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.

Can B.C. dodge eye-watering, throat-choking wildfires this summer?

Remember last summer when we rubbed shoulders at concerts and live theatre; cheek-to-jowl at our favourite restaurants and watering holes? Remember when we mingled in crowds at Music in the Park, Ribfest, and Hot Nite in the City –outside?

Image: New York Times

Then think of the wildfires of 2017 and 2018, when we huddled indoors, trying to escape the smoke that hung over Kamloops like a grey shroud seeping into every crevice of our homes.

I remember the wildfires of 2017. The skies were clear when I left Merritt after spending a few days camping nearby. I could see a wall of smoke as I approached Kamloops. When I entered it, my eyes began to water and my throat was irritated. Kamloops was right in the path of the Elephant Hill wildfire burning west of the city near Ashcroft. It was like a funnel directed by the prevailing winds right at Kamloops.

The Elephant Hill wildfire was the largest and most destructive wildfires in B.C.’s history. Then came the wildfires of 2018 which was even worse when an area 44 times that of Kamloops kilometres burned. There was no escaping the smoke that year. The province was blanketed with smoke.

The outlook for last year looked bad. Experts forecast more of the same because of a build-up of combustibles on the forest floor. But contrary to predictions, 2019 turned out to be wonderful.

Again this for this summer, the forecast appeared bad. Now I’m holding my breath, hoping the forecast is not true. Things look promising with long-range forecasts for the remainder of July being relatively cool and damp according to theweathernetwork.com.

And the Meteorological Service of Canada predicts the same:

“Summer is currently on hiatus it would seem. It will ‘return’ (was it ever here?) at some point in the future. Certainly today and looking into next week even, we are not seeing any signal, or sign that the weather will significantly change. Normally, by this time in the annual calendar, we would have seen one, perhaps two, dominant ridges of high pressure. This would have brought about long stretches of hot, dry weather (July 10, 2020.”

To lament the absence of a summer with hot, dry weather displays poor memory of what those tinder-dry conditions can bring. Cool, damp weather needs to be celebrated.

The isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic had us huddling indoors earlier in the spring but at least now we can go outdoors and enjoy nature’s beauty, albeit with physical isolation.

It would be unbearable if we were physically isolated by the pandemic and driven indoors by wildfire smoke.

Every week of relatively cool, damp weather is one week less of the potential wildfire season. Bring it on.

Kamloops has a reputation of delivering hot, dry summer days. That’s something I enjoy. But I would like to see Kamloops promoted as a place where you can safely breathe in the summer.

And next year, when the pandemic hopefully abates, my wish is that we can crowd together to and enjoy each other’s company in the smoke-free air as we did last year and with a bit of luck, this year as well.

 

A brief reprieve from smoke-filled summers

I gave a sigh of relief when this summer ended with no significant wildfires. The past two summers have been filled with eye-watering, throat-choking smoke so thick you couldn’t see across the street.

Image: New York Times

We were spared this year and, instead, read about the miserable wildfires in Brazil. The Group of Seven leaders indignantly berated Brazilian President Bolsonaro for allowing the burning of the “lungs of the earth.” In a token gesture, the G7 offered a measly $20 million to fight the fires and to send in “multilateral green helmets” to save the day.

The hypocrisy is palpable: the seven wealthiest countries on Earth extract $20-million worth of resources from Brazil every minute; Canada’s mining industry alone holds more than $10-billion in Brazilian assets (Arno Kopecky, Globe and Mail, September 6, 2019.)

If we are going to start enlisting ecowarriors to save the planet’s trees in the name of fighting climate change, Canada had better prepare to be invaded too.

Canada has the second-largest intact forest on Earth after the Amazon. Our boreal forest is being logged at the rate of 400,000 hectares per year and most of it turned in to Kleenex and toilet paper to supply the United States.

However, logging is not the biggest threat to Canada’s boreal forest –wildfires are. A study done by the journal Ecosphere in 2018 predicts that Canada is headed for a fivefold increase in the area burned by forest fires by the year 2100.

Last year, 1.2 million hectares of our forest went up in smoke. A similar amount of forest burned the summer before. So far this year, wildfires have only burned two per cent of that.

B.C. isn’t out of the woods by a long shot. I’d rather think that we are back to wildfire-free summers but that’s a nostalgic dream of summers past.

What’s more likely is that the years between the devastating wildfires of 2003 and 2017 were an anomaly. It was in 2003 that I was evacuated from my home in Westsyde, Kamloops, because of a fire across the street and  when the residents of Barriere and Kelowna watched helplessly as their homes burned to the ground.

After the “summer of fire” in 2003, the BC government appointed former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon to head a commission of inquiry. The commission’s February 2004 report warned of bigger fires in the future: “The wildfire zone is not only getting closer to people, but people are getting closer to the wildfire zone.”

Now forest-fire ecologist Robert Gray now says: “the problem is as big, or bigger than it was then, because, of course, the conditions continue to deteriorate. The areas that we thought were low to moderate hazard are probably high hazard now because, of course, that was all before the mountain pine beetle epidemic.”

Then there’s the impact of climate change says Gray “which is going to put more and more pressure on trees. They’re fighting for light and moisture and nutrients. This is just going to stress them out. We’re going to have mortality. And then we have forest fires and we go back and replant them in the high-density stands again. We are awash in fuel in BC.”

My relief at a wildfire-free summer this year is dampened by the prospects for next summer.

 

 

Advice to TRU: educate, don’t prohibit cannabis

Thompson Rivers University plans to prohibit the recreational use of cannabis on campus. This, despite the failure of prohibition to deter use for the last 95 years in Canada.

image: SchoolFinder

Cannabis is not harmless. Inhaling smoke, be it from wildfires, tobacco, or cannabis carries risks. But banning cannabis is not the way to control those risks.

Education is. Education has reduced the consumption of tobacco. Reductions have been especially greater for those with a higher education according to a report from Statistics Canada.

TRU has nine designated locations where tobacco and medical marijuana can be smoked. Once cannabis is legalized on October 17, those locations would be a logical place for recreational cannabis smokers as well.

TRU’s Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee voted on March 5, 2018, to ban all smoking of recreational marijuana on campus for health and safety reasons. Chris Montoya, committee member and Senior Lecturer in Psychology, says not all of the 20-member committee agreed:

“Pro-marijuana smokers on the TRU committee argued that marijuana smoke is no different than cigarette smoke and that smoking areas designated for cigarette smoke should also be used for marijuana.”

But they were apparently swayed by arguments  presented by Montoya: cannabis is more potent than ever before, bystanders can get stoned from second-hand smoke, and marijuana has been linked with psychoses.

Montoya is a member of the National Advisory Council (2016-18) and the Partnership for a Drug Free Canada. He repeated some of his claims to Kamloops This Week:

“A student cannot get drunk walking next to another student drinking a beer. However, students, staff and faculty can get stoned breathing in second-hand smoke.”

Ian Mitchell, Kamloops Emergency Physician, disagrees:

“There have been a series of studies in which non-smokers are shut into a small room with cannabis smokers and tested for both impairment and positive urine tests. While these things can happen, it is only under the most extreme circumstances,” he told me by message.

A doctoral student in clinical psychology at UBC Okanagan also disagrees with Montoya:

“Researchers at John Hopkins University have been conducting studies on the effects of cannabis smoke exposure to non-users and have found that, under regular indoor conditions, non-smokers did not experience changes in cognitive ability –i.e. ’get high,’” says Michelle Thiessen in a letter to KTW.

There are places on campus for students and staff to drink alcohol as well as smoke cigarettes. TRU spokesperson, Darshan Lindsay, told CFJC Today: “There are a lot of regulations, systems in place to promote responsible use of alcohol. We just don’t have that in place for cannabis. For the university, recognizing that we are a place of education and that we want to promote an environment that’s safe and healthy for everyone, our position is that recreational cannabis should not be present on campus.”

Failing to have a “place for cannabis” perpetuates the notion that prohibition will reduce cannabis use. Banning cannabis has a predictable effect -it simply drives consumption into the shadows and prevents dealing with the risks.

TRU should become a model in harm reduction, as “a place of education.”

Prohibition is futile: TRU might as well prohibit wildfires -it would be as effective.