Thursday, November 29, 2007

Denial in decline

Glancing at the subheading I set up for this blog, I remembered my aim was to focus on climate change deniers. Lots of what I've read this fall (as covered in my last post) applies to this topic, particularly the two Stauber and Rampton titles. Another book I haven't yet checked out that applies directly here is Al Gore's new one The Assault on Reason, reviewed by The New York Times, Brent Budowsky of The Hill's Pundit Blog, and The Guardian.

Gee, I'll have to make time to read that one too. Will the must-reads never let me rest?

Anyway, I want to reflect a bit on the past year and the change in public reaction to climate change. This year saw the release of the IPCC's fourth assessment report ("AR4"), starting in February with working group I and just wrapping up this past week with the final summary of the synthesis report. Over that time, public attention to climate has certainly been building steadily, and the hold-out energy hog nations of the USA, Canada and Australia have begun to wake up to the crisis. This past weekend Australia voted out long-serving anti-Kyoto P.M. John Howard. The new Labour P.M.-elect Kevin Rudd has vowed to ratify Kyoto as soon as he takes office. This leaves the U.S. as the sole major emitter still outside the Kyoto treaty, while Canada stands as the only other G8 member pulling in the wrong direction, despite our earlier ratification.

Canada's policy responses to the threat of global warming have been pretty sorry. As Simpson, Jaccard and Rivers lay out in Hot Air (see previous post), Canada has done precious little of substance to begin slowing the growth of our GHG emissions. Stephen Harper called Kyoto "a socialist plot", and his first year in office saw Rona Ambrose earn Canada a black eye for obstruction and foot-dragging, as typified by the "Fossil of the Day" award from the Climate Action Network during last year's Nairobi conference. Ambrose stunned the delegates by using the occasion to attack our prior Liberal government for inaction on climate, and to boast that Harper's Tories were now leading the world in setting the most ambitious targets. This while Canada's current emissions continued to soar, with no actual legislation in place or on the table to stop that increase. All the Tories did for their first year was to cut existing programs, limited as they were, in an orgy of Liberal-bashing.

A year has passed since then, Ambrose was soon shuffled out of that post and replaced by John Baird. Baird has also taken up the mantle of boasting of how ambitious the Tory targets are (going to be?) But we still don't have any legislation to curb soaring GHG emissions. And this month, Harper drew renewed criticism of Canada's obstructionism on climate for his stand against binding targets at the Commonwealth Summit in Kampala. Then Harper's minions have the gall to claim Canada showed "leadership" on climate. Feh. "Advance to the rear!" does not count as leadership, guys. Here's a report warning Canada risks losing credibility internationally on climate if we don't get moving.

Maybe next year?

The one ray of hope is that the public appears increasingly impatient with government delaying tactics, hollow rhetoric and fig-leaf measures like rebates and feel-good ads. Canada needs to get down to brass tacks and impose a carbon tax. Cap and trade for Large Final Emitters or "LFEs", as proposed by the Tories, is second best. But what we simply can't afford is another decade of claiming we have "targets" for reductions, with no hard choices actually taking place to achieve them.

As for denialists, the are losing the battle in the public arena. Most have given up claiming that the climate isn't really warming (usually accompanied by "nobody ever claimed that...") Plenty of people still buy their lame arguments, but the media has all but abandoned the "equal time" sham of airing one real scientist beside one denialist shill. A strange exception was the recent CNN series "Planet in Peril" which paired stunning location photography and undercover work with well-stated summations by Sanjay Gupta, Anderson Cooper, and Jeff Corwin. The series covered a range of current environmental crises, including global warming. In the set-up, they said what all journalists are saying this year: the scientific debate is over, climate change is real. Yet jarringly, in the wrap-up to that segment, they gave equal time and billing to industry patsy Patrick Michaels right next to Real Climatologist James Hansen of NASA Goddard. The segment was otherwise powerful and may have gotten the message out to many Americans, although giving Michaels air-time merely let those in denial continue to grasp at the straw of "scientists still don't agree." Sigh.

Another really great information format I've hit on is podcasting. It turns out there are all sorts of great podcasts on climate science and politics, and on renewables and other solutions. A few of my favorites are Renewable Energy Access, NPR Climate Connections, Weekly Radio Spin, the Insider Podcast from Environmental Defence, and EarthBeat Radio. Podcasts help fill "in-between" time including commuting, making supper, ironing, exercising, etc. It's like having a custom radio station that only plays content I want to keep up on. I'm definitely more plugged in to current events in the fight against global warming thanks to these podcasts.

I've especially enjoyed hearing about the youth conference "Power Shift 2007" and the ongoing youth action movements arising from that.

Locally, there's lots of work going into organizing the Dec. 8 Rally for Kyoto. I don't know if anyone is doing this here, but a lot of cities are joining in Greenpeace's polar bear plunge to save the polar bears.

So come out out to the rally on Dec. 8th and drive the message home!

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.