Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Washington, DC to host biggest climate rally in U.S. history on Feb. 17

While we Canadians protest the creation or expansion of pipelines, fracking, and liquid natural gas facilities, U.S. activists are planning the biggest climate rally in their nation’s history.


Thousands will gather this Sunday, Feb. 17, at the National Mall in Washington, DC to demand strong governmental action in response to climate change. They want to stop expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline and are targeting Canada—home to the ever-growing Alberta tar sands—as one of our planet’s worst polluters. (The rally is to be held from noon to 4 p.m. Participants are asked to gather by 11:30 a.m. at the northeast corner of the Washington Monument.)


To think that Canada was once a global environmental leader. . . Now, thanks to prime minister Stephen Harper and his pro-oil cronies and deals, Canada is one of the top 10 polluting nations in the world. But thankfully, more people in Canada and the U.S. are waking up to the deadly results that high-carbon-emission industrial activity is having. The resulting ozone depletion and sea-level rise has brought the impact of climate change into people’s homes and neighbourhoods. They’re suffering extreme conditions like Superstorm Sandy, devastating wildfires, drought, floods, and wildly fluctuating temperatures. Friends, neighbours, and family are dying.


What will it take before climate change becomes a higher priority than the economy? How long will it take for politicians at all levels to see that the destruction and clean-up costs involved with cataclysmic weather due to climate change will drain our economy?


Obama gets it. Harper sure doesn’t.


Recent data shows that more than three-quarters of Americans want government action on climate change. They’re demanding strong climate action from president Obama, who delayed the Keystone XL expansion, but still has made no commitment to an environmental agenda over an economic one. Yes, he sounded promising in his second inaugural address, but still needs to back up his words with concrete changes that make the environment a priority: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations . . . [N]o one can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”*


Here in Canada, 61 per cent of respondents in an Ipsos Reid poll in December 2012 said that they think the Harper government is doing a poor job of protecting the environment. Besides Harper’s two recent omnibus bills, which eliminate or hobble any laws that protect species, habitat, and waterways, the Keystone XL project blatantly shows the prime minister’s willingness to forego the well-being of future generations, today’s public, and the environment, for the sake of economic development at any cost.


“It’s the [federal] government’s plan to annihilate our lands and our future,” says Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta. After hearing of the federal government’s plan to balance tar sands production with environmental protection, Adam said: “There are no commitments to our people and no protection of our lands and rights. We thought we were working towards a partnership with this government, but this plan does not reflect that.” 


Please spread the word about Sunday’s rally. Check out #forwardonclimate on Twitter and Forward on Climate for more information.

* In his State of the Union speech tonight, Obama confirmed: “We must do more on climate change.” He challenged Congress that in this area, he will follow science and “act before it’s too late.” He announced that he’s seeking a “bi-partisan, market-based solution” to climate change. But what will that look like in the U.S.? Obama sounds as if he’s trying to appease both business and environmentalists. He wants to speed up the permit process for oil and gas exploration and he supports natural gas; that’s all old-paradigm stuff. At the same time, he wants to hasten the transition to more sustainable types of energy like wind power. He supports new research into alternative energy that will get vehicles off oil for good.

I’ll be curious to see how this vision unfolds. It sounds as if Obama is willing to make executive decisions to move forward on climate change, even if Congress tries to block any initiatives. He needs support for that.

, , , , , , ,
February 12, 2013 at 5:02 pm Comments (0)

See Chasing Ice: Wake up, global-warming skeptics!

Anyone who thinks that human activity and industry have little or no impact on global warming needs to see the astounding 2012 documentary Chasing Ice. (This movie was screened last week at The Heritage Theatre in Gibsons, BC as part of the Sunshine Coast’s excellent Green Films series.)


National Geographic nature photographer James Balog, a former geologist who was himself a skeptic about climate change, uses truly disturbing Arctic footage to prove how quickly the world’s glaciers are indeed receding. With the help of young male assistants, some of whom have never even worn crampons, he sets up Nikon time-lapse cameras in Arctic glacial fields in places such as Iceland and Greenland and checks them after a six-month interval.


What he discovers surprises even him. When he initially holds up a photo taken a half-year earlier of a glacial landscape that stretches in front of him, he thinks that he must be looking at a different location. He can’t believe how much ice has disappeared in such a short time. But when he rechecks the contours, he confirms that yes, it is the same spot.


As part of his self-created Extreme Ice Survey, Balog crawls onto high, fragile ice shelves to shoot straight into a crevasse. He ropes himself to the shoreline while taking stills of glacier-fed waves smashing onto ice floes. He scales and belays down steep walls of ice, all the while in pain from a much-operated-on knee which doctors say he shouldn’t even be walking on. His eldest daughter says she’s never seen her father so passionate about any project.


The most visceral scenes, besides Balog’s own stunning imagery of glaciers and Arctic ice, are the outlines on a topographical diagram that carve out how much polar ice has disappeared in the last 10 years, compared to the previous century. After managing to film one ice peninsula, the length of five football fields, breaking off, Balog is inspired to capture the same activity at one of the world’s largest glaciers in the Arctic.


He assigns two young assistants, stranded amidst frozen oblivion for two weeks, to keep a camera trained on this glacier. Sadly for us and the planet, and yet fortuitously for the filmmakers, the monumental wall of ice, higher and far bigger than the entire Manhattan skyline, rises up 600 feet, turns on its side, and “calves” (breaks) off. The process takes an hour.


I think that this remarkable, 75-minute documentary should be required viewing in all schools and workplaces.

With multi-festival awards from Sundance and Telluride to Hot Docs, it offers beautiful cinematography by director/co-producer Jeff Orlowski. Editor Davis Coombe does an excellent job of weaving together Balog’s stills with his indoor public appearances and footage from helicopters, dogsled and canoe. Both writer Mark Monroe and co-producer Paula Du Pre Pesmen, repeat their respective roles from the Academy-award-winning documentary The Cove about the slaughter of dolphins.


Some critics charge that Chasing Ice is more emotion than science, but researchers interviewed in the film confirm Balog’s findings. The documentary doesn’t give a platform to the political naysayers who dismiss global warming, yet its website provides a list of top 10 questions that people ask about climate change. The site also provides the resource skepticalscience.com.


Meanwhile, veteran Arctic researcher David Barber, director of the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, warns that North Pole ice, which used to be considered impenetrable, is now more like Swiss cheese. When he first visited the Arctic in the 1980s, the ice there usually receded only about a few kilometres offshore by the end of the summer. Today, he must travel more than 1,000 kilometres north into the Beaufort Sea to even find the ice.


James Hansen, a climate scientist with NASA, says: “The scientific community realizes that we have a planetary emergency.” Peter Wadhams, one of the world’s top ice experts from Cambridge University, told The Guardian this month that Arctic sea ice will collapse within four years (in the summer months), calling this “a global disaster.”


Here in British Columbia, the Sierra Club recently announced that the province’s 2010 carbon emissions are four times higher than those reported by the provincial government last June. The B.C. Liberals stated then that 2010 emissions had dropped by 4.5 percent to 62 million tonnes. But the Sierra Club report “Emissions Impossible?” reveals that these emissions total more than 250 million tonnes, when emissions from fossil fuel exports and forests are included. Click here to read more at Sierra Club BC.

What can you do? Stay informed. Ask how your lifestyle and purchasing choices affect global warming. Join groups such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org and support the ones that are educators and advocates for the planet, including scientists and politicians.

Join with like-minded others. Calculate your ecological footprint. Drive less or not at all. Walk and bike.

, , , , , , , ,
September 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm Comments (2)