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In the Climate Debate, We Don’t Need More Science, We Need More PR
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In the Climate Debate, We Don’t Need More Science, We Need More PR

Leading up to the recent G20 summit in Toronto Prime Minister Harper called climate change talks a "sideshow" and cancelled the gathering of environment ministers that normally precedes the meeting. Back in January, Americans ranked global warming dead last among public priorities (just as they did in 2009). Now, that public opinion cooling trend has spread elsewhere. Just 42 percent of Germans are concerned about climate change, down from 62 percent in 2006. In Australia, only 53 percent still consider it an urgent issue, down from 75 percent in 2007. Newsweek Magazine has relegated climate change to being "just one policy priority among many" and "just another flavor of grubby interest politics". For climate scientists, and the NGOs who advocate bold, decisive action to address the climate crisis, these are frustrating times. Distressingly, many people in the green movement are tempted to spend time casting blame for the apparent rise in skepticism over global warming -- it's the climate change deniers and their blogs, it's the big oil lobby, it's journalists bent on providing "both sides" of the issue, it's an ignorant public that refuses to listen to the facts. But assigning blame is a waste of time. As Erin Biba argued in a recent Wired Magazine column, what climate scientists need isn't someone to blame, and it isn't more science. It's better PR. This isn't a message scientists necessarily like to hear. Biba writes:

This kind of talk can be unsettling to scientists. “Scientists hate the word spin. They get bent out of shape by the concept that they should frame their message,” says Jennifer Ouellette, director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a National Academy of Sciences program that helps connect the entertainment industry with technical consultants. “They feel that the facts should speak for themselves. They’re not wrong; they’re just not realistic.”
Facts alone rarely convince people outside academe. Messages need to be personal, and whether we like it or not, arguments that appeal to a person's basic self-serving nature are more effective. It's not enough to say "Eat your vegetables, they're good for you." Instead you need to answer questions like What's in it for me? How do I benefit? We need to frame the issue in terms that say if we do something (invest in clean energy, say, or adopt conservation) we'll be richer and happier than we are today. It's all the more important that the climatology community seek the expertise of PR professionals at a time when every crackpot theorist has the power to sway opinion by simply typing away in some basement. The days are long gone when spending years studying a subject, earning an advanced degree and becoming an expert in your field automatically granted you some credibility and trust. A strong anti-establishment current against experts, primarily attacking their basic motivations ("they're just saying that to get grant money") has seriously eroded public trust in traditional centres of authority. And in the end, scientists must turn to the PR professionals because, as Chris Mooney writes in the Washington Post:
as much as the public misunderstands science, scientists misunderstand the public. In particular, they often fail to realize that a more scientifically informed public is not necessarily a public that will more frequently side with scientists... Experts aren't wrong in thinking that Americans don't know much about science, but given how little they themselves often know about the public, they should be careful not to throw stones. Rather than simply crusading against ignorance, the defenders of science should also work closely with social scientists and specialists in public opinion to determine how to defuse controversies by addressing their fundamental causes.
In other words, we don't need more facts. We need better storytellers.

Climate Change Accountability Stalled in Senate, Faces Opposition from Chamber of Commerce
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Climate Change Accountability Stalled in Senate, Faces Opposition from Chamber of Commerce

What could be more iconic than a summer road trip? Time for sun, sightseeing and… smog? That's right - we're deep into the hazy days of summer, and climate change is still on our minds. Bill C-311, the only piece of climate change legislation currently under consideration in Canada, may be stalled in the Senate for the rest of the summer. As reported in The Globe and Mail, the Bill has been adjourned in the name of Conservative Senator Richard Neufeld and cannot move forward until he speaks to it. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by NDP MP Bruce Hyer and is being supported in the Senate by Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell. This Bill has been passed in the House of Commons not once, but twice. It was originally introduced as Bill C-377 by the NDP in 2008; the Bill died when an election was called in the Fall of 2008. In its most recent form, Bill C-311 passed third reading in the House by a majority of MPs representing almost 2/3 of the Canadian population. In addition to the legislative delays that Bill C-311 has faced, another challenge is looming after the National Post reported that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is calling on its members to lobby the Senate to kill the Bill. Their argument: requiring a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change is a threat to Canada's economic competitiveness. Supporters of the Bill point out that there are many lucrative opportunities in a new green economy that can only be achieved if we take action now to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Bill also contains provisions to modify the ambitious targets of a 25% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Concerned Canadians have constantly raised their voices demanding strong action from our government on climate change. We recognize that if we continue down the road we're on, it's leading to a dead end. Nature Canada hopes the Senate will pass the bill and allow Canada to start catching up! Photo by confidence, comely/Flickr

Polar Bear Numbers Could Decline by 30% in One Year: Study
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Polar Bear Numbers Could Decline by 30% in One Year: Study

A new study from Dr. Andrew Derocher, one of the world’s leading polar bear authorities, predicts that polar bear populations may crash in one year by 30%. Derocher warns that the bears will starve as the number of days adults are forced to fast increases while they wait for Arctic sea ice to return.
From the Toronto Star:
Scientists factored in the shrinking sea ice, which affects how many seals the bears can eat before they hibernate and how easily they can find mates. Without enough food or opportunity, mating is less successful, fewer, less robust cubs are born, and teenage bears spend longer “wandering around trying to find something to eat.”
All of that information can be subjected to “some fairly advanced math” to create data tables that chart the estimated time of death by starvation for adult male polar bears. Typically 120 days in the 1980s, the time polar bears have to spend fasting has increased by about seven days per decade and is continuing to increase. While 3 to 6 per cent of polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay die during a 120-day summer fast, 28 to 48 per cent would die if it reached 180 days, the study found. The fast occurs because polar bears depend on frozen sea surface to cover distances.
Arctic sea ice is shrinking by up to five per cent every ten years – sea ice that not only provides hunting ground for polar bears, but shelter and transportation for seals, walrus, arctic foxes, and the Inuit people. The underside provides a surface for algae that supports cod, char, beluga, and narwhal. The white sea ice also has a cooling effect on climate by reflecting light away from Earth’s surface. As it melts, global warming advances even more quickly.
The United States designated the polar bear as threatened in May 2008. Canada's scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada places them in a less serious category, as a species of special concern, and they are not included on Canada's official Species at Risk list. Regardless of its current official status, the polar bear’s habitat is under assault from the effects of our climate crisis, which, if not reversed, will mean the end of this iconic species within our lifetime.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the polar bear to its "Red List" of the world's most imperiled wildlife in 2006. In 2009, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) cited climate change as the greatest challenge to the conservation of polar bears, and concluded that 1 of 19 subpopulations is currently increasing, 3 are stable and 8 are declining. For the remaining 7 subpopulations available data were insufficient to provide an assessment of current trend.
You can send a letter to Environment Minister Jim Prentice asking him to add the polar bear to Canada's official species at risk list. Here is a sample letter that you can send.

Climate Change Bill Getting Closer!
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Climate Change Bill Getting Closer!

There's a bit of good news for action on climate change in Canada.

Yesterday, the House passed Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Last week we asked you to help us raise awareness about yesterday's vote and your support worked!
In addition to the Bill passing to third reading, the Liberals tabled a motion for climate change action. Listen to Bruce Hyer as he introduced the bill last year or read the reaction of Climate Action Network Canada's Graham Saul for more details on what this means for climate change action in Canada.
The Bill still needs to make it through one more debate and one more vote, so we can't let our guard down, but we are a bit closer to changing course.

Climate Change Bill Faces Imminent Vote: Tell Your MP to Support It!
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Climate Change Bill Faces Imminent Vote: Tell Your MP to Support It!

Remember Bill C-311, the bill that many of us were hoping would set a scientific target for Canada's commitments in Copenhagen? Well, we know how sadly Copenhagen turned out. But the Bill might still make a difference. That is, if we all contact our MPs before April 14th and ask them to support it! The situation the Bill is under is urgent and complex; best explained by the MP who introduced the Bill:

"An urgent message from Bruce Hyer, MP Thunder Bay - Superior North who introduced Bill C-311 - The Climate Change Accountability Act:   Because of a surprise procedural motion foisted upon the House of Commons by the Conservatives just as the debate on Bill C-311 was about to begin, things are drastically different from what was originally expected. The debate on the bill was cancelled, and there will now be a crucial vote in the House on April 14 that will determine its fate. It will be a simple vote: support the Climate Change Accountability Act going forward to Third Reading, or not. If the vote fails, the bill dies. Our fear is that with a procedural vote coming with so little notice, many MPs won't realize the significance of the vote... We know the NDP and Bloc caucuses will be there on April 14 to vote in support of C-311. But many years of work on the only climate change bill in Parliament will come to an end, in obscurity, if Liberal MPs are not there in force to support it too."  
For the Bill to survive, Liberal MPs must be made aware of the significance of this vote for climate change action in Canada. If this bill is defeated on April 14, the legislative process would have to start from scratch for any new legislation to ensure Canada takes significant action to reduce green house gas emissions and does its fair share to mitigate climate change. You can help Canada become part of the solution to climate change.

The Northern Gateway: Another unsustainable proposal?
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The Northern Gateway: Another unsustainable proposal?

  Image of an eagle   The Great Bear Rainforest; First Nations lands, livelihoods and traditions; grizzlies, wild salmon, orcas and 28 Important Bird Areas; a tanker moratorium; Climate Change... these are just but a few of the many reasons a proposed pipeline to Kitmitat, BC for exporting tar sands oil should be of great concern to all Canadians. The project should have been reviewed through a public inquiry, but the government has instead established a Joint Review Panel under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Nature Canada recently joined 18 environmental groups in urging the government to undertake a much more comprehensive environmental assessment than is currently planned of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. Enbridge's Gateway Pipeline Inc. proposes to construct and operate pipelines, 1,170 km in length, between an inland terminal near Edmonton, Alberta and a marine terminal near Kitimat, British Columbia. Approximately 500 km of the pipeline will be in Alberta, and 670 km in British Columbia. The project will include an export oil sands product pipeline, an import condensate (a hydrocarbon) pipeline, terminal facilities, integrated marine infrastructure at tidewater to accommodate loading and unloading of oil and condensate tankers, and marine transportation of oil and condensate. The scope of an environmental assessment is one of the most critical elements determining whether the review can be a meaningful exercise and contribute to sustainability. Does purporting to assess the environmental impact of this proposed pipeline without reviewing the impact of tanker traffic and of the increased oil sands production make any sense? To me, it's like calculating the harm done by a gunshot by considering the trajectory of the bullet, but not what it hits or who pulled the trigger. A recent Supreme Court decision states that authorities conducting environmental assessments can't scope the review to avoid addressing a project's full environmental impacts. So there is perhaps some hope that Minister Prentice will decide the review of the Enbridge Pipeline will be a meaningful one. The Joint Review Panel for the Mackenzie Gas Project put sustainability at the center of its assessment, released on December 30, 2009. While I have some reservations about their conclusions, their approach to sustainability should become best practice for all environmental assessments of major projects. It should be applied in reviewing the Northern Gateway project. Many don't want the pipeline at all. Stay tuned... Photo by Tom Middleton

Mackenzie Pipeline Project Receives Approval – With Conditions
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Mackenzie Pipeline Project Receives Approval – With Conditions

The future of the mighty Mackenzie River – and the "basin-opening" pipeline megaproject that threatens to forever change it – has become clearer, with the release of a long-anticipated environmental assessment report. A Joint Review Panel, tasked by the government to report on the environmental, socio-economic and cultural effects of the Mackenzie Gas Project, released its findings Wednesday, over two years after the panel's hearings ended in 2007. The panel concluded that if all of its 176 recommendations were fully implemented, the project would likely be beneficial and have no significant adverse impacts. But the panel’s recommendations make clear that huge efforts would be required to mitigate the impacts of this project on wildlife and the environment. Some of those recommendations include:

  • Establishing project targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Creating wildlife protection plans in the region.
  • Ensuring government protection against development, at least on an interim basis, for lands identified for protected status.
The Project is estimated to cost at least CDN $16 billion before any of the Panel's recommendations are implemented, and implementing the recommendations will surely increase the costs. The project involves three major natural gas production fields north of Inuvik and two underground natural gas pipelines (the longest is 1,220 km) to carry the gas south along the Mackenzie Valley to northern Alberta. Other pipelines would be built connecting other gas fields to the main pipelines. It's a positive sign that the panel recognizes the need for a network of protected areas and measures to protect migratory birds and other wildlife and its habitat, but we at Nature Canada remain greatly concerned with the project because there is no guarantee that the conditions the panel recommends would actually be fully implemented if the project is approved. For example, the panel has recommended stringent measures to protect birds and bird habitat in Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, including regulations and offset areas free of additional industrial development -- which is good. But once the project's proponents (led by Imperial Oil and including Conoco Phillips Canada, Exxon Mobil Canada and Shell Canada) break ground, we all know anything can happen. At the Joint Review Panel's hearings in 2007, Nature Canada argued that the full impact of the project on the lands, water and wildlife of this unique environment would leave an unacceptable footprint. If allowed to proceed, the project would:
  • Fragment habitat for bears, caribou and wolves.
  • Harm fish and fish habitat by increasing sediment deposition into rivers and streams.
  • Permanently damage important breeding or staging areas for millions of geese, tundra swans and other migratory birds.
  • Cause forests to be clear cut and heavy machinery deployed to construct the infrastructure and the new underground pipelines.
  • Impose development on First Nations lands before the Dehcho and Sahtu peoples complete their own land use plans.
  • Accelerate the effects of climate change in the Mackenzie Valley.The report includes detailed recommendations on these issues. The National Energy Board expects to hear final arguments for and against the project in April 2010 before making its decision in September on whether to grant a permit.
News stories on the Panel's report here and here.

Climate Hope, Climate Fear
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Climate Hope, Climate Fear

It's the last scheduled day of international UN climate talks in Copenhagen, and it looks as though the hopes of the world for a strong, fair, ambitious deal to halt the climate crisis are fading. Although world leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are staying beyond the end of the scheduled talks this evening, it doesn't look like a legally binding document will be the outcome of these last-ditch negotiations. Draft text of the proposed Copenhagen Accord sets a base year of 1990 for emissions reductions with a goal of 50% reduction by 2050 - developed nations should aim for an 80% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions. These targets should limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, which would avoid the most severe impacts of global warming. However, none of these targets are legally binding - that agreement is left to November 2010. The Copenhagen summit was supposed to bring hope for a brighter climate future; instead it has ended with fear and uncertainty as to what rising global temperatures will mean for our planet.

Scientists Call on Boreal Nation Leaders to Protect Their Forests
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Scientists Call on Boreal Nation Leaders to Protect Their Forests

A letter signed by prominent scientists (including members of the IPCC and several Canadian universities) was just sent to the leaders of all eight boreal forest countries this week, asking that they protect their vital boreal carbon stores. From the letter:

Globally boreal forests are a key carbon pool that has been largely overlooked in the climate change policy debate to date. In fact, boreal forest holds more carbon per acre than any other land-based ecosystem, perhaps two or three times as much carbon as in the tropics. The boreal region is also home to some of the world’s last intact forests, abundant populations of large mammals and birds and home to hundreds of indigenous communities. When boreal soils and peatlands are disturbed by development, major carbon reserves are released.
These facts make it imperative that the world’s policy makers and public now make a concerted effort to ensure that both the boreal forest and its vast stores of carbon remain intact. To achieve this will require both drastic cuts in industrial emissions and importantly, a vast increase in the areas protected for their carbon values and left undisturbed from industrial development. Boreal forests are largely going unnoticed in the talks so far at Copenhagen. Because of this, the scientists who signed the letter ask that federal leaders make domestic efforts to protect boreal forests as a part of their larger emissions reduction strategies. They point out that slowing deforestation isn't just an issue for the tropics. Here's part of what they wrote:
Globally, land-use change has accounted for nearly 20% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Because of these emissions, there has been a recent push to find financial incentives and policy instruments that will encourage developing tropical nations to slow deforestation and retain natural forests through environmental service payment schemes and increased protection efforts. This initiative is critical to helping to slow climate change impacts and to protect the incredible species richness and indigenous cultures of these tropical regions and we encourage you to do your part to ensure that this continues. We also urge you to broaden this approach by including the world’s carbon-rich northern boreal forests as a focus for future carbon protection policy solutions.
Read the whole letter here (warning, it's a pdf) or read a more in-depth article in this week's Boston Globe.

Canada in Emissions Target Controversy
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Canada in Emissions Target Controversy

A fake news release from Copenhagen yesterday claimed that Canada had set bold new emissions targets for greenhouse gases and commited to billions of dollars of aid for developing nations to adapt to climate change. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as documents obtained by the media yesterday show the opposite - weaker emission targets have been investigated by the government for the oil and gas sector.
Amid the confusion and controversy over Canadian commitments, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for negotiators to stop pointing fingers or risk making a serious mistake at the Copenhagen talks. World leaders begin arriving at the summit today in the hopes of reaching a deal before Friday.

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