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Premiers' energy strategy doesn't go far enough

Science Matters | July 23, 2015 | Leave a comment
Photo: Premiers' energy strategy doesn't go far enough

(Credit: Kris Krug via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation's Senior Editor Ian Hanington

On July 15, a state-of-the-art new pipeline near Fort McMurray, Alberta, ruptured, spilling five million litres of bitumen, sand and waste water over 16,000 square metres — one of the largest pipeline oil spills in Canadian history. Two days later, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Montana, spilling 160,000 litres and forcing evacuation of nearby homes.

At the same time, while forest fires raged across large swathes of Western Canada — thanks to hotter, dryer conditions and longer fire seasons driven in part by climate change — Canadian premiers met in St. John's, Newfoundland, to release their national energy strategy.

The premiers' Canadian Energy Strategy focuses on energy conservation and efficiency, clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. But details are vague and there's no sense of urgency. We need a response like the U.S. reaction to Pearl Harbor or the Soviet Sputnik launch!

The premiers seemingly want it both ways. Despite its call to "Build on the ongoing efforts of individuals, businesses, governments and others to improve energy efficiency, lower the carbon footprint, and improve understanding of energy in Canada," the strategy promotes fossil fuel business as usual, including expanded pipeline, oil sands and liquefied natural gas development, including more fracking.

The premiers' plan is a non-binding framework, described as a "flexible, living document that will further enable provinces and territories to move forward and collaborate on common energy-related interests according to their unique strengths, challenges and priorities." It doesn't include specifics on how to revamp our energy production and distribution systems, but buys time until the next elections roll around.

Although the language about climate change and clean energy is important, the strategy remains stuck in the fossil fuel era. As Climate Action Network Canada executive director Louise Comeau said in a news release, "Governments discriminate against smoking and toxics in food and consumer products. What's needed now is discriminatory policy against fossil fuels if we are going to drastically reduce the carbon pollution putting our health and well-being at risk."

Fossil fuel development has spurred economic development, created jobs and provided many other benefits, but the risks now outweigh those benefits. The costs in dollars and lives of pollution, habitat and wildlife degradation, pipeline and railcar spills, and climate change — all getting worse as populations grow, energy needs increase and fossil fuel reserves become increasingly scarce and difficult to exploit — have become unsustainable.

Even job creation is no longer a reason to continue our mad rush to expand development and export of oil sands bitumen, fracked gas and coal. Many fossil fuel reserves are now seen as stranded assets that will continue to decline in value as the world shifts to clean energy and the scramble to exploit resources gluts the market. The Climate Action Network points out that Clean Energy Canada's 2015 report on renewable energy trends showed that "global investors moved USD$295 billion in 2014 into renewable energy-generation projects — an increase of 17 percent over 2013."

Yet, many of our leaders are still pinning their hopes on rapid oil sands expansion, massive increases in fracking for liquefied natural gas and new and expanded pipelines across the country — with benefits flowing more to industry than citizens.

It's refreshing to see provincial premiers at least recognizing the threat of climate change and the need to address it through conservation, efficiency and clean technology, but we need a far greater shift to keep the problems we've created from getting worse. There are many benefits to doing so, including more and better jobs, a stronger economy, healthier citizens and reduced health-care costs, and greater preservation of our rich natural heritage.

The recent spate of pipeline and railcar oil spills, along with disasters like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, are the result of rapid expansion of fossil fuel development, as industry and governments race to get the dirty products to market before demand dries up.

Canada's premiers should take these issues seriously and commit to a faster shift from fossil fuels as they continue to develop their energy strategy. They must also stress the importance of having similar, stronger action from the federal government — and so should we all.

How to get your yard off grass

Queen of Green | July 21, 2015 | 7 comments
Photo: How to get your yard off grass

Bumblebees, native bees and butterflies love lavender. And it's deer resistant! (Credit: David Zeni)

Lawn history is rooted in wealth and status.

In 17th century England, only rich landowners had lawns (a monoculture of short, manicured grass). Work once done by sheep increasingly shifted to human labour, especially closer to the house. Before lawnmowers, only a few could afford to hire people to scythe and weed their grass.

Lawn's purpose? Purely decorative.

Given today's reality...

  • Water shortages
  • The health benefits of digging in dirt
  • Our passion for clean, local food
  • A desire to waste less
  • How busy we say we are
  • No need to show how much money you make

...I think society is ready to question, even ditch, the lawn habit.

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Is the climate crisis creating a global consciousness shift?

Science Matters | July 16, 2015 | 2 comments
Photo: Is the climate crisis creating a global consciousness shift?

(Credit: Nattu via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation's Senior Editor Ian Hanington

When an assassin killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, no one called it the start of the First World War. That happened years later, after the implications, consequences and scale of the response could be assessed. It's often the way. That's why historians are important; they put events in context.

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Salmon: The latest casualties of climate change

Healthy Oceans | July 15, 2015 | Leave a comment
Photo: Salmon: The latest casualties of climate change

(Photo credit: Jeffery Young)

Guest blog by Mark Angelo, a river conservationist, writer, teacher and paddler who founded B.C. Rivers Day and World Rivers Day

The long stretch of hot, dry weather in B.C. this summer is great for outdoor recreation. It's not so good, however, for local streams and the wildlife they support. I've spent lots of time in creeks close to my home in Burnaby in Metro Vancouver lately and I've never seen water levels so low this early in the summer. We're already seeing conditions in many creeks that you would normally expect to see in late August.

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Premiers going in one direction on climate action, the world in another

Photo: Premiers going in one direction on climate action, the world in another

By Gideon Forman, Climate Change and Transportation Policy Analyst

If Canada's premiers sign an agreement this week to speed up oil sands pipelines they will be out of step with much of the world, which is now recognizing the need for unprecedented action on climate through a phase-out of fossil fuels. They will be giving a green light to the expansion of dirty, expensive bitumen projects and squandering a moment, perhaps unique, of extraordinary hope and possibility.

While the World Bank, G7, and International Energy Agency have expressed concern about climate, the last few weeks have seen the emergence of developments that are more impressive still.

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A look at North America's first regulatory restrictions on bee-killing pesticides

Photo: A look at North America's first regulatory restrictions on bee-killing pesticides

Happy Canada Day! Welcome North America's first neonic regulations. (Credit: Duncan Rawlinson via Flickr)

Ontario's ground-breaking regulatory restrictions on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides took effect July 1, 2015. Many David Suzuki Foundation supporters have written to us asking about the nitty gritty details. Let's take a closer look at what the new rules mean for Ontario and the rest of the country.

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How to conserve water

Queen of Green | July 9, 2015 | 11 comments
Photo: How to conserve water

A brown lawn isn't dead, just dormant (like a bear in winter). (Credit: Cindee Snider via Flickr)

It's hot. Many provinces are in flames and there's a water shortage.

Now, for the bad news: Our households consume about 340 litres of water per day. And the thirstiest culprit is your toilet, followed by laundry, faucets, showers and leaks.

This is not a problem of the week or this summer. This is what lies ahead.

Five water-saving habits inside your home (in order of impact)

Flush less

"If it's yellow, let it mellow..." is the two-part jingle. But what about all the other times?

  • Don't flush tissue or toilet paper each time you blow your nose. Switch to hankies (see laundering tip below).
  • Stop flushing the unflushables like baby wipes, floss and hair. Don't treat your toilet like a garbage can.
  • Install low-flow toilet(s). Old toilets use about 12 litres; low flow will cut that in half.
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