Connect with the Earth Day Network here.
Visit Earth Day Canada here.
Posted in Environmental, tagged 350.org, anti-fracking, Christine Lagarde, climate action, Elizabeth May, end subsidies to big oil, Green Party of Canada, International Monetary Fund, Washington protest on February 17, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
‘Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.’ Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.
When a situation is as desperate as the climate crisis and yet, year after year, no leadership emerges, it is hard to believe that the situation may be changing. Like Charlie Brown running up to Lucy and a waiting football, one learns to expect disappointment. It is hard to put credence in the rhetoric of those in power.
In Canada, things are so bad that we don’t even have hypocritical lip service to the crisis. We have silence.
However, over the last month, in a series of statements by some of the most powerful people on Earth, the threat of the climate crisis seems to be on the agenda as never before.
On January 21, President Barack Obama made the issue a key portion of his second inauguration address. He made reference to superstorm Sandy, the heat waves and record-breaking extreme weather events, and said:
‘We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms…
‘We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise.’
Just days later, at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, delivered a stunning speech. (The International Monetary Fund has done nothing but worsen environmental protections anywhere in the world in which it has delivered a prescription.) Mme Lagarde, having outlined the major threats to global economic stability, stated that climate was a larger threat. Describing it as ‘the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century,’ she said: ‘Increasing vulnerability from resource scarcity and climate change, with the potential for major social and economic disruption; this is the real wild card in the pack.’
In response to a question from the audience, she said: ‘Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.’ That would have be a strong statement from the head of Greenpeace; from the head of the International Monetary Fund, it is jaw-dropping.
Again, within days, the new president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, wrote an opinion piece for the January 28 Washington Post, urging urgent climate action. ‘After the hottest year on record in the United States—a year in which Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage, record droughts scorched farmland in the Midwest and our organization reported that the planet could become more than 7 degrees warmer—what are we waiting for? We need to get serious fast. The planet, our home, can’t wait.’
Add to this mix a very tough letter of resignation from US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, lambasting those who undermined his efforts to promote renewable energy and parting shots from outgoing Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and it is hard not to see that a full court press from the Bretton Woods Institutions has lined up behind the US president to demand climate action.
The White House will still face climate deniers and obstructionists and grid-lock in Congress. Recently, some states are considering legislation to mandate that school children be taught anti-science on the climate threat. We are, by no means, assured of action, and if we were, could it be tough enough? It would have to be comprehensive and commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gases to make a real difference. But with the appointment of John Kerry as the new Secretary of State, at least it has renewed hope that the XL Pipeline will be turned down. I will be in Washington before publication of this article to urge that the US Administration reject the pipeline and move to real climate action.
We are running out of time for action. It always seemed that Barack Obama understood the threat. For his first term, he did very little, but he did manage to ensure that the economic stimulus package was focused on green technology. When he spoke of the economic potential of clean technology and green energy in his inauguration address, he was also speaking to a reality he knows well.
For Canada, the potential of clean tech is also substantial. According to a recent report from the Pembina Institute, Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in this key sector. The report estimates that Canada has the potential to build a $60-billion clean tech sector by 2020. We need to alert Canadians to the potential for our economy of acting to reduce greenhouse gases as forcefully as we warn that failure to act could condemn us to an unliveable world.
A series of speeches calling for climate action from unlikely sources is no guarantee of action. Nevertheless, it is significant and suggests that something new is afoot.
Happy 2013! I hope you enjoyed a pleasant holiday season and wish you all the best for the upcoming year.
As you grow older, time seems to speed up. With each passing year, the days and weeks grow shorter and shorter. Can it really be that we are already nearly two weeks into 2013? Amazing. With each passing year, a big snowstorm becomes more and more of a bother and less and less fun, so perhaps it is just as well that the winter is speeding by.
Here is southeastern Ontario, we had a white Christmas, with a significant snowfall a few days before the 25th. This was followed up after Boxing Day with a major storm that blanketed the landscape with an additional foot of snow.
We’ve also had some crisp, cold days, with the temperature dipping below -20 C. This is rather reassuring to those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s. It seems “right”, the way winter is supposed to be. But actually, all the snow and cold has been something of a mirage. In spite of winter cold snaps and a snowfall that set a one-day record in Montreal, a few hours east of here, December was warmer than normal. It just shows how deceptive appearances can be.
The Weather Network had this to say about December:
Temperatures across southern Ontario were a couple of degrees above normal for December,” says Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Normally, Toronto sits at about 1°C for daytime highs in December, but in December 2012, Toronto was 4°C. The same goes for southwestern and eastern Ontario.
After a nippy start to the New Year, temperatures for January have taken an upswing too. Today, the mercury climbed above 0 C and light precipitation fell as rain.
In fact, if you are 27 years old or younger, you’ve probably never experienced a colder-than-average month (global average, local conditions vary).
Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman notes the last cooler than average month globally occurred in February, 1985 (almost 28 years ago), “the year the hit film “Back to the Future” [the original, not the sequels] first hit theaters”.
“To put it another way, if you are under the age of 27, you have never experienced a month in which global average surface temperatures came in below the 20th century average,” Freedman writes. (Washington Post)
The weather’s just not what it used to be.
If everyone on the planet consumed as much materially as we do in North America we’d need another four planets to provide for it. With just 5% of the world’s population we consume a full 33% of the world’s resources. We live in an addictive society. Each one of us is exposed to 4,000 ads every day (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc) each one of them telling us that we are deficient unless we have whatever is being sold. But we are not human havings, we are human beings. ~ source unknown
An excellent article in BusinessWeek begins:
Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.
Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.
An unscientific survey of the social networking literature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.” Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”
To read the full article, click here.
Posted in Animal life, Environmental, tagged anodontoides ferussacianus, cuts to scientific funding, cylindrical papershell, Eastern Elliptio, Eastern Lampmussel, Elliptio complanata, encyst, endangered species, freshwater invertebrates, freshwater mussels, Giant Floater, glochidia, glochidium, host fish, Lampsillis radiata, living filters, loss of waterway protection, marsupia, mollusca, mussel life cycle, ontario mussel species, ontario mussels, parasite, photoperiod, Pyganodon grandis, Zebra Mussels on October 30, 2012 | 2 Comments »
When this summer’s drought left the riverbed dry, it afforded the opportunity to look for freshwater mussels. Members of the Phylum Mollusca, mussels are related to snails, slugs, clams and oysters, and even octopuses. Mussels are sometimes called living filters. They play an important role in aquatic ecosystems by cleaning the water. They also provide food for assorted fish and wildlife such as raccoons.
There are 41 native species of mussels in Ontario. Of these, 28 species are in decline or threatened with extinction. Mussels are among the most endangered organisms in North America, threatened by many human activities from pollution to habitat destruction.
Perhaps the most severe threat to the native mussel population has been the introduction of the zebra mussel, an invasive species. Zebra mussels attach themselves to the shells of native mussels by the hundreds or even thousands, causing them to die from lack of oxygen or food. Native mussels have been nearly eliminated from much of the Great Lakes system and St. Lawrence river, as well as watersheds where zebra mussels have been introduced.
Freshwater mussels are the largest and longest-living freshwater invertebrates in North America. Their life spans can reach many decades. They occupy a wide variety of habitats, from small streams to lakes, but have their greatest diversity in large rivers, which supply a constant supply of oxygen and food and a variety of habitat types.
Mussels spend their lives buried in the substrate of their aquatic home. They feed by drawing water in through a siphon and passing it across gills to filter out small particles of algae and bacteria. The reproductive cycle of freshwater mussels is amazingly complex.
During spawning, males release sperm into the water and females living downstream take in the sperm through their siphons. Eggs are fertilized in a specialized portion of the female’s gills called marsupia. Embryos remain in the gills until they have reached a larval stage called glochidium.
When conditions are right, depending on temperature, photoperiod and time of year, the female mussel releases her glochidia into the water where they must quickly attach themselves to the gills or fins of an appropriate fish host. The glochidia then become encysted in the tissues of the host fish and get nourishment from its body fluids for a time ranging from a week to over 6 months.
They transform into juvenile mussels during this parasitic phase. Once metamorphosis is complete, the juvenile ruptures the cyst and falls to the river bottom, where it burrows into the mud and remains for the next few years. Most mussel species have only a few specific host species and the chances of a glochidiium surviving are low. Mussels produce millions of glochidia to improve the odds of some reaching adulthood.
I found evidence of 3 species in our local riverbed. Some of the Eastern Floater shells were quite large and sturdy, while the single Eastern Lampmussel I found was small and more fragile, a real beauty with striking green rays.
Mussels are an example of the astounding lives lived by so many creatures to which most of us are oblivious. Perhaps if Canadians had a greater awareness of the wonderful richness and diversity of life that surrounds us, and how little we know and understand it, they might be less apathetic regarding cuts to scientific research and the protection of waterways.
Posted in Environmental, Local, tagged broken glass, climate, CO2now.org, crop loss, dried up river, drought, farmers vote for drought, ontario, September record temperature, South Nation river on October 28, 2012 | 1 Comment »
Over the last week or so, I have been preoccupied with assorted small trials, including the extraction of a couple of wisdom teeth. While I have been distracted, the season has moved inexorably onward, with the leaves first changing colour and then falling to carpet the ground. One positive event has been the return of our small river. As the drought we suffered through this summer deepened, the stream began to dry up until, by mid-September, I was able to walk more than a kilometer up the dry stream bed.
I took the opportunity to see what lies hidden from the eye most of the time. The mud-bottomed river is perpetually cloudy, and one can’t enjoy watching the fish and other small waterlovers. During the drought, any fish were confined to small, increasingly oxygen-deprived puddles, where they were easy prey for raccoons. There were plenty of raccoon tracks along the river course.
Near our house, where there have been human inhabitants living near the river for more than a hundred years, the river bed was littered with broken glass and bottles. I took a couple of buckets and collected up a couple of large pails full of garbage, mostly glass but also a few shoe soles and sheets of plastic.
I soaked the glass in water for a few days so that I could clean up the glass a bit and put it out for recycling. When I was cleaning off the mud, I was surprised by a crayfish! He was perhaps hiding in one of the bottles. I put him in a pail and returned him to a puddle of water. He matched the colour of the muddy bottom perfectly.
The area north of here was hit harder than we were, and many farmers experienced a diminished harvest. With global warming bringing rising temperatures, it is likely we will experience hotter and drier summers more frequently.
Farming must be more dependent on reliable weather patterns than just about any other occupation. Unless you have been living in a hole at the bottom of the sea, you know that our current Conservative government has turned its back on Kyoto targets and is now failing to even meet their own downsized goals for emissions reduction. You might expect farmers to be circling their tractors on Parliament Hill, demanding action! But you would be wrong. At election time, rural areas are a sea of Conservative signboards. In effect, the farmers voted for drought. Very strange. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot with your unregistered long-gun.
It has been a comfort to see the river slowly return, first to a trickle and then to a small stream. I’m certain that all of those creatures who depend on its water for their very lives are unimaginably relieved. Here’s a Great Blue Heron that has returned to search for a meal once again. He watched me warily as I walked down the laneway, ready to make a quick escape.
Posted in Environmental, Local, Plant, Trees, tagged arisaema triphyllum, Arnprior, asarum canadense, asplenium rhizophyllum, bidens cernua, boardwalk, calciphiles, calcium hydroxide, Charles Macnamara, Eastern hemlock, Goodwin's Bay, Jack in the pulpit, lime kiln, Macnamara Field Naturalists' Club, Macnamara Nature Trail, nodding bur-marigold, rock lichen, rock tripe, sap wells, springtails, tree burl, tree burr, walking fern, whitewash, wild ginger, yellow-bellied sapsuckers on October 4, 2012 | 4 Comments »
A couple of weeks ago, RailGuy and I headed up to Arnprior, north and west of Ottawa, to hike the Macnamara Nature Trail. The trailhead is just outside downtown Arnprior, in an industrial area. The trail runs in part through the property of Nylene Canada Inc. At the trailhead, you can pick up a helpful guide. It highlights 19 stops along the trail with information about the natural and human history relevant to each location.
The four kilometre long trail (five if you include the optional sidetrail to the marsh lookout) is well-marked and nicely maintained, with benches thoughtfully placed at the top of a few modestly demanding climbs. Near the trailhead, there was quite a bit of traffic and commercial noise, but we weren’t far along the trail before the sounds of industry fell away and the quiet of the forest prevailed. Comprised mostly of deciduous trees, the woodland is open and pretty.
A section of the trail travels through the upper reaches of the wetland and features a sturdy boardwalk. At the edge of the boardwalk, we spotted the red berries of Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum). You can readily see the source of its scientific name, three-leaves, triphyllum.
The remains of an old lime kiln provide evidence of early industrial activity in the forest. The kiln was built by the McLachlin Lumber Company in the mid-to-late 19th century. The rocky ground, part of the Canadian Shield, is mainly marble and limestone. The igloo-like kiln was stocked with firewood and used to heat broken chunks of rock. When water was added to the burnt rock, it produced slaked lime (Calcium hydroxide), a product used as mortar in brickwork or as paint (whitewash).
Not far from the lime kiln remains, a set of stairs allows hikers to get a close-up look at the rock face.
There are a few points of interest here. In the little den formed by the facets of rock, there are piles of oval droppings. They are evidence that the den has been popular with porcupines over many years.
But the main attraction is the colony of rare Walking Ferns (Asplenium rhizophyllum). Their name is derived from the manner in which they reproduce. Whenever the long, pointed tip of a leaf-like frond touches down, a new frond can sprout up. A parent plant can thus create several generations of fronds via vegetative reproduction as it ‘steps’ across the rock. Walking Ferns are calciphiles, lovers of calcium-rich soils. Walking Ferns can be found in shady spots on limestone ledges and in limey forest places.
The rock also features a foliose lichen, perhaps an Umbilicaria species, known as Rock Tripe.
Back on the main trail, I notice this burl, or burr, high up on a tree. It looked for all the world like a small animal with its limbs wrapped around the tree. Burls are tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. They are the result of some sort of stress suffered by the tree, perhaps from an injury, virus or fungus.
We followed the sidetrail to the marsh lookout. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, while to the west, it is swampy, with trees growing into the wet area. Off in the distance, you can just make out Goodwin’s Bay and the Ottawa River. The marsh floods in the spring when the Ottawa River rises, carrying a flush of nutrients into the wetland.
There were splashes of bright yellow flowers sprinkled through the wetland, Nodding Bur-Marigolds (Bidens cernua).
There was quite a bit of diversity in the forest groundcover. Some areas of the forest floor were dressed in a variety of ferns, while other regions featured a groundcover of club moss. One section of the trail was bordered by the heart-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense).
When we came to a stand of Eastern Hemlock trees, we looked for the work of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. We had a family of sapsuckers nest in a large, old maple tree this summer, and I often saw them flitting about the garden, where their preferred tree to tap was a little locust. I didn’t know that sapsuckers are partial to hemlock trees until I read it in the guide. Sure enough, the neat rows of sap wells that the sapsuckers drill were readily apparent.
After passing through the hemlock grove, we continued back to the parking lot. These are just some of the highlights of our hike. The Macnamara Nature Trail was named after Charles Macnamara (1870-1944), a naturalist and photographer who loved these woodlands. A gifted amateur, he identified six species of springtails (Collembolans), and one species is named after him. The trail is a wonderful memorial to Macnamara. The guide book, provided by the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club, really enhances visitor understanding and enlivens the hike. This was one of our favorite hiking trails, and it is well worth visiting.
Posted in Environmental, Garden, tagged climate change, Conservative denial of climate change, Dave Phillips, garden mulch, global warming, great white north, mulch, Ottawa region drought on July 23, 2012 | 6 Comments »
Here, as across much of the continent, it has been hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry. In fact, from July 1st last year until June 30th this year, the weather has been both the warmest and the driest ever recorded during any previous July to June period in the Ottawa region. Our poor little river is no longer flowing. It has been reduced to a series of puddles interrupted by dry river bed.
Here, as elsewhere, there is talk of farmers losing crops. As climate change takes hold, we can expect plenty more of the same. Dave Phillips, Environment Canada senior climatologist, notes ‘Canada is not the Great White North that it used to be.’ If only Conservative denial of the problem could halt climate change, we’d be in good shape, but their strategy doesn’t seem to be working.
Still, my garden has been performing well, in spite of the drought. As you can seem in this overview of the main garden, it is mainly the grass pathways that are suffering. That’s not because the garden is well-watered. I don’t water anything except new plants still settling in. The rest are mostly on their own. When I do water, I use buckets or a watering can so that I can deliver water directly to the root area, rather than broadcasting water with a sprinkler.
Here’s my secret weapon. Mulch, and lots of it. I purchase it in bulk from a local tree service, shredded branches. The mulch both keeps down weeds and helps the soil retain moisture so it isn’t baked dry by the sun.
As I write this, there are thunderstorms in the forecast. Exciting! Last week, we had one single storm. It brought a 45 minute downpour of rain. What a blessing! I stood outside on the porch and enjoyed the rain as the garden sighed with relief.