Canada Rocks!

“This is an incredibly promising signal that Canada really is ready to lead when it comes to ambition and securing a strong global climate deal.”
—Steven Guilbeault of Montreal’s Équiterre in Paris

This past Sunday, Canada surprised everyone at COP21 in Paris by showing its resolve about tackling this problem and endorsing a much stronger and more ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gases than the United Nations summit has officially been aiming to achieve. Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced that she wants the Paris agreement to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than the two degrees most have been setting as an upper limit. And Minister McKenna’s spokesperson confirmed on Monday that this was no mistake: Canada truly wants to flip from one extreme to the other. As the spokesperson put it:

Canada wants an agreement that is ambitious and that is signed by the greatest number of countries possible. The most important thing is that each country should be legally required to submit a target. And to report on progress on that target on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, Canada’s Green Party leader Elizabeth May was ecstatic:

I am over the moon. It’s fantastic news! It creates a very ambitious trajectory for reduction of emissions, but it’s what’s required. If we’re going to keep low-lying island states from going under water, that’s what’s required. If we want to have a reasonable prospect of not having the Greenland ice sheet create five- to eight-metre sea level rise, it’s what’s required. It’s a safer zone than two [degrees], which represents a lot of irreparable, irreversible damage to large parts of the world. So 1.5 is good.

This is consistent with Prime Minister Trudeau’s attitude as he promised the world in his recent UN climate speech that climate change would be a “top priority” for Ottawa. And environmentalists like me are very happy with this new attitude form their new Canadian government. As Steven Guilbeault of Montreal’s Équiterre in Paris put it:

This is an incredibly promising signal that Canada really is ready to lead when it comes to ambition and securing a strong global climate deal. Now Canada has a chance to leverage this leadership across key pieces of this agreement and this is what we hope to see over the coming days.

We’ll have to wait to see if other nations around the world will agree to Canada’s urging to curb global warming at 1.5 C. But whatever the outcome, at least I can once again be proud of Canada as a leader in taking global problems seriously.

Happy 147th Birthday, Canada! (You Don't Look a Day Over 146!)

This week I’m enjoying some time at our cottage up in the Muskokas, and there’s no place I’d rather be as Canada celebrates its 147th birthday. My place is a modest little boathouse on a quiet lake so it offers a place to relax and really commune with nature.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how the experience of being up here helps foster a better attitude toward nature, because I get to see so much more of it than I do in my day-to-day life back home. I thought I’d share that post with you again because my internet access up here isn’t very consistent. 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 the 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 US. My little piece of heaven would get destroyed in the name of the economy. Continue reading

Canada's Energy Industry Number One for Emissions

“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche

When looking at what contributes to an entire country’s greenhouse gas emissions, there are a lot of sources that play a part. Often the largest sources of emissions come from the transportation sector and the energy used in homes and other buildings. Canada is frequently accused of more emissions per capita than many ofter nations, but the excuses that we’re a big country with vast distances between cities, and a colder climate are often used to explain that statistic.

But excuse no more: Canada’s energy industry has officially surpassed transportation as the largest source of greenhouse gases. This should come as no surprise given the very dramatic increases in tar sands development in the province of Alberta and the significant emissions associated with that endeavour, much higher than any other source of oil we obtain on the planet. (This is why it’s so often referred to as the dirtiest oil.)

Environment Canada reported that oil and gas production now makes up one quarter of all of Canada’s emissions, and that’s more than the transportation sector for the first time ever. Continue reading

New Study Proves Global Warming Even Affects Canada

 “This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
— University of Colorado Boulder geological sciences professor Gifford Miller

One common argument against global warming being our fault as human beings is that our planet has been hot before. On occasion, some knowledgeable people who remain skeptical will point out that the early Holocene period was quite hot without any human contributions whatsoever, thank you very much.

For your reference, we’re still in the Holocene period: it started about 11,700 years ago and continues to this day. It references the time period from when civilization truly started to progress since the last ice age ended. Global warming existed in the early Holocene long before we started to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels. Many like to reference this as proof that we’re not the culprit for contemporary global warming.

But a new study from the University of Colorado has shed some light on that epoch in our planet’s history. It shows that summers in the eastern Canadian Arctic—remember that the poles are more sensitive to global warming than other parts of our planet—are hotter than they’ve been throughout the entire Holocene. In fact, they’re hotter than they’ve been in at least 44,000 years, and maybe as long as 120,000 years. Continue reading

The Worst Offenders for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

“I love Sweden. The entire world should be like Sweden. They all like to drink and get naked, and the women are hot. I can’t think of a better nation on the planet.”
—Drew Curtis

I wanted to review which countries were the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Most people know that China and the US are the top two offenders, but population size certainly plays a big part in that statistic. I was more interested on a per capita basis, and I’ve heard many times that Canada was one of the worst, although we generate less than two percent of global emissions due to a smaller population. To be fair I do think we have some excuses for a higher per capita emissions rate: we’re the second largest country in the world, typically with vast distances separating many of our cities, and we’re also in a colder environment. But just how do we compare to other countries out there?

I was surprised when I started to look around that the last up-to-date information I could find on how much GHG emissions each country generates was from 2008, with 2010 data only estimates. Perhaps it takes more time to compile this information accurately than I realized, but I certainly like to review the latest statistics if at all possible. (To that end, if any readers know where I can find more current information, please let me know.) Still, I expect that things haven’t changed too much since 2008, at least when comparing country to country, so I still found it a useful exercise nonetheless. Continue reading