Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

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Bill Nye, the Science Guy (from CBC.ca)

CBC recently published an article, Global March for Science which caught my attention. When I read the headline, I was immediately curious as to why a global protest about science was going on. I had never heard of such a thing before and being as I was science teacher, my curiosity got the best of me.

The article reports that scientists along with their supporters marched in hundreds of cities around the world on Earth Day protesting against proposed U.S. government funding cuts to scientific research and public rejection of established science such as climate change. People in at least 18 locations across Canada are participating in marches to promote and advocate for science.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22.  Assorted events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection worldwide. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now events are held in more than 193 countries.

The purpose of the global march was to spread the message that science matters. Protesters are saying to the politicians who try to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science are a risk to the planet and so they are speaking out against it. While climate change is a major issue, protestors are also concerned about a number of Trump’s executive orders and his proposed budget, which proposes massive cuts to scientific research.

So, my next thought was what is this inexperienced, seemingly uninformed president doing south of our border to rile up the science community?. Anything that Trump does regarding the environment is concerning to me since their environmental policies directly affect my country. Acid precipitation is a good example of that. I proceeded to do some research.

Times article, Donald Trump’s Science Denial Is Becoming National Policy, reports soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the official White House website purged all mentions of climate from the site except one,  the promise to eliminate the “harmful and unnecessary” Climate Action Plan implemented by former President Obama. Soon thereafter, scientists and other employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were told not to speak to the public. When a National Park Service Twitter account sent out impartial facts, the White House had them deleted, plus the EPA was told to take down its climate-change page. Climate change is a huge issue and Trump did tweet on November 6, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Then on October 19, 2015, Trump tweeted: “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” This clearly tells me that this man is ignorant of science.

The Times article also says Trump appointed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccine activist to run a commission on immunization safety. Both Trump and Kennedy have spread far-flung theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject. Experts have warned the refusal to immunize is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids. Trump also appointed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and has supported deregulation. Trump is also known to have called the fact that asbestos causes cancer a “con” and even refused to believe the objective scientific reality of drought in California.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Susan Margaret Collins, a Senator who is generally seen as the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate, said she was not convinced that Pruitt would protect public health. According to USA Today, she quoted as saying;

I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.

National Geographic’s, A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment, reports that Trump’s proposed budget plans deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies, especially EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to increase defence spending by $54 billion. Actions speak louder than words. Even though Trump says, “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families,” the fact that he is proposing a cut of 31% to the EPA tells me how he really feels about protecting the environment. I find this alarming. Americans should be as well.

National Geographic also say that against the advice of the EPA’s chemical safety experts, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a decade-old petition asking that the EPA ban all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2000, the EPA banned its use in households, but the pesticide is still used on farms, which EPA scientists recommended stop. Even though Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s manufacturer, argues that it is safe when properly used, research suggests that chlorpyrifos may be associated with brain damage in children and farm workers, even at low exposures.

That same article claims President Trump signed a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule.” That rule, put in place by President Obama, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. It seems that mining companies are now free to throw whatever waste they desire in American waterways. These wastes eventually end up in the ocean and affect the ocean’s health. Once again, alarming.

So, is the world’s science community and all its supporters over reacting? Based upon my research, NO! I’ve only mentioned some of the policy changes made by the Trump administration. These policy changes are ALARMING to say the least. I am concerned about the planet. Trump’s choices affect the planet as the U.S.A. is the second largest contributor (15%) of greenhouse gases in the world, second only to China at 22.7% (see Gas Emissions, 2010). Canada only emits 1.7%. I personally would like an inhabitable planet for my children and grandchildren to reside on. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2006, says it best. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What [hu]mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”.

Littering! Really?

A commentary on the disrespectful act of littering.

For the past three summers, my wife and I have camped for several weeks at a campsite near where we live. This campsite is beside a river and has a golf course where I golf at least once a day. The campsite is located in a beautifully treed area where you can truly feel connected with nature. I don’t need to write about the health benefits of being in nature as I did that in my post Nature’s Wonders in May. Spending time golfing and having campfires is what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks so in case you’ve been wondering, that is why I haven’t published anything lately.

My wife loves to walk and so I go for walks as often as I can with her. It’s good quality time together and we often have some of our best talks doing this. We either walk around the campsite visiting the occasional camper that we know or we walk down a rural road near the campground. It’s about a six kilometre (3.7 mile) walk to the location we go to and back. The road is a gravel road so sometimes we get bombarded with dust when a vehicle goes by but for the most part the road is a beautiful walk in the river valley.

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From Litter Heros website

The last time I walked this route, I was alone which gave me more time to observe my surroundings. What struck me was the amount of litter I saw. I counted eight (8) soft drink or coffee cups. They were from such fast food restaurants as Dairy Queen (DQ), Tim Horton’s, and MacDonald’s.  I also saw fast food napkins, a hamburger Styrofoam box, a beer bottle and a beer can. There were also candy wrappers and a level which must have fallen off a work truck. That was what I could see just from the road. I’m sure there was much more litter as the grass was long in the ditches. What disturbs me about finding beer containers is the people who tossed them likely were drinking and driving. That to me is alarming!

Years ago our son was in 4H and every year the 4H clubs participated in the Alberta Highway cleanup where 4H members gather to clean up a section of a highway. I participated with him and what I remember most about that event was the number of cigarette packages there were. Smokers seem to be some of the worst litterers. The second most common piece of litter we picked up were fast food cups. Of course there were numerous bottles and cans and other miscellaneous items including dirty diapers. During a town cleanup last year we picked up mainly fast food cups, cigarette packages, along with other miscellaneous items and yes even dirty disposable diapers.

I’ve tried to understand why people litter and the only thing I can conclude is that people are just too lazy to find a garbage can and that people really don’t care about our environment. This inspired me to learn more about the topic.

Here are some facts from a website created by a Litter Reduction Task Force to address the litter issues within the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. This site is called, The only cure for litter is you.

  • The average distance someone will carry garbage before littering is 12 paces.
  • Most litter occurs within 5 meters of a garbage receptacle.
  • Single use food and beverage litter made up 45 per cent of litter cleaned up in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Ontario, Canada.
  • There are 8,000 tonnes of cigarette butts dropped by Canadians each year, the majority within 10 feet of an ashtray. It takes 10 years for the filter to biodegrade.

What people need to understand is that much of this litter remains in the environment for a long time. According to this same website, it takes an aluminum can 80 to 200 years to break down naturally but if recycled, it can be reused within six weeks.  Here is some information about how long it takes other items to break down naturally.

  • Banana peel: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Paper bag: 1 month
  • Cardboard: 2 months
  • Wool sock: 1 year
  • Tin steel can: 50 years
  • Disposable diapers: 550 years
  • Plastic bags: 20 to 1000 years
  • Plastic jug: 1 million years
  • Glass: 1 to 2 million years
  • Styrofoam: 1+ million years
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From humanesociety.org

It seems obvious to me that people just don’t care what they are doing to Mother Earth. So that begs the question, Why should we care about the problem of littering? According to the same website,

  • Litter is damaging to plant life. Litter can stunt plant growth.
  • Every year, millions of birds, fish and animals die from ingesting litter.
  • Litter on the ground and in our water is dangerous to humans.
  • Litter destroys the beauty of the community. Litter begets litter. One piece of litter on the ground signals others to litter.
  • Litter is a safety hazard. It is a breeding ground for rodents and bacteria.

According to the website, Conserve Energy Future (CCF),

  • Littering is expensive. Every year millions upon millions of dollars are spent cleaning up litter. This money should be going to more productive things, but instead, people don’t realize that something as small as littering done on a mass scale does indeed affect them. Taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on littering…
  • A very large majority of Americans have admitted to littering in their lifetimes. I’ll admit it. I have littered. The average American only walks a few steps before dumping their trash on the ground without even searching for a garbage can.
  • Billions of tons of litter are dumped into the ocean each year…This leads to the repeated killing of fish on a daily basis and the gradual depletion of marine life. Believe it or not, the litter we produce is causing more underwater species to become endangered.
  • Cigarette butts make up over half of our littered objects, and they take a grand total of ten years to decompose because of a cellulose acetate, contrary to the popular perception that cigarette butts decompose very quickly in only a matter of days. In reality, cigarette butts are a serious threat to the environment.

According to the article, Littering a crime of inconvenience for Canadians by Marc and Craig Kielburger, WWF Canada says Canadians are frustrated with environmental groups telling them that making small changes will have a big impact on our planet.

But Canadians are doing their part to clean up the mess we humans have created. According to the Kielburger brothers, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is one of the largest public action conservation programs in the country. Last year, more than 58,000 volunteers picked up litter along 3,000 km of shoreline and inventoried every piece. Having said that, we need to do more.

do-not-see-clipart-1It’s time we humans stop this disrespectful action of littering and start getting involved in public actions such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Alberta Highway Clean Up (if you live in Alberta) or in your local community spring clean-ups (see Communities celebrate spring with clean ups). It’s time to be stewards and to protect, respect and take care of our precious planet. No longer should we take our environment for granted. So do the right thing!

Adventures with Mother Nature

Every summer since 2002, starting when my son was 8 years old, my son and I have taken hiking excursions to the Canadian Rockies. Traditionally, we go with my brother-in-law and his two sons. Sometimes my brother and his son would join us as well as a friend and his two sons at the beginning. These excursions entail carrying 40-pound backpacks containing food and cooking equipment, sleeping gear and a tent. On some occasions we carried our 40-pound packs 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) before reaching our destination.

Most hikes were to the backcountry, a remote undeveloped rural area accessible only by hiking trails. We would hike to places such as Landslide Lake, Ribbon Lake, Lillian Lake, Utopia Creek, Glacier Lake, and Celestine Lake to name a few. I realize that these names likely don’t mean much to many of you but I can assure you that these settings are some of the most breath-taking, beautiful scenery in the world.

hiking 04 fishing
Lillian Lake

We’ve had some adventures over the years. In what is called Kananaskis Country, we did a day hike to Ribbon Falls after a good night’s rest at the Ribbon Lake campground. To reach our destination, we had to maneuver down a vertical cliff. Thankfully, there were chains attached to help a person propel downward. By carefully finding footholds and hanging onto the chains we successfully got to the bottom part of the cliff. Being that I am afraid of heights, this was a terrifying experience for me. Climbing up the cliff was much easier.

After hiking the Galatea Creek Trail, also in Kananaskis Country, and arriving at our destination of Lillian Lake we put our backpacks down and went to scout out a site to set up our tents. Several minutes went by before we returned to collect our equipment to take to our chosen site. To our dismay, we discovered a chipmunk chewing its way through the top of my son’s brand new pack which I had just purchased for my son. In fact, this was his first trip with it. The chipmunk had chewed a hole into the top of the pack in an attempt to get at the trail mix inside. I was not happy with that animal and yelled some choice words at the creature. Thankfully the little beast was not successful in retrieving any of the trail mix.

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Geraldine Lake trail (boulder hoping)

One of the most difficult hikes we’ve done was to Geraldine Lakes in Jasper National Park. It involved a very steep climb beside the waterfalls between Lower and Upper Geraldine Lakes where you come to kilometres of boulder hopping across what is called talus field. To say it was exhausting hopping from boulder to boulder carrying a 40 pound backpack is an understatement. At one point I was feeling sorry for myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” Thinking that I was getting too old for this hiking business (I was in my 40s), we came upon a fellow hiker in his 70s. He told us that Geraldine Lakes was one of his favourite trails and that he had hiked the trail many times. I needed an attitude adjustment at that point and my outlook changed after talking to the senior hiker. If a 70-year-old man can hike that trail, I had nothing to complain about being I was 30 years younger than this man. It’s all about your mental attitude. Being in shape, of course, helps.

One of my favourite hiking experiences was our hike to Utopia Creek in Jasper National Park. There were eleven of us on that expedition. On the Saturday evening we decided to take a different trail back so that we could climb up to what is called the Sulphur Skyline, which has some of the most breathtaking panoramas in Jasper National Park. This meant hiking the Fiddle River 11 kilometre horse trail from our campsite, then going up a 700 metre (2300 feet)  elevation gain of about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to reach the skyline. The trailhead had a sign saying, “Trail not recommended,”  but this didn’t stop us. What we did not realize is that we had the cross the Fiddle River not once, not twice but six times.

On our first crossing we carefully hopped across the river from boulder to boulder with our backpacks on until the last bit whereby we took our packs off, tossed them a fair distance to another person on the riverbank and then hopped onto the bank ourselves. Thankfully no one fell into the water and our packs remained dry.

During the second crossing we decided to take our hiking boots off, put on our sandals and cross the river in our sandals. The current was strong and the glacier water literally made my feet hurt.

Now the third crossing was done in our bare feet. By this time the ritual of taking off our boots was becoming burdensome, so when we had to cross the river on the fourth, fifth and sixth occasion we just kept our boots on. The current was strong so there were times when I had to hang onto my son, age 12 at the time, to prevent him from being swept downstream by the current. We stopped at a trailhead leading to Mystery Lake to ring out our wet socks and dried our boots as best we could. We eventually made it to the Sulphur Skyline with one of the most spectacular views I have ever had the privilege to appreciate. The chipmunks on top of the skyline were brave creatures as they would come right up to your fingertips looking for food.

In 2009, nine of us spent three hours hiking the 7 kilometre (4.3 mile) trail to Celestine Lake in Jasper National Park. A friend of mine and I were the last to arrive at our campsite as the younger ones of the group were much quicker than us older ones. What made this adventure so memorable was the fact that when my friend and I arrived at the campsite, we were told that we had to go back as there was a forest fire nearby. Now we didn’t believe them, of course, until we saw the warden’s helicopter take off. Apparently, the park warden arrived in a chopper and called to my brother in law saying, “I have some bad news guys. You have to leave as there is a fire in the area.” So it turned out that we were told the truth. We had to spend the next three hours returning to our starting point.

2013-07-13 01.19.38Now I have been asked over the years why I would go into the back country where there is no contact with the outside world; where there are bears and cougars and it can sometimes get to below freezing at nights. Those are good questions. My first response to those questions is always that it is quality time with my son. But it is more than that. I do it for the adventures. There is nothing like being in nature and the experience of standing on top of mountain with the wind blowing through your hair. The beauty that Mother Nature has to offer is far-fetched until you see it, and even then it can be surreal. For me, being in the wilderness is a chance to touch the divine. It is during those times that I feel closest to God or the Universe.

According to the article, How Does Nature Impact our Wellbeing, put out by the University of Minnesota,

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.”

Maybe that’s why I do it. Without knowing why, it made me feel better. So, go out into nature and reduce your stress. Speaking from experience it works. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our daily urban lives that we forget what nature has to offer. Visit Mother Nature to de-stress. When you do you will discover that she is worth protecting.

 

Seek Some Awe

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge.” I totally understand what Mr. James is communicating. I have had many experiences of awe when out in nature. But first, we should understand what awe is.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise. Now that word fear usually confuses me especially when talking about awe.  We typically think of fear as being afraid of something or someone. However, Dictonary.com says in addition to being afraid, fear is reverential awe, especially toward God. The Free Dictionary describes awe as a feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

Dacher Keltner, Professor of psychology at the University of California, defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. So the way I understand awe is that awe are those moments when we experience something majestic or powerful; when we feel wonder. They are the times when we have an encounter with the divine. They are moments when we in some way experience God or the Source of all Being or something mystical. It’s when you are touched at a soul or spiritual level; when what we are witnessing or experiencing is beyond our understanding.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Many astronauts talk about their experiences of awe when looking at the planet earth from space. Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut said, “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” Russell “Rusty” Schweikart, Apollo 9 astronaut said, “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change … it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.”

One of the best known for his experience of seeing Earth from space is Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who said:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

Oxford dictionary defines Samadhi as a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga, this is regarded as the final stage at which union with the divine is reached. In essence what Mr. Mitchell is saying is he felt some sort of union with the divine.

Susan Santucci, a learning specialist and author says, “Watch for glimpses of the divine order.  Find those experiences, sights, and sounds, which fill you with awe.  Any experience met with awe can be spiritual:  a safari through an animal kingdom, taking in a sunset, a hike to an awesome mountaintop.”

P1030507editedI have hiked in the mountains with my son and friends and family for many years. I have to agree with Susan Santucci as every time I stand on top of a mountain, I feel that sense of awe. For me, it is a spiritual experience. It is an experience where I am overtaken with the beauty of the mountain landscape. I have this same experience when I am at the ocean. Standing on an ocean beach, looking at the vast amount of water in front of me sets me into a state of awe. Sunsets do the same. When my wife and I were in Europe a few months ago, we were blessed to see numerous sunsets and even sunrises. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful those magnificent colourful skies can be. Each sunrise we beheld on our trip was uniquely beautiful. I have a sense of awe or wonder every time I am lucky enough to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. For me, each of these experiences were, as Dacher Keltner put it, a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends ones understanding of the world.

Greece

Yes, I understand some of the science behind how mountains are built with colliding tectonic plates. I comprehend that when the Sun appears lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so as the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind. It is mind-boggling to comprehend that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and the deepest known area measures 11 kilometres (6 miles) deep.  I understand that the aurora borealis occurs when collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with its gases. As amazing as the science is, when I experience the above-mentioned things I experience something beyond my science understanding. My experience is met with awe and wonder. When I am experiencing these things I touch the divine.

I had another one of these experiences when my daughter showed me a video of Jeffrey Li, a 10-year-old boy from Canada, and Celine Tam, a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong, performing a duet of the song “You Raise Me Up”. I was blown away. These two singers literally took my breath away. What I heard from these two young people touched me at a soul or spiritual level. It made me ask, “How can a seven and ten year old have singing voices like this?” The singing voice of these two “kids” was beyond my understanding. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out below.

Maybe it is time to seek out more of those awe experiences, whatever they may be for you. In fact, doing so just may make the world a better place. Articles such as High on Wonder: People Who Experience More Awe Are Nicer, Better People, and The Key to Fulfillment claim science is providing empirical evidence that awe is the emotion that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. If we choose to get rid of the some of the distractions like cell phones and watching television in our lives and seek to put ourselves in new situations such as going to new places, and meeting new people, this may increase our chances of encountering awe. If it is true what the studies are saying, experiencing awe will make us better people. I implore you to seek out some awe and wonderment in your lives. You will be better for it!

There is Hope

Evo Morales, an Indigenous Bolivian who has served as President of Bolivia since 2006, is quoted as saying, “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”  Mr. Morales is right!  We cannot continue to abuse Mother Earth without dire consequences.

According to The Watchers, a daily news service that relays information on global events, world evolution and transformation, there are many environmental catastrophes taking place on our planet. Here are some that I noted.

A state of emergency was declared over a large natural gas leak pouring high quantities of methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighbourhood on January 6, 2016. Numerous residents reported health issues and thousands of people have been forced to evacuate the area. The leak of natural gas was first observed October 23, 2015, and is now the largest natural gas leak ever reported.

A flow of toxic mining waste, which spilled into a main river in the city of Mariana, Brazil on November 5, 2015 has traveled at least 500 km (310 miles) through the Rio Doce since the event. The disaster has been proclaimed as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe in history. At least 11 people were confirmed dead, 15 went missing and hundreds of homes were devastated.

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Bellandur Lake, India (dogonews.com)

Bellandur Lake, the largest lake in the city of Bangalore, India, is extremely polluted by a high amount of ammonia and phosphate. From the air, the 36 km (22 miles) wide lake visually appears as if snow is covering a mountain. In reality what looks like snow is a large, white foam covering the water surface, an unnatural phenomenon resulting from extremely toxic, untreated, chemical accumulations. The froth has risen to a height of one meter.

A dam at a waste pond on Mount Polley Mine of British Columbia, Canada, full of toxic heavy metals burst on August 4, 2014, releasing 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.  Mining experts warn that the incident is the largest mining disaster in Canadian history, possibly even globally.

There are many, many more environmental catastrophes listed on the Watchers website, and I haven’t even mentioned the biggest one facing the planet, that is, climate change. Now it would be easy to get down and discouraged when reading this kind information, but as they say, “every cloud has a silver lining”. I still believe that the human spirit is strong and that we can correct our wrongs, even when it comes to the environment. So what is the silver lining you may wonder?

The silver lining is that we now have a tremendous opportunity  to develop new technologies, which in turn would create new industries and jobs as well as benefit our planet environmentally. So what might these technologies look like? The Greenbiz website lists 9 technologies to clean up the planet.   The livescience site lists 10 emerging environmental technologies. Some that caught my attention are:

We now have technologies to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Some of these makes the CO2 into something else that can be sold as products. Skyonic Corporation is building a commercial CO2 capture plant scheduled to begin operating this year which is expected to reduce 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year through a combination of direct capture from a cement plant and the making of commercial products, such as baking soda. This is a technology that could help to curb global warming.

Nuclear reactors are becoming safer. The technology for nuclear power has become so efficient that they now use the byproducts of conventional nuclear power production as fuel. The travel wave reactors, backed by Bill Gates, look to use depleted uranium to generate electricity, rather than leaving it to be stored or used in other applications, such as ammunition. This technology makes nuclear power plants much safer and solves the problem of nuclear waste. This could very well be an alternative to the polluting coal burning power plants.

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From the Berkeley Blog

The United Nations have predicted that water supply shortages will affect billions of people by the middle of this century. Desalination, the removing the salt and minerals out of seawater, is one way to provide potable water in parts of the world where supplies are limited but it is expensive and uses a lot of energy. Scientists are working toward better processes where inexpensive fuels can heat and evaporate the water before running it through membranes with microscopic pores to increase efficiency. That gives hope for new fresh water sources as much of our fresh water supply in the form of glaciers is melting and ending up in our oceans.

Hydrogen fuel cell usage has been touted as a pollution-free alternative to using fossil fuels. These cells make water by combining hydrogen and oxygen and in the process they generate electricity. Most recently, scientists have come up with ways to power laptops and small devices with fuel cells, and some car companies are promising that soon we’ll be seeing cars that emit nothing but clean water. That is great news for our environment.

OTEC technologies convert the thermal energy contained in the oceans and turn it into electricity by using the temperature difference between the water’s surface, which is heated, and the cold of the ocean’s bottom. This difference in temperature can operate turbines that can drive generators. This would be a clean source of electricity therefore helping to reduce climate change by eliminating coal burning power plants.

Bioremediation uses microbes and plants to clean up contamination. Examples include the cleanup of nitrates in contaminated water with the help of microbes, and using plants to uptake arsenic from contaminated soil. There is an urgent need to clean up many of the contaminated sites on our planet such as the Deloro mine, a 202-hectare site that lies 65 kilometres east of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

I recently watched Disney’s movie, Tomorrowland.  This movie delivers a  message of hope for humanity. It is a call to use our human mental abilities and imagination to make changes that can repair the environmental damage that we humans have created. Just reading about some of the many new technologies being developed gives me hope for our planet. We humans are masters at screwing things up, such as our environment, but we are resilient and savvy enough to fix our mistakes. It just takes public awareness through education, a political will, and economic motivation. New technologies create new industries and new jobs. We can fix our environmental problems and still have a thriving economy.  Keeping things at the status quo is not an option.

There is a Cree Prophecy that says, “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” It’s time we put our health and our planet’s welfare ahead of profits. Our survival as a species depends upon it.

 

 

 

 

 

Get it Right

If you follow the news at all, you know that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, is presently being held in Paris, France. The talks started November 30 and will continue until December 11. The objective of the conference is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement from all the nations of the world. The goal of the agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit the global temperature increase to 2 °C. If you are not familiar with greenhouse gasses and what is known as the greenhouse effect, here is a little science lesson.

GUSTAVO-CAMACHO-GONZALEZ-L1060274_(23430273715)It is referred to as the greenhouse effect because the earth acts just like a greenhouse does. The sun gives off electromagnetic radiation, in particular infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet light. Visible light consists of short wavelengths of energy, which are able to pass through the glass or plastic of a greenhouse, and are absorbed. It is then released back as heat (thermal energy) or infrared radiation. This is what heats up the greenhouse as infrared radiation consists of long wavelengths of energy which are unable to pass through the greenhouse’s glass or plastic, thus are trapped in the greenhouse.

The earth, in essence is like a big greenhouse. The sun sends energy to the earth’s surface in the form of visible light (and other radiation), which is absorbed and then released back as heat. Our atmosphere, which contains naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapour, and methane gas, absorbs the heat radiation and then slowly releases some of it into space. The earth’s atmosphere is like the glass or plastic of a greenhouse; it traps heat in. Since there is an excess amount of greenhouse gases caused by human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels, being released into our atmosphere (See the graph on NASA’s Global Climate change website. ), plus the fact that humans are destroying forests at an alarming rate which remove CO2 , more heat radiation than normal is trapped in our atmosphere. The result is the earth is getting warmer

We refer to global warming as when excess greenhouse gases cause the Earth’s temperature to rise.  According to NASA’s Earth Observatory website, “As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming”.

Climate change is caused by the rising temperature of the earth, which causes regional climate characteristics (temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc.) to be altered, leading to catastrophic events like melting glaciers, rising oceans, evaporating lakes, devastating hurricanes, and heavy snowfalls.

United Nations Climate Change Conferences have been tried on numerous occasions before with UN conferences on climate change occurring every year since 1995. Will this conference be different? Will the world leaders unify this time and actually produce a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses and commit to it? Let’s hope so.

It doesn’t take much research to determine that our planet is in trouble. Climate change is happening whether we believe it or not. On NASA’s Global Climate change website it states, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” On this website, and there are many other websites agreeing, it sites evidence such as rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures, the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers in Greenland. Then there are the extreme weather events that all of us have witnessed in recent years. NASA’s website also sites extreme weather events as evidence. If we are to save this planet, and ultimately ourselves as humans, we must start doing something constructive now!

Many of the world’s leaders are saying the right things. Addressing the 2015 conference in Paris, U. S president Barack Obama said on November 30 that the U.S. accepted its responsibility to help fix climate change, and that global action need not damage economic growth. “What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet.” He urged the leaders to take action even if the benefits were not evident for generations. Mr. Obama also has stated the importance for getting India and China on board to make the U.N climate summit a success, as both those countries are huge CO2 emitters. (see Citing Urgency)

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau in his address to the conference stated that, “Canada will take on a new leadership role internationally,” Mr. Trudeau was interrupted by applause when he said: “We’re here to help.”

Mr. Trudeau also goes on to say, “Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet…The rest of us have a lot to learn and no time to waste”.

Justin Trudeau also said climate change is more than a challenge, but an historic opportunity. He said climate change is “An opportunity to build a sustainable economy based on clean technology, on green infrastructure and on green jobs. We will not sacrifice growth, we will create growth,” he said. (see APTN National News)

It is true that the indigenous people have historically had a great deal of respect for “Mother Earth”, and when the Europeans came over to North America, that changed. This is something I have taught about for years. Mr. Trudeau is right! Climate change does not have to be just a challenge. It is an opportunity to develop new, clean energy technologies that will create new jobs and potentially provide huge economic growth. This is what the world needs to be focused on. It is time to discharge our addiction to fossil fuels.

There seems to be some indications that world leaders are serious about reducing greenhouse emissions. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi has stated: “The sun is the source of all energy.”  He apparently is enthusiastic about solar energy and in January set an investment target of $100 billion in India’s solar sector by 2022. The United Kingdom has committed to phasing out coal plants entirely by 2025. In Canada the province of Alberta announced a climate change strategy that includes a carbon tax, a cap on tar sands emissions, a phasing out of coal-fired electricity, and an emphasis on wind power. These are all steps in the right direction.

On Monday, Pope Francis said it’s “now or never” for the international community to start effectively curbing climate change. He said, “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.” (see World leaders must listen to Pope Francis). I believe Pope Francis is correct. I sincerely hope that the leaders of our world are serious about curbing climate change. The planet that we leave behind for our children must be a planet that is habitable. World leaders must get it right this time or our planet will become a vastly different planet; a planet with less habitable landmass, a planet with more deserts than we can ever imagine. A planet where there is little fresh water left to be found since much of our fresh clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdwater supply is in the glaciers that are disappearing. That’s not mentioning the numerous plant and animal species that will likely disappear because of global warming. (see Consequences of Global Warming).  The list goes on. It is time to get serious about curbing climate change. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I applaud those leaders who have already committed to change.

Here is an interesting website to check out: Time to Choose

The Encounter

Every year my son and I hike in the Canadian Rockies.  We’ve been doing this for about thirteen years now.  Every year my wife grills us about safety.  Do you have bear spray?  Do you have bug spray? She always ends with, “Be careful out there and don’t fall off the mountain”!

In the 13 years we’ve been doing this, and loving it I might add, we have only encountered a bear once (if you can call it that).  It was four years ago and the bear was on the trail in Jasper National Park some 500 or more metres ahead of us.  When we yelled and my brother-in-law set off a “bear banger” (that is a device that makes a very loud bang) the bear took off like a “bat out of hell”.

The other encounter was in 2004, 11 years ago when my son was about ten. We arrived at our camp site called Lillian Lake in Kananaskis country near Calgary, Canada with our back packs, set them down and went to explore the campsite for a few minutes.  After several minutes, we returned to the spot we selected to set up the tent only to discover that a squirrel (the common red squirrel to be exact) had started to chew a hole in the top of my son’s pack attempting to get at the trail mix.  To rub salt in the wound, it was the first time my son had used his brand new backpack.  When I let my wife know that we returned safe and sound, and that we had an incident with an animal, she “freaked out” thinking it was a bear of course.

The irony of course was this year while my son and I were on our hiking excursion in Banff National Park, seeing very little wildlife other than two Golden-mantled Ground squirrels begging for food, my wife had an encounter of her own.  My wife is a very social person and on the Saturday of our trip she went to a Barn Dance, an event that doesn’t occur much any more.  When she returned  home, she opened the front door, put down her keys and cell phone, and returned to the vehicle to collect some more items.  At the truck she turned toward the house and saw movement, to her horror she realized it was a skunk of the front step!  She was trapped.  She “freaked out” to say the least (That is probably an understatement if you know my wife).  She eventually found her way to the back of the house, found the spare key and entered the house.

As she typically does when worked up, she decided to talk to one of our daughters about it, even though it was midnight.  Our eldest daughter was still up, so she phoned her.  Upon telling our daughter about the skunk encounter, and getting herself progressively more worked up, my wife started thinking, “What if she had left the door open while unloading the van?” What if she had watched the skunk go into the house? This really made her hysterical.  My daughter, the calm, cool, collected person she is, had to talk her mother down.

How is that for irony?  While out hiking in the wilderness, it is very rare that we encounter any wildlife other than those annoying mosquitos, pesky flies and the occasional curious squirrel.  But my wife has an encounter with some wildlife in our small town of 5 000 people where we live.  Go figure!   8TAorn6Ec