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March 27, 2008

Carbon tariffs in China

Countries such as Canada and the United States may start imposing a "carbon tariff" on goods from China and other developing countries which have become the biggest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions, CIBC World Markets said Thursday.

The investment bank's report says China, India and other developing economies have expanded so massively they have surpassed the established industrialized world in belching out carbon dioxide pollution blamed for climate change.

"And once surpassed, the gap is growing rapidly," wrote economists Jeff Rubin and Benjamin Tal.

"Already, non-OECD emissions are a massive 2,500 million metric tonnes more than the OECD – a gap that is now equal to almost 20 per cent of the latter's total emissions."

With advanced countries enacting carbon taxes, carbon trading systems and other measures to lower emissions, Rubin and Tal believe the growing pollution from poor countries will provoke penalties against their exports.

Many in the West assumed that since industrialized nations were primarily responsible for the historical build-up of greenhouse gases in the world, they should bear the brunt of efforts to cut back, a view that underpinned the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which exempted developing countries.

But the CIBCWM economists see a shift in sentiment.

"As the OECD countries begin to impose greater economic sacrifices on their own economies as part of decarbonization efforts, tolerance for the carbon practices of its trading partners, or more precisely the lack thereof, will diminish dramatically," they write.

"Already Europe, which is well ahead of North America in terms of domestic carbon pricing, is talking about a carbon tariff that it can apply to imports from countries that don't play by the same carbon rules."

They add that the concept is likely to gain currency in the U.S. and Canada.

The report fingers China as the world's top greenhouse-gas polluter, surpassing the U.S. and pulling away.

Since the beginning of the decade, it says, China's emissions have increased about 120 per cent and are greater than Canada, India, Spain and Japan combined.

A key reason is China's reliance on heavily polluting coal. As a result, Chinese emissions per unit of energy are double those of Canada, the report says.

March 25, 2008

Ice shelf in the Arctic collapses

A chunk of Antarctic ice about the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said today.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 414-square-kilometre chunk in western Antarctica, which started Feb. 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for hundreds, maybe 1,500 years.

This is the result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.

Because scientists noticed satellite images within hours, they diverted satellite cameras and even flew an airplane over the ongoing collapse for rare pictures and video.

"It's an event we don't get to see very often," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. "The cracks fill with water and slice off and topple... That gets to be a runaway situation."

While icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses like this are unusual but are happening more frequently in recent decades, Vaughan said. The collapse is similar to what happens to hardened glass when it is smashed with a hammer, he said.

The rest of the Wilkins ice shelf, which is about twice the size of Prince Edward Island, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995.

Vaughan had predicted the Wilkins shelf would collapse about 15 years from now. The part that recently gave way makes up about four per cent of the overall shelf, but it is an important part that can trigger further collapse.

There is still a chance the rest of the ice shelf will survive until next year because this is the end of the Antarctic summer and colder weather is setting in, Vaughan said.

Scientists said they are not concerned about a rise in sea level from the latest event, but say it is a sign of worsening global warming.

Such occurrences are "more indicative of a tipping point or trigger in the climate system," said Sarah Das, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

"These are things that are not re-forming," Das said. "So once they're gone, they're gone."

Climate in Antarctica is complicated and more isolated from the rest of the world.

Much of the continent is not warming and some parts are even cooling, Vaughan said. However, the western peninsula, which includes the Wilkins ice shelf, juts out into the ocean and is warming. This is the part of the continent where scientists are most concern about ice-melt triggering sea level rise.

March 18, 2008

Wal-Mart opens energy efficient store

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will open its latest generation of energy-efficient test stores this week with a Las Vegas Supercenter that uses new cooling technology to cut overall energy use by up to 45 per cent.

The Las Vegas store opening Wednesday builds on advances in earlier pilot stores that reduced energy use in areas including lighting, refrigeration and water flow.

The previous pilot stores in the Midwest cut energy use up to 25 per cent compared to a typical Supercenter built in 2005, the year Wal-Mart launched a broad environmental program to reduce energy use and packaging waste and to sell more sustainable products.

Wal-Mart said the new Las Vegas store adds to those savings with a new cooling system based on water evaporation for total energy savings of between 35 per cent and 45 per cent.

Wal-Mart has said it is the biggest private user of electricity in the world and has huge potential to cut back on greenhouse gases from fossil fuels burned to create electricity. It aims to use technologies proven in the pilot stores to develop a prototype in 2009 for all new Supercenters that will be between 25 per cent and 30 per cent more energy efficient.

An outside engineering and efficiency expert said Wal-Mart's advances in saving energy, including the new Las Vegas store, are leading the field for big-box retailers.

"This is not just a baby step. This is a big step," said Terry Townsend, past president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Townsend said Wal-Mart's pilot stores are important because they show other retailers how to use available technology to improve energy efficiency. Wal-Mart says it is sharing its lessons with retail industry groups.

The latest store is built specifically for the arid climate of Western states, where water evaporates faster than in the more-humid East.

It uses rooftop cooling towers to chill water that then runs in conduits under the floor of the store. The radiant cooling from the floor replaces traditional electricity-powered air conditioning.

The store also incorporates innovations from the previous pilot stores that include recycling heat from refrigerators and combining low-power LED lights in freezer cases with sensors that turn off those lights when no customers are around.

March 7, 2008

The future looks worse according to environmental study

Fed up with unpredictable winter storms cancelling air flights, closing highways and dumping enormous amounts of precipitation, like Saturday?

Too bad. 100 of Canada's top scientists say get used to it.

In a major forthcoming report on Canada's changing climate, scientists warn of everything from increased severe storm activity in Atlantic Canada to hotter summers and poorer air quality in urban Ontario.

British Columbia may face retreating glaciers and snow loss on its mountains, causing potential water shortages. The Prairie provinces will continue to struggle with drought, impacting agriculture rurally and potentially causing water rationing in urban areas.

The 500-page report is the work of 145 leading Canadian scientists. They've examined the current and future risks climate change presents coast to coast and what they have to say isn't comforting.

But it's not necessary to wait for the future to experience intense storms. A taste of that can be had this weekend as yet another major system moves in from the Gulf of Mexico.

This one will dump up to 50 centimetres of snow over Ontario and Quebec and bring winds of up to 70 kilometres an hour, as it churns over Central Canada through Saturday and into Sunday. The same system will drop 40 to 70 millimetres of precipitation along the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy and send rain and freezing rain into New Brunswick.

And, yes, as travellers head to the airports for March break, it's very likely some flights will be cancelled and traffic will be snarled once again.

Perhaps one of the people least surprised by the wicked weekend weather, is Norm Catto, a geographer at Memorial University in Newfoundland and one of the climate report's lead authors.

On Friday, he said the intensity of weather events is increasing.

When hurricane Juan swept through Atlantic Canada in 2003 the storm surge didn't coincide with high tide. But next time it could and the level of the water could be 40 to 50 centimetres higher.

"Are we ready for that?" Catto asked. "That's the sort of question we're trying to ask here and get people to consider."

Quentin Chiotti, a senior scientist with Pollution Probe in Toronto and another study author, echoed Catto's concern. In Ontario, for example, intense dumps of precipitation could lead to floods of the sort Toronto and Peterborough endured in 2005.

Chiotti said such floods illustrated that much of the region's critical infrastructure was based on standards developed following hurricane Hazel in 1954 and is in need of updating.

Like many of the scientists, Chiotti warned that the weather will become increasingly unpredictable. "When you put more heat into the atmosphere, you're going to start getting more wacky weather, and that's going to be more variable from season to season and year to year."

Catto said Northern Canada faces permafrost erosion, retreating coastlines and problems with maintaining the ice roads that provide vital transportation links in winter.

On the Prairies, drought could potentially affect the power supply. Problems with water reservoirs could leave utilities without sufficiently high levels of water to generate the amount of power required

"Each of the regions does have its own challenges," Catto said.

Suren Kulshreshtha, a professor in the University of Saskatchewan's bioresource policy department and another report author, agrees. "I think the only things these models are telling us is there will be a likely increase in the events of extremes."

People in Ontario and much of Quebec know all about "extremes" as they cope with the sixth major snow storm of the season Saturday.

The storm, which originated in the U.S. South and gathered power as it moved north, was expected to dump between 30 and 50 centimetres of snow on parts of each province.

As much as 30 cm of snow was expected in Toronto, up to 40 cm in Ottawa and maybe even more -mixed with ice pellets -was anticipated to cover the streets of Montreal.

A little more than 171 cm of snow already has been recorded this winter at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

The highest recorded snowfall for a Toronto winter was the 207 cm, which fell in 1938. 220 cm are expected in Toronto this year, a new record.

The worst winter recorded in the nation's capital of Ottawa was that of 1970-71, when 444.1 cm of snow fell, only about 83 cm more than already has fallen so far this winter.

Environment Canada says usually at this time of the year, temperatures begin to rise to an average in the 1 C to 4 C range in Ontario, but the forecast for mid-March likely would be filled with temperatures in the -3 C range for many parts of the region.

In Montreal, the city was drifting depressingly close to matching or even breaking the record of 383 centimetres of snowfall set in 1971. So far this season, the city has recorded 316 centimetres as of Thursday.

Ontario's Climate change czar

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has appointed a climate change czar to lead Ontario's fight against global warming.

Hugh MacLeod's job will be to make sure the government's numerous environmental plans – from banning conventional light bulbs to phasing out coal-fired power plants – are actually carried out.

MacLeod has already quietly started setting up Ontario's Climate Change Secretariat but the provincial government had been planning to announce it on March 29 – when people around the world turn off lights for Earth Hour to symbolize their commitment to protecting the environment.

MacLeod, 60, isn't a hemp-wearing environmentalist, but a man of business with a track record in the health-care field for bringing diverse groups together with government to work for change.

The government's action plan on climate change, released last summer, is about pushing Ontario to do what it can to mitigate the environmental crisis.

Environmental groups have criticized the government for talking a lot, but not delivering much on climate change.

"The secretariat is the premier's recognition that you can have the loftiest climate change goals but if you want to get anything done you have to have a strong focus and strong leadership," a government source said.

MacLeod will hold "climate change results" meetings every five weeks with the premier, senior politicians and bureaucrats to outline what has been done to date and what has to happen next, the source said.

It's a strategy that has worked elsewhere. British Columbia, which has a Climate Action Secretariat, came out with a green provincial budget two weeks ago that included North America's first full-fledged carbon tax.

"(The B.C. secretariat) was central to giving climate change the priority it had in the budget," said Julia Langer, global threats director at the World Wildlife Federation Canada.

It can be a "crack the whip" sort of role if a particular ministry isn't moving on something, but more often than not, climate change issues cut across many ministries and a person managing, from above it all, can make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

This is just what Ontario needs, Langer said.

"We had a climate plan announced in the summer and, from a tangible perspective, what's emerged from that? It's bits and pieces and what we need is a massive scale up," she said referring to a series of government announcements in June, July and August about various initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"(A secretariat) has the ability to knock some heads together and make things happen because often they're all off on their own little planets and orbits and they don't necessarily work toward the same goal," Langer said.

While the idea of a climate change secretariat is welcome, Langer said she'll wait to see Ontario's results before cheering too loudly.

"The clock is tick, tick, ticking. We have a climate change crisis on our hands," she said.

By end of April, the secretariat is expected to be up and running.

It's not about setting up a big bureaucracy though. It will be "a small guerrilla outfit with strong vision that can drive through ministries," a source said.

MacLeod reports directly to McGuinty and, as such, has the clout of being the premier's man. As head of the climate change secretariat, MacLeod's top priorities will be making sure Ontario's coal-fired power plants close by 2014, which is already well after the original Liberal promise to close them by 2007; protect large-scale areas for caribou habitat in the Boreal Forest; and build more rapid transit, the source said.

These are key planks in the Liberal plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change by 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2014, 15 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.

Ontario's coal-fired power plants are the largest producers of greenhouse gases and closing them by 2014 will reduce the province's annual emissions by 30 megatonnes, according to the government.

Ontario's northern Boreal Forest stores vast amounts of carbon and provides a buffer for species to adapt to changing climate, but it is under threat from industry.

Each year, millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are released through logging.

The province's transit plan, MoveOntario 2020, includes 902 kilometres of new or improved rapid transit.

It will take 300 million annual car trips off GTA roads, cut smog and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 megatonnes by 2020, according to the government.

March 6, 2008

The Earth's Axis in Danger

The axis that controls the earth's seasons could shift in the coming decades.

If enough ice in the Earth's polar regions it could knock the earth's axis off center and the new found tilt could dramatically alter the intensity and the duration of the seasons.

The amount of ice in both the arctic and antarctic creates significant weight and pressure on the earth's core. If we remove all that weight it may cause the earth's axis to tilt more than usual, and for longer periods of time.

In theory if it tilted just 10% more southward than the northern hemisphere would endure record heats and the southern hemisphere would suffer exceptionally longer winters.

If it tilted 10% northward, the reverse would happen. Longer winters in the northern hemisphere and longer summers in the southern hemisphere.

It could also have dramatic effects on the magnetic poles, perhaps moving them as has happened previously in the earth's history, which could cause huge climate shifts if, for example, the new south pole found itself in Australia, and the new north pole in central Canada.

The point is we don't have a clue what would happen if the axis or the magnetic poles were shifted. We have no idea where they would shift to or whether they would even stay constant as they do right now.

It is usually best not to mess with such gravitational forces and tempt the chances of something going awry.

Climate change warning issued

World must act now or face consequences.

OSLO, Norway – The world must deal with climate change now or pay a much higher price later, says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In two decades, unchecked environmental damage will leave half the world's population without adequate drinking water, the OECD's secretary general, Angel Gurria, said Wednesday.

An OECD report on the environmental outlook to 2030, part of a series of reports compiled every five years, concentrates on climate change, water shortages, energy needs, biodiversity loss, transportation, agriculture and fisheries.

"Without more ambitious policies, increasing pressures on the environment will cause irreversible damage within the next few decades," the report said. "The cost of inaction is high, while ambitious actions to protect the environment are affordable and can go hand in hand with economic growth.''

The report also stressed the need for a global response. Gurria urged the United States and developing countries with booming economies such as China and India to accept a binding international commitment to reduce global-warming gases.

"It involves that everyone participates. This is very important. We can't have anybody do a 'free ride,'" he said.

By 2030, the world's population – currently about 6.5 billion people – is expected to hit 8.2 billion, and the global economy could double in size, largely due to growth in countries such as Brazil, Russia, China and India, the report said.

Unchecked, growth in energy consumption in those countries could be 72 per cent by 2030, compared to 29 per cent for all 30 of the OECD's nations.

That would lead to a 38 per cent increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. However, if Brazil, Russia, China and India take the same step in 2020, and are followed by the rest of the world in 2030, emissions could be held at 2000 levels, it said.

If no steps are taken, world gross domestic product will grow 99 per cent between 2005 and 2030, with severe environmental consequences, the report said. With measures, growth would be nearly the same, 97 per cent, but with a much healthier environment.

The report said governments must create such policies as "green taxes" to encourage sound technologies and practices, and that the rich world must help poor countries develop without spewing pollution by providing technology and expertise.

It also said ecological advances bring multiple benefits. For example, cutting motor vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions would improve air quality in cities or better insulated homes that cut power bills for consumers while reducing power plant emissions.

"OECD's report identifies critical environmental issues facing our country and countries around the world," Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House of Representatives' science and technology committee, said in a statement from Washington. "The OECD report provides a good roadmap for evaluating environmental challenges and the economic impacts we face if no action is taken.''

The OECD (, made up of 30 nations, focuses on economic and social policies.

Meanwhile oil prices set a new record today of $106 US per barrel.

March 5, 2008

Niagara's land is key to the ecotourism industry

If Niagara wants to maintain its image as the lush, fruit-laden provence (think France) of Ontario, it needs to protect the look of the land, says John Middleton, Brock University tourism and environment professor.

That means preserving the more than 3,000 acres of tender-fruit land at risk following the demise of the juice-grape industry last year and the possible blow to 150 peach and pear growers if the CanGro plant in St. Davids closes, possibly by the end of the month.

If a massive amount of vacant, weed-filled land is left behind in the wake of recent economic setbacks, expect it to hurt Niagara's tourism industry, Middleton said.

"The future of the Niagara brand, as it were, is in danger over the medium term if anything were to get in the way of our beautiful landscape, which is the basis for how we bring out tourists here," Middleton said.

People come to Niagara expecting the fruit belt, and that includes peaches, pears, cherries and wine, said Magdalena Kaiser-Smit, director of marketing and communication for the Niagara Culinary Trail.

Kaiser-Smit, whose organization creates a map of businesses that sell local goods, said losing any local crop is a blow to the industry and tourism.

Consumers need to be constantly reminded about the importance of buying local, she said. Several Niagara organizations, such as the Culinary Trail and the Niagara Agri-Tourism Centre in Welland, encourage people to buy local. As well, there is an ongoing Good Things Grow in Ontario campaign, run by the province.

"People in the region, and perhaps visitors, are not realizing what we produce, or it hasn't been marketed as well over the last number of years," Kaiser-Smit said.

"With that, it's kind of created a lack of demand. It's why farmers are struggling and why people aren't investing as much anymore into developing new (agricultural) products."

The land at risk, which wraps around the Golden Horseshoe, is protected against urban development by the provincially mandated Greenbelt Act.

That makes keeping the land viable for ecotourism and agritourism all the more important, said Patrick Gedge, chief executive officer of the Niagara Economic Development Corp.

Arctic needs cash, not eco-tourism

There’s a distressing perversity in the latest boom in eco-tourism. People are flocking to see the world’s great natural areas “before they are gone,” including Australia’s the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica’s penguins and Canada’s Arctic to see the iconic polar bear, which appears bound to join the list of species to die out in the next few decades.

The sentiment is certainly understandable, but it comes after years of indifference to warnings from scientists about the impending loss of great natural treasures.
How unfortunate people’s curiosity can be piqued by “doomsday tourism” while it’s much harder to rustle up concern for serious conservation effort to save some of these species.

With a touch of irony, it’s notable that those rushing to these mostly remote locations for a last viewing are also adding to the environmental problem as flights and cruises increase the burden of greenhouse gases causing the permanent damage.
Canada is especially guilty of that indifference when it comes to the Arctic, as Journal reporter Ed Struzik so thoroughly mapped out in his excellent series on Climate Change in the Arctic, researched during several months’ leave on an Atkinson fellowship.

For years, federal governments have inadequately funded research in the Arctic and disregarded warnings about the “sorry state of Arctic science,” as Struzik writes.
Other Arctic countries like Norway and Russia take their polar regions seriously, and have permanent well-funded research stations.

Even tiny Belgium is building a $9.3-million polar research station that will recycle its own waste and run on renewable energy. Meanwhile, in the Yukon, the Kluane research station is still equipped with outhouses for the brigade of international scientists who come there.

Stephen Harper's government has generously, if lately, funded the Polar Continental Shelf Project with $10 million.

That’s a start. But Canada’s premier scientific support facility in the high arctic is open for only half the year, has no labs, and has just eight people working for it.
By contrast, Norway’s Polar Institute employs 110, operates an ice-breaker ship and supports research from almost a dozen other countries.

“In terms of infrastructure and funding support, Canada is 50 years behind Norway,” says Andrew Derocher, now a University of Alberta professor who worked previously for the Norwegian Polar Institute.

This summer, the government suddenly cut back funding to the Canadian Wildlife Services, cancelling dozens of projects. The federal government several years ago promised 24 research chairs in polar science but only six were established due to lack of funding.

The result is that Canada has been left at a disadvantage in these crucial years. As global warming takes its toll in the Arctic, policy makers are looking for direction from scientists on how to adapt.

“But they can’t give them the answers unless they have the support they need to get them up here,” adds Derocher.

Canada is also ill-equipped to counter those Russian claims to sovereignty in parts of the Arctic. This country has yet to complete the task begun in the 1950s of mapping the continental shelf.

In the October throne speech, the Harper government promised a world-class research centre and eight patrol boats.

All that is welcome to assert our sovereignty.

But what’s also needed is funding to study climate change, adaptation measures for wildlife, and Inuit culture and economic activity, and above all to involve the Inuit in these efforts.

This is not a short-term issue. The effects of climate change will go on for years; new mining and oil and gas activities will last for decades. A long-term strategy is needed.

If Canadian scientists can find a way to conserve some remote population of polar bears, beluga whales and narwhal whales threatened by the loss of Arctic ice, that will be a major accomplishment.

Solar Power comes to Osoyoos Desert

OSOYOOS, B.C. – The federal government is putting money towards solar power for Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley. Ron Cannan, Kelowna-Lake Country MP, made the announcement on the weekend for $20,000 to the Osoyoos Desert Society.

The money will be used to buy and install solar equipment to provide the Desert Centre a source of year-round power.

Cannan says the investment will allow the society to take commitments to conservation and environmental education to the next level.

Society executive director Joanne Muirhead says the project will serve as a positive example of the use of renewable energy sources in ecotourism.

Known as ‘Canada’s Only Desert,’ the area hosts one of the largest concentrations of rare and at-risk species in Canada.

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