Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Some rambling thoughts on creation care

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.

Psalm 24:1 (New Living Translation)

I remember my dad telling me that although he spent most of his waking hours in the bush as a child, he never saw a deer in the Shell Lake area until he was an adult.  That’s because he was born in 1919.  That was before the introduction of game laws based on conservation biology.  The early settlers basically shot any animals they could, and as a consequence wildlife populations were reduced to dangerously low levels.

Fast forward 80-odd years, and every fall I go back out to the Shell Lake area and hunt in the area my dad spent his childhood in.  I typically see several deer in a day of hunting.

So why are there so many more deer in that area now than when Dad was a boy?  There are probably several factors at play, including warmer winters with less snowfall, but I believe the most significant to be the introduction of science-based wildlife management.  Game laws were introduced, setting limits and seasons, and subsequently the populations of most game animals are at much higher levels now than they were 80 years ago.

As in most other jurisdictions in the developed world, Saskatchewan has moved from an era of exploitation to one of conservation and active management of those species considered most desirable by humans.  More recently the trend has been to ecosystem-based management, which takes a more holistic view of the connections between wildlife and their environment, instead of trying to manage individual species in isolation.

Considering those advances in natural resource management, it always amazes me when I encounter people who think that deer are endangered, or that all most of our forests should be preserved in parks without ever seeing axe or saw, instead of being sustainably managed for products that people require.

I guess my thinking on the topic is largely influenced by my Christian faith.  My belief in God as creator (albeit over millions of years rather than a literal 7 days)* of this beautiful earth doesn’t leave room for selfish exploitation.  I suppose that makes me an environmentalist.  I also believe that humans have a special role in God’s creation, and it’s OK to use the rich resources for our needs (and yes, for our wants).  I suppose that makes me pro-development.  A word that ties together those two concepts is stewardship.  I believe that this beautiful world isn’t ours to rape and pillage,  but it is God’s creation, and we ought to be good stewards of it.

* NOTE: Terminology of intelligent design, theistic evolution etc. aside, yes I believe that the God of the Bible is behind it all, and sustains it all.  However I don’t see Genesis as science.

Climate B.S. Award – with a Canadian honourable mention

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The Skeptical Science website has announced the 2010 Climate B.S. (Bad Science) Award.  Their four runners-up were:

Fifth Place. Climate B.S. and misrepresentations presented by Fox “News.”
Fourth Place. Misleading or false testimony to Congress and policymakers about climate change.
Third Place. The false claim that a single weather event, such as a huge snowstorm in Washington, D.C., proves there is no global warming.
Second Place. The claim that the “Climategate” emails meant that global warming was a hoax, or was criminal, as Senator Inhofe tried to argue. In fact, it was none of these things (though the British police are still investigating the illegal hacking of a British university’s computer system and the theft of the emails).

And their top choice was

the following set of B.S.: “There has been no warming since 1998” [or 2000, or…], “the earth is cooling,” “global warming is natural,” and “humans are too insignificant to affect the climate.” Such statements are all nonsense and important for the general public to understand properly.

Click here for the full post.

I think the list is well thought out, but with the inclusion of Fox News and Congress, it is obviously U.S.-centred.

Therefore I would like to suggest a Canadian honourable mention: Coverage of Climate Change by the National Post in 2010 was B.S. (Bad Science).

The National Post’s opinion section mounted a full frontal attack on climate science in 2010.  Leading the charge was Lawrence Solomon.  A typical example was his December 30 column “75 climate scientists think humans contribute to global warming”, where he grossly mis-represents an online survey of Earth scientists.  Solomon’s National Post article can be found here and the original survey report can be found here.

The poll showed that as researchers’ expertise increases, so does their agreement with the question, “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”.  Solomon seizes on the fact that the category of “Climatologists who are active publishers on climate change” only resulted in 77 respondents to that question, with 75 (about 97%) answering in the affirmative, to come up with the headline of his article.  Personally I think it is significant that although, according to a 2008 Gallup poll, only slightly over half of the general public would answer the question in the affirmative, 82% of the 3,146 earth scientists who responded to the survey answered in the affirmative, and that the percentage keeps rising as respondents’ knowledge and expertise in the field increases, right up to the highly specialized category that annoys Solomon so much.

However being an online survey, this study did have flaws. And this is where Solomon’s real duplicity is shown.  The study that is actually used more often to back up the claim that 97% of climatologists support the AGW theory was reported in a peer-reviewed article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) titled “Expert credibility in climate change” (Anderegg et al. 2010).  Solomon makes no mention of it in his column.

In addition to more articles by Solomon, other B.S. opinion columns in the National Post were written by Lorne Gunter and Rex Murphy (a writer with whom I have agreed on other science-related subjects such as Canada’s sustainable seal harvest).

The reader comments following each of these stories are heavily dominated by AGW skeptics repeating the same tired arguments (they changed the name from global warming to climate change, it’s cooling, the “Climategate” email hack proves that it’s a conspiracy, etc.).

However, in fairness, I must also point to an excellent article by Jonathan Kay in the National Post, where he argues that global warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause.  So despite the Bad Science they served up in 2010, there may still be hope for that newspaper in 2011.

2010 weather in Saskatchewan and Canada – and some thoughts on global climate

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Late in 2010 Environment Canada issued its annual Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories, and Saskatchewan is featured in two of the stories. Garnering 1/5 of the country’s weather stories is not bad for a province with about 1/35th of the country’s population.

The Saskatchewan stories are:

#3. From Dry to Drenched on the Prairies; and

# 6. Saskatchewan’s Summer of Storms.

I live in Saskatchewan, and I can verify that where I live had a cool and wet summer.  In fact I have had discussions with a couple of people this year who used that fact to argue that global warming is a hoax.  So why do I continue to agree with the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) view?  I guess it’s because I recognize the fact that although Saskatchewan is relatively big,  it’s a small fraction of the planet’s surface.  In fact I have no problem believing Environment Canada when they state in the article that, “In 63 years of weather reporting, 2010 was the nation’s warmest ever with milder weather throughout the year. It featured the warmest winter and spring ever, the third warmest summer and the second warmest fall.”

Environment Canada has some really neat graphics if one digs around their website for them.  Like this one showing Winter 2009/2010 (warmest on record):

Winter temperature anomalies - Saskatchewan was the cool spot

And then there’s this graphic of Spring 2010 (warmest on record):

And this graphic of Summer 2010 (3rd warmest on record):

And this graphic showing Autumn 2010 (2nd warmest on record):

All four of those temperature anomaly maps show that although most of Canada, and especially the far north, was much warmer than normal, the southern half of Saskatchewan tended to be slightly below average.  This kind of information helps me to understand the difference between annual temperatures at a provincial vs. national scale.

And of course Canada comprises a relatively small proportion of the globe, so it isn’t safe to infer that just because Environment Canada informs us that our nation had the warmest year on record means that 2010 was the warmest year on record globally.  It will probably take the climatologists awhile to analyze the global data, but I am interested in seeing the results.  Who knows, perhaps the analysis might provide support to the theory that the globe is cooling – it must be, after all New York City had a big snowfall.

Invasion of the Giant Hogweed (not Cow Parsnip)

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Yesterday I came across a news story about an invasive plant called the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).  Then this evening CTV News had a story about the Giant Hogweed.  It sounds like a nasty weed, partly because of its effect on the native ecosystems but also for health reasons, and it is spreading across Canada.

This species has been beneath my radar all these years, but I thought the pictures looked familiar.

Sure enough, it’s in the same genus as Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum).  That’s the species that grew in the bush down the hill from our house near Shell Lake when I was a kid.  Having a hollow stem, it made great pea-shooters.  Or chokecherry shooters.  I remember some chokecherry wars involving my brothers Marv and Dan together with our cousins Dennis, Dave and Ken.  They were brutal, but fun.  I also remember how angry Mom was the day I filled the pocket of my good shirt full of ripe chokecherries and stained it beyond the power of any detergent.

But getting back to the Giant Hogweed … it too has a hollow stem, but the sap is toxic.  I don’t know if its range has expanded to Shell Lake, but obviously using it for chokecherry wars would not be a good idea.

Another thing I discovered in the news article linked above is that the band Genesis had a 1971 song about the Giant Hogweed.

These have been a couple of days of botanical discoveries.

How does one recycle this junk mail?

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

A lot of the mail that appears in my mailbox goes directly into the blue bin.  However what does one do with those envelopes from Capital One?  I realize that they use bold black envelopes because they stand out, but I’m mildly curious as to how much de-inking would be required to make that into a usable paper product.

Black junk mail envelope - de-inking could be a problem

Soggy Saskatchewan weather

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

CBC News is reporting that some Saskatchewan rural municipalities are declaring themselves “agricultural disaster areas” because it’s too wet for the farmers to complete their seeding.  I think my brother-in-law Gary is still only half finished seeding and might agree that the Birch Hills area could fit in that category.

This map from Agriculture Canada gives the story about the amount of precipitation our area has received this spring.

Percent of Average Precipitation - Prairie Region - April 1 to Jun 9, 2010The dark blue colour represents areas that have received more than twice as much precipitation as normal since April 1.  Click on the image for legend and more graphs from Agriculture Canada (ironically in a section they call Drought Watch).

While on the topic of weather, apparently this spring (March though May according to Environment Canada) was the warmest spring on record across Canada, following after the warmest winter on record.

I find local weather a fascinating subject.  Perhaps equally as fascinating as global climate.

Unlike Robert Service I don’t completely hate cities

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

I’m Scared of it All

I’m scared of it all, God’s truth! so I am;
It’s too big and brutal for me.
My nerve’s on the raw and I don’t give a damn
For all the “hoorah” that I see.
I’m pinned between subway and overhead train,
Where automobillies swoop down:
Oh, I want to go back to the timber again —
I’m scared of the terrible town.

I want to go back to my lean, ashen plains;
My rivers that flash into foam;
My ultimate valleys where solitude reigns;
My trail from Fort Churchill to Nome.
My forests packed full of mysterious gloom,
My ice-fields agrind and aglare:
The city is deadfalled with danger and doom —
I know that I’m safer up there.

I watch the wan faces that flash in the street;
All kinds and all classes I see.
Yet never a one in the million I meet,
Has the smile of a comrade for me.
Just jaded and panting like dogs in a pack;
Just tensed and intent on the goal:
O God! but I’m lonesome — I wish I was back,
Up there in the land of the Pole.

I wish I was back on the Hunger Plateaus,
And seeking the lost caribou;
I wish I was up where the Coppermine flows
To the kick of my little canoe.
I’d like to be far on some weariful shore,
In the Land of the Blizzard and Bear;
Oh, I wish I was snug in the Arctic once more,
For I know I am safer up there!

I prowl in the canyons of dismal unrest;
I cringe — I’m so weak and so small.
I can’t get my bearings, I’m crushed and oppressed
With the haste and the waste of it all.
The slaves and the madman, the lust and the sweat,
The fear in the faces I see;
The getting, the spending, the fever, the fret —
It’s too bleeding cruel for me.

I feel it’s all wrong, but I can’t tell you why —
The palace, the hovel next door;
The insolent towers that sprawl to the sky,
The crush and the rush and the roar.
I’m trapped like a fox and I fear for my pelt;
I cower in the crash and the glare;
Oh, I want to be back in the avalanche belt,
For I know that it’s safer up there!

I’m scared of it all: Oh, afar I can hear
The voice of my solitudes call!
We’re nothing but brute with a little veneer,
And nature is best after all.
There’s tumult and terror abroad in the street;
There’s menace and doom in the air;
I’ve got to get back to my thousand-mile beat;
The trail where the cougar and silver-tip meet;
The snows and the camp-fire, with wolves at my feet;
Good-bye, for it’s safer up there.

To be forming good habits up there;
To be starving on rabbits up there;
In your hunger and woe,
Though it’s sixty below,
Oh, I know that it’s safer up there!

(Robert W. Service – 1912 – Rhymes of a Rolling Stone)

Two environmentalists talking the talk and one walking the walk

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Sometime around 1980, at a Varsity Christian Fellowship event at the University of Alberta, I bought a copy of Ronald J. Sider’s book “Living More Simply”.  That book is one of several that Sider wrote on the subject of social justice and the Christian’s stewardship responsibilities in a world of limited resources – perhaps his best known was “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”.  I don’t agree entirely with Sider on all of his economic views, but I do respect his integrity.  For example, according to an article in Christianity Today, Ron Sider and his family live in a modest house heated by wood that he scavenges from the neighbourhood, and they buy most of their clothes from thrift shops.

It sounds to me as though Ron Sider has a fairly small carbon footprint.

~~~

I have seen Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, and although I think it contains some exaggerations, such as the amount of sea level rise due to global warming, I believe most of its claims are scientifically sound, and if we don’t change our lifestyles of over-consumption our children are likely to pay a heavy price.

According to the Los Angeles Times,  Al Gore recently added to his existing real estate portfolio when he, “…spent $8,875,000 on an ocean-view villa on 1.5 acres with a swimming pool, spa and fountains … The Italian-style house has six fireplaces, five bedrooms and nine bathrooms.”

It sounds to me as though Al Gore has a fairly large carbon footprint.  He also has a Nobel Prize for his message about how the rest of us should reduce our carbon footprints.

~~~

I’ll leave it to you to judge which of the above two environmentalists I respect the most.

Selling the sealing news

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Out of fairness to the news media, most of the news stories that I’ve seen about this year’s annual seal hunt have been accompanied by pictures of legally huntable seals, not the whitecoat pups.  However some, such as Canwest News Service, just can’t resist selling their stories with pictures of cute baby seals, the kind that haven’t been legal to hunt for more than a quarter-century.

It’s strange how the media never seems to accompany stories about the roasting chicken sold in the supermarket with pictures of fluffy yellow chicks.

baby_chicken

Pro-life environmental stewardship

Monday, April 26th, 2010

The Covenant Church’s Annual Meeting has consistently spoken out against abortion. The indifference to human life implied in the gratuitous use of abortion deeply concerns and distresses many. Some of us are attracted to the “consistent pro-life” position that includes capital punishment and war in the list of concerns.
Oddly, I have seldom, if ever, heard anyone suggest that concern for the environment is a pro-life issue. And yet, human life itself depends on the proper stewardship of our beautiful, God-given creation. Without clean water, fertile soil, and clean air, life on earth is not possible.

So begins John E. Phelan Jr.’s column “Markings” in a recent issue of The Covenant Companion.

He goes on to say,

Many evangelicals are hostile to environmental stewardship in general and the question of global warming in particular. I am frankly perplexed by this. We are justly concerned about our culture’s indifference to human life. So how can we be indifferent to the enormous suffering and death of millions or even billions? Why refuse to address or even consider our contributions to the destruction of the earth’s health and fertility? If this is not a pro-life issue, what is? Among the virtues required to properly care for creation are frugality, self-discipline, generosity, compassion, and hope. Environmental stewardship requires harnessing our desires, addressing our greed, and “valuing others above ourselves” (Philippians 2:3). These are virtues and commitments embedded in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Phelan isn’t calling for government-imposed solutions, but for “a change of heart”, a “cultural revolution” of God’s people. He goes on to suggest that the judgements in the book of Revelation won’t need to be wrought by God directly, but may be brought upon us by ourselves.

I think he makes some good points.

A PDF of the article can be downloaded here.