Judith Lavoie

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Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the Victoria Times Colonist for more than 20 years and is now working as a freelancer. She previously worked on newspapers in New Brunswick, Cyprus, England and the Middle East. Lavoie has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award.

Temperatures Could Rise Far More Than Previously Thought If Fossil Fuel Reserves Burned

Flooding in south Yorkshire, England.

Imagine a world where average temperatures are almost 10 degrees Celsius higher than today, an Arctic with temperatures almost 20 degrees warmer and some regions deluged with four times more rain.

That is the dramatic scenario predicted by a team of climate scientists led by the University of Victoria’s Katarzyna Tokarska, who looked at what would happen if the Earth’s remaining untapped fossil fuel reserves are burned.

Tokarska, a PhD student at UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, used simulations from climate models looking at the relationship between carbon emissions and warming — including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — and concluded that known fossil fuel reserves would emit the equivalent of five trillion tonnes of carbon emissions if burned.

That would result in average global temperature increases between 6.4 degrees and 9.5 degrees Celsius, with Arctic temperatures warming between 14.7 degrees and 19.5 degrees, says the paper published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

These results indicate that the unregulated exploitation of the fossil fuel resource could ultimately result in considerably more profound climate changes than previously suggested,” says the study.

Republican Senators from Alaska Ask John Kerry to Help Protect Rivers, Salmon from B.C.’s Dangerous Mining Practices

High-level international action is needed to ensure that southeast Alaskan rivers and fisheries are protected from B.C. mines along the B.C./Alaska border, say Alaska’s federal representatives.

Concerns about the environmental safety of mines in the transboundary region have escalated since the province’s auditor general issued a scathing report earlier this month on B.C.’s mining practices and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation is now pushing for Secretary of State John Kerry to step in.

We write to express our continuing concerns about the development of several hardrock mines in British Columbia and their potential effects on water quality in the transboundary rivers that flow from Canada into Southeast Alaska,” says a letter to Kerry from the congressional delegation, made up of Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young, all of whom are Republicans.

The group points out that, like most Alaskans, they support responsible mining.

But Alaskans need to have every confidence that mining activity in Canada is carried out just as safely as it is in our state. Yet, today, that confidence does not exist,” says the letter.

Immediate Action Needed to Save Pacific Northwest from Ocean Acidification: Scientists

The Pacific coast of North America is becoming more acidic as human-produced carbon dioxide emissions dissolve into the water and communities from B.C. to California must take action now to offset changes that are already affecting West Coast marine life, say leading ocean scientists.
 
The panel of 20 scientists from B.C., California, Oregon and Washington have spent three years studying changes in ocean chemistry along the West Coast and a report released Monday says regional strategies are urgently needed to combat changes that are coming and, where possible, reduce the impacts.
 
“Ocean acidification is a global problem that is having a disproportionate impact on productive West Coast ecosystems,” Francis Chan, an Oregon State University marine ecologist, said. Chan is the co-chair of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science panel.
 
“There has been an attitude that there is not much we can do about this locally, but that just isn’t true. A lot of the solutions will come locally and through coordinated regional efforts,” he said.

'The Blob' Disrupts What We Think We Know About Climate Change, Oceans Scientist Says

Deep in the northeast Pacific Ocean, The Blob is acting strangely.

When the abnormally warm patch of water first appeared in 2013, fascinated scientists watched disrupted weather patterns, from drought in California to almost snowless winters in Alaska and record cold winters in the northeast.

The anomalously warm water, with temperatures three degrees Centigrade above normal, was nicknamed The Blob by U.S climatologist Nick Bond. It stretched over one million square kilometres of the Gulf of Alaska — more than the surface area of B.C. and Alberta combined — stretching down 100-metres into the ocean.

How the Media Shapes Public Response to Climate Change

Windmill ribbon cutting

Climate change stories that give local information and emphasize positive achievements are more likely to encourage people to become active participants in climate change action than stories of political failures, a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has found .

Researchers worked with focus groups made up of 53 people from the Metro Vancouver area who were concerned about climate change, but had little involvement with climate politics, causes or organizations. After reviewing news stories with the groups, researchers found that the overwhelming response to news about climate politics was cynicism.

While there was a strong desire for more aggressive political action to address climate change, virtually all expressed considerable skepticism that governments, corporations or their fellow citizens could be convinced of the need to address the problem,” the paper says.

The Trouble With Tailings: Toxic Waste ‘Time Bombs’ Loom Large Over Alaska’s Salmon Rivers

Mount Polley dam failure

There are a few unarguable truths about mine tailings, the pulverized rock, water and sludge left over from mineral extraction — mining is a messy business, the leftovers have to be dealt with forever and it’s impossible to guarantee against another tailings dam failure such as the Mount Polley catastrophe.

In B.C., there are 98 tailings storage facilities at 60 metal and coal mines, of which 31 are operating or under construction and the remaining 67 are at mines that are either permanently or temporarily closed

That means communities throughout B.C. and Alaska are looking nervously at nearby tailings ponds, which sometimes more closely resemble lakes, stretching over several square kilometres, with the toxic waste held back by earth and rock-filled dams. The water is usually recycled through the plant when the mine is operating, but, after the mine closes, water, toxins and finely ground rock must continue to be contained or treated.

It’s the realization that tailings have to be treated in perpetuity that worries many of those living downstream, especially as the Mount Polley breach happened only 17 years after the dam was constructed.

The concept of forever boggles people minds. In one thousand years is the bank account still going to be there? These people are going to be dead,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.

B.C. Minister Bennett’s Visit Fails to Ease Alaskans’ Mining Concerns

Bill Bennett

Promises of a closer relationship between B.C. and Alaska and more consultation on B.C. mine applications are a good start, but, so far, Southeast Alaska has no more guarantees that those mines will not pollute salmon-bearing rivers than before this week’s visit by B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, say Alaskan fishing and conservation groups.

Bennett, accompanied by senior civil servants from the ministries of Energy and Mines and Environment, took a conciliatory tone as he met with state officials, policy-makers and critics of what is seen as an aggressive push by B.C. to develop mines in the transboundary area, close to vitally important salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said in a Juneau news conference with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.

There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that,” he said.

But promises of a strengthened dialogue and more opportunities to comment on mine applications fall far short of a growing chorus of Alaskan demands that the issue be referred to the International Joint Commission, formed under the Boundary Waters Treaty, which forbids either country from polluting transboundary waters.

Living Downstream of B.C.’s Gold Rush: Alaska’s Fishermen Fear End of ‘Last Wild Frontier’

Taku Inlet

No fish in the car, warned the rental car attendant at Juneau airport, with the weary tone of someone who had cleaned too many fish guts out of returned vehicles. It was a warning underlined by signs in hotels pleading with guests not to clean fish in the hotel bathrooms.

Fishing is in the DNA of Southeast Alaskans, not only as a sport and common way of filling the freezer, but also as a driver of the state economy. So it is not surprising that the perceived threat presented by a rush of mine applications on the B.C. side of the border has brought together diverse groups who want B.C. to give Alaska an equal seat at the decision-making table and to have the issue referred for review to the International Joint Commission.

I can’t conceive of not being able to fish for salmon. The grief would be too much to fathom,” said Heather Hardcastle, co-owner of Taku River Reds who has been commercial fishing for most of her life.

We share these waters and we share these fish. There has to be an international solution,” she said.

Alaskans to Commemorate Anniversary of Mount Polley Mine Disaster as Similar Accidents Predicted to Increase

One year after 24 million cubic metres of mine sludge and water swept into rivers and lakes below Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in B.C., Southeast Alaskans will gather to commemorate the tailings pond breach and bless the Stikine River.

Those at the Aug. 2 gathering in Wrangell, where the salmon-rich Stikine runs into the ocean, will also be looking for ways to ensure there is no Mount Polley-style disaster in the B.C. headwaters of the Iskut River, a major tributary of the Stikine, where Imperial Metals has opened the Red Chris mine.

The ceremony will be hosted by Wrangell Cooperative Association, and tribal administrator Aaron Angerman said he hopes other Southeast Alaskan communities will follow suit and hold their own ceremonies.

I am frightened to think that what happened at Mount Polley could happen here in our backyard now that the Red Chris mine is operational — that the fish we’ve relied on traditionally for thousands of years could be contaminated or disappear, that the local commercial fishing industry could be decimated and that we could see the local businesses that rely on the industry close doors,” he said.

Alaska Fishing Community Spurred to Action by Mount Polley Spill

Wrangell, Alaska, wharf

Wrangell, Alaska — A fishing boat chugs across the water in front of the patio at Wrangell’s Stikine Inn, temporarily disrupting dinner conversation as residents of the tiny Southeast Alaska town tuck into heaped plates of rockfish and chips.

At the next table, where a group of friends are celebrating an 80th birthday, the talk is all about the next day’s fishing plans. The new salmon smoker is working well, there were more than 40 crabs in the pots yesterday and everyone wants to be out on the water before 9 a.m. tomorrow because there are king salmon to be caught.

Commercial and sports fishing fill the freezers and wallets of Wrangell residents but, out of mind for many of them, behind the shield of the Coast Mountains, lurks a threat that could annihilate the area’s fishing and tourism-based economy.

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