Geo-Engineering discussed at the UN

Here’s an article about how the idea of geo-engineering went over at the UN today… I guess the delegates had the same concerns we had.

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Rubric for Briefing Papers

The third assignment for the course is to write a succinct briefing for a (real!) politician on a specific policy issue related to climate change. You’ll need to pick a specific politician (e.g. a city councillor, mayor, MPP, MP, PM, foreign leader, etc), and a specific issue that you want to address. Your briefing will need to summarize the science, and then use it to argue for a specific action (something that is in that politician’s power to do).

Writing a briefing paper is hard because politicians rarely have time to read about anything in depth. The challenge here is to do it all in a 2-page briefing paper.

Here’s a suggested rubric. Feel free to suggest improvements to the rubric through the comments section.


  •  Did you clearly identify which politician you are writing for?
  •  Is the issue you’re writing about within the remit of that politician?
  •  Is this politician the right person to take action on this issue?


  •  Is it clear what issue you’re writing about?
  •  Does your paper explain what the issue is?
  •  Does your paper explain why it’s important?
  •  Is your argument for its importance convincing?


  • Does the paper have a suitable introduction and conclusion?
  • Does the body of the paper follow a logical argument?
  • Is the argument supported with appropriate facts/references?
  • Are the facts you present relevant to the purpose of the paper?
  • Do the facts you present build upon one another in a logical way?


  • Do you cover what the science has to say about this issue?
  • Do you address the ethical / moral issues?
  • Do you address broader societal implications?


  • Does your paper make a clear recommendation for action?
  • Is the chosen action an appropriate one for the issue and the politician you are targeting?
  • Does the recommendation follow from the evidence you have presented?
  • Does your paper explain why this recommendation is better than the alternatives?


  • Is the paper easy to read?
  • Does it engage the reader?
  • Is it concise (straight to the point, focussed, right level of detail)?
  • Does it use appropriate formatting, grammar, spelling?

Overall impression

  • Would the reader feel well-informed after reading this paper?
  • Would the reader be convinced the recommended action is necessary?
  • Would the reader be able to convince her constituents that this action is necessary?

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Bloomberg Businessweek magazine-Climate Change

As Professor Steve stated, Hurricane Sandy clearly highlights the effect of climate change. Without climate change as a factor, this storm would not have been as destructive. I personally thought this article from Bloomberg’s Business section discusses this relationship effectively.

Bloomberg Businessweek magazine cover

Bloomberg Businessweek magazine cover- November 2012s relationship thoroughly and effectively

This article can be read here :

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Al Gore on Sandy

Former Vice-President of the United States, Al Gore has released a statement on his official blog regarding Hurricane Sandy and his views on how climate change may have had an effect on it. Gore states that Sandy was  “strengthened by the climate crisis” And adds that “As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful.” Perhaps through arguing that climate change has such effects on natural disasters, perhaps the government will take more action on sustainability and the reduction of greenhouse gasses to prevent the growth of already chaotic natural disasters.

What are your thoughts on Al Gore’s statement? Do you believe in the impact that climate change causes to natural disasters such as Sandy?

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[Final] Long Distance Problems, or how the melting Arctic affects far more people we think

Today, it seems that news we hear about the environment is always concerning the local/ national climate. So here in Canada, the news is primarily about the arctic and its rapid deterioration, or what Canada does about it in the international stage (Kyoto Protocol, etc). This results in an apathy and disinterest for foreign environmental topics. For example, a farmer in the middle of Kansas would not have much concern for the the melting polar ice caps compared to a Canadian or northern European. Unfortunately just like the economy, what ever happens in the other side of the world, will eventually affect the other.

Events happening as far the Arctic can have a profound effect on places far from it. Going back to the example of the farmer in Kansas, he right now along with much of North America is suffering from the effects of a severe drought which is theorized by scientists as being prolonged by the melting of the arctic ice caps. As snow coverage in the Arctic diminishes especially in the summer months this apparently has detrimental effects to climate south of it.

Northern Hemisphere snow coverage during the summer months between 1967-2012

The scientists theorizes that as a result of fewer and fewer snow cover in the arctic during the summer months results in more heat being retained, which in turn results in a dramatically altered jet stream which leads to midsummer weather patterns in the middle latitudes to continue longer than expected. As a result weather in the fall is much warmer and drier than usual.The hypothesis is still to be fully proven by scientists for they they are still debating whether the warming in the arctic is caused by humans or is natural, but based on the evidence so far both the drought and the warming of the arctic have shown some link between each other.

Besides affecting North American climate, the melting of the Arctic ice has also been theorized to have extreme consequences in Europe. As a result of the melting ice, the jet stream is slowed and as a result weather conditions tend to linger, leading to far more extreme ranges of temperature, which in Europe’s case is longer more colder winters. Whenever Arctic sea ice levels are low, Northern Europe in particular suffers from severe winters like in 2007 and 2011.

In the age of globalization, one must learn about what is happening beyond his/her local domain. This can be done by reading/watching/listening to more international news, while at the same time the media should give more coverage . The apathy for non-local(national) environmental problems is something that should be eliminated, for long distance problems have a way of finding a way to affect those far from it.

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Rating the Green (Done!)

In recent years, it’s become something of a trend for consumers to buy the “greener” choice. These days, there are a whole lot of products labeled “biodegradable” and “environmentally-friendly”. Everyone from automobile companies to clothing companies to fashion designers to junk food companies (think Sun Chips) have jumped on board the metaphorical greenmobile (obviously, it’s an electric car. Or maybe a hydrogen-burning mobile?). After all, green is the new black.

And not only is green trendy, it generates profits. Take a look at this video of Walmart Corporate Affairs EVP Leslie Dach talking about how going green was good for their bottom line. Because they were able to work with their manufacturers to save during the production stage, they subsequently able to pass on some of those savings to Walmart customers. They’re not alone; many other companies, like Unilever, have discovered the same thing. This begs the question why green products are, in many cases, more expensive than their normal product evil twins, but that’s an issue for another blog post.

Going green may be good and well for the companies involved, but this now creates a bit of a dilemma for your average consumer: How are we to navigate through the mountains of supposedly “green” products to find the truly good? The answer to this question seemed to be rating systems. After all, cars have safety ratings, books and papers get reviewed, so it seemed almost natural to create some sort of rating system for products and how green they are; but be careful what you wish for because you may be bombarded with it.

Instead of two or three simple rating systems we got a mountain. Some, like EnergyStar or Ecologo, are government-backed rating programs; others, like GoodGuide, were started by concerned private citizens. They rate just about everything, from electronics to makeup products to toilet paper, either as a certification that a product is “green” or a numerical rating generally from 1 to 10. “Well ok,” you say, “so we got a little more than we bargained for. It’s just a little more information to sort through right?” Surprisingly, no. EnergyStar only rates electronics and household appliances, which is great when you want to get a new washing machine but not when you’re wondering if those pants you just threw in are sustainable. Ecologo, while comprehensive, enjoys categorizing a little too much (what’s an enzymatic cleaner?) and it’s more likely than not that your favourite conditioner didn’t make the cut – there’s only 6 bottles from 2 brands listed. Plus, I could only recognize a handful of brands while scrolling down their manufacturers list. GoodGuide, due to its numerical rating system, can serve as a warning system against eco-unfriendly products too, but a private ranking system can only cover so many products (they have rated around roughly 160,000 products). So, even though these three are very prominent (and pretty big) ranking systems, it was rather hard to find overlaps to check ranking consistency. It would be nice if someone could just make an all-inclusive green ranking list, the good, the bad, and the downright dirty.

Well, Walmart apparently heard the call. In July of 2009, Walmart announced a green rating program initiative for its stores. The program was to be an extensive research and rating program, covering any and all products it has on its shelves (which is pretty much everything). The plan was to go to all the companies Walmart sold products from, ask them for their production emission numbers for their products (assuming they would just give it to them), and rank the products based on the emission numbers.They would then display the rankings on its shelves to inform consumers about whether or not they were making a “green” choice. It is now 2012  and there has been no sign of this initiative. Why? Mainly because Walmart was a little too ambitious in creating this program. As CNN’s Paul Keegan explains, the problem lies within the fact that a product will still have an impact on the environment, no matter how little. Determining how these different emissions should be weighted is more than just a little tricky. Should carbon emissions (found in the highest concentrations in the atmosphere) be weighted more heavily than methane? Or is perhaps methane gas emissions worse because it’s smelly (and more powerful than CO2)? Or should energy use trump all?

The entire rating trend also brings up another issue in the form of bad publicity for the companies that are unfortunately labelled as not “green”. Who would offer up their numbers on emissions if they knew they were going to be hit with an environmental scarlet letter? Certainly not Apple, which is why they attempted to quietly withdrew themselves from the EPEAT (Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool) product registry when they released the new Macbook Pro, which comes with glued in batteries unsuitable for recycling. However, due to pressure from their customers and environmental groups, they’ve re-added themselves back to the registry. Now the problem is between Greenpeace and the EPEAT. When Apple rejoined the EPEAT, the new Macbook Pro was declared “green”, despite the battery problem. Greenpeace is now accusing the EPEAT of “bending the rules” for the Macbook and “setting a dangerous trend” for other green consumer product rating systems.

In essence, the problem is that with the reward of a label of being “green” (and subsequently consumers’ approval) comes the incentive to cheat. Like how brownies drastically affected our class fishing industry, just about every industry that exists right now is being affected by the green movement. For them, they don’t win brownies; they win in money, the greatest incentive for corporations to cheat. Greenwashed products (false claims of being environmentally-friendly) have become alarmingly common; for instance this study by CBC’s Marketplace showed how even some of our favourite household products are greenwashed. On GoodGuide, all the Dawn products listed have an environmental rating of 6.2, which is in the good range, despite the fact that Marketplace claims one of its ingredients is under heavy attack by environmental groups who want it banned. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Dawn’s environmental track record on GoodGuide is actually far from golden, but if a consumer wasn’t terribly concerned about the ranking details, they would have had the green light from a trustworthy ranking system.

At the end of the day, I do sincerely believe that the rating systems were a step in the right direction. Though there are many things wrong with the ranking systems, at least they created some more incentive for companies to be green. However,  I don’t think these ranking systems are the best answer to getting companies to be more green. While I would love to suggest strict government regulation and heavy legal penalties to be passed to eliminate “greenwashing”, I don’t think it’s a very realistic solution. The conclusion that I’ve come to is perhaps the most troublesome of all; I think the responsibility is on consumers to check on the companies and how they’re doing. I don’t just mean checking rating systems, though it is a good first step. I think we should keep our eyes and ears open and demand greener and greener products until emissions can reach 0 (or as close to it as we can get). After all, consumers hold the biggest sway over large corporations. If we don’t buy their products, they have no raison d’etre. It may sound impossible, but as the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”; and we better have a will, because our planet depends on it.

Rating guides to check out if you’re interested:
Nat’l Geo green guide
Eco Index

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You’re from Canada, eh?

(Final Version)

Once a person finds out you’re Canadian, a picture appears in their mind. A vision of polar bears as pets, igloos as houses and maple syrup covering every meal immediately appears. For future generations however, a new image will overpower the rest: one having Canadians as money hungry, oil filled, environmental threats. This new image is quite a change from the proactive, earth friendly Canada the world knew two decades ago. And who can Canadians thank for this shift in environmental protection? The federal government of course.

Although the current federal conservative government isn’t fully to blame, the recent dramatic cuts of both money and jobs in the environmental department overshadow the lackluster performance of the former Liberal government. Under the previous government, Canada was ranked 28 of 30 countries for green initiatives in a 2005 study done by Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki’s foundation. While agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below the 1990 levels by signing the Kyoto Protocol, they instead allowed Canada’s emissions to increase 20% by 2005.
With a new year, came a new government. Conservative Stephen Harper was elected as Prime Minister in 2006. With this came the beginning of the end of environmental protection in Canada as we knew it.

In the six years Prime Minister Harper has been the leader of Canada, 200 million dollars has been cut from both environmental research and monitoring, the number of review agencies for projects has been severely decreased (only three exist today), over 700 Environment Canada jobs have been cut and most recently, Canada has withdrawn from the legally binding Kyoto Protocol. The reason given for these drastic reductions in environmental protection is of course, the economy. The propaganda explains that in order for the economy to survive, cuts need to be made, and those cuts need to come from the environment budget. It is acceptable however, for the government to spend 60 billion dollars on military warships and fighter jets, or so they say.

The most shocking and internationally condemned action taken by Canada is by far its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol was the first step in cutting greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The federal government stated that the emissions’ cut was unrealistic and through attempting to meet their goal, the economy would suffer. And of course by the economy, they mean the Alberta tar sands. While some do credit the tar sands for keeping Canada out of the recent recession, they are also credited with releasing the most amount of greenhouse gases the country has ever seen. With tension in the Middle East, the United States promotes and supports the Alberta tar sands as it is seen as ethical oil. The oil from Canada is from a democratic, free society, whereas by buying oil from Middle Eastern countries, America is seen as supporting their way of life and government; something they went to war over.

So let’s try to understand the mechanics of the Alberta tar sands shall we? Because we can’t talk climate change in Canada without mentioning these destructive reserves. The process in which to extract the oil in Alberta creates far more emissions than extracting regular crude oil as the energy needed to do so is extensively more. This is because the oil in Alberta is situated in bitumen, which is a very thick, black substance. As opposed to conventional crude oil drilling, wherein the oil is simply drilled and captured, the oil in the bitumen must be extracted from the sand. The process in which these two substances are separated is extensive, time consuming and, as expected, costly. The oil in Alberta is available through both mining and in situ processes. The mining process damages the land severely, whereas in situ involves far less damage.  The in situ process of extracting oil involves heating up the bitumen to a temperature where it becomes less viscous, allowing for it to flow to the surface. Once deemed unconventional oil because of the drastic measures needed for extraction, it has recently been branded as conventional, allowing the public to feel better about these polluting, expensive tar sands. Cue government funded commercial displaying lovely scenery where oil was once mined.

So what can we do? Get involved! As the government has control over how Canada’s environment is treated and funded, electing politicians with the environment as a priority will result in change. It is only through being proactive citizens can our voices truly be heard. With more education on the environment and more importantly, our impact on it, the masses will understand the crisis at hand and become motivated. After all, this is a democracy and every vote counts!

Not only is the Canadian government finding every way possible to decrease the amount of green initiatives already in place, but it is knowingly polluting the atmosphere and destroying the land. It has become a country internationally frowned upon for its lack of efforts in the fight against climate change, as money and power have taken priority. Now, let me ask you, is this the kind of country you are proud to call home?

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The Fishing Industry and Climate Change (Revised)

Into the 21st century, a new problem is recognized as a threat to the international fishing industry: climate change. There are many known impacts on fisheries and aquaculture as a result of climate change and many known solutions to keep them at bay, but these issues need to be taken more seriously by fishing industries. The broad affect of climate change on the fisheries is the warming of the oceans; this in turn ruins the natural habitats of fish. One issue from this broader issue that has recently received fair treatment in the Canadian media is the study of decreasing fish size as a result of climate change. An assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, William Cheung stated, “Our study shows a substantial reduction in the maximum body size of fish”. Cheung claims that the heating of the ocean waters causes the body temperature of the fish to heat up which in turn gives the fish a higher metabolism. With a higher metabolism the fish require more oxygen, but with climate change, there is less oxygen in the oceans. “Without the oxygen, fish don’t grow.”, Cheung put it in simple context. The lack of fish size presents an issue for the fishing industry because a dangerous easy path is to over-fish and this overfishing could possibly lead to conflict because it will cause countries to clash. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but history does repeat itself. A good example of fishing conflict in the past, though a non-climate change related issue, was the Turbot War where Spain was overfishing just outside of Canadian waters on the east coast, which affected the Canadian fishing industry in Newfoundland. This in turn led to a conflict; thank goodness not an actual armed conflict, but a diplomatic mess all the same.
Even though I want to have hope, it’s hard for me to believe internationally that world fisheries will face the problem of climate change in a reasonable manner, but for what’s at stake we need to. Like most industries and government facing climate change, there needs to be much more commitment and mental change to keep the issue at the forefront of decisions. This is the exact conclusion other researchers came to in another article on climate change, “Government and industry need to anticipate changes, not simply react to them.” It’s simply not acceptable in this day and age with climate change to merely make small-term reactions to these problems, we need to innovate our current standards to effectively prepare for these problems. Practically, we need solutions in advance.
Solutions aren’t easy to come by if people on the front line aren’t thoroughly educated on climate change. Education is the first step to solving any problem, how do you go about making a solution, if you don’t understand the issue? This doesn’t mean merely teaching a couple “high office” people about climate change in hopes they will spread the word. This means teaching everybody at every level of the fishing industry. Once a thorough education is established, then there is a starting point to create a solution. There are many solutions that have been developed, but I believe the key variable in any solution towards climate change is a technological change. I’m not an expert on mechanics, but a technology I can think of off the top of my head is an alternative energy source like solar power. Solar power can be used to power the fishing vessels which go out to sea, and this would help cut down fuel emissions.

Do you think a solar powered such as this could be converted to a fishing vessel?

But that’s just a very basic solution I thought of in less than two seconds, imagine what groups of people could devise if they were well educated on the topic. Overall, the international fishing industry will be and is already being challenged by climate change, but there needs to be rational long-term solutions; without it, there’s s strong inevitability of conflicts to come.

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Where Did The Issue of Climate Go In U.S. Election? (revised)

In his 2008 election campaign, Obama made climate change one of his top priorities, advocating by saying things like: “My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process”.  He made several grand promises to reface American consumption and use cleaner energy, as seen in a newspaper article published in the New York Times back in 2008. However, a recent article from World News Australia has noticed how it is weirdly absent from the current election. Since 2008, climate change research has advanced in attempts to expose humans as being an active part of the problem, yet in his 2012 election campaign, Obama has altogether ignored climate change issues. With increasing education on the topic of climate change, people will become increasingly worried and shocked that it has been ignored for so long; yet, it still remains absent from his current platform. As one of the most pressing issues of our time, it is unfathomable that it is to be placed on the back burner, and cast under a shadow of doubt, especially in the most powerful country in the world’s political agenda.

The question is: why? Some people blame the media because so much of climate change information, through outlets like Fox News, have been hugely incorrect, misleading, and unreliable. Therefore, since common media outlets are the vast majority of the population’s main information source, those without an actual understanding of the truth, are being influenced by the misconceptions portrayed in news. This can have disastrous effects, for example, according to the article by World News Australia, half of Americans believe that most scientists don’t agree that global warming is even occurring. Research has proved that if a published consensus of climate change was done, it would impact the amount of support that climate issues would get. Yet, the president himself has neglecting to stress the importance of the issue.  As much as I want to believe that Obama is concerned with the truth of climate change, and didn’t just use it as one way to rile up the crowds in his favour, it does appear that way. The misinformation spread in the media, and his non-existent mention of it now, lead me to believe that he is concerned with more “pressing” issues, otherwise known as current events that will allow him to stay in office.

It is also not helpful that one of the most powerful political parties, The Republicans, are purposefully casting doubt on the matter of climate change in the minds of average American citizens. Presidential candidate Romney refuses to support climate change science. This is detrimental, not only to the future of climate change science, but also to the climate itself. If Romney is put in office, and refuses to support the research of climate change, it is fair to assume that he will not do anything to actually help reduce the negative impact that humans have on the environment in the heavily polluted U.S., only adding to the problem. Also, since America is such an influential country, many other countries in the world may adopt their lassiez-faire mentality, and start questioning the validity of climate change altogether, even though the truth stares them in the face. In my ideal world, I would hope that the average American could access real information through mediums like this, become educated and demand that more attention be paid to such an imperative issue. Education is the only way that candidates will be forced to deal with the truth, not just what they need you to know to get them into office. This is a problem that cannot be ignored for long, and the US presidential candidates need to wake up and realize this. As Obama said in 2008: “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

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Exponential Growth

How Folding Paper Can Get You to the Moon

The TedEducation video I was talking about. I love Ted <3

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