New Year's Eve Just Got a Little Greener

“With the year’s biggest party being powered by Citi Bike pedals, the world is in for an even more electrifying experience when the ball drops.”
— New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to New York City (NYC), but it’s a very cool place. I love it and generally get there about once a year, usually for a cardiology meeting I attend in December.

As much as I love it though, whenever I’m there I end up thinking about just how much energy is expended to light everything the entire city, particularly at Times Square. (Truth be told, I tend to avoid Times Square because of that excess.)

But a Times Square tradition we do enjoy as a family from the comfort of our own home is watching the New Years Eves Ball drop at the final countdown to the new year. My kids are old enough now to stay up with us and enjoy the spectacle of it all.

So I was pleased to find out that this year, there will be one little improvement: the 11,875-pound Waterford crystal-covered sphere that’s lit by 32,256 separate light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs will be 100 percent powered by—wait for it—human energy! Continue reading

The Alberta Government Has No Problem With Conflict of Interest

“In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.”
Wangari Maathai

Although I can’t say I’m surprised, I’m still allowed to be disappointed. In its infinite wisdom, the government of Alberta is giving the responsibility of regulating its tar sands to a corporation completely funded by the fossil fuel industry. (In what universe is this not considered a conflict of interest?)

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is now in charge. Once upon a time the job was in the hands of the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) and the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Their job had been to make sure “appropriate precautions are taken to develop oil sands resources in the interests of all Albertans…through regulation, reviewing applications, managing conditions and approvals, surveillance, and enforcement.” Continue reading

Santa's Concerns About Climate Change

I recently had the chance to have a brief chat with Santa Claus at my local mall. (I realize that most mall Santas are actually Santa’s helpers and not the real one, but not in my mall. This guy is the real thing!) I asked him how climate change was affecting everyone at the North Pole. How were he and Mrs. Claus coping? What impact was it having on the reindeer? Or the elves?

His responses were blunt and to the point. He pointed out that the melting ice cap was definitely affecting the workshop, and that they’re looking at moving sometime in the next few decades. In Santa’s words:

“We can’t have the ice cap melt away completely because our workshop doesn’t float. My magic only goes so far. You think Miami real estate is in trouble? Scientists are telling me our home will likely sink to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean later this century.”

I asked him where he thought he could relocate. He’s been giving some consideration to Antarctica, because everyone is already used to the cold, but thought maybe they should take the opportunity to reinvent themselves completely.

“Maybe we should move to the Sahara Desert. It’s only getting bigger so there’s no fear the desert will ever disappear. Perhaps instead of a sleigh and reindeer, I’ll use a dune buggy and camels!” Continue reading

France Goes Green: First a Ban on Fracking, Now a Carbon Tax

“The low carbon economy is at the leading edge of a structural shift now taking place globally.”
William Hague

Last week the French Parliament adopted its budget for next year. And guess what: it includes a carbon tax covering emissions from gasoline, heating oil and coal. The funds generated from this tax—estimated to be about $5.5 billion annually—will be put to good use by increasing renewable energy and will provide tax breaks for both wind and solar power industries.

Carbon pollution will be taxed at a gradual rate, first starting at seven euros (about ten dollars) per tonne emitted during 2014, then rising to 14.5 euros (about twenty dollars) in 2015, and then up to 22 euros (about thirty dollars) in 2016. These measures are part of a larger strategy to reduce emissions in the country. Just two months ago, France put a complete ban on all fracking, cancelling all exploration permits. President Francois Hallande intends to reduce France’s use of fossil fuels by thirty percent by the year 2030 and by 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading

A Changing Jet Stream From Global Warming Can Still Bring Cold Weather

I get why some very rational people are confused about whether or not climate change is real. On the one hand, you have skeptics and deniers asking “Where’s your global warming now?” anytime it’s cold, and dismissing heat records as natural variations unrelated to our greenhouse gas emissions. But experts don’t always sound so convincing either, stating “Any one extreme weather event can’t be proven to be linked to climate change, but the overall trend is overwhelmingly in favour of evidence for global warming,” and when it’s cold they talk about changing weather patterns. (Hey, science is complicated.)

I must admit, this winter so far has been cold and snowy where I live. It’s not the kind of climate change a Canadian longs for. But is it evidence against global warming? Absolutely not. Climate scientists predicted a decade ago that loss of Arctic ice would change weather patterns and shift storm tracks. These changes would be expected to bring on more severe droughts, much like what North America has been experiencing in the last few years.

Recent studies have found that loss of Arctic sea ice loss can lead to changes in the jet stream, and that contributes to more extreme weather patterns all by itself. It’s been understood for many years that a warming planet will lead to melting ice and snow, both of which are highly reflective. (The planet’s reflectivity is referred to as albedo; the higher the albedo, the more reflective the surface is.) Those surfaces on our planet where melting occurs get replaced by dark blue ocean or dark land. These darker surfaces absorb more sunlight and that means more solar energy is absorbed. This is one of the reasons the Arctic warms more quickly than other parts of our planet.

Studies have shown that amplified Arctic warming leads to an amplification of extreme weather simply by shifting and weakening the jet stream. It’s been noted that over the past 30 years, the extent of Arctic sea ice extent in late summer has dropped by eight percent per decade, and spring snow coverage in June has dropped by 18 percent per decade.

Continue reading