Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Facebook Is Not Our Friend

I wrote a blog entry over four years ago about Facebook tolerating hate groups. I won't repeat the post here, other than to say it became apparent after I lodged a complaint with them and got a wholly unsatisfactory reply that the company must have a very strange set of community standards, given that I was told the anti-Muslim group in question did not violate them.

It now appears that the situation at Facebook is even worse, thanks to its promotion of private and 'secret' groups, some of which have very frightening agendas. The following Global News reports explains all:

Facebook is a corporate digital giant that needs far greater government intervention and regulation than has thus far been meted out. Despite its public persona, it is clearly not our friend.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Look To The Skies

Only a simpleton would deny the reality of climate change. Whether we are reading almost daily about wildfires, tornadoes, floods or sea-level rise, we know in our hearts that the future has arrived and will only get worse. Despite that understanding, many of us continue with practices that will only aggravate the problem.

One of the most egregious is flying, something I continue to be guilty of, usually twice a year. Since people are not inclined to stop visiting loved ones who live far away, or taking that much-needed winter getaway, are we doomed then to simply add to the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change?

Gwynne Dyer offers his perspective both on the scope of the problem and a possible partial answer to it through new technology:
Aviation accounts for around 2.5 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions at the moment, but the contrails the planes leave in the stratosphere turn into cirrus clouds that reflect heat back to the surface, and that causes an equal amount of heating.

So in reality five per cent of current warming is already due to aviation, and industry representatives estimate that the number of people flying annually will almost double (to 8.2 billion) in the next 20 years. By then flying will have grown to 10 per cent of the global heating problem, or even more if we have made good progress on cutting our other emissions.
Should we despair? Dyer suggests there are solutions that don't entail an outright stop to flying, but they are ones that the aviation industry has shown little interest in, corporate inertia being what it is.
A number of people have been working on DAC (Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide) for more than a decade already, and the leader in the field, David Keith’s Carbon Engineering, has had a pilot plant running in British Columbia for the past three years.

Keith’s business model involves combining his captured carbon dioxide with hydrogen (produced from water by electrolysis). The electricity for both processes comes from solar power, and the final product is a high-octane fuel suitable for use in aircraft.

It emits carbon dioxide when you burn it, of course, but it’s the same carbon dioxide you extracted from the air at the start. The fuel is carbon-neutral. Scaling production up would take a long time and cost a lot, but it would also bring the price down to a commercially viable level.
The problem with the heat-reflection caused by contrails also has some mitigation-avenues available:
The planes are flying so high for two reasons. The air is less dense up there, so you don’t use so much fuel pushing through it. But the main reason, especially for passenger planes, is that there is much less turbulence in the stratosphere than in the lower atmosphere. If the planes flew down there, they’d be bouncing around half the time, and everybody’s sick-bag would be on their knee.

So what can you do about it? Well, contrails only form in air masses with high humidity, and therefore only affect 10 to 20 per cent of flights. With adequate information, most of those flights could simply fly around them. Alternatively, fly below 7,600 metres for that section of the flight, and contrails won’t form anyway.

It will be more turbulent down there, so in the long run we should be building aircraft that automatically damp out most of the turbulence. This is probably best achieved by ducted flows of air that instantly counter any sudden changes of altitude or attitude, but if aircraft designers started incorporating such ducts into their designs today, they’d only come into regular use in about 15 years’ time.
One should always be wary of deus ex machina solutions. However, the approach suggested by Dyer surely deserves consideration as one of the strategies needed as the climate crisis continues to worsen.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Time For Reflection

While the battle for climate-change mitigation will be won or lost by regulating the big polluters, it is all too easy for us to scrutinize them to the exclusion of our own profligate greenhouse-gas-emission practices. The following letter in the print edition of today's Toronto Star should give us all pause:
We in Ontario should try for numerous gestures of reconciliation with our western neighbours.

I agree with Jason Kenney that programs for reduction of carbon emissions should focus on consumers, perhaps more than on producers. I’m a consumer.

The oil companies will continue to develop their resources as long as it is a profitable enterprise.

When we as consumers reduce our demands, oil production will be reduced accordingly. The transportation industry is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions: Long distance trucking and air cargo are filling the atmosphere with carbon, because we want our wine and beer from Europe and Australia, our clothing from Asia, our cars and computers from Japan and China, our asparagus from Peru, our fruit from California, etc.

Buy local wine, even if you think it’s not as good; buy local craft beer.

Try to buy food from the nearest possible sources, though, admittedly, in winter that’s not easy. I believe we should trade in our cars with big engines and go hybrid (better range than all-electric), even if it’s more expensive and less convenient.

Reduce long-range travel by car or plane; use transit, or car pool to work if at all possible. Think of using electricity to heat your home, even if it’s more expensive, because it’s cleaner.

Recalibrating the energy industry toward cleaner technology and alternative sources of energy will provide major employment opportunities in Alberta and everywhere. It will cause wrenching grief for some, just as the prohibition of fishing for cod caused grief for workers in Atlantic Canada some years ago.

Fighting the oil producers will only cause resentment. Everyone has to make major lifestyle changes. We have to start with ourselves.

Noel Cooper, Brechin, Ont.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

As The Dust Settles....

I will offer no analysis of our federal election; I will only say that from my perspective (my disappointment that the Greens did not do better notwithstanding), the fact of a minority government is the best of all outcomes. The question of whether or not Justin can find within himself the capacity to play nice with others is yet to be determined, but for the sake of the country, we can only hope he does.

While many pressing issues stand to be addressed, pharmacare being uppermost in Jagmeet Singh's mind, I do hope that effective action to address climate change will also be on the agenda. This latest report reminds us that we have little time to lose:
Research has found Arctic soil has warmed to the point where it releases more carbon in winter than northern plants can absorb during the summer.

The finding means the extensive belt of tundra around the globe — a vast reserve of carbon that dwarfs what's held in the atmosphere — is becoming a source of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

The research by scientists in 12 countries and from dozens of institutions is the latest warning that northern natural systems that once reliably kept carbon out of the atmosphere are starting to release it.
While this is only one of several feedback loops exacerbating climate change, it is a potent one.
The scientists placed carbon dioxide monitors along the ground at more than 100 sites around the circumpolar Arctic to see what was actually happening and took more than 1,000 measurements.

They found much more carbon was being released than previously thought. The results found carbon dioxide emissions of 1.7 billion tonnes a year are about twice as high as previous estimates.

Arctic plants are thought to take in just over one billion tonnes of the gas from the atmosphere every year during growing season. The net result is that Arctic soil around the globe is probably already releasing more than 600 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
And the process is accelerating.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, emissions from northern soil would be likely to release 41 per cent more carbon by the end of the century.

But the Arctic is already warming at three times the pace of the rest of the globe. Even if significant mitigation efforts are made, those emissions will increase by 17 per cent, said the report.
Our house is on fire. Only resolute, principled politics holds any hope of containing the conflagration.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Best Way To Effect Change

H/t Michael De Adder

Should you need further encouragement, read the columns by Martin Regg Cohn and Susan Delacourt.

Says Cohn:
Decide for yourself who to vote for but whatever your decision, do not persuade yourself that your vote doesn’t matter. Nothing is more corrosive than cynicism at a time when so many citizens around the world crave the certainty and stability of our democracy.

Think of the citizens of Hong Kong who are protesting in the streets for a semblance of democratic rule that Canadians take for granted. Consider the people in the Middle East who dreamed of an Arab Spring, only to see it fade away. I lived in both places for a decade, covering the human rights movements where people risked bullets for ballots, and were prepared to die for democracy, then as now.
And, from my perspective, most importantly,
Even in so-called “safe seats” that seem predestined to favour the incumbent MP, every ballot contributes to the national popular vote tallies that are very much taken into consideration, historically, by a governor general in deciding which party (or combination of parties) has a mandate to govern.
As well, Susan Delacourt reminds us,
There is a point, though, in taking the time to vote, especially at this juncture in history. Look to the U.S. or Britain and the turmoil in politics there over the past few years. Democracy matters. Elections matter. Voting matters.

... I’m hoping that 2015 wasn’t a blip — that the upward trajectory in turnout continues on Monday, because we’re seeing how fragile democracy can be, even in nations with deep, democratic traditions, such as the U.S and Britain.
There are many ways to honour our citizenship. Participation in the voting process is one of the best.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Friday, October 18, 2019

What About The Common Good?

One of the things that has most disturbed me about this election campaign is the emphasis both the Liberals and the Conservatives have put on so-called cheque-book issues. Whether it is Mr. Trudeau's constant references to "the middle class and those working hard to join it," or Andrew Scheer's promises to put more money into people's pockets, it is clear that the needs of the individual are being targeted almost exclusively.

While I understand very well that affordability of housing, education, etc. are vital issues, they have been stressed at the expense of the common good. Are we really a society if all we are concerned about is ourselves?

Writing in the print edition of today's Star, Salvatore Amenta of Stouville, Ontario offers the following:
As we approach another election, we are being asked yet again to think of ourselves first.

Will my taxes go up or down? Will there be more money left in my pocket? Will my job be protected? Will my values be upheld? In short, what’s in this election for me?

These questions are perfectly valid and quickly attract the attention of voters on television, social and print media. However, they ignore the common good.

What’s good for our future, our grandchildren, our planet and only habitat? In short, what’s good for Canada?

These questions are harder to answer, but they are worth asking. Before going to the ballot box, let’s remember former U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s advice: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Give Me Your Frightened Masses

Run, children, run, to your polling stations!

H/t Theo Moudakis

Meanwhile, for those made of sterner stuff, there is an insightful analysis by Larry Kazdan of Vancouver of what should truly frighten all of us:
Today’s unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent may be considered “rock bottom,” but unemployment after the Second World War until the mid-1950s averaged less than 3 per cent. However, the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1980s coincided with the normalization of higher unemployment rates. Fiscal and monetary settings that led to more jobless and new laws relating to minimum wages and labour standards, union organizing and strike rules, and import of foreign workers, all combined to reduce pressure on wages.

The link between higher productivity and concurrent wage gains was broken, and consequently more profits accrued to capital.

The suppression of wages had another benefit, since workers could be enticed to borrow in order to maintain lifestyles, leading to another source of increased profits for the financial industry. And indebted workers in a tepid economy are fearful of leaving their jobs since replacements may be hard to find.

Affordability worries today are by no means the result of the boom-bust nature of Canada’s economy or other factors beyond the control of politicians. On the contrary, the squeeze on working and middle class families was carefully engineered by Conservative and Liberal governments to benefit the economic elites which they represent.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ain't It The Truth?

Having resisted the fear-mongering that passes as 'strategic voting,' and having already cast my ballot, I offer the following for those still to exercise their franchise next week:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Sometimes There Really Is A Conspiracy

Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell: names that are familiar to almost all of us. What we might be less familiar with is the role they and about 16 other fossil fuel giants have played historically in ignoring the denying the climate crisis that has come to engulf the world.

Matthew Taylor and Jonathon Watts write that those companies are responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions today:
New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this report is that these companies knew, as far back as the 1960s, that they were degrading the earth in a way that future generations would pay a heavy price. And they have been working hard ever since to fund an array of climate-change deniers to conceal this truth.

The following brief video explains the situation succinctly:

It has been said that even paranoid people have enemies. In a similar vein, sometimes those who shout "CONSPIRACY!" are, sadly, correct.

Monday, October 7, 2019

UPDATED:This Is How To Do It

With our typical timidity, Canadians are notoriously reluctant to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to climate change. Sure, we recently had very loud and proud displays of concern during September's climate strike, but once that happened, one wonders how to sustain any momentum.

Perhaps we can take some tips from the Brits who, despite their own Brexit worries, seem to have found their focus through ongoing Extinction Rebellion demonstrations.
Extinction Rebellion protesters have shut off large parts of Westminster as they began a planned two-week shutdown of central London.

The Metropolitan police said 135 people had been arrested. Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall were all blocked off as throngs of people demonstrated about the lack of meaningful action to tackle the climate crisis.

In Trafalgar Square a hearse was parked carrying a coffin that said: “Our future.” The driver had used a D-lock to attach himself to the steering wheel while other protesters attached themselves to the bottom of the vehicle and some lay in the road.

Yards from Downing Street, protesters blocked off Whitehall and the Embankment was shut off for about four hours outside the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by activists who attached themselves to cars before being removed by police using buzzsaws.

Among those arrested on Monday on Victoria Embankment was 81-year-old Sarah Lasenby, a Quaker and retired social worker from Oxford. She said: “For 21 years my main concern has been to help get rid of UK nuclear weapons. I am still keen to do this but once I came across XR I was so relieved to have something I could do about the ghastly state we have got our planet in.

“The whole thing is so urgent that it is imperative the government should take serious actions and put pressure on other states and global powers to radically reduce the use of fossil fuels even if this means we need to reduce our comfort at home and so much flying.”

UPDATE: Then again, I may have written too soon.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Sign Of The Times

This, from Chris Cowley on Twitter, is timely. Perhaps an Amber Alert is also in order?

Ontario schools are in turmoil and we can't find premier

Please help us.

If you have any information on Mr. Ford's whereabouts, please encourage him to return to work immediately and give a fair deal to #CUPE education workers.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Weapon Against Fake News

Living in an age when critical-thinking skills are increasingly hard to find, anything acting as a bulwark against the ignorance and stupidity that seems to inform public 'debate' is welcome. Natalie Turvey writes about a weapon that sounds promising.
While misinformation, memes, clickbait and outright lies proliferate across our online feeds, especially in this election season, Canadians are not powerless to fight back.

There’s no question it can be difficult to distinguish between fact-based real news and fake news and those who want to mislead and confuse us are becoming more sophisticated every day.Research shows that:

-90 per cent of Canadians admit to falling for fake news

-Fake news stories spread six times faster than the truth

-Only 33 per cent of Canadians regularly try to confirm if the news we see is real

-40 per cent of Canadians report finding it difficult to distinguish between truth and misinformation in the news

-More than half of respondents (53 per cent) have come across stories recently where they believe facts were twisted to push an agenda
Help in fighting these daunting numbers is now available:
The Canadian Journalism Foundation has launched a campaign called “Doubt it? Check it. Challenge it.” The campaign aims to give Canadians the skills and tools to combat fake news and information. We have built tools and tips to empower people and it all lives on
Having checked it out, I can attest that the site offers a wealth of resources to determine whether or not 'news' is genuine, some of which are common sense, and others are resources that many may be unaware of. There is even a fake news quiz. (I took it and scored 9/10)

Essentially, revolves some simple steps:
[F]irst, if a story doesn’t seem right, trust that instinct; second, check it out, look for other sources to verify; and third, if it is fake news, call it out.

Of the three steps, the first — Doubt it? — may be the most important. More than half of us have come across stories we think are fake. So, our Spidey senses are working. Often, we just need to take a breath before we repost something and ask ourselves “does this feel right?”

If it doesn’t, there are simple ways to “check it.” First, read beyond the headline. In today’s news, headlines don’t always match the content of the story. They can be much more provocative, to attract clicks, than the story that follows.

Next, take a look at what surrounds the story you’re reading. Do the other stories on the site seem far-fetched? Are they satirical, or all about conspiracies? If so, you’ve found your answer.

And finally, if you doubt a story’s claims, do a simple online search to see if anyone else is reporting it. If it’s true, those claims will be covered by other, reputable news sources. The same goes for images. You can search those online too, and you’ll quickly learn whether the image in that meme is real or fake.
The final responsibility we have, if we are at all active on social media, is to identify fake news when we find it. I have done that many times on Facebook (but I always like to frame it tactfully so as not to offend the poster).

As we enter the crunch point for our election, detecting and exposing fake news is paramount to the health of our democracy. If we remain silent, we give consent to lies, distortions and malicious manipulation. That is something none of us could ever be proud of.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Donald Trump, Exposed

I generally like to operate my blog with a certain level of decorum and language. However, there are exceptions to that principle, which you will see in the following.

I just discovered someone named Chip Franklin, an American who operates a website called Inside The Beltway, which is described thus:
Inside The Beltway is a collaboration of journalists, broadcasters, and assorted professionals, who have banded together to create a levee against the rising tide of lies and distortions that threaten our democracy and our sanity. That may sound dramatic, but how else do you characterize the willingness of the American public to believe in the most absurd narratives? For us, it’s an obligation to the truth. And if that sounds a little sanctimonious, that’s on you.
Be warned that the following contains profanity that may disturb some:

The Whistleblower from chip franklin on Vimeo.

Trump- Wizard of Odd from chip franklin on Vimeo.

Trump_ Just How Stupid_ from chip franklin on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

“If You’re A Liberal, You’ve Got To Be Very Nervous”

So says pollster Nik Nanos, after a poll showing young people's support for Justin Trudeau dropping dramatically after his recent chat with Greta Thunberg during her visit to Canada.
Polling data from Nanos Research shows that the proportion of voters aged 18 to 29 who cite Trudeau as their preferred prime minister fell from nearly 35 per cent to a little more than 24 per cent within 24 hours.

The Liberal leader met with Thunberg on Friday while the prominent activist was in Montreal for a climate-change march that was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

The 16-year-old Swede took Trudeau to task, telling him he wasn’t doing enough to fight climate change. Though that is her standard message for any world leader, Nanos said he still saw it as a risk for Trudeau to agree to the meeting.

The results seem to indicate a narrowing of the gap between Trudeau and Scheer (a climate-change denier in all but name), and a small uptick of support for the Green Party.
While those two parties appear to be battling to win the most seats on Oct. 21, another fight is underway further down in the polls.

The NDP are polling at 13.18 per cent and the Greens at 12.63 per cent, likely bringing the two parties into fierce competition.

“It’s like a double horse race … the horse race to win and the horse race to place third,” Nanos said.

The Greens have been hovering around 13 per cent for several days now – their highest level ever, and approximately double the support they were pulling during the early days of the campaign.

“The last week has been very good for the Green Party,” Nanos said.
While I am long past the stage of holding out much hope for our collective future, whatever sliver there is resides in the awakening consciousness of young people, who seem to see with a perspicacity denied to many who, blinded by ideology and past practices, keep voting the same way but hoping for different results.

And that, of course, is a mere variant of a famous definition: