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March 29, 2007

NDP declares victory for clean air

Layton and Cullen proud of accomplishments on C-30

OTTAWA – New Democrats on Parliament Hill claimed victory for cleaner air and greenhouse gas reductions today in Ottawa.

The NDP proposed and passed a series of comprehensive changes to Bill C-30 that will re-commit Canada to its Kyoto Protocol obligations and make Canada’s air cleaner for ordinary Canadians and their families.

When the Conservative government tabled their so-called “Clean Air Act,” NDP Leader Jack Layton demanded something better from the prime minister. Layton presented Harper with a plan to let members of parliament rewrite the bill on behalf of hardworking Canadians who were fed up after years of inaction on climate change.

“This could have only happened in a minority government. Legislators writing legislation doesn’t sound like a unique concept – but it is very rare in Ottawa, especially for those of us in opposition,” said Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley). “I’m thrilled we could rewrite this bill from top to bottom. The new law will really go after the root cause of climate change – greenhouse gases.”

The NDP led the charge and the opposition parties united to present the House of Commons with real environmental legislation.

“The NDP took the lead in creating this committee,” says Layton, “and we didn’t back down when everyone else said it wouldn’t work. We created the committee that will now put before the House of Commons real environmental legislation that commits us to our Kyoto obligations and makes the air we all breathe cleaner.”

Cullen put aside partisan rancour and division to unite opposition parties to pass 11 of 12 NDP amendments. However, the NDP environment critic says he is still cautious about declaring an all-out victory.

“We are taking this victory one step at a time. We will defend it in the House of Commons and use every tool within our reach to ensure this bill is voted on and passed,” said Cullen.

Global warming facts easy to find

Republican Senator James Inhofe and Joe Barton, the leading Republican on the House of Representatives energy and commerce committee, seem to think that global warming is a hoax. Even a cursory examination of temperature data readily available on the website for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies shows the significant pattern of global warming. The accompanying rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is shown in the data on the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center website.

Since the carbon dioxide produced in the U.S. seems to be such a large component in global warming, the views of these men is frightening. Thank goodness for Al Gore.

IndyCar goes `green' with renewable energy

Paul Dana's legacy will fill the fuel tanks of all 20 cars that will line up on the grid for tomorrow night's IndyCar Series season-opening race at Homestead, Fla.

It was a year ago today, while practising for the same event, that the 32-year-old journalist-turned-driver for Rahal/Letterman Racing was killed in a horrific crash.

Dana was a passionate believer in renewable fuels, and his car bore the logo of the U.S. producers of ethanol.

Series spokesman John Griffin said Dana "saw a bigger vision for ethanol than just being a decal on the side of his car" that paid for his ride.

Jeff Simmons, who replaced Dana, credited his predecessor for bringing about the switch in fuels.

"If it wasn't for him the series wouldn't be making this switch, at least not at this time," he said.

Griffin added that everyone around the paddock is indebted to Dana for improving the aroma around that area.

"It smells like the melted butter you put on popcorn," he said.

IndyCar made a total switch to ethanol for this season after experimenting with a 10 per cent ethanol, 90 per cent methanol mix last year.

The rival ChampCar series, which does not kick off its season until next weekend at Las Vegas, continues to use methanol. Methanol, which is made by applying steam to natural gas, replaced gasoline in Indy-type open-wheel race cars in North American in 1965.

Formula One, however, continues to run on gasoline, as does NASCAR.

While ethanol produces less energy than gasoline when it burns, engineers can overcome that deficiency by building higher compression ratios into their engines.

Simmons said the transition to ethanol has been smooth and if anything it's improved the performance of the car.

"We have a broader power band and improved torque," he explained.

"That torque is really going to help us on restarts and road courses.

"We're also getting a lot better mileage than last year, so much so that we're reducing the size of the fuel cell from 30 gallons down to 22 gallons."

Ethanol is made from a variety of plants, but mainly from corn, and burns cleaner than methanol or gasoline, thus releasing less greenhouse gases that are linked to global warming into the atmosphere.

Simmons said he was skeptical about renewable fuels until he joined the program. Now he's a convert.

"We're trying to say we have this fuel that's made here in America that's a high-performance fuel and you can have environmental responsibility at the same time.

"The amount of ethanol that was already used last year was equivalent to removing one million cars from the road and lessened pollution by something like eight billion tonnes of pollution."

On the racing front, Dan Weldon will be seeking his third consecutive season-opening victory at Homestead tomorrow night.

EU is eons ahead of United States

Fascinating how backwards America is on environmental issues. In Washington, it's still possible for legislators to claim global warming is a hoax. Witness the effort by Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma to embarrass Al Gore at a Senate committee hearing.

But while Congress debates whether climate change is real, countries on the other side of the Atlantic are busy rolling it back. Earlier this month, the European Union agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 – a landmark accord involving 27 governments. When it comes to saving the Earth, the United States and Europe are indeed on different planets.

Canada's approach on Kyoto criticized

GATINEAU, Que.–A leading international climate change crusader slammed Canada for its lack of action in fulfilling the country's commitments to reduce greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol.

Australian scientist and writer Tim Flannery, who has issued dire warnings about the potential calamities of climate change, said he is disappointed by Canada's approach to Kyoto, the treaty that sets out targets to reduce the greenhouse gases causing global warming.

In 2005, the federal Liberals set out a $5 billion plan to meet Kyoto targets but the Conservative government has said the Kyoto goals are now unattainable. As a result, critics have charged that Canada has forsaken its leadership role in international talks on future Kyoto targets.

Flannery told a conference on progressive governance that the original emissions-reduction goals set by Canada were naively optimistic.

"And then, in recent times, for individuals to suggest this failure of the process is a good reason to walk away from negotiations has been even more damaging," he added.

The conference was put on by the Crossing Boundaries National Council, a not-for-profit policy forum, and Canada 2020, a think-tank on economic and social issues.

Flannery said only concerted action by governments around the world can successfully address the long-term challenge of fighting climate change while avoiding severe global economic and political strains.

"There's a real need for governments to attack this through clearly articulated targets with properly planned strategies to get you from A to B. That's what's been lacking in the world."

He urged Canadians, working with their government, to put plans in place to meet Kyoto and "to understand what your obligations will be as individuals (and) industries."

Environment Minister John Baird, who spoke before Flannery, maintained that Canada has not backed away from its leadership role in the international climate change effort.

"Internationally, we're strongly engaged," he remarked, saying that Canada is working with the world's industrial countries plus emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India to plan for emissions reduction targets after the first phase of Kyoto ends in 2012.

Baird said the government is about to bring out "aggressive" regulations for all industrial sectors that will reduce greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

A revised Clean Air Act, forged by the opposition majority on the Commons environment committee, will contain a commitment to international carbon trading under Kyoto.

The opposition parties also appeared on track to include a reaffirmation of the Kyoto emissions-reduction targets that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly rejected as unachievable.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who also attended the conference, said the Liberals failed to live up to their Kyoto commitments and the Conservatives' environmental package is a political gimmick.

"In the absence of a commitment to meet Kyoto targets ... what we're getting from the Harper government is a build-up of greenhouse gases and no commitment to global responsibilities disguised in a public relations campaign to confuse Canadians," she said.

Green plan eyes rebates, building standards

Rebates for high-efficiency furnaces and “green” standards for new buildings are among the ideas being proposed in Mayor David Miller’s new “framework” to address climate change.

The report released this afternoon also calls for Toronto to commit to a six per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, 30 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050.

“As Canada’s biggest city, we have an opportunity and an obligation to lead by tremendous example. Cleaning up the air is the issue of our time; maybe of all time,” Miller said in a statement.

“The City cannot win the war on climate change on (its) own, but we’re prepared to lead the way.”

Titled “Change is in the Air,” the report calls on Toronto residents to get involved in developing and implementing a Climate Change and Clean Air Action Plan.

“I know that Torontonians will partner with us and rise to the challenge. They are ready to act,” Miller says in his statement.

The document is meant to provide ideas on the kinds of strategies, policies, programs and projects required to fight climate change and reduce smog, Miller says in its introduction.

Among its suggested strategies:

  • Develop a financing mechanism for energy-efficient retrofits to high-rise apartments and condos;
  • Annual parking or motor vehicle registration fees to fund retrofits and renewable energy;
  • Convert all diesel-powered vehicles in city-operated fleet to bio-diesel by 2015;
  • Identify ways to substitute imported goods and food with locally produced ones;
  • Use renewable sources to meet 25 per cent of Toronto’s energy demands by 2012;
  • Double the existing tree canopy to 34 per cent.

Last fall, the Toronto Environmental Alliance gave city council and Miller a C- grade for their efforts at battling smog.

But the framework passed with flying colors, as far as the group is concerned.

“We’re very happy to see movement on promoting green power, we’re very happy to see movement on a community right to know bylaw, and we’re very happy to see movement on promoting local food,” said Franz Hartmann, co-executive director of the alliance.

“If this framework turns into a really comprehensive plan, Toronto’s air will be a lot cleaner,” he added.

“I think it’s sending a very clear signal out to the public that the City of Toronto, the mayor, is taking global warming and dirty air seriously:

Hartmann noted there is no mention of how the framework is going to be paid for “but we have to keep in mind what Sir Nicholas Stern, the World Bank economist, told Tony Blair last October, and that was, ‘The cost of inaction is dramatically greater than the cost of action.’ ”

He said the important thing is to make sure “we promote some sort of green taxes that essentially reward good behaviour and penalize bad environmental behaviour.

“Can you actually get people to change behaviour? Well, if you tell them they’ll save money, yeah. If you tell them this is actually going to improve the air, yeah, I think they will change their behaviour.”

Challenges of climate change

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.

Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

Those are the main findings outlined by more than 2,500 scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their most recent report, released Feb. 2.

These findings should put to rest the arguments about human-induced climate change. Unfortunately, there are still people who deny or are skeptical of the fact that human beings are altering the environment of the Earth for the worse.

It is undeniable that since the start of the Industrial Revolution various human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, have resulted in the release of large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

These gases have altered the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in the warming of the climate with serious implications for life on our planet. Some of the repercussions of human-induced climate change include:

  • Higher sea levels, causing flooding in low-lying, often densely populated, coastal regions. Some of the world's most productive agricultural lands also are in areas that are at increased risk of flooding due to rising sea levels.

  • Increased rates of disease outbreaks due to a warmer climate.

  • Potential increase in the frequency and magnitude of severe weather events, such as forest fires, droughts, storms and hurricanes.

  • Adverse effects on human health.

  • Loss of biological diversity.

    All these outcomes will result in loss of life, creation of environmental refugees, food and water shortages, substantial damage to property, the loss of agricultural productivity and land, and stress on already overburdened health-care systems.

    In addition, climate change will have adverse effects on the recreation and tourism industry. The closing of ski resorts due to warmer temperatures and lack of snow is a prime example. Canada is not immune from the negative consequences of climate change. In fact, as a northern country, the Canadian environment is more sensitive to changes in the climate.

    All this will have negative impacts on the economy. Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, recently quantified the damage climate change would have on the world economy if we don't take prompt action to reduce emissions.

    According to Stern, inaction will result in at least a 5 per cent loss in global Gross Domestic Product per year due to the "overall costs and risks of climate change," and perhaps as much as 20 per cent. In contrast, the cost of action on climate change "can be limited to around 1 per cent of global GDP" per year. Clearly, the economic advantages of taking action right now on climate change outweigh those of inaction.

    Given this scenario, the scaremongering of the Conservative government regarding the economic costs of Canada's commitments to fight climate change and unofficially pulling Canada out of the legally binding Kyoto Protocol are not helpful.

    Similarly, cancelling proven environmental programs while frantically throwing money in all directions for political gain in anticipation of an election, without any concrete plan, will not do the job. Moreover, such tactics on such an important issue are not expected from the Prime Minister of Canada.

    Action on climate change requires conviction, passion, determination and a well-devised action plan. Canada can lead the way with an effective strategy that works at local, national and international levels and includes both adaptation to an already changing climate and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Climate change is the most pressing and momentous environmental issue facing the world. Action to confront it should not wait for the skeptics to come on board. We have an ethical and moral responsibility toward ourselves, the Earth, and our future generations to take action on climate change now before it critically compromises our ability to prosper on this planet.

  • Province too timid on environment

    One per cent of gross domestic product in Ontario is roughly $5.4 billion.

    It's a lot of money, to be sure, and it's how much Ontario – all jurisdictions – should be spending in the fight against climate change. That is, if you endorse the wisdom of British economist Nicholas Stern, as the McGuinty government has on several occasions.

    Whether you believe the amount is too high or too little, it at least offers us an economist's point of reference. So with the release of the Ontario budget last Thursday, Stern's 1 per cent goal makes the $125 million allotment of "green" funding appear, well, quite skimpy.

    "We have the premier saying this is one of his Top 2 priorities, but this wasn't really reflected in this budget," says Keith Stewart of WWF-Canada.

    "They're spending more on expanding highways than on the climate plan. The carbon math just doesn't add up."

    And this assumes all $125 million is going toward climate-change initiatives, which isn't the case. Some of it goes toward improving drinking water and wastewater systems, diverting waste and cleaning up industrial "brownfield" sites – all worthy causes, but hardly falling under the climate-change umbrella.

    Nearly $27 million alone is going toward research into biomaterials, created out of corn and other crops, which can be used to make next-generation car parts and products.

    Again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with this kind of investment. Using agricultural materials instead of fossil fuels to make SUV parts may limit CO{-2} emissions, but it's far from being the biggest bang for the buck – it's more about auto-sector and agricultural competitiveness and less about managing a climate that could seriously hurt future crop yields.

    "When it comes to cars, you really want to have investment in public transit, better planning and more efficient vehicles," says Stewart.

    Now, to be fair, the government did say in its budget that another $200 million has been set aside "to fund further climate change initiatives" over the next three years. It's anticipated this money will be part of a government climate plan to be revealed next month.

    But, in Stern terms, it's still chump change for such a massive problem. And it appears it will be taken from the $586 million to come from the federal government's Clean Air and Climate Trust.

    In other words, this budget relies on federal tax dollars to completely fund Ontario climate programs that should be largely supported by provincial tax dollars. Federal funds should be considered a top-up, not a replacement.

    And next month's climate plan? Well, $200 million doesn't get you much, at least if you expect the voting public to see a serious commitment in the battle against global warming.

    That said, wowing the public could come in the form of regulation. It wouldn't require immediate funding and could be addressed in future budgets. This has led some to suspect that Ontario may be considering a carbon cap-and-trade program for big industry, including power producers.

    In line with this, there's been speculation that Ontario is exploring the idea of joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an agreement between nine states in the U.S. northeast and mid-Atlantic. Known as RGGI, the initiative will establish a regional cap-and-trade program and emissions trading system aimed initially at power producers.

    The Harper government has steadfastly rejected the cap-and-trade option, particularly on an international scale. An Ontario move in this direction, similar to that U.S. maverick California, would certainly spark much-needed debate about establishing a national or continental system.

    Next month's climate plan could also introduce revenue-neutral tax policies that reward good environmental behaviour and punish bad behaviour – similar to the SUV levy and energy-efficient car rebate in the federal Conservative budget.

    And more announcements could be made around the electricity and natural gas markets, since any initiatives there are funded by ratepayers and not through the tax base.

    Whatever is in the cards, it's clear that something creative must be done if, as the polls suggest, voters are calling for real action on the environment.

    One tidbit in the budget worth noting is the $3 million that will go to the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. It's not a lot, but it could go a long way in promoting community-based clean power projects.

    "We're thrilled," says Deborah Doncaster, executive director of the association. "We can do a lot with $3 million."

    The money will provide much-needed funding for community co-op projects that can't raise start-up capital but want to participate in the province's new standard offer program for renewables.

    Doncaster says the $3 million, while intended for grants, could eventually form the basis of a larger revolving loan program that would support more projects.

    The fact that this association is "thrilled" to get $3 million, four years after asking for it, tells us a lot about how starved such groups have been for government support.

    For the rest of us, Mr. Guinty, it's going to take a lot more.

    'Novel climates' ahead, U.S. study finds

    WASHINGTON – Climates that have existed in some parts of Earth may disappear, while novel new types of climate could develop in other areas as the planet continues to warm, according to a new study.

    Such changes could endanger plants and animals living in affected areas, although there also may be new opportunities in some regions, explained John Williams, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    Using global change forecasts prepared for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a team of researchers led by Williams used computer models to estimate how climates in various parts of the world would be affected. Their findings are being published in this week's online edition of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

    The IPCC, representing the world's leading climate scientists, reported in February that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observation of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level."

    Tropical regions in particular may face unexpected changes, particularly the rain forests in the Amazon and Indonesia, Williams' researchers concluded.

    This was surprising, Williams said in a telephone interview, since the tropics tend to have little variation in weather.

    That also means that temperature changes of one or two degrees Celsius in these regions might have more impact than a change of three or four degrees in a region that is accustomed to regular changes.

    Species living in tropical areas may be less able to adapt, he said, but said that is speculative and needs further study.

    Areas like the southeastern United States and the Arabian peninsula might also be affected, the researchers said.

    And they said mountain areas such as in Peruvian and Colombian Andes and regions such as Siberia and southern Australia face a risk of climates disappearing altogether.

    That does not mean these regions would have no climate at all, rather that their climate would change and the conditions currently in these areas would not occur elsewhere on Earth.

    That would pose a risk to species living in those areas, Williams observed.

    If some regions should develop new climates that do not now exist, that might provide an opportunity for species that live there, Williams said. "But we can't make a prediction, because it's outside our current experience and outside the experience of these species," he said.

    Alan Robock, a professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, welcomed the report, calling it the first he has seen ``that not only looks at species extinctions, but also looks at regions where novel climates will appear."

    "While the idea of novel climates may seem like a positive consequence of humans using the atmosphere as a sewer and causing rapid, unprecedented climate change, I would argue that mitigation of our pollution should be an even stronger reaction to these results," said Robock, who was not part of the research team.

    "The potential consequences and how these new regimes will be populated are poorly known, and the potential for new threats to humans through disease vectors could be a real danger," he said.

    `Warm, fuzzy' climate goals backed

    A plan to radically slash greenhouse gas emissions in the city of Toronto has been endorsed unanimously by city council's executive committee. But one committee member warned the tough choices are only beginning, while another said he still doesn't see a consensus about the problem or what needs to be done.

    "We're at the warm and fuzzy stage," noted Councillor Howard Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence). "Everyone likes to plant trees and save money by energy retro-fitting.

    "But when you get to the tough decisions ... that basically say to people, `You can't bring your car downtown any more or you're going to have to pay' ... that's when the going gets tough. And that's when politicians start bailing out."

    Moscoe insisted he's willing to make the tough calls.

    "We might have to tell industry they have to abide by tough standards and it may cost them more money. And the city might have to bring in (new) purchasing policies and be prepared to pay more – and raise taxes if necessary – to make sure we have a healthy environment."

    A city report released last Friday calls for measures that would reduce the city's greenhouse gas output by 6 per cent by 2012, by 30 per cent by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050. It suggests several means to that end, including higher motor vehicle registration fees, and doubling the city's tree canopy. It also calls for a public hearing at Exhibition Place on Sunday, April 29.

    Although he endorsed the city report on the matter, Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) said there's no consensus on climate change and what actions should be taken. He quoted some scientists as suggesting it could cost $180 billion to make only modest changes to counteract the rise of global temperatures.

    "I suspect there will be general support for cleaner air and cleaner water, although the evidence suggests our air has been progressively getting cleaner and our water has been getting progressively cleaner, and that rather than being deforested, the planet actually has more trees today than it had a decade or two ago."

    Kelly said some residents haven't yet thought about the costs or lifestyle changes that will be required, and said there should be "spirited and honest debate" at council when the proposals come up for discussion later this year.

    "In essence, I think this will come down to: Are we looking at the topic of our age, as Councillor (Brian) Ashton suggested, or are we looking at the topic du jour, as some critics have pointed out in their remarks."

    Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who also voted for the report, said she was driving to work yesterday and listening to callers to a radio station who were complaining about how wrong forecasters were about the weekend temperatures.

    "The weatherman can't predict the weather for the weekend, yet we're going to predict it for the next century," she said. "It's kind of interesting, when you think about it."

    Mayor David Miller wasn't the least bit hesitant about endorsing the study.

    "This is about ensuring our city is livable for the next many generations," he said. "There's a lot of work to do ... but it's a great first start."

    Why was winter so warm?

    We live on a planet that has an atmosphere – a protective blanket of air that helps regulate the Earth's temperature.

    This blanket of air acts like the glass walls of a greenhouse.

    It lets in some of the sun's heat, yet at the same time prevents too many of the sun's damaging rays from coming in.

    The process of keeping the Earth warm is called the greenhouse effect.

    The atmosphere consists of various gases that are very important in terms of regulating temperatures on the planet.

    Some of the gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) trap the sun's heat. This heat warms the land, air and water.

    Some of the other gases, especially in the higher atmosphere (such as ozone), stop many of the sun's damaging rays from coming through.

    For a very long time there was very little change in the Earth's atmosphere, and over the long term temperatures stayed fairly stable.

    But in the past few decades, global temperatures have been creeping up, along with levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

    The increase in greenhouse gases causes the greenhouse effect to be stronger. So more heat from the sun's rays is trapped in the atmosphere.

    The increase in greenhouse gases is caused largely by fossil fuels (the stuff that runs cars and heats our homes) and other human activities.

    Most scientists now agree there is an increase in levels of greenhouse gases and in global temperatures.

    Even a global change of a couple of degrees contributes to changes in weather (drought in some areas, too much rain in others), melting of the icecaps and rising ocean levels.

    In southern Ontario, this past winter was unusually warm.

    This was partly due to El Nino, an ocean current that starts in the Pacific Ocean near the equator and is unusually warm. This current is so large that it affects the weather in many parts of the world. El Nino happens once in a while, not every year.

    So, while the Earth's temperature is slowly increasing (and is a problem), short-term changes in weather are often caused by things like El Nino.

    Climate change impact on maple

    Is global warming endangering maple syrup production? A study by the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont showed that the month-long season has become about three days shorter over the past four decades.

    "What we're seeing is about a 10 per cent reduction in the season," said Timothy Perkins, the centre's director, who is working on a study on how climate change could change maple production over the next half-century.

    If that trend continues, it could mean that one day sugaring – the process of boiling the sap down to sweet, aromatic, amber maple syrup – would no longer be economically feasible.

    "You don't need to get to the point where you have zero (sap production) before people stop making maple syrup," Perkins said. "They're going to stop doing it when the economics of it no longer work."

    Sap flow is stimulated by swings in temperature. At night, trees suck up water from soil and convert it into sap. During day, the sap expands and runs out the hole.

    Boreal forest part of our Canadian identity

    Northern region so vast we tend to take it for granted
    Mar 24, 2007 04:30 AM
    I think we forget, sometimes, what a treasure the boreal forest is. And now that spring has arrived and birds are returning, it's a good time to celebrate it once again.

    In Canada, it covers 520 million hectares and has more intact forest than anywhere else on Earth. Every year, up to 3 billion birds breed there. Roughly 26 million are waterfowl, 7 million are shorebirds, and the remainder are landbirds. Most of the landbirds are songbirds, and most of them – as many as 2 billion – are warblers.

    These are awesome numbers, even more so when you realize that 60 per cent of all the landbirds in Canada, and 96 per cent of all the waterfowl in North America, breed in the boreal.

    As Peter Blancher and Jeffrey Wells say in two landmark studies (found in the Bird Studies Canada library at www.bsc-eoc.org): "The vastness of the boreal forest region makes it one of the few remaining places on Earth where entire ecosystems function. ... (I)t is vital to the abundance of bird life."

    I see the boreal as inextricably linked to a Canadian sense of identity. But, because the forest is so big, I think Canadians take it for granted, as if the wilderness could never end no matter what we do to it.

    However, development is spreading relentlessly into the northern boreal, which so far has remained largely intact. With it comes the threat of fragmentation, loss of habitat and consequences as yet uncharted.

    In the southern boreal, logging has been clearing more than 6 million hectares of forest every year, 90 per cent by clear-cutting, and now logging companies are making a grab for the northern boreal, where trees can take 200 to 300 years to mature. Prospectors have been cutting lines through the forest for geological surveys, and mines are being developed that will require major roads. In addition, there are proposals to cut wide swaths through Ontario's boreal for power lines from northern Manitoba.

    All this has been underway without broad-scale land use planning, which Premier Dalton McGuinty promised in the last election that Queen's Park would put in place before new development would be allowed.

    Yet, says Fiona Schmiegelow, there's every reason to be cautious with how any kind of development proceeds, because "we have a fundamental lack of knowledge" about how the boreal functions. Schmiegelow is a research scientist with Environment Canada in Yukon, and a professor of conservation biology at the University of Alberta.

    "We need information on ecological systems in the boreal, but we also need information on the changes that are coming (due to global warming)," she says. "Before we make pre-emptive decisions (by approving development), we need to be proactive in planning. ...

    "We need to think of the system as a whole – and we can actually do this here, (which is something) that can't be done in the rest of the world," where so much of the global forests have been destroyed.

    "We have a landscape of opportunity," she says, "compared with other places where they have only landscapes of regret."

    Schmiegelow has special expertise in bird populations, and adds that no one knows what would be the overall impact on breeding birds if there were a large-scale push into the northern boreal, which makes all the more poignant the affection she shows when speaking of the white-throated sparrow. About 110 million breed in the boreal, and their call, she says, is "O Canada, Canada, Canada."

    Penalties on gas guzzlers will have small impact

    The announcement on Monday of the new federal ecoAUTO Rebate Program is important news for the automotive industry and for consumers.

    The program aims to reward consumers who purchase energy-efficient vehicles and to penalize those who buy fuel-inefficient vehicles.

    Rebates from $1,000 to $2,000 would be offered to those who buy fuel-efficient vehicles, and tax levies of between $1,000 and $4,000 would be applied to those who buy gas-guzzlers.

    According to the federal website (www.tc.gc.ca), only vehicles appearing on the list that are purchased or leased (12 months or more) on or after March 20, 2007 are eligible.

    If you buy or lease a new 2006 model that has never been registered for use in Canada, on or after March 20, and it meets the program fuel consumption criteria, it may be eligible. A list of 2006 eligible vehicles will be posted shortly on the government website.

    In the meantime, consumers should keep a copy of their proof of purchase or a copy of the long-term lease agreement (12 months or longer) of the vehicle.

    I have a mixed reaction toward the program. I would have liked to have seen a broad tax savings initiative for all Canadians, instead of a program that targets a small segment of the population.

    I think that penalties applied to gas guzzlers will have a negligible impact on retail automotive sales, because the federal government is eliminating the excise tax on heavy vehicles. This excise tax increases the cost of a luxury vehicle or full-size SUV by $500 to $700.

    Besides, gas guzzlers make up only about 5 per cent of new vehicle sales in Canada.

    Will the rebate program have any impact at the retail level? No doubt, it will influence some car-buying decisions, simply because of the economics involved ($4,000 is a lot of extra money to have to pay).

    Overall, I don't think that it will deter people from buying the vehicles that they really want to buy.

    Clearly, passenger vans, sport utility vehicles and crossover vehicles have found a place in the market. If large, gas guzzling vehicles are available, if people want them and can afford them, then these vehicles will continue to sell, incentives or no incentives.

    On the other hand, the program is a move in the right direction toward addressing the issue of global warming and air pollution. Let's face it, the green movement is here to stay, and these kinds of programs and initiatives are only going to become more prevalent.

    At the end of the day, should this tax rebate/levy influence your car-buying decision? I think that it should factor into your decision, but that it shouldn't be your sole criterion for buying one make over another.

    How a vehicle handles, where you plan on driving it, the cost of the vehicle, design features, styling – these are considerations that consumers should base their car-buying decisions on.

    My own feeling is that the federal government could be doing more to embrace climate change and the environment. Part of me feels that this program is nothing but window dressing for a coming federal election.

    If the federal government wanted to make a significant impact on global warming, it should continue working closely with automakers in developing alternative fuel technologies.

    In the past few months, the federal government has announced some encouraging initiatives designed to fight global warming and air pollution.

    In February, it pledged up to $36 million (as part of its ecoTechnology for Vehicles Program) in funding to test and promote environmentally friendly vehicle technologies and to build partnerships with the automotive industry.

    Our industry is healthy today, but the world is changing fast. In his best-selling book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman argues that governments (and companies) need to adjust to a new world order, where jobs and capital are shifting from one country to another, right before our eyes.

    If we want to secure a bright future for the car industry in Canada, the federal government must continue to devise broad-based and meaningful strategies – as opposed to taxing owners of gas guzzlers.

    Are you wasteful?

    Mar 29, 2007
    With all of the talk about global warming, more kids are becoming aware of the condition of our environment. Fortunately, we can help in many ways! Take this quiz to find out if you're on your way to saving our environment, or just making it a whole lot worse.

    1. You wake up extra early on Thursday morning to download Brand New Planet. Just as you're in the middle of reading a great quiz, your carpool arrives to take you to school. You know you're going to finish the article when you come home, but no one will need the computer until then. You decide to:

    a. Turn the computer off. After all, you won't be using it for seven hours.

    b. Leave it on. Waiting a whole five minutes for it to boot up again when you come home is a waste of your life!

    c. Hesitate, then change the monitor to sleep mode. At least that's not a total waste of energy!

    2. When you've taken the last bite of your apple, you put it:

    a. Into the special garbage can you have for wet waste.

    b. Into the trash, along with the milk carton you've finished as well.

    c. Leave it on the counter, unsure where it should go.

    3. Whew! Your history teacher finally lets you empty out the pages of your heavy binder. The old, unneeded notes go:

    a. Into the recycling bin, after you've removed all the staples.

    b. Straight into the trash can!

    c. Into your backpack, doomed to stay there forever.

    4. In your school washroom, you notice that someone left the sink dripping, so you:

    a. Take the paper towel you were using to dry your hands and twist the knob until the dripping stops.

    b. Decide that it's not your problem, because you were not the one that left it dripping. Some people are so wasteful!

    c. Mention it to your friend who recently joined the school's environment club, pointing them in the direction of the washroom.

    5. You're working on a project with the lights on over your desk when your sister yells that you should come for dinner. It's your favourite tonight, and you only remember you forgot to turn the lights off when you reach the kitchen. You:

    a. Race back up the stairs and quickly flick the switch off. Now you can eat that pizza!

    b. Sit down at the table and grab a huge slice. Then another one.

    c. Decide to eat quickly rather than walking all the way up to your room.

    SCORING

    Mostly A's: Environment Expert

    If it were up to you, the world would certainly be a pollution-free place. You're doing an excellent job of helping to save the environment. Keep up the great work, and always remember to live by your goals of a cleaner environment. Hopefully, others will learn how to treat our environment properly by following your awesome example.

    Mostly B's: Wasteful One

    Three words: reduce, reuse and recycle! The ozone layer is slowly thinning, and your wasteful actions are contributing to this huge problem! It's never too late to change your ways, and now is a good time to start. You'd be surprised to find out just how much you can help by reducing the energy you waste every day.

    Mostly C's: Recycling Rookie

    Most of the time, you try to be helpful to the environment, but you really aren't sure what to do! Or, sometimes you're just too lazy to walk over to the recycling bin, but even a simple act like that can go a long way.

    Seal hunt quota sharply reduced

    Mar 29, 2007

    OTTAWA – The Canadian government has reduced the number of seals hunters will be able to take in this year's East Coast seal hunt.

    Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says the total allowable catch for harp seals will be 270,000, a sharp reduction from last year's quota of 335,000 animals.

    The reduction represents concern over poor ice conditions in the southern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, although Fisheries officials insist the overall herd remains healthy and abundant.

    The one-year quota of 270,000 includes allocations of 2,000 seals for personal use and 4,860 seals for aboriginal initiatives. The largest part of the hunt will take place off Newfoundland and Labrador, where 70 per cent of the quota will be taken.

    Thirty per cent of the seals will be taken in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, mostly in the northern regions of the Gulf. Hearn says the department will accelerate the next harp seal population survey to make sure the herd is strong. He says the survey will take place next year instead of 2009.

    Animal rights organizations say thousands of seal pups have drowned because of the poor ice and they are blaming global warming.

    Clean air bill upsets Tories

    Mar 29, 2007
    OTTAWA – The federal opposition parties are claiming victory after overhauling the Conservative government's clean air bill.

    But Tory MPs on the Commons committee that finished the rewrite today aren't happy with the altered product.

    That means the fate of the environmental legislation is up in the air.

    The government could choose to shelve it, or potentially use it as a trigger for a federal election.

    Among the major modifications is a statement in support of the Kyoto Accord, as well as a proposed $30-a-tonne penalty on companies that don't meet greenhouse-gas reduction targets.

    Environment Minister John Baird criticized the changes as amounting to a carbon tax.

    He said he wants time to study the amended bill before he decides what to do.

    Mission Statement

    This blog's goal is to support Clean Air in Canada, support the Kyoto Protocol, Reduce Greenhouse Gases in Canada and support environmental issues in Canada.

    Why?

    Because contrary to what the Conservative government of Canada thinks, Global Warming is real and not a fantasy invention by communists (Stephen Harper's words, not mine).

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