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Communications Breakdown: Speak Boldly and Carry a Big Schtick

This article was originally published in “Canada's Map to Sustainability,” a special issue of Alternatives Journal (A\J) in partnership with Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD). Comments on the A\J website will inform SCD's white paper on how Canada can achieve sustainability later this year.

Even though people pay attention to images of oil-soaked birds in the aftermath of oil spills, researchers know that another, less perceptible, issue is the death of algae from the use of chemical dispersants after these disasters. Although people focus on shifting to hybrid cars to reduce their carbon footprint, researchers show that we also need to think about methane emissions from the global livestock industry.

Though people promote the environmental benefits of digitization in our workplaces and media consumption, researchers remind us that this shift generates massive amounts of e-waste with its own ecological footprint. Despite nearly universal scientific consensus about the harmful impacts of climate change, government and the public keep ignoring it.

Three environmental communication dilemmas help to explain: The scale of environmental issues, difficulties portraying environmental problems and a tendency to individualize problems.

China’s Disastrous Pollution Problem Is A Lesson For All

V.T. Polywoda via Flickr CC

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Beijing’s 21 million residents live in a toxic fog of particulate matter, ozone, sulphur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, lead and other contaminants, mainly caused by factories and coal burning. Schools and workplaces regularly shut down when pollution exceeds hazardous levels. People have exchanged paper and cotton masks for more elaborate, filtered respirators. Cancer has become the leading cause of death in the city and throughout the country.

Chinese authorities, often reluctant to admit to the extent of any problem, can no longer deny the catastrophic consequences of rampant industrial activity and inadequate regulations. According to Bloomberg News, Beijing’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that, although life expectancy doubled from 1949 to 2011, “the average 18-year-old Beijinger today should prepare to spend as much as 40 percent of those remaining, long years in less than full health, suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, among other ailments.”

China’s government also estimates that air pollution prematurely kills from 350,000 to 500,000 residents every year.* Water and soil pollution are also severe throughout China.

The documentary film Under the Dome, by Chinese journalist Chai Jing, shows the extent of the air problem. The film was viewed by more than 150 million Chinese in its first few days, apparently with government approval. Later it was censored, showing how conflicted authorities are over the problem and its possible solutions. The pollution problem also demonstrates the ongoing global conflict between economic priorities and human and environmental health.

Rather than seeing China’s situation as a warning, many people in Canada and the U.S. — including in government — refuse to believe we could end up in a similar situation here. And so U.S. politicians fight to block pollution-control regulations and even to remove the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, or shut it down altogether! In Canada, politicians and pundits argue that environmental protection is too costly and that the economy takes precedence.

Top 3 Myths About Greening Canada’s Economy

This is a guest post by Sustainable Prosperity, a national green economy think tank.

This is a big week for Canadian energy and climate policy, with Monday’s Canadian Round Table on the Green Economy and Tuesday’s premiers’ climate summit. With all the talk of a “green economy,” we’re releasing a new video explaining what that ubiquitous term really means.  

What better time than now to bust a few myths about the “what” and the “how” of a greener Canadian economy?

Oiling The Machinery Of Climate Change Denial And Transit Opposition

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

Glaciers in Canadian Rockies Could Shrink By 95% by 2100, Study Finds

Athabasca Glacier

This blog originally appeared on Carbon Brief.

The Canadian Rockies, which sit as a backdrop to many a stunning vista, could be almost entirely devoid of glaciers by the end of the century, a new study suggests.

Researchers modelled the impact of rising temperatures on glaciers across western Canada.

The results show widespread ice loss by 2050, and ice all but vanishing a few decades later.

Around 27,000 square kilometers of Western Canada is covered by glaciers, an area similar in size to the amount of ice in the Himalayas or the whole of South America.

Water Is Life; We Can’t Afford To Waste It

This is a guest post by David Suzuki. 

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 per cent water.

Who Says a Better World is Impossible?

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

Raven Coal proposal May Not Be Gone For Good, But We’re Winning the Social Licence Battle

This is a guest post by Torrance Coste, Vancouver Island campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, an organization working with local groups and individuals to stop the Raven Coal Mine.

Monday, March 2nd was a tense day for those of us monitoring the Raven Coal Mine proposal. After a 30-day screening period, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) was set to announce whether or not the application to mine close to 30 million tonnes of coal and rock in the Comox Valley would advance to final environmental review.

Then, just hours before the announcement, proponent Compliance Energy abruptly withdrew its application.

Frankly, this took us by surprise. The company’s first proposal was rejected by the EAO in May 2013 because it was missing hundreds of pages of required information. When Compliance made its resubmission earlier this year, the company stated it was confident that all previous shortcomings had been addressed and the application was complete.

But as we’ve seen with other controversial, ecosystem-threatening proposals  from the Northern Gateway pipeline to the New Prosperity Mine in Tsilhqot’in Territory  projects don’t move ahead if they don’t have social licence.

And on that front, Compliance Energy isn’t even close.

Let’s Not Sacrifice Freedom Out Of Fear

burnaby mountain, zack embree, C-51, RCMP, David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

A scientist, or any knowledgeable person, will tell you climate change is a serious threat for Canada and the world. But the RCMP has a different take. A secret report by the national police force, obtained by Greenpeace, both minimizes the threat of global warming and conjures a spectre of threats posed by people who rightly call for sanity in dealing with problems caused by burning fossil fuels.

Why (and How) the PICS Divestment Report Misses the Point

divestment

This is a guest post by Cam Fenton, Canadian tar sands organizer with 350.org.

Last week the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions released a report criticizing the fossil fuel divestment movement. While the report came as a surprise, the arguments didn’t, especially given that they were based more on building a straw man to support the report’s conclusions than actually understanding the movement.

At best the report fails to accurately reflect the demands and the theory of change of fossil fuel divestment movement, and at worst it fails to understand the true role and power of organizing, action and social movements.

The report gets a lot wrong and a little bit right, but most of its problems are undercut by three assumptions at the core of its argument – assumptions which seem to have been cherry-picked by the authors to support their own conclusions rather than reflecting those articulated by the movement. In fact the divestment movement has only ever been founded on one assumption that “if it’s morally wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

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