Thursday, 29 November 2007

Catching up again

Once again I've had so much going on I haven't made time to post to this blog for several months. Let's see if now with winter here I can settle back into this.

I've been to some interesting events this fall, notably the one-day conference at UofT entitled A Globally Integrated Climate Policy for Canada. This was an interesting change from the science-heavy events I've been attending previously. Several panels of three speakers each offered a wide range of viewpoints and much lively interchange. The lunchtime keynote by UofT Prof. Thomas Homer-Dixon painted a stark portrait of the dire outcomes we can foresee if GHG emissions continue rising. Prof. Mark Jaccard of SFU had interesting points about what kind of policy instruments are effective in reducing emissions, and which are less so--notably all the ones Canada has tried so far, including information campaigns and incentives for individual actions to improve home insulation. Incentives can tend to reward behaviour that would have occurred anyway, rather than generate additional action.

I was particularly interested to hear Jaccard as I'd been reading his previous book Sustainable Fossil Fuels. Despite the initial impression from the title that he must be a cornucopian who thinks peak oil is no threat, I found the book realistic and pertinent. He specifically notes that coal appears to be abundant enough to permit extensive coal-to-liquids as a cushion against foreseeable declines in conventional oil. Further on in the book he returns to the point that CO2 sequestration will be necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. I had to return the book to the library and I'm afraid I can't give a clear rendition of how he proposed that sequestration could work for liquid fuels (hydrogen from syngas would allow sequestration, but then doesn't deliver a normal liquid fuel. Sorry, but I'm just unclear on his position on this one. I'm not saying he was mixed up - this is me not remembering.)

I found Jaccard's contributions at the conference pertinent and well presented. I ended up buying a copy of Jaccard's new book, co-authored with Jeffrey Simpson and Nic Rivers, entitled Hot Air: meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge [McLelland & Stewart, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7710-8096-8] Chapter 1 is a short overview of why a warming climate is bad news (perhaps needed for Canadians who may glibly assume "oh, we'll have longer growing seasons"). Chapters 2 and 3 are entitled "Canada's Do-Nothing Strategy" and "More Wasted Years of Talk." I haven't gotten to the end yet, though it's already clear that the authors favour mandatory measures placing a real cost on carbon, whether a tax or a cap. There's lots more to say about cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes, but I want to get on to some other items tonight. In sum: I like Jaccard's clarity and directness.

Other books I'm reading currently are two by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good for You [Common Courage Press, 1995. ISBN 1-56751-060-4] and Trust Us, We're Experts [Tarcher/Penguin, ISBN 1-58542-139-1]. Both cover corporate P.R. and spin, campaigns to obscure clear scientific warnings to the public, and the blight of paid "experts" who leave the public thinking that no risk is ever clear enough to warrant action or legislation.

I've also gone back to my unfinished reading Linda McQuaig's It's the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the plaent on the real motives behind the Bush administration's push for the invasion of Iraq. I can't finish this one still, as it just makes me crazy reading about Vice President Voldemort's scheming ways for very long.

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