Was Our Oil Dependency Manufactured?

Is anybody else getting tired of being told that we have to continue on the destructive oil-dependent path we’re currently on? There seems to be a large and vocal part of the population that believes because this is way we’ve been doing things for the last 100 years or so, give or take a few decades, that this is the only possible path to maintain our standard of living. The truth is, unless we take a sharp turn and start living and doing business sustainably, our standard of living is going to come crashing abruptly and painfully down. You just can’t live like there are 5 more planets like earth, like we currently do in North America, when in fact there is only this one.

If you aren’t convinced yet that oil is a dirty fuel after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, one that is getting filthier all the time due to our growing dependence on the Alberta tar sands, go to Wikipedia.org’s “list of oil spills” page. It is a reverse-chronological  list of oil spills that are currently happening, and that have happened since the early 1900s. Hundreds of thousands of tons of oil have been spilled in 2010 already (remember we’re only halfway through the year) by seven spills around the globe.

And yet, here we are in 2010, and governments around the world are using our taxpayer money to subsidize Big Oil and Gas to the tune of $500 billion a year!  As I wrote previously, we are all subsidizing Big Oil’s war on our grandchildren!

Yet, it turns out, it didn’t have to be this way. Henry Ford’s Model T came right from the factory, in 1911, with flex-fuel capacity; it could run on alcohol and gas. And in the 1930s and 1940s, Henry Ford developed a car body that was made from hemp fiber that also ran on hemp biodiesel. According to the YouTube video clip that features it, the resulting material was “lighter than steel, but could withstand ten times the impact without denting”. It seems clear that Henry Ford did encourage hemp cultivation to use as a fuel and as a manufacturing material. This was before hemp growing was banned in the U.S. in a strange twist in their war on drugs (hemp has no hallucinogenic properties although it is related to the marijuana plant).

Here are some videos that demonstrate how we could have gone down a different path to fueling and making our vehicles, and how, if we act quickly enough, we might still be able to change direction:

Ford’s first flex-fuel car, the 1911 Model T:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qDYoEupI28&feature=player_embedded]

Archival footage of Ford’s 1941 hemp car (the quality is quite poor, but it gives you the general idea):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rgDyEO_8cI]

More links:

B.C. Carbon Tax a Winner: The shift has been an economic boon for the province’s taxpayers and is projected to lower greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent

100 days of oil: Gulf life will never be the same again

Oil Pipeline Leak Pollutes Major Michigan River

Rethink Alberta Campaign Ruffles Some Tar Sands Supporters’ Feathers

There’s a slick new campaign, launched last week by a consortium of environmental, community and indigenous groups, that has been getting a lot of media attention in Canada, particularly in Alberta. It’s called “Rethink Alberta” and is designed to shine light on the environmental devastation of the Alberta tar sands, and to impact Alberta’s “bottom line” by affecting their tourism industry. Along with a video, the campaign includes billboards in four American cities that compare oil-covered birds in the Gulf of Mexico with dead ducks in a Syncrude tailings pond. The ads call the tar sands the “other oil disaster” and urged travellers to boycott Alberta. Not surprisingly, there has been angry reaction from Premier Stelmach, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), and some Albertans. Watch the video and decide for yourself if extracting oil from the tar sands is worth the price:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dpOzvmBj8k&feature=player_embedded]

Visit the Rethink Alberta website to “take the pledge” to not visit Alberta until the Alberta Government:

  1. Halts the expansion of the Tar Sands.
  2. Stops spending millions of dollars on public relations campaigns designed to keep the United States addicted to dirty Tar Sands oil.
  3. Takes meaningful steps to transition its economy away from dirty Tar Sands oil to clean energy alternatives.

More links:

Rethink Alberta campaign riles Tories

Dead Ducks In A Tailings Pond – How It Happened

Corporate Ethics

Rethink Alberta

Oilsandswatch.org

David Suzuki asks “What’s the Real Bottom Line?”

David Suzuki,  a Canadian scientist, broadcaster, and tireless environmentalist who was recently voted the person Canadians most trust, has a new CBC radio show on Sundays between 11:00 and noon. The 10-part show,  The Bottom Line, premiered last week.  The first two hours have been fascinating listening. The show describes its goal as:

“Exploring the disconnect between our modern values and the natural world. Environmentalists are often told by politicians and corporate executives that without a strong growing economy we can’t afford to do the kind of things they are demanding, that the economy is the bottom line. This series is a celebration of the earth, the atmosphere, water, soil, and energy of the sun that work in tandem to sustain life on this planet. The true ‘bottom line’.”

The first episode featured discussions between Mr. Suzuki and Jim Prentice, Canada’s Environment Minister while they were in Haida Gwaai marking the expansion of a federal park. Suzuki pushes Prentice on the false dichotomy that still persists in this government’s attitude between the environment and the economy. The old “we can’t do anything about the environment unless we have a strong economy” argument. Suzuki clearly presents the urgency of climate change and environmental degradation, and Prentice doesn’t “get it” at all. His responses to Suzuki’s questions include such platitudes like: “It’s about balance.” “We are taking steps forward.”We’ve set a goal of reducing emissions to 17% below 2005 levels.” “I’m proud of the scientists we have at Environment Canada.” “We need technology to address these issues over time.

Really Mr. Prentice?!The former Chief Economist at the World Bank has said that if the world doesn’t deal in a heroic way to reduce emissions, the consequences of climate change are economically catastrophic. The risk to humanity from climate change is second only to the threat of nuclear war. And yet this is the anemic response Canadians get from our government – “we hope that some technology comes along to save us eventually because we can’t possibly find ways to reduce our emissions, the highest per capita in the world”! Good grief. It’s pathetic.

Anyway, The Bottom Line is worth listening to, just to hear Suzuki and Prentice offer their very different points of view. And Mr. Suzuki is pretty gentle on Mr. Prentice, considering that the Environment Minister’s responses were so inadequate.

Also in the first episode is an interesting interview with Lord Nicholas Stern, former Chief Economist at the World Bank and author of a report on climate change and economics for the British government. Stern says that the current view that separates the economy and the environment is “a basic analytical and intellectual mistake.” In the future, he asserts, the two will be seen as working together. And in response to David Suzuki’s questions about the lack of urgency in the world’s response to this looming disaster, Stern states that Britain and the rest of Europe know from their experience with two World Wars last century that the inability to cooperate internationally leads to disaster, and hopefully this experience will assist in addressing the problem of climate change:

We’ve got to use the rationality that developed with evolution to anticipate these problems. We’ve got the ability, we’re going to have to use that. If we wait for experience to tell us we’re in trouble it’s going to be almost impossible to get out of it. People need to understand the great dangers, but we need to go beyond that and talk about the great opportunities that we’ll create if we go the sensible route.

“Sensible route”? Sounds good to me! Are you listening, Mr. Prentice and Mr. Harper?

Listen to “The Bottom Line”.

More links:

David Suzuki Looks Back With a Hint of Regret. Globe and Mail

“The Bottom Line” on Facebook

The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity by Nicholas Stern.

“With Renewable Energy You Can Do Impossible Things”

I think it’s time for good news for a change, don’t you?  First, let’s recognize that it’s day 81 of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, and that results of that catastrophe, on the people and the environment, are just beginning to be felt. But today I’m going to talk about bright spots on the green horizon – because there are some!  For example:

  • Yesterday in Payerne, Switzerland a solar-powered plane landed after a 26 hour record-breaking flight. The pilot, Bertrand Piccard, said:

There is a before and after in terms of what people have to believe and understand about renewable energies,

He went on to say that the flight was proof new technologies can help break society’s dependence on fossil fuels.

When you took off it was another era,” said Piccard, who achieved the first nonstop circumnavigation of the globe in a balloon, the Breitling Orbiter III, in 1999. “You land in a new era where people understand that with renewable energy you can do impossible things.”

Click here for the full story.

And while we are discussing solar, some good news on my family’s steps towards generating some “green” energy. This week, our 20-year old roof shingles were replaced to prepare for the 6 – 7 Kilowatt solar panel system that will be going up sometime in the next few weeks. We have applied, and been accepted into, the Ontario microFIT program. I will share more info, and pictures, as the project progresses.

  • And in other good news, one year after a ban on lawn pesticides in Ontario, surface water is much cleaner. It only makes sense, but it’s nice to have confirmation that legislation like this can make a dramatic difference in just twelve months. From Treehugger.com:

68 stream water samples were taken over 2008 and 2009, representing the water quality before and after the ban took effect. Sampling points were selected in areas mainly influenced by residential run-off — away from golf courses, sewage treatment plant effluents, and agricultural applications. The samples were analyzed for 105 pesticides and pesticide degradation products.

The results are dramatic: three pesticides estimated to account for half of lawn care product applications dropped by 86% (2,4-D), 82% (dicamba), and 78% (MCPP: 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid). On the other hand, concentrations of glyphosphate (Roundup) and carbaryl did not drop significantly. The results for glyphosphate (Roundup) are attributed to continued use of this pesticide in certain exempted applications. The carbaryl results are not explained; perhaps this is due to the persistence of carbaryl in sediment.

Go to TreeHugger.com for the full story.

  • A third independent inquiry into the so-called “Climategate” scandal that was headline news all over the climate skeptics blogs six months ago has, once again, cleared the scientists of any wrong-doing. Muir Russell, the author of the third report, said clearly “Their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.”Yet the blogosphere remains strangely quiet on the matter, except those who are claiming (yet another) conspiracy.  To read more, check out “Third Inquiry Clears ‘Climategate’ Scientists of Serious Wrongdoing” at Newsweek.com. Here’s a bit of what it says:

Climategate, as its “gate” suffix suggests, has attained mythical status. For skeptics, the 1,000 or so e-mails and documents hacked last year from the Climactic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (UEA), in England, establish that global warming is a scientific conspiracy. There is no such proof. Here’s what happened.

And then a brief synopsis of events leading up to the latest inquiry is given, including Sarah Palin’s damning (and now, clearly completely inaccurate) opinion piece in The Washington Post that asserted “leading climate ‘experts’ deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals.” The Newsweek article concludes by pointing out the muted response by the media and blogosphere to the news that there was no conspiracy on the part of climate scientists, compared to the blaring headlines touting a conspiracy when the story initially broke:

But, as NEWSWEEK’s Sharon Begley pointed out, the retractions of the original “smoking gun” stories have been muted. Climategate, now a firmly established “gate,” will probably continue to be cited as evidence of a global-warming conspiracy. Indeed, the reaction to the report today has been somewhat odd. Bloomberg News’s headline was ‘Climategate’ Scientists Wrongly Withheld Data, Probe Finds‘*. It is inflammatory and misleading—the report did not say that information was withheld. It said that the scientists could have been better at responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, and generally, as Begley also noted, more open to scrutiny.

Go to Newsweek.com for the full story

*Interestingly, if you click on this link to Bloomberg.com, the story headline is now changed to “Climategate Scientists Cleared Of Manipulating Data”

Related links:

Tell Obama to Put Solar on the White House

And, for those of us not in the United States, go this link and ask YOUR leader to put solar on his/her home this year:

Put Solar On It


“We’re Not Doomed, We’re Just In Big Trouble” – Gwynne Dyer On Global Instability And Climate Change

“Recent scientific evidence has…given us a picture of the physical impacts on our world that we can expect as our climate changes. And those impacts go far beyond the environmental. Their consequences reach to the very heart of the security agenda.”

Margaret Beckett, former British foreign secretary

This is the quote that opens Gwynne Dyer’s book, Climate Wars. Mr Dyer is a London-based independent Canadian journalist, syndicated columnist and military historian. In 2010 he received the Order of Canada. His website summarizes his career this way:

Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities, finishing with a Ph.D. in Military and Middle Eastern History from the University of London. He served in three navies and held academic appointments at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Oxford University before launching his twice-weekly column on international affairs, which is published by over 175 papers in some 45 countries.
His first television series, the 7-part documentary ‘War’, was aired in 45 countries in the mid-80s. One episode, ‘The Profession of Arms’, was nominated for an Academy Award.  His more recent television work includes the 1994 series ‘The Human Race’, and ‘Protection Force’, a three-part series on peacekeepers in Bosnia, both of which won Gemini awards.  His award-winning radio documentaries include ‘The Gorbachev Revolution’, a seven-part series based on Dyer’s experiences in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in 1987-90, and ‘Millenium’, a six-hour series on the
emerging global culture.

So, what does Climate Wars have to say about the challenges the world faces in the coming decades, thanks to the grossly inadequate response of most governments to the threat that it poses? Some of the expected consequences of runaway climate change in the decades ahead are dwindling resources, massive population shifts, natural disasters, spreading epidemics, drought, rising sea levels, plummeting agricultural yields, devastated economies, and political extremism. Any one of these could tip the world towards conflict. Mr. Dyer points out that the military forces of both the United States and Britain have taken this threat seriously for years, although under George W. Bush’s presidency,  it was dangerous to one’s career to be seen treating climate change as a real and serious phenomenon. Despite that, the Pentagon hired the CNA Corporation to study the geopolitics of climate change. The resulting report, produced by the CNA Corporation in collaboration with eleven retired three- and four-star generals, was issued in April 2007 and is titled National Security and Climate. In that report, General Anthony C. Zinni, former commander-in-chief, U.S. Central Command, wrote:

You already have great tension over water [in the Middle East]. These are cultures often built around a single source of water. So any stresses on the rivers and aquifers can be a source of conflict. If you consider land loss, the Nile Delta region is the most fertile ground in Egypt. Any losses there [from a storm surge] could cause a real problem, again because the region is so fragile.

We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it.

For more of Gwynne Dyer on climate change, check out these videos or go to CBC’s website to listen to Climate Wars.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaFphYKT_I0]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UvHfsdZQNE]

U.S. Military: Climate Change Is A Threat Multiplier

Here is another video from the Climate Change And Global Security symposium held last week at the Museum of Natural History. A group of academic and military experts representing both the U.S. and Britain gathered to examine the reasons why any discussion about global warming should include a broader look at the implications for long-term global security.

In this clip, Dennis V. McGinn, retired Vice Admiral of the U.S. Navy and member of the Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board, discusses how climate change is a global threat multiplier, and its destabilizing impact on societies around the world:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBPL45C7T7I&feature=player_embedded]

More links:

To listen to the podcast of “Climate Change and Global Security” click here

National Security and the Threat of Climate Change

Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security

Navigating Climate Change: An Agenda for U.S.-Chinese Cooperation , a report by the EastWest Institute

A Campaign To Change The Course Of History

My family is in the middle of a graduation and a move, so my posts for the next week or two may be shorter than usual!

From the website of Four Years.Go, comes this inspiring message:

It’s time to make a choice. We can let present trends continue and risk almost certain breakdown and collapse.

Or… We can act and set humanity on a new course toward a just, thriving and sustainable world.

The choice is clear. We already possess the tools to shape our future. What’s missing is our collective will to act.

Four years is enough time to build that will, to change our direction, even to transform ourselves. And Go because we must start now.

There is still time to act, but no time to waste.

We are at the beginning of a great adventure, perhaps the greatest ever. Together, we can transform the story of civilization from impending disaster to a peaceful and sustainable world. The journey begins with each one of us taking a next step. What’s your next step—big or small?

You can subscribe to get updates from this campaign. Just click on “subscribe to our email list” button on the home page and fill out the information. The page states:

FOUR YEARS. GO. is just the beginning. We’re a rallying call for individuals and organizations to set humanity on the course to an environmentally sustainability, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling path by 2014. We will have developments, news, and opportunities to share as this journey moves forward. We encourage you to sign up to receive email updates about FOUR YEARS. GO. as a great way to stay connected.

I encourage you to spend some time exploring this website, and learning about what people are doing across the globe to make a sustainable, just future possible. For example, you can “share your next step” and let people know what actions you are taking. You can also explore a global map which provides a visual map of our collective journey to a sustainable, just, and fulfilling world. If you are on Facebook, you can also go to the FourYears.Go FB page and become a friend.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_6iTCo5Ci8]

Have a great Thursday- don’t forget to take time to spend time outside enjoying your own part of the planet. I know I’m going to get re-acquainted with this beautiful corner of Canada’s boreal forest!

Thanks to Cathy Orlando, Climate Champion from Sudbury, Ontario, for sharing “FourYears.Go” with me.

An American Politician Speaks Out Against Powerful Corporations Working Against The Good of the People – Finally!

U.S. Senator for Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor last week, proposing a path to restore government agencies that have been taken over by corporate interests.  Citing lax oversight and the inappropriate influence of corporations over the Minerals Management Service (MMS), Senator Whitehouse said  “We can no longer wait for more catastrophes to root out improper corporate influence in our government, we have to at long last address the problem of insidious regulatory capture.”

The Senator went on to cite many examples of MMS corruption, including: MMS staff accepting money and gifts from oil and gas companies; senior executives at the agency’s Royalty in Kind office steering contracts to their own outside consulting firm; an inspector in the agency’s Lake Charles, Louisiana office conducting inspections of a company’s drilling platforms while negotiating a job with that company; and other “significant issues worthy of separate investigation, including ethical lapses, program management, and process failures.”

Senator Whitehouse then explained how these activities led to conditions ripe for disaster, and that the answer to this disaster is to “clean house” and free the government from corporate interests:

We must be able to trust our government, both in plain view in front of us, and in corners far from sight, to be serving always the public interest, not doing the secret bidding of special interests; of corporate interests, because that’s where the big money is at stake.

Have we now learned, have we now finally learned, from the financial melt-down and the Gulf disaster, the price, the terrible price, of all those quietly cut corners?

Have we now learned what price must be paid when the stealthy tentacles of corporate influence are allowed to reach into and capture our agencies of government?

I pray, let us have learned this; let us have learned that lesson. I sincerely pray we have learned our lesson, and that this will never happen again. But let’s not just pray.

In this troubled world God works through our human hands; grows a more perfect union through our human hearts; creates his beloved community through our human thoughts and ideas. So it is not enough to pray. We must act.

To read the full transcript of Senator Whitehouse’s speech and view it on video, click here to go to Daily Kos.

Here’s a video of Senator Whitehouse in September, 2008, where he asks a very pointed question of oil company executives and top energy experts at a Senate Energy Policy Forum. This guy seems to “get” it – and in this video he articulates it. What an anomaly he is politics today!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXV7EBaRVxk]

More links:

Senator Whitehouse official website

To send Senator Whitehouse an email to support and encourage him, you can go to his website and click on the “email Sheldon” link on the bottom.  If you’d like to write a letter or telephone him, his contact information is below:

Washington Office:
Hart Senate Office Building
Room 502
Washington, D.C. 20510
202-224-2921 phone
202-228-6362 fax



Activists Demand End to Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Call For Clean Energy Now

Thursday June 17 was a Global Day of Action in the lead-up to the G8 meetings in Muskoka (June25-26)  and the G20 summit in Toronto (June 26-27). Around the world, activists called on world leaders to invest in the future by tackling climate change, fighting poverty and inequality, and rethinking the global economy.

From the tcktcktck website:

Toronto, Canada is the site of the G20 and played host to the main action of the day. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chair of the G8 & G20 Summits, has said that ‘climate is a sideshow’. With that in mind, event organizers decided to make Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper the star of his own sideshow.

In a parade through Toronto’s bustling financial district, “Prime Minister Harper” led a group of his favourite banker buddies in a series of joyful dances as they handed out billions of Canada’s brand-new ‘billion’ dollar bills. In their wake, they left a messy crowd of oil-drenched citizens being cleaned up by taxpayers. This peaceful and vibrant anchor event was designed to send a clear message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Stop dancing around the issues and put climate change on the agenda of the G8/G20.

Here’s a video of the Toronto event:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o16KbNaOSUE]

More links:

Watch an interview with Robert Fox, Director of OxFam Canada, on CTV TV

Oily Activists Demand Clean Energy” Toronto Sun

G20 Day of Action.tcktcktck.org