Emma Pullman

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Emma is a freelance researcher and journalist. You can find her writing in the Toronto Star, Huffington Post, Canada.com, Vancouver Observer and Rabble.

Study: Climate Change Will Continue for 1,000 Years Even with Zero Emissions

It’s only early January, and already we’re witnessing what could be the most devastating climate change story of the year.  A new study in Nature Geoscience this week shows that even if we go to zero emissions and completely halt our wholesale burning of fossil fuels, climate change will continue for the next 1,000 years. 

If only we could take solace in saying, “I told you so” to climate change deniers and the fossil fuel lobby fighting to confuse the public about climate change.  Such proclamations seem trite and trivial, however, when we’re faced with the burning reality that our dirty oil addiction is cooking the planet in an irreversible way. 

The study, conducted by University of Calgary and Environment Canada’s climate centre at the University of Victoria is the first full climate model simulation to make predictions 1,000 years into the future.  Dr. Shawn Marshall and his team explore the question: “What if we completely stopped using fossil fuels and put no more CO2 in the atmosphere?  How long would it then take to reverse current climate change trends and will things first become worse?”  Using simulations with the Canadian Earth System Model, the research team exploredzero-emissions scenarios if humans completely stop burning fossil fuels in 2010 and 2100.  

The article shows, devastatingly, that climate change will continue even if we stop our use of fossil fuels immediately.  We’ve had that much of an impact.  With this news, Canada’s head-in-sand approach to climate issues just won’t cut it. 

Breaking News: Fire Breaks Out At Tar Sands Site in Alberta

Thursday afternoon, fire broke out at the Horizon oilsands site near Fort McKay in northern Alberta.  Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which owns the site, confirmed that the fire was set off by an explosion around 5:30 PM Eastern Time Thursday.

The fire itself started in an upgrader across from the plant where bitumen is converted into crude oil.  The 480-foot coker structure, which uses heat to convert bitumen into crude oil caught fire.  Individuals at the site claimed that the explosion caused flames and smoke to shoot hundreds of feet into the air. 

Minister of Environmental Destruction Says He Will Not Let Emissions Rules Hamper Tar Sands Development

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent is off to a great start convincing Canadians that he is concerned about the environment.  After just than two days in office, he has already tried to persuade Canadians that Alberta’s filthy tar sands oil are “ethical oil” and unworthy of the negative reputation that countless citizens, politicians, and environmental organizations have given them.  Today, he’s promising that the Harper government will not impose any greenhouse gas reductions on the oil patch that will discourage investment. 

Curbing regulation in favour of profits doesn’t really sound like the work of the Minister of the Environment.  This suggests, rather troublingly, that the profits of the oil and gas sector, and in particular Alberta’s tar sands, are more important to the Harper government than their environmental impact.  Let’s get something clear: is Kent the Minister of Environment, or the Minister of Environmental Destruction? And who is he working for? Corporate interests, or Canadians?

Canada's New Environment Minister Promises More of the Same: Climate Inaction and Disappointment

Another day, another Minister of the Environment, it seems.  On Tuesday, Harper’s mini-shuffle installed Peter Kent, a former journalist with the CBC and Conservative MP from Thornhill to the post.  What could embody the lack of leadership on the climate any more clearly than the fact that Kent is the fifth to hold the position in five years?

Kent’s appointement comes at a time when Canada’s reputation on fighting climate change is in the toilet. Ottawa’s watered-down leadership on the environment, well, stinks.  Already commentators and opposition leaders are openly concerned that Kent will do little more than his predecessors. Well, unless you count political spin as action. 

Groups Question Clinton Ties to Oil Lobby & Impact on State Department Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline Decision

A coalition of organizations composed of Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International submitted a Freedom of Information Act request [PDF] this week asking for all communications between the agency and a former presidential campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

Paul Elliot, the lobbyist in question, served as national deputy director and chief of staff for delegate selection for Clinton’s Presidential campaign committee.  He’s now a lobbyist for TransCanada, the company aiming to build the controversial 2,151 mile-long Keystone XL Pipeline.  

The above organizations are concerned about how the relationship between Secretary of State Clinton and Elliot may impact the approval process for the controversial tar sands pipeline.  For the coalition of watchdog organizations, this is just the latest in a series of developments that cast doubt on whether the State Department is fulfilling its obligations to conduct an exhaustive and transparent review of the environmental and public health dangers of the proposed pipeline.

Legislation Introduced To Ban Oil Tanker Traffic On B.C.’s North Coast

Today, Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP and former B.C. Environment Minister Joyce Murray introduced legislation in Canada’s House of Commons that would formally ban oil tanker traffic in B.C.’s North Coast.  Bill C-606 comes days after a successful House of Commons motion demonstrated support for a legislated ban on oil tankers.

Though the motion carried, the victory was only bittersweet because the motion passed is not binding, and merely calls on the Tory government to legislate a formal ban.  The Conservative government maintains that a ban is unnecessary since a long-standing, informal moratorium on oil tanker traffic and all offshore oil and gas activity has been in effect since 1972.  Yet last year, the Harper government quietly affirmed that it is not legally bound to maintain a moratorium on oil drilling off the coast of British Columbia.  The government determined that the 1972 ban doesn’t technically apply to oil-tanker traffic.  To date, eight Canadian prime ministers have upheld the moratorium, but that could all change.  The B.C. government is currently lobbying the federal Conservative government to revoke the ban.  Opposition parties fear the Tory government will allow the ban to be lifted in order to profit from growing Asian energy markets.

Canada Votes to Ban Tar Sands Oil Tankers off BC Coast; Enbridge Front Group Exposed

Today, Canada’s House of Commons approved a motion calling for a permanent ban on oil tankers off British Columbia’s coast.  The passed NDP motion introduced by MP Nathan Cullen urges the government to immediately propose legislation to “ban bulk oil tanker traffic” through the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, off the north coast of B.C.  The bill received Parliamentary support in a tight a vote of 143-138, with all opposition parties supporting it and Conservatives opposed.

British Columbia is now one step closer to having a full legislated ban on supertankers off its north and central coasts. The opposition is sending a clear message to the Conservatives to legislate a formal moratorium. 

Today’s ban could seriously impact Enbridge, who has plans to develop a $5.5 billion 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry dirty tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto supertankers bound for growing energy markets in Asia.

Canada Already on Track to be Fossil of the Year in Cancun; Cleans up on Day One of the Talks

Canada is off to an impressive start at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, if what you’re measuring is climate inaction and environmental embarrassment. 

Today, at the first set of the Fossil of the Day awards, Canada took home not one, or two, but all three of the awards.  The dubious ‘honour’ is voted on by an international coalition of than 400 leading international environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, who vote on the countries that performed the worst during the past day’s negotiations.  Turns out if you are really committed to climate inaction, fail to have any plan to meet already weak targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, defeat a climate change bill that was already passed in your House of Commons by holding a snap vote by an unelected Senate after no debate, and are complicit in trying to weaken climate policy outside of your own national borders, you can win all three of the humiliating prizes. 

The gentleman accepting the shameful awards on behalf of Canada hopped from podium step to podium step, barely able to juggle his armful of awards.  Looks like Canada can clean up humiliating awards, but can’t clean up its act.

In the next two weeks, we’ll see if Canada will take home the Fossil of the Year for the forth year in a row.  From the look of things now, we might as well preemptively cue the Jurassic Park theme music. 

Watch this hilarious video to see Canada’s flagrant lack of commitment to climate change policy given its due recognition.  We can only hope that history does not repeat itself once more.  Prove us wrong, will you Mr. Baird? 

Cancun Showdown: Results at the UN Climate Talks More Important Than Ever

The United Nations Climate Change talks kicked off yesterday in Cancun.  For many, the mood began much more sombrely than last year.  Copenhagen attracted celebrity clout, world leader buzz, and a sense of optimism for a binding agreement.  For all Copenhagen promised, however, those who hoped for a fair and binding global deal left empty handed.  

Along with analysts, pundits and the blogosphere, the U.S., UK and EU are already downplaying the chances of a deal being reached in the next fortnight.  And as Desmogblog reported today, those fears may not be in vain with threats that the U.S. may pull out of the talks early

The talks during the next two weeks are going to focus largely on forests and finance, but also on questions about the legal status of a future agreement and emissions targets, which are expected to be tackled beginning next week when ministers arrive.

The sense of general pessimism around the talks has led some to question the viability of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to deliver, and has led others to manufacture doubt over the scientific basis for action.  A new report released by Oxfam argues that despite the disconsolate atmosphere, a year of extreme weather conditions demonstrate more than ever that a binding climate agreement under the UN auspices is imperative.  The report, More than ever: climate talks that work for those that need them most, presents the weather events that have devastated much of the planet in the last year, and the even more harrowing costs of climate inaction.  

According to the report, at least 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of this year – more than twice the number for the whole of 2009.  “This year is on course to experience more extreme-weather events than the 10-year average of 770. It is one of the hottest years ever recorded,” wrote Tim Gore, Oxfam’s EU climate change policy adviser and report’s author.

2010 In Review: Scientists and Journalists Take Stock and Share Lessons Learned

There’s no doubt about it. It’s been a challenging year for climate science and climate scientists, for journalists, and for the public. A string of legislative and regulatory disappointments coupled with dizzying political spin have left many more confused than ever about the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change. 

It’s been a particularly grim year following the Citizens United decision that ushered in a new era of rampant electoral spending on climate change denial; the U.S. midterm elections produced a Senate filled with climate change skeptics and deniers; a failed climate bill or two, and after the Copenhagen talks failed to produce any real results.  In addition, many pundits and analysts are giving us good reason to believe the U.S. won’t see a climate bill for two years, and little reason to believe that real climate progress will be made in Cancun next week. It seems there’s a lot of reason to feel distressed.  

Last week marked a year since the so-called Climategate “scandal” sent climate change deniers into an echo chamber frenzy.  Bud Ward and John Wihbey aptly note that to even call it “climategate” lends it credence that is undeserved.  Yet it is imperative that we try to learn lessons from it.   This certainly won’t be the last difficult year for the climate change movement; an increasingly challenging political environment promises more interesting times ahead, both for the science and for the scientists who devote their lives to the subject.  In a nutshell, we’ve got our work cut out for us.