Monthly Archives: November 2017

Dear Premier Notley

It is our pleasure as British Columbians to welcome you to Vancouver this coming week. We understand you have come to our fair city to address the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on the merits of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline project.

We must apologize for our weather; it is a bit dark and damp at the moment. That’s Vancouver in November for you. Mind you, better to visit now than too far into the future when it is likely to be positively stormy from the effects of this annoying climate change that is going around. It would have been warmer and drier had you popped over during the summer, but then again that was a tad too hot and dry. From all the smoke that drifted over your way from B.C. this past July and August you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that 2017 brought us the largest total area burnt in a fire season in recorded history, the largest number of total evacuees in a fire season, and the largest single fire ever recorded in British Columbia. To say nothing of the costs incurred, which will be borne by the B.C. taxpayer. That’s jolly old climate change for you.

Now we are certain that the fine people down at Canada Place will give you a rousingly warm welcome and an enthusiastic response when you tout the many economic advantages of shoving yet more Alberta crude down the KM pipeline. After all, that’s what they know best – trade, jobs and profits.

But we really feel that you could be doing so much more with your valuable time here in southern B.C. You could be talking about the issues surrounding your pipeline that really matter with the local folks. Those would be the people most responsible for the current less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards Kinder Morgan in our fair city.

  • Like the Tseil-Waututh Nation who have lived directly across the Inlet from the Westridge Terminal for at least three millennia. The first things they now see in the morning and the last things at night are the loading platforms, the massive oil storage tanks and the endless stream of oil tankers coming in and going out.
  • Like the people who live in Westridge and on the slope of Burnaby Mountain who any day now could face fire and holocaust when the inevitable happens.
  • Like the hundreds of thousands of people who live in Vancouver (the 3rd most liveable city in the world according to The Economist) and who would have to contend with Aframax tankers crossing Burrard Inlet and English Bay as part of the daily scene, knowing that when the inevitable dilbit spills occur, not more than half can ever be recovered using the best available technologies.

However, we do realize that you are very busy these days and do not really have the time to dally in our fair city to have all the above conversations. So we would like to pose just one question to you as you dash by on your way to Canada Place. Our question is this:

You have proudly stated that Alberta’s plan on climate change is the cornerstone of Canada’s own climate initiative under the 2015 COP21 UN Climate Change agreement. You state further that Alberta’s contribution is to be based on a carbon tax, a cap on oil sands emissions, and a phase-out of coal-fired electricity in the province. We are with you one hundred percent on this. But how on earth does this square with the Kinder Morgan expansion, which will lead to the combustion of an additional 590,000 barrels of bitumen per day somewhere in Asia and the rest of world?

Yours truly,

Suzuki Elders

 

 

What’s in Your Sushi?

by  Patricia Plackett

A summary of a Suzuki Elder Salon held on 26 October 2017, Vancouver, B.C.

The salon was organized by:

Mel Bilko, David Clayton, Erzsi Institorisz, Yiman Jiang, Maria Kim, David Plackett, Patricia Plackett and Erlene Woollard.

Estimates suggest that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in oceans every year.  By 2050 it is projected that there could be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish; understandably, concerns about potential implications for all consumers of marine products are rapidly escalating.

This salon had two related goals – to give participants a deeper understanding of key issues associated with the growing amount of plastic in oceans and to provide them with a chance to discuss what they might do in their daily lives to contribute to solutions.

Four questions were addressed:

Question 1 – How big is the plastic in oceans problem?

Plastic is being used more and more widely because of its durability and other properties, often in rather surprising applications such as fleece jackets, shampoos and teabags. Currently, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and plastic debris has been documented in all marine environments – coastlines, open ocean, sea surface and sea floor as well as deep-sea sediments and Arctic sea ice.

How does plastic end up in the ocean?  —> https://youtu.be/GkV76AqUor4

Question 2 – How serious is the plastic in oceans problem?

Oceanic winds and currents create huge circular whirlpools of plastic – the so-called garbage patches or gyres – that adversely affect marine life. Analyses of marine bird and animal stomach contents reveal an assortment of plastic bottle caps, lighters and pieces of plastic as well as plastic bags. The increasingly small fragments into which oceanic plastic breaks – microplastics – can be mistaken for marine food and the much smaller nanoplastic particles may even cross into the cells of marine organisms and into the human food chain.

David Attenborough in Plastic Oceans film —> https://youtu.be/cX1T79ZKJqM

Question 3 – How much plastic is in seafood?

The marine food chain starts with phytoplankton and progresses up to large marine mammals such as orca whales. Although researchers have found plastic in the phytoplankton consumed by many sea creatures and also in fish and shellfish, they are still working to determine precisely how significantly plastic affects food safety and food security for human beings.

Microplastics entering the food chain —> https://youtu.be/Yu5Dw6rwZvE

Question 4 – Doesn’t recycling help solve the plastic in oceans problem?

Although recycling is becoming more widespread and effective, it is estimated that less than 5% of plastic produced is recycled. It is said that every piece of plastic ever made, regardless of its composition, will be with us forever in one form or another. A recycling plant tour suggests that rather large amounts of plastic intended to be recycled may end up in trash under current recycling practices.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle—> https://vimeo.com/127441759

What about solutions?

It has been argued that we rely far too heavily on plastic for a very wide range of applications and yet we value it so little that much of it ends up as trash, often after a single use. Consequently, the real focus in rethinking plastics should be on placing a much higher value on it, regarding it as treasure and not as trash.

Strategies could involve eliminating applications for which other suitable options exist and also making waste plastic more recyclable into new products as well as adopting Zero Waste Lifestyles that reduce consumer needs for plastic packaging and plastic products.

Inspirational examples demonstrate some progress in finding solutions. Vancouver’s Nada, a zero-waste grocery store, and The Soap Dispensary, the city’s first dedicated refill shop, eliminate the need for plastic packaging. Some local communities have engaged in plastic waste reduction as in the case of Tofino where an exceptionally successful campaign focused on ridding local businesses of plastic straws and providing paper ones only upon request. Globally, there are various examples of products in which plastic has been replaced by other materials such as bagasse in tableware and seaweed in edible sachets and wrappers.

The solutions discussed in each of the salon discussion groups and those proposed at the end of the salon will be presented in subsequent posts on the ReThinking Plastic series on this website. Challenges will also be posted for those wishing to continue learning about the complex problem of plastic in oceans.

As we think about solutions that will reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans, let us remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “We are continually faced with great opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.

We welcome your views. Please share your thoughts under the Leave a comment heading (at the bottom of this post). Watch for related posts on this theme in the coming weeks and months.

 

 

Back to the future, kids

by Stan Hirst

Permit me to introduce the apples of my eye – my grandkids.

They’re Canadians, so naturally there is one boy and one girl. I use the term ‘Canadians’ somewhat collectively, since a quick review of their family trees shows ancestors from 10 known genetic ancestries. Plus, there is a bit of Neanderthal in there as well, according to DNA analysis.

They do well at school. They can play the piano, ride bicycles, swim, cross-country ski, play soccer, fiddle with anything that has dials, knobs and switches or goes beep, and they frequently aggravate their parents. Totally normal, well-balanced kids. Take after their grandfather in every respect, except for the piano bit. I’m proud of them.

But I am deeply concerned for them. Not as kids, mind you. They’re well supervised, guided and taught. No, my concerns are for them as the grown-ups which they one day will be, and for the situation in which they will find themselves in as they enter maturity and have to fend for their own children in this rapidly changing world of ours.

What will their world look like? I don’t own a crystal ball, but Big Think, an internet portal set up in 2007 to cogitate and debate on such things, has ventured a variety of prognostications which at least give me a good impression of whither goest my kith and kin.

By mid-century there will likely be 9 billion people on our planet, consuming ever more resources and leading ever more technologically complex lives. According to the futurists the majority of these people will live in urban areas and will have a significantly higher average age than people of today. My unfortunate middle-aged grand-kids and their offspring will, figuratively speaking, be immersed in a great sea of cranky old elders like me. Nothing new for them then, just more of the same. I’m betting that medical science, despite its ever-accelerating rate of discovery and innovation, will not have eliminated ageing and its unwanted attendant afflictions such as mental illness.

The kids are tech savvy now (8-year-olds with their own e-mail addresses!?), so as adults they will merge seamlessly with the pervasive and highly interconnected networks of the future. They and their children will spend their whole existence immersed in overlain and interacting smart grids running every detail of their lives. Their homes and they themselves, via their Apple 1105’s, will be multi-linked to energy, information and resource distribution systems which will provide their every need and requirement. Well, almost every need – they’ll still have to open their own boxes of Choco Pops.

Their work environments will be similarly completely multi-linked. There are drones zooming around the countryside now delivering parcels, so a few decades hence will almost certainly see offices and industrial plants linked worldwide on a real-time basis. Grandson engineer in Calgary, he of Lego renown, will design a supermod skyscraper, transmit a few million specs to a company in Guangzhou who will set up the production contract and eventually build the modular monstrosity in Kyrgyzstan.

Granddaughter neurosurgeon, who as a 6-year old once expressed the concern that “people don’t have very good brains” will sit in her plush (pink?) workspace in Vancouver, surrounded by consoles and sensors which watch her hands and eyes. On the monitor she will see, in crystal-clear resolution, the shaved head of her tranquilized patient in Mombasa, Kenya, 15,000km away. She will also see the many electronic instruments and strobes positioned around her patient, all of which are controlled by the switches, buttons and mice on the console in Vancouver. In 6 minutes she will scan the patient’s brain, detect the lesion, analyze it, transmit the diagnosis to the resident surgeon in the Mombasa hospital, bombard it remotely with iomega waves, check the patient’s responses, transmit a report to the printer in the hospital admin office in Mombasa, wave goodbye to the theatre staff, and sign off. All in a day’s work.

My grandkids might be well equipped for the future, but I can’t say the same for the country I’m leaving behind for them. The Canada we know now is already a land of extremes, from freezing cold to searing heat, from drenching rain to parched drought. We all know what climate variation is like now, but the change forecasts from climate scientists suggest that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It will certainly be warmer by mid-century – a country summer average of about 20C higher. Wetter too, by an average about 5%. However, averages are statistical devices to summarize large amounts of data and can be misleading. Climate change will feed into Canada’s already considerable natural variability and won’t do anything to smooth the fluctuations out. In effect, the likelihood of droughts or more wet periods in whatever region my kids choose to live will certainly be quite different to what they now know.

The additional rain is unlikely to fall as gentle spring showers, much more likely as great flooding downpours or winter rains that drain away before they can nourish crops. In Saskatchewan where the other grandparents in the family tree once resided and farmed, the amount of water that falls as snow has already declined by 50 per cent. The number of multi-day rains has increased by the same amount. These trends will very likely continue, but ironically prairie crops will not benefit from the longer growing seasons because the precipitation gains will be offset by higher temperatures and higher evaporation.

The mild winters will allow mountain pine beetles to survive and infest forests in western Canada, killing trees and turning parched and overheated trees into tinder boxes. Wildfire seasons already begin weeks before they used to. In the Northwest Territories, where temperatures are climbing at a rate faster than almost anywhere on earth, the 2014 fire season set a record of 3.4 million hectares of scorched forest. In the earlier part of 2017, B.C. experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, with 894,491 hectares burned by 1029 recorded fires at a cost of $316 million. It’s a tad mind-numbing to project such figures to the time when the next generations have to deal with, and pay for, the ongoing consequences of climate change caused by their grandparents.

This is a dynamic that will be seen more frequently across the country in coming decades – financial benefits for some and devastating losses for others. A warmer climate and longer growing season may benefit crops such as corn, soybeans, forage and horticultural crops in eastern Canada, but the same climatic pattern could be calamitous for southern regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where food production already takes place in a semi-arid climate.

Western Canada may still look a lot like the country that the kids’ pioneering forefathers called home, but the ecological boundaries will shift. By 2050 extensive areas of the boreal forest’s southern fringe will have converted to prairie. Drought-prone spruce will be lost first, followed by pines and then aspen, to be replaced by prairie grassland. There will no more glaciers in the Rocky Mountains and in the coastal ranges.

Along the Pacific coast fishery catches will decline by an estimated 4 – 10% by 2050. Wild Pacific salmon hauls are calculated to drop by an estimated 20-30%. Not all the prognostications are negative – west coast fishermen can expect more pacific sardines and clams. Over on the Atlantic side catches are expected to increase, but fishermen will have to sail further north to find them. Commercial fisheries could also open in an ice-free Arctic Ocean with catches of turbot, Arctic cod and Arctic char. It has yet to be estimated if these fisheries will be sustainable in the long-term.

Some climate change forecasters see many positives in Canada’s future. Melting ice in the Arctic will open up shipping routes in the Arctic Ocean, significantly reducing the time and cost of international trade. Changing ecological conditions could bring more fish into the Arctic Ocean and into the northern reaches of the Pacific and Atlantic. The implications are that global trade in and out of Canada could triple, while the economic value of the planet’s oceans could to trillions of dollars.

Canada currently has access to more than 20 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves – a resource that will be more valuable than gold over coming decades. Climate change will impact those reserves by eliminating glaciers and altering precipitation but, compared to the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and the southwestern USA, we’ll still have an advantage. The challenge will be defending our fresh water from others, especially the Americans.

Countries that are already struggling economically are going to be severely pummeled in the next decades. Drought may set off more civil wars in Africa. Entire cities and regions of the Middle East might become too physically hot to survive in. National income declines of 80 to 90% compared to growth scenarios without climate change could become common across the developing world.

Canada – the true North strong and free – has always been an open country in all senses of the word. It has been especially welcoming to immigrants, as the kids’ own family trees attest. It will become even more attractive to outsiders a few decades from now. A lot of these immigrants will come from south of the border as Americans are driven from their homes by flooded coasts, storm-ravaged cities and deluged or drought-stricken prairies. Some U.S. immigrants may seek alternatives to an increasingly violent and erratic governmental system in their own country.

Other waves of immigrants will show up in Canadian cities from Asia, Africa and the middle East as the internecine strife and wars so prevalent now in those areas becomes worse with burgeoning populations and diminishing water and agricultural land resources. Huge waves of future immigrants and refugees will certainly strain the tolerance for which Canada is so famous. As regions and countries across the planet collapse, millions of refugees and other migrants will head north. Future governments will inevitably attempt to admit only the most skilled or in-need migrants; the country’s population could swell to 100 million people as a result. The most likely situation is that many migrants will be turned away, and Canada’s land borders could become militarized with drones and gunboats patrolling our shores.

I frankly doubt my grandkids will wind up as fishermen, foresters or firefighters, so will heavy rains, severe droughts, burgeoning bark beetles and burning forests make any difference to them? Without any doubt – a resounding yes. Everything is connected, especially when the ecosystem components and resources undergoing the changes are the lifeblood and economic underpinnings of their society. There are very few items in the list of resources they will need or seek out in their future that will not, in some way, be impacted by climate and population changes. Just as now, and even if they’re living in some super condo in some or other supercity, their essential food supplies derived from land-based agricultural crops and farmed livestock, or from marine-based fisheries and seafood sources, or from freshwater-sourced crops and fisheries, will always be totally dependent on favourable climates and on adequate supplies of fresh water.

Am I justified in being concerned for my grandkids as they go into the future? Its hard not to be concerned, that’s what you sign up for when you become a grandfather. Need I be concerned? Surprisingly, I don’t really think so. They are being given love, support, encouragement, education and motivation in spades now. I think they will be as prepared as any for the changed world they will inherit.

There is one more factor in their favour – those 10 ancestries buried in their DNA. In the murky entwining of their genetic heritage are Dutch, English and Asian ancestors who journeyed centuries ago in rickety sailboats from the far reaches of the world to Africa to establish homes, farm the land, and dig for diamonds. Their ancestry includes grannies and granddads from central Europe and Scandinavia who hauled themselves halfway around the world to establish farms and entrench their families on pristine Canadian prairies.

So will the kids make it in the new world coming?

Hell, yes.