It's not enough to bash in heads, you have to bash in minds

Author Archives: Dan Moutal

Dancing Booby

A Dancing Blue-footed Booby showing off his stunning blue feet
A Dancing Blue-footed Booby showing off his stunning blue feet

At Seymour Norte island in the Galapagos Islands

Curious Sea Lions

This curious sea lion was very interested in the little blue box (camera) I was holding
This curious sea lion was very interested in the little blue box (camera) I was holding

Our last full day in the Galapagos ended with a swim with 4 curious young sea lions. It was all fun and games until the beachmaster showed up.

A new normal


Unsurprisingly XKCD nails it, but head on over there to read the mouseover text, I am sure it perfectly describes more than a few Planet3.0 readers (and writers!). And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

1000 ways to die in Ecuador

Way #256: Becoming Arapaima food
These carnivorous arapaima were 2.5 meters long and very hungry

Thankfully they don’t have any teeth so all their food has to fit down their throats, so we were relatively safe.

Way #512: This

No one in their right mind would ever get on a rickety rope swing 70 meters up, but you aren’t in your right mind. Or at least I wasn’t.

Bonus way to die: White water canoeing in a dugout canoe
Everything is going as well as can be expected until you slam into some rocks.

Silence of the labs

The CBC’s Fifth estate devotes 1 hour to exploring the sorry state of federal science in Canada.

The link above takes you to CBC’s official page which might not work for some people outside of Canada, but thankfully someone has posted it to YouTube.

Only briefly touched upon at the end of the Silence of the Labs program is the closure and destruction of several science libraries across the country containing irreplaceable data going back as much as 100 years. These closures were sold to the public saying that any material destroyed or sold would first be digitized and thus be made more widely available (a great idea) but only a tiny fraction of materials were ever digitized so lots of irreplaceable and potentially vital information was lost forever.

Scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Many collections such as the Maurice Lamontagne Institute Library in Mont-Joli, Quebec ended up in dumpsters while others such as Winnipeg’s historic Freshwater Institute library were scavenged by citizens, scientists and local environmental consultants. Others were burned or went to landfills, say scientists.

Furthermore, the government is falsely claiming that vital content is being retained by extensively digitizing material from nine regional libraries that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) whittled down to two.

“The Department has claimed that all useful information from the closed libraries is available in digital form. This is simply not true. Much of the material is lost forever,” reports one DFO scientist who requested not to be named.

That picture of a taxpayer-funded treasure trove of information laid waste emerges from interviews by The Tyee with half a dozen prominent scientists, many of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear that their funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were connected with the concerns they were eager to share.

In fact if a secret government document is to be believed then digitizing materials form these libraries was never the point.

A federal document marked “secret” obtained by Postmedia News indicates the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries has little if anything to do with digitizing books as claimed by the Harper government.

In fact, the document, a compendium of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans… mentions only the “culling of materials” as the “main activities” involved as the science libraries are reduced from nine to two. Specifically, it details “culling materials in the closed libraries or shipping them to the two locations and culling materials in the two locations to make room for collections from closed libraries.”

Uncertainty is a common reason stated for a lack of meaningful action on climate change. The large scale destruction of data like this helps ensure that the future remains uncertain.

It’s not the spill that matters


The recent approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline by National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act review panel has brought a renewed flurry of attention to the project. The media here in Canada has run several stories in recent weeks discussing what the approval means for the pipeline and what if anything can be done to appease those who oppose the pipeline. These discussions, while interesting, focus on the wrong issue and completely ignore what really matters.

Even on shows like CBC’s As it Happens and The Current, which normally do a very good job of picking out the crux of complex, nuanced issues, have focused on the potential for spills while completely ignoring the larger issue of climate change. On and on go the discussions about the potential risks of a spill and the many ways the Enbridge pipeline could be made to mitigate those risks.

In essence this is the same thing that the joint review panel that approved the pipeline focused on:

Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities.

But as Simon Donner points out, this doesn’t make any sense:

the core argument for additional pipelines from Alberta has been to encourage economic expansion, via increased operations in the oil sands. If the panel is correct, and the Northern Gateway pipeline would not lead to any further oil sands development, then why build the pipeline?

Either the panel is wrong, or the case for the pipeline is wrong. Which is it?

The mandate of the joint review panel ensured that it focused on risks which can be mitigated without harming the pipeline or the prospect of future of oil sands development while ignoring the larger risks that can’t be so easily mitigated.

An oil spill would be locally devastating, just ask the people living near the Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River, and given the difficulties of cleaning up dilbit a spill it could take years to be fully cleaned up. To the communities in the path of the pipeline this is a large risk, and it shouldn’t be minimized.

But unmitigated climate change would be globally devastating. The risks wouldn’t be limited to those communities in the path of the pipeline, everyone, from the Prime Minister of Canada, to a poor garment worker in Bangladesh would be affected. And while a dilbit spill might take years, or even decades, in a worst case scenario, to clean up we would be stuck with the consequences of climate change, for hundreds or thousands of years.

Compared with the risks posed by unmitigated climate change, even the largest dilbit spill would be orders of magnitude less devastating.

If we really care about the environment, all of it, not just the bit in the path of the pipeline, we need a strategy that puts the focus on the climate, and not on spills. If we focus on spills, with a lot of work and a little luck we might stop a pipeline here or there, but the fossil fuel industry will continue to expand. As long as the atmosphere remains a free dumping ground for carbon pollution there is simply too much money to be made in digging up fossil fuels and selling them to people (like me and you) who want to burn them.

Ultimately the risks of a burst pipeline spewing forth hundreds of thousands of gallons of dilbit can be mitigated. Sophisticated and rigorous inspection polices to ensure that weak spots in the pipeline are detected before the pipe fails. Removing liability caps to ensure that Enbridge is forced to pay for any issues caused by the pipeline and requiring than they have enough cash set aside, or have enough insurance to be able to afford to fully clean up any potential spill and compensate anyone affected. Policies such as these can serve as effective mitigation (but not elimination) of the risks associated with a pipeline. Mitigating the risk of spills is the most likely outcome of an anti-pipeline campaign focused on local risks. Of course even achieving this requires significant effort, again just ask the people living near the site of the Kalamazoo River spill. But all of this is at least possible, if not business as usual.

Contrast that with the risks of climate change. Mitigating climate change (absent any huge advances in carbon capture and storage) requires us to slowdown fossil fuel extraction then stop and leave most of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. And we have to do this is a frighteningly short amount of time. There is no way to reconcile climate mitigation with the building of a new pipeline. Likely this is why climate change was simply ruled outside the scope of the joint review panel that approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Had they been forced to consider climate change, the result of the joint review panel could well have a rejection of the pipeline proposal.

The biggest hurdle in putting the focus back on climate is that the abstract and future risks of our current emissions don’t motivate people like the way the easily understood risks of an oil spill do. This is a good argument for ensuring that we don’t forget about local spills, but if the discussions around pipelines continue to ignore the climate impacts, the risks of unmitigated climate change will continue to be overlooked by most people. As Mark Jaccard pointed out a few months ago:

Difficult as it is to get the attention of enough people to influence our political process into acting on climate, there is unfortunately no other way to win this long-term battle than to focus on the fact that carbon pollution changes the climate – for the worse – and so we must stop the expanding extraction of fossil fuels from the earth’s crust. No expansion of oil sands. No new coal mines. No new delivery infrastructure like pipelines and coal ports. No aiding and abetting of the carbon pollution that will wreak havoc on the environment everywhere – not just the environment in the path of pipelines, tankers and trains.

We need to talk about climate change, we need to keep talking about climate change until we are blue in the face, because as long as we neglect to talk about climate risks, climate policy to help mitigate those risks will continue elude us.


“Global warming, huh? By pure coincidence every scientist was right” Homer Simpson

Bah Humbug!

Physicists who want to protect traditional Christmas realize that the only way to keep from changing Christmas is not to observe it.

(via xkcd)

That is all.