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Keystone XL and Canada's Empty Promises on Climate Action
President Obama has made it clear that the central factor in his decision to approve or reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is whether the pipeline project will significantly exacerbate climate pollution. Canada is striving to present itself as a sustainable manager of the tar sands that has the tools to mitigate the substantial carbon emissions and pass President Obama’s climate test. Unfortunately, a multi-million dollar PR campaign cannot erase Canada’s lackluster climate record or make it any easier to cancel out the emissions from tar sands.
There is no credible mitigation plan proposed or even being considered by Canadian provincial or federal governments that would address greenhouse gas pollution from its growing tar sands industry. There are tremendous technological and policy barriers that make mitigation of Canada’s tar sands carbon pollution problems highly unlikely. The gap between Canada’s rhetoric and its environmental performance raises serious questions regarding the credibility of the federal government’s commitments on climate.
Canadian experts hosted a press call yesterday to release a new backgrounder “Mitigating climate impacts of the tar sands: political and policy barriers to greenhouse gas reduction in Canada” and discuss the unlikelihood of successful mitigation.
“America’s shrinking coal emissions are a stark contrast to the rapidly expanding tar sands industry which is dragging down any Canadian hopes of being part of a climate solution,” said Danielle Droitsch, Canada program director at Natural Resources Defense Council. “By pushing for a dramatic expansion of tar sands oil development and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to carry it, Canada will never meet its international climate commitments.”
“Mitigation of Canada’s increasing carbon pollution is incompatible with the Harper government’s policy of unchecked oil sands expansion, which is driving their push for Keystone XL,” said Dr. Mark Jaccard, professor of environmental economics at Simon Frasier University and former chair of British Columbia Utilities Commission. “The Canadian government has failed to reign in the skyrocketing emissions from this carbon intensive industry and we are now at a point where the only acceptable alternative's for the U.S. government to reject Keystone XL.”
The Scale of the Problem
The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution, and if they continue to expand as government and industry project, they will cancel out every other effort across the country to mitigate emissions. Emissions from the tar sands are projected to double by 2020, which will send Canada soaring past the 2020 climate change target it shares with the U.S.
Models show that in order to curb soaring tar sands pollution and meet Canada’s shared 2020 climate goal with the U.S., regulations on the tar sands would have to establish a price on carbon of at least $100 per tonne.
But that level of regulation—or any meaningful regulation—is highly unlikely.
Canada’s Failure to Regulate
The Canadian government is well aware of the mounting pressure to limit carbon emissions. The government has been aggressive in its talking points, but passive in action. While they have made multiple public promises, no federal regulations on emissions from the oil and gas sector have yet been proposed in Canada.
This means that the tar sands sector is currently expanding without any attention given to soaring greenhouse gas pollution.
Canada is currently on track to miss its international climate commitments by a wide margin that is greater than all of the carbon produced by the combined emissions of Canada’s power plants or the combined emissions of all of Canada’s passenger vehicles.
"It will be very difficult for the Canadian government to achieve its own emissions reduction target for 2020 even without tar sands expansion, and more so if it continues to pursue tar sands expansion,” said Dr. Danny Harvey, climate scientist at University of Toronto. “In any case, deep reductions in overall emissions, beyond the 2020 target, will be required in the following decades that will be impossible to achieve if we lock in 40 years of increased tar sands emissions by building more pipelines."
Due to political and policy barriers, it is highly unlikely that Canada would be able to mitigate the carbon emissions from the tar sands in order to meet President Obama’s climate test for Keystone XL.
"You don't have to look very far to see past Canada's empty promises on climate change," says Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence Canada. "A long list of climate failures combined with plans to triple tar sands production takes the possibility of mitigating impacts from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline off the table."
“Canada can’t claim to mitigate for the impacts from Keystone XL while simultaneously permitting new oil sands mines and drilling operations,” said Elizabeth May, MP and Leader of the Green Party of Canada. “If the U.S. government is serious about combating climate change then there is only one obvious choice: reject Keystone XL.”
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In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals.
Important Findings for Other Teams<p>The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19.</p><p>Fellow researchers from the <a href="http://assistenzhunde-zentrum.de/index.php/news/covid-19-hunde" target="_blank">German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ)</a> have also benefited from the Finnish results.</p><p>"No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-house-pets-test-positive-for-coronavirus/a-53460111" target="_blank">dangerous or not for humans and dogs</a>. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ.</p>
Where Does the Characteristic Smell Come From?<p>It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately.</p><p>Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.</p><p>"According to one study, dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability, for example. And lung cancer with a 97% probability," she says.</p><p>But dogs can also identify skin cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer very reliably, according to Barrett. "The hit rate, which was not so good in the early days of training, has risen enormously in recent years," she says.</p>
Hit Rate Decisive<p>Besides cancer, the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dog-makes-1-million-drug-bust/a-53433307" target="_blank">dogs</a> can also detect Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers smell different even years before they have the disease. "That's how we came up with the idea of training dogs as an early warning system for Parkinson's," Barrett says.</p><p>Dogs are also trained to detect malaria, but the hit rate is not yet satisfactory, she says. So far, the dogs recognize seven out of 10 infected persons, which is not enough.</p><p>A high hit rate is, of course, also absolutely necessary when training for the aggressive SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, according to Barret. "We hope that the hit rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher in the fully trained dogs; after all, it would be very dangerous if COVID-19 were not detected," she says</p>
Trained Tracking Dogs<p>Dogs' ability to smell is about a million times better than that of humans. Humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, compared with 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.</p><p>Dogs also inhale up to 300 times per minute in short breaths, meaning that their olfactory cells are constantly supplied with new odor particles. In addition, dogs' noses differentiate between right and left. This spatial sense of smell allows the animals to follow a trail more easily.</p><p>During the training sessions, the dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers or retrievers in general, but also cocker spaniels or sheepdog breeds — are each trained for one scent. That can be the smell of a drug or an explosive, or, as here, the olfactory signature of a specific disease.This means that one dog cannot recognize several types of cancer.</p><p>The animals are trained with containers holding samples of breath or sweat, for example. As soon as they have identified the smell they are looking for, the dogs hear a click and get a treat. They are reliably trained for the one smell on this reward principle.</p>
Great Potential, Great Skepticism<p>Drug and explosive detection dogs have been used for some time. But trained medical scent detection dogs are also now working in hospitals. For example, they sniff the bodies of patients with suspected skin cancer to try and detect the disease — only with the patients' consent, of course. So these skilled snufflers are helping doctors in diagnosing diseases and detecting them early on.</p><p>However, so far there are only very few medical detection dogs. The dog owners almost always work voluntarily and the trained sniffer dogs live in normal households. There is great skepticism, especially among traditional doctors and health insurance companies, even though the first indications given by the dog have to be followed by further medical tests anyway and a lot of time and costs could be saved by early cancer detection.</p>
Possible Coronavirus Applications<p>If the findings from Finland are confirmed, the sniffer dogs with their extremely sensitive sense of smell could prove to be a great help in the fight against the new coronavirus.</p><p>Luca Barrett from TARSQ can easily picture coronavirus sniffer dogs being used in situations where there is a high risk of infection. For example, people attending football matches and other major events could be checked before they are admitted.</p><p>The dogs could also be employed at airports to scan people entering a country. "When the dogs go down the queue, they can detect if someone is healthy and can enter the country. But if a person smells of COVID-19, the handler could send that person to a coronavirus testing center instead," Barrett says. That is because a second test is still needed to confirm the dog's initial sniff detection.</p><p><span></span>Barrett says dogs could also be used to search for the virus on surfaces. For example, before passengers board an aircraft, a four-legged friend could first check whether the machine is free from SARS-CoV-2. Similar measures are planned for doctors' surgeries, aged care homes or nursing homes that have had to be evacuated because of COVID-19 cases. Before these are used again, a sniffer dog could check whether the environment is "clean."</p>
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