Putting the polar bear myth to rest

“My humble plan was to become a hero of the environmental movement. I was going to go up to the Canadian Arctic, I was going to write this mournful elegy for the polar bears, at which point I’d be hailed as the next coming of John Muir and borne aloft on the shoulders of my environmental compatriots …
 
“So when I got up there, I started realizing polar bears were not in as bad a shape as the conventional wisdom had led me to believe, which was actually very heartening, but didn’t fit well with the book I’d been planning to write.”

Oops.

The Inconvenient Truth About Polar Bears [NPR]

Related:

Eco-authoritarians

From the global movement that brought you “the debate is over” and the push to tax that which is most intricately linked with productivity, industry, er, life… CO2.

Warning: graphic

[link]

All those in favour of keeping away from power those with a violent, intolerant, and dogmatic view on how humans should collectively and individually behave… don’t raise your hand.

UPDATE: The producers of the film have responded to the predictable response,

Last week, 10:10 made available a short film. Following the initial reaction to the film we removed it from our website and issued an apology on Friday 2 October.

Subsequently there has been negative comment about the film, particularly on blogs, and concern from others working hard to build support for action on climate change. We are very sorry if this has distracted from their efforts.

We are also sorry to our corporate sponsors, delivery partners and board members, who have been implicated in this situation despite having no involvement in the film’s production or release.

We will learn from this mistake. Today I have written to supporters and stakeholders explaining that we will review processes and procedures to make sure it cannot happen again. Responsibility for this process is being taken by the 10:10 board.

The media coverage of the film was not the kind of publicity we wanted for 10:10, nor for the wider movement to reduce carbon emissions.

If people have been in touch with us personally about the film, we will be replying to individual emails over the next few days. Meanwhile our thanks go out to all those who support 10:10 and who work to combat the threat of climate change.

Eugenie Harvey
Director, 10:10 UK

How many birds must die while you pour refrigerated soy milk on your granola?

According to The Province:

More than 300 sea birds, mostly brown pelicans and northern gannets, have been found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast during the first five weeks of BP’s huge oil spill off Louisiana, wildlife officials reported Monday.

Tragic. Poor birds.

According to another report:

While generating megawatts of electricity, windmills on the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York are also killing hundreds of bats and birds, according to a recent study.

The consultants’ report for PPM Energy and Horizon Energy identified 123 birds, mostly night migrants, and 326 bats found dead over the course of five months last year beneath 50 wind turbines on the plateau between Lake Ontario and the western Adirondacks.

Those poor birds and bats, done in by some windmills. The article describes 123 birds and 326 bats killed by 50 windmills over 5 months. While the other article explains that about 300 birds killed. This by about 37 million gallons of oil over 5 weeks.

The wind-watch article also mentions that those 50 turbines produce 900,000 megawatt hours per year.

Let’s only consider the number of birds killed.

Oil:
1.7 MWh per barrel of oil x 37,000,000 barrels = 62,900,000 MWh of energy in the oil spill to date
62,900,000 MWh / 300 birds = 209667 MWh per bird killed

Wind:
50 turbines produce 900,000 MWh per year
4.35 weeks/month * 5 months = 21.75 weeks
21.75 weeks / 52 weeks/year = 0.42 years
0.42 years * 900,000 MWh/year = 376442 MWh produced by windmills over 5 month period
376442 MWh / 123 birds = 3061 MWh per bird killed

Oil vs. Wind
209667 MWh per bird killed (oil) / 3061 MWh per bird killed (wind) ~= 68

What does this mean?

In terms of environmental impact measured by one factor (birds killed), windmills are about 68x more efficient at killing birds per unit energy derived. To garner the same amount of energy needed from wind than from oil, we’d have to operate the windmills 68x longer or increase the number of windmills by 68x in order to get the same amount of energy. This means that about 68x more birds will die if we wanted to match the energy we’d get from oil. This would result in 68 * 123 birds = 8425 birds dead compared to the 300 dead from the oil spill for the same amount of energy derived.

There is, of course, one major flaw in the calculation above (besides my wanton disregard for sig figs). We’ve only considered oil spilled in the gulf. Alas, the vast majority (ie. 99.9999%) of oil isn’t spilled. When oil isn’t spilled, its efficiency in killing birds goes way down. Further, the wind energy we consider above is the norm not the exception; this is the rate of bird death during normal operation of wind turbines.

Clearly, when considering the environmental impact of oil by showing dead oil slicked birds on cable news, oil actually isn’t comparatively bad. In fact, it is a less efficient killer of birds per unit energy derived.

The champ?

And in Canadian politics, the NDP crows about windmills:

and chirps off-shore drilling:

The brightest bulb in energy conservation

As a follow-up to my earlier David Suzuki post, here’s a picture that was taken on a trip to Kingston last fall. I’ve been looking for a reason to post it since. My friend Rob told me he had spotted something interesting on Highway 15 South and that I’d get a laugh out of it. So, we packed the camera equipment and set out sometime after midnight. A short drive just outside of the city we spotted it, but only first after doubling back; though monstrous, it was difficult to locate due to partial obstruction from some small trees and brush and to its government-mandated minimum distance from the road lest anyone be so captivated by its message that it could cause harm on our highways. Thankfully, we have regulations on road-side advertising in this country.

David Suzuki Billboard – Click to enlarge

There it was, shining like a beacon over the city. Long after the destruction of our civilization by tidal waves and mass flooding, future archaeologists may discover this among the ruins and may only speculate as to its significance. Was this man their god, or perhaps a king that ruled over the land? Previous civilizations have worshiped the sun, but what was this object that hovered supernaturally in this figure’s hand? Was it iconic of that which they revered? The archaeologists may speculate that our civilization fought wars over much of the same that ancient history has taught befell previous peoples; they will wonder whether if it was war over resources, or perhaps adherence to an ancient and mystic religion that destroyed us or whether it was a mix of both. Did we perish due to battles fought between those that adhered to the mysticism dictated to us by our elder shamans and the agnostics and atheists that dared to disagree with their dogma? Past civilizations have fallen due to rogue invaders and barbarians outside of their borders. Future historians may question why we may have perished due to the same while we were distracted by the bright and so-called illuminated.

You’ve got the power, Dave. And your slightly obstructed billboard situated about 500 feet from a rural road does too.

How fine of a line is David Suzuki walking?

David Suzuki is the head of the eponymous David Suzuki Foundation, a registered Canadian charity that advocates on environmental issues.

Among the issues that are central to the Suzuki Foundation’s main issue campaign of climate change awareness is the introduction of a carbon tax. The Suzuki Foundation website states:

Canadian businesses and individuals can dump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they want–free of charge. We used to think that was OK, but global warming unveiled the limited capacity of the earth’s atmosphere.

Putting a price on carbon, through a carbon tax or through a cap-and-trade system, has been widely accepted as the most effective instrument to reduce carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas.

Fair enough. The Foundation is advocating on a particular policy issue to effect political and social change.

Today, from CTV.ca’s summary of David Suzuki’s interview on that program,

Famed environmentalist David Suzuki has strongly backed Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s emerging carbon tax plan and slammed the NDP and Conservatives.

After hearing the NDP’s criticism of Dion’s plan, Suzuki said: “I’m really shocked with the NDP with this. I thought that they had a very progressive environmental outlook.”

“To oppose (the carbon tax plan), its just nonsense. It’s certainly the way we got to go,” he said Sunday on CTV’s Question Period.

QP’s host, Jane Taber asked Suzuki,

Taber: “So are you saying that the Harper government is failing us on the environment?”

Suzuki: “Absolutely, absolutely”

David Suzuki, as an individual, is entitled to his opinion.

Consider Revenue Canada’s restriction on political activities by registered charities:

A registered charity cannot be created for a political purpose and cannot be involved in partisan political activities. A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.

CTV’s Question Period interviewed Suzuki for the purpose of commenting upon Dion’s carbon tax plan. While slamming the previous Liberal governments for inaction on climate change, Suzuki’s condemnation of the NDP and Conservatives and support for Dion’s position could be interpreted as partisan political activity.

The technical loophole here that keeps this legal is that David Suzuki and the David Suzuki Foundation are two entities whose activities are separate.

However, as the David Suzuki Foundation advocates for a carbon tax while David Suzuki supports one party’s position on carbon tax while condemning the policies of the other two parties, how nuanced is the difference?

ADDENDUM: I don’t fault Suzuki for walking a fine line. In fact, I believe that any level of political activity should be considered charitable. Political parties shouldn’t be the only organized political entities that should have the ability to issue tax receipts. Until that time, David Suzuki treads carefully.

UPDATE: Treading a fine line? He may have already crossed it here,

Environmentalist David Suzuki savaged Prime Minister Harper over global warming in front of a gymnasium full of elementary school students and their parents on Friday.

Later, he furiously lashed out at Albertans, calling rapid development of the oilsands “insanity” and a “disaster.”

Suzuki, who was invited to speak at Altadore elementary school and accept $835 collected by the students for his foundation, asked the kids what Harper’s main priority was after being elected last year.

He told the room some of his message was directed at the adults, because the youngsters don’t vote and Harper and other politicians don’t care about them.

“It’s up to your mom and dads to ensure your futures and livelihoods are part of the agenda,” he said to about 185 students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 6.

Collecting money for your charitable foundation while blasting the Prime Minister on policy and encouraging children to have their parents put an issue on the agenda could easily be deemed political activity and very inappropriateby the government. Again, according to Revenue Canada,

“A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.

Does David Suzuki’s Foundation still qualify for charitable status?

Earth Hour

Earth Hour was ‘celebrated’ worldwide on Saturday in order to raise “awareness” of climate change and our wasteful consumption of energy. I was made aware of this event by the huge (approx) 50 ft full colour banner hanging from Ottawa city hall, the countless full colour flyers taped to lamp posts downtown, the wall to wall TV network coverage that has been burning up the microwaves, the buckets of black ink used to print clever ‘lights out’ themes on the front pages of newspapers produced from dead trees. Ironically, one Earth Hour promoter suggested sitting in the dark and burning candles instead of having the lights on. Alas, burning wax is a much less efficient method of producing light, and a process that produces more CO2, than using fluorescent (or even incandescent bulbs) that have been produced as a result of industrial progress, and market-based innovation. Indeed, the net result of industrialization was to create more efficient processes for achieving the same or better end results for less energy cost and less energy waste.

I live in downtown Ottawa. Besides a few lights off at Parliament Hill, there was no noticeable change in the electrical demand of our nation’s capital. I wasn’t up to too much of any consequence between 8 and 9pm last night so I decided to take a bit of an Earth Hour tour of the city from the comfort of a heated and fossil-fuel powered vehicle.

First stop was the Public Service Alliance of Canada building at 233 Gilmour st. This building is the Ottawa/federal hub for left-wing / labour / socialist causes as NDP associations and organizations close to the NDP have frequent use of board rooms and meeting spaces there. Here it is in its Earth Hour illuminated glory:

Not only were the lights on that illuminate the building on the ground floor and span half of the block flooding the grounds up until the sidewalk, a good number of offices were also lit up. These folks keep union hours (nobody’s working at 8pm on Saturday night).

Next stop was the CBC on Queen st. It was a big night for CBC after all. Hockey Night in Canada is a Canadian institution and the CBC wasn’t about to go dark for the occasion even though a lot of airtime was dedicated to raising ‘awareness’ for the event.

CBC Ottawa also did not go dark for Earth Hour. The building itself is within walking distance of where I work and live (it’s also across from Hy’s) so I have noted that CBC has frequently (if not every single night) kept the lights on during the night when nobody’s working. Their empty cubicle farm located at street level is always lit up at any hour of the night when I walk by on the sidewalk. Sadly, Earth Hour was no exception.

I also high-tailed it up to Rockcliffe for a quick drive past Stornoway and 24 Sussex. The Liberal leader’s official residence on Acacia ave was dark save for a small outside light and 24 Sussex had the lights on at the RCMP guard houses near the gate, a room light, and a few other lights on (generally for security one assumes).

How does one measure the success of Earth Hour? Are there any more people today that are ‘aware’ of climate change that weren’t yesterday? These sorts of “global” events have been held in the past. Live Aid and Live8 were meant to raise “awareness” of African poverty. Unfortunately, Africa is still poor and we’re just as aware of this. Live Earth was a global concert to raise awareness of global warming, but the concert itself had a considerable carbon footprint as celebrities and rock stars flew in on their private jets and arrived by chauffeured limo to tell us to install low flow shower heads and use less toilet paper.

These sorts of events are designed to make people feel good and think that they’re part of a global solution to a collective problem. However, it seems that no concrete action is achieved by raising awareness on issues of which people are already well aware.