Archive for November 2012

Economic Engine of a Sinking Ship

25 November 2012

Oilsands are stealing the headlines” and “Economics mean we must move pipeline plans forward – properly” (Vancouver Sun, 20 November) refer to IEA and Deloitte reports to say we must rely on oil-sands for our future.

For balance they might also have referred to reports this month from the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the U.S. National Research Council, the Society of Actuaries, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

One sounds like a sky-is-falling nut when summarizing the costs these reports portray; displacement of populations, epidemics, pandemics, crop failures, ocean food chain risks, storms, droughts, floods, fires, etc. Yet these are not ravings of extremists and hiding our heads in the tar-sand won’t make these problems go away.

The Copenhagen Accord recognizes that global temperature increase should be below 2 degrees Celsius. PricewaterhouseCoopers states that “To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding 2 degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.” They warn that “Sectors dependent on food, water, energy or ecosystem services need to scrutinise the resilience and viability of their supply chains.

When todays children are adults in the world we have made for them, simply saying “I’m sorry” won’t be good enough.


Note to me: Page 9, Society of Actuaries report

Note that the distribution of insured losses would be slightly different from that of economic losses. According to Swiss Re 1, weather related events have a huge impact on the global economy, and that cost is growing steadily. Over the last 40 years global insured losses from climate-related disasters have jumped from an annual USD 5 billion to approximately USD 60 billion in 2011.

There. Now I’ll be able to find that figure and it’s source when I need it.

Comment – Final Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement

11 November 2012

Below is the text of my letter (email) of comment on the Final Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China FIPA.

It is weak. I am scrambling on the last day of comment, from my holiday suite with an intermittent internet connection, to read what I can find on the agreement and it’s implications. This illustrates problems with the environmental assessment of trade agreements in general and the Canada-China FIPA in particular. There is not adequate engagement with the public, if one is to assume that the intent to seek public comment is sincere. Nor is there time for the public to study the issues and respond once engaged.

The initial environmental assessment of this agreement received no public comment. Are we to believe that Canadians looked at it and thought “Meh, looks fine.”? Not one person had any concerns? Not one person had any questions? Not one crack-pot wrote in and said aliens were reading our minds and this trade agreement is the proof!? Canadians were content to let this agreement proceed?

Of course that’s not the case. What happened is that it slipped entirely under the radar of the Canadian public and the government took that as acquiescence.

Then they make the agreement public on 26 September with ratification allowed on 2 November, before the period for public comment on the final environmental assessment is even up. They allow no debate in the House of Commons and entirely inadequate time for parliamentarians (much less average Canadian citizens) to study the issue.

Any elected representative complicit in this sham should feel shame if they have any.

The letter I sent with CC to members of Cabinet, my MP and Elizabeth May follows.


Environmental Assessments of Trade Agreements
Trade Agreements and NAFTA Secretariat
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2
Fax: (613) 992-9392

11 November 2012

To whom it may concern,

The following comments are submitted as part of the Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) signed in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 8th, 2012, and tabled in the House of Commons on September 26th, 2012.

In my opinion the Environmental Assessments of the Canada-China FIPA and the process of environmental review of trade agreements are badly flawed. The fact that no public comments were received on the Initial Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China FIPA is a clear indication that attempts to engage the public are inadequate. Can anyone truly believe that there can exist any issue regarding which no Canadian would have anything to say? That no comment was received does not indicate that there were no concerns. It indicates that Canadian’s were unaware of the process and/or the avenue for making comment on it. If the intent to seek public input were sincere, there would have been undertaking to look at why no comment was received and fix that before proceeding.

Now we have the trade agreement made public September 26, 2012 and ratification made possible on November 2, 2012 by Order in Council. This does not allow adequate time for the public or their elected representatives to study this agreement.

The Environmental Assessment states “there can be no causal relationship found between the implementation of such a treaty and environmental impacts in Canada. It is for this reason that the claim made in the Initial EA, that no significant environmental impacts are expected based on the introduction of a Canada-China FIPA, is upheld.” This takes a far too narrow view of the issues. If trade under the agreement is found to be environmentally harmful, the foreign company involved may be protected by this agreement from any new laws or regulations that might deal with the harm. It is said that “the Parties retain the ability to regulate in the public interest”, but experience under NAFTA has shown that this is not always the case and if we find that this agreement is not allowing protection of the public interest we can be stuck with that situation for a minimum of 15 years based on the decisions of an arbitral panel that is unaccountable to Canadians.

The Canada-China FIPA may not cause environmental impacts, but it is likely to prevent us from responding to environmental impacts that occur in the course of investment that follows implementation of the agreement, and that is probably worse.

We have seen massive increases in Chinese investment in Canada (over 92% from 2008 to 2011). China wants our oil, our coal, our timber, our natural gas and no doubt our fresh water. It is impossible to extract and transport these resources without environmental impacts. These impacts can be severe, particularly when something goes wrong. Growing knowledge of the impacts of resource extraction and new threats that develop with new technologies will require us to act in the public interest and this trade agreement may tie our hands.

At the very least the agreement must not be ratified until there can be an adequate period of study and debate in the House of Commons followed by a free vote in the House on the issue. We should never enter into an agreement as far reaching as this one without the most thorough attention by all Parliamentarians.

Ian Stephen

Salmon Deserve Truth

9 November 2012

Salmon Are SacredOn November 8 one of my local papers, the Chilliwack Progress, ran a letter from BC Salmon Farmers Association board member Clare Backman regarding the Cohen report on the decline of Fraser River sockeye. I found that the same letter with slight alterations had been run on previous dates in the Times Colonist, Courier-Islander, Alberni Valley Times & Vancouver Sun.

It irked me that Backman’s letter read “The report commends B.C. salmon farmers for collecting and providing an impressive 10 year fish health database that allowed commission-appointed experts to conclude there was no correlation between the health of farmed salmon and the decline of the sockeye.

Backman appears to give credit to salmon farmers for release of data that was actually released as a result of application by the Aquaculture Coalition and Conservation Coalition, participant groups appearing in defense of wild salmon. The application in July 2010 was backed up by the Paddle for Wild Salmon in October of that year. It resulted, after initial objection from the province, in data from January 1, 2000, to September 1, 2010, from 120 fish farms being made public as exhibits in the inquiry.

Further, Backman seems to suggest with “conclude there was no correlation between the health of farmed salmon and the decline of the sockeye” that the report absolved salmon farms from blame in the sockeye decline. To infer this from the report would be simply untrue.

I sent the letter below in response to Backman’s letter in the Chilliwack Progress. Copies were also sent to the other papers with changes for the titles and publishing dates of Backman’s letter in each.


I read with interest the Nov. 8 letter from BC Salmon Farmers Association’s Clare Backman titled “No ‘smoking gun’ in salmon debate”. I must take issue with points in Backman’s letter.

I failed to find in the report commendation of “B.C. Salmon farmers for collecting and providing an impressive 10-year fish-health database” as Backman contends. I did find that in July 2010 the Aquaculture Coalition and Conservation Coalition, groups I would characterize as defenders of wild salmon, made “an application seeking documents relating to fish health, pathogens, and disease, as well as stocking data in farmed salmon” This application resulted in ten years data being made public as exhibits in the inquiry.

As to correlation between health of farmed salmon and decline of sockeye, it is true the report does not place blame exclusively. Indeed, the Commission’s terms of reference include “to conduct the Inquiry without seeking to find fault”. However regarding salmon farms Cohen states in Vol 3 page 22 “I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible.”

The terms of reference directed the Commission to “make recommendations for improving the future sustainability of the sockey salmon fishery in the Fraser River”. We are fortunate to have the Honourable Justice’s exemplary work toward this end. I call upon British Columbians to download the report from and read it for themselves.


Lenovo X61 Ubuntu 12.04

6 November 2012

One day recently my Aspire One wouldn’t boot. A few tries gave errors, then it quit trying entirely. Black screen, nothing more. Miraculously it booted fine the next day, like nothing had happened! What it didn’t seem to realize was that I never liked it that much anyway so it’s little tantrum was enough to start me looking for a new laptop.

I found my new laptop in a Lenovo X61 tablet from Vancouver Laptops for $257! The cool thing about the X61 is that the screen can rotate and lay flat. At last I have a device with a decent sized (12.1″) screen that I can take hand written notes on using Xournal!

X61 Ubuntu 12.04

The first thing to settle was what distro to install.

(I should probably mention for any non-Linuxy people who wander by here that the machine came with Windows Vista Business on it. They also had some with Windows 7 for a few dollars more.)

It’s wonderful how easy it is to try Gnu/Linux distributions by putting them on a USB stick. I use dd. There are more complicated ways for people who don’t have Linux or aren’t comfortable with the command-line.

First I tried Mandriva, which is what I use on my desktop machine. Mandriva didn’t enable the touch screen on the default install and I wasn’t in a mood to monkey around with things.

Next I tried Fedora, which did enable the touch screen and seemed quite nice. Getting the display to autorotate when I put the laptop into tablet mode seemed problematic though.

Finally I tried Ubuntu and with installation of Magick Rotation things seemed to be shaping up.

So I settled on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin). I like the Long Term Support releases because they give me more flexibility in choosing when to upgrade. Precise Pangolin was released in April 2012 and is supported until April 2017. Compare to 12.10 which was released October 2012 and is only supported until April 2014.

pangolinA Pangolin, in case you’re wondering, is a mammal with sharp scaley armour and long claws that can emit a noxious-smelling acid and can extend its tongue up to 40 cm. They can climb trees, burrow in the ground and swim. Tough and versatile, like Linux.

During the Ubuntu install on the X61 I chose to encrypt the /home directory to protect data in the event of theft. A good idea made simple by the installation process.

Unity has great keyboard shortcuts and Ubuntu 12.04 supports the IBM TrackPoint beautifully so the system is very efficient however it’s used moment to moment in laptop mode.

One small glitch with Ubuntu’s Unity interface is that if you choose to hide the launcher it does not appear using the tablet stylus. To make the Launcher appear, the cursor has to go just past the edge of the screen and that doesn’t happen with the pen. So in ~/.magick-rotation.xml I added under the run_normal_before option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 1
and under the run_tablet option
gconftool-2 –type int –set “/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/launcher_hide_mode” 0

Installed Xournal, Gimp, qpdfview (because it allowed me to move its controls to where I want them in tablet mode), Hamster Time Tracker, Getting Things Gnome, Lightning (calendar and tasks for Thunderbird), ImageMagick.

One small annoyance that took me a while to solve was that bluetooth was on with every boot. I doubt I’ll use bluetooth on this machine so I want it off. I might use it sometime though, so I don’t want it gone. I finally found the answer on Michael Hirsch’s blog. Add the line ” rfkill block bluetooth” to /etc/rc.local above the line (on my file) “exit 0” Thank you Mr Hirsch!

I think the only hardware on the X61 that is not supported by Ubuntu is the fingerprint reader. Fine by me, really. Battery life is better than four hours according to the power monitor applet. I haven’t timed it, but that sounds right based on the use I’ve had.

Loving this machine so far.

Next trick will be to figure out how to put a DVD onto a USB stick. Either that or get an external DVD drive for the X61.

Chickadees and Garden

2 November 2012

chickadee on zombie sunflowerWe planted sunflowers at the front of the house this year. They get full sun there plus reflected light and heat from the white stucco wall behind. The sunflowers grew large and beautiful.

It’s November now and the sunflowers look like zombie sunflowers, but the chickdees are still loving them. I paused to watch the chickadees today and realized they fly to the sunflowers, look all around in their twitchy little way, grab a seed and fly with it to the cedar hedge or the ivy covered tree in the yard.

It looks like they eat somewhere they can hide. I hope they get enough food value from the seeds to make up for all the flying and twitching. Next year perhaps we’ll try to do them a favour and plant the sunflowers closer to the hiding places.