The Satellite that Could Save the World

The media missed the real story about the so-called “climate-gate” scandal.

After thousands of emails were mysteriously stolen from the University of East Anglia and distributed just before the climate conference in Copenhagen, many news outlets seemed content to report the story as it was presented to them rather than bothering to read the emails in the context they were written.

A closer look at these candid messages reveals a very different problem than the supposed scientific conspiracy theory that’s been in high rotation in the media. This previously unreported story also shows why launching the long-mothballed Deep Space Climate Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is more urgent now than ever.

Lets start with perhaps the most widely distributed and misunderstood of the stolen emails, of October 12, 2009 from Dr. Keith Trenberth to Michael Mann, which reads:

The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't.

Out of more than a thousand emails dating back 13 years, this single sentence was seized on by some commentators as evidence that decades of climate research by hundreds of scientists is instead a global conspiracy.

If you are going to put that much weight on a single email, you may as well finish reading it. Here’s what Trenberth says in the following sentence:

The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

Allow me to translate this dense jargon into English. CERES stands for Clouds and the Earth s Radiant Energy System – a five-satellite network launched by NASA dating back to 1997 to monitor heat flow in the upper atmosphere.

The story you haven’t heard is that scientists can’t get the numbers to add up using existing climate satellites. After billions of research dollars spent and over a decade of trying, the energy budget of planet as measured by CERES and other low- Earth orbit satellite systems is out of whack by about 6 watts per square meter.

That stubborn error in the satellite data is about six times larger than what is scientifically possible, and several times larger than the effect scientists are trying to see, namely planetary warming caused by continued massive emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

While this is a very big deal, it does NOT remotely suggest that climate change is a hoax. For evidence of that, you don’t need a satellite, you can look out your kitchen window.

Sea ice is disappearing from the arctic so fast it could be gone forever in as little as 30 years. The Met Office predicts 2010 may be the hottest year on record and that this decade was the hottest ever “by far”. Australia is currently enduring the hottest six months since record keeping began in the 1800’s.

What Trenberth is saying in this now infamous email is that it is a “travesty” that scientists cannot accurately measure from space what is plainly obvious here on Earth. More than that, he is lamenting that our “observing system” is inadequate to be able to accurately balance the planet’s energy budget.

Dr. Trenberth is one of the world’s most respected climate researchers. To hear him directly explain this problem himself, have a look at this video. If you happen to have a PhD in atmospheric physics (or just have trouble sleeping) you may also want to read his thorough research paper on the topic.

It’s not that the CERES experiment is a bad project or staffed by incompetent people. But the fact of the matter is that our satellite systems have failed to provide coherent data to explain the defining issue of the 21st century. This important but esoteric problem is largely unknown to the public, but widely acknowledged within the scientific community.

So what’s the problem with the data? In science, such unexplained phenomena are not a “problem” – they are the most interesting things to look at. They reveal clues about things we don’t yet fully understand, or hint that long-accepted methods of measurement need to be reassessed.

Which brings us back to the limitations of CERES and other low Earth orbit instruments. These satellites are traveling at more than seven kilometers a second and see our planet in thin strips as narrow as ten kilometers wide. Most take about 24 hours to get back where they started.
From this vantage it is like trying to map an elephant using a microscope. By the time you look at the same spot twice, the Earth (and the elephant) is doing something else.

There are far better instruments for observing elephants: Binoculars.

The long-mothballed DSCOVR spacecraft, still languishing in clean storage here on Earth, is just such an instrument. Rather than seeing the planet from hundreds of kilometers away, DSCOVR was designed to track our orbit around the Sun from 1.5 million kilometers away.

From a unique gravitational dimple called “L1”, the spacecraft would continuously monitor the entire sunlit disc of our planet, providing an entirely new way of collecting data on the Earth’s energy budget. This coincident data would compliment and calibrate more detailed measurements from CERES and other satellites that observe the Earth from much closer.

Yet of the $160 billion given to NASA from the US taxpayer since DSCOVR was built in 2000, they have stubbornly maintained that launching this already fully completed spacecraft is either too expensive or simply not important. 

For the record, the most inflated estimate to launch and operate DSCOVR of $250 million would represent 0.15% of that public largesse. In fact, the true cost to NASA to operate DSCOVR for seven years is likely less than $50 million due to cost sharing opportunities with other agencies, and use of cheaper launch vehicles such as a SpaceX rocket.

The reasons for NASA's apparent resistance to exploring new methods of Earth observation probably have more to do with internal bureaucratic inertia than anything else. As they say, old dogs have a hard time learning new tricks and NASA has being doing low Earth orbit for more than forty years. 

They recently committed a further $1 billion on a low Earth orbit replacement to CERES called CLARREO that won't be launched until at least 2016. Whether or not this experiment will finally make the numbers add up remains to be seen, and the results will not be known for another six years at the earliest.

In the meantime, climate change proceeds apace, "skeptics" make specious arguments using glaring errors in the satellite data, and DSCOVR dozes in its storage box here on Earth waiting for 1/20th of the money required for a re-do the failed CERES experiment.

If there is a bright side to the sinister theft of thousands of emails just before the Copenhagen Conference, it is that we can now start to have a more intelligent conversation on the glaring discrepancies in our Earth observation instruments.

And lets not be too hard on NASA. After eight years of George Bush in the Whitehouse and billions diverted from worthwhile science towards inter-planetary photo ops like the manned mission to Mars, the space agency is understandably just now picking up the pieces.

The fabulously expensive (and scientifically useless) International Space Station will also have funneled off $140 billion in scarce research dollars when it finally plunges into the ocean in 2016. 

These outside political pressures forced NASA to drop so many Earth-observing missions that by 2006 leading scientists were warning our climate monitoring system was “at risk of collapse”. Four years later, the public was granted a rare glimpse of the frustration within the scientific community in Trenberth’s now famously misinterpreted message.

What about the stolen emails and global conspiracy theories? I suggest a more plausible alternative: 
 The next time the media encounters a such an obvious stick being thrown for them, maybe they should instead chase the mysterious person doing the throwing.
As for DSCOVR, it is interesting that an experiment that could help resolve glaring uncertainties abound this century’s defining issue has somehow never been launched.

For some powerful interests far beyond NASA, continued uncertainty can be a very valuable commodity. To quote a notorious leaked strategy document from Big Tobacco when they were seeking to delay costly regulation of their dangerous industry in the 1960’s: “doubt is our product.”

Why Are Oddballs Like This Guy Winning?

News flash! Climate change is not only a fraud and a hoax, but it is a sinister conspiracy of the "left" to create an unelected eco-dictatorship that spans the globe. Millions of the world’s poorest will die, and civilization as we know it will perish unless we stop this plot before it is too late.

That remarkable message was delivered this week by the flamboyantly pompous Lord Christopher Walter, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, at a lunch time talk hosted by the Fraser Institute, and sponsored by the so-called "Friends" of Science.

I have long followed the media coverage of high-profile climate change deniers such as Lord Monckton and was guiltily anticipating seeing the performance in person. I was also hoping that by 2009 such fringe views were finally dropping out of the media and being seen as more hilarious than serious.

Not so. A startling poll was released this year showing that more Americans were skeptical of climate science now than at any time in the last eleven years. It is also reflected in Canada's continuing pathetic record on climate change -- an issue that has become political plutonium in a once proudly progressive nation.

At the very time that the normally staid scientific community is becoming increasingly frantic about what they know about climate change, the general public seems to be more misinformed and confused than ever before. Since political will flows directly from public opinion, this is not merely a curiosity, it is a catastrophe.

Quite simply, we are losing the battle for the future of planet because scientists and environmentalists are failing to win the messaging war. Watching Lord Monckton hold forth before a friendly crowd of more than 200, I realized more clearly how soundly the truth is seemingly being pummeled by a motley collection of audacious charlatans.

Let's start by pointing out that Lord Monckton is not a "lord" at all if by his title you assumed he is a member of the British Parliament's House of Lords. In fact, he received no votes in 2007 House of Lords Conservative Hereditary Peers' byelection. Then again, very little of what he said was true.

Much of his talk ironically was devoted to labeling a legion of reputable scientists as "liars," a term he threw around with reckless generosity, apparently not remotely concerned with either liability or nuance.

"If the threat is real, why do those who advocate the global warming scare need to lie about it again and again and again?" asked Monckton.

He ran through a series of slides which in succession accused Al Gore, the IPCC, the scientific community and several prominent researchers of being liars, fraudsters and, worst of all: "bed-wetters."

Among his high profile targets:

Sir John Houghton, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), lead author of three IPCC assessments, and a "liar."

Dr. Stephen Schneider, author of over 450 peer-reviewed scientific papers, mostly related to climate science. According to Monckton: both a liar and "bed-wetter."

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is, declared Monckton, a liar about sea level rise, the hockey stick graph, polar bears, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and apparently almost everything else in his film.

"They're testing us all the time with new lies to see whether we simply swallow them or not. And if we swallow them, they go onto the next one," Monckton taunted.

Monckton's claims prove worthless

It is interesting to take a closer look at some of the bold claims Monckton makes to the chuckling crowd about the "sheer depth and elaboration with which these lies are told."

For instance, he disparages Gore for the "polar bear lie" in An Inconvenient Truth, in which Gore claims that "a scientific study shows for the first time they’re finding polar bears that are drowned swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find the ice."

Like a TV detective solving the crime, Monckton announces: "Here is study that he was referring to, Monnett and Gleason, 2006 and it does show four dead polar bears. And why did they die? Does it say anything in the paper about global warming? No, not a word. . ."

I took the trouble to look up that paper, and here is what the authors say verbatim: "We speculate that mortalities due to offshore swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years may be an important and unaccounted source of natural mortality given energetic demands placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming. We further suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues."

Monckton went on to brag that he had "checked a bit further to find out whether in fact the sea ice extent in the Beaufort Sea. . . has diminished for the last thirty years and. . . in fact it has increased very slightly if anything. . . So there was no basis whatsoever for Gore’s lie."

True? Not quite, according to this image from the Nation Snow and Ice Data Center.

An article in Nature published just last week said: "Arctic sea ice has declined slightly less dramatically this year than in the past couple of years. But the seasonal minimum, reached this week, is still the third-lowest on record since satellite radar measurements began in 1979, reinforcing a marked 30-year downward trend in summertime ice extent."

You get the idea. People like Monckton don't have to tell the truth, the public just has to keep listening to them. A decent deceit, told with wit and conviction, seemingly trumps the truth most days in the arena of public opinion.

After 90 minutes, Monckton intimated the real reason that global warming lies were being shoved down our collective throats by the "left." He claimed to have in his briefcase a copy of the draft Copenhagen agreement that may be signed this December that will result in nothing less than a world government of unelected eco-bureaucrats, a green global dictatorship that will happen "unless you stop them."

It was an impressive performance and the friendly crowd ate it up. I am sure many of the fired-up faithful responded with fat cheques to the Fraser Institute, The Friends of Science and Stephen Harper. Monckton took no verbal questions from the floor and was whisked away for pre-arranged media interviews by the slick staffers at the Fraser Institute.

Admittedly, some of the local press coverage of the event was scathing, but it did leave me wondering about how effectively the so-called agents of truth are fairing in comparison.

Later that day, I went to an eco-gathering of earnest and well-meaning people attending a climate film premier. Aside from the obvious political whiplash, I was most struck by the pervasive petty infighting within the room. Many people seemed fixated more on nitpicking their allies than outwardly raging at the smiling shysters winning the messaging war.

Likewise, the scientific community seems to ignore the likes of Monckton, leaving the field wide open for him to say whatever he wants, and boldly claim that no one wants to debate him because they are scared of him. It is like watching your big brother in high school get his ass kicked by a nine-year-old.

If we can't even get beyond our sanctimony to dialogue effectively within peer group, what hope do we have to effectively reach out to those we have less in common with? Unless the "left" can realize quickly that the real battle for public opinion is being waged, and lost, outside our own small political bubble, I fear the planet is in big trouble.

This piece was published on the Tyee on October 29, 2009

Global Warming's New Scopes Monkey Trial

Corporate giants like Nike and Johnson & Johnson must be wondering today why they are still members of the increasingly crazy U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber last week filed legal papers seeking to put climate science on trial by challenging the largest peer review exercise in scientific history in the US Federal Court.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

"It would be evolution versus creationism," crowed William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. "It would be the science of climate change on trial."

Just when you think the climate denier crowd could get any loopier -- they do.

For those who weren't alive during the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trail" of 1925, Tennessee high school teacher John Scopes was put on trail for the "crime" of teaching the theory of evolution to his students in violation of a state law called the Butler Act.

In what is now recognized as the low water mark in American intellectual history, the prosecution harangued the scientific community for teaching that humans descended "not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys".

The world was astounded that an enlightened country like the United States seemed to be slipping back into the Dark Ages. Many Americans were mortified at a spectacle the New York Times described as "the fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war."

The Baltimore Sun derided the local population as "babbits", "morons", "peasants", "hill-billies", and "yaps" (whatever they are). Their editors railed against the "degraded nonsense which country preachers are ramming and hammering into yokel skulls."

As with all forms of state-sponsored censorship, the concept of truth was irrelevant. The judge instructed the jury to ignore the merit of the law, and because the defense was prevented from submitting evidence, they did not even ask the jury to find their client not guilty.

The Tennessee court of appeal dropped this fiasco like a hot potato, stating, "We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case. On the contrary, we think that the peace and dignity of the state, which all criminal prosecutions are brought to redress, will be the better conserved by the entry of a nolle prosequi herein."

This remarkable historical embarrassment is what the U.S. chamber of Commerce wants to recreate in the 21st Century on behalf of their membership.

This cynical maneuver is in response to the long overdue finding by the US EPA that ballooning emissions are a threat to human health. This will open the door to CO2 being regulated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act -- something some elements in the business community will clearly stop at nothing to prevent.

Personally, I believe it would be useful to see some of well known pseudo-scientists who make a lucrative living denying climate change dragged out their media bubble and grilled on the stand.

It might be illuminating to see them defend their shoddy credentials, dubious funding sources, and the strange coincidence that virtually everyone at odds with the vast scientific consensus of climate change is receiving dirty carbon money.

This bizarre move from the Chamber of Commerce also exposes the growing rifts amongst their membership. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson sent a letter demanding that the Chamber refrain from making comments on climate change unless they "reflect the full range of views, especially those of Chamber members advocating for congressional action."

Nike has also been vocal with the Chamber's leaders "about wanting them to take a more progressive stance on the issue of climate change."

Other prominent and progressive companies like Levi Strauss, Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, Timberland, eBay, Gap Inc., Seventh Generation, PNM Resources, and Symantec are likely wondering whether they want to continue to be associated with an organization that seems to hold the protection of the environment in such contempt.

As Obama moves the U.S. towards long-overdue policies to prevent the atmosphere from being used a free dumping ground for dangerous levels of CO2, it is fascinating to watch the political theatre that ensues. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce appear more concerned with preventing carbon pricing than protecting their own credibility -- or the planet.

Big Coal Impersonating Charities?

The most sinister PR campaign in history just hit a new ethical low when it was revealed that forged letters appearing to be from charities were sent to lawmakers urging them to vote against the Waxman Markey climate bill.

Congressman Tom Perriello was shocked to find that anti climate letters claiming to be from the NAACP and a local Latino non-profit were instead sent by DC lobby firm Bonner & Associates – a company apparently subcontracted by Big Coal astroturf group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

In total, twelve phony letters have surfaced so far, sent to three freshmen Congress members – all representing coal producing districts. Other charities apparently impersonated by Big Coal include the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, and the American Association of University Women.

You wonder how they sleep at night… Apparently unencumbered by ethics or morals, the fossil fuel lobby seems prepared to do anything, including fraudulently impersonating charities to avoid progress on climate change.

Of course Big Coal denies everything. Although Bonner and Associates was subcontracted by ACCCE, they are now claiming that it was all the doing of "temporary employee who worked for us for 7 days [who] acted alone." Ah huh.

The ACCCE admitted they were long aware of at least 12 forged letters but of course they would never be involved in something as slimy as this, would they? While claiming “outrage” about the scam, it is strange that they sat on this explosive knowledge since June 24th, two days before the House vote on Waxman Markey, and of course until it was otherwise revealed in the press.

The middleman between the ACCCE and Bonner was another PR firm called the Hawthorn Group that takes a “grassroots, campaign oriented approach to corporate public relations”. Their chief operating officer said that Bonner & Associates "failed to reach the congressional offices to properly advise them" of the forgeries. Now try to imagine a DC-based lobbying firm that does not know how to “reach” congressional offices…

Ed Markey, the co-sponsor of the current climate bill wants some answers. "The deliberate inaction prior to the House vote and the extended silence after the vote - some 40 days after ACCCE knew what had happened - raises serious concerns," Markey wrote in a letter to the ACCCE on Wednesday.
Markey also wants to know exactly the relationship between ACCCE and the Bonner, how much they were paid, what congressional districts they were targeting and who the mysterious and supposed ex-employee is.

"This fraud on Congress distorts the legislative process and disserves the American people. It represents a serious breach that needs to be fully understood as to the extent and scope of these wrongful acts,” Markey said in the letter.
As for the charities impersonated by the fossil fuel lobby, they are understandably more than a little pissed.

The American Association of University Women released this blistering statement:
“This incident constitutes outright deceit and demonstrates a breathtaking lack of ethics. AAUW greatly resents having been portrayed in false lights, and sympathizes with the other organizations that have been victims of this outrageous act. We also fully support Rep. Edward J. Markey's investigation into this matter. When members of Congress receive a letter from AAUW and its members, they should feel confident that they are being contacted by real people committed to the principles of our great democracy and the mission of AAUW. Cynical and premeditated lies have no place in public policy debates.”

The NAACP was also not pleased:
“The NAACP is appalled that an organization like Bonner and Associates would stoop to these depths to deceive Congress In this case Bonner and Associates are exploiting the African-American Community to achieve their misdirected goal.These tactics illustrate that discriminatory tactics normally used to deceive voters are now being used to deceive the Congress,” stated Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy.

This story is not over and we will keep you posted as more details on this scam are dragged into the light of day.


More Australian Weather Records Tumble

The Big Dry Down Under just got a whole lot drier. The first three months of 2009 in the already parched Murray Darling basin had the least amount of rainfall since Australian weather records began 117 years ago.

This massive drainage supports $9 billion in agriculture but has been hammered by what some are calling the worst drought in 1000 years. Authorities in Australia make no bones about the cause of this freaky weather.

"We've had big droughts before and big floods before, but what we didn't have was climate change," said Rob Freeman, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Murray Darling is home to 2 million people who may not even have enough water to survive in the future. "I'd be loath to say that critical human needs will always be secure", warned Freeman.

The recent rainfall record was not the only smashed. Water inputs for three-year period ending March 2009 were less than half of the previous record from the great drought of 1943-1946.

The drainage is so dry that Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River is now two feet below sea level. The parched lakebed high in natural sulfides is now exposed to air and oxidizing into sulfuric acid – devastating local ecosystems.

While droughts are normal in Australia, there has never been one as hot as this.

The killer heat wave in January claimed more than 370 lives – more than double the number lost during the worst wildfires in Australian history this February.

Unprecedented temperatures peaked over 45 degrees in Melbourne and averaged 12 to 15 degrees above normal throughout the State of Victoria.

While so-called climate skeptics maintain that climate change is a hoax or a big mistake, Australian firefighters who faced the grim task of battling the worst bush blazes ever came away with a different conclusion.

In an open letter the Australian Prime Minister, the firefighters union called for urgent government action to curb carbon emissions and control climate change:

"Firefighters work in conditions that most of the public try to flee. We often put our lives on the line. We understand that our job is dangerous by its very nature. However, we are gravely concerned that current federal and state government policies seem destined to ensure a repeat of the recent tragic events… Given the Federal Government’s dismal greenhouse gas emissions cut of 5 per cent, the science suggests we are well on the way to guaranteeing that somewhere in the country there will be an almost annual repeat of the recent disaster and more frequent extreme weather events."

Hard to argue with experience like that.

As the Big Dry becomes even drier, there is yet another opportunity to see climate change in action by simply looking out the window. Australia is rapidly becoming a time machine to visit what our warmer world will look like.


STV is a Bad Fit for Canada

As a long-time advocate of electoral reform, with a heavy heart that I must advise my fellow British Columbians to vote against BC-STV on the May 12th.

BC-STV or “single transferable vote” is a bad fit for Canada, and if adopted here could become a mistake repeated in other provinces with potentially disastrous consequences.

The reason is that STV has an extremely poor record of representing the diversity that Canada is so renowned for, and may in fact lead to even less women being elected than our disgraced “first past the post” system that routinely returns only one in five elected female representatives.

If you watch this video of the Ontario Citizens Assembly process, you will see something that the BC citizens assembly never did. Professor David Farrell of the University of Dublin and authour of the textbook for both the BC and Ontario citizens assembly processes was asked specifically about STV and women during the deliberations in Ontario.

Professor Farrell states clearly that: “there is still this forlorn hope among STV proponents that you are going to find [more women elected under STV someday but unfortunately Ireland and Malta as the only two countries that use single transferable vote are historically right at the bottom of the heap in terms of the representation of women, so it is just not working.

So why would the BC citizens assembly recommend a system that is even worse in terms of representing gender equity (and ethnic diversity) than our current system? Perhaps because they were never directly presented with this important information. Incredibly, gender equity was never part of the mandate of the citizen’s assembly.

This country exemplifies and celebrates diversity more than any other nation on Earth. There may be places that STV would be a better fit, but that place is not Canada.

Malta under STV elects less than 10% women, far worse than even our notoriously gender biased first past the post system. If we are going to bring in the first major electoral reform in North America, why would we want to start with a system that in many ways important to the Canadian character could be even worse than what we want to replace?

Many of these failings of STV flow from the notoriously adversarial system it uses to elect local representatives. In a single riding, literally dozens of candidates must compete for your attention, often of course by slagging their opponents.

People from the even the same political party are in direct competition against each other on a ballot that can be the size of a table cloth. Personalities like Don Cherry prevail. Those like Lester Pearson do not. It is little wonder such a gong show model attracts or elects such a paltry number of female candidates.

Likewise according to Professor Farrell, STV has a poor record of representing minority groups – another core Canadian value – in comparison to list systems like “mixed member proportional representation” (MMP).

So how did we end up in this mess? It is worth reflecting on flawed decision process imposed on the BC Citizen's Assembly in the final days of their determination. After months of mind-numbing expert presentations to lay members, the final crucial decisions were crammed into only two weekend sessions.

The enormous investment of time and effort meant there was little doubt the assembly was going to rightly recommend change. There was also a strong feeling among assembly members that they wanted to present a unanimous recommendation for an alternative model – either STV or the much more established model of MMP that has a comparatively stellar record of representing women and diversity.

In these final days, exhausted members were apparently faced with a small number of representatives (strangely from northern BC that will be very poorly served by STV) who made it clear they would block consensus if the recommendation was the MMP.

The rest is unfortunately history. In spite of the fact that fully 80% of public submissions instead supported some form of MMP, four years and two referenda later we are still stuck with a single choice: STV or nothing.

The good news is that there substantial and growing appetite for electoral reform in BC. The STV referendum in 2005 received 57% support. This was in spite of the fact that 64% of British Columbians knew “nothing” or “very little” about STV according to a Ipsos-Reid poll at the time. A second poll by Nordic Research Group poll on the eve of that referendum showed that only 37% of respondents could even name STV.

This was not for lack of trying. The BC government had mailed a 20-page explanation of STV to all 1.5 million households in the province, followed by a second mailing from the BC Referendum office.

British Columbians were voting for change. They were not voting for STV.

However, the many good people now working hard to promote STV maintain that this may be our last chance for electoral reform in BC. This is simply not true.

Five years ago it was a difficult to find more than a handful of people actively engaged on reforming our electoral system. We have since come a very long way in raising public awareness. Electoral reform is now inevitable in Canada, whether our politicians want it or not.

There is also an bizarre sentiment that STV is somehow a road to MMP. This is nonsense. If you find yourself standing at the front of a church about to be married to someone other than your true love, the time to call of the wedding is now - not after you have bought a house and had three children.

Once we change our electoral system, we will be committed to several election cycles before it can again be changed again. Untangling the mistakes flowing from the final days of citizen’s assembly process 20 years from now will be exponentially more difficult.

We soon will have had two referenda on STV. If this second one again fails, proponents of STV must admit this model is truly a loser and throw their admirable determination behind the alternative MMP model, also developed by the citizen’s assembly.

Incredibly, in spite of two referenda and hundreds of public submissions in support of it, this model has never been presented as a choice to the people of British Columbia.

Change must come to our electoral system. But not change that may make gender and minority representation in Canadian politics even worse.

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer based in Vancouver. His late mother Doris Anderson, the former President of Fair Vote Canada, a strongly opposed STV.


Wilkins Ice Sheet Lost to Climate Change

The latest massive piece of evidence of climate change appeared this weekend - about the size of Jamaica.

The Wilkins ice shelf off the coast of Antarctica finally disintegrated after decades of melting due to global warming. Last year it shrank by 700 square miles of area or about 14% of its size. This huge shelf was held in place by a thread of remaining ice only 500 metres wide.

The Wilkins is by far the largest ice shelf to break away so far and scientists naturally worry that this is a sign of things to come. The southern continent has warmed by 3 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years and the pace is picking up steam

The collapse comes the same weekend as a new study from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) showing one third of all Antarctic sea ice will disappear by the end of the century.

The report found that ice coverage on the Antarctic Peninsula alone has decreased by 27,000 square kilometres in the past 50 years.

Early numbers put out by SCAR suggest the collapse of Antarctic sea-ice not only pushes up anticipated sea level rises but will threaten the numbers of native animal species including emperor penguins, humpback whales and several fish species.

Their research also shows sea temperatures in the Southern Ocean are rising faster than in other oceans, and that ice melts in the Antarctic Peninsula and Western Ice Shelf will be greater and more rapid than expected.

"Ice shelves the size of small countries are crumbling away and the latest evidence from the Antarctic is showing that the effects of global warming there are increasing in magnitude," said Rob Nicoll of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Initiative of the WWF.

Scientists were clealry surprised by how fast Wilkins fell apart. “It’s amazing how the ice has ruptured,” said David Vaughan, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey. “Two days ago it was intact.” Wilkins

The connection with climate change is obvious to researchers who have been studying the area for years. Dr. Vaughan said the breakup up of Wilkins was a "really strong indication that warming is having an effect".

Wilkins was already floating so the latest breakup will not directly affect global sea levels. However researchers believe that land-based glaciers that were held back by the Wilkins ice sheet will now advance more quickly into the ocean.

Researchers last month doubled their estimates for global sea level rise by the end f the century. Places in Northern hemisphere like New York City will be particularly hard hit due to uneven distribution of rising waters and changing ocean currents in the Atlantic.

The new Obama Administration is taking a refreshingly frank view of these changes rather than the years of delay and denial that defined the Bush Whitehouse.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a statement about the Wilkins collapse saying it "demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing, more rapidly than previously thought, as a consequence of climate change".

This urgent sentiment is echoed by his boss. President Omaba told cheering throngs gathered at Prague Castle this weekend:

"To protect our planet, now is the time to change the way that we use energy. Together we must confront climate change by ending the world's dependency on fossil fuels by tapping the power from the sources of energy like the wind and the sun and calling upon all nations to do their part. And I pledge to you that in this global effort the US is now ready to lead."

What a difference an election makes. Lets hope its not too late for Antarctica, or the world.


Spin Over Substance in the Oil Patch

Posteriors are puckering throughout the Alberta oil patch as long-overdue climate and green economy legislation moves through the US Congress.

The provincial government has responded by hiring Washington lobbyists at $500,000 per year to try and ensure whatever bill gets passed is so watered down that does not impact the dirtiest oil on Earth.

Premier Ed Stelmach of course frames it differently: "There's so much at stake for Alberta, and we'll be applying a full-court press not only on elected officials but also on the U. S. administration. It's important that Alberta has a way of ensuring the right information gets to the policy-makers and the decision-makers."

What he is worried about is that meaningful cap and trade legislation would further undermine the already marginal economics of the massive tar sands operation.

The foreign market for synthetic crude includes only one country: the United States. Who knew that one day America would move price carbon emissions? Apparently not the operators that have invested billions into the bitumen boondoggle only to see oil prices collapse and cap and trade legislation that will hit the tar sands like a two by four.

Saying this colossal capitial project is exposed on carbon pricing is a mild understatement. Synthetic crude produces at least three times the emissions as conventional oil. These emissions will increase as shallow deposits are exhausted and production moves to non-mining methods. Tar sands emissions already exceed those of 145 nations on Earth.

Any way you slice it, the cap and trade carbon pricing system moving its way through Washington may turn the tar sands into an investment quagmire.

Signs of trouble are already brewing in oil-addled Alberta. An over reliance on the tar sands mean the once-booming economy is going to contract 2% this year. The government is going to run a whopping $1.4 billion deficit for the fiscal year that just ended.

A recent report from the University of Calgary warns that a fixation on oil is leading to massive deficits and draconian government cutbacks not seen in twenty years.

"We criticize (the government) for allowing its budget to become so heavily dependent on volatile, energy-related revenues--that is a high-risk strategy; it has been tried before and has failed, with dire consequences," the report states. "It is a mistake the Alberta government must recognize and take steps to avoid as quickly as possible."

Interestingly, the highly touted “carbon capture” (CCS) solution for the tar sands has also been widely rejected by the marketplace. Nine out of twenty oil companies picked by the Alberta government to access a massive $2 billion fund to develop this dubious technology have since pulled their bids.

Such tar sands heavy weights as Suncor, Syncrude, ConocoPhillips and StatoilHydro decided this “solution” wasn’t worth their investment dollars, even if the taxpayer was also shelling out billions. This outcome is consistent with a secret government memo last year that said that CCS had very limited application for tar sands operations.

That of course has not stopped the Alberta or Canadian government from continuing to talk up the idea, particularly with the US administration. You can the bet the recent influx of public lobbying dollars into Washington will only amp up the decibels.

What’s that spinning sound I hear?


Climate Change a Hoax After All

I'm sorry. What more can I say?

It was just revealed that so-called climate change actually is a hoax, perpetrated by that fiend Al Gore.

Numerous luminaries in the scientific community owned up with their own mea culpas when the gigantic ruse was revealed on this day, April 1, 2009.

With the exception of a few visionaries, virtually every scientist on Earth was taken in by the former Vice President’s compelling power point presentation. The humiliation was palpable.

“I am deeply ashamed for having unwittingly perpetuated such a massive fraud on the governments of the world,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, calling the grand climate hoax a “cunning deception spanning decades”.

“I have to admit, Al got me good,” said NASA’s Dr. James Hansen as he packed up his personal belongings at his office at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “Despite my decades of experience in climate modeling and satellite meteorology, I would just get mesmerized whenever Gore started showing me all those fancy charts and tables. The man is a real Svengali.”

In another stunning development, a clearly chagrinned Nobel Committee revoked the peace prize granted to Gore and the IPCC in 2007, and instead honored the signatories of the Oregon Petition whose remarkable insights eclipsed that of the entire scientific community.

Reached for comment, Al Gore was clearly unrepentant of his heinous acts: “As long as I can remember, my only goal in life has been to destroy free-market capitalism and replace it with global totalitarian socialism. But it seemed that traditional methods, such as guerrilla warfare, were proving unsuccessful. Then, one day in 1988, as I was strolling through the halls of my giant mansion, it hit me: carbon dioxide.

For a full report of these stunning developments, see this article in the Christian Science Monitor.

I extend my heartfelt apologies to those visionary skeptics who, as it turns out, were right all along.

Our Friend CO2

One of the stupider arguments making the rounds in the media is that “carbon-dioxide-is-not-pollution– it’s life”.

In fact, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) produced a hilarious commercial saying just that.

Friendly footage shows how CO2 comes from little girls blowing dandelion seeds, and prancing gazelles. Then cue the ominous music: “now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant – imagine if they succeed. What would our lives be like then?

Perhaps a bit of back-story is in order. The CEI has received a whopping $2,005,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Their point person on climate change is the notorious Myron Ebell who is so pathologically pro-oil he once claimed that good gas mileage is a mass killer.

So what are the CEI (and their funders in the fossil fuel industry) so worried about? After decades of the atmosphere being used as a free dumping ground for astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide, the federal government is finally considering putting some regulations on our friend CO2.

It is no surprise that this proposed policy is about as popular with Big Oil as a fart in a diving bell.

The fight around CO2 regulation has been brewing for a long while. Back in 2007, the US Supreme Court found the EPA was negligent in not listing CO2 as a legally defined “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act. This designation would trigger long overdue regulation of carbon emissions – something the Bush Whitehouse was predictably opposed to.

Years of delay ensued where essentially nothing happened, other than climate change became exponentially worse. Interestingly, Myron Ebell of the CEI was accused of colluding with the Bush Whitehouse to discredit elements within the EPA that wanted to move forward with CO2 regulation.

Pitted against this immovable object was a seemingly unstoppable force. Barack Obama was elected President, and change ostensibly came to Washington.

Just last month the EPA finally submitted their carbon dioxide determination to the Whitehouse, deciding that CO2 meets the legal definition of “pollution” based on the well-known impacts climate change will have on human welfare, and almost everything else on the planet.

This is a first step on a long road towards recognizing that using the atmosphere as an unregulated dumping ground for CO2 is not only dangerous, but unfair to the taxpayer who will have to pick up the tab as our climate chickens come home to roost.

While CO2 does not stink or make your eyes burn – it is definitely dangerous in the amounts now emitted around the world:

  • Climate change from burning fossil fuels has been identified by experts as a greater threat to humanity than global terrorism.
  • Leading researchers testified before Congress just last month that large parts of the United States may be rendered an uninhabitable wasteland – perhaps within the next ninety years.
  • Dr. Nina Fedoroff, the chief scientist for the US State Department testified last week that carbon-driven climate change could leave one billion in famine in only forty years.

Historic CO2 concentrationsAll this is being driven by ballooning levels of CO2 that have not been seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for at least the last 800,000 years.

If all that isn’t dangerous, I don’t know what is.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, why not use legislation already on the books?

The venerable Clean Air Act remains one of the most powerful tools to begin making polluters pay for the well-known impacts of climate change.

But then, what polluter wants to pay for anything? Big Coal and the oil industry are pushing back hard.

Last year, the coal industry threw $45 million at a public relations campaign, and more than $10 million on lobbying. This was largely to promote the fiction of “clean coal” to the pubic, the media and lawmakers.

Hence the ridiculous argument being puffed up in the popular press that CO2 is merely a harmless gas exhaled by little girls and gazelles.

For the record, no one is disputing that historic levels of CO2 are essential for life as we know it. It is routinely added in greenhouses (and grow-ops) to boost production.

But as they say, a little dab will do ya. Too much of a good thing, be it water, whiskey or botox will kill you. The trick is knowing how much is too much.

Of course the fossil fuel industry would like the bartender to keep pouring a long while yet. And as with any drunk, rational conversation is not always possible. Sometimes the best way to keep the party going is denying there is a problem.

You can therefore expect to hear much more nonsense from the fossil fuel lobby about our invisible, harmless friend CO2.


NASA Reneges on Transparency - Still No DSCOVR Documents

It was welcome news last month when Congress committed $9 million to refurbish the long-overdue Deep Space Climate Observatory

(DSCOVR). Good start. So how about some information to go with it?

Desmog blog readers will recall the long and fruitless quest to wring documents out of NASA about the bizarre story of the DSCOVR spacecraft. This $100 million instrument was fully completed eight years ago yet has been sitting in a box in Maryland ever since.

DSCOVR was designed to directly measure climate change for the first time ever by observing our warming planet from the unique vantage of the Lagrange Point - one million miles towards the Sun.

The climate denial industry has been regularly harping on the unreliability of low Earth orbit satellite data for years. Strange then, how the very experiment that could resolve such issues was mothballed – over the strenuous objections of dozens of leading researchers.

I struggled for over a year to extract any kind of internal documents from NASA using the Freedom of Information Act and got nowhere. After 11 months of stonewalling, the space agency elected to withhold an unknown number of documents due to some very bizarre rationales. I appealed later in 2007 and was also turned down.

Then Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.... One of his first actions, only one day after inauguration was to issue a memorandum to the heads of every federal agency directing them to err on the side of disclosure and openness. The legally binding statement ordered among other things that:

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.

What a breath of fresh air. I decided to take President Obama at his word and re-submit my FOIA request to NASA the next day.

To make it easy on the beleaguered space agency, I kept the wording almost identical. In effect, all they would have to do is look at the already collected documents from my original request, glance at the presidential directive from Mr. Obama and release most or all of the long-withheld documents.

So what happened next? Absolutely nothing.

More than two months have gone by and I haven’t heard a peep from NASA in spite of numerous emails asking for an update on the status of my request. Maybe they didn’t get the memo…

Alas there was another directive just last week from the new Attorney General Eric Holder, overturning a draconian directive from John Ashcroft in the wake of 9-11. This new policy again instructs the heads of all federal agencies to pull back the veil of secrecy that has plagued the US government for years. Specifically, this policy states:

“The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, reflects our nation's fundamental commitment to open government. This memorandum is meant to underscore that commitment and to ensure that it is realized in practice.”

Holder also makes it clear that hiding behind legal technicalities is unacceptable:

“An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption.”

That bureaucratic game playing is a thing of the past:

“FOIA professionals should be mindful of their obligation to work "in a spirit of cooperation" with FOIA requesters, as President Obama has directed. Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the "new era of open Government" that the President has proclaimed.”

The Attorney General also demands that requests be handled as quickly as possible:

“When information not previously disclosed is requested, agencies should make it a priority to respond in a timely manner. Timely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency. Long delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.”

In light of all that, my question to NASA is quite simply: where are my documents??

I have been more than patient for the last two months, filed a very modest request that does not require any additional document searches, and have made several failed attempts to get an update on the status of FOIA request FOIA-09-070.

The ball is your court NASA. What do you have to hide?


Slavery, George Will and Light Bulbs

History is punctuated by tipping points. And at each of these transitions there are those resistant to change – raising their voices in support of they way things were or spreading fear about the emerging new era.

William J. Grayson was a respected lawyer, politician and poet in 19th Century South Carolina. Of impeccable American pedigree, his father was aide-de-camp to George Washington during the War of Independence. On the eve of the civil war, he bravely spoke out against the secessionist movement that was so popular in his home state.

Grayson was also a vocal defender of slavery, stating in 1855:

“What more can be required of Slavery, in reference to the negro, than has been done? It has made him, from a savage, an orderly and efficient labourer. It supports him in comfort and peace. It restrains his vices. It improves his mind, morals and manners. It instructs him in Christian knowledge.”

History is a cruel judge. The many prominent citizens of the day resistant to abolishing the ancient and accepted practice of buying and selling humans are now seen a greatly diminished light.

Into that storied company strides George Will of the Washington Post. Graduating from Princeton with a Ph.D in politics, he is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, author of numerous award-winning books, a former instructor at Harvard. As a commentator, scholar and journalist, he has achieved virtually everything that can be in his many chosen fields of endeavor.

And like William J. Grayson, Mr. Will finds himself squarely on the wrong side of a defining shift in history. As the world makes its first tentative steps to deal with our collective climate crisis, Will is instead lending his considerable credibility to resisting that change.

There is no doubt that fossil fuels - like slavery– have provided a cheap and convenient source of energy. And like slavery, it is long-established norm that is rapidly becoming morally indefensible.

Virtually the entire scientific community is speaking in unison when they warn of famine, drought, mass displacements, global instability, and an impoverished future unless we take concrete and immediate steps to wean our economy off a reliance on fossil fuels. Dealing with climate change is abolition equivalent of the 21st. century.

Such fundamental shifts in society are difficult enough without specious arguments from prominent opinion leaders like Mr. Will questioning even the scientific imperative for change.

Yet Will has done just that, holding forth on subjects well outside his areas of expertise such as sea ice and polar meteorology. He has embarrassed himself and the Washington Post by publishing clearly erroneous claims about our changing climate, then repeating those claims when challenged even by the very scientists that collected the data he was misrepresenting.

His latest straw man are light bulbs. In an article this week, Mr. Will descends into anecdotal arguments of how compact florescent light bulbs don’t last as long as they should, are difficult to dispose of, and somehow all this is the fault of our government’s reckless haste to move on climate change.

That anyone of Mr. Will’s stature could seriously accuse government of pell-mell panic on climate change is quite simply laughable.

For over almost two decades, the scientific community has been hectoring world leaders that carbon emissions pose a real and immediate danger to society, global security and the economy. They have stated clearly and repeatedly that the longer we wait, the more difficult and tragic will be the outcome.carbon emisisons

And for years, carbon emissions have marched relentlessly upwards - recently accelerating beyond even the worst case scenarios considered by the IPCC.Leaders meet, words are spoken, nothing changes.

Beyond the obvious economic, political and technical challenges of shifting the world away from fossil fuels, is perhaps the greatest challenge of all: public opinion.

The voting and consuming public remains scandalously ill informed about our emerging understanding of climate science. This makes the hill far steeper for those few political leaders willing to blaze a way forward into a new era.

George Will and the Washington Post are shamefully culpable in this situation. They have contributed to inaction at the very moment of history when action is imperative.

There is no doubt that Mr. Will, like William J. Grayson, is a distinguished and accomplished citizen. And like his predecessor of the 1800’s, people a hundred years from now may instead remember him only for being on the wrong side of history.


David Bellamy Gets It Completely Wrong on Climate Change Science

There’s another strong contender for the Christopher Booker Prize for Bullshit Reportage of Climate Science.

The latest challenger is David Bellamy, a former BBC broadcaster who has been holding forth on his rather hostile views on climate science.

In a video interview with a British newspaper, he calls peer-reviewed journals as “the last thing I would use now.”


If Bellamy has indeed written off the entire scientific community, where is he getting his information to back up his remarkable claims that carbon emissions are not driving climate change?

Hard to say… George Monbiot does an admirable job of trying to unravel Bellamy’s convoluted arguments in an article last week. Let’s try and follow the faint trail of breadcrumbs dropped by the UK’s leading climate change denier.

Among other things, Bellamy maintains that a much warmer climate 2,000 years ago allowed Romans to produce “very very good red wine up in the Scottish borders.”

True? Ah…no. Here is a map of the extent of historical wine production in the UK including both the Roman and Medieval periods, published by Richard Selley, author of The Winelands of Britain.Vineyards of UK

The good news (if you can call it that) is that Scotland may be promising vineyard habitat by the end of the century due to ballooning emissions of fossil fuels.

The “fine wine” argument instead buttresses the already colossal amount of evidence that the kind of climate change we are now witnessing eclipses anything seen in the historical record.

Bellamy also contends that the famous graph produced by Dr. Michael Mann had been “taken apart and proven to be a fiddle” - a charming turn of phrase but of course entirely wrong.

The so-called “hockey stick” graph has been recalculated several times using updated data and always shows the same thing: that the climate we are experiencing now is warmer that anything in recorded history. According to the US National Academies of Science assessment of this “controversy”:

The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998,1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on icecaps and the retreat of glaciers around the world, which in many cases appear to be unprecedented during at least the last 2,000 years.

Bellamy may instead be referring to a fraudulent graph produced by a German high school teacher that was cribbed from an early draft by the IPCC way back in 1900. This cut and paste fakery involved phony temperature scales, extended timelines and amusing claims that the fake graph was correct and the entire IPCC process was wrong. It was also promoted to many schools in Germany.

For a knee-slapping account of this flim-flammery see this account from Realclimate.org.

Bellamy also repeats a favorite refrain of climate deniers that the ice core data shows a lag between temperature increases and CO2 increases. According to him, this indicates the link between CO2 and temperature is all a bunch of hooey.

First of all, ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica dating back many hundreds of thousands of years shows that global temperatures move in lock step with atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Obviously, there is a very strong link between the two.

Secondly, scientists are not maintaining that ancient increases in temperature were initiated by increasing CO2.

For one thing, mastodons or our ancient primate ancestors did not drive cars or excavate and burn massive amounts of coal – that is something we are doing for the first time in geologic history. Prehistoric temperature increases were instead started by changes in the Sun’s output or the Earth’s orbit, and then amplified up to five times by the release of carbon in positive feedbacks like melting permafrost or CO2 release from warming oceans.

Third, this extensive ice core record is not something we should take comfort from. We are already seeing evidence of dangerous positive feedbacks which may lead to runaway climate change, whether we in the future decide to drastically reduce CO2 emissions or not. Once we start the train moving, it may pick up speed up even as we try and put on the brakes.

Speaking of ice, Bellamy also claimed in a letter to the New Scientist in 2005 that many of the world’s glaciers “are not shrinking but in fact are growing ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980"

His nemesis George Monbiot took the time to contact World Glacier Monitoring Service and read them Bellamy’s letter. Their response? "This is complete bullshit…Despite his scientific reputation, he makes all the mistakes that are possible."

It gets worse. Turns out that Bellamy’s “source” likely originated from a website hosted by none other than S. Fred Singer. This professional denier who has worked on behalf of the CFC, tobacco, and oil industries was ostensibly citing a “paper published in Science in 1989", stating that 55% of glaciers were growing.

Monbiot tried to find such a paper but it does not exist. This phony claim about growing graciers has been making the rounds on the internet for years and was finally put to bed by Desmog Blog last July.

It also turns out that Bellamy apparently meant to type “55%” but missed the shift key and got 555 instead. Bellamy later admitted to a “glitch of the electronics” regarding his letter to the New Scientist, yet never requested a correction be published.

So much for the robust case against climate science.