Health & the Environment
The Kyoto Shuffle | Reaping the Whirlwind | And They All Go Blind | Welcome to Venus | Saving the Harvest | Links | Main Page

by Bruce Torrie - January 28, 2003
copy and distribute

As I watched the UVIC audience giving hometown boy David Anderson warm applause on January 9, 2003, I had to marvel at the success of the Liberal’s misinformation campaign. Kyoto has achieved its goals – total confusion of the public and disarray in the environmental lobby. Anderson, probably the least distinguished Minister of a very disappointing Government, has held the Ministries of Transportation, Fisheries and Environment for more than ten years. A huge majority government, the Liberals have ignored very strong public support for Environmental, Forestry and Climate Protection measures. Canada now clearly has the least effective environmental legislation of any country in the so called developed world. We have completely broken all of our Treaty promises to protect the climate, forests, fish, biodiversity and the oceans. Here is how Anderson describes his work: “Nothing we do on climate change will have any appreciable effect in your lifetime or mine.” At the meeting he said: “ maybe someone else in this room will soon have my job. “ One can only hope so, allowing Anderson to return to his interrupted study of Oriental languages.

I have been involved in the Climate|Ozone Layer study and debate ever since 1987. I closely followed the issue as Chair of a Federal | Provincial Liberal Environmental Policy Committee. From 1989 onward I distributed over 1,000 copies of the Federal Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment’s reports on Climate Change and Ozone Depletion. At this time the Liberal Environment Critic was Sheila Copps, followed by Paul Martin. The Standing Committee’s reports were so dire that in 1990 I was able, as Policy Chair of the B.C. Liberal Party, to get policy resolutions through the B.C. Liberal Party and the Liberal Party of Canada (B.C.) banning clear cut logging. Unfortunately, the environmental lobby at this time did not want to connect forests and climate protection. Louise Comeau, the head climate campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada told me that she was already overwhelmed trying to understand energy efficiency – there was no way that she had time to discuss and try to understand forests, plankton, ultraviolet radiation and the ozone layer. This lack of understanding of these connections has dogged the energy efficiency advocates ever since. Had they been able to understand the critical role of forests in stabilizing the climate and lobbied for a Federal Forest Act I believe we could have achieved it in the early 1990’s.
When the Framework Convention on Climate Change (CCC) and Biodiversity Convention were signed at Rio in 1991 I was thrilled – here were Treaties requiring Canada to enact Federal Forestry laws to protect the forest and biodiversity. Article 4.01 (d) of the CCC provides each country will: “ Promote sustainable management, and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gasses not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans, as well as other terrestrial coastal and marine ecosystems. “ I was at the first Conference of the Parties (COP1) in Berlin for a month in 1995 when Canada released its National Action Plan on Climate Change. I was surprised when the document completely passed over this promise for forest protection and enhancement. I tried to get the support of the environmentalists to criticize this gap and was astonished to find the climate activists totally opposed to discussing forests.

They were, and are still, worried that industry will plant carbon sequestering forests in the tropics to avoid the duty to stop polluting here. It is important to understand that the environmental climate lobby is exclusively energy efficiency types. Nothing wrong with that – unless it so narrowly focuses the debate that the full breadth of climate science and policy is not engaged. I have been having meetings with the David Suzuki Foundation and Sierra Club and others for about the last seven years asking these groups to undertake education campaigns on the broader science of climate change. I hoped they would circulate materials on Abrupt Climate Change; the potential for dramatic sea level rise with the disintegration of parts of Greenland and Antarctica; the role of the Ozone Hole allowing increased ultra violet radiation to damage plankton and forests – the main carbon sinks; and the role of industrial deforestation in dramatically increasing the rate at which climate change will occur. I thought that they should focus on ocean circulation, and on the possibility that the Trans Oceanic Conveyor would slow or stop because of fresh melt water pooling in the North Atlantic Ocean.

I thought that if people understood how fragile climate stability really is they would be more serious about reducing pollution. I envisioned an effective campaign linking smog to acid rain and dead forests. Most people do not know that decades of industrial pollution and automobile exhaust has so acidified the soils of much of North America that tree growth is impaired or the forest dies. Charles Little’s book “The Dying of the Trees” is must reading if you are interested in forest die back caused by acidification. Unfortunately, the bulk of acid air pollution emissions condense as acid dew, mist, rain or snow high in the mountains, so acidifying the soils that the beneficial soil dwelling fungus dies and the minerals essential for forest health leach out of the surface soils, causing the forest to slow in its growth and eventually die.

I had hoped that the education campaigns would also focus on DMS, an organic sulfur compound given off by planktons and forests. It seem that the main cloud machine of the Earth is condensation particles emitted by planktons and the forests. Water vapor condenses around the tiny DMS particles forming clouds. When you look at a forested hillside in the morning you will often see a cloud of mist rising from the trees. The trees are actually making the mist cloud by emitting DMS to condense the invisible water vapour. If the trees and plankton aren’t there, or are substantially reduced, it is predicted that there may be dramatic effects on rainfall and cloud formation. I can’t help think that the drought across the Prairies and lots of other places may be caused by the clear cuts of B.C. reducing the amount of DMS available for cloud formation. The situation is much worse in the South Polar area, where much of the world’s planktons have been destroyed or damaged by an ozone hole admitting ultra violet radiation to the sensitive marine environment at the critical spring bloom time. Less DMS means less clouds and a rapidly rising global temperature, as clouds are the Earth’s main cooling mechanism. Stephen Hawking now thinks we may face a Venus scenario run-a-way greenhouse effect because of these feedbacks. That means the oceans boil away.

The environmental activists, to my surprise, found these levels of complexity overwhelmingly difficult to understand and act on. If you phone the David Suzuki Foundation today – 800 – 453-1533 – and request information on Abrupt Climate Change; sea level rise caused by the ice continents melting or sliding into the ocean; ozone depletion and the effect of ultra violet radiation on forests and plankton ( the main carbon sinks ); the role of forests in stabilizing the climate and the role of deforestation in destabilizing the climate; and the role of ocean circulation in creating our climate the David Suzuki Foundation will offer to send you information on energy efficient lighting and heating. Not very helpful to the public – who clearly wishes to understand this issue and wants to do their part. It is even more shameful and incomprehensible that they deny these realities since I have been shrieking at them for over 10 years – and giving them multiple copies of very clear and compelling science on these topics. Perhaps George Orwell said it best: “ To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” People cling to a belief in the face of contradictory information “ and ignore facts which are obvious and unalterable, and which will have to be faced sooner or later.”

Sheila Copps stated in January, 2003 that Kyoto ratification was delayed in Parliament (for about 6 years ) because the industrial polluting lobby hijacked democracy. You can almost see the SUV’s full of cash driving along Rideau Terrace. I remember attending a National air pollution conference in the late 1990’s and asking a senior Ministry of Transport official why there had been no environmental measures from that Ministry over the previous years when Anderson was Minister. The official from Transport Canada told me that they had brought numerous proposals to Anderson for environmental and climate protection and he rejected all of them. I wonder why Anderson sold out the public interest??? Perhaps he is saving up for an expensive Oriental language course.

The costs of this delay to Canadians may be unimaginable – It now looks like we are facing an abrupt change to a Northern Hemisphere Ice Age – with global warming continuing at the equatorial area but the world’s ocean currents stopped or reduced so the heat from the tropics remains there. No one can accurately foretell the future at this point– too much is uncertain. I do hope that politicians and environmentalists will try to better understand the climate system, and link forest protection and climate protection. Only then will we have some chance of passing on this world to the next generations in useable condition. It would have been so much easier ten years ago….
The upcoming Federal Liberal Leadership Campaign will be an excellent time to raise these issues. Both Martin and Copps were excellent environment critics in Opposition. It remains to be seen if the SUV’s full of cash have purchased their consciences. I hope not – THERE ARE NO PROFITS ON A DEAD PLANET! I am sure that the environment lobby will be much more successful than it has been so far if it follows the suggestions in this paper. Why not give the Suzuki Foundation a call and let them know your thoughts. 800 – 453-1533. They must be looking at new strategies now that we won Kyoto.

The big man there is Jim Fulton – the excellent NDP Environment Critic in the late 1980’s. I thought Jim had a major role in the Parliamentary Standing Committee reports on Ozone Depletion and Climate Change, so he should understand these issues very well. I sure hope he doesn’t drive a SUV. Tell him we need a Federal Forest Act!

If he has forgotten, you might also remind him of the report of the Federal Standing Committee on Forests of 1990. The Parliamentary Standing Committee report “ Forests – The Federal Role “ called for a strong Federal role in regulating forestry and environmental standards. The Liberals, PCs and NDP all supported this report and then for twelve years the issue disappeared. When I asked Anderson in January 2003 if there was any plan for a Federal Forestry Act to help protect the climate he told me that “ The Federal Government has no jurisdiction on forestry across Canada.” This despite very clear binding international commitments made in the Climate Change Convention and Biodiversity Convention.

When you consider the consequences for the Earth and all of its creatures of our failure to address our impacts on the climate the AXIS powers atrocities during World War Two pale in comparison. Perhaps Anderson will tell a future judge that his vision backwards and foreword was obscured by the piles of currency filling his SUV. I am sure that he would not have been able to get away with it if the environmental lobby had pressed for action on forests in the early 1990s. We had better get on with it. We lost the momentum that the “ turn around decade” was supposed to create. Instead – we have gone backward, and now war threatens to plunge us into a Dark Age to guarantee a supply of fuel for the SUV. So now we have signed Kyoto, and ratified it in December, 2002 – what do we do to implement it? The Forests and plankton have been decimated over the last twelve years. The current climate models do not mention this disaster. Give a call to Dr. Andrew Weaver at the Climate Modeling Center at UVIC – 250-472-4001. Weaver told me at the January 2003 performance that he did not brief Federal Cabinet Ministers . If Weaver ever does brief anyone he will need to tell them about the forest and plankton collapse, and its effects on the achievement of the Kyoto targets for net CO2 emission reductions. We need an emergency FEDERAL FORESTRY ACT. If we ask for it, maybe Paul or Sheila will give it to us. I certainly know that the chance of getting a Federal Forests Act is vastly improved if we start asking for it. We need carbon sink protection and enhancement measures right away if we are going to have any chance at all. Right now all anyone is talking about is dressing a dying victim in a red sweater to conceal the blood. So we are doing the Kyoto Shuffle… to the tunes of the Shit For Brains Orchestra… accompanied by the Fools for Footnotes Chorus.

At this time, let us remember the words of Mathew Arnold in 1851 “ Dover Beach “:

Ah love, let us be true to one another, for the world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new, hath really neither joy, nor love, no light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; and we are here on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.

Info On Climate Change
NASA: visit their environment website or go to the pressroom. All the science articles on these topics are archived.
Order the free book on Abrupt Climate Change.
The Climate Institute, Washington, DC. see Climate Alert their on-line newsletter.

go to Main Page