the water was so clear that you could see to the bottom. More and more lakes downwind from coal plants and heavy industries were becoming sterile from sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, which killed off fish and aquatic ecosystems.

The obvious solution was to reduce or eliminate sulphur dioxide and other emissions that combine with water vapour and then fall as acid rain or snow. Since winds and air flow are not influenced by political boundaries, the problem required an international solution. Some familiar arguments arose for delaying action: that restrictions would hurt the economy, or be ineffective, or were aimed at the wrong target.

Nonetheless, in the 1970s, Canada, the United States and other countries proceeded with clear air legislation and international agreements. “Scrubbers” and other technology dramatically reduced emissions. Certain countries, including Canada, met their agreed targets ahead of schedule.

Also in the 1970s, scientists and policy makers started discussing ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere. Ozone is a gas present in trace amounts mainly at an altitude 20 to 25 km above the Earth’s surface.

Ozone absorbs some ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths, almost all of extremely hazardous UV-C and most of UV-B wavelengths. Without this diffuse layer of ozone, life as we know it could not exist on this planet.

Scientists predicted further declines in ozone amounts because of increased use of supersonic aircraft like the Concorde and extensive use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration and aerosol spray cans. (Chlorofluorocarbons do not exist naturally and were created in labs and factories.) Expected harmful effects of ozone depletion include a considerable jump in human and animal skin cancers and depletion of phytoplankton in oceans.

Major CFC producers like Dupont Corporation fiercely resisted attempts to ban CFCs with the usual arguments about possible harm to the economy, distrust of the science, and so on. Some partial bans began around 1980 and the issue briefly faded from view.

Then came the shocking 1985 discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. It was not technically a “hole”, but a decline to 40 percent of normal coverage alarmed scientists. So unexpected was the finding that it was first dismissed as an instrument defect.

Worse, ozone loss was also apparent in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and a smaller and a more mobile hole was detected over the Arctic. And additional research suggested links with cataracts, damage to the human immune system and reduced crop yields.

Faced with this urgent threat, the United Nations Environmental Program convened a world meeting in Montreal in September, 1987. The US Environmental Protection Agency set the tone with warnings of additional skin cancers for tens of millions of people; the EPA suggested 95 percent reduction in CFC production by 1996.

The 31 countries attending agreed to a 50 percent reduction by the end of the century. Then they and an additional 50 countries met two years later in Helsinki, and agreed to a 100 percent reduction by the year 2000. Most countries, including Canada, met their targets ahead of schedule.

We cannot know precisely what would have resulted without clean air and ozone legislation but the saying, “You don’t want to go there” almost certainly applies.

These collective responses to impending threats offer heartening examples of what can be achieved when governments and the public heed scientists’ warnings. But since then, a few exceptions and deferrals have snuck into international regulation of ozone depletion. For example, the Bush Administration removed restrictions on methyl bromide, a banned chemical under the Montreal Protocol.

Nor is the situation stable. For some reason, massive ozone destruction — on the order of 40 to 80 percent — occurred at altitudes of 18 – 20 km in the Arctic in the 2011 spring season. The “hole” drifted across northern Canada, Europe, central Russia to northern Asia and prompted scientists in some jurisdictions to issue radiation warnings.

This record ozone depletion is troubling because the ozone problem should be improving and this reversal is not well understood.

In spite of this, the Harper government announced plans in August to disable most functions of the ozone measuring network in Canada. And it gets worse. The Harper government does not permit interviews with the scientists involved and has sent letters warning of “discontinuance of job function” to those employed in this and related programs.

Ozone depletion is only one of the areas where the Harper government is employing a veil of silence. An organization that track mercury and other toxins and monitors various indicators in Lake Superior, is still waiting for its annual funding pittance.

Measuring and monitoring changes in our environment are essential for protecting human health and the wilderness ecology. Choosing not to monitor hazards is dangerous behaviour on several levels, ranging from health risks to undermining the democratic process. Canadians should be aware that the Harper government is deliberately choosing not to collect or make available essential information for setting environmental policies.

The Denial Tango: As The Waters Rise Around Me, I’ll Just Hold My Breath And Say It Isn’t So

I’m on vacation this week on the beautiful West Coast. On Saturday I attended TEDx Victoria, which had a line-up of interesting and thought-provoking speakers who spoke for 10 minutes about their special area of interest. Raffi Cavoukian inspired the crowd with his discussion of childhonouring: “being earth-friendly is the same thing as being child-friendly.” The last speaker, however, moved the crowd to tears with his stunning and disturbing pictures of the boreal forest and the destruction of the tar sands. Professional photographer Garth Lenz, whose Tar Nation exhibit is currently on display in Los Angeles, spoke passionately about the land and the people that the tar sands are destroying, and reminded us that we are all downstream, in this age of global climate change. He closed with the statement “there is nothing ethical about this”, and a call to action for everyone seated in that auditorium.

But more on the conference later. For today, as the Durban Conference on Climate Change approaches and there’s news that “Lord” Monckton and his traveling circus of oil-industry funded deniers are planning to attend, here’s a little ditty by an Australian group, Men With Day Jobs, The Denial Tango:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TrURLJ6Vlsg]

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More links:

Tar Nation: Garth Lenz’s Photographic Exhibit

Centre For Child Honouring: Respecting Earth And Child

TEDx Victoria

BackPocketRecords.com: Men With Day Jobs

Banned On The Hill: Franke James Takes Her Art To Ottawa

We’ve met Franke James, a Canadian visual artist, on 350orbust before. I discuss the Harper government’s interference with a big career opportunity for her, a European art tour, in these posts:  Dear Prime Minister Harper: Please Stop Blacklisting Environmental Artists and Scientists and Is The Kremlin Now In Charge? Harper Government Now Silencing Canadian Artists and Scientists.  Now this creative environmental artist has taken the bold step of taking her art right to Prime Minister Harper’s doorstep, into public spaces in Ottawa:

This week, Franke was interviewed on CBC Radio’s The Current, with this intro:

Franke James creates irreverent even whimsical art with a message about the environment, oil sands and climate change but when a federal bureaucrat accused her of creating a Fantasy, she filed an Access to Information request and discovered an email trail indicating officials at the Foreign Affairs Dept don’t seem to like her art and pulled funding because her work isn’t consistent with government interests. She says that opinion ended plans for a European art tour.

Go to the CBC website to hear the full interview.

And don’t forget to check out Franke’s blog to read her full visual essay, Banned On The Hill (And In Europe!).  And spread the word about her art show on to your circle.  Let’s support freedom of speech in our country, and Franke James!

More links:

CBC.ca: The Current

My Green Conscience: Franke James

Is The Kremlin Now In Charge? Harper Government Silencing Canadian Artists And Scientists.

Robert Redford And I Occupy Vancouver

Never let it be said that as a climate activist I’m not occasionally smitten by the desire to do a little Hollywood star-gazing. In the past, I’ve been known to scour the streets of Winnipeg for Brad Pitt when he was in filming in Old Market Square, or (going back even farther in my murky history) trying to catch a glimpse of Timothy Hutton (back when he was still a celebrity) when he was in Churchill for several weeks on location and I was working in the port town. I’ve never had any luck, and that hasn’t changed. I found out this morning that Robert Redford and Chris Cooper were seen filming near Occupy Vancouver. The Huffington Post reported:

Many passersby watching fire officials and city workers carry out safety adjustments at Occupy Vancouver on Tuesday got a in little stargazing, too, as Hollywood legend Robert Redford also made an appearance near the encampment.

I was at Occupy Vancouver while the fire officials and city workers walked through the site!  I even went around the corner and noticed the film crew at work, but having walked by a film crew the day before on Granville Street without seeing anyone interesting, I didn’t bother to go any further. It turns out some things in life are consistent, my luck in just missing celebrities being one of them!

Here’s another hero of mine, Bill McKibbon from 350.org, in a video put out by Tar Sands Action after the victory against the Keystone XL pipeline last week, a cause championed by Mr. Redford as well:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7e4Cfc-KRGA]

And here is Redford talking about why the Keystone XL pipeline is such a bad idea:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=E6AyQBChpO0]

*OMG – I just got on Twitter after I posted this and found out that BILL MCKIBBON was also at Occupy Vancouver last night – and so was I, for a few minutes but my husband has less time to Occupy while we’re visiting this city, so we left about 10 minutes after we got there.  I CAN”T BELIEVE IT!! That would have been so amazing, to hear him speak. But like I said, my luck is consistent if not good!*

We Are The Many

Occupy yourself with this powerful video by Makana, a popular Hawaiian recording artist. At the APEC summit in Hawaii this past weekend Makana made a bold and courageous statement.  He was enlisted to play a luau on Saturday night for leaders gathered in Obama’s birthplace, Honolulu, for the annual summit (the APEC countries are currently formulating plans for a Pacific free-trade pact). During the supper, Makana sang a marathon version of this song (40 minutes of it) with his jacket open to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Occupy With Aloha”. Makana told AFP:

I was pretty nervous. In fact I was terrified. I kept thinking ‘what are the consequences going to be?It was incredibly comical. I was terrified but also enjoying it.

Makana said the song prompted awkward stares from a few of those present but the Obamas appeared too absorbed with their guests to notice what was happening.

Guests at the supper included Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with an accompanying heavy security presence. As Makana sang, about 400 protesters including anti-globalization and native Hawaiian rights activists staged a protest march toward the dinner site but turned back after encountering the smothering security.

Inspired by the anti-capitalist movement that began with the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations in New York, the song denounces Washington politicians, corporate greed and what he sees as an unfair American economic system.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq3BYw4xjxE&feature=colike&mid=52&fb_source=message]

We Are The Many

Ye come here, gather ’round the stage
The time has come for us to voice our rage
Against the ones who’ve trapped us in a cage
To steal from us the value of our wage

From underneath the vestiture of law
The lobbyists at Washington do gnaw
At liberty, the bureaucrats guffaw
And until they are purged, we won’t withdraw

We’ll occupy the streets
We’ll occupy the courts
We’ll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

Our nation was built upon the right
Of every person to improve their plight
But laws of this Republic they rewrite
And now a few own everything in sight

They own it free of liability
They own, but they are not like you and me
Their influence dictates legality
And until they are stopped we are not free

We’ll occupy the streets
We’ll occupy the courts
We’ll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

You enforce your monopolies with guns
While sacrificing our daughters and sons
But certain things belong to everyone
Your thievery has left the people none

So take heed of our notice to redress
We have little to lose, we must confess
Your empty words do leave us unimpressed
A growing number join us in protest

We occupy the streets
We occupy the courts
We occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

You can’t divide us into sides
And from our gaze, you cannot hide
Denial serves to amplify
And our allegiance you can’t buy

Our government is not for sale
The banks do not deserve a bail
We will not reward those who fail
We will not move till we prevail

We’ll occupy the streets
We’ll occupy the courts
We’ll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

We’ll occupy the streets
We’ll occupy the courts
We’ll occupy the offices of you
Till you do
The bidding of the many, not the few

We are the many
You are the few

Click here to download the song for free.

Watch Makana on Democracy Now.

Remembering the Montgomery Bus Boycott During Occupy Times

It was fifty five years ago today the Supreme Court of the United States of America upheld the decision of the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Alabama “that Alabama’s racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional.”  It was only just the beginning of the civil rights movement.  Only the beginning.  So “keep on keeping on” Occupy, we have only just begun!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jJ1OO5iBWCQ]