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The Wind at Our Backs

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 11:35

You can't do science with politics. Razors cannot slice glue. Science is a razor. Politics is glue. Everything, no matter how sharp, gets stuck in it.
The "climate change debate" illustrates the problem. There's really no debate about what we need to do. We got past that last December in Paris where it was agreed, much belatedly, that our "never exceed" temperature limit had to be 1.5C. That's 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Anything beyond that invites, perhaps even ensures, climatic calamity. 
1.5C it is then.
Everyone came away from Paris patting themselves on the back. Not sure why. What they left in Paris were national commitments, promises, by each nation of the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions it was willing to implement by specified dates. Such and such a percent by such and such year.
Unfortunately, when you add up all those promised cuts what you're left with is 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming and not to put too fine a point on it but that's not survivable for most life on Earth, including you and me and our kids and theirs.
The problem with a political approach to climate change is that it gets bogged down with man-made (anthropogenic) global warming. It's as though we're the only players at the table. That 1.5C is for us. We don't have to share it. That ignores who else is sitting at the table - nature.
Nature, represented by physics, geology, chemistry, hydrology, biology, zoology, botany, meteorology, glaciology, atmospherics, and every other Earth science, also has a handful of cards and that hand is also in play.
We don't know how Nature will play its hand. We do know that it's upping the ante.
That 1.5C goal reached at Paris? There's a hitch. We're already there. We've already loaded the atmosphere with enough man-made greenhouse gas that we've locked in 1.5C of overall warming. Every fossil-fuel generating station, every wildfire, every tank of SUV juice, every truckload of cement - that's all atop the existing 1.5C loading. Congratulations. We've set ourselves an ambitious target we have already exceeded. 
Don't worry, we're working on a plan and it's going to be a dandy. We'll have carbon taxes even as we ramp up the extraction and export of bitumen to world markets. Oh yeah, and we're still selling coal to boot.
But what about Nature? Well, what about it? The 1.5C target? That's all about preventing catastrophic, runaway climate change. What does "runaway climate change" mean? It means Nature, natural processes that we cannot control that will overheat the Earth. Science tells us these natural impacts can eclipse anything man-made.
Well, we're at 1.5C or we soon will be so what then? The mechanism of runaway global warming is thought to involve triggers known as "tipping points" that, when reached, will activate "natural feedback loops" that are unstoppable. Our best guess is that those tipping points will be passed at 1.5C of man-made global warming or at least that's the political narrative.
When this whole scenario was first floated (not all that long ago) it imagined the Arctic being ice free - by about the year 2100. No one imagined it could happen by 2016, more than 80-years sooner than anticipated. Oopsie!
So, what happened? Natural feedback loops, that's what happened. The Arctic warmed, sea ice thinned and then disappeared. In place of that white, reflective ice cover that once bounced solar radiation safely back into space, dark green ocean water began absorbing that solar energy, heat. The Arctic Ocean got warmer and it warmed the atmosphere above it and that set a whole bunch of wheels in motion.
There are knock-on effects, one feedback loop triggering others. As the Arctic warmed, boulders of frozen methane, "clathrates" a.k.a. "fire ice," lining the ocean floor and many lakes began thawing, releasing plumes of methane gas to the surface and upwards into the atmosphere. Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. It's not as long-lasting as carbon dioxide but it's persistent enough (about 12-years) to do a lot of damage.
Much of the terrestrial Arctic is comprised either of exposed rock or tundra, which is basically ancient peat. Peat, of course, is rich in hydrocarbons and makes a dandy fuel, ask any Irishman. Until now most of the CO2 held in the tundra has been safely sequestered by cold temperatures. However the warmer Arctic temperatures have been causing the tundra to dry out which transforms it into dandy fuel for wildfires. As you might imagine, we don't have much firefighting capacity in the Arctic, no way to extinguish tundra fires.
A tundra fire has three knock-on effects. The combustion releases CO2 to the atmosphere. The fires also produce "black soot" that is blanketing the surface, absorbing heat to speed up the melting of snow and ice. This is a big problem for the Greenland ice sheet, accelerating the melting which contributes to sea level rise around the planet. The third, knock-on effect is that, as the tundra burns, it exposes the layer beneath it, the permafrost. That is a huge methane trap. As it becomes the perma-no-more-frost, as it thaws, that methane is also released to the atmosphere.
So there you have a neat little bag of feedback loops. If you reverse engineer it, the existence of feedback loops evidences tipping points that were passed some time ago. There may be other, perhaps slower onset feedback loops that haven't come to our attention yet.
Two that are in evidence are the retreat of glaciers and the broken hydrological cycle. We have warmed the atmosphere. 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred during this century. Heat melts glaciers. It also causes physical changes in the atmosphere. 
A warmer atmosphere is capable of holding more water vapour, a lot more as it turns out. That disrupts the hydrological cycle. Surface water is released to the atmosphere as water vapour through evaporation, perspiration and respiration by animals, and by plants through transpiration. It goes up into the air, condenses into clouds and then into rain and falls back to the surface where, among other things, it gives agriculture the water needed to grow our crops.
Once you have a warmer, wetter atmosphere it changes things. More water retained in the atmosphere means less water on the surface. This new reality contributes to precipitation changes. A warmer, wetter atmosphere is a more powerful atmosphere capable of triggering severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. Bummer. Gives new meaning to "it never rains but it pours." Some places get sustained and severe drought. Other places get increasing precipitation, sometimes floods (thinking of you, Calgary). Some places get cyclical droughts and floods which, due to the soil compacting of drought can lead to destructive flash flooding. Double bummer.
Today's broken hydrological cycle can play utter hell on one of our most important carbon sinks, our forests. Trees absorb a lot of CO2 as they grow. Even when they die they can rot and create humus for the soil, another form of CO2 that nurtures microbial growth - the "circle of life" thing. What keeps that all going is rain, precipitation.
Drought causes trees to dry out, even die off, which transforms the forest from immensely valuable carbon sink into disastrous carbon bomb. As the forest dries out it becomes fuel for wildfires (thinking of you, Fort Mac). These fires are also increasing in frequency, intensity and duration beyond our ability to control them. We're now dependent on rain to put them out. What a terrific time to have a broken hydrological cycle, eh?
Oh yeah, one more thing. Water vapour, of which we now have ever more in the atmosphere, thanks to anthropogenic global warming, is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. There's more of it up there and it's accelerating the power of the atmosphere to trap solar radiation, blocking its escape back into space.
So, we've got these powerful feedback loops in play but the political narrative ignores them entirely. No, the political narrative focuses on how we cut, no "reduce," greenhouse gas emissions to stay within a target that we have already exceeded in order to avoid tipping points that we've already tipped that could trigger natural feedback loops that are already looping. Hmm, what's with that?
Well then what's the point of this political exercise after all if it's only Kabuki theatre? Ask yourself this. How would the public react if the government said, "Oh, to hell with it. What's the point?"

Wednesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 10:15
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Miles Corak reviews Branko Milanovic's new book on the complicated relationship between globalization and income inequality. Dougald Lamont examines the current state of inequality in Canada. And Matthew Yglesias takes a look at research showing that inequality and social friction can be traced back centuries based on the income levels associated with particular last names.

- David Macdonald and Daniel Wilson study the appalling levels of poverty among indigenous children. And Kristy Kirkup follows up by talking to First Nations leaders about the poverty facing their members (both on and off reserve), while CBC notes that resource-sharing with First Nations leads to reduced poverty rates.

- Alex Himelfarb rightly points out the importance of an open and inclusive process to discuss electoral reform. But Neil MacDonald writes that the Libs appear to have stacked the deck to prevent that needed conversation from happening, while Alison documents Marc Mayrand's warning as to how much time will be needed to implement a new electoral system. 

 - Chris Hall reports that the Libs are still stalling on anything to do with C-51, as now even a first set of changes which wasn't supposed to require extensive consultation - including the implementation of any oversight - is being delayed.

- Finally, Kady O'Malley reports that the Libs are planning to put Parliamentary business entirely in the hands of Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.

Alberta's Top Court Shoots Down Trudeau Assisted Death Legislation

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 08:55
The Trudeau government's watered down proposal on assisted death isn't going to pass judicial muster. In fact, the Alberta Court of Appeal, the highest court in that province, has ruled that the federal government's proposal is flouting ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case.

A panel of three appeal court judges says the government is flouting last year's landmark ruling by the Supreme Court when it argues that assisted dying should apply only to those who are close to death.

It's also not complying with the top court's ruling, known as the Carter decision, when it excludes people suffering solely from psychiatric conditions, the judges say.

The judicial smack-down comes at a particularly inopportune moment for the federal government, just as it is trying to persuade MPs and senators that its restrictive new law on assisted dying complies with the Supreme Court's ruling and with the charter of rights.

The bill is expected to be put to final vote in the House of Commons, where MPs are being allowed a free vote, by the end of this week.

The law is the law, Justin, even for you and your government. This isn't the first time you've been warned. Your own MP, Rob Oliphant, who co-chaired the Commons committee into the issue told you he won't vote for your legislation because it doesn't comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Before Oliphant spoke out, B.C. lawyer Joe Arvay, said your bill is plainly unconstitutional and demonstrates how you allowed your government to become captured by special interests.

It's called the Rule of Law, Justin. Your soul mate, Harper, didn't like it either. Tough.

SHOCKER! Fake Clinics Lie

Dammit Janet - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 08:19

The Abortion Rights Coalition has released a major study into the online presence of Canadian fake clincs, or crisis pregnancy centres (full PDF report).

From the press release:

Anti-abortion counselling agencies in Canada often present misinformation on their websites or fail to disclose their anti-choice or religious agenda to prospective clients, according to a new study published today by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

Crisis Pregnancy Centres (CPCs) are anti-choice agencies that present themselves as unbiased medical clinics or counselling centres, and which often claim to provide women with non-judgemental information on all their options when faced with an unintended pregnancy. However, CPCs are not medical facilities, most are Christian ministries, they generally will not refer clients for abortion or contraception, and many promote misinformation about abortion. CPCs in Canada have no regulatory oversight; however, 68% of them are registered charities.
Researchers identified 180 CPCs in Canada, and looked at the 166 of them that have websites.

Results were not surprising. Well, not to those of us who have made it our mission to get these fake clinics regulated, defunded, and stripped of charitable status.

They lie about abortion risks; they promote sexual abstinence and adoption as ideal solutions to unwanted pregnancy; they fail to disclose their religious agendas; they do not reveal that they refuse to refer for abortion or contraception.

In fact, the Canadian study mirrors much of what was reported last year in a USian report, titled "Crisis Pregnancy Centers Lie." (PDF).

The situation in the US is much more dire. There are many, many more of these fraudulent operations and an astounding number of them get significant government funding.

The Canadian study reports on CPC funding (pp 29–30 of PDF). It seems that not much public funding goes to these places, but what does must be stopped.

A majority of them have charitable status.
Many CPCs also enjoy charitable tax status, which significantly increases their ability to fundraise (Arthur 2005). Out of the 180 CPCs we identified, 68% (122) had charitable tax status. However, Canadian groups should not be eligible for charity status if they disseminate biased or inaccurate information that is disguised as “education” or “counselling.” (Arthur 2005; Canada Revenue Agency 2013).
Coincidentally, Amanda Marcotte wrote recently about an analysis of USian CPCs' own data.

Nicole Knight Shine looked at the numbers and concluded they fail miserably at their mission -- if their mission is to dissuade women from choosing abortion.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are billed as alternatives to abortion clinics, but new data suggests they largely fail at their mission, persuading less than 4 percent of clients to forgo abortion care.
Back to Marcotte:

The thing is that CPC centers know this. Shine’s numbers come directly from their own database, showing that they they are well aware that the vast majority of women who come in their doors will not be intimidated, much less persuaded, out of their abortions. So why do they keep plugging away at it, when they know full well they are terrible at what they claim they want to do?

It’s because preventing abortion has never been and will never be the actual goal of CPCs, no matter what their fundraising materials might say. The real purpose is to shame women for having sex and to spread stigma over abortion, contraception, and any non-procreative sexual activity. The vicious lies and guilt trips they lay on women are not the means to an end, but are the end itself. The point is not really “saving lives”, but making women feel scared, guilty, and anxious, as punishment for having sex.
It is this atmosphere in the US that makes the endless screwing around with abortion laws and restrictions possible and, seemingly, acceptable.

In Canada, we are -- so far -- successfully resisting any similar attempts to recriminalize abortion.

This new study demonstrates though that we must remain vigilant and aware of what anti-choice forces are up to. We must impede them any way we can. Regulate them, defund them, and strip them of charitable status.

And for anyone interested in reading or writing about abortion, the ARCC report is full of helpful links and resources.

Kudos to all involved.

On a personal note -- and in what might be a first for a "serious" study -- DAMMIT JANET!, a mere blog, is cited for our efforts in getting public funding yanked from a fake clinic in Ontario.

We are chuffed.

Bitumen's Days Are Over

Northern Reflections - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 04:51

These are hard days for Fort McMurray. But, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, there is another fire burning -- a slow burning one -- that will eventually bring the place to its knees. And Murray Edwards, the head of Canadian Natural Resources, has seen the future:

Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England.

Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL's budget in 2015.
Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray's company has lost 50 per cent of its market value.

(Cenovus, another oilsands player, got cursed with junk bond status.)
Edwards likely has read the tea leaves and understands that bitumen might not play a significant role in the secular age of stagnation.
Former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin has also seen the future:
Last but not least comes a pithy analysis by Jeff Rubin, CIBC's former chief economist. Rubin warns that contraction is the only future for the oilsands unless Canada wishes its economy to become "obsolete and non-competitive."

He correctly notes that 80 per cent of the increase in new global oil did not come from OPEC but from high cost bitumen mines and fracked U.S. shale deposits.
North American corporations, in other words, engineered the global oil glut.

Encouraged by easy credit, Big Oil flooded the market with difficult and largely uneconomic hydrocarbons.

The Saudis, the world's number one and cheapest producers, refused to scale back production or give up market share. Instead they precipitated a price free-fall.

When oil prices stood at $100, rash bitumen development made some sense. But when prices fell below $45 the gamble turned into Russian roulette.
Most of our movers and shakers haven't figured it out yet. But bitumen's days are over.


Why the Cons Can't Attract Good Leadership Candidates

Montreal Simon - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 04:02

Despite Rona Ambrose's desperate attempts to try to get more people interested in running for the job of permanent Leader of the Harper Party.

So far her campaign has been a dismal failure.

For after beating her drum, or kicking up her arms and legs for months.

This is all she has to show for it.
Read more »

What Is the CBC's Con Board Hiding?

Montreal Simon - Wed, 05/18/2016 - 00:52

Well we know who they are, the members of the board of the Conservative Broadcasting Corporation.

And we know that one of them, Brian Mitchell, just left to run for President of the Harper Party. 

"I think the party needs me," Mitchell said. "The party needs my experience and my help and my loyalty."

But what we don't know is what the Harper Party's other loyal servants have been up to since the election.
Read more »


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