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Earth Matters


Polluting the three most important things in life

Amy Huva
Apr 27th, 2013

The view from the Four Seasons bar in Guangzhou of the Canton Tower. If you look closely through the smog, it's there... (photo: Amy Huva, 2013)

I’m visiting China for the first time this week, as a friend recently moved to Guangzhou, the third largest city in China, which is about two hours north of Hong Kong.

I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond a huge metropolis that probably had motorbikes and people everywhere, similar to my other experiences travelling through South East Asia. I knew it would probably be pretty polluted, and that living in Vancouver for two years has probably set my standards pretty high in terms of feeling the right to demand a clean environment to live in.

But the scale of the pollution has really shocked me.

A few days ago, the air quality index was reading 163, which falls into ‘moderately polluted’ and it’s recommended that you don't exercise outdoors. This level of ‘moderately polluted’ meant I could no longer see the skyscrapers in the New Town centre from the apartment we are staying in, however people I asked about the pollution dismissed it saying ‘oh it’s not as bad as Beijing!’

Post Carbon Pathways: how to dodge a climate change bullet

Amy Huva
Apr 23rd, 2013

The launch at Melbourne University (photo: Amy Huva 2013) 

Last Monday, the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute launched their latest report in conjunction with the Centre for Policy Development called Post Carbon Pathways: Towards a Just and Resilient Post Carbon Future

What the report aimed to do was to start the conversation about how we get to be a post carbon global economy. The report looked at large scale economic de-carbonization strategies across the globe from governments, think tanks, books published by climate experts, climate NGOs and also interviewed 20 policy makers, climate researchers and climate activists to get their thoughts on the issue. 

From there, they drew three main messages about our post carbon future:

Dealing with climate change denial, Australian-style

Amy Huva
Apr 21st, 2013

Climate deniers still have their heads in the sand (tropical pete, flickr/creative commons)

Last Monday night at Melbourne University, the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, along with the Centre for Policy Development unveiled their new report: Post Carbon Pathways: Towards a Just and Resilient Post Carbon Future.

The aim of the report was to look at different plans for decarbonisation of economies (some global, some national, some regional) and then interview leading climate experts and researchers to debate how these might be implemented and how we can begin our journey to a post carbon future.

For a climate nerd like me, it was pretty exciting stuff – what does moral leadership on climate look like? It’s 2030 and we got there – how did we do it? Can you envisage a post carbon world and work back to today and the next steps?

CR Avery's "Thief Behind the Mask" takes shots at corporations over oil spills

Jenny Uechi
Apr 15th, 2013

Canadian musician and spoken word phenom CR Avery has released a new video, "Thief Behind the Mask", connecting the dots between pipelines, oil tankers and climate change. 

The topic hits close to home for Avery, was born and raised largely in Calgary, Alberta. Produced by Sierra Club BC, the video prompts viewers to think critically about the future of Canda's west coast and the bigger picture for the climate. 

While Canada's musicians and artists are making sobering videos about oil pipelines, American comedians down south have come out with a new parody video called "Exxon Everywhere", which pokes fun at the company's handling of the Arkansas oil spill. 

The carbon diet

Caitlyn Vernon
Apr 12th, 2013

Nobody ever wants to go on a diet. But when our health is at stake, when the consequences of inaction seem too high, generally—if reluctantly—we do what the doctor ordered. We cut back, and we go on a diet.

Some have called it an inconvenient truth, but the science is in and the doctor’s note is painstakingly written to be legible: It’s time for a carbon diet.

Consider a weight watchers analogy. You have a ‘budget’ of points that accumulate based on the number of calories in what you choose to eat. You can eat whatever you like as long as you stay within the budget of calories. And when you stay under budget, when your weight drops, you get a gold star.

As we embark on our carbon diet, there is a very specific carbon budget available to us. If we stay under budget, we can protect our families and communities from the impacts of severe climate change.

About "ethical" funds and the power of divestment

Theo Lyons
Apr 9th, 2013
This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the New Economy Summit at UBC, a conference seeking to “contribute to the growing citizen movement for a socially just and ecologically responsible economy.” Though I attended lots of amazing sessions, the one that I want to talk about here was a panel discussion on the topic of "Sustainable University Endowments and Divestment", which took place on Friday afternoon.

Professor George Hoberg opened the session by presenting the compelling case for universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels, and describing the significant progress that the UBC students have, in coordination with Bill McKibben's movement, been making on this front. Later on Benjamin Richardson, a professor from the UBC Law faculty, outlined various legal frameworks which allow endowment managers to engage in socially responsible investment (SRI).

The season of oil spills: a new pipeline burst in Texas

Kevin Grandia
Apr 8th, 2013

Screenshot from RT

The Shell Oil -owned pipeline burst was detected Friday by the US National Response Center and has dumped an estimated 30,000 gallons of oil into a waterway connected to the Gulf of Mexico (as if it needed any more oil dumped into it!).

Operators of the Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary West Columbia pipeline, a 15 mile long, 16 inch diameter line, received warnings from the US National Response Center of a potential 700 barrel release (nearly 30,000 gallons) of crude oil on Friday, March 29.

Yesterday, representatives from the US Coast Guard acknowledged at least 50 barrels of oil had entered Vince Bayou, a waterway connected to the Gulf of Mexico.

New "concerned citizens group" has deep pockets and close ties to oil industry

Emma Pullman
Apr 6th, 2013

Screencap from BC4IP video

Last week, a new ad promoting oil pipelines appeared ahead of my favourite new song on YouTube. It featured a pair of actors having a simulated ‘real-life’ conversation about the paradox between protecting the environment and future economic growth. After the female actor asks, “But can’t we have both?” the man responds, “but if we let pipelines and tankers into our environment, what safeguards to we have?”

A third, smiling actor steps onto the scene, and says in a reassuring voice: “Let’s look at the facts.” She proceeds to set the environment-versus-economy debate to rest with a series of stats about double-hulled tankers and the "99.9 per cent safety record" of pipelines.

Onboard the solar train

Amy Huva
Apr 2nd, 2013

photo: Amy Huva 2013

April First was not only April Fools' Day; it was also the second birthday of the solar panels on the roof of my parents' house in Australia.

When the solar panels went in two years ago making the solar hot water system that’s been on the roof for about 20 years now look old and slightly shabby, my parents weren’t sure how much solar power they were going to generate. When the electricity meter first started spinning backwards as the panels were feeding into the grid, it was pretty exciting.

So now that the panels have been through two summers, how are they doing? They produced 4,056kWh (kilowatt hours) between April 1st 2011 and April 3rd 2013, which is enough power to run a household of four people for 202 days of peak usage!

8 photovoltaic panels on the left and the solar hot water system with the tank at the back in Melbourne, Australia (photo: Amy Huva 2013)

Crash Diets and Carbon Detoxes: Irreversible Climate Change

Amy Huva
Mar 26th, 2013

Temperature changes to the year 3000 with different CO2 concentration peaks (from paper)

Stopping climate change often involves the metaphor of ‘turning down the thermostat’ of the heater in your house; the heater gets left on too high for too long, you turn the thermostat back down, the room cools down, we are all happy.

This seems to also be the way many people think about climate change – we’ve put too much carbon pollution in the atmosphere for too long, so all we need to do is stop it, and the carbon dioxide will disappear like fog burning off in the morning.

Except it won’t. This paper, which is from 2009 but I came across it recently while reading around the internet, looks at the long term effects of climate change and found that for CO2 emissions, the effects can still be felt for 1,000 years after we stop polluting. Bummer. So much for that last minute carbon detox that politicians seem to be betting on. Turns out it won’t do much.

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