council of canadians | london

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One Shot Left | Monbiot

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 25th November 2008

George Bush is behaving like a furious defaulter whose home is about to be repossessed. Smashing the porcelain, ripping the doors off their hinges, he is determined that there will be nothing worth owning by the time the bastards kick him out. His midnight regulations, opening America’s wilderness to logging and mining, trashing pollution controls, tearing up conservation laws, will do almost as much damage in the last 60 days of his presidency as he achieved in the foregoing 3000(1).

His backers – among them the nastiest pollutocrats in America – are calling in their favours. But this last binge of vandalism is also the Bush presidency reduced to its essentials. Destruction is not an accidental product of its ideology. Destruction is the ideology. Neoconservatism is power expressed by showing that you can reduce any part of the world to rubble.

If it is now too late to prevent runaway climate change, the Bush team must carry much of the blame. His wilful trashing of the Middle Climate – the interlude of benign temperatures which allowed human civilisation to flourish – makes the mass murder he engineered in Iraq only the second of his crimes against humanity. Bush has waged his war on science with the same obtuse determination with which he has waged his war on terror.

Is it too late? To say so is to make it true. To suggest that there is nothing that can now be done is to ensure that nothing is done. But even a resolute optimist like me finds hope ever harder to summon. A new summary of the science published since last year’s Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that – almost a century ahead of schedule – the critical climate processes might have begun(2).

Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic’s “late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century … in some models.”(3) But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.

Forget the sodding polar bears: this is about all of us. As the ice disappears, the region becomes darker, which means that it absorbs more heat. A recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the extra warming caused by disappearing sea ice penetrates 1500km inland, covering almost the entire region of continuous permafrost(4). Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire global atmosphere(5). It remains safe for as long as the ground stays frozen. But the melting has begun. Methane gushers are now gassing out of some places with such force that they keep the water open in Arctic lakes, through the winter(6).

The effects of melting permafrost are not incorporated into any global climate models. Runaway warming in the Arctic alone could flip the entire planet into a new climatic state. The Middle Climate could collapse faster and sooner than the grimmest forecasts proposed.

Barack Obama’s speech to the US climate summit last week was an astonishing development(7). It shows that, in this respect at least, there really is a prospect of profound political change in America. But while he described a workable plan for dealing with the problem perceived by the Earth Summit of 1992, the measures he proposes are now hopelessly out of date. The science has moved on. The events the Earth Summit and the Kyoto process were supposed to have prevented are already beginning. Thanks to the wrecking tactics of Bush the elder, Clinton (and Gore) and Bush the younger, steady, sensible programmes of the kind that Obama proposes are now irrelevant. As the PIRC report suggests, the years of sabotage and procrastination have left us with only one remaining shot: a crash programme of total energy replacement.

A paper by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows that if we are to give ourselves a roughly even chance(8,9) of preventing more than two degrees of warming, global emissions from energy must peak by 2015 and decline by between six and eight per cent per year from 2020 to 2040, leading to a complete decarbonisation of the global economy soon after 2050(10). Even this programme would work only if some optimistic assumptions about the response of the biosphere hold true. Delivering a high chance of preventing two degrees of warming would mean cutting global emissions by over 8% a year.

Is this possible? Is this acceptable? The Tyndall paper points out that annual emission reductions greater than one per cent have “been associated only with economic recession or upheaval.” When the Soviet Union collapsed, they fell by some 5% a year. But you can answer these questions only by considering the alternatives. The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed – an 80% cut by 2050 – means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme, the figures in the Tyndall paper suggest, is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming(11), which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet. Is this acceptable?

The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on World War Two when adjusted for inflation(12). Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?

This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world’s energy infrastructure involves “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels”, which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest(13). This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people “to make short term, radical sacrifices”, cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years. There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system – even an absolute monarchy – could survive an economic collapse on this scale.

She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk’s proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological solution I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.

Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No we can’t.

Polluters liable, even if they follow the rules, top court says

Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service

Published: Thursday, November 20, 2008

OTTAWA – Industrial polluters can be forced to pay damages if they excessively annoy nearby residents, even if companies comply with regulations governing emissions, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday in a decision that stresses environmental protection.

The unanimous judgment ends a long-standing battle between St. Lawrence Cement and people who lived near the plant in Beauport, Que., until it shut down in 1997.

The residents launched a class-action suit against the plant in 1993, complaining that its operation spewed residue on their homes, land, and cars, along with an ensuing odour and noise that devalued their properties.

The key issue in the Supreme Court ruling was whether companies in Quebec can be found civilly liable, even if they are not strictly at fault for the inflicted damage because they followed regulatory standards on maintaining equipment.

Although the case was confined to interpretation of the Quebec Civil Code, the court noted that no-fault liability is also found in common law that is used in all other provinces.

“What is more, such a scheme is consistent with general policy considerations, such as the objective of environmental protection and the application of the polluter-pay principle,” justices Marie Deschamps and Louis LeBel wrote in the 6-0 decision.

The court said that the test for civil fault is whether the pollution violates a standard of conduct of a reasonable person.

Environmental groups hailed the decision as a “massive victory” that will empower citizens to challenge environmental annoyances.

“The result is that future environmental nuisance claims will be more easily proven under a no-fault regime, and polluters will have even more incentive to clean up their act to avoid being sued by their neighbours,” said Will Amos, a lawyer for the University of Ottawa Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic.

The decision upholds a ruling in the Quebec Superior Court, which absolved St. Lawrence Cement of wrongdoing, but nonetheless found the company liable for excessive disturbance and ordered it to pay about $15 million in damages to the residents.

The Quebec Court of Appeal rejected the lower court’s finding that a company can be found liable in the absence of fault. But the appeal court found St. Lawrence Cement guilty of wrongdoing in its compliance with environmental laws.

The appeal court also limited the scope of class-action suits by restricting damages to homeowners, and excluding tenants and family members from claims – a ruling that the Supreme Court rejected.

St. Lawrence Cement, based in Concord, Ont., said Thursday in a statement that the recognition of a no-fault liability scheme in Quebec could have “far reaching implications” for Canadian industry.

“SLC does acknowledge that, despite using state-of-the-art equipment to manage dust and consistently complying with all regulatory requirements, there was annoyance to our neighbours from the operation of the plant,” the statement said.

Court evidence showed that the cement plant, responding to ongoing complaints, spent $8 million between 1991 and 1995 on new dust collectors for its kilns.

The company continues to operate in more than 50 Canadian communities, employing about 3,000 people and generating annual revenue of more than $1.5 billion.

NEW STUDY | Benefits of Meeting Clean Air Standards


California Loses $28 Billion Yearly Due to Health Effects of Pollution. By Louis Sahagun, LATimes, November 13, 2008. “The California economy loses about $28 billion annually due to premature deaths and illnesses linked to ozone and particulates spewed from hundreds of locations in the South Coast and San Joaquin air basins, according to findings [Benefits of Meeting Clean Air Standards, PDF, 108 pp, executive summary, PDF, 8 pp] released Wednesday by a Cal State Fullerton research team. Most of those costs… are connected to roughly 3,000 smog-related deaths each year, but additional factors include work and school absences, emergency room visits, and asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, said team leader Jane Hall, a professor of economics and co-director of the university’s Institute for Economics and Environmental Studies.”

California economy loses $28 billion yearly to health effects of pollution


Most of the losses are attributable to 3,000 annual deaths, a Cal State Fullerton study says. The study underscores the economic benefits of meeting federal air quality standards.

Louis Sahagun

November 13, 2008

The California economy loses about $28 billion annually due to premature deaths and illnesses linked to ozone and particulates spewed from hundreds of locations in the South Coast and San Joaquin air basins, according to findings released Wednesday by a Cal State Fullerton research team.

Most of those costs, about $25 billion, are connected to roughly 3,000 smog-related deaths each year, but additional factors include work and school absences, emergency room visits, and asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, said team leader Jane Hall, a professor of economics and co-director of the university’s Institute for Economics and Environment Studies.

The study underscores the economic benefits of meeting federal air quality standards at a time when lawmakers and regulators are struggling with California’s commitment to protecting public health in a weak economy.

The $90,000 study does not propose any particular action. But in an interview, Hall said, “We are going to pay for it one way or the other. Either we pay to fix the problem or we pay in loss of life and poor health. . . . This study adds another piece to the puzzle as the public and policy-makers try to understand where do we go from here.”

The California Air Resources Board is scheduled to vote Dec. 11 on whether to adopt broader rules that would force more than 1 million heavy-duty diesel truckers to install filters or upgrade their engines. Truckers and agribusiness have argued against stricter regulation, saying it is too expensive for them to invest in clean vehicles at a time of economic uncertainty.

Mary Nichols, chairman of the air resources board, said the findings will “be useful to all of us. Our board members hear on a regular basis from constituents who are concerned about the costs of regulations, and seldom hear from people concerned about their health because they are collectively and individually not as well organized.”

In the meantime, the two regions continue to pay a steep price for generating air pollution ranked among the worst in the country. In the South Coast basin, that cost is about $1,250 per person per year, which translates into a total of about $22 billion in savings if emissions came into compliance with federal standards, Hall said. In the San Joaquin air basin, the cost is about $1,600 per person per year, or about $6 billion in savings if the standards were met.

The savings would come from about 3,800 fewer premature deaths among those age 30 and older; 1.2 million fewer days of school absences; 2 million fewer days of respiratory problems in children; 467,000 fewer lost days of work and 2,700 fewer hospital admissions, according to the study.

The study noted that attaining the federal standard for exposure to particulates would save more lives than lowering the number of motor vehicle fatalities to zero in most of the regions examined.

The hardest hit were fast-growing communities in Kern and Fresno counties, where 100% of the population was exposed to particulate concentrations above the average federal standard from 2005 to 2007. High rates of exposure were also found in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where diesel soot is blown by prevailing winds and then trapped by four mountain ranges.

Considered the most lethal form of air pollution, microscopic particulates expelled from tailpipes, factory smoke stacks, diesel trucks and equipment can penetrate through the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Exposure to these fine particles has been linked to severe asthma, cancer and premature deaths from heart and lung disease.

“In the South Coast basin, an average 64% of the population is exposed to health-endangering annual averages of particulates,” Hall said, “and in the most populated county — Los Angeles — it is 75%.

“In most years, the South Coast and San Joaquin basins vie with the Houston, Texas, area for the worst air pollution trophy, but this year we took it back,” she said. “That’s not a prize you want to be handed. Essentially, imported T-shirts and tennis shoes are being hauled to Omaha and the big-rig diesel pollution stays here.”

Nidia Bautista, community engagement director for the Coalition for Clean Air, described the findings as “staggering, and a reminder that health is too often the trade-off when it comes to cleaning the air.”

Angelo Logan, spokesman for the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, put it another way: “At a time when government is handing out economic stimulus packages, we could use an economic relief package to help us deal with environmental impacts on our health, families and pocketbooks.”

Hall agreed. “This is a drain that could be spent in far better ways,” she said.

REPORT | Effects of industrial air pollution on the respiratory health of children


Courtesy of International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology
Originally published Sep. 2008

Full Report:effects-of-industrial-air-pollution-on-the-respiratory-health-of-children

There is growing concern regarding to the possible effects of air pollution on respiratory health of children in Eleme industrial area of Port-Harcourt Nigeria. A total of 250 children were sampled from six primary schools with pre-nursery facilities for a period of 18 months. Subjects were divided into two zones (A and B), monitored and examined on weekly basis. The effects of four criteria pollutants (nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide) on the respiratory health of the children were examined with reference to symptoms and diseases such as cough, cold, bronchitis, sinusitis and phlegm. Data were obtained from surveys of socioeconomic status of parents of subjects, three air monitoring stations and on-the-spot measurements of these pollutants and their association with symptoms and diseases analyzed. Results showed that there was a strong association between air pollution and symptoms and diseases among children. The effect was strongest among children below 2 years of age (adjusted OR = 3.5, 95%, CI 1.7-8.3) in the highly polluted zone than in the less polluted area. The higher the age of children, the lesser the susceptibility to these pollutants. These general results constitute a starting point for further research on long-term exposure to industrial air pollution and call for an urgent enforcement of regulatory standards to protect the most vulnerable groups in most of the growing metropolises of the country.

Drive-thrus are bad for you, city argues


November 06, 2008 08:26 PM

Bank drive-thru approved, but sparks debate about merits
By: Caroline Grech

If you like to get your coffee or do your banking at a drive-thru, you might have to change your ways if some Vaughan councillors get their way.

An application by York Major Holdings Inc. and Metrus Properties to build a bank with a drive- thru sparked debate amongst councillors about the need for drive-thrus.

While council approved the application in the end, the ensuing debate provided insight into how Vaughan might look in the future.

The approved proposal would see a bank with a drive-thru built at Major Mackenzie Drive and Dufferin Street.

But some councillors don’t want to see more drive-thrus in the city.

“It’s a bank. Drive-thrus are not critical. I prefer that a drive-thru not be allowed at this corner,” Councillor Alan Shefman said.

If Vaughan is looking now at a plan to make the city more sustainable, drive-thrus don’t fit the bill, Mr. Shefman argued.

He wasn’t alone. Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio called for a hold on drive-thrus in new projects.

“Drive-thrus are harmful to your health. You’re forced to sit in your car and breath in fumes from other cars,” Ms Frustaglio said.

Councillor Peter Meffe also heaped criticism on drive-thrus, but offered the idea that the drive-thru might only operate when the bank was closed.

“It isn’t more convenient. These things (drive-thrus) are hindering human contact. They’re making us worse people. I can’t support it,” Mr. Meffe said.

But before council got too far ahead with ideas to ban drive-thrus, planning commissioner John Zipay issued a cautionary tone on the issue.

“The zoning bylaw permits certain places to have drive-thrus. This council could not put a temporary ban on them. You would have to change the bylaw,” Mr. Zipay said.

He also noted the area where the bank would be located is not a pedestrian area, but one that people travel around in their cars.

Mr. Zipay warned councillors that any decision on drive-thrus has to be consistent.

“It has to be done on a comprehensive basis. You can’t say one type of business can have drive-thrus but not another,” he said, adding it was a revelation to him that this might be on the table.

But some councillors had no problem with the bank drive-thru proposal.

“To say no to this application would be inappropriate because it is allowed. I can’t support the change right here,” Regional Councillor Mario Ferri said.

Council approved the application, but Ms Frustaglio requested a report to deal with the issue of drive-thrus for the next committee of the whole meeting.

Mike Ivey’s Business Beat: DQ drive-through sails through

Mike Ivey —  11/12/2008 11:07 am

The last time Madison was arguing over drive-through windows at fast-food restaurants, it turned into a national brouhaha fed by Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report.

This time it barely hit the local radar screen.

I’m talking about the approval last week of a new Dairy Queen “Chill & Grill” at 1513 Lake Point Drive as part of the ongoing redevelopment of a neighborhood once considered so dicey, the city changed its name.

The DQ will help anchor a $1.8 million, two-building office and retail project at 1526 W. Broadway on the southeast side.

City officials have been working for years to improve the area formerly known as Broadway-Simpson, which Ald. Tim Bruer once said had the most “drug-infested and decayed apartment buildings in the city.”

But things have turned around over the last decade, helped in large part by the Community Development Authority’s Monona Shores-Waunona Woods redevelopment. That $15 million effort included tearing down the worst buildings, refurbishing others and converting three dozen rental townhouses into owner-occupied condos.

The private sector has also stepped up, with local businessmen Scott and Jim Norton opening the Cranberry Creek Restaurant, which has benefited from the hungry lunch crowd coming across the street from the giant WPS Insurance complex.

With Cranberry Creek apparently on solid footing, the Nortons have now turned their attention to the Broadway Station project a few hundred yards west.

But before breaking ground, they needed a conditional use permit for a drive-through service window for a DQ. The franchise said it wouldn’t locate there without a drive-through, a move developers said would kill the entire project.

The Nortons took their case before the Madison Plan Commission last week, which got an earful from several condo owners who said they feared a DQ with drive-up service would bring more traffic into the area. They also warned about “gang graffiti” and “too many kids running around,” suggesting that tensions in the racially mixed neighborhood remain.

In the end, however, the commission sided with several longtime Lake Point residents who said having a DQ not only provides families a place for ice cream but might also provide some jobs to needy teenagers.

“I see the DQ as an economic development tool,” says Patrick DePula, past president of the Waunona Woods condo association and a former Dane County Board supervisor. “Plus, I’ve got a 7-month old, and it’s kind of a pain to get them in and out of the car each time you want to grab something from a fast-food place.”

Absent, ironically, from the proceedings was Plan Commission member Eric Sundquist, whose remark about rethinking the drive-through windows in light of concerns over automobile idling and global climate change put Madison in the spotlight for a day back in May.

Sundquist’s comments, which appeared here in the June 25 Business Beat column, were sent to the Drudge Report Web site via WIBA’s own Vicki McKenna. The Drudge feature then caught the attention of radio commentator Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh used the story to warn his listeners that liberals and Barack Obama are prepared to revoke American’s right to burn as much fossil fuel as they wish.

Now, I guess we’ll see if Rush was right.