Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Busy times...

When I started this blog, I knew I wouldn't be posting very often. I was finishing up my final year of teaching, for one thing - who knew retiring could be so busy? I did hope that retirement would give me the time to do this more, though...

Not so far!

Besides increased involvement in the Green Party of Canada (running for a volunteer position on their Federal Council), I've been having a lot of fun taking on a small cluster of climate change deniers at http://AbsoluteAstronomy.com in their Global Warming forum. It's very rewarding, in its way. They have been trotting out every technique I've seen - "it's not real; we aren't the cause; somebody's making a career of it; it'll be beneficial; the changes are natural; the science is uncertain"...

So I go in & refute, chapter & verse, with citations. It's fun. Feel free to join in!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Trimming the hedge

We have a lovely boxwood hedge outside our front door - a pleasing curve of textured greenery about 6 metres long, leading around flowers toward the drive. It's been doing well this Spring, and so needed a trim.

As usual, I used the old-style (and old but still very functional) manual hedge shears. As my Dad used to say, I did it "handraulically". (We don't own a powered trimmer.)

Time taken: about an hour
Electricity, gas, oil and nuclear energy used: zero
Satisfaction in a job greenly done: priceless

So why doesn't everyone do it this way? Are we so busy? Or do we just not think? Too easy to flip a switch and tap into that good clean electrical energy source, right?

Except it's not clean. It's not even an energy source - electricity is merely a way to get energy from one place to another.

Ontario likes to say that lots of its electricity is from "renewable" hydro i.e. dammed rivers. That means most of our energy comes at the expense of major industrial activity (road- and dam-building, transmission tower corridors, etc) and flooded habitat. Once the damage is done, I suppose it's pretty clean. Except for the metals that leach into the water from the rotting trees. Oh, and the methane released. And the occasional flash flood when a dam gives way, like in BC this week, but that is pretty rare, right?

The rest of our electricity comes from nuclear, coal and oil, with some natural gas and a tiny bit of wind (Source - undated)

Truth is, everything we use electricity for - heat, charging batteries, light, cooking, you name it - isn't electrically powered, it's nuclear-powered, or oil-powered, or gas-powered, or coal-powered (yes, still), or powered by millions of drowned trees. I sometimes refer to electric cars as nuclear-powered. Suppose I should do the same with my cell phone and computer...

So pick up those hedge shears and do the work yourself. Burn calories, not Uranium!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Must We Be Gardeners?

Author’s note: Must We Be Gardeners? was written as part of “2042”, my final submission for The 5000 Days, which I took in 1992. That course, offered through the University of Guelph, examined environmental and development issues. The assignment invited participants to consider life in the year 2042, 50 years after the Rio Conference, and I chose to write it as an online magazine called E-Coli (Eco-Logic International). To do so, I had to write a number of small articles and reports, each in a different voice. This is my favourite, and is influenced by Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature; I have not included my other sources here. If there are aspects you find inaccurate, please consider how long ago it was written - before the Web, before the IPCC, before we knew how hard corporations and governments would push to do nothing, before we knew how bad it might get.
D.C.K. 2010

Must We Be Gardeners?

wild 1 a. in an original state, not civilized or domesticated or cultivated or populated.
garden 1 n. piece of ground for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables; (esp in pl.) grounds laid out for public enjoyment. 2 v.i. cultivate a garden

The definitions reflect a recent shift in the perception of Nature and our relationship with it. Until late in the last century, people of the Western (and Westernized) world felt themselves separate from Nature. The elements made them uncomfortable, both physically and, since the inability to control Nature made them feel powerless, psychologically. The result was an adversarial relationship with Nature: it was to be conquered and used for human purposes. Since Western culture and its consumerist ethic came to be globally dominant, this human-centered view of nature caused global environmental damage. By the time of the Rio conference, the relationship was becoming less adversarial: while the First Principle of the Rio Declaration still began with “Human beings are the center of concerns…”, it concluded with “They are entitled to a … life in harmony with Nature.”

But it was events in Nature, not conferences, which really convinced people to change. When knowledge of climate change and ozone holes sank in late in the century, people realized that they had become bigger than Nature, that there was nothing outside Homo Sapiens. What, then, was “wild?” Where could anyone go to “get away?” It seemed nothing was beyond the reach of human enterprise. There was no wild left, only garden.

At the time, this was a dangerous vision of the environment. The argument was put forward that, since everything was effectively controlled by Human actions, there was actually no Nature to save. Many, especially in governments, were therefore prepared to continue past practices of resource use and pollution, with added measures to lessen the environmental impacts; others were on the verge of giving up and allowing this to happen.

Fortunately, there was already proof that the footprint of humanity could be erased, in that ozone depletion rates had begun to drop by early 1992, only a few years after the MontrĂ©al Protocol. The depletion rate continued to drop, especially after the bans became universal, and the net ozone depletion halted just after the turn of the century. The desire to withdraw, to “tread lightly on the Earth,” permeated human consciousness, bringing a paradigm shift – we became Gardeners.

During the shift, there was much debate about how to proceed, especially with the use of technologies such as bioengineering. On the one end, some groups demanded a return to extremely simple lives as the solution. They emphasized the hubris of imagining that the complexity of the planetary ecosystem could be managed. At the other end of the debate, groups looked to technology to save them and allow a continuation of their lifestyles. The reality, as we know, is that the solutions, like the problems, are multi-faceted. We simplified our lives, lowered our impacts, and used technologies as appropriate. Some still bemoan the fact that trees are altered to withstand higher temperatures and ultraviolet levels, or that laser beams are zapping CFCs in the aurora. Most do not want to hear about sea walls or algae farms on their coasts. Yet all understand the purpose of the technologies – after all, following a storm, gardeners protect what is left and repair the damage done.

As gardeners, we are responsible for the care and repair of this Garden Earth. There is sadness in imagining the wildness we may never know, but also joy in knowing that wildness may in time return to spaces we have restored and protected. Such work is our only link with future generations.

More reply letters

I've been away for a while on union business - our AGM. I heard while there that there have been more responses to my letter in the ERa/Banner - all negative, I gather... If anyone has copies, please send to me. I haven't yet decided whether to respond. Should I?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Letter to the Editor

I had a letter published in the York Region paper The Era on Sunday, Feb 21,2010. It was in response to a letter by Al Faria printed Feb 11 and titled "Suzuki's opinions not accepted by all", which called for The Era to publish other scientists to "balance" the views of David Suzuki, whose column The Era (to their great credit) publishes each week. In his letter, Mr Faria referenced the work of Dr. Timothy Bell (See Wikipedia).

Here's my original, as submitted:

Re: Suzuki’s opinions…”, Feb11
In his letter to your paper, Al Faria notes that he would “like to see you publish some of those who have a different view” on climate change.
I agree, but I would suggest that, to be truly fair, you should publish differing views in proportion to the number of actual climate scientists holding those views. Conservatively, that ratio is about a thousand who believe climate change is mainly caused by human activity to every one who believes otherwise. (Note: Dr. Timothy Bell is a professor of geography, not a climate scientist.)
Following that ratio, you should publish your next article from a climate-change denier in about twenty years.

Here is is as published. I think that you will find the differences interesting:

Mr. Faria notes he would "like to see you publish some of those who have a different view" on climate change.
I agree, but I would suggest, to be truly fair, you should publish differing views in proportion to the number of actual climate scientists holding those views. Conservatively, that ratio is about 1,000 who believe climate change is mainly caused by human activity to every one who believes otherwise. (Note: Dr. Timothy Bell is a professor of geography, not a climate scientist.)
Following that ratio, you should publish your next article from a climate-change doubter in about twenty years.

Ok - I'll admit -most of the changes are pretty minor - a few words left out (e.g. "that") and "a thousand" changed to "1,000". Both help the letter fit the available space.

But I highlighted (in green) the one I found really interesting - the change from "denier" to "doubter".

The media, and many environmentalists, are really afraid to use the term "climate change denier". The term "denier" has been totally taken over by those who only want it used for "Holocaust denier."

But here's the thing. The Holocaust was horrific, with the murders of 6 million Jewish, homosexual (as gays were then known), gypsy (as Roma were then known), elderly, infirm and handicapped people. But climate change could cause the deaths of a thousand times as many people. By that, I mean 6 billion. All of us. There might be no Climate Change Survivors.

So the term "Climate Change Denier" is quite apt. In the 1940's there was lots of evidence that the Nazis were rounding up (mainly) Jews in Europe and killing them. Many denied it, many highly placed in government, media, etc - they were the early deniers, and did far more harm that crackpots like Ernst Zundel. If they had looked at the truth, shed their anti-semitic biases and called for action, the Holocaust might have been avoided, or at least curtailed.

Similarly, if our current-day climate change deniers (and those they have duped) would look at the truth and shed their consumerist, growth-at-all-costs biases (and fears), we would stand a better chance of survival. We might even thrive, with lower demands and a green economy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Initial thoughts

I am writing this at the end of a February in Ontario with unusually little snow, following two winters with more snow than usual, following a winter with unusually little snow. And so on.

The soil is frozen and exposed to the drying winter winds. That's not good for the soil, and not good for the seeds that are waiting for Spring. There will be too little snow melt then to replenish the moisture ripped away by the winter winds.

Christmas Eve of 2006, at midnight, I was swatting mosquitos hovering by a friend's hedge. And so on.

Do you read the news? Do you see signs of climate change?

As long as I've been reading up on climate change, over twenty years now, the main prediction has been an extended period of increasingly erratic weather. Dry where it was wet, or perhaps just as wet overall but in sudden deluges. And the reverse. Longer hot spells. Less ice.

They say climate is what you expect and weather is what you get. Well, I want my climate back! I want deep snow, far sub-zero cold for days on end, and that brilliant sunshine we only seem to get in February days when it's actually cold and clear and dry.

I say the warm weather in winter is bad, just the way cold weather is bad in summer. I hate it when the weather "reporters" on the radio - you listening 99.1? - get all happy over extra-warm winter days.

So why should you read this site?

I'm not a scientist - I have a degree in Physics and Math from U of T, and I'm a high school Computer Studies teacher. I'm also an artist (see http://pixsilver.com/), a member of Sierra Club of Canada, and a union activist with OSSTF. So I get climate change on many levels. I understand the science, and I know that people respond to stories and images and passion much more than we do to numbers and charts. And I get the social aspects, too; I know that people often respond to change with fear, and I know the power of hope offered with an extended hand.

I also have a way with words. Maybe that will be the main thing I have to offer. I can clarify the science behind climate change, and I will offer resources, including letters that I have had published in various newspapers, so that you can use them as a basis for your own letters-to-the-editor.

So let's go - questions anyone?