Friday, July 18, 2014

While Harper Fiddles, Canada Burns



There have been so many developments on the climate front of late that, collectively, give us a pretty stark warning and yet the media, the public and our political leadership are tuning out. We seem to be culturally embracing a sort of Andean fatalism that seems to precede abrupt civilizational decline. Perhaps we’re hampered by the fact that it’s a moving target that repeatedly exceeds our ‘worst case scenarios’. Far from being pessimists we constantly underestimate the onset of climate change even as severe events increase in frequency, intensity and duration. Maybe that’s why Harper (and his rivals) aren’t coming forward with any meaningful responses. They’re all avowed fossil fuelers and, having staked out that turf, any significant reduction in Canada’s GHG emissions would have to be borne by every other sector of the economy and the Canadian people. Who would risk the public wrath when pretending to act and doing nothing remains an option? There’s a rank and dangerous cowardice that runs through the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats alike. God save the Queen. The Canadian people can fend for themselves.


The other day came news of a mysterious crater in Siberia that Russian scientists determined was caused, not by a meteorite, but by an eruption of subsurface gas released by thawing permafrost – a global warming event. We’ve known for several years that the ancient permafrost that girds the high north was “perma” no more. The tundra was drying out, catching fire, and exposing the permafrost below that it once shielded. The permafrost was a sink for massive quantities of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, or, as the energy industry calls it, natural gas.

On the heels of the Russian crater story comes a report from Climate Central about fires spreading unchecked across the Northwest Territories.

“The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

“Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates "unprecedented" in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

“The combined boreal forests of Canada, Europe, Russia and Alaska, account for 30 percent of the world’s carbon stored in land, carbon that's taken up to centuries to store. Forest fires like those currently raging in the Northwest Territories, as well as ones in 2012 and 2013 in Russia, can release that stored carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Warmer temperatures can in turn create a feedback loop, priming forests for wildfires that release more carbon into the atmosphere and cause more warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark climate report released earlier this year indicates that for every 1.8°F rise in temperatures, wildfire activity is expected to double.”

The Climate Central report indicates that the massive amounts of airborne soot from these forest and tundra fires could accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet far faster than we had ever imagined, perhaps by the end of this century. Ice, being white, reflects most solar energy back into space. Soot, being black, absorbs the solar energy and it passes into the ice beneath, causing melting. The melt run-off should wash away the soot except that these fires just keep adding more soot. And, of course, the fires that generate the soot also release ever more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Forest fires release the CO2 from the trees. Tundra fires release CO2 and expose the permafrost below that releases methane.

As for the Greenland ice sheet and the prospect of losing all or most of it by the end of this century, here’s what you need to bear in mind. When that ice sheet is gone, and it will eventually, it will create 23-feet of sea level rise. You’ve probably seen plenty of graphics of what three or four feet of sea level rise will mean around the world. The reality is that we tend to build our major cities where there’s navigable water. In Canada that’s Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. With Lake Ontario at 75 metres above sea level, Toronto should be safe from inundation but Montreal, on the St. Lawrence and at 6 metres is vulnerable and, as for Vancouver, well let’s just say that False Creek, Coal Harbour and Burrard Inlet will be a whole lot bigger and the Lower Mainland an awful lot smaller.

So, with the prospect of runaway climate change steadily worsening, with major population centres and critical infrastructure at increasing risk, surely this must be at the very top of our Lord and Master’s priority list, right? What’s that, no? His priority is flogging as much of the world’s highest-carbon oil as quickly as he can push through the pipelines and supertanker ports to carry it, really? Surely the opposition parties are going to shut this down as soon as the voting public gives Harper the boot, right? Wrong? Oh dear. Maybe it’s time to caulk the dinghy.


MoS, the Disaffected Lib.

3 comments:

  1. Harper is nothing more than a bit player in the drama of suppressing ordinary Canadians. But it is a role he seems to enjoy.

    We, as Canadians, are obliged to provide push back to asshole Steve.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8z2M_hpoPwk

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  2. .. The Harper Government .. a Game of Drones

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  3. They are all comfortable in their ignorance.

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