Sit-in protests just the beginning as feds ignore climate risks

Last week it was seven activists who staged a sit-in protest in the Calgary office of federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, and today another seven are occupying the office of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in Whitby, Ontario. There are two ways to think about this. One, likely the government’s thinking, is that these protests will soon go away. The other, and what I believe, is that these protests are just the beginning. Fact is a growing number of Canadians are concerned about climate change and the inaction of their federal government, which continues to stick to “intensity targets” when it talks about an emissions-reduction plan. As we head next week into the Copenhagen talks, Prime Minister Harper is going to face some scathing criticism from nations that see Canada as an embarrassing laggard on the international scene.

What the insurance industry thinks about climate change and sea level rise, and it’s not pretty

WWF International and insurance giant Allianz have released a report called “Major Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector.” I find reports from the insurance industry quite informative because nobody knows risk better than the people who stand to lose a lot of money from those very risks.

A few high-level takeaways from this analysis:

  • A global sea level rise of 0.5 m by 2050 is estimated to increase the value of assets exposed in all 136 port megacities worldwide by a total of $US 25.158 trillion to $US $28.213 trillion in 2050.
  • The impact of an additional 0.15 m of sea-level rise affecting the NE Coast of the U.S. as a result of the localized SLR anomaly means that the following port megacities may experience a total sea level rise of 0.65 m by 2050: Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Providence… 0.65 m of SLR is estimated to increase asset exposure from a current estimated $US 1.359 trillion to $US 7.425 trillion. The additional asset exposure from the regional anomaly alone (i.e. 0.65 versus 0.5 m) is approximately $US 298 billion (across the above mentioned cities alone).

The critical issue, according to the report, “is the impact that a hurricane in the New York region would have. Potentially the cost could be $1 trillion at present, rising to over $5 trillion by mid-century.” This is all based on a tipping-point scenario where we see the Greenland Ice Shield and West Antarctic Ice Shield melt away. More takeaways:

  • The annual damages caused by wildfires, mostly in the U.S. southwest, could be tenfold compared to today’s costs and could reach up to $US 2.5 billion per year by 2050 increasing to up to 14 billion by 2085.
  • 70 percent of working population may be put at risk by droughts in India.

Specifically related to Canada, a 0.5 m sea level rise would put an additional $209 billion (Canadian) worth of assets at risk — from $63 billion today to $272 billion by 2050.  “No bank will give you a mortgage if you don’t have insurance, yet Canada still lacks a plan to manage the risk from dangerous climate change,” said Keith Stewart of WWF Canada.

The latest signs of declining ice cover around the world? How about Continue reading What the insurance industry thinks about climate change and sea level rise, and it’s not pretty

Reducing carbon emissions ain’t so hard, if you just try

My friend Tom Rand has a short but no less interesting video filmed during a presentation he gave recently in Toronto. Rand helped build a “green hotel” that emits a quarter of the emissions of a comparable hotel. The workhouse behind this approach is geothermal, and Rand said it can be done in a way where energy savings exceed the monthly payments on a long-term low-interest loan. Now, the key is to get that cheap loan. Rand said it’s up to the federal and provincial governments to backstop such loans and mandate the banks to lend the money. It would help, he added, if use of this technology was mandated where it was appropriate. This, as Rand says, is low-hanging fruit that we’re simply not picking. Instead, with each new building or home we build we’re letting this ripe-for-picking fruit fall on the ground. Rand, it should be pointed out, is behind another move to have the government sell green bonds that would help fund these kinds of projects, or backstop the low-interest loans required to do them. It’s all perfectly logical, but I guess politics is never as logical as it could be.

Click here to watch the short video.

Media partly to blame for climate confusion

My Clean Break column today takes a look at the media’s role in spreading confusion regarding the science of climate change. I decided to write this column after reading Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan of, but also after getting a chance to talk to some front-line U.S. government scientists during my recent retreat to New Mexico. I got a good sense of how climate change is playing havoc with water resources, forests, and municipal planning, as well as the complexity of determing how much of it is caused by natural cycles and how much is caused by greenhouse-gas emissions. It was also driven home how climate change is affecting different regions of the planet in different ways, and that just because there’s unusual cooling on one side of the planet doesn’t mean there’s not record heating happening on the other. What matters is that global seas are rising, global mean temperature is rising despite observations of slight intra-decade decline, and polar icecaps are retreating. Here’s an excellent piece just written by Seth Borenstein of AP that nicely summarizes what has happened over the past decade.

My own column is an apology of sorts on behalf of a profession that, in an attempt to be balanced, often inadvertently tilts the scale too far to accommodate those looking to spread misinformation and confusion.

Canadian autoparts makers becoming green machiners

While travelling in New Mexico earlier this month I got a chance to spend the day at Sandia National Laboratories, which kindly made several of its scientists available to talk about the latest developments around solar, wind, battery, water, and fossil fuel technologies. During a walk of the lab’s solar test facility, I saw several Stirling Energy System heliostats, which concentrate solar heat onto a Stirling engine to generate electricity. I learned the engine is manufactured by Ontario-based Linamar Corp., and upon returning to Toronto also learned that Linamar had just signed a 10-year, $3.6 billion deal to manufacture the first made-in-Ontario wind turbine nacelles based on a unique design by startup CWind. Here’s a story on Linamar’s latest green manufacturing activities that appeared Saturday in the Toronto Star.

Also, here’s a story I wrote in MIT Technology Review updating Sandia’s very cool “Sun-to-Petrol” project.