When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.
Beset by divisive "yellow vest" demonstrations, the French were united by the Notre Dame fire in grief and their resolve to rebuild. Within a day, wealthy donors and companies pledged a billion dollars for restoration. The first challenge will be to determine what caused the fire so a repeat can be avoided in the rebuilding.
I wouldn't wish to diminish in any way the profound emotional impact of the Notre Dame conflagration. I have visited the great cathedral a number of times, and each time has been a deep spiritual experience. But if we had a similar response of shock and horror at the death throes of the Great Barrier Reef, the toxic state of the Ganges River, the degradation of the Amazon rainforest or the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere that gives us air, weather, climate and seasons, think of the responses we could develop.
What prevents us from action is the perceptual framework through which we encounter the world. We all share a common sensory system to inform us about what is happening around us. Humans have increased the range of our senses with telescopes, microscopes and technology to see, hear and smell far beyond the range of our organs.
However, factors like gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic position and personal experience shape the way we respond to the input from our senses. Ask a man and a woman about love, sex or family, a Bay Street financier and a Bay Street homeless person about money, the economy or welfare, a Palestinian and an Israeli about Gaza, water or Jerusalem, and chances are the responses will be radically different.
One of humankind's most important attributes for survival has been foresight — the ability to use observation, experience and imagination to look ahead and make decisions that minimize danger and take advantage of opportunity. Today, scientists and supercomputers provide powerful amplification of foresight by marshaling a vast array of information and projecting scenarios into the future. For decades, leading scientists and their organizations have warned about catastrophic changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, depletion of oceans, spread of toxic pollutants throughout air, water and soil, acceleration of species extinction and so on.
As Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments vow to fight a carbon tax and pit jobs and the economy against action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we fail to unite in recognizing the threat of climate change to our health and survival.
Children are not yet blinded by the perceptual complications of adulthood or our verbal declarations. They see that our current trajectory is toward a radically uncertain future. Inspired in part by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, young people are calling on adults for real action to preserve their future. Surely that merits as profound and intense a response as the French have had to the Notre Dame fire.
We know the cause of the current ecological crisis. With our profligate use of fossil fuels and over-exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources while putting our "wastes" into air, water and soil, we're destroying the natural systems on which we depend for health and survival. Having identified the cause, we could commit massive amounts to stop the practices that are creating the problems while searching for new ways to provide for our needs and to exploit what we call "waste."
This will call for a shift in the way we see ourselves in the world. By raising their future for consideration, children are trying to get politicians to move beyond their current priorities of re-election and party solidarity and to show businesspeople the folly inherent in the drive for ever-increasing profits and endless growth. There is no hidden agenda or ulterior motives behind their pleas. Ignoring their calls for action puts us on a road to extinction.
Repairing Notre Dame and preventing future damage is worthy, but we must also do the same with our precious natural systems and areas.
It's heartening, in the midst of the human-caused sixth mass extinction, to find good wildlife recovery news. As plant and animal species disappear faster than they have for millions of years, Russia's Siberian, or Amur, tigers are making a comeback. After falling to a low of just a few dozen in the mid-20th century, the tigers now number around 500, with close to 100 cubs — thanks to conservation measures that include habitat restoration and an illegal hunting crackdown.
It shows the value of sound policies and regulations to protect wildlife. But as an article in the journal Marine Policy states, "Evidence of an environmental conservation problem is often not considered sufficient by government to warrant a change in the way human activities are managed until the problem becomes a societal crisis." The article highlights the devastating deaths of North Atlantic right whales because of regulatory foot-dragging. Although the dire situation finally triggered protection measures for whales and their habitat, some worry it's too little, too late.
The authors recommend proactive, precautionary measures to protect at-risk species. These are rare in Canada. Even when species are pushed to the brink, governments continue to stall.
That's true for boreal woodland caribou — 37 of Canada's 51 boreal caribou herds have been deemed unlikely to survive under current forest-management practices. In 2012, after a federal science advisory panel examined how much caribou range must be kept undisturbed for the animals to survive, the federal government gave provinces and territories five years to develop range plans that afforded caribou a minimum 60 percent chance of survival. None did.
Not one province or territory with boreal caribou has implemented the risk-based threshold management approach. Throughout Canada, industrial activities continue to degrade caribou habitat in the absence of sufficient protection regimes. In the past year, two of BC's caribou populations died out.
To mask impacts from the lack of conservation efforts, provinces such as BC and Alberta are using half measures like predator control and permanent penning to keep remaining caribou populations alive.
With governments touting what they'll do in the future while perpetually dragging their feet, the David Suzuki Foundation has had to resort to legal recourse — as it did in 2010 on behalf of the right whale, using scientific evidence to show it needed a broader habitat definition.
The foundation has also worked for 15 years to protect and recover southern resident killer whales, or Salish Sea orcas, near Vancouver. We've gone to court four times to get government to define critical habitat, complete recovery plans and issue an emergency order to protect the whales. We even joined a U.S. case to protect them from underwater noise from naval exercises.
We won all cases except the one to force government to order immediate on-the-water changes to human behavior. That case became moot when federal fisheries and environment ministers recommended emergency protections only to have cabinet turn them down. At least we were able to get a multi-stakeholder advisory process to decide what changes to human activities will be made to help the whales. There's hope, but also concern that time is running out.
Earlier this year, the foundation partnered with two conservation organizations and two First Nations to ensure the federal environment and climate change minister fulfills her legal responsibility to protect five boreal caribou herds in Alberta. There's often room for sustainable economic development and species abundance, but sometimes tough decisions have to be made, and politicians will look to the public to gauge the extent to which we consider wildlife loss a crisis.
Many wildlife populations in Canada are in peril. Is this regarded as a societal crisis? If not — if faced with leaving a vastly diminished world for future generations and losing species like orca and caribou is not seen as an urgent matter — why not? What will it take to make wildlife crises our own? Is there a tipping point at which Canadians will create the political momentum for society to pivot from wildlife decline to supporting much overdue conservation actions? If so, have we not reached it?
With its iconic tigers, Russia has shown what can be accomplished with robust habitat and species conservation measures that prioritize at-risk wildlife. It's a lesson Canada needs to learn.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Weather and climate aren't the same. It's one thing for people who spend little or no time learning about global warming to confuse the two, but when those we elect to represent us don't know the difference, we're in trouble.
For a U.S. president to tweet about what he referred to as "Global Waming" because parts of the country are experiencing severe winter conditions displays a profound ignorance that would be embarrassing for an ordinary citizen, let alone the leader of a world power.
Trump's Foolish Climate Babble Begs the Question: How Can 'Global Waming' Tweet Not Be a Troll? @ryanstruyk… https://t.co/HqeRmzXlbT— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1548780544.0
To understand the distinction, it's important to know the difference between "global warming" and "climate change." Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there's a subtle difference. Current global warming refers to the overall phenomenon whereby global average temperatures are steadily increasing more rapidly than can be explained by natural factors. Much of the climate change we're already seeing—from increasing extreme weather events to floods and drought to altered ocean currents—is a result of global warming.
That's leading to a range of impacts, "including rising sea levels; shrinking mountain glaciers; accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic; and shifts in flower/plant blooming times," according to NASA. That, in turn, affects everything from the food we grow and eat to water availability to human migration.
Both "global warming" and "climate change" refer to average long-term phenomena and effects, whereas "weather" refers to local changes in climate "on short timescales from minutes to hours to days to weeks," such as "rain, snow, clouds, winds, thunderstorms, heat waves and floods," NASA says.
So, what about those record cold temperatures in parts of the eastern U.S. and Canada? To start, global warming is global; it doesn't refer to one specific place. While parts of North America are experiencing record cold, places like Australia are seeing record-breaking heat. Globally, the past four years have been the hottest on record, and the warmest 20 have occurred over the past 22 years.
Several studies show global warming is causing an increasing number of cold-weather events in eastern North America. "Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for awhile, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it's cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer," said Jennifer Francis, research professor of marine and coastal sciences in Rutgers' School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, who co-authored one study published in Nature Communications.
This, according to National Geographic, also means "floods last longer and droughts become more persistent." The study found that "severe winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern United States when the Arctic is abnormally warm than when the Arctic is abnormally cold." Winters are also colder in northern Europe and Asia when the Arctic is warm. The opposite is true in western North America, where severe winter weather is more likely "when the Arctic is colder than normal." The effects are more pronounced when Arctic warming reaches beyond the surface, causing disruptions in the stratospheric polar vortex.
Warmer temperatures can also lead to increased precipitation, which falls as snow when temperatures drop below freezing. As a Scientific American article notes, warmer temperatures in winter 2006 prevented Lake Erie from freezing for the first time in history, which "led to increased snowfalls because more evaporating water from the lake was available for precipitation."
Melting ice in the Arctic, Antarctic and on glaciers exposes land or sea, creating feedback loops, as dark surfaces absorb more solar heat than ice and snow, which reflect it. This accelerates warming.
So, no, a cold day where you live isn't evidence that global warming is a "hoax." Scientists worldwide agree: As humans continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy areas that absorb carbon dioxide, like forests and wetlands, the planet's average temperature will keep rising, with undeniable consequences for human health and survival, as well as for the biodiverse life on which we rely.
A study in Science Advances predicts extreme weather events could increase by 50 percent this century if we don't bring emissions under control. It's time to take this seriously.
"Climate Change Is an Existential Crisis - It Should Be the Top Political Issue, Too." - Dr. David Suzuki… https://t.co/cqy69qSl6g— John Lundin 🌊 (@John Lundin 🌊)1547306526.0
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.
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Global warming isn't a partisan issue—or it shouldn't be. The many experts issuing dire warnings about the implications of climate disruption work under political systems ranging from liberal democracies to autocratic dictatorships, for institutions including the U.S. Department of Defense, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and numerous business organizations and universities.
In 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen reported to Congress that evidence for human-caused global warming was near undeniable, conservative politicians including the UK's Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canada's Brian Mulroney agreed that action was needed. In my home province of British Columbia, a right-leaning government, the British Columbia Liberal Party, introduced a carbon tax in 2008.
Now, as the evidence compels us to increasingly urgent action—the latest IPCC report says we have about 12 years to get emissions under control or face catastrophe—politicians from parties that once cared about the future are lining up to downplay or deny human-caused climate disruption and are hindering plans to address it.
The U.S. offers a sad example. When confronted with a detailed report compiled by more than 300 scientists and endorsed by a dozen different agencies, including NASA, NOAA and the defense department, that warned climate change threatens the American economy, way of life and human health, the president responded, "I don't believe it."
Here in Canada, politicians claim to take climate change seriously but reject plans to mitigate it without offering better alternatives. Some provincial and federal leaders are governing or building campaigns around rejection of carbon pricing, a proven tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's interesting, because carbon pricing is a market-based strategy, whereas the kind of government regulation that would be required in its absence is something conservative thinkers usually reject.
To be fair, few politicians are emerging as climate heroes, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. Our federal government has some good climate policies, including carbon pricing, but is still pushing for pipelines and oil sands expansion. It's even watered down carbon-pricing plans to appease industry.
Alberta's NDP government has likewise implemented some good policies and encouraged clean energy development, but by promoting pipelines and the fossil fuel industry to appease a bitumen-beholden voting base that likely won't support it anyway, the party is alienating young people and others who care about climate and the future.
It bewilders me that so many people are opposed to environmental protection, to ensuring Earth remains habitable for humans and other life. It doesn't take much to see that we've screwed up in many ways. Climate disruption, species extinction, plastic pollution and contaminated water and air are all symptoms of our wasteful, consumer-driven lives, in which profit is elevated above all else. Prioritizing a relatively recent economic system designed when conditions were much different over the very things that keep us healthy and alive is suicidal.
We can't stop using fossil fuels or shut down the oil sands overnight. But if we don't start somewhere, we'll get nowhere. I and others have been writing and talking about global warming for decades, while emissions continued to rise, oil and gas development expanded and global temperatures kept climbing. There's little evidence that governments are treating the climate emergency as seriously as is warranted, preferring to focus on short-term economic gains and election cycles instead.
As we head into an election year in Canada, we must ensure that climate and the environment are priorities for all parties. This costly crisis will bring devastation to economies, food production, human health and much more if we fail to put everything we can into resolving it.
We've seen major national and international efforts to confront serious threats before, regardless of the money and resources needed to do so—from defeating the Nazis in the Second World War to investing in science during the space race. These paid off in many ways, accomplishing their stated purposes and spurring numerous beneficial inventions and technologies.
Now, as humanity faces an existential crisis, we must do everything we can to push those who would represent us to truly act in our interests rather than kowtowing to a dying industry. Climate change should be the top issue in this year's federal election and all others.
We Can’t Hide From Global Warming’s Consequences https://t.co/zY2UGaJ4in— Robert D. Bullard (@Robert D. Bullard)1532017814.0
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.
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During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There's something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.
"Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and tackling it could be our greatest health opportunity," according to the medical journal The Lancet. The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, by 150 experts from 27 academic institutions and intergovernmental organizations, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank, is blunt: "A rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extremes of weather, altering patterns of infectious disease, and compromising food security, safe drinking water and clean air."
The report examines the association between health and climate change, including resilience and adaptation, financial and economic implications, the health and economic benefits of addressing the crisis, and the need for political and societal engagement, with a greater role for health professionals.
Sadly, the researchers conclude that a lack of concerted effort from governments is compromising human health and health infrastructure and services. They note some progress has been made, including a global decline in coal use, rapid growth in renewable energy installation and increasing fossil fuel divestment. But it's far short of what's needed to keep global average temperature from rising more than 2°C, let alone the more ambitious target of 1.5°C.
People in more than 90 percent of cities breathe air that is toxic to cardiovascular and respiratory health, and it appears to be getting worse, "particularly in low-income and middle-income countries." Pollutants from burning coal and other fossil fuels are causing millions of premature deaths every year.
A World Health Organization report, released at this year's COP24 climate summit in Katowice, Poland, echoes The Lancet findings, noting that at least seven million people a year die prematurely because of pollution, and millions more become ill. It concludes that health gains from meeting Paris agreement commitments would more than make up for the financial costs of global efforts to achieve those goals, "and would exceed that in countries such as China and India by several times."
The Lancet report shows the costs of inaction are rising: "About 712 climate-related extreme events were responsible for US$326 billion of losses in 2017, almost triple the losses of 2016," with 99 percent of losses in low-income countries uninsured. Deadly heatwaves, prolonged drought, increased flooding, agricultural losses, spreading transmission of infectious diseases from insects and contaminated water, mental health issues and water shortages are among the costly health impacts of climate change.
The Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Public Health Association offered several recommendations for policy-makers based on The Lancet report, emphasizing the role of doctors and other health professionals in addressing climate change and raising public awareness. "Ensuring a widespread understanding of climate change as a central public health issue will be vital in delivering an accelerated response, with the health profession beginning to rise to this challenge," they wrote.
Beyond informing the public, recommendations include preparing people for worsening impacts; integrating climate change and health into medical and health sciences faculties curricula; supporting an equitable transition for people who work in the fossil fuel industry; phasing out coal power by 2030 and replacing it with non-emitting sources; applying carbon-pricing instruments quickly and scaling them up; and funding research into the mental health impacts of climate change. The groups also caution against promoting natural gas as a solution because "increasing numbers of studies show risks to public health, water and air from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas."
When people get sick from contaminated lettuce or are injured because of defective products, governments and corporations promptly remove or recall the dangerous items. Granted, global warming is a much bigger challenge, but given the benefits of acting quickly and decisively to bring it under control, there's no excuse for stalling.
As The Lancet report states, "At a time when national health budgets and health services face a growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases, continued delay in unlocking the potential health co-benefits of climate change mitigation is short-sighted and damaging for human health."
Here's to climate action for all our health.
Climate Change Harms Human Health https://t.co/ChUuuQVVOD @NRDC @YEARSofLIVING @greenpeaceusa @billmckibben @CleanAirMoms— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521049045.0
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.
In a 1965 speech to members, American Petroleum Institute president Frank Ikard outlined the findings of a report by then-president Lyndon Johnson's Science Advisory Committee, based in part on research the institute conducted in the 1950s.
"The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world's peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out," Ikard said, adding, "One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the earth's atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts."
Many scientists were reaching similar conclusions, based on a body of evidence that had been growing at least since French mathematician Joseph Fourier described the greenhouse effect in 1824. In the 1950s, Russian climatologist Mikhail Budyko examined how feedback loops amplify human influences on the climate. He published two books, in 1961 and 1962, warning that growing energy use will warm the planet and cause Arctic ice to disappear, creating feedback cycles that would accelerate warming.
The predictions have proven to be accurate, and evidence for human-caused global warming has since become indisputable.
What happened? Over the ensuing decades, the fossil fuel industry didn't try to resolve what it knew would become a crisis. Instead, it worked to downplay and often deny the reality of climate change and to sow doubt and confusion. Knowingly putting humanity—and countless other species—at risk for the sake of profit is an intergenerational crime against humanity, but it's unlikely any perpetrators will face justice.
Still, warnings from researchers worldwide started to sink in. In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen told a U.S. congressional committee, "Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming. It is already happening now."
People in the U.S. and elsewhere started to demand action on climate and other environmental challenges. Political leaders from George H.W. Bush in the U.S. to Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. to Brian Mulroney in Canada started jumping on the "green" bandwagon—in word if not always in deed.
Had we heeded early warnings and had political representatives done more than talk, we likely could have addressed the problem with minimal societal disruption. But the industry-funded denial machine, which continues today, has been effective. Concern about climate change and other environmental issues has diminished as the problems have intensified. Politicians continue to think in terms of brief election cycles, focusing on short-term gains from exploiting fossil fuels rather than long-term benefits of conserving energy and shifting to cleaner sources.
Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and carbon sinks like forests and wetlands are still being destroyed. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, we've emitted so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we wouldn't be able to avert worsening of the consequences already happening. But we still have time—albeit very little—to ensure the problem doesn't become catastrophic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is conservative in its estimates, gives us about 12 years to take decisive action.
And yet, some people still deny or downplay the problem, or argue we have to shift slowly, even though they seem reluctant to start what could have been a gradual transition had we started a half-century ago.
Canada, China and Russia are the worst offenders. A report published in Nature Communications ranked the climate plans of various countries and concluded that if the world followed our climate policies, we'd face a catastrophic rise in global average temperature of 5 C by the end of the century. The U.S. and Australia weren't far behind.
We have to do better. Many people, especially politicians, say we can't shift from fossil fuels overnight. That may be true, but if we don't start, we'll never get there. With a federal election less than a year away, it's up to us all to ensure every political party makes climate change its highest priority and has a realistic plan to address it.
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Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.
Over the past year, the Alberta Narratives Project gathered input from a broad range of Albertans (teachers, faith groups, health professionals, farmers, artists, industry, environmentalists, etc.) to better understand how they feel about public discourse on global warming. Participants said they want less blame and a more open, balanced and respectful conversation. Many don't see themselves in the conversation at all. No one is speaking to them, using language that reflects their values and identity.
Albertans are deeply divided in their climate change perceptions. In 2017, just over half the population was doubtful or dismissive. When an issue is highly polarized, people find it difficult to discuss. The Alberta Narratives Project found people rarely, if ever, speak to others about climate change.
Climate disruption is a collective threat, not just an environmental issue. We must all see ourselves as part of the effort to prevent extreme impacts and ensure sustainable, resilient communities. But how can we take shared action when we can't even talk to each other about the problem?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report calls for action to limit warming to 1.5 C to reduce the risk of increasing extreme weather events, prevent catastrophic species loss, decrease numbers of climate refugees and protect human health and resilience.
It's an urgent warning. After examining more than 6,000 scientific studies, the IPCC was clear: We must cut harmful carbon emissions by at least 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reduce them to net zero by 2050 by cutting emissions and removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Rising populist politics are weaponizing climate action as a wedge issue for political advantage—with tragic implications.
How can we reverse this?
Recently, Regina's council unanimously passed a motion to run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, a meaningful target in line with the international Paris Agreement and the most recent IPCC report. Victoria has adopted the same target.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps wrote that "to solve the climate challenge, we have to weave a strong social fabric, to build on the gifts, assets and talents of our friends, neighbors and colleagues. It means we have to shift our thinking from me to we, from now to the long term."
In March, Edmonton partnered with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy for the Change for Climate Global Mayors Summit. They developed the Edmonton Declaration, asking signatories to recognize the urgent need for action that will limit global warming to 1.5 C.
The city's video says, "Let's come together and lead the charge against climate change. Let's show the world how much we love our city and our planet. Let's change our neighbors' minds. Change our habits. Change the world. Each of us needs to do whatever we can. Whatever we do, we have to do it now. Because if we don't change anything, climate will change everything."
Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is also crucial.
Dene elder François Paulette said, "First Nations are in a unique position to be leaders in climate change initiatives because of our knowledge of the sacred teachings of the land. We must not be situated as passive recipients of climate change impacts. We must be agents of change in climate action."
To tackle climate change, we must heal the divide and act—as individuals, families, neighbors, communities and societies.
Wherever you see yourself on the political spectrum, whether you identify as rural or urban, youth or elder, the time for foot-dragging is over. Each of us must join together with others to address climate change, and demand meaningful action from political representatives. All parties must commit. We must call out those who stall or prevent solutions to serve their own self-interest and political agendas.
We can't afford to wait.
'Who Drew It?' Trump Belittles UN Climate Report #IPCC #ClimateChange https://t.co/IA9FxiAwZj— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1539251841.0
People in Canada discard about 57 million plastic drinking straws every day. In my hometown of Vancouver, we toss out 2.6 million disposable cups every week. It's a global problem. Plastic products are choking landfills and waterways and causing devastation in the oceans. In 2014, scientists even found a new kind of stone in Hawaii, made of sand, shells, coral, volcanic rock and plastic.
That's why Vancouver is set to join cities and countries worldwide in banning single-use items made from plastic and other materials. The ban, which will begin to take effect in the fall, will cover plastic and paper shopping bags, polystyrene foam cups and takeout containers, disposable hot and cold drink cups, take-out food containers and disposable straws and utensils from all city-licensed restaurants and vendors.
The city says it costs about $2.5 million a year to collect single-use items from public waste bins and parks, streets and green spaces.
Plastics are durable, which is both a benefit and a problem. Products made from plastics can last a long time but most are discarded after a short time—very short in the case of single-use items—and take a long time to break down. When they do break down, they don't biodegrade; rather, they break into increasingly smaller pieces, many of which end up in the oceans as microplastics that harm aquatic life and birds.
From manufacture to disposal and beyond, these items wreak havoc on the environment. Almost all plastic products are made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. Producing them requires a significant amount of resources and pollutes air and water with toxic chemicals. When they're thrown away, they litter landscapes and clog landfills. Often they're carried by wind and waterways to the oceans, where they can be found everywhere, including in massive swirling gyres and in most of the animals that live in or on the seas. Additives in plastics can also leach into food and beverages, harming human health.
Plastics haven't been around for long, and their use really only took off after the Second World War, mirroring the boom in fossil fuel use. People have produced more than nine-billion tonnes of plastic in less than 70 years, more than half of it over the past 13 years, according to a study in Science Advances. Only about 9 percent gets recycled, although the figure is higher in countries like China, which produces the most plastic but recycles about 25 percent. More than half of discarded plastic is packaging.
We're showing no signs of slowing down. According to research by the U.S.-based Center for International Environmental Law, the boom in cheap shale gas production is fueling "a massive wave of new investments in plastics infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad, with $164 billion planned for 264 new facilities or expansion projects in the U.S. alone, and spurring further investment in Europe and beyond." Companies are marketing plastic packaging and other products to countries that haven't been as reliant on them and are not always as aware of the problems. That could drive production up by a third.
Center for International Environmental Law staff attorney Steven Feit notes, "Fossil fuels and plastics are not only made from the same materials, they are made by the same companies. Exxon is both the gas in your car and the plastic in your water bottle." He noted that plastics will account for 20 percent of total oil consumption by 2050 if consumer and production trends continue.
Plastic can and has been made from other sources, including plant-derived molecules, fibers and starches, but fossil fuels are still relatively plentiful and inexpensive, and plant-based products also come with environmental baggage.
The best way to avoid the massive damage that comes with plastics and fossil fuels is to stop using so many. We can avoid overpackaged products, bring reusable bags and containers to stores and coffee shops and use alternatives. For example, people who need to use straws because of disabilities can carry straws made from biodegradable paper or reusable metal, bamboo or glass.
Cities like Vancouver and the 60 countries moving to ban or impose levies on single-use plastic products are taking a step in the right direction.
7 Ways to Launch Your Own Anti-Plastics Movement https://t.co/pMyR5nK3Kr @HealTheBay @PlasticPollutes @SaveOurShores— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1515408609.0
Over the past few months, heat records have broken worldwide.
In early July, the temperature in Ouargla, Algeria, reached 51.3°C (124.34°F), the highest ever recorded in Africa! Temperatures in the eastern and southwestern U.S. and southeastern Canada have also hit record highs. In Montreal, people sweltered under temperatures of 36.6°C (97.88°F), the highest ever recorded there, as well as record-breaking extreme midnight heat and humidity, an unpleasant experience shared by people in Ottawa. Dozens of people have died from heat-related causes in Quebec alone.
Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East have also reached all-time record temperatures. In Northern Siberia, along the Arctic coast, the temperature was over 32°C (89.6°F) on July 5, much hotter than ever recorded.
Unusually high temperatures in the Arctic are causing sea ice to melt, exposing more dark sea areas, which absorb more heat than ice, causing feedback loops. Those are exacerbated by melting permafrost releasing more methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All of it is weakening the polar jet stream, which in turn affects temperatures in mid-latitudes.
As U.S. meteorologist and geoscientist Nick Humphrey explains, "The weakening is causing the polar jet to become much wavier, with greater wave 'breaks' and blocking patterns where waves sit in the same place for weeks [and] promote extreme weather patterns (extreme cold relative to normal as well as extreme heat, very wet, and drought conditions)."
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has spiked to 408 parts per million, global average temperatures have risen 1.8°C since 1880, Arctic ice is declining at 13.2 percent per decade, sea levels are rising 3.2 millimeters (approximately .13 inches) a year on average and it's all accelerating as we continue to pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destroy more carbon sinks like forests and wetlands.
According to NASA, "Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year—from January through September, with the exception of June—were the warmest on record for those respective months."
Despite the calamity unfolding before our eyes, many people and organizations still cast doubt on climate science and scientists, and politicians and governments fight against the very measures critical to addressing the crisis and ensuring the planet's climate remains stable enough for good human health and survival.
Although some people argue that climate always changes, NASA scientists explain that evidence of past warming from ice cores, tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs and layers of sedimentary rocks show that "current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming."
We've known about the heat-trapping properties of CO2 and other gases since the mid 1800s. Again, NASA points out, "There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response."
The reasons we've failed to adequately confront the problem have nothing to do with lack of evidence or solutions. We have an abundance of both, but industrial interests and their supporters in media and politics (along with those who have been duped into denial) have actively worked to downplay the problem and hamper progress.
In our book Just Cool It!, we outline numerous known and emerging ways for governments, institutions, industry and individuals to resolve the climate crisis. Many solutions are being employed or developed, but not fast enough to forestall catastrophe. In Canada, we have federal and provincial governments hell-bent on expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development to reap as much profit as possible from a dying industry and to satisfy the vagaries of short election cycles. The fossil fuel industry continues to receive massive subsidies, including a multi-billion-dollar taxpayer bailout for an American pipeline company, while clean energy receives far less support.
It's frightening to contemplate global warming, the changes required to confront it and the consequences we face in the coming years. But stalling solutions and continuing our fossil fuel addiction will only make the inevitable that much worse.
We Can’t Close Our Eyes to Climate Change https://t.co/47jYHZfJ1P @OneWorld_News @YaleClimateComm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519295106.0
AstroTurf looks and feels like grass—in an all-too-perfect way. But it's not grass.
Now the well-known artificial turf's brand name has taken on a new meaning, referring to purported "grassroots" efforts that are actually funded and supported by industry and political entities.
Some people, organizations and campaigns around everything from forestry to fossil fuels look and feel "grassroots," but many are anything but. In discussions around climate change and fossil fuels, for example, we see groups like Canada Action (and its spin-offs, Oil Sands Action and Pipeline Action), Ethical Oil, Resource Works, the International Climate Science Coalition, Friends of Science and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, among others.
It's one tactic in the industry playbook. In a recent column, we discussed science denial campaigns related to climate change and caribou habitat protection. Astroturf campaigns are designed not just to deny evidence and discredit opponents but also to imply broad public support for products or practices.
Many of the organizations are secretive about their funding and alliances, even as they attack social justice and environmental organizations over "foreign funding" and collaboration with international groups.
Astroturf campaigns aren't new, but they're becoming increasingly widespread and effective as social media and the Internet play a greater role in shaping public opinion.
In British Columbia, they go back at least as far as the 1980s and '90s, during the "War in the Woods" over logging in Clayoquot Sound. To counter massive protests, the Citizens Coalition for Sustainable Development, also known as Share B.C., was launched with support from and ties to the forestry industry, later spawning a number of "Share" offshoots.
The tactic gained notoriety in the U.S. after the Environmental Protection Agency released a 1992 report about the health impacts of tobacco smoke on non-smokers. In response, the world's biggest tobacco company, Philip Morris, launched a campaign "to prevent states and cities, as well as businesses, from passive-smoking bans."
The company hired PR firm APCO, which warned that industry spokespeople are not always seen as credible messengers and that a "national grassroots coalition" would carry more weight. APCO then established the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition to challenge the scientific consensus about tobacco smoke harms.
In his book Heat, UK writer George Monbiot quotes a memo from tobacco company Brown and Williamson: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy."
The coalition, with additional funding from Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, went on to sow doubt about climate science. Its name illustrates another tactic: using labels and branding to convince the public they're evidence-based or to blur distinctions between them and legitimate entities. In Canada, the International Climate Science Coalition and Friends of Science (both of which Tom Harris has been or is involved with), are anything but friendly to science.
A report sponsored by the U.S. Heartland Institute and promoted by Harris's ICSC was published under the banner of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, a name aimed at creating confusion between it and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In 1998, a group called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine sponsored the Oregon Petition, which urged the U.S. government to reject climate change measures. It used the same font and format as the legitimate Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, prompting that organization to issue a statement distancing itself from the bogus group.
As the Internet and social media become greater forces in society, astroturf groups and campaigns are growing, especially around global warming. Armies of trolls and credible-sounding organizations spread similar messaging on a range of topics. In keeping the forestry industry's caribou science denial tactics, we can expect to see it using PR firms and ostensibly third party voices to make its case.
Although it would be difficult or impossible to end astroturfing, people can learn how to spot phony "grassroots" organizations and campaigns. SourceWatch and DeSmogBlog provide thoroughly researched information on a range of groups and individuals involved in these campaigns.
For the sake of public discourse and progress on important social, health and environmental issues, it's up to all of us to critically assess all information sources.
Monsanto Hires Internet Trolls to Cover Up Roundup’s Cancer Risk https://t.co/OLfCAhXs3n @bpncamp @pesticideaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1494625516.0
A warm summer day, a cold drink and fish on the grill. It doesn't get much better. But how do you know if your fish is sustainable? It can be a challenge—especially considering SeaChoice found just 11 per cent of seafood available in Canada in 2016 was rated as a "best choice." Many retailers have sustainable seafood policies, but how good are they?
To help consumers choose wisely, SeaChoice used to rank seafood using a traffic light system—red (avoid), yellow (some concerns) and green (best choice). U.S.-based Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program and Canada's Ocean Wise continue to offer similar rankings. SeaChoice recently launched its Seafood Progress online resource to shift the focus to retailers, but with consumers in mind.
Although all major Canadian retailers have made a commitment to sustainable seafood, their products and definitions of "sustainable" vary, which can make consumer choices difficult. Using information from retailers and public sources, SeaChoice—a Living Oceans Society, Ecology Action Centre and David Suzuki Foundation partnership—is applying 22 performance indicators to assess sustainable seafood commitments made by Buy-Low Foods, Costco, Co-op, Loblaws, Metro, Save-On-Foods, Safeway, Sobeys and Walmart Canada. The indicators are based on "six steps that form the vision for sustainable seafood developed by environmental groups across North America."
According to the Seafood Progress Year 1 report, "The average assessment scores show that while most retailers have detailed policies and are collecting important information about the seafood they source, they can do a better job increasing transparency by making that information public and supporting improvements to fisheries and fish farms." In other words, they may have policies, but without transparency, it's difficult to know if they're living up to them.
On average, retailers did well on three of the six steps: Make a public commitment, collect data and source responsibly. Some needed improvement on two steps: Be transparent and educate. All scored lower on the sixth: Support improvements. The last is important in bringing about changes on the water. "If retailers are going to sell some of the more unsustainable seafood products available in Canada, they should be taking action to improve fisheries and farm practices," the report says.
The assessments will help retailers strengthen their policies, give them more opportunities to work with suppliers to improve fisheries and aquaculture practices, and help consumers make better choices. As well as environmental issues, SeaChoice also analyzed retailers' social responsibility commitments and recommends that most retailers "take action to confirm that no human rights abuses or labour violations are taking place in their supply chain."
SeaChoice recommends retailers label products with "the species' scientific (Latin) name, country of origin, whether it is wild or farmed, and the gear type or farming method," but found that only one retailer, Metro, included such comprehensive information. It might seem like a lot to put on a label, but the European Union requires all retailers to meet these standards.
To illustrate the need for comprehensive labelling, including the scientific name, SeaChoice found more than 200 rockfish species can be sold as snapper and 58 percent of rockfish sampled from Canadian retailers was mislabelled.
Seafood Progress is designed in part to encourage retailers to live up to and improve their seafood procurement policies, and in doing so improve production practices overall. But it also allows consumers to click on a particular retailer to learn how ambitious its environmental sustainability, social responsibility and traceability aims are, and how well it's meeting its commitments.
Oceans and the life they support face many threats, from pollution and climate change to ever-increasing ship traffic and noise. Aquaculture has the potential to take some pressure off wild seafood stocks, but it also brings its own challenges, including escapes, pollution and parasite and disease transmission to wild fish.
Choosing fish, shellfish and seaweed products that don't add to the threats is made difficult by the many factors that determine sustainability. With programs like Seafood Progress, consumers can support retailers that follow best practices, while retailers can demonstrate corporate responsibility and help the seafood industry progress toward sustainability.
If we manage fisheries and aquaculture operations properly, we can continue to enjoy these important food sources for generations to come.
Dr. David Suzuki: Environmentalism Is a Way of Being, Not a Discipline https://t.co/R5QPLC8USm @GreenpeaceUK @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1506937809.0
To its credit, the Forest Products Association of Canada recognizes climate change is a serious threat to forests and habitat, and has vowed the sector it represents "is doing its part to fight climate change through work in our forests, at our mills and through the products we make."
But it appears the association has an ulterior motive. Its climate commitments are spelled out on a website page that focuses on the role of climate change in caribou population declines, and argues a federal strategy to protect at-risk caribou, in part through habitat management, "won't work and will hurt local economies."
There's no climate science denial, but there is caribou science denial. To downplay the urgent need to protect caribou and manage habitat, and to diminish their own role in boreal caribou declines, forest industry associations are using tactics the fossil fuel industry uses to sow doubt and confusion about scientific evidence.
These "strategies of manufactured uncertainty" have "successfully delayed efforts to effectively address the decline of boreal caribou, which is protected under federal, provincial and territorial legislation, and inhibited meaningful dialogue about socially acceptable conservation solutions," according to a new report in the June issue of Wildlife Society Bulletin, From Climate to Caribou: How Manufactured Uncertainty is Impacting Wildlife Management.
The report, by researchers from Ontario Nature and the Universities of Guelph and Toronto, further states that while the fossil fuel sector is the most prominent purveyor of science denial—with five companies and organizations alone spending US$115 million a year "to avoid new climate policy and regulation"—similar tactics have been used in debates over regulating lead paint, tobacco, DDT, acid rain and chlorofluorocarbons. All employ a "multi-pronged strategy of denial": deny the problem exists, deny its key causes and claim that resolving the problem is too costly.
The strategy also includes vilification of and personal attacks against those who advocate for change. Some have cast efforts to improve caribou habitat policy as "eco-terrorism" and "environmental extremism."
Focusing on Ontario, the researchers show the strategy has been employed in the conflict between industrial logging and boreal caribou conservation. Boreal caribou are listed as "threatened" and are protected under federal species at risk legislation. "Yet, as scientific understanding of the decline of boreal caribou populations has become clearer, and agreement among scientists and governments about habitat management requirements has increased, campaigns of denial have intensified in the public sphere," the report says.
The Ontario Forest Industries Association and others deny boreal caribou are at risk, despite numerous studies showing they are, and claim that "without an adequate understanding how woodland caribou herds use the landscape—let alone a firm grasp of the differences between ecotypes of the subspecies—it is not possible to develop science-based policy."
The report quotes forestry interests that claim industrial logging does not harm caribou and, in fact, may help them, despite contrary evidence from numerous peer-reviewed studies.
A number of organizations, politicians and media outlets have also argued protecting caribou will kill jobs and wreak economic havoc. However, research shows that other factors, such as "structural changes in the demand for forest products, high labour and energy costs, and decline of real net investment in the sector" have caused recent forest industry downturns. Ultimately, if economic growth must come at the cost of boreal caribou survival, it isn't sustainable.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, which assesses species and makes recommendations about their listing under the Species at Risk Act, has examined the available evidence and concluded 81 percent of boreal caribou herds are in decline and all woodland caribou ecotypes—boreal, mountain and migratory—are diminishing in Canada. A main cause for boreal caribou decline is habitat degradation, mostly from industrial activity, and consequent changes in predator-prey dynamics.
Caribou play an important role in forest ecosystems. With all we know about the animals and how to protect them, we must resist industry's false narrative. As the report concludes, "the debate should now focus on goal-setting and implementation of caribou conservation strategies, including range plans and protection of critical habitat, which have the highest likelihood of achieving long-term caribou persistence while minimizing effects to jobs in the sector."