Friday 1 January 2010

what to do?

Up, Down.

Greg Craven: "Talk about this!"
Greg CravenGreg CravenLooking at climate change in a Decision Grid YouTube.

Greg Craven dot org.
Google Manpollo.
Manpollo dot org.

Albert Bartlett - on Arithmetic: "Think about this!"
Andrew Bartlettnear the beginning he glosses over his tricks for doing mental arithmetic - that 70 is about 100 times the Natural Log of 2 so if you divide a growth factor expressed as a percent into 70 you get the doubling time - it is unfortunate he did not stress these techniques ... if the percent growth happens to be 7% then the doubling time is 10 years, presto whiffo! it would be a good idea to cook up a list of techniques for Unbaffling Bafflegab, maybe later, but watch the video first ...

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Interview.

YouTube gets more and more annoying - it seems as if the object is to fracture information into many many bits so that it becomes more and more difficult to actually follow the video - and the information at the end of the last piece is incorrect - it is not possible to get a DVD from University of Colorado - so, what I find is to get each piece to load in a separate browser tab, wait for them all to load, and then switch from one to the next with a single click - anyway, that's how I get around some of the distractions at least.
OK - What to do?
I wish I were someone who could write a limpidly clear and inspiring treatise on this - but I am not, all I can do is tell you sort of how I got to where I am and hope for the best, lame I know

seems to me the first thing is to actually think, or, as they say, 'think for yourself', although the second formulation has hints of inaccuracy - I'll leave you to think about that :-) ... either way it is not as easy as it sounds, there are stages, things to get over bit-by-bit, being afraid, feeling stupid, and so on, I am no exemplar, over 60 already and still mostly unable to deal with things, but ok, you have to start somewhere, I have often said, jokingly, there is nothing quite like thinking if you are looking for the solution to a problem, so here goes:

here's an exercise, a thought-experiment - I know the example is a bad one, but it is the one that kicked off this process for me some years ago - think about being a homosexual, I am not suggesting to become or endorse or condemn or anything like that, just start out by asking in your mind, "I wonder if I am a homosexual?" there is not a single man who has ever been in a communal shower who has not asked himself this question, but most often it is immediately stifled before it even hits the mental landscape because 1) it is a scary question if the answer happens to be 'yes' and 2) most people do not have the infrastructure to answer it very well - so it is just a question better left un-asked

but as soon as you 'actually ask' you have to wonder, "how could I possibly find an answer?" or "what would an answer look like?"

as for mental infrastructure around this particular question, I was given a simple way of determining if you are or are not by a psychiatrist friend - "Do you regularly have fantasies about naked men which leave you aroused?" - there, if you have read to this point the experiment is done

I also use this example because I spend some time reading and replying to comments on news articles and blogs on the issue of global climate change - and there is a large group, mostly men by the look of it but hard to say because almost all of them operate behind nick-names, and their conversation reminds me of men in a bar discussing (or more often avoiding discussing) homosexuality, it has a certain knee-jerk quality, an assertive quality - all of which adds up to me thinking that they have not actually thought about the question at all

and there is no epiphany here, not something to run about the streets shouting "Eureka!" but possibly a small step towards actually thinking, in fact, shouting eureka might undo it to a point, an important quality of actually thinking is being able to keep it to myself if I want to or until I am ready to say it, the two greatest barriers that I have found are fear of thinking at all and fear of judgement for being stupid, and being able to keep it to myself is a technique for avoiding the fear of judgement - if I don't say it they can't hear me and so can't judge me either, until I have whatever time it takes for me to get it straight
here's the problem I am grappling with just now:
I believe that global climate change is happening and is largely man-made, anthropogenic as they say, and I believe that it could mean extinction for the human race if it is not dealt with quickly, whatever my reasons for these beliefs, suffice to say that I am not able to walk around them, in fact each new bit of evidence that I come across reinforces them

some people say, "to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail," and I have spent some considerable time analysing myself to see if this is what I am doing here, disregarding evidence which challenges these beliefs because of some underlying psychological predeliction for disaster, and that's just not it

some people say that the changes we are seeing have all been seen before in the fullness of time, I can't argue that very well but one thing is clear to me just from looking at the temperature graphs - changes, except for those leading up to 'extinction events', don't happen so quickly

since this is a collective problem it is natural to begin looking for a political answer, in Canada this turns out to be simple ... but depressing

the Conservatives are obviously part of the problem, the Liberals are no better, witness their siding with the Conservatives to sideline bill C-311

the New Democrats then? except that bill C-311 is their solution, 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, which they claim is 'science based' but which, according to the science I know gives us about a 50/50 chance of keeping global warming to 2 degrees C, this is waaaay to high, at 1.5 degrees C we lose Tuvalu and the Maldives, and Bangladesh and a host of others among the poorest and least responsible peoples ... QED

ok then, the rubber-boot-wearing vegans of the Green Party? this is very hard for me to admit but the Greens are just about nowhere, the leader, Elizabeth May turns out to be 1) a silly shrew, witness the Munk Debates - she expressed it all so well, and then shot herself in the foot by getting hysterical and losing control, and 2) "as inconstant as the moon," witness her peripatetic politics - 1980 Cape Breton Highlands—Canso, 2006 London North Centre, 2008 Central Nova, and now Saanich-Gulf Islands, and the Green Party itself, which I have investigated closely here in Toronto 1) is not informed on the issue, incredible as this may sound, and 2) will have nothing to do with me personally for reasons which I cannot even guess at (this story is in my last post)

so politics is out, for me at least, and that may be for the best since a political solution will simply take too long in Canada, you have to bring the current government down, see that a new government is elected, and get them up-to-speed to act, the same logic applies to any kind of a political revolution - takes too long (thanks to Franny Armstrong for that in the last segment of The Stupid Show from Copenhagen)

that the time to peak emissions with any reasonable chance of keeping the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees has already passed naturally leads to considering giving up entirely, it might be worth digressing a bit to deal with this fully, but again, suffice to say that I am not equipped, or un-equipped as the case may be, to fold
so, at the end of all this thought process I am back to just about where I started, but changed a bit from 'think for yourself' to 'act for yourself' or maybe better 'act on your own'

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” Arthur Conan Doyle said that, but how on earth can you act for yourself in these circumstances? that's the question now

with a caveat - if this is individuals beginning to think and act for themselves, then every choice and action will be unique and there will be much less of advice to be given, and much more of simply comparing notes

so, for me then:
it will be to become more and more conscious of every single thing I consume, that's more like it eh? and I will imagine that this may starve the system that is killing us, simply by making choices

I am aware that every ride I take on public transit puts pressure on whatever politician is running it to improve the service, and simultaneously takes away revenue from the whole oil/industrial complex who are the very main killers

I got rid of my car, and I imagine that the money I am no longer giving to the insurance companies is no longer being invested in that very same oil/industrial complex either

I have stopped taking flights, if I have to go somewhere I will take a bus or a train, and if the 'somewhere' is across oceans I will see about not going

I am looking at the switch to green energy, in Toronto it is Bullfrog, I imagine that every dollar I might give to Bullfrog strengthens renewable electricity sources, and simultaneously weakens OPG - on this question I am still undecided however, because Bullfrog, from what I have seen so far is ... questionable, I will call them in January and try to see what's what

- remember to consider where food comes from, damn! if I were rich I would have a garden with avocadoes & bananas

- see about using the library for internet access

- to be continued

eventually I will start to talk, telling tell other people what I am doing - but I will try to speak softly and I won't carry any sort of a stick at all, except that enigmatic advice in Matthew 10:13, "And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet," repeated in Mark 6:10, and Luke 9:4, I say 'enigmatic' because, with Paul in Romans 18, it seems unloving to be heaping coals on someone's head - that's ok, none of the the Christians I have tried to talk to about this scripture has answered ... whatever, crazy as a bed-bug in a whore-house, I guess it's true, I think about this now and then
if you listened carefully to Albert Bartlett waaay back up at the top it may have occurred to you that the same exponential rules apply to negative growth - so a 10% annual reduction would halve the thing in 5-7 years depending on how you do the arithmetic, not to mention that the knock-on effects could quite possibly accelerate that rate of decay considerably

and this is the best I can do, both to salve my own conscience, and to send a warning message to the corporations and to the government that GROWTH MUST STOP NOW and that I am going to do my part

here is one of my very favourite stories of all (from Betinho):
Houve um incêndio na floresta e enquanto todos os bichos corriam apavorados, um pequeno beija-flor ia do rio para o incêndio levando gotinhas de água em seu bico. O leão, vendo aquilo, perguntou para o beija-flor: "Ó beija-flor, você acha que vai conseguir apagar o incêndio sozinho?" E o beija-flor respondeu: "Eu não sei se vou conseguir, mas estou fazendo a minha parte".

There was a fire in the forest and while all the animals ran in fear, a little hummingbird went from the river to the fire carrying drops of water in her beak. The lion, seeing this, asked the hummingbird, "O Hummingbird, do you think you will succeed in putting out the fire all by yourself?" And the hummingbird replied, "I do not know if I will succeed or not, but I am doing my part".
Unbaffling Bafflegab 1.
here are five Angus Reid polls (all ,pdf's):
1) Canadians More Worried About Global Warming than Americans, Britons,
2) “Climategate” Does Not Alter How Canadians Perceive Global Warming,
3) Canadians Had a Good Decade, but Americans More Optimistic About 2010s,
4) Mission in Afghanistan is Top Story of the Decade for Canadians, and,
5) Ontarians Had a Rough Decade, But Are Optimistic About 2010s.

and two articles:
A) How we saw the decade, Jane Taber, Dec 28 2009, and
B) Ten stories that will shape Ontario politics in 2010, Adam Radwanski, 29 Dec 2009,

about par for those newsless days between Christmas & New Year's, nothing out of order EXCEPT that nowhere in the Globe articles is there even a mention of climate change - yet if you look at the Angus Reid polls, climate change is the #1 Canadian preoccupation ... doh!? I emailed all the parties, I had answers from the two pollsters which refused to address the question, to be expected ...

one of the problem with conspiracies (there are many) is that once you accept one, even partially, it becomes an order of magnitude easier to accept the next - so, having accepted that big oil is sowing confusion in the news around climate change, it becomes that much easier to imagine that it is the Government orchestrating whatever they feel will calm the masses while they go at the tar sands, the Mackenzie Pipeline, what-fucking-ever ... couldn't be, could it? but if not that, then what?

to be continued ...
Unbaffling Bafflegab 2.
I am adding the New Year NYT Editorial because it bears on how we see time, even points up differences between secular & sacred views of time (though it does not do this explicitly)

but what really piqued my interest was Denis Dutton's It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It, also in the NYT, I sent a letter to NYT and until it is published or not I will stop there, so here are some links to assist & remember:
     a. Denis Dutton dot com,
     b. The Heretical Environmentalist, Feb 2003,
     c. Review of Darwinian Politics by Paul Rubin, Denis Dutton, 2003,
     d. Climate Debate Daily,
     e. ResMed, financing of Climate Daily,
     f. ResMed - Peter C. Farrell, partner in Climate Daily,
     g. Phil 110 - Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus at his site,
     h. Phil 110 - Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus at Canterbury,
     i. Denis Dutton at Wikipedia.

one point, why does Climate Debade Daily not archive referenced articles? just a question y'unnerstan'

also to be continued ...
Dennis Vincent Brutus, 1924-2009:
An Open Letter to the UN Climate Change Gathering in Copenhagen, and A Birthday Greeting on YouTube ...
Dennis Brutus 1967Dennis Brutus 2006 w Fikile NkosiDennis Brutus 2009
... and a poem:

Their Behavior

Their guilt
is not so very different from ours:
— who has not joyed in the arbitrary exercise of
or grasped for himself what might have been
and who has not used superior force in the
moment when he could,
(and who of us has not been tempted to these
          things?) —
so, in their guilt,
the bare ferocity of teeth,
chest-thumping challenge and defiance,
the deafening clamor of their prayers
to a deity made in the image of their prejudice
which drowns the voice of conscience,
is mirrored our predicament
but on a social, massive, organized scale
which magnifies enormously
as the private dehabille of love
becomes obscene in orgies.

Frank Zappa(remembering Pierre Coupey's Bring Forth the Cowards for some reason, walking south on Mansfield from Sherbrooke in the sun & spring dust of the early 60s ... memory is tricky, I thought it was, 'call forth the cowards ... and as I step forward with you ...' but of course if you call them they will not come, and using 'bring' provides for a modicum of heroism in our poet :-)

a-and ... can't think about prostate cancer without thinking about Frank

1-1. Going Cheney on Climate, Thomas Friedman, Dec 8 2009.
1-2. Doutrina antiterrorismo seria útil na questão climática, defende articulista, Thomas Friedman, 25/12/2009.
1-3. Press Release No.869 - 2000-2009 The Warmest Decade, WMO, Dec 8 2009.
     1a. WMO - World Meteorological Organization.
2. Off to the Races, Thomas Friedman, Dec 19 2009.
3. Climate change doesn't scare us. That's frightening, Peter Gorrie, Dec 26 2009.
4. Mackenzie pipeline gets thumbs-up, Nathan VanderKlippe, Dec 30 2009.
5. How we saw the decade, Jane Taber, Dec 28 2009.
6. Ten stories that will shape Ontario politics in 2010, Adam Radwanski, 29 Dec 2009.
7. New Year, NYT Editorial, Dec 31 2009.
8. It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It, Denis Dutton, Dec 31 2009.
9. An Open Letter to the UN Climate Change Gathering in Copenhagen, Dennis Brutus, Dec 10 2009.

Going Cheney on Climate, Thomas Friedman, Dec 8 2009.

In 2006, Ron Suskind published “The One Percent Doctrine,” a book about the U.S. war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” Cheney contended that the U.S. had to confront a very new type of threat: a “low-probability, high-impact event.”

Soon after Suskind’s book came out, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Mr. Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same “precautionary principle” that also animated environmentalists. Sunstein wrote in his blog: “According to the Precautionary Principle, it is appropriate to respond aggressively to low-probability, high-impact events — such as climate change. Indeed, another vice president — Al Gore — can be understood to be arguing for a precautionary principle for climate change (though he believes that the chance of disaster is well over 1 percent).”

Of course, Mr. Cheney would never accept that analogy. Indeed, many of the same people who defend Mr. Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine on nukes tell us not to worry at all about catastrophic global warming, where the odds are, in fact, a lot higher than 1 percent, if we stick to business as usual. That is unfortunate, because Cheney’s instinct is precisely the right framework with which to think about the climate issue — and this whole “climategate” controversy as well.

“Climategate” was triggered on Nov. 17 when an unidentified person hacked into the e-mails and data files of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, one of the leading climate science centers in the world — and then posted them on the Internet. In a few instances, they revealed some leading climatologists seemingly massaging data to show more global warming and excluding contradictory research.

Frankly, I found it very disappointing to read a leading climate scientist writing that he used a “trick” to “hide” a putative decline in temperatures or was keeping contradictory research from getting a proper hearing. Yes, the climate-denier community, funded by big oil, has published all sorts of bogus science for years — and the world never made a fuss. That, though, is no excuse for serious climatologists not adhering to the highest scientific standards at all times.

That said, be serious: The evidence that our planet, since the Industrial Revolution, has been on a broad warming trend outside the normal variation patterns — with periodic micro-cooling phases — has been documented by a variety of independent research centers.

As this paper just reported: “Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization made public on Tuesday. The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record.”

This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the Earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.

What we don’t know, because the climate system is so complex, is what other factors might over time compensate for that man-driven warming, or how rapidly temperatures might rise, melt more ice and raise sea levels. It’s all a game of odds. We’ve never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is “irreversible” in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 buildup has the potential to unleash “catastrophic” warming.

When I see a problem that has even a 1 percent probability of occurring and is “irreversible” and potentially “catastrophic,” I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about.

If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull’s-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.

But if we don’t prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell. And that’s why I’m for doing the Cheney-thing on climate — preparing for 1 percent.

Doutrina antiterrorismo seria útil na questão climática, defende articulista, Thomas Friedman, 25/12/2009.

Em 2006, Ron Suskind publicou "The One Percent Doctrine", um livro sobre a guerra dos Estados Unidos contra o terrorismo após o 11 de Setembro . O título foi tirado da avaliação do então vice-presidente Dick Cheney: “Se existe 1% de chance de que cientistas paquistaneses estejam ajudando a al-Qaeda a construir ou desenvolver uma arma nuclear, temos de tratar a questão como certa”. Cheney sustentava que os Estados Unidos tinham de confrontar um novo tipo de ameaça, um “evento de baixa probabilidade e alto impacto”.

Quando vejo um problema que tem apenas 1% de probabilidade de ocorrer e é irreversível e catastrófico, eu faço um seguro...

Logo após a publicação do livro de Suskind, o jurista Cass Sunstein, que na época estava na Universidade de Chicago, apontou que Cheney parecia estar endossando o mesmo “princípio de precaução” que também motivava os ambientalistas.

Sunstein escreveu em sue blog: “Segundo o princípio da precaução, é adequado responder agressivamente a eventos de baixa probabilidade e alto impacto – como as mudanças climáticas. De fato, pode-se compreender que outro vice-presidente – Al Gore – defende o princípio da precaução para as mudanças climáticas (embora ele acredite que as chances de acontecer um desastre sejam muito maiores de 1%)”.

Dick Cheney jamais aceitaria essa analogia, é claro. De fato, muitas pessoas, as mesmas que defenderam a doutrina do 1% de Cheney em relação às armas nucleares, agora nos dizem para não nos preocuparmos com o catastrófico aquecimento global – quando, na verdade, as chances de desastre são muito maiores que 1%, se as coisas forem mantidas como estão.

Mas o instinto de Cheney é exatamente a base adequada para lidar com a questão do clima – e toda essa controvérsia do “ climagate ”.

O “climagate” foi deflagrado em 17 de novembro, quando uma pessoa não identificada hackeou e-mails e arquivos de dados da Unidade de Pesquisa Climártica da Universidade de East Anglia, um dos principais centros de ciências climáticas do mundo. Depois, postou os arquivos na internet.

Em pouco tempo, eles revelaram alguns importantes climatologistas aparentemente “recauchutando” dados para mostrar um aquecimento global mais forte e excluir pesquisas com conclusões diferentes.

Francamente, acho muito decepcionante ler um importante cientista do clima escrevendo que ele usou um “truque” para “esconder” uma suposta queda na temperatura ou que omitiu pesquisas discordantes do público. Sim, a comunidade que nega o aquecimento global, financiada pela grande indústria do petróleo, publicou vários tipos de estudos pseudo-científicos por anos – e o mundo nunca fez um grande barulho em torno disso. No entanto, essa não é uma desculpa para que climatologistas sérios não obedeçam aos padrões científicos.

Pingos nos is - Dito isto, falemos sério: a evidência de que nosso planeta, desde a Revolução Industrial, tem estado em uma ampla tendência de aquecimento fora dos padrões de variação normais – com fases periódicas de micro-resfriamento – tem sido documentada por uma variedade de centros de pesquisa independentes.

Como relatou recentemente o “New York Times”: “Apesar das recentes flutuações na temperatura ano após ano, que alimentaram alegações de resfriamento global, uma tendência contínua de aquecimento global não dá sinais de acabar, segundo uma nova análise da Organização Mundial de Meteorologia . Os anos 2000 provavelmente correspondem à década mais quente nos registros modernos.”

Isso não é complicado . Sabemos que nosso planeta é envelopado por um lençol de gases do efeito estufa que mantêm a Terra em uma temperatura confortável. À medida que bombeamos mais dióxido de carbono e outros gases de efeito estufa no lençol, vindos de carros, prédios, agricultura, florestas e indústria, mais calor fica preso ali.

O que não sabemos, porque o sistema climático é bastante complexo, é que outros fatores podem, com o tempo, compensar o aquecimento causado pelo homem, ou a rapidez com que as temperaturas podem aumentar, derreter mais gelo e aumentar o nível do mar.

É um jogo de azar. Nunca estivemos aqui antes.

Só sabemos duas coisas: uma é que o CO2 que lançamos na atmosfera permanece ali por muitos anos, então é “irreversível” em tempo real (com exceção de alguns avanços na geoengenharia); a outra é que o acúmulo de CO2 tem o potencial de liberar um aquecimento “catastrófico”.

Quando vejo um problema que tem apenas 1% de probabilidade de ocorrer e é “irreversível” e potencialmente “catastrófico”, eu faço um seguro. Levar a sério as mudanças climáticas é isso.

Nada a perder - Se os americanos se prepararem para as mudanças climáticas construindo uma economia de energia limpa, mas as mudanças climáticas acabarem sendo um alarme falso, qual seria o resultado?

Durante um período de transição, os preços de energia seriam mais altos.

Porém, gradualmente, eles estariam dirigindo carros elétricos movidos a bateria e cada vez mais suas casas e fábricas teriam energia eólica , solar e nuclear, além de biocombustíveis de segunda geração.

Eles dependeriam menos dos ditadores do petróleo que grudaram um alvo em suas costas; o déficit da balança comercial melhoraria; o dólar se fortaleceria; e o ar que os americanos respirariam seria mais limpo. Resumindo, como país, os Estados Unidos seriam mais fortes, mais inovadores e mais independentes em relação à energia que consomem.

No entanto, se os americanos não se prepararem, e as mudanças climáticas acabarem sendo uma verdade, a vida neste planeta poderia virar um inferno, literalmente. É por isso que eu defendo a maneira Cheney de encarar a questão climática – nos preparando para 1%.

Off to the Races, Thomas L. Friedman, Dec 19 2009.

I’ve long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change — the “Earth Day” strategy and the “Earth Race” strategy. This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need.

Indeed, anyone who watched the chaotic way this conference was “organized,” and the bickering by delegates with which it finished, has to ask whether this 17-year U.N. process to build a global framework to roll back global warming is broken: too many countries — 193 — and too many moving parts. I leave here feeling more strongly than ever that America needs to focus on its own Earth Race strategy instead. Let me explain.

The Earth Day strategy said that the biggest threat to mankind is climate change, and we as a global community have to hold hands and attack this problem with a collective global mechanism for codifying and verifying everyone’s carbon-dioxide emissions and reductions and to transfer billions of dollars in clean technologies to developing countries to help them take part.

But as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil told this conference, this Earth Day framework only works “if countries take responsibility to meet their targets” and if the rich nations really help the poor ones buy clean power sources.

That was never going to happen at scale in the present global economic climate. The only way it might happen is if we had “a perfect storm” — a storm big enough to finally end the global warming debate but not so big that it ended the world.

Absent such a storm that literally parts the Red Sea again and drives home to all the doubters that catastrophic climate change is a clear and present danger, the domestic pressures in every country to avoid legally binding and verifiable carbon reductions will remain very powerful.

Does that mean this whole Earth Day strategy is a waste? No. The scientific understanding about the climate that this U.N. process has generated and the general spur to action it provides is valuable. And the mechanism this conference put in place to enable developed countries and companies to offset their emissions by funding protection of tropical rain forests, if it works, would be hugely valuable.

Still, I am an Earth Race guy. I believe that averting catastrophic climate change is a huge scale issue. The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America’s.

Therefore, the goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech. If we lead by example, more people will follow us by emulation than by compulsion of some U.N. treaty.

In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth.

Maybe the best thing President Obama could have done here in Copenhagen was to make clear that America intends to win that race. All he needed to do in his speech was to look China’s prime minister in the eye and say: “I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on.”

Because once we get America racing China, China racing Europe, Europe racing Japan, Japan racing Brazil, we can quickly move down the innovation-manufacturing curve and shrink the cost of electric cars, batteries, solar and wind so these are no longer luxury products for the wealthy nations but commodity items the third world can use and even produce.

If you start the conversation with “climate” you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a “whole new industry” — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.

For good reason: Even if the world never warms another degree, population is projected to rise from 6.7 billion to 9 billion between now and 2050, and more and more of those people will want to live like Americans. In this world, demand for clean power and energy efficient cars and buildings will go through the roof.

An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference. Let the Earth Race begin.

Press Release No.869 - 2000-2009 The Warmest Decade, WMO, Dec 8 2009.

For use of the information media / Not an official record


Geneva, 8 December 2009 (WMO) – The year 2009 is likely to rank in the top 10 warmest on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for 2009 (January–October) is currently estimated at 0.44°C ± 0.11°C (0.79°F ± 0.20°F) above the 1961–1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.2°F. The current nominal ranking of 2009, which does not account for uncertainties in the annual averages, places it as the fifth-warmest year. The decade of the 2000s (2000–2009) was warmer than the decade spanning the 1990s (1990–1999), which in turn was warmer than the 1980s (1980–1989). More complete data for the remainder of the year 2009 will be analysed at the beginning of 2010 to update the current assessment.

This year above-normal temperatures were recorded in most parts of the continents. Only North America (United States and Canada) experienced conditions that were cooler than average. Given the current figures, large parts of southern Asia and central Africa are likely to have the warmest year on record.

Climate extremes, including devastating floods, severe droughts, snowstorms, heatwaves and cold waves, were recorded in many parts of the world. This year the extreme warm events were more frequent and intense in southern South America, Australia and southern Asia, in particular. La Niña conditions shifted into a warm-phase El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in June. The Arctic sea ice extent during the melt season ranked the third lowest, after the lowest and second-lowest records set in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

This preliminary information for 2009 is based on climate data from networks of land-based weather and climate stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites. The data are continuously collected and disseminated by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of the 189 Members of WMO and several collaborating research institutions. The data continuously feed three main depository global climate data and analysis centres, which develop and maintain homogeneous global climate datasets based on peer-reviewed methodologies. The WMO global temperature analysis is thus based on three complementary datasets. One is the combined dataset maintained by both the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom. Another dataset is maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the United States Department of Commerce, and the third one is from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The content of the WMO statement is verified and peer-reviewed by leading experts from other international, regional and national climate institutions and centres before its publication.

Final updates and figures for 2009 will be published in March 2010 in the annual WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate.

Regional temperature anomalies

The year 2009 (January–October) was again warmer than the 1961–1990 average all over Europe and the Middle East. China had the third-warmest year since 1951; for some regions 2009 was the warmest year. The year started with a mild January in northern Europe and large parts of Asia, while western and central Europe were colder than normal. Russia and the Great Lakes region in Canada experienced colder-than- average temperatures in February and January, respectively. Spring was very warm in Europe and Asia; April in particular was extremely warm in central Europe. Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria reported temperature anomalies of more than +5°C, breaking the previous records for the month in several locations. The European summer was also warmer than the long-term average, particularly over the southern regions. Spain had the third-warmest summer, with hotter summers reported only in 2003 and 2005. Italy recorded a strong heatwave in July, with maximum temperatures above 40°C, and some local temperatures reaching 45°C. A heatwave at the beginning of July affected the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Germany, and some stations in Norway experienced new maximum temperature records.

India had an extreme heatwave event during May, which caused 150 deaths. A heatwave hit northern China during June, with daily maximum temperatures above 40°C; historical maximum temperature records were broken for the summer in some locations.

In late July many cities across Canada recorded their warmest daily temperatures. Vancouver and Victoria set new records, reaching 34.4°C and 35.0°C, respectively. Alaska also had the second-warmest July on record. Conversely, October was a very cold month across large parts of the United States. For the nation as a whole, it was the third-coolest October on record, with an average temperature anomaly of -2.2°C (-4.0°F). Similarly, a very cold October was reported in Scandinavia, with mean temperature anomalies ranging from -2°C to -4°C.

The austral autumn (March to May) was extremely warm in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil. With daily temperatures ranging from 30°C to 40°C, several records were broken during this season. By the end of October, an extreme weather situation affected north and central Argentina, producing unusually high temperatures (above 40°C). Conversely, November was abnormally cold in the southern part of the region, with some rare and late snowfalls.

So far, Australia has had the third-warmest year on record. The year 2009 was marked by three exceptional heatwaves, which affected south-eastern Australia in January/February and November, and subtropical eastern Australia in August. The January/February heatwave was associated with disastrous bushfires that caused more than 173 fatalities. Victoria recorded its highest temperature with 48.8°C. The northern region experienced a cold summer, however, with anomalies reaching -3°C to -4°C in some places. Winter was exceptionally mild over much of Australia. Maximum temperatures were well above normal across the entire continent, reaching 6°C to 7°C above normal in some parts. The national maximum temperature anomaly of +3.2°C was the largest ever recorded for any month.

Severe droughts

China suffered its worst drought in five decades. Water levels in parts of the Gan River and Xiangjiang River were the lowest in the past 50 years. In India the poor monsoon season caused severe drought impacts in 40 per cent of the districts. The north-western and north-eastern parts of the country were badly affected. It was reported to be one of the weakest monsoon seasons since 1972.

In East Africa the drought led to massive food shortages. In Kenya the drought was responsible for severe damage to livestock and a 40 percent decline in the maize harvest.

In North America, Mexico experienced severe-to-exceptional drought conditions by the month of September. In the United States, the western region was the most affected by a moderate-to-exceptional drought by the end of October. Nevertheless, the total area affected by drought in the United States during October was the second-smallest value recorded in this decade.

Drought in Central Argentina caused severe damage to agriculture, livestock and water resources. The situation was most severe at the end of October, with very high temperatures reported as well.

Over the key agricultural areas of the Murray-Darling Basin and the south-western part of Western Australia, rainfall was generally below normal. The passage of another year without any sustained above-normal rainfall has seen long-term rainfall deficits continuing in south-eastern Australia. Sustained dry conditions in the Murray-Darling Basin have now continued for nine years.

Intense storm events and precipitation

At the end of January, Spain and France were severely affected by winter storm Klaus, the worst extra-tropical storm in a decade, with winds similar to a category 3 hurricane. Another winter storm combined with heavy snowfall caused severe damage in western Europe and resulted in serious disruptions of air and rail traffic in several countries. In late spring and summer a large number of thunderstorms with heavy rain, hail and tornadoes caused local flooding and significant damage across Germany. In September, several parts of the Mediterranean region were affected by extreme rainfall events. Total rainfall of more than 300mm was recorded in less than 48 hours in one location of south-eastern Spain, where the long-term average for total annual precipitation does not exceed 450 mm. During the same month, intense rainfall caused devastating damage to infrastructure in several parts of northern Africa, including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. In a similar pattern, the highest September rainfall recorded in 80 years produced severe flash floods in north-western Turkey. November brought severe flooding to northern areas of the United Kingdom, and a new 24-hour precipitation record was set for the country.

During the beginning of the year heavy rainfall was observed in Colombia, producing landslides and widespread floods. North-east Brazil was severely affected by heavy rainfall and flooding in April and May. Later, in July, a severe snowstorm hit the southern part of Argentina; it was the worst snowstorm in 15 years. During the austral spring, particularly in November, continuous heavy and intense rainfall was seen in north-eastern Argentina, southern Brazil and Uruguay, causing flooding in many places and affecting more than 15,000 people. Total monthly precipitation records were broken, with rainfall exceeding more than 500mm in many locations.

In Canada, Ontario experienced a record number of witnessed tornadoes and a record number of related fatalities. Canadian avalanches were almost double the yearly average for the past decade and the worst since 2002–2003. A total of 25 deaths made it one of the deadliest seasons. The northern plains region of the United States was affected by record flooding during the month of March. As a whole, the United States recorded the wettest October in 115 years.

In Central America, an intense storm in El Salvador in November, associated in part with Hurricane Ida, produced deadly floods and landslides that claimed 192 lives.

In Asia, after the weak 2009 monsoon season, southern India recorded severe flooding due to incessant rain in late September and the first week of October, and more than 250 lives were lost. On the other hand, northern China was severely affected by a snowstorm that occurred during the first half of November as part of a strong cold wave. These snowfalls were one month earlier than normal, breaking local weather records.

In western Africa, heavy and intense rainfall in September caused flooding that affected more than 100,000 people. The worst flooding was observed in Burkina Faso, where 263 mm of rain was recorded in less than 12 hours, breaking a record set 90 years ago. Further south on the continent, nearly 1 million people in Zambia and Namibia were affected by torrential rain that caused rivers to overflow their banks, flooding homes and cropland.

Australia was also affected by local flooding. Coastal Queensland and New South Wales were the hardest hit by several heavy rain events, with daily rainfall totals in excess of 300 mm. On the other hand, numerous duststorms affected eastern Australia in the second half of September and early October, as regular strong winds transported dust from northern South Australia over the eastern states. The most severe duststorm occurred on 22–23 September and covered large parts of New South Wales and Queensland, where the visibility was reduced to 100–200m in both Sydney and Brisbane.

End of La Niña and Development of El Niño

La Niña-like conditions were present in early 2009, followed by the development of El Niño patterns starting in June 2009. During June–September 2009, sea surface temperatures were generally about 1°C warmer than the long-term average across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. An El Niño event is currently underway, with the early phase of the event holding steady at weak-to-moderate levels through July–September. During October, almost all indicators of El Niño became noticeably stronger.

Tropical cyclone season

The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season closed with the fewest named storms and hurricanes since 1997, most likely due to the unfavourable cyclonic conditions caused in part by El Niño. A total of nine named tropical storms were formed, including three hurricanes, two of which were major hurricanes at Category 3 strength or higher. (The averages are 11, 6 and 2, respectively).

In the East Pacific, 20 named tropical storms were recorded, eight of which evolved into hurricanes and five of which became major hurricanes (The averages are 16, 9 and 4, respectively.)

In the western North Pacific, 22 named tropical storms have been recorded so far, and 13 of them reached the intensity of typhoon, compared to the long-term averages of 27 and 14, respectively. Heavy precipitation associated with typhoons Ketsana and Parma was observed across the south of Luzon Island in the Philippines. The resulting flood disaster caused more than 900 fatalities in total. In August, Typhoon Morakot swept across Taiwan Province of China and caused more than 400 deaths and severe damage to agriculture and infrastructure. Hundreds of roads and bridges on the island were destroyed by floods.

The Australian and South Indian Ocean cyclone seasons recorded near-average activity. In the Australian region, there were 10 systems during this season, with Hamish the most significant one, although it did not make landfall. It reached category 5 intensity and was the most intense cyclone observed off the eastern Queensland coast since 1918.

Third-lowest Arctic sea ice

According to scientific measurements, Arctic sea ice has declined dramatically over the past 30 years at least, with the most extreme decline seen in the summer melt season. Arctic sea ice extent during the 2009 melt season was 5.10 million km2, which is the third-lowest on record after the 2007 record (4.3 million km2) and 2008 (4.67 million km2), since satellite measurements began in 1979.

Information sources

This press release was issued in collaboration with the Hadley Centre of the United Kingdom Meteorological Office; the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom; the National Climatic Data Center, National Environmental Satellite and Data Information Service, and the National Weather Service under NOAA; and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the United States. Other contributors are the NMHSs of Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Japan, Morocco, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and Uruguay. The African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD, Niamey), the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the Centro Internacional para la Investigación del Fenómeno de El Niño (CIIFEN, Guayaquil, Ecuador), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC, Nairobi, Kenya), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Drought Monitoring Centre (SADC DMC, Gabarone, Botswana) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) also contributed.

Global Surface Temperature Trend : Result from three Global datasets: NOAA (NCDC Dataset) , NASA (GISS dataset) and combined Hadley Center and Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (UK) (HadCRUT3 dataset)

Climate change doesn't scare us. That's frightening, Peter Gorrie, Dec 26 2009.

We've just ended a two-decade experiment in global problem solving.

It failed: Now we must figure out how to manage the consequences.

That's the main conclusion as the dust settles on the uninspiring Copenhagen climate summit, itself the dismal culmination of 20 years of negotiations to reduce the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

The final "accord" says the international community wants to keep Earth's average temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius but includes nothing that compels any nation to do anything to achieve the target.

What's touted as the major breakthrough – an agreement rich nations will provide billions to help poor countries to cope with climate change – promises less than will be required, contains no indication where most of the money will come from, creates the possibility donations would simply be transfers from foreign-aid budgets and, most important, would do nothing to halt climate change.

The divisions that stymied the 14 previous annual UN conferences remain as wide as ever, despite the self-congratulatory puff that emanated from the Danish capital as 15,000 delegates and many more hangers-on headed home.

In the aftermath, it's being acknowledged that huge international meetings are no place for negotiations. While these costly exercises will continue – the 2010 version is slated for Mexico City – many predict the task of actually cutting emissions will fall to the 30 or so countries – including Canada – responsible for 90 per cent of the human-sourced carbon entering the atmosphere.

The United States is expected to dominate this process if Congress passes legislation to cap greenhouse emissions and establish an emissions trading system.

A major stumbling block at Copenhagen was the unwillingness of China, India and other rapidly expanding economies to agree to caps of their own or allow independent verification if they claim emissions cuts. As the world's biggest importer of manufactured products, the U.S. could insist that if these trading partners want continued access to its huge market they must match its policies.

But this intriguing idea is marred by questionable assumptions about how tough the U.S. would be and how desperately others would want to sell to it. With alternative markets developing, the debt-ridden U.S. might become less significant. Besides, the proposed American law is weak; imposing it on other nations wouldn't accomplish what's required.

Another drawback: This process would exclude the poor nations being hit first and hardest by climate change. Also missing would be the sense of global crisis and shared mission that's been the subtext of the annual conferences. It hasn't provided enough impetus, but what motivation might replace it?

In the obvious absence of political leadership, activists say it's now up to the people, en masse, to take charge. They're correct: Large numbers of individuals must alter their lifestyles and demand governments enact ambitious wider-scale solutions.

But most humans dislike change and act only on threats that are close and imminent. Climate change, so far, is neither: Melting polar ice caps, drought in Africa and the inundation of Pacific islands are too remote to move the majority. "Our perceptions are based on feelings, values, a lot of emotional assumptions toward climate change that conflict with what makes sense," says David Ropeik, a risk-management analyst based in Boston. "Our inability to act is based on our inability to be purely rational."

Nothing that happened in Copenhagen, or that's likely to occur at the conventional political level, will prevent the worst of climate change. Unless people accept that the threat is real, and act as if it is, the coming decade will usher in another experiment – this time, in global crisis response.

Mackenzie pipeline gets thumbs-up, Nathan VanderKlippe, Dec 30 2009.

Northern natural gas conduit ‘would deliver valuable and lasting overall benefits,' review panel says in long-awaited report

Calgary — The review panel assessing the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline has concluded that the $16.2-billion project “would deliver valuable and lasting overall benefits, and avoid significant adverse environmental impacts.”

While the 679-page report does not give formal approval to the project to go ahead, its positive findings are a major step forward, coming more than five years after the pipeline's corporate backers first applied for environmental approval. It includes 176 recommendations aimed at diminishing the pipeline's impact on the people and environments its planners hope it will one day traverse.

The report concludes that the pipeline will “provide the foundation for a sustainable northern future” – one that would be better with the major project than without it. Its recommendations touch on the pipeline's design, as well as on the need for government funding to help protect environmentally sensitive areas and species in the North.

The 1,220-kilometre pipeline would bring up to 1.2-billion cubic feet a day of natural gas from onshore basins near the Arctic Coast to the northern edge of Alberta, where it would connect to the province's distribution system. A separate, smaller line would bring liquids from the Far North to an existing Enbridge Inc. pipeline in Norman Wells, NWT.

The pipeline's corporate backers include Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDS.A-N60.66-0.13-0.21%) , ConocoPhillips Canada (COP-N50.990.190.37%) , ExxonMobil Canada and Imperial Oil Ltd. (IMO-T40.500.160.40%) , which has led the consortium for the past decade. Together, they have proposed a project that would bring a new age of industrialization to one of Canada's most untouched regions.

Though the pipeline dream has stoked fears of cultural and environmental damage – to sensitive permafrost regions, and the delicate caribou and other species that live there – it has also raised hopes among many northerners who yearn for the economic independence it could help to bring.

The seven-member Joint Review Panel consulted trappers, elders, environmentalists and experts as it sought to assess the social and environmental toll the pipeline would take – and ways to lessen that impact.

Yet in many ways, the most contentious decisions remain to be made. The primary one will come from industry itself, which has to choose whether to build a massive new pipeline whose necessity has been called into question by abundant new North American natural gas supplies.

Two other important decisions will come from the National Energy Board, which will take the review panel report as a recommendation before it makes a final approval decision – expected in September – and the federal government.

Ottawa has spent nearly a year in negotiations with the pipeline's corporate backers on a fiscal package that is likely to include spending on infrastructure and other risk-sharing investments.

Industry has compared the pipeline to the western railroad and the St. Lawrence Seaway, arguing federal support has always been needed for such nation-building exercises.

“We really have to take a basin that has been dormant for decades and open it up, and that's why there's a role for the government of Canada to make that happen,” Hal Kvisle, the chief executive officer of TransCanada Corp. (TRP-T35.930.290.81%) , said in an interview in November. “If we could get through that, the Mackenzie story is going to be a great story for Canada for a long time.”

Yet the financial package has yet to be finalized, raising questions about Ottawa's willingness to authorize substantial spending at a time when tens of billions have already been poured into stimulus spending – and the viability of the pipeline itself has been called into question.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who has overseen the Mackenzie process, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. An Environment Canada official said the ministry would not respond until it has completed “the necessary analysis and consultation.”

Ultimately, industry will have to decide whether to embark on the most expensive private construction project in Canadian history now that technological advances have allowed the tapping of expansive shale gas fields once considered impossible to produce. Some now believe North America has enough gas to supply current demand for a century, with no need for Arctic gas.

Mr. Kvisle, however, has argued that shale won't be able to fill all of the continent's gas needs. Imperial parent Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM-N68.77-0.07-0.10%) , too, has shown a real appetite for natural gas, throwing its support behind an Alaska pipeline and buying up extensive reserves in north-eastern British Columbia and the U.S., with its recent $31-billion (U.S.) buyout of XTO Energy Inc.

Still, the Mackenzie pipeline dream has been doused before.

Its first incarnation was blocked in the mid-1970s by Justice Thomas Berger who, after hearing from northern First Nations not ready for a major industrial development, recommended a 10-year moratorium.

But the idea was rekindled in 2000, when gas prices spiked and a group of companies led by Imperial Oil began to reassess the project. Northern First Nations, many of whom had gained significant autonomy in the intervening years, quickly stepped up to request a stake in the project. They were eventually granted a one-third ownership, with some funding for the Aboriginal Pipeline Group coming from TransCanada Pipelines.

The key obstacle has been gaining environmental approval. An arduous review saw officials hold dozens of consultations in tiny northern communities and spend years writing a final report. In the meantime, the project's estimated cost has risen from $3-billion to $16.2-billion.

Negotiators have reached agreement with four of five First Nations whose land the pipeline would cross. They have not yet struck a deal with the Dehcho First Nation, who claim an area comprising 40 per cent of the pipeline route.

Most northerners support the project. Many have spent significant sums of money to prepare for its coming, and may face serious economic loss if it is not built. The Northwest Territories government has warned that the package must be finalized in coming weeks, ahead of the spring budget, or the pipeline could fail and the territory could face a “doomsday scenario” that would leave its economy “in ruins.”

How we saw the decade, Jane Taber, Dec 28 2009.

Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan and the outbreaks of H1N1 and SARS are the top stories of the decade, according to a new on-line Angus Reid Strategies poll. Nearly 30 per cent of those surveyed mentioned the Afghan mission as the top story. This compares with 20 per cent of respondents who felt that the virus outbreaks were important; 18 per cent of respondents said the Liberal sponsorship scandal was the decade’s top tale. Not surprisingly the Quebec-based scandal that basically pushed the Liberals out of power in 2006 was a most prominent story among Quebeckers (35 per cent of them chose it). Further down the list were the Winter Olympics, and both Stephen Harper and Paul Martin becoming Prime Minister. The poll also looks ahead: 63 per cent of respondents believe the Liberals will return to power in the next decade and 83 per cent do not believe Quebec will become independent in the next 10 years. The online survey of 1,017 Canadians was conducted between Dec. 15 and Dec. 16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent. The poll can be found on the Angus Reid Web site at:

Ten stories that will shape Ontario politics in 2010, Adam Radwanski, 29 Dec 2009.

Here (in no particular order) are 10 stories that will tell the tale of 2010, and help determine the fate of Dalton McGuinty's Liberals, Adam Radwanski writes


The biggest debate raging within Liberal circles is whether to privatize one of the province's major assets. If so, the easiest option would be Hydro One, but the LCBO and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. are also candidates. It comes down to whether a deal could be presented as a long-term plan, not a fire sale.


Even setting aside asset sales, the Liberals have to figure out how aggressively to battle their $24.7-billion deficit in the next budget. Are they prepared to do battle with public servants, or face the backlash from freezing spending on key services? Or will they keep belt-tightening to a relative minimum, on the premise that - a year after governments across the Western world went berserk with stimulus spending - a big deficit isn't that big a deal?


Everyone knows health-care spending, set to take up half of program expenditures by 2015, is growing at an unsustainable rate. Less clear is what to do about it.

The government is gearing up for a fight with pharmacies to reduce spending on the Ontario Drug Benefit. But the savings won't be huge. Will it also take on doctors or hospitals?


Starting in July, we'll see just how big a deal the HST is to Ontarians.

The Liberals are counting on consumers to be underwhelmed when the new tax starts being collected - to conclude that it doesn't newly affect that many goods, and that the opposition overhyped it. Their re-election hopes in 2011 will rest largely on that calculation being correct.


The province's energy policy has been in limbo since George Smitherman's departure to run for mayor of Toronto. It can't stay that way.

On green energy, the biggest question is whether to proceed with a controversial multibillion-dollar deal with the Samsung Group, which Mr. Smitherman championed.

No less important is whether the government finally settles on a plan to build new nuclear reactors. Diminished energy demand helped put it on the backburner in 2009. But if the province doesn't have the capacity to meet increasing demand, it will severely impact its economic renewal.


There will be a major cabinet shuffle early in the year; there might even be a second, once former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray takes his seat in the legislature after a by-election.

The most pressing need for Mr. McGuinty is to replace Mr. Smitherman.


Mr. McGuinty's legacy project, full-day kindergarten, will begin its lengthy rollout in September. Before then, an awful lot - including registration, curriculum development and staffing structures, not to mention finalizing which schools it will be in - has to happen. If that doesn't go smoothly, the ensuing chaos will cause some parents to turn against a policy supposed to win their votes.


Tim Hudak, the novice leader of the Progressive Conservatives, did what he needed to do in 2009 - professionalizing his party's operations, and re-engaging members after a disheartening few years.

Now, Mr. Hudak will need to start worrying about how he presents to other Ontarians. Look for a softening of his image, with other Tories playing attack-dog. The bigger task will be to start carving out a serious alternative vision for the province, not just opposing whatever the Liberals are doing.


By the end of 2009, controversy surrounding spending practices at provincial agencies began dying down. But the Tories have been hinting for months that they have more dirt. If so, they'll be looking to bring it to light early in 2010, lest everyone move on.


Never mind that it might have more to do with what happens in Washington, and to a lesser extent Ottawa, than at Queen's Park. If Ontario's economy shows strong signs of rebounding by the end of 2010, Mr. McGuinty will disproportionately claim credit for it (holding up decisions like the HST). If it's stagnant, he'll be disproportionately blamed by the opposition (holding up decisions like the HST). Either way, it will have an enormous bearing on Ontarians' mood in 2011.

New Year, NYT Editorial, Dec 31 2009.

We’ve been getting and sending a lot of holiday greetings, but one we have yet to hear is: “Have a Very New Year!” Perhaps it sounds too ambiguous for a real felicitation; safer to wish upon each other happiness rather than newness. But what if the newness of the new year was more than a calendrical trope? What if we rolled into January as if we were rolling into undiscovered country — ties cut, wagons loaded, oxen hitched?

For all of the toasts and vows, it is easy to dismiss the new year as an artificial made-for-Champagne-purveyors boundary. If we move past it — and our limited resolutions — quickly it is because life has a profound continuity that has little reference to the calendar’s pages. For most of us, time falls into different, and largely private, patterns. It’s more natural to measure time by how long you’ve lived in the same apartment or worked at a job, how long a relationship has endured and how old the children have grown, how large the trees you planted years ago have gotten.

That’s one thing the new year always offers: a look back across the plains into the past before we move onward into the future. It is a holiday that insists upon our temporality and reminds us that time is, in fact, the strangest thing. No one ever sat you down, when you were young, and explained the workings of time the way the safe way to cross a street was explained. You just grew into it, into the way we trail the past behind us while the future comes rushing forward.

It also offers possibility. We’re all surging forward — some with more impetus than others. And now we have 2010 before us, a year that seemed unimaginable until we were right at its border.

It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It, Denis Dutton, Dec 31 2009.

Christchurch, New Zealand - IT seems so distant, 1999. Bill Clinton had survived impeachment, his popularity hardly dented, Sept. 11 was just another date and music fans were enjoying a young singer named Britney Spears.

But there was a particular unease in the air. The so-called Y2K problem, the inability of computers to read dates beyond 1999 threatened to turn Jan. 1, 2000 into a nightmare. The issue had first been noticed by programmers in the 1950s, but had been ignored. As the turn of the century loomed, though, it seemed that humankind faced a litany of horrors.

Haywire navigation controls might cause aircraft to fall from the skies. Electricity grids, water systems and telephone networks would be knocked out, while nuclear power plants would be subject to meltdown. Savings and pension accounts would be wiped out in a general bank failure. A cascade of breakdowns in communication and commerce would create vast shortages of food and medicine, which would, in turn, produce riots, lawlessness and social collapse. Even worse, ICBMs might rise from their silos unbidden, spreading death across the globe.

Y2K problems would not be limited to mainframe computers that governed the information systems of the modern world, but were going to affect millions of tiny computer chips found everywhere. Thanks to these wonky microprocessors, elevators would die, G.P.S. devices would stop working and dishwashers would dry the food onto the plates before trying to rinse it off. Even ordinary cars might spontaneously accelerate to fatal, uncontrollable speeds, with brakes failing to respond.

The Y2K catastrophe was promoted with increasing shrillness toward century’s end: headlines proclaimed a “computer time bomb” or “a date with disaster.” Vanity Fair’s January 1999 article “The Y2K Nightmare” caught the sensationalist tone, claiming that “folly, greed and denial” had “muffled two decades of warnings from technology experts.”

Among the most reviled of the Y2K deniers was Bill Gates, who not only declared that Microsoft’s PCs would take the date turnover in stride, but had the audacity to blame those who “love to tell tales of fear” for the worldwide anxiety. Mr. Gates’s denialism was ignored as governments and corporations set in place immensely expensive schemes to immunize systems against the Y2K bug.

They weren’t the only ones keen to get in on the end-time spirit. The Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that Y2K would be the confirmation of Christian prophecy, “God’s instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation.” The Y2K crisis might incite a worldwide revival that would lead to “the rapture of the church.” Along with many survivalists, Mr. Falwell advised stocking up on food and guns.

So the scene was set here in New Zealand for midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. We are just west of the dateline, and thus would be the first to experience not only popping Champagne corks and fireworks, but the Y2K catastrophe, if any. As clocks hit midnight, Champagne and skyrockets were the only explosions of interest, since telephones, ATMs, cars, computers and airplanes worked just fine. The head of the government’s Y2K Readiness Commission declared victory: “New Zealand’s investment in planning and preparation has paid off.”

Confident that our millions were well spent, we waited for news of the calamities sure to hit countries that had ignored Y2K. Asia, a Deutsche Bank official had predicted, was going to be “burnt toast” on New Year’s Day — not just the lesser-developed areas of Vietnam and China, but South Korea, which by 1999 was a highly computer-dependent society. South Korea, one computer expert told me, had a national telephone system similar to British Telecom’s. But where the British had wisely sunk millions of pounds into Y2K remediation, South Korea had done next to nothing.

However, exactly 10 years ago today, as the date change moved on through the Far East, India, Russia, the Middle East and Europe, it became apparent that it made little difference whether you lived in Britain, which at great expense had revamped many of its computer systems, or the lackadaisical Ukraine, which had ignored the issue.

With minor glitches that would have gone unnoticed any other day of the week, the world kept ticking on. It must have been galling for computer-conscientious Germans to observe how life continued its pleasurable path for feckless Italians, who had generally paid no attention to Y2K. There were problems, to be sure: in Australia, a bus-ticket machine stamped the wrong date, while in Britain a tide gauge in Portsmouth Harbor failed. Still, the South Korean phone system came through unscathed.

By the time midnight reached the United States, where upward of $100 billion had been spent on Y2K fixes, there was little anxiety. Indeed, the general health of American information systems, fixed and not, became clearer in the new year. The Small Business Administration calculated that 1.5 million businesses had undertaken no Y2K remediation. On Jan. 3, it received about 40 phone calls from businesses that had experienced minor faults, like cash registers that misread the year “2000” as “1900” (which seemed everywhere the single most common error caused by Y2K).

KNOWING our computers is difficult enough. Harder still is to know ourselves, including our inner demons. From today’s perspective, the Y2K fiasco seems to be less about technology than about a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios. This ought to strike us as strange. The cold war was fading in 1999, we were witnessing a worldwide growth in wealth and standards of living, and Islamic terrorism was not yet seen as a serious global threat. It should have been a year of golden weather, a time for the human race to relax and look toward a brighter, more peaceful future. Instead, with computers as a flimsy pretext, many seemed to take pleasure in frightening themselves to death over a coming calamity.

No doubt part of the blame must go to those consultants who took businesses and governments for an expensive ride in the lead-up to New Year’s Day. But doom-laden exaggerations about Y2K fell on ears that were all-too receptive. The Y2K fiasco was about more than simple prudence.

Religions from Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity to U.F.O. cults have been built around notions of sin and the world’s end. The Y2K threat resonated with those ideas. Human beings have constructed an enormous, wasteful, unnatural civilization, filled with sin — or, worse in some minds, pollution and environmental waste. Suppose it turned out that a couple of zeros inadvertently left off old computer codes brought crashing down the very civilization computers helped to create. Cosmic justice!

The theme of our fancy inventions ultimately destroying us has been a favorite in fiction at least since Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” We can place alongside this a continuous succession of spectacular films built on visions of the end of the world. Such end-time fantasies must have a profound, persistent appeal in order to keep drawing wide-eyed crowds into movie theaters, as historically they have drawn crowds into churches, year after year.

Apocalyptic scenarios are a diversion from real problems — poverty, terrorism, broken financial systems — needing intelligent attention. Even something as down-to-earth as the swine-flu scare has seemed at moments to be less about testing our health care system and its emergency readiness than about the fate of a diseased civilization drowning in its own fluids. We wallow in the idea that one day everything might change in, as St. Paul put it, the “twinkling of an eye” — that a calamity might prove to be the longed-for transformation. But turning practical problems into cosmic cataclysms takes us further away from actual solutions.

This applies, in my view, to the towering seas, storms, droughts and mass extinctions of popular climate catastrophism. Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment. As that headline put it for Y2K, predictions of the end of the world are often intertwined with condemnations of human “folly, greed and denial.” Repent and recycle!

Denis Dutton is a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

An Open Letter to the UN Climate Change Gathering in Copenhagen, Dennis Brutus, Dec 10 2009.

Allow me to make a few points about the current international negotiations which are likely to make a huge impact on the future of the planet. At the heart of the issue is the trade off that has to be made between those who want to continue on a path of exploitation and the protesters marching in the streets for a new path of being less prodigal.

South Africa, post 1994, eliminated the debt attributed to Namibia in a gesture of reconciliation. We fell short of distancing ourselves from the odious debt of apartheid and subsequently lost momentum in overcoming the backlogs in education, health and housing that doing so would have allowed. We should not fall short again, when a deal is signed to cap the carbon emissions for the industrial countries, with a deferred cap for developing countries in the considerably hotter next decade.

The danger in falling short of setting deep cuts of 45% from 1990 carbon emission levels is that it puts us beyond the tipping point where unknown additional and more catastrophic changes will be wrought in the earth's water and rainfall systems, ultimately killing millions in sudden and violent storms, droughts and fires.

If we would rather act in solidarity, and harness the commitment and vitality brought by the unemployed, women, and youth through skills transfer, and if we funded the transfer of energy saving technology, water saving technology and efficient trickle drip systems of agriculture, that solidarity could produce a realistic dividend or fund (again South Africa created a Trust with the sale of strategic bunkers of fuel, to accelerate development of health and education in particularly rural areas -- with Kagiso and the IDT) for green jobs.

I believe we should all try to educate ourselves on some of the local impacts that are bound to come our way. I mean we know that Africa and the countries of the South least responsible for historical carbon will feel the worst effects. The trade in natural resources that allowed Europe to develop must not translate into a trade in waste byproducts and pollution that again distributes the greatest burdens on the poor. Individual action is important, to reduce our own footprint on the planet's resources, but we should be vigilant about the action of South Africa, brokering a deal that allows the corporations and the oil giants to continue to abuse the earth.

Better that there is no deal, so that ordinary citizens can make their choices and voices heard, against the marketing excesses for the rich allowing some to gorge themselves while others starve. Mahatma Gandhi was asked by a reporter, when India gained its independence, whether his country would seek to be as prosperous as Britain. "It has taken all the resources of one planet to make Britain prosperous," he replied, "how many planets would be needed for India?"

Prof D V Brutus
Cape Town

10 December 2009.

No comments: