Join me and Ecology Ottawa for a pre-Olympic evening with Olympic and environmental heroes

STAMPJoin Olympians and snow and ski specialists for thought-provoking discussion on the challenges we face today and the future of snow sports.

Panel discussion followed by audience Q&A

February 5 – Museum of Science and Technology – NOW Aviation and Space Museum

  • Sara Renner – Four-time Olympian and 2006 silver medalist who co-led the Canadian alpine and cross country ski team members in going carbon neutral (by video link)
  • Patrick Biggs – Olympian, 2004/05 Canadian Slalom Champion, President of Camp Fortune Ski Club
  • Dirk Van Wijk – Chief of Grooming at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and locally at Nakkertok Ski Club
  • Dr. Stephan Gruber, scientific expert in mountain environments and permafrost at Carleton University
  • Renee Bellehumeur, Senior Manager of Gatineau Park
  • Bob Sudermann, owner of Mont Ste-Marie and co-owner of Camp Fortune

Register HERE

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Oil Pipeline Expansion – Why I Object

Several friends who I love and respect disagree with me. They tell me they support pipeline expansion because it means jobs and investment. They tell me that pipelines are safer than trains. They tell me that we’re not going to stop using oil overnight and if the world keeps needing oil we’ll have to keep transporting it somehow.

I urge them to reconsider because:

  • Climate change is happening; it’s very dangerous; and it’s mostly caused by burning fossil fuels (oil, coal & gas) which produce CO2
  • To reduce the threat, humanity must stop accelerating its production of CO2 – in fact decelerate
  • PipelineschartDoubling, quadrupling and sextupling production of oil in Alberta, as is planned, facilitates continued acceleration of CO2 production—it runs counter to deceleration
  • Adding pipeline infrastructure enables increased sales of Alberta oil, hence supporting accelerated extraction—worse, it virtually guarantees acceleration as investors demand return on the tens of billions to be spent building the pipelines
  • Preventing expanded pipeline infrastructure puts a brake on expanded oil sales and extraction and thus puts a brake on Alberta’s and Canada’s accelerating CO2 contributions.

Focus on jobs, investment, safety and an ongoing need for oil doesn’t add up to as big a problem as climate change. These are secondary concerns when it comes to Canada’s pipelines.

How real and dangerous is climate change? In 2011 the International Energy Agency—an independent organization established by the OECD—stated that “on planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.” In 2012 the World Bank said there is “no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C [warmer] world is possible” and in 2013 business consulting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers said that planning for such a world is about “societal survival.”

Governments have not made progress addressing carbon polution but there is one thing they have agreed on; that 2°C represents “dangerous” warming. The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change pledged to prevent dangerous warming. In the context of the words of the World Bank, IEA, and Price Waterhouse Coopers “dangerous” must be read as “catastrophic climate change” where “adaptation” may be impossible and “societal survival” is at risk.

We are now on a path beyond 2°C toward 4°C this century alone according to authoritative sources including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To avoid overshooting 2°C IEA says “more than two-thirds of current proven fossil-fuel reserves” will have to remain in the ground. British multinational bank HSBC agrees saying “between two-thirds and four-fifths of current reserves cannot be commercialised.”

In effect these leading voices in the energy industry and financial world are warning that climate change is so real and so dangerous that we can expect extraction, sale and use of fossil fuels to come under prohibitions or strong economic disincentives.

This throws new light on the motivations of developers of Alberta oil reserves and pipeline infrastructure. To make money on Alberta’s oil assets fast action is needed. Using this oil is so damaging that in the not too distant future it may represent stranded assets. How soon? Many analyses indicate that declines must begin before the year 2020.

PipelinesMapThe Alberta oil industry hopes to increase annual tar sands production to more than 600% of what it was in 2002. To carry the oil to market pipeline proponents are pushing plans that would extend pipelines across the full span of North America; west to east and north to south.

Resisting the pipelines that would enable faster extraction of Alberta oil is therefore an effort to protect against the substantial threat of climate change.

The numbers of jobs that are said to come with pipeline expansion depend on who’s making the claim, ranging from unbelievably many jobs to unbelievably few. In either case, do we want to promote jobs in a globally threatening industry?

Investment in pipelines perpetuates and amplifies our climate change challenge. The International Energy Agency points to “the long lifetime of capital stock in the energy sector.” It warns that “failure to deter additional investment in emissions-intensive infrastructure, thereby ‘locking in’ emissions for decades to come” will only make addressing the challenge “more costly and difficult to achieve.”

In sum the question is: are pipelines a good investment for Canada and the world? Economists agree that there is a cost to climate change; they debate the dollar value. IPCC author and economist Mark Jaccard reviewed published studies across the full range of imagined costs of $15 to $100 per tonne of carbon. He concluded that at any of these prices new pipelines are a bad investment overall. He says the “global energy system must be transitioning now away from CO2 emitting technologies and infrastructure, on the supply and demand side.”

Pipeline spills and train safety are indeed risks. But those risks have increased with Alberta oil expansion. Moving even greater volumes of oil will increase the risks again. So addressing the greater risk of climate change and avoiding shipping six times as much oil will also reduce pipeline and train risk. It is true that the world can’t stop using fossil fuels overnight. But the path we’re on is the opposite of a reasonable ramp-down from the status quo. Production and delivery at present and diminishing levels can continue without new pipelines.

Some Canadians support pipeline expansion based on information the oil industry is promoting. Canadians also strongly support action to fight climate change. In this case we can’t have it both ways.

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Local Public Concern Increasing on Carbon Pollution

Melty Canal

Melty Canal

Just yesterday Jian Ghomeshi talked on his CBC radio show Q about Canada’s environmental record. Today he chose as his letter of the day feedback that tied an “own the podium” interview to that poor Canadian showing.

I’d sent him an email too saying that in the three years since I’d begun volunteering full time fighting climate change the issue had changed from a conversation killer in social situations to something people engage with me on; glad to hear what I have to say.

His Q essay is one more piece of evidence that people are getting increasingly engaged. Consider the uptick in interest just this year and just here in Ottawa:

  • In March the GHG Roundtable sold out in record time with little publicity;
  • A local chapter of has formed and initiated divestment campaigns at UofO, Carleton and Algonquin as well as having numerous public meetings;
  • A record number of new Climate Reality presenters from Ottawa were trained by Al Gore, approximately doubling the local group;
  • Local Climate Reality Canada presenters held their first public event, 24 Hours of Reality;
  • The group Evidence for Democracy came into its own. It’s scientist based and aimed at the federal government but is based in Ottawa and climate science being stifled is one of its biggest concerns.
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby established a local presence and held its first national convention in November in the National Capital.
  • The announcement of a tar sands pipeline planned to run within Ottawa city limits prompted pointed climate concerns locally.
  • A rally against the pipeline took place September 29.
  • Many people attended the company sponsored pipeline info session to give the other side of the story.
  • On Parliament Hill people symbolically stopped a flood of carbon rich oil out of the PM’s office in November

And those are just the things that jump to mind. I’ve had a large number of people beginning to get involved with me personally looking for constructive ways we can work together and bring down our local carbon pollution. If you want to help too, start by signing this Climate Pledge

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Making Al Gore Local

ClimateRealityLogoIn 2012 I was trained as a Climate Reality Canada presenter and joined about a dozen Ottawa area climate leaders who’d been trained by Al Gore since his slideshow won an Academy Award in the form of An Inconvenient Truth (and helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize).

In 2013 another dozen people from Ottawa and environs went through the training, double that trained in 2012, emphasizing the growing awareness and commitment to the issue.

On September 10th local presenters are meeting and I’ve been invited to talk to them. Two of the points I’ll be making are:

  • it’s important to get local content into their presentation
  • it’s also important to give listeners something to do with the information

Local Content

The package of slides that Al Gore uses give some emphasis to graphic and shocking pictures of the damage extreme climate events can cause. But these come from all over the world. I’m usually presenting to an Ottawa audience. Flooding or firestorm in “some other place” has impact, but when I tell people that climate change has already shortened the skating season on the Rideau Canal by 20% they know that it is already here and has an effect on them personally.

When I show them graphs of actual local temperatures that are consistent with warming trends globally they know Ottawa is part of the world and if it’s happening to the whole world, its happening to us too.

MAhlawatUmbrellasI’ll be offering to share my slides of these and other local highlights with other Climate Reality presenters. But I’ve also set up a Flickr group where people can upload images that emphasize local climate events with the explicit intention that they be free to use by Ottawa area Climate Reality presenters.

Action Oriented

The climate crisis is such that we don’t want people to think they’ve “done something” by attending a Climate Reality presentation. So I always end my presentations with 4 things people can do:

  • Use less energy – that’s always been the mantra but it doesn’t seem to be working – as local as your bus route
  • Divest – your investments or your pension are likely invested in companies that make money selling oil, coal and gas -as local as your pocketbook
  • Support a group – groups need your help – as well as Climate Reality Canada I give a lot of time to Ecology Ottawa as well as support 350 Ottawa and Citizens Climate Lobby – all with local presence
  • Demand action by your local politicians – they want your vote, they go out of their way to meet the public, you can politely and respectfully approach them and tell them you care deeply about this issue – they say all politics is local, and it is when you look them in the eye and tell them your vote depends on their stance on this issue
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Ask Your Elected Officials to Oppose the Tar Sands Pipeline

Map-TarFree613I just sent email to Paul Dewar (my MP), Yasir Naqvi (my MPP), Katherine Hobbs (my City Councillor), Kathleen Wynne (Premier of Ontario), and Jim Watson (Mayor of Ottawa), saying pretty much the following:

I write because pipelines such as that now being proposed by Transcanada are critically linked to climate change in that they represent major infrastructure investments that commit investors to long term dependence on fossil fuel extraction, which in turn feeds climate change.

Players like HSBC, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Munich Re, The World Bank, and the International Energy Agency* have all reminded us in recent months that the issue of climate change means that investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is a false route to profit at a societal level. In the words of the International Energy Agency the course we are currently on “will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”

The costs as exemplified by the floods in Calgary and Toronto eclipse the job gains and tax revenues.

We must move toward more sustainable energy sources and building more pipelines will delay that move. By constraining the ability of tar sands oil to get to market we have more of a chance of moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels.

I hope the government of Ontario will rethink its support of this pipeline

Thank you for taking the time to consider my views.

I vote for the candidate who takes the strongest stance on climate change action.

You may have different reasons for opposing the pipeline, such as the risk of a dilbit spill and the damage that would cause to the Ottawa watershed. Whatever your argument, if you feel this proposal is a bad idea please do tell your elected officials.

Follow these links to find contact info for City Councillors and the Mayor, Ottawa area Members of Parliament, and Ottawa area Members of Provincial Parliament. *

You can also sign Ecology Ottawa’s petition to stop the pipeline by following this link.

*note Dalton McGinty is listed there but he’s been replaced now by John Fraser

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The City of Ottawa’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy


Calgary flooding. Photo credit Ryan L. C. Quan via Wikimedia Commons

On June 24 the public got its first glimpse of Ottawa’s proposed changes to its Official Plan.

One thing not changed in the Official Plan is that the City will take measures to adapt to the effects of climate change by completing a climate change adaptation strategy. (Section 2.4.1, Policy 3-a).

In the wake of the disastrous flooding in Alberta, which many are linking to climate change (Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s, CBC, etc.), one might ask how the City of Ottawa is getting along with that climate change adaptation strategy.

A quick search of the City’s website shows that a climate change adaptation strategy has been talked about since 2005 or so and was added to the Official Plan in 2008, but there doesn’t appear to be much mention of it since 2009.

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Host an Event

DontTalkCCHere are a few ideas on how to get talking about climate change.

ONE: Last Friday I invited members of the Canadian Writers Union (TWUC) to my house for an informal but themed supper I called “stories of climate change.”

My idea was that these are the best story tellers that Canada has to offer and nothing is better at changing hearts and minds than stories.

I figured if more people understand more viscerally the challenge that climate change represents, we’ll be more likely to make progress on the problem.

I also invited several climate scientists (lead authors for the IPCC 5th Assessment Report) and seasoned climate change campaigners. Both fiction and non-fiction writers Continue reading

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Presentation to Environment Committee

Ottawa-Strategy-Map-ApexOn May 21 the City of Ottawa’s Environment Committee met for the first time since February. On their agenda was an item related to the March 23 Greenhouse Gas Roundtable.

Unlike the Environment Committee, whose members are city councillors, the recently established Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee is made up of volunteers from the public and it was their workplan that was being approved by the elected councillors on Environment Committee.

On behalf of Ecology Ottawa I made three points to Ottawa’s Environment Committee:

  1. I offered Ecology Ottawa’s support to the new advisory committee and have since emailed the councillors this report on the roundtable; the report was produced by volunteers.
  2. I pointed out that Mayor Watson’s promised climate change plan by summer 2014 was out of synch with the current planning process (the Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Waste Plan, all due in 2013) and encouraged that city staff working on reviews be directed to anticipate climate change initiatives in these plans. This could be done by meeting with the staff who will be working on the climate change plan refresh and familiarizing themselves with past climate plans such as this and this one.
  3. For us to make significant local progress on climate change I noted that public consultation and engagement was needed. In an otherwise successful roundtable, a failing in the area of public consultation has been mentioned to me by numerous people. I asked that the City of Ottawa get going early and enhance its efforts at public consultation and engagement concerning the refresh of the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan.

I’ll be working with Ecology Ottawa and others to encourage the city in these directions.

This post cross posted with Ecology Ottawa.

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GHG Roundtable Outcome

On Saturday I gathered with hundreds of others at the City of Ottawa’s greenhouse gas roundtable. Ideas were expressed, speeches were made. But the most significant thing about the event I’ve captured in this video.

For the first time in I don’t know how long the highest official in our city has strongly expressed a commitment to setting, meeting and even exceeding emissions targets.

There is much to do to make those words reality, but this in itself is big and Jim Watson and his council deserve our thanks and support for taking this challenge in hand.

The full mulit-hour video of the GHG Roundtable can be watched here.

Time was short but the City of Ottawa took our ideas on how reduced emissions could actually be achieved and are compiling those ideas. You can submit your own input to the city via email to

The frame of the City’s input was as follows (from their agenda) but your input can conform to that frame or not, as you see fit.

  • What practical strategies can Ottawa adopt to most effectively reduce GHGs?
  • What GHG reduction solutions offer the fastest payback?
  • What GHG reduction solutions have the lowest barriers to access?
  • What utilities and companies can work together to provide effective GHG reduction synergies?
  • How can Ottawa best promote efficient appliances and building features?

In sending feedback please do congratulate and thank the City for taking this on.

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City of Ottawa Posts GHG Roundtable Documents

These look very good. I am hopeful.

Original City of Ottawa post here.

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