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November 11, 2007

California's auto standards would save Canadians $37 billion

OTTAWA - $37 billion dollars: That is the amount Canadian motorists could save over the next decade if car manufacturers were forced to meet California's fuel consumption standards for new cars, suggests a new report released by an environmental consultant.

The study, produced for, said consumers might face additional costs to purchase cars with better technology, but that those expenses would be offset by significant savings in reduced fuel costs, economic spinoffs and a decrease in the greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to global warming.

"The gas savings translate directly into consumer savings at the gas pump, allowing consumers to use that money to save, invest or spend those dollars on other goods and services, building Canada's economy," reads the report that was written by Dan Becker, a former policy expert at the Sierra Club in the U.S. "The technologies that automakers use to save gas, such as more efficient engines, advanced transmissions and sleeker aerodynamics, cost less than the energy saved over the life of the vehicle."

The savings are based on gas prices remaining at $1.00 per litre, but consumers would benefit more from the tougher standards if the price at the pumps increased, Becker explained.

"It is also important to stress that the more stringent the auto emissions standard, the more energy saving technology will be added to the vehicles," said the report. "It takes more workers to manufacturer and install this technology, which creates new autoworker jobs. It will also help make Canadian auto plants more competitive with those in Europe and Asia currently producing better technology vehicles that are very popular with consumers."

In a new ad campaign, the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association says that "a provincial patchwork of standards" could hurt consumers and auto jobs in Canada because it would disrupt an existing North American system that offers lower costs and speeds up the development of newer vehicles. The industry association is urging provinces to co-operate with them, along with the federal government and consumers to develop a single North American standard.

Nearly 20 American States are planning to adopt or are in the process of adopting the California standards which call for a 30 per cent improvement in the emissions of new cars sold between 2009 and 2016. At least four provinces, representing nearly half of the Canadian market have also indicated they plan to adopt the tougher standards, but the federal government in Canada is still in the midst of consultations.

Becker said that car manufacturers are going to be forced to improve their product since provinces and states are already moving forward on their own, without waiting for their respective federal governments.

"If you add up the combined population of those 19 states, it's the majority of the U.S. car-buying public," said Becker in an interview. "You have a similar situation in Canada looming, where the provinces are about to make the federal government irrelevant on this issue.

November 8, 2007

California sues U.S. over auto pollution

California is suing the United States government to force a decision over whether the state can impose America's first greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks.

More than a dozen other states are poised to follow California's lead if it is granted the waiver from federal law.

New standards would present a challenge to automakers, who would have to adapt to a patchwork of regulations from States.

California's lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was expected after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed last spring to take legal action.

At issue is California's nearly two-year-old request for a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act allowing it to implement a 2002 state anti-pollution law regulating greenhouse gases.

Eleven other states have adopted California's standard as a way to combat global warming and five others are considering it.

"Our position is that it's time for EPA to either act or get out of the way," said Lee Moore, a spokesman for New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram.

The 16-page complaint filed by California's attorney general says that "the longer delay in reducing these emissions, the more costly and harmful will be the impact on California."

Schwarzenegger and other state officials say implementing the law is crucial for California's ability to meet the provisions of a separate global warming law that passed last year, garnering worldwide attention. That law seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 per cent by 2020.

Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington plan to join California's lawsuit against the federal government, said Gareth Lacy, spokesman for California Attorney General Jerry Brown.

California asked the EPA to grant its waiver in December 2005. EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said last summer that he would make a decision by the end of this year.

Schwarzenegger sought quicker action and vowed to sue. The state's lawsuit was expected to be filed in late October but was delayed after state officials became preoccupied with the Southern California wildfires.

The EPA criticized the state's actions today.

"The administrator has stated numerous times that he plans to make a decision by the end of the year," EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said.

Yet state officials say they need the matter resolved soon because the auto-emissions law applies to vehicles in the 2009 model year, which can be marketed by companies as early as this coming January.

Cars, pickups and sport utility vehicles sold in California would be required to produce fewer greenhouse gases, with the goal of reducing auto emissions 25 per cent by 2030.

Further delay by the EPA would interfere with the state's ability to enforce the law on time, according to the complaint.

"Congress generally intended that the U.S. EPA make determinations of this type in a matter of weeks or months, not years," the complaint says.

While the federal government sets national air pollution rules, California has unique status under the Clean Air Act to enact its own regulations if it gets approval to do so by the EPA.

Other states can follow federal rules or California's standards if they are tougher. The EPA has granted about 50 such waivers over the past 40 years for the use of catalytic converters, leaded gasoline regulations and other measures.

In addition to the states that plan to join California's lawsuit, the governors of Colorado, Florida and Utah have said their states plan to adopt the standard.

The EPA initially refused to act on California's application, saying the agency did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant. That changed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that the EPA did indeed have that right.

As a result, the EPA is now developing greenhouse gas regulations that are scheduled to be released by the end of the year. Environmental groups say those regulations are unlikely to be stronger than California standards.

Automakers continue to challenge the California standards in court.

They are appealing a ruling last month by a federal judge in Vermont who upheld the California rules in that state. They also are trying to persuade a federal judge in Fresno to toss out the emission standards mandated under California's 2002 law.

Associations for both domestic and foreign car companies say California's standards would raise the cost of vehicles and could force manufacturers to pull some sport utility vehicles and pickup truck models from showrooms.

Ship pollution kills!

Pollution from smokestacks of ocean ships kills up to 60,000 people a year around the world, says a study released today.

The estimated toll of premature deaths in North America, most on the West Coast, is 9,000, says the study, published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Without a clean up, the global total is expected to hit 84,000 within five years, the study says.

The damage comes from the sulphur-laden Bunker C fuel that powers the growing number of ships conducting global trade.

The sludgy fuel is “basically the dregs of the oil refining process,” and contains nearly 2,000 times as much sulphur as the diesel fuel burned in trucks in North America and Europe, says David Marshall, of the Clean Air Task Force, one of the groups that commissioned the study.

The study’s authors - researchers from four universities in the United States and Germany - conclude the emissions cause deadly heart and respiratory ailments, including lung cancer, mainly in people who live along coasts near busy shipping lanes. Hardest hit are Europe and Asia.

The main culprits are the sulphur, along with nitrates and particles.

“The study is the first to estimate the impacts of ship emissions on a global scale in human health terms,” said one of the researchers, James Corbett, at the University of Delaware.

The annual number of premature deaths from all outdoor air pollution is estimated to be about 800,000, the study notes.

The researchers estimated the marine pollution toll by first measuring the emissions from the more than 55,000 ships that ply the oceans, then, figuring out how much they add to the total pollution in the atmosphere. Finally, they calculate the expected number of deaths from that increase in pollution.

The technique is similar to the one employed by Toronto Public Health to estimate that air pollution and smog lead to 1,700 premature deaths in the city each year.

Ship engines are massive - equivalent to a municipal power plant, or thousands of cars and trucks, Marshall said in an interview. But while power plants face restrictions on the types of fuel they can use, and many must install scrubbers or other polluting-reducing devices, “international shipping is completely unregulated.

“It has gotten away Scot-free to this point, partly due to the feeling that since the emissions are out of sight they can’t harm anyone.”

The pollution is not that far from view, the study notes: 70 per cent of emissions occur within 400 kilometres of land.

The solution is simple, although expensive, Marshall said: Ships, too, should be required to burn low-sulphur fuel and install scrubbing devices. Emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide from new and existing ships must be cut by as much as 90 per cent, no later than 2015, the study states.

The American Petroleum Institute estimates it would cost $126 billion (U.S.) between now and 2020 to convert refineries around the world to produce cleaner fuels for marine engines. But the cost of health care and lost income and productivity from pollution damage is much higher, Marshall said.

At the International Marine Organization, seagoing nations have been negotiating for the past 15 years on new air pollution standards, Marshall said. To date, the talks have only produced regulations that amount to business as usual.

Tougher regulations are imposed in a few places, including Scandinavia and California, which now requires clean fuel in ships that enter its waters.

Improvements can’t wait, because ocean shipping is increasing by four per cent a year globally and, thanks to rapidly growing trade with Asia, by six per cent on the West Coast, Marshall said.

November 4, 2007

A bright energy future without coal

This week, our dirty coal-fired power plants were back in the news with electoral candidates arguing the ifs and whens of their necessary shutdown. Shutting down coal plants, our guiltiest climate-change-causing beasts, seems like a no-brainer, but heels keep dragging.

We're told that spending $1.3 billion on scrubbers is the answer. Let's be clear: Scrubbers remove some particulates – pollution that causes smog – but they will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. In fact, scrubbers are energy intensive and could lead to more of these emissions, leaving us further unable to meet Kyoto targets.

We're told a nuclear-based energy plan is the answer. The 20-year electricity plan unveiled by the Ontario Power Authority last month calls for half of Ontario's electricity supply to come from refurbished and new nuclear reactors. Because these reactors take many years to construct, coal plants will need to stay online to fill in the gap. It doesn't have to be this way.

The billions earmarked to build and replace an aging fleet of nuclear reactors or to put scrubbers on outdated coal plants would be better invested in new clean renewable technology of the future. Energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies are fast to deploy and, if done right, can eliminate the need for coal or nuclear to keep the lights on.

Unfortunately, Ontario's energy planners have chosen to lowball the potential for green options in favour of a nuclear-centred future. For example, the OPA plan calls for 200 megawatts of solar energy by 2025. Germany installed five times that much in 2006 alone. Ontario could be harnessing three times the amount of wind power the OPA plan calls for, 10 times the amount of solar the OPA plan calls for, and thousands of megawatts from bio-energy sources, cogeneration and waste heat recycling.

The OPA plan also underestimates energy efficiency and conservation. The plan puts an arbitrary cap on energy savings through conservation and energy efficiency at only 60 per cent of the cost-effective potential identified and recommended by the OPA's own studies. This will cost Ontarians millions of dollars in missed opportunities, higher production costs and higher electricity rates. The Pembina Institute and WWF-Canada's "Renewable is Doable" study shows Ontario could be saving nearly double the amount of energy through energy efficiency and conservation than the OPA plan claims.

More than two-thirds of the renewable energy in the OPA plan is installed and planned large hydro. Hydro is an important energy source and should be in the mix – but in addition to maximizing wind and other renewable sources first, not instead of.

Probably of greatest significance, the OPA plan totally ignores the use of power storage technologies for wind, solar and other renewable sources that would allow renewable energy to be Ontario's primary power source, not subordinate to a nuclear plan.

The OPA marginalizes renewable energy, arguing that large, centralized nuclear megaprojects are needed to supply our "base load" needs. But Ontario's base load power can be met through the right technical, regulatory and policy tools. Ontario could learn from California, one of the leaders in North America in integration of renewable energy into the grid. It has set up a task force to look at what's needed in the way of grid management, transmission optimization and regulatory and policy reform to meet California's lofty renewable energy targets.

For Ontario, a decision to invest billions of dollars in nuclear megaprojects or coal scrubbers is a decision not to invest in clean renewable technology. Every dollar sunk into huge transmission systems to support centralized megaprojects is a dollar not invested in "smart grids" that accommodate local production of renewable energy.

A bright energy future without the need for coal or nuclear is doable. With renewable energy, energy efficiency and co-generation, we can cut our greenhouse gas emissions by half of what's called for in the OPA plan. Ontarians could actually be saving money on their electricity bill rather than deepening our nuclear debt with at least another 40 years of expensive and unreliable power, not to mention generating more long-lived, unsolvable radioactive waste.

Biofuels are not green fuels...

"Biofuels worsens global warming because they are like setting fire to fields of crops in the long run."

Most crops grown in North America and Europe to make a "green" alternative transport fuel actually speed up global warming because of industrial farming methods, says a report by Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the Earth's ozone layer.

The findings could spell special worries for alternative fuels derived from rapeseed, used in Europe, which the study concluded could produce up to 70 per cent more planet-warming greenhouse gases than conventional diesel.

The report suggested scientists and farmers focus on crops needing little fertilizer and harvesting methods that were not energy intensive in order to produce benefits for the environment.

Biofuels are derived from plants that absorb the planet-warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as they grow, and so are meant as a climate-friendly substitute for fossil fuels.

But the new study shows that some biofuels actually release more greenhouse gases than they save, because of the fertilizer used in modern farming practices.

The problem greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, is more famous as the dentists' anaesthetic "laughing gas," and is about 300 times more insulating than the most common man-made greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

"The nitrous oxide emission on its own can cancel out the overall benefit," co-author professor Keith Smith said in a telephone interview from Edinburgh in Scotland.

The study casts further doubts on the credibility of biofuels as a climate cure after the revelation of other unintended side effects, such as rain-forest clearance and higher food prices, from competing with forests and food for land. Brazil and the United States produce most of the world's bioethanol, as a substitute for gasoline, while the European Union is the main supplier of biodiesel.

Using biodiesel derived from rapeseed would produce between 1 and 1.7 times more greenhouse gas than using conventional diesel, the study estimated.

Biofuels derived from sugar cane, as in Brazil, fared better, producing between 0.5 and 0.9 times as much greenhouse gases as gasoline.

Corn, also known as maize, is the main biofuels feedstock used in North America, and produced between 0.9 and 1.5 times the global warming effect of conventional gasoline, it said.

"As it's used at the moment, bioethanol from maize seems to be a pretty futile exercise," Smith said.

The study did not account for the extra global warming effect of burning fossil fuels in biofuel manufacture, or for the planet-cooling effect of using biofuel by-products as a substitute for coal in electricity generation.

"Even if somebody decides that our numbers are too big ... if you add together the undoubted amount of nitrous oxide that is formed, plus the fossil-fuel usage, with most of the biofuels of today you are not going to get any benefit," Smith said.

The study did not condemn all biofuels, however, suggesting that scientists and farmers should focus on crops needing little fertilizer, and harvesting methods that were not energy intensive.

"In future, if you use low nitrogen demanding crops, and low impact agriculture, then we could get a benefit," Smith said.

The study singled out grasses and woody coppice species – such as willows and poplars – as crops with potentially more favourable impacts on the climate.

Nitrogen makes up a large portion of the atmosphere, and is a vital component for the growth of plants. Massive production of synthetic fertilizer in a 20th century "green revolution" has almost doubled the amount of nitrogen in the global system, adding nearly 100 million tonnes, Smith said.

"That has increased the production of nitrous oxide."

Energy Opportunities in Ontario

The province of Ontario is looking for new "transformative energy innovations" that carry a "wow factor" and can make Ontario shine on the world stage.

So says a memo hastily distributed several months ago by the government-created Ontario Centres of Excellence, which recently received $15 million in public funds earmarked for "low-carbon technologies."

There's a certain irony to this, because as hungry start-ups across the province were busy putting together a five-page project proposal in hopes of getting a slice of that funding, the Ontario Power Authority was putting out a 20-year electricity plan for the province that decided to exclude how alternative approaches to power generation – such as fuel cells, gasification and pumped storage – could make meaningful contributions to the grid over the next two decades.

It's fair to ask why the government, so willing to throw $15 million at "transformative" energy technologies, is being guided by a planning authority that's giving short shrift to innovations, many of them Canadian, that can transform our electricity system today.

Yes, the power authority has implemented a standard offer program meant to encourage development of small-scale renewables such as solar, wind, and biomass. Yes, it has awarded long-term contracts to purchase wind power and plans to significantly expand that investment. All very good.

But as Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said last month, "We have to look at every available opportunity." This simply isn't happening.

In the final plan submitted on Aug. 29 to the Ontario Energy Board, the power authority reduced its earlier projection for wind development by 800 megawatts and shifted it over to hydroelectric dams in the north.

It also made clear that it has no plans to go beyond the minimum requirements laid out in a directive from the energy minister, who wants at least 15,700 megawatts of renewable energy supply in place by 2025.

The plan, according to the power authority, "does not seek to exceed the directive's goals for renewable resources. This is because the incremental renewable resource would be large wind projects. These projects would not be cost-effective when compared to the supply resources included in the plan that would be displaced."

This is troubling.

First, the large-scale deployment of clean power isn't the exclusive domain of wind, which is but one of many options available.

Second, the power authority ignores that the cost of renewable technologies is expected to drop considerably over 20 years, and likely much sooner. Much can happen over two decades, if you consider that most of us never heard of the Internet back in 1987.

Third, the plan makes clear that cost (i.e. investment in nuclear power) trumps the environment after the minister's directive has been met, though it doesn't factor in the true environmental costs in its assessment of nuclear.

The power authority says it will review its 20-year plan in three years and is open to considering new approaches at that time. And in talking with officials there, a sincere attempt is being made to be flexible. But is this realistic?

We all know that the further you go down a path of big-build nuclear, the harder it is to change course. And once you've accepted your course, the search for alternatives, more often than not, loses momentum.

For this reason, it's prudent to factor in the alternatives today and plan accordingly.

Feasible power-generation options do exist, and all of them could have been given more weight in the power authority's current plan:

Pumped storage: The power authority in the past has recognized the potential of pumped storage as a way to store wind power so we can dispatch it as needed. It allows us to get higher value out of otherwise undependable renewables, and can replace the use of coal and natural gas on the grid.

The power authority's preliminary 20-year plan cites 1,500 megawatts of pumped storage that could be developed at three sites – one located near Peterborough, another in northern Ottawa Valley and another near Atikokan. Sources tell me another massive site north of Thunder Bay could alone economically provide more than 1,000 megawatts of power storage over a period of more than 24 hours.

Again, this isn't electricity generation per se, but we don't really need new generation in this province as much as ways to better use the electricity we can produce.

Energy-from-waste: Most environmentalists don't like this technology, largely because they don't believe the claims. But a pilot project that's about to enter full operation in the Ottawa area is poised to prove that energy-from-waste can be done in an environmentally responsible way.

Rod Bryden, chief executive of Plasco Energy and overseer of the Ottawa project, is prepared to let his company's facility speak for itself. He says preliminary results have attracted the attention of several municipalities, and he figures it's a matter of time before Toronto – highly reluctant under Mayor David Miller's watch – gives the technology serious consideration.

"If Ontario was to process the 10 million tonnes of waste, which it currently puts into landfill, through a system with the kind of efficiency that Plasco's technology offers, it would produce nearly half of the output of Ontario's largest coal plant," says Bryden. "You'd get about 1,600 megawatts out of the waste you're putting into the ground right now."

The technology gets 2.5 times more energy out of a tonne of garbage than traditional incineration technology and emissions are well below regulatory limits – certainly outperforming Ontario's cleanest coal plants. Bryden envisions dozens of these facilities scattered in Ontario communities that process local waste with local facilities.

Solar power: The problem with solar photovoltaic technology is that it's expensive, and there are certain folks who are understandably outraged that the province is willing to pay a 600-per-cent premium for solar power projects being developed in Ontario. Under the power authority's plan, solar capacity in the province will not exceed 88 megawatts over the next two decades – about the same amount that's already been contracted out to companies such as Skypower and OptiSolar, who are planning massive multi-megawatts solar farms in various locations throughout Ontario.

The power authority's reasoning for sticking with this number is simple: while there may be more projects announced, it doesn't expect all of them will get built. A prudent assumption, maybe, but many believe the 20-year plan seriously low-balls the potential of solar, which can supply power when we need it most – during the afternoon when the sun is at its hottest and air conditioners are blasting.

Paul Gipe from the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association believes it's easily possible within 10 years to have 1,000 megawatts of solar deployed across the province – and that's just for rooftop systems, not the massive farms that have been proposed. He estimates it would cost $7 billion to $10 billion, about double the cost of building a new nuclear reactor of similar capacity, and would only add half a cent to the per-kilowatt cost of electricity on consumers' bills.

Offshore wind: We typically associate offshore wind with massive turbines located in turbulent ocean waters, but there's great potential to install turbines in the Great Lakes where waters are more shallow, manageable and accessible, and wind is more constant compared to land-based wind farms.

Toronto Hydro Corp. has seriously considered an offshore wind project in Lake Ontario near the Scarborough Bluffs that would have a capacity of up to 200 megawatts. Trillium Power Energy Corp., wants to build a 710-megawatt offshore farm east of Toronto. It would consist of 140 turbines about 15 kilometres offshore of Prince Edward County, hardly detectable from land and outside all migratory routes for birds and butterflies.

The financial backers are there, says Trillium chief executive John Kourtoff. But offshore projects were put on hold last November after the Ministry of Natural Resources issued a moratorium on development until more studies could be done. In the meantime, while Canadian developers twiddle their thumbs, U.S. states such as Ohio are positioning themselves to develop offshore projects in Lake Erie.

Offshore wind is considered the next major growth area in the wind-power sector, and experts say it would be easier and less expensive to do projects in a lake than in the ocean. The ministry is expected to lift the moratorium, likely by year's end, but the power authority excluded such projects from its roadmap without explanation.

Co-generation: Also referred to as "combined heat and power." Algoma Steel Inc. in Sault Ste. Marie plans to use waste gases from its blast furnaces to generate about 70 megawatts worth of power. Northland Power Inc. is building a 236-watt natural gas plant that will sell both steam and electricity to Abitibi-Consolidated Inc.'s newsprint-recycling mill in Thorold. The leftover electricity not used by Abitibi will be sold into the grid.

If you think of all the buildings and facilities out there where excess heat and flu gases can be captured and put to good use, the enormous potential becomes obvious. Groups like WWF-Canada and the Pembina Institute argue that 3,000 megawatts of cost-competitive co-generation could be put in place by 2012, and a total of 5,000 megawatts by 2017. They consider these numbers a conservative estimate.

Thomas Casten of Recycled Energy Development LLC, who is chair of a new Ontario group called the Alliance for Clean Technology, estimates that waste heat and gases from the province's 77 biggest industrial exhaust stacks could alone produce about 600 megawatts – enough to replace two coal stations up north. Casten considers this low-hanging fruit that could be implemented quickly. "It would not require any additional fossil fuel and would produce no incremental CO{-2} emissions," says Casten.

The power authority has only accounted for 584 megawatts of co-generation between now and 2027, though a new standard offer program for small-scale co-generation could add a bit to that figure. It's just a slice of what's doable, says Keith Stewart of WWF-Canada.

The problem, as folks like Casten and Stewart see it, is that the standard offer only accommodates deployments under 10 megawatts, meaning the lion's share of projects out there can't participate.

Forest and agricultural bioenergy: This type of bioenergy would also achieve two other public policy objectives: helping farmers and boosting northern economies.

The power authority estimates in its plan that 300 megawatts of power could be produced from animal manure, 450 megawatts from crop waste and 300 megawatts from forest biofibre – the bark, branches and tops of trees removed and unused after harvesting.

Those numbers are a heavy discount on the potential of what's out there. For example, it's assumed that 90 per cent of forest biofibre can't be retrieved economically. "10 per cent is really low," says Melissa Felder, an environmental consultant in Toronto and bioenergy expert. For manure it's 75 per cent and for crop residue it's 80 per cent. "The lack of serious consideration to bioenergy potential is disturbing and short-sighted," she adds.

But the power authority trims those targets even further under second analysis. Under its final plan, it brings the 750 megawatts it identified for manure and crop residue down to 150 megawatts and the 300 megawatts it calculated for forest biofibre down to 150 megawatts.

"The planning assumptions ... are less than the total theoretical potential identified because there is significant uncertainty with respect to the amount of biomass resource that will be developed to produce electricity," the power authority explains.

There's uncertainty because there's no plan from which supportive policy can sprout. Certainly, without a commitment to build nuclear from the government, there would be uncertainty around new nuclear plants as well. The same goes with the ethanol market in Ontario without a government mandate. Seems in this instance the power authority is part of the problem.

The final tally: A feasible target of at least 10,100 megawatts versus the OPA's commitment to 1,488 megawatts in its 20-year plan.

If just a third of this potential was adopted it would eliminate the need for 1,000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity. What can be done, with some hard work and political will, would give the government more flexibility as it phases out the use of coal, and might even reduce our need to refurbish old nukes.

The question is whether the next premier of Ontario, whoever he may be, has the will to go that extra low-carbon mile, and whether the bureaucratic engine he commands agrees to get behind the cause.

So far, and I'd be happy to be proven wrong, the answer is "no" – on both accounts.

Schwarzenegger's Green is Golden

VANCOUVER - California's determination to slash greenhouse gas emissions is touching off a "new gold rush" worth tens of billions of dollars for companies taking a stake in the booming green energy sector, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday at an economic summit in Vancouver.

Schwarzenegger said his state, which has a larger economy than all but six of the world's national governments, is eager to strike relationships with businesses that can help California meet tough new emission standards adopted last year.

The former action movie superstar and body builder was joined on stage by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.

The duo capped their appearance by signing a memorandum of understanding committing the state and the province to work together to cap greenhouse gas emissions, collaborate on development and implementation of green technologies and join other U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions in building a hydrogen highway between B.C. and California.

Campbell lauded Schwarzenegger's leadership on issues such as improved emission standards for automobiles. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger cited a Vancouver manufacturer of low-emission truck engines as an example of the market opportunities and business relationships opening up in California for companies based in B.C.

"The ports of Los Angeles for instance and Long Beach are buying right now trucks with natural gas engines that are made by a British Columbia company," said Schwarzenegger.

"These engines are helping us meet our emission standards, and a California company has seized this opportunity to build stations to fuel those trucks. That's how we are working together."

Schwarzenegger noted that 150 years ago, the territories of what are now California and British Columbia were the site of gold rushes that "shaped our history and led to unprecedented growth."

"Ladies and gentlemen we have the opportunity once again. The Wall Street Journal has just said that our new fuel standard has companies eager to supply low carbon products to California's $50-billion annual transportation fuel market. They call it California's new gold rush.

"With your willingness to be innovative in clean technology, you are poised to start British Columbia's new gold rush."

As an indication of the size and scope of the opportunities, Schwarzenegger noted a decision by General Electric to concentrate its research and development investments in products that help lower emissions.

"GE sales of green clean technology products is $12 billion annually," Schwarzenegger said. "They are now just investing in green clean technology because that's where the profits and the growth is. Their goal is by 2010 to sell $20 billion worth of goods and they are already backlogged by $50 billion. So that is the kind of growth you see in that area."

Poll: Majority of Canadians support Kyoto

67 per cent of Canadians surveyed support ratification of the Kyoto accord on fighting global warming, according to a new poll.

Only 19 per cent of those asked oppose the treaty, which would compel more than 150 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ekos Research Associates conducted the poll for CBC, Radio Canada and various newspapers.

The polling firm talked to 1,217 randomly chosen Canadians by phone from May 27-29.

Alberta's Premier Ralph Klein is spearheading a plan that would employ new technologies to cut air pollution, but would set back the emission targets and Kyoto timetable.

Klein managed to get the support of western premiers last week to have Alberta's Kyoto alternative put forward at public consultations.

Klein has warned that a ratified Kyoto accord will hurt both Alberta's economy and that of the entire country.

Still, among Albertans surveyed, 54 per cent said they support ratification.

When Ekos asked Canadians what impact Kyoto would have on the Canadian economy, it found 61 per cent agreed with Ottawa's prediction of a modest impact.

Twenty-one per cent agreed with Alberta's prediction of a disastrous impact.

When asked about holding more consultations about lowering greenhouse gases, 56 per cent of respondents agreed that Canada should quit wasting time debating the economic consequences of Kyoto. Nineteen per cent disagreed.

When asked if they would agree to a tax increase to reduce greenhouse gases, support slipped to 46 per cent, and opposition climbed to 40 per cent.

Pollster Frank Graves says most Canadians know little or nothing about Kyoto, but support it anyway.

"There may be a growing sense of impatience and frustration coming out in the public, that 'look, we don't want to wake up and find P.E.I. under water someday.'"

The results of the poll are considered valid plus or minus 2.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

How Greens altered the Canadian political landscape

Carol Kidd may be a card-carrying Conservative, but last Wednesday she, who lives along the largely rural plains of Caledon, northwest of Toronto, voted Green.

It was a first for her. But along with thousands of others, she's offering a glimpse of an altered political landscape in rural Ontario, where the Green party is becoming a viable choice.

But why in the province's rural areas and not the cities, where the environmental movement is at its most intense? Not even Green party leader Frank de Jong, knows the answer. But there are hypotheses.

The Greens, who ran candidates in all 107 ridings, came in third or better in 18 of them in last week's election. In one, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Green candidate Shane Jolley came in second behind the incumbent, Tory Bill Murdoch. In the 2003 election, when they ran in 102 of 103 ridings, Greens placed third in just two ridings.

Although there were a handful of urban third-place finishes – such as Toronto constituencies Don Valley West and Davenport, where leader Frank de Jong ran, and Barrie – most of the success came in rural ridings, in the 519 area code.

"I think sometimes, and now particularly, people in the rural communities see the farmland being eaten up with development, and issues like Walkerton with the water and the Greenbelt," says Kidd, 64, executive director of the Caledon Meals On Wheels program. "I think we're more concerned about the land."

Experts say the spreading rural Green tide may have as much to do with history and demographics as environmental awareness.

The Green Party in Ontario began in the large cities, Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa, among the downtowners. "It was the usual-suspects kind of thing, we were treehuggers, myself included," says de Jong, who recounts how he was arrested for mischief in 1996 along with others protesting logging of old-growth forest at Owain Lake in Temagami in northern Ontario. (The charges were later dropped.)

Highly decentralized and grassroots, it started transforming into a more solid, traditional party with a clear structure and leader in the 1990s. Each election it would field more candidates. And its share of the popular vote would increase, tripling to 8 per cent last week.

But a trend emerged that no one expected. By the mid-1990s, the party was gaining traction in the rural, agricultural regions faster than in the cities from which it began.

The conundrum no one has quite figured out is exactly who in the rural areas is apt to vote Green.

The farmers are the prime example. There are those who might look at the Green Party and its desire to protect farmland from development and to make farms more viable for producing food for local markets, and find that attractive.

"We have fewer farmers every year, that's no surprise," says Geri Kamenz, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. "But if you look at my new members, a lot of them are third-career people who have taken early retirement, moved into rural Ontario and are farming to some degree ... Is profitability their number one goal? I'm not sure it is. Is reconnecting with their roots or getting closer to that which really sustains and feeds humanity part of their motivation? I think so.

"If you look at that, and you look at what the Green party offers in terms of environmental sustainability, (rural Ontario) would seem an obvious place to field candidates."

Organic farmers, too, were early supporters – and candidates – for the Green party, which champions organic and local foods.

Larger-scale commercial farmers, who raise crops like corn and soy beans to sell on international markets, might also look to the Green party, since the other parties, Kamenz says, rarely talked about agriculture during the campaign.

"A small part of the commercial farming community may exercise a protest vote, not to elect the Green party, but to yank the chains of the other parties to say, `You better pay attention to us.'"

On the other hand, many farmers oppose the province's Greenbelt, which protects a wide swath of land from further development. In some cases, it has erased their future ability to sell the land for development profit. It also creates hurdles to making any changes to the land.

The Green party, as it happens, would like to expand the Greenbelt in the interest of curbing sprawl.

Farmers have also historically viewed environmentalists as an "enemy rather than an ally" and see the Greens as closely connected to environmentalists, says Peter Andrée, a specialist in environmental politics at Carleton University.

"I don't think that's necessarily well thought through, but I see there's a gut reaction in that direction."

The Green party must be aware of the fact that even in these rural regions, farmers don't make up the majority of voters, Andrée notes. So their message has to work for a broader audience.

Some say the reason the Greens came in ahead of the NDP in many of these ridings is because the New Democrats, tied to the labour movement, have historically been weak in these areas, which tend to be Conservative bastions.

"The NDP isn't seen as the alternative in those rural ridings," Andrée says.

"In the 705, the 519, they're not connecting with the voters, whereas the Greens have come up on the radar as a new option that doesn't have the negative connotations yet like the NDP."

De Jong, a Toronto teacher, agrees with that assessment. When someone came to ecological consciousness in Toronto over last 20 years, they'd go to a multiplicity of environmental non-governmental organizations, like Friends of the Earth, or to the NDP, he explains. "But in Owen Sound there are no ecological groups, and the NDP is not a force. So you have to go to the Green party."

Some pundits predict that Green support will plateau as other parties adopt environmental agendas. And Andrée sees the danger of a "ceiling" of voters who turn out strictly on environmental issues.

Still, he expects the Greens to do even better next time. First, however, they'll have to convince people that they're not a one-issue party.

Voters in rural Ontario, it appears, are already starting to believe.

Report: Pollution deadlier than car crashes

BELGRADE, Serbia – Poor water and air quality, and environmental changes blamed largely on industrialized nations have cut Europeans' life expectancy by nearly a year, Europe's environmental agency warned Wednesday.

More must be done – fast – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve air and water quality, the European Environment Agency said in a 400-page report presented at a ministerial conference held in Serbia.

Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe are dying prematurely because of air pollution, it said. "The estimated annual loss of life is significantly greater than that due to car accidents," the report said.

At this rate, life expectancy in western and central Europe will be shorter by nearly a year, it said. The current average age expectancy in western and central Europe is 70 for men and 74 for women.

The report also warned of the risks to the development of children.

Pollution is "similarly bleak" across eastern Europe, mostly from vehicle gas emissions and the expansion of industry in ex-Soviet nations, the report said.

Also, more than 100 million people in the region still do not have access to safe drinking water, it said.

The emission of greenhouse gases – on the rise across Europe – has contributed to global warming, the report said, citing overfishing and damage to crops as key risks facing the continent as climate change upsets Europe's ecosystems.

"Climate change is likely to affect seas and coasts, including marine organisms," the report said.

Emissions must be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2050 to limit rises in the earth's temperature – the target proposed by the EU as necessary to avert major climate changes in the future, the report noted.

"We need to further strengthen the will to act on environmental issues across the pan-European region," the agency's director, Jacqueline McGlade, said at the opening of the conference attended by environment officials from 53 countries.

"This requires a better understanding of the problems we face, their nature, and distribution across societies and generations,'' McGlade said. "Analysis, assessment, communication and education will help overcome this 'information gap' and will better equip those who need to act.''

Gore Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change jointly won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize today for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for fighting it.

Gorewon an Academy Award earlier this year for his film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth" and had been widely tipped to win the Nobel peace prize.

He said that global warming was not a political issue but a worldwide crisis: “We face a true planetary emergency. ... It is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity,” he said. “It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.”

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN agency, said Gore phoned him soon after learning that they are to share the prize.

“We congratulated each other,” Pachauri told a news conference in Geneva, by telephone link from New Delhi.

He said Gore told him, “We must work together. We should meet as soon as possible.”

Canadian climate-change campaigner Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who was nominated jointly with Gore for the prize, said she was pleased that Gore and the IPCC had won the honour.

“For me, the issue has won, and in fact our own planet Earth is a winner in all of this,” the Inuit activist told CBC-TV from Iqaluit.

“I was a little bit surprised, to be honest, because we have jointly been nominated by two Norwegian parliamentarians,” she added.

“It was more of a surprise than a great disappointment, because I don’t try to put too much expectation on things that are external to my own life. But it certainly would have helped, and in that sense, I think, to continue to put the issue on the map in terms of the Arctic issues and the human dimensions to it — in that respect I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed.”

Gore’s win will likely add further fuel to a burgeoning movement in the United States for him to run for president in 2008, which he has so far said he does not plan to do.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York said Gore probably enjoys being a public person more than an elected official.

“He seems happier and liberated in the years since his loss in 2000. Perhaps winning the Nobel and being viewed as a prophet in his own time will be sufficient,” says Sherrill.

Two Gore advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to share his thinking, said the award will not make it more likely that he will seek the presidency.

One of the advisers said that while Gore is unlikely to rule out a bid in the coming days, the prospects of the former vice-president entering the fray in 2008 are “extremely remote.”

In its citation, the committed lauded Gore’s “strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.”

Ole Danbolt Mjoes, chairman of the prize committee, said the award should not be seen as singling out the administration of President George W. Bush for criticism.

“A peace prize is never a criticism of anything. A peace prize is a positive message and support to all those champions of peace in the world.”

Bush abandoned the Kyoto Protocol because he said it would harm the U.S. economy. The treaty aimed to put the biggest burden on the richest nations that contributed the most carbon emissions.

Gore called the award meaningful because of his co-winner, calling the IPCC the “world’s pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis.”

The committee cited the IPCC for its two decades of scientific reports that have “created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over 100 countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming.”

It went on to say that because of the panel’s efforts, global warming has been increasingly recognized. In the 1980s it “seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.”

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the prize would help to continue the globally growing awareness of climate change.

“Their contributions to the prevention of climate change have raised awareness all over the world. Their work has been an inspiration for politicians and citizens alike,” he said in a statement.

The Nobel Prizes each bestow a gold medal, a diploma and a $1.5 million cash prize on the winner.

Wasted energy from nuclear power could spark Hydrogen Renaissance

Fast forward to the Present: November 4th 2007.

The key to establishing a hydrogen-powered rail corridor in Toronto is Nuclear energy, says Greg Naterer, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

The big issue with hydrogen is that 96 per cent of what's produced in the world comes from fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, through a process called steam reforming. This results in greenhouse gases and other emissions.

The rest largely comes from a more expensive process called electrolysis, which is the use of electricity to separate water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Electrolysis has the potential to produce emission-free hydrogen, but only if the source electricity is itself emission-free – that is, it must come from wind, solar or hydroelectric generation. Nuclear power, if you ignore the radioactive waste, also fits the bill, and this has turned the nuclear industry into a big hydrogen-economy supporter as a way of boosting its own self-proclaimed renaissance.

"A hydrogen economy doesn't make sense if we're using fossil fuels to generate the hydrogen, so we need a method that doesn't use fossil fuels," says Naterer. "And right now hydrogen from electrolysis is too costly because it has to compete against other fuels."

As research chair in advanced energy systems at UOIT, Naterer is leading a 24-member team that's exploring a method of producing lower-cost hydrogen from the waste heat of nuclear plants. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago and universities across Ontario are also participating in the research effort.

Some have argued that surplus electricity from the overnight operation of nuclear reactors could be used to produce hydrogen, but UOIT and its research partners have their eye on a more economical approach. Instead of using nuclear power directly for electrolysis, they plan to use the waste heat from a nearby nuclear plant to extract hydrogen from steam.

What happens is the steam reacts with copper and chlorine compounds through a five-step process that splits water. It's a closed cycle, meaning the copper and chlorine is recycled and no waste is produced.

"All you have going in is water and all that comes out is hydrogen and oxygen," says Naterer, adding that the process is more than 33 per cent more efficient than electrolysis and makes hydrogen production cost-competitive with the fossil-fuel approach, once carbon taxes and the future cost of carbon capture and storage are factored in.

"We think the economics are attractive," he adds. "This thermo-chemical approach can produce hydrogen below $1.40 per kilogram, compared to steam reforming at above $2 per kilogram. And this doesn't include savings from the waste heat recovery, rising natural gas prices, higher demand and declining natural gas reserves."

The process doesn't rely exclusively on nuclear – waste heat from any industrial operation will do, assuming there's enough. But given the proximity of Ontario nuclear plants to the GO train corridor, and the massive amounts of waste heat that could be tapped, researchers see huge potential in McGuinty's proposal.

"There's enough waste heat from a nuclear reactor plant for several commercial hydrogen plants," explains Naterer.

He says an initial pilot plant would produce enough of the gas to fuel a couple of trains travelling between Oshawa and Toronto. Once the technique is proven, it could be scaled up 1,000 times – enough hydrogen for GO's entire train fleet and hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

October 31, 2007

Canada's forest industry to turn over a new leaf

October 30th 2007.

Canada's forest industry says it will be carbon neutral by 2015.

In what is likely the first such pledge by any major industry sector in the world, the forest companies say their logging, paper and pulp operations, and the products they produce, will, in effect, no longer be a source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

And they'll do it, they say, without resorting to offsets – the controversial practice in which polluters continue to spew emissions, but contribute to projects elsewhere that claim to reduce them.

The effort must extend beyond forests and mills to wood and paper consumers, such as construction sites, homes and offices, Avrim Lazar, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said.

The aim is to protect both the environment and the industry's bottom line, said Lazar, who was to announce the pledge this morning at a conference in Ottawa.

Global demand for wood products is soaring, he said. "If people continue to do it the old way ... it won't be very good for the planet."

The devastating spread of pine beetles in British Columbia – partly because winters are no longer cold enough to kill the insects – is a wake-up call, he said.

"We got a lesson in the impact of climate change before most of the rest of Canada."

As well, global buyers increasingly demand products from "sustainable" operations. That can be an edge for Canadian firms, which face fierce competition from China, Brazil and other places where trees grow faster, costs are lower, and environment rules can be lax.

The Canadian industry has reduced its greenhouse emissions 44 per cent since 1990, when its output increased by 20 per cent.

That puts it far ahead of Canada's Kyoto Protocol target – a 6 per cent cut.

Most of the industry's reductions have been at pulp and paper mills, which have become more efficient and, in many cases, converted from oil and gas to renewable fuels. But much of the effort will involve keeping wood and paper out of landfills where, as it decomposes, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

About half the paper used in Canada is recycled, Lazar said. To improve that figure, the industry will use publicity to target consumers in offices and apartment buildings, where recycling rates are low.

Another focus will be recycling wood waste at construction sites. The aim is to have it recycled into plywood, particleboard or paper; or sent to high-tech plants that burn wood for heat and electricity.

"We hope other industries will rise to the challenge" of doing the same, or better, said Lorne Johnson of World Wildlife Fund Canada, which is working with the association. Other green groups are on an advisory panel.

Johnson added the odds are good the industry will meet the target. "They're already doing a good job."

Shifting into neutral

How the Canadian forestry industry plans to meet its 2015 target:

Become energy self-sufficient – switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Adopt energy-efficient technologies.

Increase diversion of used forest products from landfills.

Cap more landfills to prevent methane leaks.

Increase cogeneration – using waste heat to generate electricity.

Increase potential of forests and wood products to store carbon.

Maximize recycling of paper and wood products.

October 18, 2007

Scientists 'stunned' by Arctic ice behaviour

The giant Ayles Ice Island south of the North Pole has broken in two, one of several "remarkable" occurrences in a year that has seen a record-shattering retreat of the Arctic ice.

"We have people here in the ice service with over 40 years experience and they're all stunned," says Doug Bancroft, director of the Canadian Ice Service, of the extraordinary behaviour of Arctic ice this summer.

"They've never seen anything like this."

The break-up of the ice island last month was just one of several highlights of a summer season that also saw the Northwest Passage open up for the second year in a row.

There has been the occasional summer in the past where the passage was almost ice-free in late summer, making it possible to navigate the fabled passage in a small vessel, says Bancroft.

But to see it happen two years in a row is unprecedented in four decades of record-keeping, he says.

Just two per cent of the 2,300-kilometre-long passage had sea ice at the peak of the ice retreat in mid-September this year, compared to the normal 14 per cent, Bancroft says.

"Normally you'd encounter ice for 400 kilometres of that, this year there was only 20 kilometres," he said.

The Ayles Ice Island, a Manhattan-sized chunk of ice that cracked off an ancient ice shelf at the north end of Ellesmere Island in 2005, also had an incredible summer. After spending more than a year struck in the pack ice at the north end of Ellesmere, the giant slab started moving and sailed into a channel that is normally blocked by ice year-round. The island, which hit a top speed of 10 nautical miles a day, cracked in half in early September and the two pieces are now on opposite sides of a small island in the Arctic archipelago. They are now about 360 nautical miles from where they originated, says Bancroft.

The ice service uses satellites and a beacon to follow the islands, which have now headed into a "graveyard" of multi-year ice far from shipping lanes and oil, gas and mining operations. Bancroft is, however, reluctant to say they won't break loose and become a potential menace in future.

"2007 was such an usual summer in so many respects that people aren't making forecasts about the fate and evolution of very large chunks of ice such as this," says Bancroft, noting how the Arctic ice is changing - and melting - much faster than climate models predicted.

"If you look at what happened in the last three years, it closely resembles the absolutely worst-case scenario, but about 20, 25 years ahead of schedule," he says, referring to models created by international teams of scientists to predict the impact of global warming on the north. They had forecast the Arctic could be free of summer ice as early as 2050.

On Monday the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center issued a seasonal wrap-up that said the Arctic sea ice hit the lowest level in 2007 since satellite measurements began in 1979. The average sea ice extent for the month of September was 4.28 million square kilometres, the lowest September on record, shattering the previous record for the month, set in 2005, by 23 per cent. At the end of the melt season, September 2007 sea ice was 39 per cent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000.

"The sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return," Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the U.S. centre said in the statement that warned the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by 2030.

Bancroft agrees that the ice "may" have passed the point of no return, stressing that no one really knows for sure.

But he says there is no question the ice has supported the Arctic ecosystem for millennia is "rapidly" changing.

"There is a sense of urgency here," says Bancroft, noting that research teams from around the world are focused on the Arctic as part of the International Polar Year and working to get a better read on the ice and its ecosystem.

Experts fear greenhouse gas cuts may be too little, too late

Greenhouse gas reduction targets, set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other world leaders are not nearly tough enough to prevent a planetary meltdown, a leading Canadian climate research team reports.

It says global emissions need to be slashed by 90 per by 2050 to avoid a two-degree Celsius rise in the global temperature - a threshold that scientists fear could trigger melting of the Greenland ice sheet and a seven-metre rise in sea level.

Even with such a huge cut in emissions, future generations will still have to extract carbon monoxide out of the air because the gas persists in the atmosphere for so long, the team reports in the Geophysical Research Letters this week.

"Our results suggest that if a 2.0-degree C warming is to be avoided, direct CO2 capture from the air, together with subsequent sequestration would eventually have to be introduced in addition to sustained 90 per cent global carbon emissions reductions by 2050," the University of Victoria team concludes.

The group's experiments indicate many emission reduction targets - which vary widely depending on the government proposing them - are "inconsistent" with the stated aims of the politicians, says lead author Andrew Weaver.

"They're saying: 'We don't want to have two-degree warming, so let's aim for a 40 to 50 per cent cut in emissions'," says Weaver. "What's we're saying is: 'If you want to avoid two-degree warming, then you need to get to 90 per cent cuts by 2050.' "

California and Germany aim to slash their emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050; leaders of several G8 countries have proposed cutting global emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050; and the Harper government wants to cut Canada's current emissions by 60 to 70 per cent by 2050.

"In Canada, we have a history of just making numbers up," says Weaver, who sees little scientific rationale for the targets set by either the former Liberal government or the current Conservative one.

"Maybe they have a Ouija board or something, and they all sit around in a seance," Weaver said in an interview. "There is no rhyme or reason to it. "

The current target set by the Conservatives is "nowhere near enough," says Weaver, stressing the need for the Canada and other countries to wean themselves off fossil fuels to curb carbon emissions from cars, factories and power plants that continue to soar globally.

While two-degree warming globally does not sound like much, many experts believe it will be enough to trigger mass species extinctions and accelerated melting of polar ice sheets. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN climate panel, said recently that some scientists are now questioning if the two-degree benchmark is safe enough.

"People are actually questioning if the two-degrees centigrade benchmark that has been set is safe enough," Pachauri, head of the

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told a Reuters environment summit in London.

There are also indications the climate is changing faster than expected. The remarkable loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer, which scientists and government officials have described as "stunning," has prompted leading ice researchers to say the Arctic may have already passed the tipping point and the summer ice could be gone by 2030.

Weaver's team is one of the few in the world that has computer models with the power and sophistication to assess the long-term impact of different emission reductions.

In a series of nine experiments, Weaver's team found less than 60 per cent global emissions reduction by 2050 breaks the two-degree threshold warming this century. And even when total global emissions are stabilized at 90 per cent below present levels by 2050, the two-degree threshold is broken in centuries ahead because of the way carbon lingers in the atmosphere. While two degrees could trigger melting of the massive Greenland ice sheet, scientists say it would actually take centuries to melt all the ice and raise sea levels seven metres.

In a related study, which was presented an a conference earlier this year and is published this week, Weaver and his colleagues found burning all known reserves of fossil fuels, from Alberta's oil sands to China's vast stores of coal, would have grave long-term consequences.

It says that the carbon released, if it continued to waft into the atmosphere as it does today, would drive up global temperatures between six and eight degrees and persist in the atmosphere for more than 1,800 years.

Climate models are not perfect and are less reliable the farther into the future they extend, but scientists say they are the only available means of exploring different scenarios.

Pollution in Canada getting worse, statistics show

OTTAWA - Canada's air and water quality is getting worse, Statistics Canada reported Monday.

Reviewing key indicators from 1990 to 2005, the statistical agency found a 12 per cent increase in ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, over the 15-year period. The increases were particularly noteworthy in southern Ontario and southern Quebec.

Smog is created from ozone and fine particulate matter that come from transportation, electricity generation, wood burning and the use of some chemical products.

The Statistics Canada report also found that water quality was "poor" or "marginal" in 23 per cent of sites tested.

Overall, it concluded that Canada was falling short of accepted quality standards required for protecting fish, plants and other aquatic life. The main source of pollution appeared to be phosphorus from sewage, agriculture runoff and industrial waste, according to the report.

Meantime, the study confirmed other recent studies about Canada's greenhouse gas emissions that revealed that levels of heat-trapping gases were stable between 2004 and 2005, but more than 30 per cent above Canada's legally binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

October 9, 2007

Greenhouse gas emissions hit point of no return

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The global economic boom has accelerated greenhouse gas emissions to a dangerous threshold not expected for a decade and could potentially cause irreversible climate change, said one of Australia's leading scientists.

Tim Flannery, a world recognized climate change scientist and Australian of the Year in 2007, said a U.N. international climate change report due in November will show that greenhouse gases have already reached a dangerous level.

Flannery said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will show that greenhouse gas in the atmosphere in mid-2005 had reached about 455 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent -- a level not expected for another 10 years.

"We thought we'd be at that threshold within about a decade," Flannery told Australian television late on Monday.

"We thought we had that much time. But the new data indicates that in about mid-2005 we crossed that threshold," he said.

"What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that could potentially cause dangerous climate change."

Flannery, from Macquarie University and author of the climate change book "The Weather Makers," said he had seen the raw data which will be in the IPCC Synthesis Report.

He said the measurement of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere included not just carbon dioxide, but also nitrous oxide, methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). All these gases were measured and then equated into potentially one gas to reach a general level.

"They're all having an impact. Probably 75 percent is carbon dioxide but the rest is that mixed bag of other gases," he said.


Flannery said global economic expansion, particularly in China and India, was a major factor behind the unexpected acceleration in greenhouse gas levels.

"We're still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels. You know, the metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course, clearly, with the metabolism of our planet," he said.

The report adds an urgency to international climate change talks on the Indonesian island of Bali in December, as reducing greenhouse gas emissions may no longer be enough to prevent dangerous climate change, he said.

U.N. environment ministers meet in December in Bali to start talks on a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on curbing climate change that expires in 2012.

"We can reduce emissions as strongly as we like -- unless we can draw some of the standing stock of pollutant out of the air and into the tropical forests, we'll still face unacceptable levels of risk in 40 years time," he said.

Flannery suggested the developed world could buy "climate security" by paying villages in countries like Papua New Guinea not to log forests and to regrow forests.

"That 200 gigatonnes of carbon pollutant, the standing stock that's in the atmosphere, is there courtesy of the industrial revolution, and we're the beneficiaries of that and most of the world missed out," he said.

"So I see that as a historic debt that we owe the world. And I can't imagine a better way of paying it back than trying to help the poorest people on the planet."

Homeowners riding the green wave

For Andrea Kantelberg, "green" isn't just another one of those warm, fuzzy buy words exploited by slick marketers eager to cash in on the latest craze. The same might be said for Mitch Abrahams, Martin Blake and others like them in Greater Toronto's development industry – people for whom green is a way of work and a way of life.

And increasingly, they have allies among homebuyers who – despite being skeptical about products being labelled green – are making it known they want residences that are safe, cheap to operate and enviro-friendly.

So while the trees may be changing colour, the great push of 2007 toward greening our homes and lifestyles will only gain momentum through fall and winter, Kantelberg, Abrahams, Blake and other industry leaders say.

"(Green priorities) will absolutely soon be the norm because we can't carry on as a world without making some serious changes," says Kantelberg, who has won awards for her numerous eco-friendly projects, including a Smart Environments award from the International Interior Design Association. "That's not preachy, that's reality."

Kantelberg, who lived in Holland between the ages of 8 and 14, says she grew up recycling and eating healthy, organic foods. "So designing green interiors was just a natural segue."

Owner of Kantelberg Design, a five-person boutique shop, she has worked on projects for Tridel, including the 1,900-square-foot Eco-Suite in Tridel's Element project.

That showcase unit features eco-friendly wallpaper and water-based, low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. Her projects use recycled steel and drywall and local materials such as quartz or porcelain countertops instead of granite.

But building on the green trend and doing right by the environment all requires attention to economics.

Blake, vice-president of project implementation for Daniels Corp., fully agrees that the greening of the condo and new home construction industry is a good thing. "But the challenge is to make sure it is affordable as well," he says.

One way Daniels has been able to make costs work for clients is by building its subdivisions before the homes are sold, he says. Most GTA builders do it the other way round.

The strategy allows the builder to purchase materials in bulk and pass on savings to buyers, he says, adding that Daniels also scraps many costly cosmetic upgrades in favour of energy-saving materials and appliances.

The extra initial costs of quality windows or beefed-up insulation can easily be recouped within a few years of lower operating costs, Blake says. "But it's not just the energy and cost savings that count, it's also a tangible benefit to the environment."

And as these messages gradually permeate the public consciousness, the green trend only solidifies itself.

Alas, there's still a long way to go. A recent Ipsos Reid survey of Canadian homeowners indicates many are still not convinced that going green will save them money, and almost two-thirds think that when a company calls a product green it is usually just a marketing ploy.

"There is a lot of skepticism about green products out there and men are even more skeptical than women," says home improvement expert Jon Eakes, a spokesperson for insulation manufacturer Icynene, which commissioned the poll.

So how can homebuyers cut through all the noise to ensure a product billed as environmentally friendly is just that and not simply more greenwash?

Abrahams, president of the Benvenuto Group, a residential condo developer, admits it isn't always easy. "Sometimes there is more marketing than substance," he says.

Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, says consumers must look carefully at products and homes being peddled as eco-friendly, saying many don't live up to their billing.

"Some of their green stuff reminds me of the developers who name their subdivisions after the very natural features they have just obliterated – you know, Wildflower Lane," Smith says. "We're living in an era where every manufacturer claims to be green and buyers are vulnerable to unsubstantiated builders' claims."

It doesn't help that the construction industry itself is still grappling to define what it really means to build green, he adds. "We're at the very beginnings of this debate," he says. "I think buyers have to proceed with caution and carefully examine these claims."

That means homebuyers should look for recognized eco-brands such as LEED, Energy-Star and Green Globe when it comes to assessing whether a home – or any other product – can live up to an eco-friendly billing, Smith says.

Buyers should also look for homes with built-in features such as smart thermostats, solar water heaters, extra insulation, energy-efficient windows and smart fabric blinds (fabric is more energy efficient for windows).

Most of the ratings systems such as LEED and Energy-Star focus on energy efficiency, but Smith predicts that over the next few years, a system to create eco-standards for building materials will also evolve.

This will rate materials according to their levels of toxicity or whether they are organically produced. Currently, there is a rating system for lumber called FSC – the Forest Stewardship Council – the "gold standard" for enviro-wood, Smith says.

Then there are the consumers who say they would purchase environmentally safe products, but only if there is no price difference and they can still get the upscale products they want.

"It's great to say in a focus group that you care about the environment," Blake says. "But are you willing to give up your granite countertops (which have often been transported from Europe)?"

Blake agrees with Kantelberg about the importance of buying and building local. "No more imported Kentucky limestone; why don't we just go with what the local environment has," he says. "There has to be a recognition of the cost and the impact," he adds.

So is using granite for your countertops eco-friendly? "Forget about it," Kantelberg says. "People may perceive it as a natural product, but it is not a renewable product."

The granite is often mined in Italy, and the weight and the long-distance shipping mean huge costs for the environment in carbon emissions, she says.

"For all those reasons, it is a poor choice," Kantelberg says. "There are so many products, such as recycled bottles, that are good alternatives."

Smith agrees, calling stone countertops "an environmental disaster. The energy alone used to power the water-cooled saws needed to cut marble is gigantic," Smith says.

Abrahams of Benvenuto Group says buildings also have to be constructed with an eye to how they will "perform" down the road.

What kind of eco-friendly homes will hit the market in 15 years? And how will communities build to save energy?

Smith, Abrahams and Blake all foresee more localized solar and wind power for our homes and more use of geothermal systems for heating and cooling.

And most new homes will be net-zero homes, meaning they consume less power than they generate through renewable sources.

Abrahams also says that making more efficient use of land and cutting the need for carbon-based transportation is crucial, using Benvenuto Group as an example for taking an "eyesore" sunken parking lot near Eglinton Ave. E. and Yonge St. and turning it into energy-efficient condos.

"I think intensifying is key to the whole green movement," he says.

See Also:

Window Blinds and Your Health

October 8, 2007

Harper's budget cuts exasperate, infuriate environmental scientists

EDMONTON -- Environment Canada scientists are virtually at war with the federal department over funding shortfalls for conservation and climate change initiatives.

The situation has become so intense that Environment Canada has put out a contract worth up to $100,000 to get an outside agency to help ease tensions and get employees used to the idea of coming changes.

Battle lines began to be drawn this summer when the Conservative government froze the budget of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), the 60-year-old institution that is responsible for migratory birds, national bird and wildlife sanctuaries, endangered species and the famous Hinterland's Who's Who television commercials and web sites.

Budgets were also slashed for the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Network, the Migratory Bird Program and the National Wildlife Areas before Environment Minister John Baird rescinded those cuts last week.

Baird declined to be interviewed about the troubles at Environment Canada.

But in a statement, Garry Keller, his director of communications, blamed the former Liberal government for the freeze and the cuts. Keller said a $17.1-million budget cut agreed to by Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, when Dion was environment minister, is responsible.

He said the Tory government has increased Environment Canada's main budget by $38 million. Keller said there will be no layoffs, which was never an issue, but did not say if a budget freeze were still part of the plan.

He added that Baird has instructed his department to be "financially flexible" so that critical programs are maintained.

More than a dozen scientists and managers interviewed by The Edmonton Journal over the past week aren't optimistic anything is going to get better.

The scientists said CWS has been so cash-starved for so long that there are virtually no recovery programs in place for the majority of plant and wildlife species that are considered to be at risk.

The problems, they said, have been made known to the government through various channels and audits. Last year, for example, an audit done for the government showed that the former Liberal government diverted funds away from the endangered species program.

The audit by Stratos, a management consulting firm, noted that Environment Canada lagged far behind Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans in taking action on the endangered species for which they are responsible.

Seven weeks ago, the Environment Law Centre of Alberta sent Baird a letter saying that, to date, critical habitat for the recovery of species at risk has been identified for only three of the 235 plants and animals that should have recovery plans in place.

The freeze, however, isn't the only thing that has the scientists at CWS hopping mad. The budget issues have also escalated into what one senior research scientist described as a "bizarre round of spending initiatives" that is being used to justify the so-called re-organization of CWS and changing its name to the Conservation and Biodiversity Protection Directorate.

Earlier this year, Ipsos-Reid was hired to give the government insight into what the scientists said was a senseless re-organization of the service under a new name.

Regional Environment Canada managers interviewed by Ipsos-Reid saw no need for it, scientists and other employees saw it as an excuse for cutting jobs and conservation programs and creating another layer in what they called an already top-loaded bureaucracy.

The report, however, has apparently not changed the minds of the senior officials within the department who have put out another contract, one that calls for "organizational intervention" for the CWS's entire work force.

The focus this time is on "team building, change management, employee engagement, and values and ethics policies and legislation."

The value of the contract is estimated to be between $50,000 and $100,000.

Keller defended the contract, saying it was for "ethics training, something that Canadians said was very important after years of Liberal mismanagement." Scientists and a number of managers see it as a waste of money that could be used for more meaningful conservation programs.

CWS is not the only unhappy organization within Environment Canada.

At the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC), many of the roughly 300 researchers, scientists and forecasters also say they are angry, depressed and frustrated by budget constraints that stop them from providing the services Canadians are paying for. MSC operates on an annual budget of about $200 million, which most scientists think is not nearly enough to address the climate change and air quality challenges that Canada faces.

MSC has never recovered from the years 1994 through to 1998, when government cutbacks shrank funding by 30 per cent. A little over two years ago, many of MSC's top scientists joined university colleagues in making a detailed public statement warning the government that the research essential to climate change and smog-reducing initiatives was near a state of collapse.

October 7, 2007

Arctic torn to pieces as heat triggers landslides

Queen's University researchers watched in awe and dismay this summer as landslides blamed on climate change mangled wide swaths of a remote Arctic valley in mere hours.

"When a week was up the landscape had been torn to pieces in dozens of places. We were surprised by both the speed and the scale of the changes," said geography professor Scott Lamoureux.

He warned that such large-scale environmental upheaval could throw fragile Arctic ecosystems off-kilter by interfering with the flow of vital organic material and nutrients carried by water during the brief summer months.

"We expected this would happen in the future to some extent but to see it taking place already is a bit of a shock," Lamoureux said.

Lamoureux leads a Queen's University research team probing the impact of climate change on water quality in a 20-square-kilometre region at the southern end of Melville Island in the western Arctic.

The study began in 2003 and this spring expanded to include scientists from the University of Toronto.

The findings sound a warning for other areas of the Arctic, some warmer than the Melville Island locale.

Federal government surveys have concluded permafrost lies beneath about half the land mass of Canada, extending as much as 700 metres deep in the Arctic archipelago.

Lamoureux said the landslides were triggered in the last week of July after unprecedented high summer temperatures caused the permafrost on Melville to melt down as far as a metre, 20 times deeper than normal.

This excess water acted like a layer of ball bearings, letting the soil on top slide down the valley slopes.

"It was like a rug coming down and then piling up in the river channel in folds.

"Along one 200-metre stretch, it shifted the entire river bed to the other side," Lamoureux said.

Records going back to the 1950s show daytime highs averaging about 5C in July, but this past summer, temperatures regularly reached 15C and sometimes 20C, Lamoureux said.

"There were dozens of these slow-motion landslides. You couldn't see them move over a period of minutes, but they covered 50 or 60 metres in a day.

"One flowed down a good two kilometres from a ridge to the valley floor," he said.

The ecological upheaval most probably continued after the Queen's researchers left on Aug. 1, Lamoureux said, but he has been unsuccessful in obtaining satellite images to check on the final extent of the damage.

The geography professor said having before and after measurements of water flow and quality from the site is "scientific serendipity."

"From an experimental standpoint, we couldn't ask for a better situation," he said.

Also excited by the development is U of T professor Myrna Simpson, a specialist in environmental chemistry who joined the Melville Island project this year when the federal government provided nearly $700,000 as part of International Polar Year funding.

In her lab on the university's Scarborough campus, Simpson analyzes how carbon-based organic material ages differently in the Arctic compared to temperate zones.

"We're learning a lot of really new things," she said.

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