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Bill McKibben Talks Climate Change and Religion


On Sunday, April 28th, 2013, activist Bill McKibben was a guest preacher at his former church, the Riverside Church in NYC.  During his sermon, McKibben made connections between religious values and climate change, corporate greed and the divestment of fossil fuel stock.  Although I am not a religious person myself, I felt the sermon was excellent.  Please take a look.

March 2013 is Number 337



According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, “the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for March 2013 tied with 2006 as the 10th warmest on record, at 0.58°C (1.04°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F).”  That makes March 2013 the 337th consecutive month with temperatures above the 2oth century average.

And so, despite the fact that North America had a rather cold and snowy March, the global warming trend continues.  Here is a map that shows the weather and climate highlights for the month of March 2013.

Map of significant weather and climate events for March 2013.  Image: NOAA

Map of significant weather and climate events for March 2013. Image: NOAA

Oil Spills Are More Common Than We Realize


Climate change and oil spills have something in common.  They do not get enough media attention in North America.

While the bitumen spill in Arkansas got its 15 minutes of fame, the reality is that oil and chemical spills are much more common than we realize.  In fact, from March 11th to April 9th of this year, there were 13 significant spills, releasing more that 1,000,000 gallons  (4,000,000 litres) of toxic chemicals.  Take a look.



Just one more reason to transition towards renewable energy sources as quickly as possible.  After all…



The NDP Supports a West-to-East Tar Sands Pipeline


I received an e-mail this morning inviting me to watch the previous night’s “town hall” type event that happened at the NDP’s policy convention.  I have to admit that I was interested.  So, I clicked the link and prepared to be impressed.  Unfortunately, I didn’t watch for very long. (If you’d like to watch the town hall yourself, I’ve embedded the video at the end of the post.)

The first question that Leader Thomas Mulcair answered was about the economy.  The person asking the question wanted to know what the NDP would do differently than the current Conservative government.  Mulcair began by discussing how, since the election of the Federal Conservatives, Canada’s international trade imbalance has gone from a surplus of $18 billion to a deficit of $68 billion.  Then, he discussed how the provincial NDP government in Manitoba has lowered (to zero!) taxes on small businesses.  (Apparently, this has lead to one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada.)  He compared this to the Federal Conservatives who have given more than $50 billion in tax breaks to large businesses such as banks and oil companies.  As part of his answer, Mulcair also mentioned that the NDP would consider the economic, social and environmental impacts of every decision they made.

That sounded promising, but it clashed with what came next.

The second question was regarding the creation of a sustainable economy, managing Canada’s resources and the need for creating jobs here in Canada.

Now, maybe it’s my own fault that I was so disappointed.  I was hoping for something along the lines of “let’s fight climate change while growing our economy (blah blah blah) increasing efficiency (blah blah blah) and renewable energy (blah blah blah).”  But, no.  His answer was, rather than building a pipeline from Alberta to Texas (the Keystone XL pipeline), we need to build a pipeline west to east, refine the bitumen in Canada and create jobs here.  This will lead to greater energy security, more jobs for Canadians and more royalties for the provinces.  In Mulcair’s words, “that’s a win, win, win situation.”

And that’s when I stopped watching.

Not only do I have some serious doubts that a west-to-east pipeline “will lead to greater energy security, more jobs for Canadians and more royalties for the provinces”, but, hasn’t Mr. Mulcair seen what is happening in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas?

"Bird's eye view" of Alberta bitumen passing through Mayflower, Arkansas.  Image:

“Bird’s eye view” of Alberta bitumen passing through Mayflower, Arkansas. Image:

Alberta bitumen delivery - right to your back door!  Image:

Alberta bitumen delivery – right to your back door! Image:

Example 1 of why Exxon-Mobil has no concern for the quality of the clean up they do:  Those buoys are useless because bitumen is heavier than water.  Image:

Example 1 of why Exxon-Mobil has no concern for the quality of the clean up they do: Those buoys are useless because bitumen is heavier than water. Image:

Example 1 of why Exxon-Mobil has no concern for the quality of the clean up they do: they are using paper towels to clean up the thousands of liters of oil that has been spilled.  Image:

Example 2 of why Exxon-Mobil has no concern for the quality of the clean up they do: they are using paper towels to pick up the thousands of litres of oil that have been spilled. Image:

As a result of Mr. Mulcair’s (and the NDP’s) position on this pipeline, I decided write to the NDP’s environment critic, Megan Leslie.  Here is what I told her:

Dear Megan Leslie,

My name is (Mr.) Jocelyn Plourde.  I am a teacher, living in PEI.  In my spare time, I study environmental issues and am working on my Master’s degree.  My thesis will be about public policy and climate change adaptation.  So, as you can imagine, environmental issues are at the top of my list of priorities.

I began watching yesterday’s “online town hall” that your party put up on Youtube.  Unfortunately, I stopped after Thomas Mulcair discussed your party’s plan for a west-east pipeline, from the Tar Sands to Atlantic Canada. 

According to world-renowned climatologist James Hansen, if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it’s “game over” for our climate.  It will be the same is we build any pipeline leading from the Tar Sands.  And the reason is simple: there is enough carbon in Alberta’s oil that if we dig it all up and burn it, by itself, it would increase global temperatures by 0.4 degrees Celsius.   

We can talk about the safety of pipelines carrying Alberta Tar Sands oil, as is currently being demonstrated in Mayflower, Arkansas.  However, the more critical point is that any pipeline from Alberta will allow the growth of production in Alberta’s Tar Sands.  And this is an irresponsible position to have.  As the NDP’s environmental critic, I assume that you are aware of the risks of climate change and the incredibly short amount of time that we have to transition our economies away from fossil fuels.  As such, we cannot allow our Canadian economy to continue to rely on fossil fuel revenues.  Instead we need to invest our efforts on energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy.

I regret to say that if the position of the NDP is to support the building of this (or any other) pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands, then I will give my next vote to someone else.  And I will do my best to encourage others to do the same.


Jocelyn Plourde 

I’ll let you know what she says if she replies.

In the mean time, here is the town hall.

How To Influence Your Politician on Climate Change


Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much over the past 2+ weeks.  It isn’t as though there has been a lack of events and news to post about.  Rather, I’ve been keeping myself busy organizing two climate talks and helping a friend put together a blog about climate action.

First, the climate talks.  The first talk was supposed to be in front of five classes at a high school outside of Charlottetown (PEI’s capital).  I say “supposed to be” because it didn’t happen – I got into a car accident on the way there.  Luckily, no one was hurt, however, both vehicles have been badly damaged.  The irony is that I hit the car of one of the teachers whose class I was on my way to speak to!

The second talk will happen later this month and will be for the general public.  I’ve already done two talks to the public in Charlottetown.  However, this one will be the first in French.  Also, I’m getting some really great help advertising for the talk so I hope that turnout will be good.

Now, to the website.  Well, technically, it’s just a blog…  So, the blog is called “Climate Action – What political parties, environmental groups and citizens need to do”.  The idea is to discuss constructive ways to get action on climate change.  Beyond the actual post, we’ve put together four additional pages that can be accessed by the menu at the top of the page.

The page titled “Earth Day Panel” gives information about a panel discussion occurring on April 22nd.  The topic of the panel will be “A critical look at why political parties have not taken climate change action, what needs to change within the environmental movement and how do we create momentum for concrete action.”  Speaking will be politicians and members of the environmental activism community.  The page “Prince Edward Island Earth Week 2013” is listing of events occurring during the week of April 22nd.  Next is “Climate Change 101” is a kind of “climate change for dummies” text that I put together.  And the final tab brings you to several quotes about climate change from Canadian leaders.

I hope you’ll take a look.

And just in case you don’t, I’d like to share with you something that we posted on “Climate Action”, that I believe is useful to anyone who would like to lobby politicians to take action on climate action: the top 7 “dos” and “don’ts” to influence your politician on climate change.

Top 7 Things to do to Influence Your Politician on Climate Change

  1. Set up a meeting at their office to talk about why the issue is important to you, not just the science of climate change
  2. Host a meeting and invite them personally to either attend or participate (either in person, through a letter or personalized email)
  3. Call your politician or leave a message for them to personally call you
  4. Work with them on a petition for them to personally present
  5. If they are supportive, ask how you can help them build more support
  6. Write a personal, hand-written note
  7. Tweet @ them or private message them on facebook

Top 7 Inefficient ways to influence Politicians on Climate Change

  1. Hosting a protest without sufficient numbers and unclear messages/asks
  2. Online petitions that are not able to be presented in the House of Commons or Legislature
  3. Postcard campaigns
  4. Impersonal or standardized emails or letters
  5. Hosting meetings or protests without informing the politician or without sufficient time for them to attend or participate
  6. Long reports (great for evidence but hard for any politician to read all that come in)
  7. Complaining at your kitchen tables but never voicing your concern

Good lobbying!

Two Tar Sands Bitumen Spills in One Week


As President Obama continues to ponder the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline (I’m sure it’s keeping him up at night!), this past week saw two significant spills of Alberta Tar Sands oil in the US.

The first spill occurred on Wednesday, March 27th.   Fourteen cars (of a 94-car train) left the tracks, dumping 30,000 gallons (120,000 liters) of the gooey stuff.  Apparently, tar sands bitumen shipment by rail has rapidly increased over the past three years as pipelines of the stuff are facing important public opposition.  Interestingly, according to Reuters, this was the first major spill of the “modern North American crude-by-rail transition boom”.  Makes you wonder: are pipelines really the safest way to move oil?  Or is it simply the fastest (and hence the most profitable)?

Train derailment.  Photo: Minesota Pollution Control Agency.

Train derailment. Photo: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The second spill occurred this past Friday, March 29th.  This time, an underground pipeline belonging to Exxon Mobil leaked 10,000 barrels (that’s 1,6 million liters!) in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.  As a result, 22 homes had to be evacuated.  The leaky pipeline can normally carry 90,000 barrels per day.  Keystone XL would carry almost nine times that amount.  Makes you wonder…

Cleaning up Tar Sands oil in Mayflower Arkansas.  Photo: Reuters.

Cleaning up Tar Sands oil in Mayflower Arkansas. Photo: Reuters.

On an a side note, all of this occurred the same week that Exxon was fined $1.7 million for a pipeline that leaked 42,000 gallons (160,000 liters) in the Yellowstone Rive in 2011.  This fine is pathetic in two ways.  First, it works out to only $40 per gallon!  Not bad considering the incalculable damage it must have done to the river ecosystem.  Second, $1.7 million is less than half an hour of profits for the oil giant.  So, we’ll call that a very week slap on the wrist.

For me, what all of this shows is that transporting oil, by which ever method you choose, is a dangerous process.  You could argue that if the fines for spills were heavier, companies would have a greater incentive to make the pipelines (and trains) safer.  However, as that is not likely to happen, we have to consider the fact that Tar Sands bitumen is not like other oils.  The fact that it is heavier than water makes it extremely difficult to clean up.  For proof of that, you only have to look to the state of Michigan.  People there are still cleaning up the Kalamazoo River where more than a million gallons (4 million liters) of bitumen spilled back in July of 2010!

Just one more reason why we should all be against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Reckoning With Canada’s Hidden Deficit


The following was written by Bill Wareham and published on the David Suzuki Foundation website. 

$100 dollar bill.  Image: Wilson Hui.

$100 dollar bill. Image: Wilson Hui.

It’s budget time, and we’re hearing a lot about deficits and declining economic growth. Like many Canadians, I’m worried that today’s federal budget is creating a hidden deficit that our children and grandchildren will have to pay for.

The March 21 federal budget cuts programs that protect nature. This lack of support for environmental programs is drawing down on our natural heritage. We might not have to pay now, but the long-term consequences are serious.

Canada is blessed with rich natural resources, an abundance of fresh water, bountiful farmland and oxygen-producing forests. But the 2013 focuses on how to exploit our natural heritage rather than sustain it.

Canadians expect every level of government to look after our collective wealth, whether it’s in education, transportation infrastructure or national defence. When it comes to collective wealth, there’s nothing more important than the elements we depend on and share the most: our air, water, soils and biodiversity. These shared elements are what Canadians expect their governments to watch over and safeguard.

Cuts to scientific monitoring cast doubt on whether we can make good decisions about our environmental wealth. If we don’t know what’s happening with fish populations, ocean acidity, rainfall and carbon emissions, how can we expect our governments to properly manage our most precious resources?

This hidden deficit is most obvious when it comes to protecting our coastal waters. Canada has the world’s longest coastline but is a laggard, not a leader, when it comes to protecting it. “Conservation actions are not keeping up with the increasing pressures faced by our oceans,” is how Scott Vaughan, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, bluntly put it.

What did government put in the budget to move forward the 20 proposed marine protected areas? A mere $4 million. The Green Budget Coalition, a respected umbrella group of environmental organizations, had suggested a minimum of $65 million to get these protection measures on the move.

It looks like the priorities of Commissioner Vaughan the Green Budget Coalition are not the same as the federal government’s.

However, there are priorities in the budget, including $57 million for “aquaculture renewal”, which in plain English means “help for fish farms”. Did the federal government forget about the findings of the Cohen Commission?

Even if this budget were only about protecting our economy, the choices are wrong-headed. “Conserving and protecting marine biodiversity is not solely an environmental priority…[the ocean] is intrinsic to the health and functioning of the world economy,” Commissioner Vaughan said. It’s not surprising that he also has an economic perspective on marine biodiversity. He is, after all, in the office of the auditor general of Canada.

Clearly, our magnificent and awe-inspiring blue planet has more value than any ledger can quantify, but even through the distorted lens of an economy-first perspective, safeguarding productive ecosystems must become part of the calculation when balancing a budget.