Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sea Levels Rising Faster than Predicted - Again (and again and again)



1992, not all that long ago. Just long enough for global sea levels to rise an average of 8 cms.  At 2.54 cms. per inch, that comes out at just over 3 inches.

Three inches, big deal. Actually, yes, it is a big deal. In military parlance, it's a "force multiplier." It increases the frequency and severity of oceanic impacts such as coastal erosion, storm surges and flooding.

Take British Columbia's "Lower Mainland" - the large and bountiful Fraser River estuary, home to 2.6-million people. A lot of that area is low lying and vulnerable to spring flooding especially from rapid snowpack melting in the interior.  The Fraser River pours out into the sea but if the sea is three inches higher then that causes the spring deluge to back up, increasing destructive flooding.

You have some coastal areas, such as Richmond, that are below sea level. Like the Dutch they use dikes or seawalls to protect residents. Three inches of sea level rise makes those dikes three inches less effective and more vulnerable to high tides especially when coupled with storm surges. The formula is high tide exacerbated by storm surge exacerbated by sea level rise.  Think Hurricane Sandy.

So here's NASA's take on what we're facing and what we need to start doing about it.







Just a Reminder to you Dippers. No Woolies for You, These Days You're Farting Through Silk.



In case you missed it last time, and obviously a good many of you did, here's that link to Yves Engler's (Canada's Chomsky) evaluation of Tommy "Angry Beard" Mulcair's profound neoliberalism.  Read it - and, yes, weep for what once was but no longer.

Yes, Dippers, despite your protestations to the contrary, today's NDP is neoliberal, shot through.  You're no longer the party of Douglas and Lewis. No, that's just a conceit. You don't take your meals in the kitchen any longer. You dine in the parlour now with the silverware, fine china and crystal. You're everything that, for all those decades, you so fiercely rebuked. That greasy feeling you get? That's the hypocrisy coming through your pores.

As Engler put it:

At some point progressive minded party members will have to ask themselves how far down the neoliberal path they are willing to travel.

Meanwhile, Dippers, you would do well to heed these thoughts of another NDP/social democrat stalwart, James Laxer:

There are times in history when truly reactionary political formations come along. Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party is such a formation. While thankfully, it is not overtly racist in the manner of the far-right parties in Europe, it shares all of the other views and instincts of such bodies. Harper himself, as his speeches and writings reveal, would be very much at home in the Republican Party. His government threatens all of the societal innovations the NDP and the CCF before it have inspired. It is not foreordained that the neo-conservatives will succeed in imposing their philosophy on us, but because they have the support of most of the business class in Canada, it’s highly possible. It is, therefore, overwhelmingly in the interest of social democrats to prevent this outcome.

Sadly, the NDP has evolved into a party much like the others. There is little political ferment. Riding association meetings, party conferences and provincial and federal conventions are not occasions for basic debate and education about the state of society and what needs to be done, but rather focus on fundraising, holding raffles and showcasing the leader for the media.

The only time when there is genuine democracy in the NDP is during leadership campaigns. At least during these intervals, real debate becomes possible. Once the leader is chosen, however, party policy, decided on at conventions, is ignored. That has been the case for decades. Between leadership campaigns, the leader, surrounded by his or her inner staff and pollsters, determines the political course of the party.

...A becalmed political party like the NDP is of limited use to working people in a mean-spirited time such as ours. We don’t need a party that no longer knows how to fight and has lost the combative edge of the social democrats of earlier decades.

...The consequence of the NDP’s tactical stance is that the party ends up as just another liberal party, operating from a somewhat more progressive vantage point. The lack of a compelling vision has left the NDP looking much like the other parties, which is why so many people who are searching for something genuinely different are opting for the Green Party.

And, as for you Dippers and your incessant and utterly false bitching about the Green Party being rightwing when, in fact, it's often to the progressive left of the NDP, here's the analysis of another Laxer, Michael that puts that hollow but desperate blathering to rest.

Paul Martin Gives Tommy Angry Beard a Well-Deserved Kick in the Ass.

Paul Martin was the finance minister who plucked the federal government from the brink of fiscal chaos. It was a tough time for all including the provinces, even the Canadian Forces, but he balanced the budget and paid down $90 billion of our national debt. He kept the bankers in line and when he handed the reins to Harper he bequeathed a full treasury ready to absorb the brunt of the great collapse of 2008.

Put simply, Martin pulled our fat (yours and mine) out of the fire. Which is why he deserves to be heard on the mess we're in yet again and where we're headed.


The public has grown used to the Harper government’s mantra on deficits, but should be startled by what they hear from New Democrats, he said.

“That Tom Mulcair is now a student of Stephen Harper’s economy makes absolutely no sense,” said Martin.

“Where is the conscience of those who belong in the NDP? How can the NDP party — those who’ve worked it for all these years — stand for the fact that the party is now holding hands with the Conservatives and saying that our goal in the next mandate is to do absolutely nothing?”

The current Conservative government has ground the economy down so far, trapping our most vulnerable of citizens in the process, that the next government has to act and that the NDP doesn’t understand that boggles the mind. Conservative obsession with eliminating the deficit down to the final decimal point is more than short-sighted. It’s yesterday’s war.”


Further evidence of how Mulcair and Harper are on the wrong page with their babble about balancing budgets comes from a new poll that finds Canadians believe their country is in a recession and support the federal government running a deficit to stimulate the economy.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I've been pretty tough on young Trudeau but I will give him credit for his commitment to a major, 3-year infrastructure programme. Sure he'll run a deficit but that's not the point. It's like bad cholesterol and good cholesterol. Harper's "throw a deck on the cottage" stimulus budget of 2009 was bad cholesterol. It was money squandered, gifted away, with no lasting return. Infrastructure spending, of the sort Harper didn't have the vision or courage to implement, is good cholesterol. It's money invested in public assets - highways, bridges, overpasses, power grids - that bolster the economy and reap returns for decades.

Of course, with this latest poll, the bearded chameleon may change his colours as effortlessly as he has on other situations in the past.




Friday, August 28, 2015

"Harperman" Lands EnviroCan Scientist in Trouble with the Fuhrer

Call out the Stasi. Fire up the generator and man those alligator clips. It's time for Tony Turner to "ride the lightning."



The guy singing is Tony Turner, a habitat planning scientist who may not be working for Environment Canada much longer.

An Ottawa federal scientist is being investigated for breaching the public service’s ethics code for writing and performing a highly political protest song to get rid of the Harper government.

Tony Turner, a scientist in habitat planning at Environment Canada, was recently sent home on leave with pay while the government investigates the making of Harperman, a music video posted on YouTube in early June that has attracted about 48,000 hits.

Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Environment Canada, said the department wouldn’t be commenting on the case because of “privacy concerns.” He said public servants agree to comply with the value and ethics code — which lays out expected behaviours — when they join the government regardless of their level or job.



I Knew the Harper PMO Reminded Me of Something.

Yes, that's it! Something way back from my childhood. Yes.



Word has it that Harper chief of staff, Ray Novak, will be doing his best Sgt. Schultz impression when he gets grilled under oath in November.

Novak told CTV's Bob Fife, “Bob, I did not know that Mr. Wright was going to cut that cheque. Beyond that, I will speak at the appropriate time. Now is not the appropriate time.”

Fife then asked Novak if he had read the email in which Wright informed him that he was sending the $90,000 cheque.

“No I did not see that email, Bob,” Novak replied. “I first saw that email when it was disclosed much, much later.”


So, Sugar Ray, is going to say that Special Counsel Ben Perrin's crystal clear testimony that he watched Novak's face when Wright told them he was cutting the cheque to Duffy was a fabrication, an outright falsehood, rank perjury. Then he'll fall back on the now-standard "dog ate my homework" excuse to explain not reading the email from the then chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

It's hard to say if Duffy will spend any time behind bars but it's possible that Novak might.  At the moment, Novak has two choices - spin wildly implausible tales or expose his prime minister as a chronic and willful liar.

Apology:  Try as I might I was unable to find a suitable Mr. Burns and Smithers clip to post here. My failure has left me deeply remorseful.


The Unist'ot'en People of Northern B.C. versus Chevron. Which Side is the RCMP Backing?



Band leaders of the Unist'ot'en of northwest British Columbia are bracing for mass arrests in their ongoing fight against the fossil fuelers, Chevron in particular. The RCMP aren't exactly denying the allegation, either.

"We understand that there has been some discussions on social media that don't accurately reflect the RCMP's action or the situation," she told Vancouver Observer in an email statement. "To date, there has been no police action. It is our understanding that discussions between industry and the Wet'suwet'en are still possible."

Just what does that mean? So long as the FNs are talking with "industry" they won't be jammed up? If they remain defiant of Chevron they'll be heading for the Greybar Hotel by the busload?

More than 50 individuals and organizations including Elizabeth May, David Suzuki, and Greenpeace Canada, signed an online declaration of support for the clan, which has claimed and governed the territory through its traditional and hereditary laws.

"We are deeply and gravely concerned to learn from a variety of sources that the RCMP appear to be on the verge of executing a highly provocative and dangerously reckless operational plan to make arrests," said the document. "We are local, national and international organizations monitoring these developments closely and we affirm that the Unist’ot’en are not alone."

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) also sent a letter to the RCMP urging them to scrap any plans to cross into Unist'ot'en territory and make arrests.

"... Police must proceed with the utmost caution in a situation such as this, so as not to interfere with the constitutional rights of the Indigenous people," wrote BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson. "If the RCMP is, as reported, planning to move in on the camp and remove its members against their will, we urge that this plan be reconsidered."


Meanwhile, at the blockades, they're bracing for Canada's Petro-Police Force, formerly known as the RCMP, to move in.

Unist'ot'en checkpoints have been set up on two entrances to its territory on Moricewest Forest Service Road and Chisolm Road. The Indigenous group has allowed loggers, tree-planters, and hunters to pass through peacefully, but has used the barriers to keep oil and gas officials at bay.

The camp has not and never will approve pipeline construction on its land, said Huson, despite more than 10 proposalsinvolving its ancestral land. Among the most controversial pipeline projects that would affect the Unist'ot'en are Enbridge Northern Gateway and Chevron's Pacific Trail Pipeline.



The Iron Curtain is History. Is the "Ice Curtain" Next?

It's not just global warming that's transforming the face of the Arctic. It's also Russian president Vlad Putin and his very clear Arctic ambitions both territorial and military.

A new report from the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies, The New Ice Curtain, Russia's Strategic Reach to the Arctic, suggests the 20-year old Arctic Council needs, at the very least, a facelift to address security concerns in the high north including confidence-building, multi-lateral military agreements between Russia and her Arctic neighbours.

The report notes that Moscow sees Russia as the Arctic superpower, the polar hegemon but the authors also warn against demonizing Russia for taking steps justified in the protection of its national interests only because we haven't kept pace.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bitter Truth

This is the butchery Paul Manly stood up against - and it cost him the NDP nomination in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.



One thing is for sure. If Mulcair becomes prime minister, Canada will sure as hell not be part of the "international process" to bring Israel to account.


Props Wanted. Great Pay and Benefits.

So it's come to this. Apparently feeling the sting of Canadian combat vets angry with Steve Harper and vowing to do everything in their power to run him out of Ottawa, the Tories are trying to recruit veterans willing to appear with the prime minister.

The email appears to have been written by Kris Sims, who is on leave from her role as director of communications for Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole in order to work for the party during the campaign.

In it, she asks to be connected with ex-soldiers who are willing to appear on camera and prepared "to say in their own words why (Stephen) Harper is the best choice for Canada, based on their military experience and the threats we face in the world."



I'll Vote "No" on Strategic Voting.

Quick trip to Victoria yesterday to buy a jacket for my daughter's pending wedding. I rode the great yellow Beast and, even with end of summer traffic, there was room to get a little adrenalin going.

The province of Vancouver Island has this one highway that runs from Victoria in the extreme south that connects the city to Nanaimo, my town, Courtney/Comox, Campbell River and on all the way to the northern reaches at Port Hardy. One highway, just the one. Which makes it predictable that the highway is the place you'll see who is running for which party and where.

This island has been a bastion of strength for the NDP and, judging by the sheer number of signs, that's not going to change except up.  The Greens are out in force, second only to the New Dems in signage. The Liberal presence is desultory at best. The big change is the Conservatives. They had more signage than the Libs but not by much and certainly not nearly what we saw in previous elections.

It was great to see so many Paul Manly campaign signs as I transited through the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding. He's an island boy by birth from Port Alice way up north. He was raised a New Dem, the son of former NDP MP, Jim Manly. He's a pretty impressive guy and was on his way to being the next NDP MP from his riding until he was denied permission to seek the nomination by Team Mulcair. It seems Paul committed the mortal sin of standing up and speaking out for the Palestinians. Can't be having that, not with the Thatcher-loving, Harper-courting, ex-Liberal, market fundamentalist neoliberal,Likudnik Tom "I'll bend any principle for a vote" Mulcair running the show.

But Manly found a better home. He's running for the Greens and he might just steal the riding from the Dippers. That would make me happy, very happy for Manly and for the Green Party.

One of the main reasons I left the Liberals was their unbalanced support of Israel and Ignatieff's pre-absolution for the atrocities in the last Gaza outrage. Now Mulcair's Latter-Day-Liberals are singing the same hymns out of the very same book. If I left the party I had supported for forty years because of that, I'm certainly not going to be tossing my vote into Mulcair's bucket this time around.

As I was carving corners crossing the Malahat I began rethinking this strategic voting business, giving it a second chance in my mind. The Dippers relentlessly hector Greens that voting for our party is tantamount to supporting Harper's re-election. Bollocks!

I'm voting Green not to make a point. It's not a protest vote. Maybe it won't get the Green candidate elected in my riding. I don't care. I'm voting Green because it's the only party I can vote for. I don't want to vote for Mulcair or for Trudeau and, obviously, I don't want to vote for Harper. A pox on them all and their parties.

The New Dems may have abandoned just about every principle that Tommy Douglas stood for, they don't eat in the kitchen any longer, but there's one thing they still cling to - working over every other party and that includes sniping at the Greens and their leader. And having done that, I'm supposed to vote for Mulcair? After what he did to Paul Manly? I'm supposed to vote Likudnik?

No, I don't think so. My Green Party lawn signs should be up before sundown tomorrow. This election could be far more important to the Green Party than the ABC crowd would like to acknowledge. That's their problem.





Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wishful Thinking. Oh, to Dream.

Got an email this morning from the Green Party. It spoke of an "independent poll" that showed the Greens in second place on my home turf, Vancouver Island.

No information about the poll itself but I can say this. While travelling around my own town I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of Green Party lawn signs, second only to NDP signs, and the dearth of CPC signs. I have yet to see a LPC sign anywhere.

You Drylanders watch out. When we become the Province of Vancouver Island, we'll be a Green bastion floating serenely beyond the orangish-red wasteland to the east.

Why the Far Right is Always Wrong


Neoconservatism of the type practiced in the U.S. and worshiped at the secret shrine in the closet at 24 Sussex Drive is a mental infirmity. That's why since it was spawned during the Clinton years (the Project for the New American Century) to its rise to power during Bush/Cheney and its tenacious grip on survival under Obama, it's been consistently wrong. The Iraq disaster was its crowning achievement but there's been so much more and all of it wrong, dead wrong.

Harvard prof. Stephen Walt dissects the neoconservative malfunction in ForeignPolicy.org: "So Wrong for So Long, Why Neoconservatives are Never Right."

Living (Usually Broke) in Harper's Petro-WonderLand


Shifty Harper constantly blames setbacks to Canada's economy on problems abroad. It's his "heads I win, tails you lose" ploy and it usually works with the gullabillies who form a critical part of his base.

With almost two months remaining in the election campaign, we can expect China's market meltdown to send Harper squealing like a porker about how the economic blowback hitting all petro-states isn't our fault. Blame China.

Me, I'll blame Comrade Shifty for his "oilfields first" policy that even had his minions changing "tidewater, tidewater, tidewater."  China's ship may be sinking, so to speak, but it was Harper that lashed Canada's dinghy hard alongside.

The perils and pitfalls that beset petro-states have been well chronicled, especially the boom and bust cycles.  I'm sure the lessons haven't been lost on Alberta's sophisticates but, since Peter Lougheed left this mortal coil,  Alberta hasn't been burdened with a surplus of intellect.

Norway is Alberta's constant shame. They listened to Peter Lougheed's caution. They adopted Plan Lougheed. They're rich. They have the largest sovereign wealth fund on Earth. Alberta rejected Plan Lougheed, even though it was written just for them. Alberta doesn't have Norway's sovereign wealth fund. Alberta has debts and deficits.  And if the last three petro-busts have taught us anything, if and when the good times return, Alberta will do it again.  Kind of makes you wonder why we should trust those obvious mental defectives to run bitumen pipelines across our province.

For what China's meltdown could mean to Canada, there's this handy piece from ForeignPolicy.org - "China's Meltdown Spells Even More Peril for Petro-States."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

British Columbians Say It's Time to "Heave Steve"

The headline in the paper's largest newspaper, The Vancouver Sun, says it all - B.C. Voters planning to push Harper's Tories Out of Office.


The new Insights West online survey of 815 British Columbians suggests a strong animosity in the province towards the notion of a re-elected Conservative government.

The online survey of 815 British Columbians said 75 per cent of decided respondents, including close to half (43 per cent) of those who voted Tory in 2011, say it’s time for a change.

“In addition, 60 per cent of British Columbians say they would be ‘very upset’ if the Tories form the government again. The level of animosity towards a possible victory by either the Liberal Party or the NDP is significantly smaller (36 per cent and 33 per cent respectively),” according to Insight West.


The four-day online poll, which concluded Monday, said 41 per cent of decided voters would vote for the New Democratic Party if an election were being held now.
That compares with 24 per cent favouring the Liberals, 22 per cent the Conservatives, and 12 per cent Elizabeth May’s Green Party.

If valid, the results would confirm University of B.C. political scientist Richard Johnston’s recent comment to The Vancouver Sun that “there’s a B.C. thing going on about Harper.”

The poll is consistent with recent data from various firms collected by CBC poll analyst Eric Grenier.


If those numbers held up it would result in an all-time best performance for the federal NDP, which took a record 37 per cent of the vote and the majority of B.C. seats in the 1988 election.

Grenier’s seat projection model suggests that these numbers would translate into an NDP landslide, taking 25 of the province’s 42 seats.

The Liberals would be second with 11 seats, the Conservatives third with five, and the Greens fourth with May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands seat.

 

Conservatives Have a Big Decision in this Election. What'll It Be - Canada or Harper?

I backed into what became an argument today with an old friend and I did not feel very good about it at all.  We both knew Duffy way back when and naturally the conversation turned to the trial.

Trev is one of those guys I mentioned this morning who doesn't think that the Duffy trial is a big deal that undermines the Harper government. He just thinks it falls short of being significant in deciding how he'll vote. He is unhappy at how the Harper government has treated veterans but, again, it won't keep him from voting Tory.

Trev has it in his 75-year old mind that Harper has done a pretty good job with the Canadian economy. He can't say why that is, it's just the way he feels. He had no idea that Harper has turned in 7 consecutive deficit budgets. He had no idea that Harper has swollen our national debt to the tune of $150-billion.  He still thinks Harper has done a pretty good job.

I told him that, in this election, he'll have to choose. Will it be Harper or will it be Canada?

In every election since Trudeau first led the Liberals I have never felt that any party leader was less than dedicated to our country. Sure they had differing views, irreconcilable ideologies in some respects, but that didn't negate their commitment to the country and the Canadian people.  All of them would respect our democracy and do nothing to degrade it.

In no way can I find any of that in Stephen Harper.  As Harper cheerleader, John Ibbitson, recently wrote:

The Conservatives’ autocracy, secretiveness, and cruelty, critics accuse, debase politics to a level that threatens the very foundations of Canadian democracy. “Hardly anything in this world hints of Putinism more than Harperism,” columnist Ralph Surette of the Halifax Chronicle Herald opined.


Michael Harris, no fan of Harper to be sure, nonetheless put it both fairly and accurately when he wrote:

The hallmark of the Harper era has been an attempt by the government to take ownership of all federal human assets in a degrading and political way. Civil servants have been used as props in fake TV news items. The justice department has drafted a string of unconstitutional legislation reflecting the CPC’s ideological agenda. Federal scientists have been muzzled like unruly dogs.

But one of the most disturbing elements of this tyrannical capture of every aspect of the machinery of government is the increasingly partisan behaviour of the RCMP. The Force has been used against Harper’s political enemies, often without a shred of real misconduct on the table.


Then, today, long-time Harper booster, Andrew Coyne, captured the culture Harper has bred within his own Prime Minister's Office, one that would befit The Sopranos:

...It is noteworthy that, almost without exception, no one at any point raises any objection to what is going on: not the public deception, not the attempts to tamper with the audit, not the whitewashing of the committee report. The lies are so habitual, so instinctive, so much a part of the normal run of things that no one seems to think them even unusual, let alone unacceptable. It matters, in the end, because the things that should have mattered to them, like honesty and integrity, didn’t.

Harper, like a monarch rather than a prime minister, has indeed taken "ownership of all federal human assets in a degrading and political way."  For years I've lamented on this blog how Harper has corrupted everything he touches in a blatant coup to subvert parliamentary democracy by transforming our public service, our state police apparatus, even our armed forces into his personal, partisan agencies.  What he has truly degraded, with clear contempt, is our democracy - the same democracy that our veterans for so long fought and died to defend. Harper has instituted illiberal democracy his worst excesses restrained valiantly by a courageous Supreme Court. In my view that's nothing short of treason.

It should make no difference - Right, Left or Centre - we should all be Canadians first regardless of our partisan affiliations. Canada comes first. Our fellow Canadians come first. Any leader who places himself above the country, above our people, who treats our government as not ours but his and our 'federal human assets' as his property is not a leader but a malignancy. 

Harper is solely responsible for making Conservatives choose between Canada and their party.  Through four successive elections they've empowered this betrayal of their country, our Canada. Now they've had four years of majority rule to see what Harper is, his true face and now they've seen it, they have to choose.




Another "Dog (Ate My Homework) Day" Wraps Up Duffy Trial, For Now.

The Duffy trial is adjourned until 18 November.  Don Bayne finished mauling Chris Woodcock, Harper's former PMO director of issues management with yet another fitting bit of the, now almost standard, implausible "the dog ate my homework" testimony.

Woodcock argued over whether the senator was forced to accept a deal cooked up by members of the PMO that made him admit he may have mistakenly claimed living expenses.

Bayne referred to a police statement made by Woodcock in which he said that the PMO had to force, convince and persuade the senator to agree to the plan.

When asked to clarify for the court what he mean by the the word force, he said it was interchangeable with the words convince, persuade or agree.

"The meaning that you're trying to attribute to the word force is not the meaning that I intended to convey. I intended to use persuade, convince. All of those were the same concepts to me when I gave that answer."

But Bayne responded that there are lots of ways to force people.


And indeed there are, counsellor.  There are also lots of ways to skin cats and you seem to know most of them pretty well.

Poor old Chris. Yesterday he had to tell a whopper about not reading the final line in a very short email from Nigel Wright telling him that Wright was covering Duffy's Senate tab. Today he was left squirming, forced (as it were) to invent a new definition for a simple, five-letter word - "force."

You see, the meaning Bayne was trying to attribute to the word force was, well, "force." How could anybody be so ridiculous?

Interesting question. What if, when the trial resumes on 18 November, Stephen Harper is the former prime minister of Canada? He'd have a much harder time avoiding the witness box, wouldn't he.

Update: - meanwhile, out in the hinterland on the campaign trail, a janitor finds the door to his utility closet locked. There's a noise inside, a voice, an angry voice. He can't make out much of it but he does catch the words "goddamn that f#*king Magna Carta!"




Andrew Coyne Nails It - Again. It's Not About Duffy. What Matters is the Corruption at the Very Top.

We've probably all run into people who don't get what Wright-Duffy is all about or why it's a big deal or a deal at all.

Andrew Coyne might have been one of those doubters - way back when - but he sure isn't now.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lifeboat Europe. Man the Oars!

You've got 20 people huddled in a lifeboat designed to hold 25.  There are 60 people in the water, swimming toward you, each of them intent on getting aboard.  The wind is freshening, the sea is rising and nightfall is approaching. What do you do?

Do you do nothing and let the lifeboat be overwhelmed, casting the 20 already aboard into the water to share the fate of the others? Or do you do what is necessary to protect the lives of those already aboard and leave the others to drown?

It's a tough choice, isn't it, but it's a dilemma now besetting Europe.  Waves of refugees are in the water, swimming for Lifeboat Europe, hoping to get over the gunwales via Macedonia. Many are fleeing the devastation in Syria. Others, trying to find safety in Europe, are migrating through North Africa, heading for refuge in Mediterranean Europe.  They're drowning by the hundreds.

Many Europeans already feel austerity's boot on their necks.  What awaits them if their countries have to absorb waves of newcomers on a scale never before even imagined?

Tough decisions await Europe and you may find some of the answers hideously brutal, to us even barbaric. Wait, our turn will come.

First You Stabilize Your Population. Then You Stabilize Your Economy.


Humanity lives in a Petri jar. The vessel is called Earth. It has a diameter of just under 8,000 miles, pole to pole; just under 25,000 miles in circumference at the equator. That's remained fairly constant over the past couple of billion years or more.

Stable as the Earth is, its human occupants are not.  After the odd near-miss where our species was almost wiped out, over the course of the Holocene, the abbreviated geological epoch that lasted around 11,000 years, we gradually grew in numbers until we hit the one billion mark around 1814, give or take.

Then we discovered cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy that could be harnessed to generate first steam power and, as coal gave way to oil, internal combustion power.  It might have taken 11,000 years to grow to the billion mark but, thanks to cheap and abundant fossil fuel, it only took one century, about a hundred years, to double that billion.  Another half century, roughly, took it to three billion. Another half century of utterly rapacious fossil fuel consumption swelled three to more than seven billion hurtling to nine and, before this century is out, possibly twelve billion. Do you get the idea this might have become a problem?

Now the seven plus billion people today don't have a lot in common with the billion folks of 1814.  They didn't have fossil energy so they didn't have stuff. They had to make do with wind energy or animals for transport.  Factories were pretty much reserved for making muskets and pistols. People didn't have big screen TVs or toasters. There were no showrooms selling the latest SUVs. All that had to await the fossil energy's greatest creation, the Industrial Revolution that, in turn, ushered in the Age of Science. And, with that, we were away to the races.

Compared to our ancestors of 200-years ago, we've grown - we're taller, often far fatter, and, thanks to science, we live about twice as long.  We eat more foods, a lot of stuff our ancestors would have found exotic transported hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to our local stores.  They raised and grew their food and that was pretty much their lot. When I lived in London, foodstuffs such as butter and lamb arrived in the holds of ships that had traveled from New Zealand and Australia. In Canada we still don't grow citrus but we sure use loads of it.

My mother told me that, in her childhood on the farm, a holiday was either a day trip to the lake or a visit to relatives. My dad's family took a trip once, by car, to Chesapeake Bay and that was an odyssey in their time. My father didn't have anything we would consider travel until he boarded a troop ship in Halifax. In later years, entirely thanks to cheap and abundant fossil fuels, they toured Australia, Asia, and Europe (north, south, and west). As they grew older they wintered in Florida.

It hasn't been easy to keep this going. After all there's only so much stuff on our very finite planet. We burn fossil fuels with abandon but we're not making any fossil fuels, just consuming them. It'll take the cataclysms of hundreds of millions of years to make new fossil fuels but there's a snowball's chance in hell our species will be around to mine them once again.

Fossil fuels are ultimately a form of solar energy.  They represent the power of the sun over the span of a billion years to grow organic material that ultimately, through a variety of processes, became coal, oil and natural gas.  Hydrocarbons. And, over a span of just a couple of centuries, we have taken it upon ourselves to dig and pump out that residue of hundreds of millions of years of solar energy and burn it, releasing its products of combustion as greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.  What could possibly go wrong?

Then there's what fuels us. Abundant, cheap fossil fuels led to mechanized agriculture (when my dad was young his father actually used a horse to draw their plough) that allowed one farmer with a tractor to plant a hundred acres where once he could handle only ten or, if he was lucky, twenty.  And, as those machines of industrial agriculture improved, that farmer might be able to plant several hundred acres.

It wasn't enough. Never enough. We developed work-arounds for that too. Mechanical irrigation was introduced. Not enough. Chemicals - fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides - became de rigeur for modern farming. As we began sterilizing the soil with increasing applications of chemicals, the ground subsided beneath our feet as we drained our aquifers some of which contained water thousands of years old.  Easy come, easy go. The operative word was "ease." So long as it was easy enough, if we could, we would.

And so, today, we produce plenty of food for our seven plus billion mouths although we waste too much and distribute it inefficiently. We're assured that we'll be able to feed nine billion, no problem, even twelve billion maybe.  So long as you don't factor in climate change and the heatwaves, droughts and floods it now visits upon us or the collapse of our groundwater resources or the exhaustion of our overworked farmland, that's believable.  A believable fantasy. But, when hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of lives hang on a fantasy, it probably isn't going to end well.

Who says? Who says we're heading for an agricultural apocalypse? Who? Well, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says - and they're not alone.  The UN FAO released a widely overlooked report in March that warned at the rate we're degrading farmland worldwide, most of it will be exhausted within just sixty years.  This isn't some revelation that struck the UN FAO like lighting out of the blue. There's been plenty of research, both before and since, that upholds the same conclusion (I know, I've read it). This is sort of like the captain of the Titanic who took the iceberg warning and tucked it in his pocket, unread, only on a global, civilizational scale.

On a related note, let's hear it for the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.  Think of it as El Nino on steroids. It has a hot tap and a cold tap. The bad news is that it oscillates very slowly, in cycles that last twenty to thirty years.  For the past 15-years the PDO or, more specifically, the powerful trade winds it has generated, have been burying heat in our oceans.

Strong tropical Pacific trade winds serve as an air conditioner for the world, scientists are concluding. They mix warm equatorial surface water into greater depths, and help bring cooler waters to the surface. But, like the window-mounted AC unit that cools your living room during summer, all the while heating the air outside, the strong winds aren’t cooling the planet. They’re just moving heat-wielding energy to where it will bother us less.

Diane Thompson of NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who led the PDO study described what happens when the switch flips.

“When winds weaken, which they inevitably will, warming will once again accelerate,” Thompson said. “The warming caused by greenhouse gases and the warming associated with this natural cycle will compound one another.”

Here's the thing. We have no control over climate phenomena such as the PDO. All we can do is understand it and try to find means of adapting to it, absorbing the blow when it comes and that could be sooner than anyone would like.

There are no "magic wand" solutions but there are policies we can implement that will make absorbing the blows that are coming survivable for as many people as possible. 

A good start is to reduce our global population.  Half of today's numbers, well under four billion would help immensely. There are only two options within our power -  a) killing off billions of people or b) arresting reproduction. I'd sooner skip the killing off billions of people option.

Bear this in mind. If we do nothing and, like lemmings, multiply to impossible numbers, nature will kill off billions of people, just not enough to make life enjoyable for the survivors.  Droughts, floods and heatwaves will do in a lot of us. War, yeah that'll take plenty more, maybe even all of us. Then there's famine from the terminal degradation of our farmland. These prospects are not trending as we might hope.

We could look into what it would mean if we trimmed current reproduction rates by, say, fifty percent or even eighty percent. Start reproducing to a level geared to sustaining a viable population.  We'll still need scores of millions of babies every year to continue our species, just not hundreds of millions of babies. Once we fix a target for an ideal global population, the rest is math.

Of course you can't get population under control without doing something remarkably dramatic to the economy. It, too, has to be stabilized, rationalized. We've embraced this model of perpetual, exponential growth far too long.  Even Adam Smith when he wrote The Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776, foresaw a limit to exponential growth of about  two centuries and he had no idea of the rise of cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy and the onset of the Industrial Revolution that would explode in the not too distant future.  After those two centuries of growth, Smith believed we would move into what would today be called a "steady state" economy.

So, what's this steady state economy? An easy way to think of it is switching from the constant pursuit of more to a focus on better.  Quality rather than quantity. Instead of having to replace your kitchen stove every five or seven years, how about one that will last fifty years and is upgradable and will offer a plentiful supply of spare parts?

Growth does exist in a steady state economy but it's growth geared not to production and consumption. It's growth in knowledge through which we find ways to make life more enjoyable and less demanding on both us and our environment.  Buy less stuff but stuff that works and lasts and does things we need and like and can grow as our knowledge base grows.  Build stuff that lets more people have the stuff they really need. That's the approach you would have to have for deep space exploration requiring multi-generational crews only applied to Spaceship Earth where our own, multi-generational crew now tops seven billion.

A steady state economy is a state of equilibrium that extends to population, where reproduction is regulated so that births match deaths.  It extends to resources where consumption is not allowed to exceed regeneration. That may sound Orwellian unless you reach the conclusion that we live on a finite planet that can support a finite number of us.

What would a steady state economy look like? It would be a world in important ways much smaller than what we have today. It would be a world in which humanity, our economy and our lives, existed as a subset of the environment.

We're already far bigger than our environment. When Earth Overshoot Day arrived on the 14th of this month, we had reached the point where we had exceeded the planet's resource carrying capacity by a factor of 1.6.  It would take 1.6 planet Earths to meet our resource consumption (which, remarkably, is still growing).  We consume an entire year's supply of renewables in under 8-months.

We don't have 1.6 planet Earths any more than in another ten years we'll have 1.7 planet Earths. The evidence of our excess is all there. It's tangible, measurable and some of it is visible to the naked eye from space. It's manifest in spreading deforestation and desertification. Satellites measure surface subsidence from rapidly draining aquifers. We're fishing down the food chain. Oceanic dead zones and algae blooms that now beset our lakes, rivers and even our coastlines. The staggering loss of species and life over the past forty years.

How do we get back within the planet's safety limits? One answer is sustainable retreat, growing smaller, using less, choosing stuff that lasts longer, making do. That sounds awful, especially to those of us accustomed to a life of comfort and plenty, but what is the alternative? What awaits us with virtual certainty if we don't?

This sounds socialist and I suppose it is but what alternative is there that permits a transition from an exponential growth based economy to what of necessity is an allocation based economy?  Free market fundamentalism has brought us to this abyss and, if unchecked, it will carry us over the edge.

This is not about reverting to mud huts and scavenging for berries. It is about growing and advancing our society in a way that isn't self-extinguishing. And it's also about improving quality of life through accelerating the pursuit of knowledge and sustainable technological advancement.

What are the chances that, even at this stage, these solutions would still work? I don't know but I know they're probably slim.  Some would say they're already foreclosed. That's the wrong way of thinking about this. The healthy way to think of it is what have we got to lose? Nothing. We have nothing to lose by shedding our lethal addictions and much to gain even if those gains fall short of the goal. Failure is a possibility right up until it turns into a certainty. Until then you still have something to fight for.  That fight starts with making a choice.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

C'mon Christie, Give Us a Break.

Christie Blatchford doesn't like covering the Mike Duffy trial. She finds it a burden. To Christie, Duffy's defence counsel, Donald Bayne, is wasting everyone's time, or at least hers, demolishing the Harper PMO's narrative which forms the foundation for the most serious charges faced by Bayne's client.

She doesn't think what Shifty's Bad Boys did has any bearing on Duffy's guilt or innocence. Why is there any need for a defence at all?

Tedious as Blatchford is determined to be, if she's going to be doing video clips could she not just up her game - just a bit? All she would have to do is ditch the ricebowl haircut and those trailer park serial killer glasses. Nobody should go around making themselves look that grotesque.


And, for Christ's sake, stop the perma-scowl.

David Phillips' Weather Whiplash Warning

It snowed yesterday in Alberta, just to the west of Calgary. Canada's rainforest has turned tinder dry. The east has experienced a curious summer that seemed unable to make up its mind - wet or dry, cold or hot.  Let's put it this way: things have changed.

EnviroCan's senior climatologist, David Phillips, warns our municipalities remain unprepared for what's coming leaving Canadians vulnerable to "weather whiplash."

In the last five years, Canadian cities have been buried in record-breaking snowfall, scorched by unprecedented wildfires, blasted by tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning strikes, limping from one natural disaster to the next as the bills for emergency repairs climb.

"You've got to keep pace with it and we haven't kept pace with it," David Phillips said in a recent interview.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is calling on the next federal government to invest an extra $1.5 billion a year in infrastructure, says that's easier said than done.

"Municipalities are ready, willing and able ...What we need is stable, long-term funding sufficient to cover off these costs that we know are already in a deficit position," president Raymond Louie said Friday from Vancouver.

1.5-billion dollars sounds like a lot but it's actually just a drop in a very large bucket. Some experts believe Canada needs to be spending hundreds of billions of dollars - now - on rehabilitating, reinforcing and, where necessary, replacing core infrastructure to meet the challenges of a far more demanding climate.

That sounds ominous to a public that thinks they need more tax cuts and prefer their politicians to share their enthusiasm for paring government to the bone. Too late will they discover that a defunded government is incapable of providing core infrastructure without which there'll be no modern economy and precious few jobs.

My little town is a classic example of municipal dysfunction. They're still planning (only planning mind you)  for 1-metre sea level rise by 2100, a polyanna-ish forecast that's now hopelessly out of date.  You can spend a lot of money preparing for 1-metre of sea level rise that will be largely wasted if that prediction turns out to be grossly understated.  Meanwhile, even as residents are beset by severe water restrictions due to drought, the municipal council plays chamber of commerce to happily churn out building permits to all and any who apply.  The notion that if you can't provide water security to your existing residents maybe you should put a moratorium on explosive growth until you get the water problem resolved is considered heretical.

I wish we could see the light but we might have to open our eyes first.


Wherein John Ibbitson Explores the Darkness that Lurks Within Stephen Harper

Yeah, That's Shifty, Just Below the Second H


Let's be blunt. John Ibbitson is probably the most prominent journalist in Canada totally in the bag for Stephen Harper.  Note that I used the word "journalist," a noun that eliminates most of the hydrophobic scribes at PostMedia.

When it comes to Harper you can trust Ibbitson never to put the boot in. Which is why excerpts of Ibbitson's new Harper biography, "Stephen Harper, The Making of a Prime Minister," serve as a powerful yardstick for considering Harper's fiercely concealed role in the Wright-Duffy scandal.

There are disagreeable aspects to Stephen Harper’s personality. He is prone to mood swings. He can fly off the handle. He goes into funks, sometimes for long periods. He is suspicious of others. The public is aware of these traits mostly through what’s written and reported in the media. In public, Harper is almost invariably calm, measured, and careful in what he says and how he says it. Yet none of us, watching him, have any difficulty believing that this closed, repressed personality is capable of lashing out from time to time. We all get the vibe. His personality also comes out in the tactics that the Conservative Party uses against its enemies, both perceived and real – which are, in a word, ruthless.

As with most of us, Harper’s character flaws are the reverse side of his character strengths: One would not exist without the other. He has been Prime Minister for a decade not despite these qualities but because of them.

...He can descend into rages, sometimes over trivial things, at other times during moments of crisis. A former aide to Harper recalls a time during the 2004 election campaign when things suddenly started to go very badly for the Conservatives, for reasons we’ll examine later. Harper was on the campaign bus, in Quebec, leading a conference call with senior campaign staff back at headquarters in Ottawa. “He was very, very angry,” the former aide recalls. “It was: ‘We are fucking going to do this, and you are fucking going to do that and I want to see this fucking thing done right now.’ And then he paused and asked: ‘And why does nothing happen around here unless I say ‘fuck’? ”

Harper’s temper manifests itself in different ways. Some days, he just gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Other times, he flies off the handle when confronted with bad news. That’s when the decibel level goes through the roof and the f-bombs start flying. Harper’s reaction when he was told in April, 2008, that the RCMP had raided Conservative Party headquarters in connection with the in-and-out affair, carrying out boxes of material past the TV cameras, was wondrous to behold.

...Another of Harper’s less attractive qualities is a perceived lack of loyalty toward others. One-time political adviser Tom Flanagan points out that Harper has betrayed or estranged many in the conservative movement who were at one time senior to him – Joe Clark, Jim Hawkes, Brian Mulroney, Preston Manning. This, Flanagan believes, is the product of Harper’s need to dominate whatever environment he is in. “I think he has this very strong instinct to be in charge,” he said. “He really wants to be the alpha figure, and he’s achieved that. So part of that is to dispose of anyone who might be considered to be a rival in some sense or another.”

Flanagan also asserts that “there is a huge streak of paranoia in Stephen. And he attracts people who have a paranoid streak. And if you don’t have one to begin with, you develop it, because you’re constantly hearing theories.” At its root, “looking back, there’s a visceral reluctance to trust the motives of other people,” Flanagan concludes. “He often overcomes his initial suspicions and will sign on to other people’s ideas. But the initial response is always one of suspicion.” Flanagan believes Harper is prone to depression. “He can be suspicious, secretive, and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia,” he wrote in 2014, “at other times falling into week-long depressions in which he is incapable of making decisions.”

...Some leaders like to micro-manage; others prefer to delegate. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. But Harper’s determination to grasp all of the levers, and even the widgets, of the federal government is matched by an equal determination to control the flow – or rather, the trickle – of information coming out of the government. Bureaucrats are prohibited from speaking to reporters. Scientists are prohibited from releasing the results of their research. Ambassadors have been ordered to obtain permission from the Centre before representing Canada in meetings. (The mantra from the PMO, as diplomats bitterly put it, is: Do nothing without instructions. Do not expect instructions.) Access to Information requests are routinely held up for so long that by the time the information is released, it’s no longer of any use, and the pages are mostly blacked out in any case.

Although they are in fact separate issues, this general air of secretiveness gets mixed up with the Conservatives’ willingness to demonize opponents. In fact, the Tories don’t have opponents; they have enemies. The Leader of the Liberal Party is an enemy. Judges who strike down their legislation are enemies. Union leaders are enemies. Authors and other artists who criticize the Conservatives are enemies. Journalists who cast a more-than-occasional critical eye on the government are enemies. And toward his enemies Stephen Harper bars no holds.

The Conservatives’ autocracy, secretiveness, and cruelty, critics accuse, debase politics to a level that threatens the very foundations of Canadian democracy. “Hardly anything in this world hints of Putinism more than Harperism,” columnist Ralph Surette of the Halifax Chronicle Herald opined.

...From his boyhood in Leaside, Harper learned not to trust those beyond the inner circle of family and close friends. That circle is not much larger today. Relations with those outside the wall can be cordial, but they are rarely based on implicit trust, an emotional resource that Harper invests in only a very few. And his encyclopedic memory includes not only the history of maritime border disputes, or who starred in what film; it also includes every act by every person who has slighted, offended, or betrayed him. Such acts are never forgotten and only rarely forgiven. Stephen Harper holds grudges.

He has never successfully cultivated the social skill of pretending to connect. He has difficulty feigning interest. His associates talk of him sometimes simply turning his back and walking away from them while they are in mid-sentence. He rarely displays much ability or desire to be collegial, or even polite. This tendency toward abruptness gets worse when he is tired or under stress.

...because his suspicion of the intentions of others is so overt, those who serve under him inhabit an environment of suspicion, and are, or become, suspicious as well – the culture of paranoia that Tom Flanagan observed when he worked for Stephen Harper. The reservoir of goodwill in the Prime Minister’s Office is shallow and quickly drained.

That said, if Harper is suspicious about the world around him, he has reason to be. As Joseph Heller famously said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Harper sees himself as an outsider because he is an outsider. He is from the West, but most of the country lives near the Great Lakes or St. Lawrence River. He is from the suburbs, but the Laurentian elites generally live downtown. Harper is hostile toward these elites, and they are hostile toward him. He is contemptuous of progressive academics, and they reciprocate. He distrusts the judiciary, and the judiciary has vindicated that distrust by striking down parts of his law-and-order agenda. The gala-goers he derides spit out his name in the foyer at intermission. When Stephen Harper rejected the University of Toronto, when he rejected the life of a Tory political aide in Ottawa, when he embraced the West, he fled from the commanding heights of the Central Canadian academic, cultural, and political landscape. He is the embodiment of alienation. 


What comes through is that Ibbitson, while seeking to describe Harper's character, in actuality documents his psychopathy.  Ibbitson's "this is the way of great men" apology is fine if by great men he means the likes of Caligula. What he describes is more akin to a high-functioning psychopath.

Now, assuming that Ibbitson hasn't depicted Harper unfairly or inaccurately, how does this relate to the Wright-Duffy scandal and the already preposterous claim that Harper knew nothing despite what the documents indicate and despite the revelations that his entire staff of top aides were well and truly in on it?

Harper is this profound control freak determined "to grasp all of the levers and even the widgets" of government except, we're asked to believe, when it came to the blossoming scandal of Mike Duffy.  In this case, and this alone, Harper simply left it to his footmen to sort out.  In this one moment in time the cloud of suspicion, distrust and paranoia lifted off Harper's shoulders.  Harper was magically released from "his need to dominate whatever environment he is in."

Harper's smokescreen would be difficult, if not impossible, to accept even from an emotionally stable prime minister.  But emotionally stable is not Stephen Harper. He would have required sedation to the point of near unconsciousness to let Wright-Duffy, in its minutest details, escape his control.  And none of that happened, did it.