22 Jul 2015

Weak tactics, stupidity and lies cloud seriousness of climate change for Canadians

In addition to the staging of the PanAm Games, Toronto was the location of some unusually high profile activities in recent days that were supposed to increase the efforts to tackle climate change.

The events raised some important questions: How effective are efforts to slow the increase of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, do Canadians agree on the extent of damage to our environment, and what do scientists say in their most recent reports about the degree of the threat?

Celebrities lead ‘the big protest: First, Toronto had the spectacle of actor/activist Jane Fonda, environmentalist David Suzuki and author-activist Naomi Klein leading a march of some 12,000 protesters belonging to a new coalition through downtown streets. From all accounts, they were a cheerful bunch.

“I think that the coalition that is represented in today’s march and rally ... will make a difference.” said Jane Fonda. But isn’t the year 2015 a little late to form a new coalition? Climate change has been a growing problem over 30 years, and Canada still does not have an effective, coordinated environmental effort to fight the biggest crisis in history.

Radicals have their say: Later in the week, a much angrier group of some 200 protesters  succeeded for a short time in blocking a lot of high profile delegates to the Climate Summit of the Americas from entering the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

The aggressive small group chanted “Shut down the summit.” After their initial success, they were blocked by dozens of police. This scene has been repeated across the country hundreds of times in recent years and, unfortunately, instead of rallying “ordinary” people to their cause, it instead tends of turn them off.

Delegates from 20 countries make an appearance: Inside the Fairmont Royal York, more than 300 delegates from 20 countries were claiming to be urging jurisdictions around the world to come forward with meaningful commitments for carbon reductions to present at the long-anticipated UN Climate Summit in Paris in December. This UN Summit is “the biggie” of 20 years of efforts to come to agreement on how to slow climate change.

A news op for politicians: Politicians  at the Toronto Summit turned into a news op for political opportunism, with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Environment Minister Glen Murray, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, and even California Governor Jerry Brown taking turns tearing strips off Stephen Harper, whose government was not represented at the meetings.

Big corporations help set agenda: Interestingly, powerful corporations lurked in the background. While politicians take the heat for failing to act effectively on climate change, giant corporations, including Shell's CEO and the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, had already steered the pre-Summit discussions enough to make sure non-renewables would not be unduly targeted in a closing statement.

Non-renewable energy corporations have spent many millions-of-dollars during their evil campaign of deception and lies, producing and circulating disinformation about the dangers of their carbon-producing products for more than 25 years. The independent Union of Concerned Scientists earlier this month released a 56-page dossier detailing the lies of the industry.

Delegates sign meaningless statement: At the close of the Toronto Climate Summit, hundreds of delegates signed a non-binding, motherhood statement urging jurisdictions around the world to make carbon-reduction commitments and present them in Paris.

In short, while athletes from the Pan American region were delighting crowds with some wonderful performances, the Climate Summit was, well, a fraud. It was a massive, hugely expensive and cynical public relations stunt – a nice travel perk – for participating politicians. We all would be better off if the wasted money had been spent on a practical carbon-reduction program, perhaps in Africa, the continent that has the fewest resources and that will suffer the most.

Mainstream media ‘misinforms’: Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the Summit failed to go beyond the speeches. The papers, TV and radio news dutifully reported the politicians’ rants. But a Google search failed to find any mainstream news report that provided any analysis of the event or that explained the extremely serious threat that climate change presents.

Mainstream media must be held largely responsible for the fact that only 50 per cent of Canadians are "extremely" or "definitely" concerned about the climate threat.  Corporate news coverage and media analysis of the seriousness of climate change is too often wrong, misleading or incomplete.

If bad reporting on climate change issues confuses the public, so do incorrect statements by poorly informed politicians.

Premier Couillard was an offender at the Toronto Climate Summit. He said Quebec is committing itself “to a very ambitious set of targets with only one objective: to keep warming below or at the maximum 2 degrees Celsius by 2050."  This says, as Bob Marley’s famous song goes, Everything gonna be alright.

But sorry Philippe, according to a lot of scientists, keeping the average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius – which has been the goal pulled out of a hat several years ago, is pretty much impossible.

Here’s what scientists who I trust have to say:

Because of the melting of the icecaps, we’re already on our way to surpassing 2 degrees, says the highly regarded and independent Union of Concerned Scientists. The melting of the icecaps cannot be reversed.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in June that, if governments do not strengthen policies dramatically, the world would be on a path to an average temperature increase of 2.6C by 2100 and 3.5C after 2200.

The IEA says this translates into an average temperature rise of 4.3C over land in the northern hemisphere where most of the world's population lives, and even more in urban areas.

Yes, this would be catastrophic.

And here we are, poorly informed Canadians, going on with our lives pretty much as usual because -- as I have shown here -- our environmental groups, politicians, media, and our corporations, will not tell us a) how serious a problem we face, and b) what can an ordinary person do to make a meaningful difference?

It’s impossible to say how massive an effort would be required to keep temperature increases to levels that will allow us to continue living pretty much as we do now. We can only guess.

Dr. Matania Ginosar, a prominent California environmental scientist, says that “only a global effort larger than WWII may be able to save the Earth's environment from destruction. . . .”

In Paris in December, enormous pressure will be put on many of the 196 countries taking part in the much-anticipated United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21). They will try to come up with some sort of agreement or understanding that will allow an orchestrated attack on greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020.

But the UN process has been under way for 20 years now and, because of its repeated failure to advance the climate agenda, cannot be considered an overall success.

One serious problem with the UN meetings has been that powerful corporations have used their influence and money to move into a powerful position in the process. So far they have helped prevent the kind of progress required.

In one major way, the Paris Summit is already a failure even before it begins. UN officials involved with the talks are already saying that whatever is accomplished in Paris alone, it will not hold global warming to less than 2 Celsius.

Embarrassed when the crucial Copenhagen talks ended in chaos and vicious attacks, leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama and the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao won’t attend the Paris Summit. Only high level ministers will be there.

Reflecting back, given the seriousness of the crisis as it is now being described internationally, it is difficult to understand how Toronto’s protests and climate talks were allowed to be so meaningless. These weaknesses, plus deplorable reporting by mainstream media, are responsible for millions of Canadians being poorly informed and not taking the threat of potentially disastrous climate change seriously.
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14 Jul 2015

Pan Am's over-spending $-billions,
but it's okay 'cause it's public money

If a group constructing a massive project for you set a budget of $1.4-billion, but later came back and said they were spending $2.5-billion, what would you do? Normally you would probably throw the whole team out the door, and perhaps sue them for the $1.1-billion overrun.

But in this case, the $1.1-billion overrun belongs to former Premier David Peterson’s Pan Am Games organizing committee, and even though two officers were fired, expenses continue to climb.
By the time they’re finished, I’ll bet it will cost $3-billion – well over double the amount we were told in the beginning we would be paying.

But considering that the Games are a big hit with influential folks in Toronto, there’s not nearly as much criticism of the atrocious waste of money as there would be if, say, Toronto Community Housing was found to have greatly overspent.

Hamilton Stadium: A Bargain at $6,041 per seat
Moreover, it seems that the proud folks of our “world class city” don’t want to blemish the image of the Games, which are running in Toronto and across Southwestern Ontario from July 7 to 26, followed by the ParaPan Am Games, August 7 to 15.

Games’ advocates point to all of the shiny facilities communities will inherit and, while many of them are very beneficial, in some cases, it appears we are not getting our money’s worth.

Officials are proud of the Athletes’ Village, a huge complex built on old scrubland near the Toronto waterfront. After the athletes leave, the buildings will become townhouses, condos and student housing for George Brown College. This sounds fine until we learn that the price tag just for construction of a bare-bones structure with no furnishings is at least $709-million.

1 Jul 2015

Can the IMF turn over a
new leaf and challenge the 1%?

...and will we follow Dutch court &
challenge Harper on climate change?

Two remarkable developments during the past week that could have a significant impact in many countries are worth a lot more attention in Canada and the United States.

First, a major research document published by five top economists at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) admitted that the strong pro-capitalist policies at the centre of its activities in developing countries for the past 30 years do not work.

One of the IMF’s main roles in recent years has been to bail out countries during financial crises. In return for loans, some 60 mostly poor countries have been forced to follow strict rules, such as privatizing government resources, deregulating controls to open markets to foreign investment, and restricting what they can spend in areas such as education and health care.

Now the paper, Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective, says there needs to be a shift and that greater income equality in both developing and developed countries should become a priority.