Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hidy and Howdy: the Spirit of the Winter Games Lives on 22 Years Later

Until recently, the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver has seemed like an abstraction to me. Sure, I bought some Vancouver 2010 mittens for my kids, and my girlfriend gave me some neat post it notes and a great pin. My ambivalent feelings changed to true excitement and anticipation on January 19th, when my husband and I took our children to the Olympic Flame Relay celebration in our city. Both of my children were handed a bright red flag to wave around and there was lots to see. A huge stage was set up with huge televisions on each side, so the view was great from where we were standing. My children were excited by the performance artist who created a painting on the spot that will hang in City Hall, and sang along with some of the musicians. We enjoyed the crisp evening air, the music and the crowds of families, children, teenagers, seniors dressed in volunteer gear from LAST Olympics. Around here, we all know that means the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta held February 13 - 28, 1988.

As I stood there with one child or the other in my arms, I couldn't help but reflect back to the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. In January 1988, I started my first term as a university student - it is sometimes hard to believe it was 22 years ago. Wow! Twenty-two years ago I marveled about being on campus, about taking courses and writing countless essays, about spending hours in the library, about being a part of an active learning community. I drank countless delicious coffees from the coffee place that is kinda still operating in Mac Hall. I wish we still had the giant cookies on campus that the old food services used to make - these were oatmeal type cookies full of multigrain stuff and dipped half in chocolate; one of these with a large coffee was heaven! I used to run in the Oval back then, so I could afford one of these bad boys each day and still fit in my jeans. There are days when I still feel like a newbie on campus - usually at the start of every semester, or when I have had a few too many coffees in one day!

Back when I started university in Winter 1988, I was just about finished paying off my first car, and figured I should get into some student debt before buying a home. ;-) Hah! Tuition for my first semester was around $1100 - a bargain by today's tuition hit. I remember enrolling in four classes that were required for admission to the business school: math, math, economics and english. I was excited to open my brand new textbooks and course outlines (this feeling never changed, which probably explains why I eventually became a professor...). Once a week, I would have lunch with my grandfather who was very interested in hearing all about my experiences as a university student.

As a first term university student, it was pretty darn exciting to have the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. I rode the C-Train to campus most days, and it passed right by Olympic Plaza near city hall. From campus you could see the new Ski Jumps, bobsled tracks and luge runs at Paskapoo, I mean Canada Olympic Park. The University of Calgary had a brand new Olympic Oval and several new residences in the athlete's village that would eventually become student housing. One could take a five minute walk from campus to McMahon Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. Along with my parents and siblings, I watched two hockey games and enjoyed nachos and hot dogs at the still fairly brand new Olympic Saddledome -- since renamed after some petroleum company. The campus was teeming with people from all over the world - after all, athletes and media and coaches from 57 countries were in Calgary for the Games.

I remember wearing a spring weight jacket to campus that February and the media panic about "no snow" and the chinooks - I also remember getting hit by a typical Calgary deep freeze later that February. Campus rumors abounded about sightings of Katerina Witt or Elizabeth Manley practicing their figure skating routines on Oval ice. Everybody seemed to be wearing those corny volunteer snow suits & touques designed by Sun Ice. The new students' union building had 10 fast food outlets and a huge bookstore - a big improvement over old crappy Mac Hall. In the evenings, you could see the Olympic Flame atop the Calgary Tower from all over the city.

So, it was with no small emotion that my family and I welcomed the Olympic Flame into our city in January 2010. My husband and I hoisted a child each up onto our backs or shoulders so that they could see Airdrie's torch bearer and the Olympic Flame. All four of us sang along with the anthem and the songs. Later, we were able to snap a photo of our children with the Olympic Torch that will stay in our city on display. We watched the fireworks from the van as we drove home to get our children tucked into bed. The emotion and reflection caused by this event took me by surprise and filled me with excitement about the upcoming Vancouver Games, and gave me a cherished opportunity to reflect back on my beginnings as a university student 22 years ago the Winter that the Olympics came to Calgary.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

ClimateGate & GlacierGate: is the House of Cards tumbling down?

- Andrew Weaver, described as one of Canada's leading climate scientists and mastermind of one of the most sophisticated climate modelling systems on the planet, is calling for replacement of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leadership and institutional reform.
- Um yeah, Andrew - you might want to tidy up your own claims: "When Climategate broke as a story last November, Mr. Weaver dismissed it as unimportant and appeared in the media with a cockamamie story about how his offices had also been broken into and that the fossil-fuel industry might be responsible for both Climategate and his office break-in".
- Now, GlacierGate, "In the 2007 IPCC report that Mr. Weaver said revealed climate change to be a barrage of intergalactic ballistic missiles, it turns out one of those missiles -- a predicted melting of the Himalayan ice fields by 2035 -- was a fraud".- this gem: Details of the breach emerged the day after John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser, warned that there was an urgent need for more honesty about the uncertainty of some predictions.
- "...admissions from scientists that the rate of glacial melt in the Himalayas had been grossly exaggerated".

Stolen emails revealing corruption in peer review process, cockamamie stories of office break-ins, overstated claims on glacial melt in Himalayas...

Build a house of cards on sorta, kinda, maybe science, and it starts swaying, swaying... ooops!
It starts tumbling down.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Humility and Integrity in Science Matters

Every once in a while, I read a good essay that distills a contentious topic to a few salient points.

"In the battle for public opinion, global warming advocates have until now had the singular advantage of claiming that the bulk of respectable scientific opinion was on their side. If at least some of that scientific opinion is discovered to be not so respectable as all that, then it is not only their specific case that is harmed: it is science itself."

"It is pleasing to lecture global warming advocates, as many have, that “science is never settled,” but it is not quite true. That the earth is round may once have been subject to dispute, but it would be ridiculous to suggest the same today. The issue is not whether scientific questions can ever be settled in principle, but whether the particular thesis of man-made global warming has reached that stage".

"How to distinguish, then, between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? Conversely, how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?"

"Reasonable people can differ, in other words, but so can unreasonable people. Between “the science is settled” and “global warming is a hoax,” the experts and the public must grope their way to a common understanding." Andrew Coyne, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A bar chart look at CO2 Emissions

Yesterday, I commented on a cheeky political cartoon about C02 emissions from Feb 09. As a graduate student, I was told to read a tiny little 1954 book that has turned out to be an important part of my education as a skeptic: Huff's "How to lie with statistics".

Today, as part of my ongoing campaign to present a range of perspectives on climate change, I comment on two bar charts about C02 emissions.

Turn this bar chart on its side, and it looks like... a hockey stick. Hmmm. Top 12 emitters in 2002? US, China, Russia, Japan, India, Germany, UK, Canada, Italy, France, South Africa, Australia.

CAIT 7.0 offers another perspective on C02 Emissions. On page 3, the top 12 emitters in 2005/6 are summarized - Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Trinidad & Tobago, US, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Germany. But wait, where is China? Where is Japan?

Depending on the perspective, and the year, and how we look at the data, the "top 12 emitters" change - it depends on whether we are looking at total emissions or by capita. A different picture will emerge if we look at a computer model prediction of who the C02 emitter bad guys will be in 2020...

"Huffy" point to be made - how we collect data matters, how we read and represent and misrepresent data matters, and different visual and numerical representations can offer very different perspectives on an observed phenomena -- like the C02 emissions problem.

Individual efforts towards a greener planet

I have written a few posts criticizing the lack of meaningful scientific debate and transparency about climate change - indeed, I am concerned that much of the discourse has slid down the slope towards a "global warming monologue". As a journal editor and researcher, it offends and worries me to learn that the peer review and scientific publishing process, not to mention the political and academic debate, has been perverted for what appear to be economic and power / control reasons rather than protecting the planet.

Am I a climate change denier? Um, no, but I am skeptical about what I read and hear.
Am I a greenie eco-activist? Um, no, but I am skeptical about what I am told to buy and do.

I do commit many small green acts.
I do attempt to be responsible about my impact on the planet.
I am raising my children to be aware of the beauty of the world around them and our collective ability to make good choices about our impact on the world.
I believe there are a number of individual / family actions that can contribute to a healthier planet.

Grow a garden - check
Compost green and brown organics - check
Conserve water - check

Ever since my sweetie and I started dating, we have recycled the usual bottles, cans and containers. At our house, we keep a green bucket under the sink for organic waste that gets redirected to our compost pile. Food for worms, I delight in saying to my children - and not just because I am a Shakespeare fan and a bit of a dirt fanatic [I love carting the rich black loam from the bottom of my compost pile around the yard in a wheelbarrow and blessing my garden and shrubs with it - heaven]. This year, I want to install a few rain barrels so we can collect and use the run off in our garden.

Recycle / redirect household waste - check
Walk or bike instead of drive - check (if and when possible)

Each year, my husband and I add one or two new strategies to our households habits in an attempt to be more green and to reduce our carbon footprint. We have four tubs in the back entrance in which we collect cardboard, newspaper / colored paper, plastics, metal, glass, electronics, and returnables (bottles and cans on which we have paid a deposit). Our city has a great recycling program and central depot, and a two bag a week limit for trash. We rarely, if ever, put out more than one bag - even when our kids were in diapers [yes, I recognized the apparent irony].

Our kids love going to the recycling depot. Sort, haul and tip: the kids cheerfully sort #1, 2 and 5 plastics into bins, haul boxes of cardboard to the warehouse where the bobcat operator scoops them away to the crusher, and tip tubs of newspaper into the back of the trailer that hauls them away. There is even a book exchange that is well supplied and regularly used by citizens. Last year, I hauled a few boxes of books to the exchange, and carted a few bags of books to various members of my family; I realize that it is time to cull my book collection again.

Program thermostat to optimize efficiency - check
Redirect or reuse gently used items - check

We donate gently used items to the thrift store, we pass along clothing and household items to family or friends, we take recent magazines to leave at the doctor's office, we sell items of some small value in garage sales or online, and in general, we try to limit what gets sent to the landfill.

We buy less and think carefully about what we do buy. We buy or bake or prepare several items in bulk and create our own lunch / portable snacks in re-usable containers instead of throwing away piles of "convenience" packaging.

Buy locally produced food - check

We visit farmer's markets to buy local produce and sometimes visit the local butcher to buy locally raised protein. We buy local produce and dairy items at the big grocery store - I love that yogurt from Lacombe. We use a blanket or throw on a hoodie rather than ratcheting up the heat in the winter; we change the filter every month on the furnace; we have almost completely switched over to more energy efficient light bulbs, and we shut off the water when brushing our teeth. We hope that each of these small efforts helps to reduce our footprint, and at the very least, balances out the many things that we do that are unhealthy for the planet [drive two vehicles, heat our home, wash our clothes, eat meat, buy apples from New Zealand and tea from China, etc].

At work, I have a personal recycling bin for paper and cardboard, and carry bottles and cans to the hallway bins. I aim to do more of my work electronically rather than printing paper copies and throwing tones of photocopies away. Students have picked up on my garbage picking habits after class when I rescue a juice box, pop can or bottle from the trash and carry it to the recycling bin. I keep a few plants in my office to contribute to air quality and aesthetic pleasure.

My point, in this post, is that each year, we try to do more "good" things, and fewer "bad" things, for the planet; we try to adopt more green strategies and habits to replace wasteful or harmful practices. In the bigger picture, I am an optimist and have observed signs of this greater awareness and commitment to acting greener for the greater good happening in my community, in my city, and yes, even in my country. Can we do more? Sure! There is always more that we can [and probably should] do.

In addition to recycling and making greener choices in the home, individuals can become more involved with the bigger economic, scientific, political and social issues that surround the health of our planet. Much more complicated and intellectually demanding than sorting plastics and paper, it is important that all of us attempt to understand the complex issues that surround concepts like climate change when we think about and act on the health of our planet.

Act locally - check
Increase awareness - check
Engage in the political process and vote - check

The issues are multifaceted and complex and deserve our attention as well as our skepticism as we wind our way towards better choices and solutions for our planet. I attempt to become informed by reading perspectives, calls to action and scientific studies on BOTH sides of the debate; I attempt to make sense of the plethora of information about what people, families, cities and countries in the upper and lower hemispheres can and should do about the health of the planet. I point out inconsistencies and inconvenient truths on my blog for my reader (thanks, Mom!).

As citizens we can choose to make changes in our own homes, to take action in small and large ways at work, and to become more aware of the issues that are being discussed and decided upon in our communities, our province, our country and internationally. We can choose to become engaged in the political process by increasing our understanding of the scope and magnitude of the climate change issues and take action by engaging in the debate, sharing information on both sides, and voting.

The point is that in a country like Canada, we can choose - some people celebrate the civil liberty and take seriously the civic duty to contribute to a greater good. Some people bemoan our individual freedom to choose as irresponsible and want to increase government controls on citizens, cities and countries that force them to do more about climate change and to do it faster [i.e., Copenhagen Summit]. There are others who do not recycle (gasp!), who do not care, or do not even believe there is a problem.

For now, we can still choose. I choose rationale acts of green followed by a healthy dose of skepticism.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Putting CO2 Emissions into Some Perspective

Political opportunists in Ontario and Quebec have talked a dirty game with regard to Alberta's Oilsands and climate change.

The following Calgary Herald cartoon from February 2009 puts things into perspective. The only 'inconvenient truth' about Canada's CO2 emissions, based on this image, is that Ontario and Quebec's emissions are not included. Even if they were, Canada's overall CO2 contributions are miniscule compared to the US and China.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Debate Over 'Settled Science' May Lead to Common Sense if We Follow the Money

As I pondered what my first post of 2010 should be about, this article by Barry Cooper arrived in my inbox: "Climategate folly gives common sense a boost". A few great lines from Cooper's article:
- ClimateGate "showed them [climate scientists] to be in the business of suppressing dissent and advising the UN to engage not in evidence-based decision making, but in decision-based evidence-making".
- "Best of all, those "fossil" awards that Alberta won for the amazing oilsands are not, as Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson said, evidence "of seeing Canada at its worst." No sir! They are badges of honour, emblems of defiance of the moral panic orchestrated by those disgraced climate scientists living in a pink-coloured dream world."

In 2009, I wrote a few posts [here, here, here and here] about ClimateGate - the scandal about scientists fitting their "findings" to the whims of political and social leaders rather than reporting research results as objectively and transparently as possible. I questioned the A-list of consultants our government invited on a tax-payer funded junket to Hopenhagen: "Top Drawer Remarkable Canadians Advise Minister on Climate: Where are the Scientists?". So, it seems fitting to start the new decade off with a new post that gathers a few recent articles about the debate over ClimateGate.

As an Albertan, it is refreshing to read Peter Foster's "common sense" defense of Canada in the Hopenhagen negotiations: "Canada's Galileo Government": "Copenhagen represents the hypocritical in pursuit of the suicidal. There could be nothing better for the citizens of the world — as opposed to power, rent and publicity seekers — than that this toxic process should collapse". And, thank goodness there was no binding agreement coming out of Denmark.

Eastern Canada likes to deflect attention away from their emissions by citing the oil sands as the primary climate villain - however, an inconvenient truth is that the Alberta oil sands are just 4% of Canada's emissions. So, it was refreshing to read Don Martin's column in which he slams Ontario and Quebec politicians-who-behave-badly, and reminds readers of the economic contribution of Alberta to the Nation, "Frosty Front Splits Canada": "The massive buildup of oil sands infrastructure has delivered a cascading series of benefits to all regions of Canada... "

An earlier article, "Global Warming and the 'Settled Science' Baloney" by Claude Sandroff, had this great line: "Settled science is dangerous science." Sandroff critiques the unscientific debate about climate by pointing out who stands to benefit most from "settled science": "Mostly liberal politicians want access to unlimited tax revenues; for scientists and pseudo-scientists, global warming victory is a path to prestige and grants; for large corporations, it's a billion-dollar market (pioneered by Enron) for trading in carbon credits; for the hard left, it's a new path to dictatorial power and control; for venture capitalists like Kleiner Perkins and green startups at the public trough, it's a path to alternative-energy-funding bonanzas; for the radical greens, it's equivalent to the unquestioned adherence to a religious faith with analogs to God (the earth), priests (Al Gore), indulgences (carbon offsets), guilt (western affluence) and penance (conservation)." Follow the money...

Thomas Sowell published this gem in his article, "The Science Mantra": "Factual data are crucial in real science. Einstein himself urged that his own theory of relativity not be accepted until it could be empirically verified... Today, politicized "science" has too big a stake in the global warming hysteria to let the facts speak for themselves and let the chips fall where they may.... " Like Sandroff, he urges readers to follow the money.

Finally, Mark Steyn says it best as he tracks the new "carbon market" in his Maclean's column, "The Emperor's New Carbon Credits": "In 2008, carbon trading worldwide reached $128 billion. That’s why Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are hot for emissions schemes. According to the writer Jo Nova, carbon is on course to become the largest traded commodity—bigger than oil or gas. As she says, it’s the subprime mortgage of the commodities market. Like Al Gore, the world’s first carbon billionaire, it’s testament mainly to a kind of globalized gullibility. In the blink of an eye, the “settled science” of a small number of ideologues was propelled upwards into a “peer-reviewed” “consensus” and then an international fait accompli."

So, one of my wishes for the New Year and New Decade is that this reasoned debate over ClimateGate continues, that we continue to question 'settled science', and that we find our way to some common sense decisions and actions about governance, the economy and climate. To start, I suggest we follow the money -- when we uncover who stands to benefit from widespread panic about climate, we will unsettle the science and therefore improve the debate.