Archive for October 2011

Wild (I hope) Musing Over Military Expenditures

27 October 2011

Conservatives are cutting spending everywhere except on weapons.

$16-billion for F-35s, $25-billion for combat ships, probably $2-billion each for how many nuclear submarines? (1) I wonder if they’ll be nuclear armed?

No money for this, no money for that …
but we need to buy LOTS of guns!


Economic troubles are all over the news.

On population (7 billion this month), a Macdonald-Laurier Institute report (2) states that “More food will be eaten over the next half century than has been eaten by human beings since the dawn of history”.

The “next half century”. During which, thanks to climate change, we can expect more and worse floods, droughts, fires and storms to play havoc with our food production.

A person might be excused for wondering if these military expenditures may be Canada’s plan to deal with the convergence of these various global crises. We certainly haven’t seen signs of any other plan, say to cut greenhouse gas emissions or something?

Has anyone noticed whether Harper is stock-piling canned food?

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada




Peak Oil Postponed. Opportunity Lost.

26 October 2011

There used to be a fear that peak oil was going to be massively disruptive.


The real danger is that it is not.

Shale fields, tar sands and deep water drilling are ramping up to produce hundreds of billions of barrels of fossil fuels in coming decades. This will keep downward pressure on fossil fuel prices and provide a disincentive to alternate energy research and marketing relative to a peak oil scenario.

“The fossil fuel age will be extended for decades,” said Ivan Sandrea, president of the Energy Intelligence Group, a research publisher. “Unconventional oil and gas are at the beginning of a technological cycle that can last 60 years. They are really in their infancy.” (1)

If governments world-wide do not recognize the threat that this represents and put a stop to it, our technological civilization may well have run it’s course. As our carbon emissions continue to rise we will reach the point of facing a choice to geo-engineer the climate and bio-engineer a food chain, or collapse and like the many species we share this planet with face a real risk of extinction.

Geo-engineering the climate may be within the realm of possibility.

It would be a long shot given our limited understanding of climate. We’d more than likely just make things differently bad, or make things worse. (2) Maybe we would get it right enough to keep the planet habitable though, with some mass migrations and adaptations to adjust for rising oceans, droughts, floods … the kinds of things we’ve been seeing beginnings of in recent years and will face some consequences of, even if we stopped our carbon emissions now.

Bio-engineering a food chain seems less possible.

On land, unconventional fossil fuel reserves can provide inputs for growing (while further impacting climate) and we could probably manufacture artificial pollinators. Change from farming outdoors to farming indoors on a large scale. Take your pick of energy sources for artificial lighting and temperature control. Build to avoid or withstand hurricanes and tornadoes.

If the ocean food chain breaks down though, do we have some capacity to replace the approximately 85.3 billion kg of fish we currently take from the ocean each year? (3) Don’t say “farmed fish” because we feed our farmed fish wild fish. (Is that why farmed fish have higher levels of persistent organic pollutants? (4)) How do we replace 85.3 billion kg of fish? I’m stumped there.

Maybe we should just wean ourselves off fossil fuels now, eat less meat and hope our oceans can recover. (5) For that to happen, you and I need to make it happen. Do all those little things like switch to LED lightbulbs and use cloth bags at the grocery store. Then do all those bigger things like write to government representatives, drive less, give donations, volunteer, participate in the Occupy movement, and vote.

We can still make peak oil happen. But we need to make it happen.




(4) Hites, RA, JA Foran, DO Carpenter, MC Hamilton, B Knuth, and SJ Schwager 2004. Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon. Science 2004: 226-229.


Stephen Harper – “greenhouse gas fighting F-35!”

24 October 2011

In an incredible about-face, Stephen Harper has committed to making Canada a world leader in the war against climate change! “Just think of me as a greenhouse gas fighting F-35!” said the Prime Minister! “Sorry I didn’t tackle this sooner. It’s just that I’m an economist … it took me a while to realize the environment was not an externality.”

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says world leaders must avoid adopting a “patchwork solution” to the environmental crisis now sweeping the globe, or a much larger catastrophe might unfold — with reverberations felt right here, in Canada.

Harper made the comment in a candid interview with me Monday in his Parliament Hill office as world leaders are poised to gather Wednesday for a critical meeting to settle environmental uncertainty after decades of failed attempts.

“The tar sands may not be the only storm cloud on the horizon, but it is clearly the one that is most pressing and the most threatening,” said Harper.

“And I think we have been clear to say that the issue really has to be dealt with. I know that’s easy to say, and I know that our European friends have taken great efforts over the past two or three years to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But I think we’re at the stage where simply patchwork solutions are not going to keep us avoiding a CO2 tipping point event.”

Harper said the environmental crisis that has now gripped the world is a “serious threat” to life. World leaders are grappling with a mix of possible options to stem the global meltdown, including: establishing a massive green investment fund of perhaps US$1-trillion to help countries switch from fossil fuels; requiring energy companies to quickly pump more capital into their green technologies; and persuading banks that hold government bonds to support investment in green technology.

A global deal is considered critical for the world to proceed with its environmental plans, as leaders of the powerful G20 organization prepare for a Nov. 2011 summit in Durban, South Africa.

In the interview Monday, Harper stressed that he remains “relatively optimistic” about the future — saying he expects a global environment that continues to warm slowly, and with Canada’s mitigation outperforming that of many other major advanced developed countries.

“Let me be very clear that I don’t think we’re going to have a second chance to stop global climate change. I think that’s important to say.”

Nonetheless, he did note that Canada’s environmental problems aren’t confined to the continent, and that they pose an “immediate” threat to global environmental recovery.
Moreover, he spoke bluntly about how Canada will have to make the tough decisions itself, before natural forces impose their own more draconian solution.

“You have already seen over the past few weeks, there is significant lack of confidence in global environment — not just warming, but fish stocks, biodiversity. And we are seeking a solution. And as I have said before, I anticipate a solution will involve some pain to some actors but I think, at the moment, the nations are looking for not a pain-free solution. They’re looking for a solution that provides some certainty and some clarity as to what that pain will be.”

Harper said he understands that the environmental challenges faced by the world in its crisis are complex and that there are many causes to be resolved.

Still, he insisted politicians will be doing the better thing for their countries if they take decisive action now.

“These are not easy times for leaders,” he said.

“Many leaders are taking very difficult decisions. We’ve had to take a couple here. But look, what I always say is individual difficult decisions are less painful than global armageddon. And so, let’s take what is clearly the better solution. And that is to have something that at least moves us forward. In the end, I think electorates judge you on overall performance, as opposed to individual decisions.”

“So if the decisions are right, even if they are painful, I think they will pay dividends down the road. But if you don’t take decisions and you end up with a bad result, voters will never forgive you for that.”

Harper castigated the opposition parties in Ottawa for fossil fuel job-creation demands that he said would put the federal government into even deeper gas emissions and abandon targets for a sustainable future.

In fact, he said his government’s policies — targeted spending and a plan to eliminate the tar sands in three years — are appropriate for the current climate.

Still, he reiterated that if Canada experiences “markedly different” environmental circumstances, his government would make “appropriate”changes to its policies.

“As I have said repeatedly to Canadians, if things change considerably, we’ll adapt. We’ll have the appropriate policies. We’re not going to be rigid. We’ll make sure the policy matches the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

As Harper prepares for the climate conference in Durban, he is hoping for progress in five areas:

• Clear and concrete greenhouse gas reduction plans, as leaders promised with Kyoto.

“Countries, all countries, including our friends south of the border, should be putting in place plans to have medium term GHG reduction and CO2 stabilization,” stressed Harper.

• Meaningful action from some large GHG surplus countries — such as China — to adopt more flexible carbon exchange rates. Harper said fixed carbon exchange rates create situations where some countries have a permanent trade surplus, while others always have a trade deficit.

“This is just an unhealthy situation,” he said.

“Our view is very clear that an economy as large as China, and other large economies, can’t practise policies that are not systematically sound. The policy has to be sound in terms of the global environment as a whole, not just in terms of one country’s interests.”

• Structural reforms to boost environmental sustainability.

• Implementation of energy-sector reform agreed to in previous summits.

“The energy sector can’t just write its own rules. The BP oil spill made very clear that there must be credible regulatory systems on the energy sector or it can lead us in a position where we don’t want to be.”

• A commitment to resist trade protectionist measures.

“These are all things that are essential to avoiding global catastrophe,” said Harper.

“Some are of immediate import, but all of these things, if not handled properly, could lead us to global catastrophe.”

Meanwhile on the economic front …

Q&A: ‘Europe may not be the only storm cloud on the horizon’: Harper

(The above is of course satire. Stephen Harper would never take climate change seriously. “US$1-trillion” to save the global climate, ha ha! A bank bailout maybe. Or a war, but the environment! Ha ha! I laugh till I pee!)

Occupy Vancouver – My One Demand

23 October 2011

Occupy Vancouver has completed it’s first week and seems to be growing. There are many more tents on the Vancouver Art Gallery grounds. Local politicians have shown up to talk, as have celebrities Tom Morello and David Suzuki. VPD continue to do an admirable job of walking the fine, grey line between the rights of the city and the rights of the protesters.

I have been able to attend on the two Saturdays, primarily taking part in a very small way by being one more body on the site and leaving a sign encouraging people to vote in 2013. I have also spent some time in the meditation circle because to me “peaceful” is critical to “peaceful protest”. On it’s second Saturday the site was less family friendly with no place to escape the pot and tobacco smoke.

It is a good sized crowd so far. Some march. Some make speeches. Some meditate. Some make signs. Some make music. Some hand out cakes. The crowd is diverse as are their ways of taking part and their reasons for being there.

Occupy Vancouver - Let Them Eat Cake

For me, here in Canada and in British Columbia the Occupy movement is about the failure of government in it’s responsibility to represent the people. Our government has come to represent industry and too many of our MLAs and MPs represent the government to us rather than us to the government.

For one example, look at the upcoming copyright laws that give consumers rights with one hand and take them away with the other. Or look at the on-line spying provisions that will bring warrant-less surveillance to our on-line communications in ways we would never stand for with our off-line communications.

Look at Fort Chipewyan where for many years, perhaps decades, the people have been dying, their fish, game and water not fit to consume. The government, finally faced with undeniable independent scientific proof of the connection to the tar sands, responded recently by improving monitoring. They call that action!

Here in BC we’re losing our wild salmon. The European Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus has been confirmed in wild pacific sockeye by the ISA reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I. And the government works to protect the source of the virus, the open net fish farms, rather than to protect the wild salmon that are vital to the coastal ecosystem.

We’re losing farm land all over the province. In the Peace region natural gas fracking is contaminating water, increasing carbon emissions and making local people ill. The BC government is getting set to spend 8 or 10 billion tax dollars to build the dam Site C. A dam that will flood 100 km along the Peace River, inundating some of the best farm land North of Quesnel to provide power for more fracking. This at a time when the Macdonald-Laurier Institute has published “More food will be eaten over the next half century than has been eaten by human beings since the dawn of history” This due to world population which is expected to hit 7 billion this month. That’s more than doubled just in my lifetime.

Both the BC Liberals and NDP want more extraction industry, more pipelines and more tankers. The terrible thing is we don’t NEED any of it! We CAN save our farm land and have jobs and economic growth. Instead of Site C which will take 10 years to build, we could start building a distributed grid of renewable, solar, wind and geothermal energy today! Create jobs today and be using new, clean energy all over the province a few days later using technology that is only going to get less expensive and more efficient as we go forward.

We could be creating the BC of the 21st century, but we don’t because something is rotten at the core. Instead of democracy, money and corruption and the entrenched interests of the carbon economy run this province and this country.

If I had to narrow Occupy Vancouver down to one demand, my one demand, it would be to stop mortgaging future generations to feed greed today.

The way we should be able to bring about change is through our votes. But that hasn’t been working. Federally about 24.2% of eligible votes (39.9% of the 61.1% who voted) is called a majority. Here in BC we do the Liberal/NDP flip-flop and nothing really changes. People see that and drop out of that game. Voter turn out is dismal because people don’t see their vote as powerful, and that plays right into the hands of the status quo.

We can’t keep playing that game! What we need to do is knock the pieces right off the table, turn the board over and begin an entirely new game! The pieces that will make up that new game are the people of the Green Party. The core principles of the Green Party include grass roots democracy, sustainability, non-violence, community based economy, decentralization. Principles shared by the Occupy movement and by free thinking people everywhere.

Take a look at the YouTube clips of Elizabeth May, the first Green MP in Canada, standing up alone in parliament to speak truth to power.

Go to the Green Party of BC website and read their core principles and the “Green Book 2011”

We need to take the momentum of this movement into the provincial election in 2013 and vote for a party that is not part of the status quo. As I see it, the Green Party is the path to real change in this province and this country. I ask you to have a look and see if you think so too and if you do, get involved, spread the word and make your vote count for change in 2013!

On Bicycles

20 October 2011

Recently I received a notice via Carmen Mills’ mailing list of a talk and signing for the book On Bicycles — 50 Ways The New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life. The book is edited by Amy Walker. I wonder if “edited” does Amy’s role justice, but that’s what it says on the cover.

On Bicycles coverAnything these two ladies are involved in is probably worth supporting, so I thought I would drop by and pick up a copy. Then I read the partial list of contributors on the blog Names like Bonnie Fenton, David Hay, Lori Kessler, Todd Litman, Ulrike Rodrigues … never mind supporting something Amy pulled together. I had to have this book!

So on October 19 I was at the People’s Co-op Bookstore early to pick up a copy and read some before the event. The space at the back of the store filled up by the 7:30-ish start time and a great couple of hours was spent in the company of bicycle people talking about such things as how cycling affected our lives and how baggage handlers affected our cycling. It does the heart good to be in the company of such people. Boosts one’s hope for the future.

The book exceeded any hopes or expectations I had for it. It measures about 12.5 x 18.5 x 2.5 cm, but on the inside it is HUGE! Anyone, from bike-curious, to newbie to life-long bicycle guru, will learn things from and find inspiration in this book. It is an encyclopedia, a study in human culture, a self-help book, a how-to. It’s 33 contributors deal with weather, health, safety, children, traffic, lifestyle, community planning, politics, technology, environment, business,… all the while providing a very enjoyable read. This is truly a work to be treasured.

If you ride a bicycle, are thinking about riding a bicycle, know someone who rides a bicycle or wonder why the heck anyone would want to ride a bicycle — you should buy this book!

You can pick it up on Amazon (paperback or Kindle version), at the People’s Co-op Bookstore or probably anywhere really good books are sold.

And no, I had nothing to do with it and no one paid me to write this.

ISA virus found in BC wild salmon

17 October 2011

The title sums it up. ISA virus found in Rivers Inlet sockeye smolts, diagnosed by the ISA reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I.

Below is a the text of an email I sent to BC ministers and my MLA

Honourable Don McRae, Minister of Agriculture
Honourable Terry Lake, Minister of Environment
John Les, MLA Chilliwack

Dear Sirs,

I am deeply troubled by news today that the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus has been found in wild Rivers Inlet sockeye smolts examined by the ISA reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I.

As I understand, the salmon farms on our coast are a federal jurisdiction. However this finding calls for immediate action to protect BC wild salmon. I urgently request that you take whatever actions may be available at the provincial level and that you demand action from your federal counterparts.

I trust that you are well aware of the importance of wild salmon migrations to the coastal ecosystem and that you share my concern over this news. Below is a link to the announcement that I have just read.

Ian Stephen
Chilliwack, BC

UPDATE: Additional details and (lack of) response by BC government to the crisis on

UPDATE: Our governments remain in deny and obfuscate mode. U.S. authorities respond.

An Open Letter to Mark Strahl MP and Peter Kent Minister of Environment

14 October 2011

I read today that $547,000 of funding through Environment Canada to the Canadian Environmental Network (CEN) is not being renewed. The CEN is a network that facilitates interaction between the government of Canada and over 600 environmental groups, helping the government to leverage the expertise and volunteer resources of those many groups.

Also today, I read news that the Harper government plans to spend $28 million commemorating the War of 1812. A war that occurred before Canada existed as a country.


Given that we all rely on healthy air, water and soil, and that volunteering can provide as much as 800% return on investment (National Council on Aging “The Boomer Solution: Skilled Talent to Meet Nonprofit Needs”), I have to question the government’s priorities.

Canadians who fought in the War of 1812 – 0
Commemorative funding – $28,000,000

Canadians who benefit from CEN – 34,615,8601
Funds to support CEN – $0

We should respect our history. However I think we would be better served to perhaps spend $27,453,000 commemorating the War of 1812 and $547,000 supporting the Canadian Environmental Network. I imagine that our pre-Canadian ancestors would agree that investing in our future is more important than investing in our past.

1 Stats Can Population Clock at time of writing