The cries of ‘climate change’ depend on the weather.

The recent heat wave and subsequent fires have provided a opportunity to remind climate change deniers that it’s real.

image: Point of View Radio

The incineration of Lytton has captured global attention. And rightly so: the event was of biblical proportions. Record high temperatures were recorded day after day until the village exploded like a matchstick.

Lytton provided an opportunity for climate change activists to say: “see, I told you so.” Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg made her point:

“Heat records are usually broken by tenths of a degree, not 4.6 C,” said Thunberg in reference to Lytton. “We’re in a climate emergency that has never once been treated as an emergency.”

Don’t get me wrong. There is no mistaking that climate change is real. Extreme weather is real. And evidence of the connection between them is growing. But in scientific terms it’s just an association not yet a proven fact.

Scientists are a skeptical bunch and are careful to establish cause and effect.

The acknowledged authority on the study of climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was established by the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

The IPCC explains the difficulty in establishing causality:

“An integral feature of IPCC reports is the communication of the strength of and uncertainties in scientific understanding underlying assessment findings. Uncertainty can result from a wide range of sources. Uncertainties in the past and present are the result of limitations of available measurements, especially for rare events, and the challenges of evaluating causation in complex or multi-component processes that can span physical, biological and human systems.”

A key finding of the last report from the IPCC is: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.”

IPCC concludes that it’s “extremely likely” that humans have caused global warming.

What’s less certain is whether the blocking pattern that held the “heat dome” in place over Western Canada is caused by climate change. It probably it is.

The blocking pattern is a feature of a stationary jet stream; that’s the dividing line between cooler temperatures to the north and warmer temperatures to the south. When the jet stream gets stuck, so do weather patterns and weather changes get blocked.

The likely reason that the jet stream gets stuck is because temperatures on the north side, in the arctic, are warming faster than the south. The difference in temperature is what drives changes in the jet stream.

In the winter of 2014, the same blocking patterns resulted in a “Polar Vortex” that led to one of the coldest winters on record for most of eastern North America.

Yet, even though both the heat dome of Western Canada and the Polar Vortex of Eastern Canada were caused by the same blocking patterns, no one blamed climate change then.

It seems like the cries of “climate change” are selective and depend on the weather.


The new climate deniers

The new climate deniers no longer deny that climate change is happening. It’s become too obvious that it is.

It used to be that climate change deniers could ridicule the notion that the Earth was warming by pointing to cold snaps like the one in Texas where thousands of cold temperature records are being broken.

Saskpower’s Carbon capture plant

But climatologists have said all along that global warming will mean more chaotic weather: hotter, colder, dryer, wetter, stormier. The obvious makes it hard for climate change deniers to dismiss wildfires, droughts, and loss of arable land to deserts.

Instead, climate deniers have surrendered to fatalism, wishful thinking, and individualism.

Sure, Big Oil hopes that we continue to dump C02 into the atmosphere but the new climate deniers are not disingenuous. It’s just that the problem seems insurmountable. People of goodwill have come to believe that it’s too late to do anything about the problem.

Not true, climatologist Michael Mann told CBC’s Quirks and Quarks:

“That’s very dangerous because first of all, it’s not true. The science indicates otherwise. The science indicates that if we reduce our carbon emissions dramatically, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change. For example, this idea that global warming is now unstoppable, that warming is going to release so much methane from the Arctic that it will warm the planet beyond habitable levels. There is no scientific support for that contention.”

The new climate deniers are not anti-science. On the contrary, they look to technological solutions. Count me in. I wish it were true, not just because I hope that science and technology will come the rescue but because my fossil-fuel lifestyle is comfortable and I wish it would continue. If only there was some way to fix the problem without inconveniencing me.

Carbon capture is wishful thinking. The plan is to keep dumping CO2 into the atmosphere but pump it back into the earth where it came from. But the future of carbon capture doesn’t look good.

Look at Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam carbon capture plant that cost $1.5 billion to build in 2014 and still hasn’t reached its target to store 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide due to technological problems. Even if the technology worked, we would need 38,000 such plants. And that’s assuming that CO2 emissions remain low because of the pandemic.

Another way in which otherwise well-meaning climate deniers can paralyze global action is to advocate individualism. It’s a popular notion in the “me era”; that if we change our habits individually we can collectively accomplish great things.

But what did we, as individuals, do to remove lead from gasoline and paint -a toxic element that was causing neurological development in children delays? What did we, as individuals, do to reduce the chemicals that were thinning the Earth’s protective ozone layer? Nothing. We accomplished these things through our governments and international agreements.

The idea that individual choices and technology will save us is wishful thinking. The actions of individuals, no matter how heroic, cannot accomplish what we can collectively do through our governments.

Don’t despair. We can still keep global temperate increases less than two degrees Celsius through international cooperation. Now that the U.S. is back in the Paris Accord, there is hope that cooperation will work.

COVID-19 is more costly to humanity than climate-change

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way I regard climate change. Don’t get me wrong: climate change is real and it’s man-made. But it not the “the greatest threat to humanity” that I once characterized it.

image: Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute

The greatest threats to humanity are the pandemics caused by our violation of the natural world of animals. As we recklessly tear nature apart, we reap the whirlwind of its viral bounty.

World leaders have exploited our fears of climate change. The World Health Organization famously called climate change the “greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” Leaders of the richest nations gathered in Davos this January and declared that climate accounted for all the long-term biggest risks to the world.

Persistent scare stories have convinced us that the climatic end-of the-world is nigh. One survey of 28 countries shows that almost half of all people believe climate change will likely lead to the extinction of the human race.

The world’s poor don’t see it that way -they rank climate change quite differently. When the UN asked 10 million people, mostly those in the majority world who are poor, what they regarded as the world’s top priorities, they emphasized better education, health care, jobs, government and nutrition. Climate change ranked 16th out of 16 priorities – right after phone and internet access.

Bjorn Leonhard, President of the Copenhagen Consensus and author of False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, says:

“Global warming is a real challenge and a problem we need to tackle. But the alarmism makes it difficult for us to think smartly about climate solutions and it diverts our attention away from the many other important global issues (Globe and Mail, July 19, 2020).”

Sea level rise is very real problem but it’s often portrayed in apocalyptic terms. We are told by the UN climate change panel that 187 million people will be displaced. Bloomberg News declared that coastal cities such as Miami may “drown in 80 years.”

But that number assumes that we do nothing in the meantime. In fact, people don’t just sit around while the water laps at their feet. The same UN climate change panel shows that with adaptation, such as protection with dikes or seawalls, the number of people in the world who have to move by the end of the century is just 305,000. For comparison, four times that number of immigrants now live in B.C. according to the 2016 census. B.C. could accommodate all the world’s water refugees.

The economic effects of climate change are serious but not fatal. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the economic effect of climate change would reduce the average person’s income in the 2070s by 0.2 per cent to 2 per cent. The reduction means that we will “only” be 356 per cent richer today instead of 363 per cent richer without the impact of climate change. That’s a sombre finding but not as bad as the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic from which we may never fully recover.

The impact of climate change is real but it pales in the light of the economic impact of this global pandemic.



Lessons from the Little Ice Age

Climate change will challenge our ability to survive and our world view. Business as usual will not be an option.

Image: National Post

Our survival skills are already being tested in Europe. In 2003, heat killed at least 30,000 people and caused 13 billion Euros in financial damages -the hottest summer since the 16th century.

We inherited our current world view from the seventeenth century. Climate change had a profound effect on European agriculture, philosophy and religion during the Little Ice Age from 1570 to 1684, argues Phillip Blom in his book Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present as reviewed by Nathaniel Rich.

During the Little Ice Age, Europe was two degrees Celsius colder than historical averages. It doesn’t seem like much until you consider the effect.

The sun dimmed. Birds fell from the sky, frozen midflight. Wine growing regions moved 400 kilometres south. Seas were packed with so much ice that ships couldn’t enter or leave London. Imperial armies marched across the frozen Danube. Forty sperm whales died on the Dutch coast.

The Thames hasn’t been hasn’t been frozen for two hundred years but during the Little Ice Age the river froze so thick that merchants set up huts on its surface. Taverns, brothels, open fires were built on the ice. Whole oxen roast on spits.

It might sound like a winter carnival but the effect on humanity was devastating. “Every moment,” observed John Evelyn back then, “was full of disastrous accidents.” The poet Henry Purcell wrote “I can scarcely move or draw my breath/Let me, let me freeze again to death.”

The Little Ice Age pushed Europeans to change the way they produced food. Faced with declining harvests, farmers experimented with growing potatoes, tomatoes and corn. They consumed more beef and milk as sources of calories.

Feeding people affected commerce. Nations relied more on foreign trade which, in turn, gave rise to a merchant class requiring expertise in finance. The need for expertise created a demand for education. The rise in the merchant class propelled growth in the middle class. Now a substantial sector of the population could afford to send their children to school.

Religion was affected. Before the Little Ice Age, the Church was the pillar of philosophical thought and education. The notion of rational thought and scientific investigation was heresy. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for speaking of parallel worlds and an infinite universe.

The power of an educated merchant class began to rival the religious hierarchy. The ability to feed the minds and bodies of the populace had shifted. The new religion was the marketplace.

Even now, we are not surprised to hear the new religion described in mysterious ways as when Adam Smith referred to the “invisible hand” of the marketplace.

Climate change will challenge the way we move through the world and the way we think about it. The faith in globalization is already being tested by the 99 per cent who see the injustice of a rigged system.

Who knows what the new world order will rise from the ashes of a heated, chaotic planet?

One power grid solves the green energy problem

Solar and wind energy suffer from a storage problem. They produce in abundance, often too much, when the wind blows and the sun shines. Storage of that abundance is one solution but it’s expensive and inefficient. You don’t get as much out as what you put in; like a bank account that gives you negative interest.

image: HowStuffWorks

The sun takes a long time to cross the four and one-half time zones of our big country. The advantage of that is when the sun shines on Canada’s largest solar farms in Ontario at ten o’clock, surplus electricity could be used to make breakfast in B.C. and lunch in Newfoundland.

Great idea, except that we have no way to get the excess power across Canada.  B.C. is connected to western Alberta by a major (345 Kilovolt) line and stops. There is nothing between Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. One connects Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces; none connects Newfoundland.

While there are few east-to-west Canadian connections, there are 34 lines connecting Canada to the U.S. The problem with north-south connections is that the sun shines on all solar panels in the same time zone at once.

Those gaps in Canada’s transmission lines create a challenge for green energy sources -wind even more than solar. Whereas solar power is fairly predictable, wind can be a problem. Sudden storms can wreak havoc with a power grid, dumping huge amounts of power into the system with nowhere for it to go. Some power utilities, such as in Germany and Texas, pay customers to consume electricity just to rid of it.

Climate change is creating increased demand on air conditioners in some areas of North America, while creating storms and wind in other parts. One big grid would link the wind power to where it’s needed.

The fragmentation of power grids is a problem says science writer Peter Fairley of Victoria:

“This balkanization means each region must manage weather variability on its own (Scientific American, July, 2018).”

Since we are already connected to the U.S., if the States were connected, so would Canada. It would be one big continental grid -something like the internet. The U.S. solution is simpler because they have only three major grids, the Western Interconnection, the Eastern Interconnection and the ERCOT Interconnection in Texas.

A big grid would soak up all the power you can pump into it but it requires weather reports. We need to know where the sun is shining and where the wind is blowing to determine where sources are. We already have that. The U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory maps the potential energy areas of four kilometre squares, updated every five minutes throughout the year. Couple that weather information with a huge single grid and you can send surplus power to where it’s needed.

Fairley continues:

“What we need is a weather-smart grid design, directed by meteorology and built on long-distance transmission lines that can manage the weather’s inconsistencies. Such a system could ship gobs of renewable power across North America to link supply with demand, whatever the weather throws at it.”

Just think, the tidal power generated in the Bay of Fundy could heat a toaster in Moose Jaw faster than the rate at which photos of kittens are shared on Facebook.


The rise and fall of globalization

As the sun sets on globalization, what will a new day bring? The new era will face challenges of rampant parochialism, environmental destruction, inequality and greed.


The dawn of globalization was unremarkable. Yanis Varoufakis, professor economics and former finance minister of Greece gives the date:

“On Aug. 15, 1971, then-president Richard Nixon announced the ejection of Europe and Japan from the dollar zone. Unnoticed by almost everyone, globalization was born on that summer day (Globe and Mail).”

Before Globalization, it was the dawning of a New Deal (1944). A clever plan, it gave America’s former enemies the resources to rebuild through arrangements such as the Marshall Plan. As an industrial power, the U.S. had shiny new things to sell; now Germany and Japan had money to buy them.

The New Deal ushered in a Golden Age of prosperity. Well-paying jobs, unionization, opportunity grew.  The middle class expanded and inequality shrank.

As a baby boomer, I remember that era. After I graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Electronics, I had a choice of well-paying secure, jobs. After I quit one job and traveled around the world, I easily found another.

The era of globalization in the 1970s promised to reduce global poverty. Before it began to rot at its core, it blushed with ambition.

“Mr. Nixon’s decision was founded on the refreshing lack of deficit phobia particular to American decision-makers,” says Varoufakis. “Unwilling to rein in deficits by imposing austerity . . . Washington stepped on the gas to boost them.”

World-wide prosperity also produced global industrialization. Americans went into debt to buy exports from Germany, Japan and later, China. The American administration didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that cheap global labour was at the heart of industrial decay at home. Why should they care when money was pouring into the U.S. as well as cheap goods?

The flow of global money into the U.S. seems counterintuitive. If Americans were buying global goods, it would seem that the money should be flowing the other way. The magic of Wall Street made it happen.

The deregulation of banks was a catalyst for the financial wizardry of Wall Street. Global investors were attracted by higher interest rates generated by mystical, incomprehensible, investment devices such as derivatives. A lot of the investments went into loans to home-owners who had no way of repaying them.

Then, in 2008, the rabbit no longer emerged from the magician’s hat and the whole financial edifice fell apart.

All that remains of the sad tatters of globalization is massive inequality and loss of jobs in the Western world. Most money sits idle in the hands of the rich while the poor struggle without. Varoufakis characterizes it:

“Its crisis is due to too much money in the wrong hands. Humanity’s accumulated savings per capita are at the highest level in history.”

As globalization sinks below the horizon, two options emerge. One is the walled-state proposed by President Trump and the Brexiters in the U.K. The other is a Universal New Deal that redistributes global wealth, creates new jobs, and lifts the burden of consumer debt.

If such a new deal seems unlikely, it’s worth remembering that the first New Deal and globalization were as well. And if we need an issue to rally around and mobilize action, as World War II once was, we need look no further than the biggest threat to humanity: climate change.

Syria’s climate refugees

“The start of the revolution was water and land,” says Mustafa Abdul Hamid, a 30-year-old farmer from Aleppo, Syria.


The Arab Spring — that promise of political reform, the failed revolution, ISIS, civilian bombing, the misery of refugees, all started forty years ago with an ambitious plan to make Syria self-sufficient in food. Until they ran out of water, Syria had been relatively stable despite the oppressive Assad family regime.

The source of Syrian grief is climate change. In the 1970s, drilling wells for irrigation water seemed like a good idea. Back then, the military regime of the current president’s father launched a program to increase crop yield. As politicians are inclined to do, he paid no attention to aquifers or climate change.

“Farmers made up for water shortages by drilling wells to tap the country’s underground water reserves. When water tables retreated, people dug deeper,” explains reports John Wendle in Scientific American (March, 2016).

Wendle went to Syria to talk to farmers and to listen to refugees. “Climatologists say Syria is a grim preview of what could be in store for the larger Middle East, the Mediterranean and other parts of the world. The drought, they maintain, was exacerbated by climate change. The Fertile Crescent—the birthplace of agriculture some 12,000 years ago—is drying out. Syria’s drought has destroyed crops, killed livestock and displaced as many as 1.5 million Syrian farmers,” reports Wendle.

Life was good before the drought, Hamid recalls. He and his family farmed three hectares of topsoil so rich it was the color of henna. They grew wheat, fava beans, tomatoes and potatoes. Hamid used to harvest three-quarters of a metric ton of wheat per hectare in the years before the drought. Then the rains failed, and his yields plunged to barely half that amount. “All I needed was water,” he says. “And I didn’t have water. So things got very bad. The government wouldn’t allow us to drill for water. You’d go to prison.”

By 2005, the problem of water shortage was so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored and Assad’s son, the new president, made it illegal to dig new wells without purchasing a license.

Syrians who had bags of cash to bribe official drilled ever deeper into the receding water table; until the money and/or the water ran out.

The drought, aggravated by climate change touched off social turmoil that burst into civil war. The source of climate change as the underpinning of Syria’s woes is confirmed not only by a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences but by the farmers themselves that Wendle spoke to in refugee camps. “That’s exactly what happened,” they told him.

“What’s happening globally—and particularly in the Middle East—is that groundwater is going down at an alarming rate,” Colin Kelley of the University of California, told Wendle. “It’s almost as if we’re driving as fast as we can toward a cliff.”

Welcome to the new weather normal

Canadians in Central and Atlantic Canada can be forgiven for feelings of bitter irony at the vicious cold. Eastern Canada is not feeling the warmth of global warming, despite the fact that last year was the warmest on record according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Nor are they consoled by the record-high temperatures in the west. To their chagrin, spring-like conditions are sprouting early blossoms in the lower mainland and creating record highs all over B.C.

The weather looks like a repeat of last year and it could well be the new normal. The jet stream, which divides warm and cold air, is stalled again. The pattern that brought the “polar vortex” to north-eastern North America in the winter of 2013/14 is bringing the “Siberian Express” this year. jetstream

Call it what you will, it’s deadly. Wind chills of -35 in Toronto claimed the life of a three-year-old Elijah Marsh after he wandering out of an apartment building in the middle of the night. At least 23 people died in the U.S. in the second week of February alone.

That demarcation line is a river of wind that flies across North America from west to east at speeds of approximately 100 kph and altitudes of 10 kilometres.

I think of the jet stream as a flag in the wind. Viewed from the top, the flag has curvy oscillations. When the wind is strong, the flag blows almost straight back. In a mild wind, the flag gently waves back and forth.

When the jet stream is strong, it blows straight across the continent, whipping back and forth. Those oscillations bring variations in weather. When the jet stream blows slowly, the waves are larger and slower. So slowly, in fact, that the pattern gets stuck in its current configuration for months.

The jet stream is blowing slower than usual because Arctic Canada is warming more quickly than the rest of the continent. Temperature difference is what drives the wind. In the past, when the temperature difference was great, the jet stream was less likely to get stuck in any pattern as it raced along a path parallel with the U.S. – Canada border.

Of course, things are not quite as simple as I outlined. The El Nino pushes the jet stream south and La Nina, north. Nor is North America the only continent affected.

Climate change can have catastrophic effects on geopolitics as in 2010 when the jet stream got stuck over Russia and a massive high caused a drought. Jeff Masters says: “The drought and heat wave was Russia’s deadliest and most expensive natural disaster,” in Scientific American.

The drought drove up grain prices and fomented unrest in the Arab world as Russia cut off exports, precipitating the “Arab Spring” that toppled governments.

Closer to home, floods and drought are affecting the U.S. as the jet stream slows. “Some of the most iconic and destructive weather events in U.S. history – the ‘supertornado’ outbreak of 1974, the Dust Bowl heat and drought of 1936, and the great Mississippi River flood of 1927 – were all matched in 2011 and 2012 alone,” warns Masters.

The socialist and the economist on capitalism

Two writers from diverse backgrounds have examined capitalism and found it wanting. Seminal books by Naomi Klein and Thomas Piketty warn that the rosy glow is off capitalism.

It was a different picture two decades ago after the fall of communism. Francis Fukuyama triumphantly announced the winner in his book The End of History. The game was over and capitalism had won.


Not so fast says Klein. In her groundbreaking book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, capitalism looks more like a chump than a champ.

“Capitalism is destabilizing the planet’s life support system,” Klein told TV interviewer Bill Moyers. “This system of short term growth and endless profit is responsible for everything that is lousy about our society.”

While fear and greed are undeniable human traits, they are no way to live. Yet fear and greed are exactly what capitalism thrives on. “It’s not the best way to maximize the best possible outcome.”

Combine individualism with capitalism and you have an especially toxic mix. “Green messiahs” like Richard Branson promised to invest $3-billion in renewable energy over ten years in 2006. So far, only one-tenth of that promise has come to fruition.

We are told that if we each do something to save the world, we can make a difference. Yet, do you remember what you individually did to reduce acid rain? Nothing. It was international agreements reduced acid rain. If it were left to individuals to reduce the sulphur in gas, we’d be swimming in dead acid lakes. None of that feel-good, you can save the world crap worked. Changing light bulbs and greenwashing dirty oil won’t work either.

Thomas Piketty is not exactly the darling of the TV talk-circuit but his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is equally momentous. Professor Andrew Jackson, senior policy advisor for the Broadbent Institute, compares his work with those of Adam Smith and Karl Marx.


The French economist is no Marxist but he does warn of the inherent dangers of capitalism. While capitalism does achieve higher productivity, it does so at the cost of lower wages.  When consumers earn so little that they can no longer buy stuff, the economy collapses. Cyclical instability part of system.

What goes around comes around. We are returning to the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century when the top one per cent owned half the wealth. That’s when the unproductive idle rich lived off inheritances passed through generations.

Now corporations sit on piles of cash while the working poor drown in debt.

Pay attention to “capital to income ratio”, says Piketty. That’s total wealth divided by annual income as measured by Gross Domestic Product. In other words, it’s an indicator of how productive global wealth is. In the Gilded age the ratio was high because a few had so much wealth that they didn’t what to do with it.

Such inequality of wealth is not only unfair, it’s inefficient and unsustainable.

Massive change is inevitable. We can be the masters of change through transformations brought about by citizens who understand collective power. Or we can be victims of climate change as we choke in our own squalor.