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“Climate Change is NOT a hoax” (B. Obama) blog #5: Introducing York’s UNFCCC delegates

It's that time of year again: the annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This year, UNFCCC COP 18, is being held at Doha, Qatar, and meetings began yesterday, Monday, November 26th. This year, York's delegation is made up of professors from quite different disciplines: Professor Muhammad Yousaf (Chemistry - at left) and Professor Idil Boran (Philosophy - below right). Sadly, Professor Ian Garrett from the Department of Theatre, who received accreditation as part of the delegation, was unable to attend the COP in person, but plans to blog about it from afar.

Professor Boran is carrying out SSHRC-funded research which re-examines climate change policy, with a special focus on the challenges for decision-making, both at the individual and the societal level. She is interested in understanding the extent to which recent research in the social sciences that pertains to the effect of social and cognitive factors on our decision-making processes can help to develop new approaches to climate change policy. Professor Boran seeks to articulate the implications of this research for international debates and negotiations toward a global agreement.

Her participation at COP18, will, she hopes, allow her to assess whether the strategies and arguments used in international debates are compatible or incompatible with the latest social scientific developments, and whether they can mutually learn from one another. In light of these observations, she will be able to draw implications both for theory and policy practice. She will set targets, for her own research, on how to analyze the new scholarly advances on decision-making on climate change policy, in light of insights from actual decision-making and negotiation processes. This in turn can potentially contribute to a more refined theoretical analysis and help bridge the gap between theory and practice in scholarly research.

Although Professor Yousaf is newly arrived at York's Chemistry Department (in 2011), which he chairs, from the Chemistry Department at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, he is no stranger to the campus. He is a York alumnus, having graduated with a Chemistry and Biology B.Sc. degree in 1994!

Professor Yousaf has wide-ranging research interests that span from chemistry to biology, and he also has an interest in understanding how science informs policy. He will be bringing his science-perspective to the COP, as he seeks to understand exactly how the science of climate change is regarded by the policy makers, and politicians.

Ian-GarrettWe wish Professors Boran and Yousaf all the best in Doha. They will be sending updates and mini-blogs as time permits. Professor Ian Garrett (at left), who attended COP 15, is a veteran blogger and co-founder of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts. He is the recently arrived Professor of Sustainability and Design in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and he will be casting his critical artist's eye on the Doha meetings, from Toronto.

This is the fourth delegation that York University is sending to the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, since 2009, when we applied for, and received Civil Society Observer Status for York University in time for COP 15 in Copenhagen. Past York delegations have included staff, students and faculty from areas as diverse as Political Science, Nursing, and the Faculty of Environmental Studies. Outcomes from delegates have included experiences that informed a book, Climate Change - Who's Carrying the Burden, edited by Professor Anders Sandberg and his son, Tor, and blogs by Jacquie Medalye, as well as extensive national and international networking.

Dawn R. Bazely

A ‘Green’ World Cup with a carbon footprint of 2,753,251 tons of CO2?

Amid the excitement of the World Cup it is easy to forget that international sporting spectacles as large as the FIFA World Cup in South Africa have significant environmental impacts. The media has tended to focus our attention to controversies surrounding the World Cup such the banning of the vuvuzela, predicting final contenders, and more serious concerns such as the inequalities that plague South Africa. However, the media has been quick to turn a blind eye to the carbon footprint of the World Cup. How ‘climate-friendly’ is the World Cup? According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the FIFA World Cup in South Africa is undeniably ‘green’. Three days before the kick-off, UNEP issued a press release highlighting its major initiatives to reduce the carbon emissions of the World Cup. The initiative is a result of a partnership between the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNEP, and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).  Supported by US$1 million in GEF funding, the initiative includes three major greening projects: renewable energy interventions in six World Cup host cities, an awareness-raising drive on green tourism, and a programme to offset the carbon emissions of eleven World Cup teams. In addition, the DEA, identified five carbon offset projects to counter travelers' emissions. The projects include solar cookers, soil composing, energy efficient lighting, wind energy, and domestic fire lighting. But are these efforts at reducing the carbon footprint of the World Cup really enough? Not according to a study conducted by the Norwegian embassy and the Government of South Africa.  The study found that this World Cup will emit 2,753,251 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is roughly equivalent to the amount released by one million cars over the course of a year. In other terms, the games will emit as much CO2 as 6,000 space shuttle fights or a 1 billion cheeseburgers. Even worse news is that the emission levels of this World Cup are six times higher than the last World Cup in Berlin.  The reasons include the number of international flights, the ‘necessary’ new infrastructure developments, and the reliance on coal burning to meet the influx of tourists’ energy demand. Ironically, this World Cup’s massive carbon footprint coincides with the June 2010 Bonn international climate talks, where, once again, negotiators failed to move forward on a post-Kyoto text. Naturally, the international talks in Bonn have been completely foreshadowed by international World Cup fervor. So before we watch the next match, perhaps we should take a moment to consider how our thirst for entertainment might impact the global climate system.

For more see:

Eyjafjallajokull: Necessity is the mother of green invention?

This morning’s episode of CBC’s ‘The Current’ featured the sounds of birds singing in West London. A newsworthy event, since no one knows if the birds sing everyday. On most days, the songs are drowned out by the ever present droning of jet engines overhead. Local residents interviewed commented both on how nice the sounds of nature are, and how refreshing silence can be in the city. A radical idea: nature is part of the city and contributes to our well being. Elsewhere, the British Navy has sent ships to take stranded travelers home; others have taken trains home. And for those whose travel plans have been canceled, they are opting to go local by taking trips to the countryside.  A radical idea: we can relax close to home, and we can move across Europe by train, boat, and not plane.  Business is adapting as well, with the grounding of employees on their way to meetings, conferences, and presentations, business is replacing travel with video conferencing.  Another radical idea: business people do not have to fly for every meeting abroad.  Perhaps the Icelandic volcano was fortuitous for climate politics, because without any advocacy from environmentalists, people have found alternative ways for moving, consuming, and conducting business. It is estimated that the grounding of planes has saved about 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in less than a week (plane emissions minus volcano emissions).  This is not to sideline the frustration of millions of travelers or the loss of millions to the airline industry. But, just before the planes take off again, we should take a moment to think about how this one geological event opened a space of potentiality, and showed us that we can find alternatives to emitting GHGs, if necessary.

NIMBYism and windfarms in Toronto

The City of Toronto was well ahead of the Canadian curve when it came to adopting basic principles of sustainability around public transport, intensification of building density and the need to increase sources of renewable energy. The Ontario Green Energy Act has provided marvelous opportunities for increasing provincial sources of renewable energy. I have been amazed at how wind farms built in recent years in southwestern Ontario and on the way to Grey Bruce have livened up the landscape.

But, as the province moves on from terrestrial wind farms to offshore projects, one Toronto community is mobilizing against them. Some Guildwood residents have asked their city councilors, Paul Ainslie and Brian Ashton, to bring forward a motion to the city’s executive committee asking the province for a blanket-moratorium on wind-power development. The Globe and Mail article, Bluff residents fight wind turbines, explains that this motion, if passed, will be purely symbolic. But, while it will have little impact, it illustrates the nature of local opposition to such projects. The article quotes my colleague, Mark Winfield: "it would be “tragic" if fear of angering residents prevented the city’s politicians from pursuing much-needed renewable energy initiatives."

I am grading final exams right now. Since my head is in this space, my response on hearing about this motion in the last week was to imagine a take-home exam that I would like to set all of the voting residents of this local community. Here are the essay questions:

1. Explain what the acronym NIMBY stands for and discuss how this may or may not be applicable to Guildwood.

2. Define the term “ecological footprint” and explain how you would calculate your personal footprint.

3. In the documentary, The Age of Stupid, the filmmaker, Franny Armstrong illustrates the case of local residents opposing a wind farm project on the basis of landscape aesthetics. Compare and contrast this case with that of Guildwood in terms of how you are still “do[ing] your bit for the environment” (quote from wind-farm opponent in The Age of Stupid).

4. Discuss the evidence in the peer-reviewed literature for the harmful impacts of wind farms on human health and the environment. In your answer, define the term, peer-reviewed literature. (hint - you may want to use Google Scholar for this).

The purpose of these questions? Well, none of them have definitive right or wrong answers, so they are aimed at improving the level of informed opinions on the issue, because, obviously, there is homework that would need to be done to answer these questions. In the Globe article, Mr. Ainslie comments “there’s a lot of things that are unanswered”. These questions would help in addressing his concerns.

And, I am NOT advocating for only peer-reviewed science to drive action and policy. My close colleague,  environmental ethicist, Dr. Nicole Klenk proposes that “scientific narratives should be denied a priori privilege over non-scientific interpretations of nature for policy purposes”. I completely agree – local knowledge is very important and should be taken into account. BUT just how much local knowledge is there about wind farms in Guildwood?

I have lost patience with the dominant notion in our society, that an uninformed opinion should count for as much as an informed opinion. Too many people, including my teenager,  are getting away without doing their homework. The question of exactly whom I see as being responsible for this lamentable state of affairs is a topic for another blog.

Dawn R. Bazely

PS the quote is from the 2008 article, Listening to the birds: a pragmatic proposal for forestry in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Values, volume 17, pages 331-351

COP15: The entitled, the resentful and the powerless


From one perspective, the climate change conference in Copenhagen looks rational.  It’s about science – understanding the implications of the largest scientific project in history – and it’s about deliberation – well briefed representatives of 192 nations brought together to write an international treaty.  But the meeting is not so rational.  People come to the negotiating table not only with interests, but also with emotions.  The negotiators in Copenhagen represent some who feel entitled, others who feel resentful and yet others who feel powerless.  This play of emotions seems to be the story of the conference, a global summit of desires, fears, outrage and frustration.  Out of this mix of emotions, the challenge is to feel and act on the latent but powerful feeling of mutual responsibility.

The feelings of resentment and powerlessness come into focus when the feelings of entitlement are acknowledged.  No leader of any developed country can say to its citizens, “We are not entitled to our way of life.”  The point of view is implicit in the language: “we” are developed; those who do not share our prosperity are “developing” or “underdeveloped.”  Surely the road ahead, as the international development industry has taught for decades, is for others to model themselves on us, to work hard and succeed, just as we have.  “We” can help the underdeveloped.  Money is available for assistance in climate adaptation and mitigation.  There are intellectual and organizational resources as well to support the transformation of the global energy system.

All this good will does not challenge the feelings of entitlement in developed countries, or even admit that entitlement is an issue.  People have become accustomed to - and the economic system dependent on - transportation, food and building practices that are comfortable and satisfying, but unsustainable.  Even leisure activities that produce high greenhouse gas emissions – air travel, destination holidays, cruise ships – seem unlikely to change dramatically on a voluntary basis.  This sense of entitlement is understandable.  Prosperous countries have meaningful historical narratives of hardship, struggle and success.

It is precisely this sense of entitlement that is the focus of the resentments that have surfaced so strongly in Copenhagen.  China, India and the others in the G77 use the language of “historical responsibility” - greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere when the West dominated industrial production.   The West has been responsible for the problem; the West has the responsibility to clean up the mess. Because the West’s prosperity is based on creating a global crisis, it also has the responsibility to assist others with the clean technologies that the global crisis requires.  To do otherwise is to ask the victims to pay for the damages.  The resentment gets even stronger.  Consider the history of the India textile industry.  When India was a colony, village weavers, using low GHG producing hand looms, were driven out of business by the importation of cheap cloth from British coal fired textile mills.  Now, India, with its impoverished multitudes, is being asked to restrain low per capita green house gas emissions in order for the West to continue its prosperity and higher per capita GHG emissions!  Perhaps the expressions of resentment are partly verbal posturing, intended to produce an agreement more favorable to the interests of the G77 plus China, but the outrage and anger are much more than tactics.

Some other countries, lacking the political leverage of China, India and a handful of others, are the beggars at the banquet.  The 39 members of the Alliance of Small Island States are, with the exception of Singapore, low income and vulnerable.  They can plead, but their ability to influence is slight.  The Alliance includes the most desperate, and the most frustrated.

The outcome at COP15 depends on more than the science, the negotiators’ clarity on national interests, and the skills at compromise.  The outcome, and even more the follow through, depend as well on the emotions that come out of the conference.  The perpetuation of entitlement, resentment and powerlessness jeopardize global success.  Rising to the challenge of climate change requires other emotions, of mutual care and concern, across the globe and across generations.  Success will ultimately come from shared personal commitments, and leadership that evokes them.

Stuart is a long-serving member of the IRIS Executive.

Dawn R. Bazely

Markets and trading – part of being human

Sitting in a research centre with a mandate to engage in sustainability-related research across the entire university, means that I usually get to hear all sides of arguments. And there is certainly debate about everything. While the lack of consensus, or diversity of opinion, that exists in academia, may often confuse members of our society who don't have the luxury of reading primary peer-reviewed literature, the fact is, that debate and argument are at the crux of what we do as academics. (And, yes, there IS overwhelming agreement in the peer-reviewed literature that human-created greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels are enhancing the planetary greenhouse effect).

These days, I frequently listen to divergent, and passionate opinions on whether carbon markets, carbon taxes, and carbon offsets  are good or bad. This debate is especially heated among members of the academic community interested in the link between climate change, ecological footprints, adaptation and mitigation, and poverty reduction.

My view, is that humans are hard-wired to trade stuff. Shopping, the souq, local farmer's markets, the Christmas bazaar, the summer fete, and the invention of money all come out of this fundamental behaviour. So, whether or not one thinks, that carbon offsets are the modern day equivalent of buying indulgences in the hope of saving one's soul, there will eventually be prices put on previously largely unpriced resources such as carbon and water. This will happen just as soon as we have agreed-upon ways of quantifying them. Advocates for human rights, justice and equity simply must ensure that they have seat at these negotiating tables. The fact that Canada's failure to endorse water as a human right keeps popping up as a topic at campus World Water Day celebrations, emphasises this for me.


I have been very interested to encounter, in my role as IRIS' Director, in the last few years, businesses that aim at engaging with the practicalities of these incipient and emerging resource markets. For example, I recently received in my inbox, the XPV Waterview Newsletter for July/August 2009, which I actually opened, and read. After digesting the last line, "This should not be construed as an offering document and is solely intended to inform readers of recent developments with XPV Capital and the water sector.", I read the newsletter again. Then I discovered more of these newsletters buried in my inbox and they were great, too. My interest was piqued, and I then went to the website, to try and figure out exactly who had put together such an interesting and informative document with an amazing cartoon about beavers, that I will certainly refer to in my Ecology lectures.


So, XPV Capital is, quite simply, a VC (venture capital) or investment firm with a great website, especially its "water facts" feed and news updates. I learned outfrom the "About" page, that:

"XPV Capital Corporation partners with entrepreneurs in emerging water companies by:

• Investing capital to ignite your growth; and
• Leveraging our extensive knowledge, expertise, and contacts to help build your business.

XPV is committed to helping you and your business succeed.  As experienced water entrepreneurs and investment professionals, we understand the unique opportunities and challenges of emerging water companies.  We work hard to give you the competitive advantage that only the right investor partnership can deliver."

Now, I am a biologist, who teaches the water cycle and has been showing the marvellous 1993 Dutch government documentary, "Troubled Water" in my 2nd year Ecology course for years. But, here are business people, aware of the same data and information as I am, and acting upon them in quite a different way. As Mr. Spock would say, "fascinating". The XPV website also told me on the investments page:

"The way we produce, manage, and use water is forced to change and is impacting governments, corporations, and citizens around the world. This drastic transformation in the water industry will create unprecedented investment opportunities as water transitions from a simple life sustaining substance taken for granted by many, into one of the most economically and socially valuable resources of the 21st century." Given our propensity as a species, to trade stuff, this is bang-on, and, to my mind, indicative of the obvious next steps to emerge, following the concerns raised by such books such as Marq De Villier's Water (2001), and Vandana Shiva's Water Wars (2002). Although, it's taken longer than I would have thought it would.

Even in Canada, we need to manage and conserve water more effectively - and I for one am delighted that XPV is generating business and investment in this area that highlights these needs. I look forward to reading more newsletters.

Dawn R. Bazely

PS Troubled Water, the documentary, reports how "In a fictitious newcast from the year 2018, reporters discuss a future where water is scarce, and the causes of the crisis are found in the past, in poor management and lack of understanding of the many uses for water, for food through recreation, that have to be managed as well, in order to conserve water for the future." (Video 0572 in York U's Sound and Moving Image Library)

Gwynne Dyer on Climate Wars at 2030 North in Ottawa, 2009

I have recently been attending loads of conferences and workshops at which climate change is on the agenda. Most of them were permeated by a complete lack of any sense of urgency about what climate change will mean for North Americans in the next 20 years. So, I found Gwynne Dyer's gloom and doom in his talk on Climate Wars, sponsored by WWF, and delivered in conjunction with the 2030 North conference in Ottawa this week, to be very refreshing.  In his presentation on  the state-centred security dimensions of climate change, three main points stuck with me:

1. military generals in the USA are pondering how to deal with forthcoming events such as Florida disappearing when the ice caps melt. This contrasts with what I found when I flew into Ft. Lauderdale for a 2003 conference on invasive plants. I made a point of asking about 10 staff at my hotel whether they were at all worried about the sea level rises that would inevitably accompany the melting ice caps: I should note that I have teaching research into global warming in my ecology courses since 1990.  Without exception, the staff all looked at me as if I had just grown 2 heads!  How times change - at least in some parts of North American society.

2. a retired US General that he interviewed, said that he viewed the potential for nuclear attack during the Cold War as a "low probability, high consequence event" whereas Climate Change (warming) is a "high probability, high consequence event".

3. never mind about the Arctic, northern nations should worry about the nations to the south, where a 2 degree temperature rise (we are now hearing about a 4 degree temperature rise scenario), will mean that crop plants can't grow and survive.  A government that can't feed it's population is unlikely to be stable.

Hmm - the lights in the hotel ballroom where the talk took place were blazing, and I couldn't tell if there were low energy light bulbs - I hoped so.

Dawn R. Bazely

The Main Findings of our Carbon Offset Survey

Earlier this year a group of us at IRIS began surveying the York student community about their opinions of climate change and carbon offsetting. The online Carbon Offset survey was a result of the exciting and precedent setting carbon offsetting initiative for course kits launched between the York University bookstore and Zerofootprint.

In all, around 500 student members of the York community, representing all of the University’s diverse faculties, were surveyed. This is about 1% of the York student community, which we were satisfied gave us a statically accurate picture of the range of opinions.


Impact of Paper Production Background Information

-York produces 75,000 course kits a year.

-If produced using 100% virgin paper this would result in 131.5 tonnes of CO2 being emitted.

-If produced with 30% post-consume recycled paper this amount of course kits would emit 116.9 tonnes of CO2.


To put these amounts into context, one tonne of CO2 is equivalent to running the average North American home for 60 days.


Major Findings

1) In response to the question asking who should take the most responsibility for acting on climate change issues: government, industry, individuals, institutions, or everyone because we all have equal responsibility, we were quite surprised to find that 70% of respondents said that everyone must share responsibility for acting. The second highest group, at 17%, placed the onus on government. This seems to signal a shift in which students at York recognize that all segments of society have a responsibility to do something about an issue as complex as climate change. Our finding supports some of the results of a recent Harris-Decima poll on the New Environmentalism. In response to a question about whether industry or individuals were the most responsible for addressing climate change, 79% of the 10,000 surveyed, stated that both are equally responsible.

2) York students are willing to pay significantly more for environmentally friendly products or services. Our survey first asked, "are you willing to pay more", and if so, how much more? 65% of respondents were willing to pay more, and 49% said that they’d be willing to pay 5-10% more. That is up to 10 cents on the dollar.

One concern that was raised about our survey was whether a disproportionately high number of Faculty of Environmental Studies students were responding. In fact, while there were a high number of FES students taking the survey, they were not more than 14%, and when their responses were excluded from the results, we found that the fundamental trends and results did not change. In the category of those willing to pay 5-10% or even more for environmentally-friendly and sustainable products, we found that 70% of the students outside of FES were willing to do this, while 83% of the Environmental Studies respondents would pay 5% or higher prices. Clearly, willingness to be environmentally friendly in one's personal decisions is not a direct feature of one's personal educational choices and social views. Nor does the Faculty of Environmental Studies have a monopoly on York students who are concerned about the environment.

3) The last significant finding was that a majority of the York community surveyed would like to see investment in environmental initiatives at the local level in renewable energy or energy conservation projects. While respondents could select all three investment choices; renewable energy, energy conservation, and tree planting, renewable energy was the most popular choice at 72%. Interest in local offsetting initiatives was the most popular choice, at 55% said yes, with the Toronto area gaining the highest support. Other options included York University, Ontario and Canada.

Overall, the survey results will help the development of future climate change and sustainability initiatives at York University. The York community, like Canadians as a whole, are concerned about the environment and realize that responsibility belongs to everyone.

For full survey results contact IRIS.

Short segment on Uganda’s Carbon Offset experience

Check out this short news segment about carbon offsetting in Uganda. I'll let the tragic story in the three minute video speak for itself:

Related to this comes scathing criticism leveled by indigenous and policy research groups against the UN's support for the World Bank's promotion of carbon trading. In their words, the World Bank is playing "both sides of the climate crisis" by supporting the market-based scheme on one hand, and investing in fossil fuel companies on the other.

With such concerns mounting, it is no stretch that carbon trading schemes need to be studied intensely, something that universities with their multidisciplinary approach could assist with a great deal.

Trouble in the Forest

A just published report from Greenpeace warns against a potential "carbon bomb" that could detonate through the over logging of Canada's Boreal Forests.

As the largest terrestrial biome, the boreal-taiga is particularly sensitive due to harsh climactic conditions and poor soil that prevail over its huge land area. This leads to stunted growth towards the tree line at its northern boundary, but also mixed forests towards the south. It is also largely unprotected, with more than 50 per cent allocated to logging in the form of clear cuts.

Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, Forest Ethics, and local organization such as Earthroots have alternatively taken on Macmillan-Bloedel (now owned by Weyerhaeuser), Kimberley-Clark, Staples, and other companies that use boreal-derived products with some success. Staples has gone from being a laggard, to a company that earns respectable grades for its use of recycled products. However, with strong demand for their products, the timber industry still has a long way to go in ensuring a sustainable harvest. The Greenpeace report further raises the alarm over Canada's overall forest policy, and the potential dangers of tampering with an often forgotten, but vital biome.