Appreciating Mother Nature

Today is a holiday in Canada. Victoria Day celebrates Queen Victoria, England’s longest-reigning monarch—at least until this September when Queen Elizabeth II will surpass that record.

But for many Canadians like me, it also marks the weekend we open the cottage. This entry I’m reposting below has been a popular one before because it describes how my experiences there really help to enhance my appreciation for nature and solidify the importance of why we have to try to preserve it. I hope you enjoy it, I think its message is becoming increasingly important:

This summer I’m spending as much time as I can with my family at our cottage. It’s a little piece of heaven in Muskoka on Mary Lake. I’d like to say that Muskoka is a hidden gem but it’s not all that much of a secret. In fact, many celebrities have millionaire cottages on lakes throughout the region. “Look, there’s Goldie Hawn’s place! And that one over there belongs to Cindy Crawford. Shania Twain owns a place on Such-And-Such lake. Even Kenny G has one close by.”

Other than March Break and a week between Christmas and New Year’s, I generally work every week of the year except for the summer when I save up my holiday time so we can get to the lake as much as possible. We manage to make it most weekends because it’s only about an hour away from the hospital so even when I’m on call it means I just get up a little earlier that morning and drive right there.

But it’s the week-long breaks I most look forward to. I seem to get so much more sleep up there, and I recharge my batteries at the cottage better than any other method I’ve discovered, all by simply breathing in the fresh lake air. And we get to do so many outdoor activities that are tougher to do back home. Things like biking, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and swimming. So I get much more exercise than my busy weeks working as a cardiologist allow.

One morning when I was kayaking this week—I tend to go out around 8 a.m. when the lake is particularly placid—I started to imagine what it would be like if Muskoka sat on top of a large deposit of bitumen instead of the Canadian Shield as it does in reality. If this part of the world was like northern Alberta, I imagine companies would try to buy up the land so they could start to develop it and ultimately export the products of their efforts to China and the U.S. My little piece of heaven would get destroyed in the name of the economy. Continue reading

Yesterday's Election in Alberta: Time for a Change

“What makes tar sands particularly odious is that the energy you get out in the end, per unit carbon dioxide, is poor. It’s equivalent to burning coal in your automobile.”
—James Hansen

If you’ve read my book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis” or follow this blog with any regularity, you’ll appreciate that I’m no fan of developing the tar sands in northern Alberta. Indeed, it was trying to understand why Canada was putting so much into these efforts—putting economy ahead of environment—that was a key factor that led me to explore the issue and ultimately become an advocate for renewable energy.

It’s always seemed to me that “Oil is the drug, the world is the junkie, and Canada is more than happy to be the dealer.” But Alberta hasn’t taken the thoughtful and responsible approach that Norway took to oil. That country took its oil profits and put it into trust so that now they can commit to a renewable energy future that’s sustainable. Thanks to Norway’s “Oil Fund,” they have about a trillion dollars to work with. taking a different approach, Alberta simply passed along the economic benefits of its oil to its citizens through such measures as eliminating a provincial sales tax. Now they’re in a bust situation and the people aren’t happy.

Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservative party were handily defeated last night by Rachel Notley and her New Democratic Party which won a majority mandate. The NDP are situated on the other end of the spectrum politically. from the conservatives. Interestingly, this is the first time in 44 years that Alberta isn’t being run by a conservative government. Clearly Alberta was ready for a change.

Hopefully the new Alberta government will appreciate the importance of moving forward toward sustainability. An excellent website helps readers to learn more about the impact the tar sands are having on Alberta and our country, and the reality of the economic benefits from their development. If you’d like to learn more about it from Oil Sands Reality Check, click on this link to their website.

One of the best aspects of the website is that every comment is backed up with links to supporting evidence; simply by clicking on the “Read More” button on the bottom of each fact, you can confirm for yourself the veracity of the various statements.

The video below provides an excellent summary of some of the key points that I think everyone should know before claiming that the devastation to Alberta’s ecosystems are truly worth it. The people of Alberta have spoken; let’s hope their new NDP government will listen.

"Turbines Kill Birds!" Guess What: So Do the Tar Sands

Whenever I speak about climate change, I find most of the audience is on board with the general messages I give. If there’s any disagreement, it’s not usually the skeptic/denier kind, but rather concerns raised about the proposed solutions. Like hurting the economy for the sake of the environment.

One that comes up on occasion is that wind energy is harmful to flying animals. It’s well established that some bats and birds are indeed killed by rotating turbine blades, but they’re also killed by moving vehicles and tall buildings, so is it a valid concern? I’ve always felt that as long as we do our best to minimize putting up turbines along major migratory routes, the harm to such animals would be acceptable. (Similar to the harm house cats do to the avian and rodent populations around their own homes.)

In contrast to the harm caused by wind turbines, I’ve always had concerns about the harm to wildlife and ecosystems created by the development of Alberta’s tar sands. Turns out it’s not all that trivial. A new report co-published by both the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine spells out the risks our Athabaska tar sands development poses to migrating birds.

The facts are beyond anything I would have ever imagined. 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

Canada's Tar Sands Emissions: Are They Here to Stay?

“What makes tar sands particularly odious is that the energy you get out in the end, per unit carbon dioxide, is poor. It’s equivalent to burning coal in your automobile.”
—James Hansen

In a disappointing although not necessarily surprising revelation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act indicating that Canada isn’t planning on doing anything substantial to curtail emissions from the Alberta tar sands. At least, not as long as the tar sands are going to continue to generate significant revenue.

Turns out that every Canadian climate policy being considered will still lead to further increases in carbon pollution generated from the development of the tar sands. Not a reduction in emissions; not even maintaining the same emissions; but a definite and unequivocal increase. The federal government has acknowledged that the carbon pollution per barrel has increased in the past few years—up 21 percent from 2008 levels, a fact that might significantly hurt the chance of the Keystone XL pipeline’s approval south of the border. Continue reading