Category Archives: Blog

Please Help Me Understand: What’s Weaver DOING!?

Climate scientist Andrew Weaver is fond of (rightly) lambasting the media for generally poor coverage of climate science. For the coverage of his most recent report about the oil sands, though, he has only himself to blame. I had to spend two hours studying and engaging in a back and forth with his co-author Neil Swart to figure out the real facts behind Weaver’s own sensationalist and misleading public claims about his findings.

Let’s get one thing straight, first: Climate change is clearly occurring, and Andrew Weaver is a better climate scientist than I am. He’s also a lot more famous. However, Weaver keeps wading with his opinions into areas of communications, media and politics where, in my estimation, he’s consistently doing a bad job. This latest media storm he’s caused is a perfect example.

Here’s the headline from Weaver’s own February 21, 2012 article on Huffington post: “My New Study: Coal is 1500 Times Worse for the Environment than Oil Sands“. I probably don’t need to tell very many people how much international airplay this has gotten. ‘Gosh, if that’s true, the oil sands suddenly seem squeaky clean!’ Guess who’s loving and promoting that message?

Just a few problems with Weaver’s “science” and “facts” here.

The report he wrote with student Neil Swart, which Swart was kind enough to forward to me in its entirety along with supplemental analyses they’d done, actually only focuses on carbon emissions, not “environment” impacts — they admit that themselves right up front in the report. “It is important to recognize that our estimates do not include greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide and do not address other potentially deleterious environmental, health and social side effects of oil-sand production.” So that means, Weaver has included that word “environment” in his Huffington blog headline merely for sensationalist effect. Okay, maybe skewing the facts in the headline and then clarifying further down is sometimes understandable for a scrappy journalist trying to draw attention to some obscure, little local issue; but when you’re one of the world’s most prominent scientists writing about one of the most important scientific issues of our time?

Second, it turns out the only reason coal is “1500 times worse” in terms of emissions is because, well, there’s somewhere approaching 1500 times as much coal on the whole planet as there is oil in Canada’s oil sands. Again, Weaver and Swart admit this right in their commentary: Yes, coal produces slightly more carbon emissions than tar sands oil, but “Coal’s significance is due to the large tonnage available,” they write. During my exchange about it with Swart yesterday, he confirmed their number came from multiplying a slightly higher per-unit emissions rate from coal times the earth’s much vaster stores of coal: “The 1500 number would be a combination of these two things, the large tonnage being the dominant factor.”

As for those slightly higher per-unit carbon emissions from coal, even that number is dubious. The way Weaver and Swart calculated it, they subtract the carbon emissions generated by the coal being burned to help extract and process tar sands bitumen into usable oil. Weaver writes in his blog that they did that because the coal “shouldn’t be double-counted.” In this context, though, following this logic, we would then also have to say that a coal-fired electrical plant generates zero carbon emissions, because we “shoudn’t double-count” the coal.

And by the way Weaver frames his whole argument, in the end, he’s explaining that tar sands oil will increase global temperatures 0.36C — an amount he would normally be crying holy catastrophe about, but in this context he seems to be suggesting is so minimal compared to what all the coal in the world could do that we scarcely need to be concerned about it or about the tar sands.

I’m sure that’s not exactly what Weaver wants the public “takeaway” to be, and he does try to talk his way out of it, but by that point the damage is done.

Whether he’s shilling for the environmentally toxic BC Liberal party, or pumping nuclear energy, or claiming tar sands oil is ‘better for the environment’, this seems to be a persistent problem for Weaver. He’s just not very politically or media-savvy, and he often even undermines his own scientific credibility when he wades into battles in these arenas.

A message to Andrew Weaver, then: The next time you have something to say in public, get a good communications advisor and political strategist to help you. Out of respect for your climate science work, I’m sure many would do it pro-bono. So please, just do it; for the good of the planet.

RCMP & VicPD ALPR Documents Released

My article “Hidden Surveillance”, which investigates the RCMP and Victoria Police Department’s Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) program, has been released in the February issue of Focus magazine and is now available online here. My thanks to Kevin McArthur of Stormtide and Unrest.ca, Christopher Parsons, along with Kris Constable of PrivaSecTech and everyone at IdeasMeetings for their help, interest, perspectives and encouragement along the way. As a supplement to the article, below are documents attained so far from my provincial Freedom of Information and federal Access to Information requests. (In the U.K., such programs are often called Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR.)

The RCMP Privacy Impact Assessment (October 2009) for its Automatic Licence Plate Recognition program. (A new PIA is apparently at the draft stage as of January 2012).

Victoria Police Department correspondence and other records on its ALPR program: Pages 1-31. Pages 32-55. Pages 56-101.

The 2011 Letter of Agreement, Terms and Conditions for ALPR use between the RCMP and other police agencies (two pages).

A one-page spreadsheet from the RCMP summarizing police actions taken in response to ALPR hits throughout BC from 2007-2011.

For serious researchers, here are the detailed ALPR hit logs from the Victoria Police Department: June-July 2010. July-October 2010. November-December 2010. January-February 2011. February-May 2011. May-September 2011.

 

BCCLA takes a Mental Health position!

My heartfelt congratulations to the BC Civil Liberties Association for finally updating their mental health policy after 30 years!

I’ve criticized them publicly in the past for their lack of activism on the civil rights of patients, and I want to be the first one to congratulate them now. Here’s the position, written by member of the BCCLA board Dr. Muriel Groves and apparently adopted by BCCLA February, 2011, though not posted on their website until this week:
http://www.bccla.org/positions/patients/12BC-Mental-Health-System.pdf

I wish they’d reviewed the Yukon’s mental health legislation as a comparison instead of Ontario’s, because the Yukon’s is even better, but this position strikes at most of the key issues: BC needs laws that more clearly articulate when you can and cannot be stripped of your rights, and allow you to refuse psychosurgery (like lobotomies), write an Advance Directive, designate a substitute decision maker, and accept incarceration without forced drugging if you so desire.

A Consensus Statement on Victoria’s Economic Development Strategy

Originally posted on the communityeconomy.ca website, which has been under maintenance for some time, I repost this document here for reference purposes. It was subsequently signed by 153 other people.

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The City of Victoria’s recently released Economic Development Strategy emphasizes a business-as-usual approach that includes building tourism, attracting outside investment and businesses, and expanding the airport.

Yet as we write this, Centennial Square is crowded with people, inspired by a movement seeking fundamental economic changes which has spread to hundreds of cities worldwide. And for good reasons.

In recent months, the United States government has twice come within hours of financial shut-down. National debt defaults have plunged the European Union into crisis. The Canadian government has boldly proclaimed “immunity”, while quietly taking on billions in insecure bank debts and moving into lockstep with our provincial government with broad-based cuts in all sectors. Is this really where we’re going to turn for help meeting our community’s economic challenges? Has anyone even calculated how many local jobs all this has already cost, and how many millions of dollars have already been drained away from local savings?

Meanwhile, other crises converge upon us. The price of gas has nearly doubled in two years. Climate change seems poised to increase in pace exponentially. How will local businesses and tourism, transportation, municipal services, health care, and individual households be hit?

And more importantly, what are our practical plans to build stronger self-reliance and resilience as a community? We are facing a crisis, but we’re also in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity to galvanize citizens throughout our region around truly innovative, environmentally responsible, and socially constructive economic changes.

These are just some of the practical plans we could all be discussing, exploring, and working towards, and which our governments should be providing leadership on:

  • Aim for community economic development, not just business development. Goals and measures of economic health are not limited to growth in business revenues and the tax base, but include social, cultural and environmental quality of life indicators such as fulfilling employment, equitable access to opportunities, cleaner air, more community gardens, and closer-knit neighbourhoods.
  • Prioritize locally-owned businesses and local resilience. The Strategy unrealistically proposes we can do it all: Attract outside investors and big businesses, and support small, locally-owned companies. Build the airport, and a more vibrant downtown. Focus on growing tourism, and on reducing reliance on tourism. But with limited resources at our disposal, we can’t do everything. We have important choices to make. We should focus on nurturing, strengthening and diversifying small, locally-owned enterprises and service providers across all our business sectors. Locally-owned businesses hire more locally, advertise more locally, use local business services more often, and spend more of their profits locally. It’s time for a region-wide “Buy Local!” campaign–Every dollar spent at locally-owned businesses means more income and jobs stay in the community.
  • Use tax incentives and zoning bylaws more creatively. We could become a vibrant hub for green technology and small, ethically and environmentally responsible businesses. For example, use tax strategies to encourage the development of appropriate commercial spaces, and remove restrictions against home-based businesses.
  • Foster community re-investment. Our region is missing out on models of community development financing that are already working elsewhere. We could be attracting local retirement funds and institutional investments towards supporting locally-owned social enterprises, arts organizations, business co-operatives, and affordable housing initiatives.
  • Build working partnerships. We should be pro-actively developing more vital partnerships regionally between municipal governments, businesses, post-secondary institutions, non-profit organizations, rural and urban farmers, manufacturers, and resident associations to build entrepreneurship incubators, business mentoring and succession teams, Community Supported Agriculture, neighbourhood-based product and service markets, and bartering and alternative exchange systems.
  • Improve affordability, reduce impacts. We don’t always have to think growth, growth, growth in a war against our environment’s natural limits. Often, less is more. We could substantially improve our economic health by reducing resource use and the local cost of living. We could improve lower-impact transportation options and provide incentives for low-cost housing. We could help neighbourhoods engage in tool sharing, freecycling, energy-use reduction, and other much-needed resource-saving initiatives.
  • Ignite community power. Let’s engage the entire community – not just the business sector – in developing our ideas and plans for community economic development. In places like Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa, community engagement has led to innovative projects like social purchasing portals linking socially and environmentally responsible locally-owned businesses with local customers eager to support them. It’s good for the community, and it’s good for business.

This is only a small sampling of what’s possible. With an election fast approaching, we encourage all citizens to ask their municipal candidates about their plans for ensuring our region becomes as self-reliant and resilient as possible in the face of international financial instability, rapidly rising oil prices, and climate change. If we don’t start now, how much more difficult will it be in 20 years?

Signed,

Nicole Chaland

Michelle Colussi

Lisa Helps

Rob Wipond

Donna Morton

Rupert Downing

Rob Wickson

Alan Dolan

  • Chair, Victoria Values-Based Business Network
  • Resigned from Victoria’s Economic Development Advisory Panel over reservations about final Strategy