Confirmation bias: Science and the Internet form a double-edged sword Story

First Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 in the Chronicle Journal

By Scott Harris
For The Chronicle-Journal
‘By either stressing or ignoring the information that bombards us, we create our own reality” (author unknown). Such, perhaps, is what it means to be human. Our own opinions are formed by our own unique experiences, cognitive intake and reflection.
The advent of universal, electronic transmission tools such as the Internet amounts to an information strafing unlike anything we humans have experienced before.
But the Internet is a double-edged tool. With the current availability of electronic information, one can find validation for virtually any opinion, no matter how bizarre. On the other hand, there are impeccable, peer-reviewed sources which help us separate truth from fiction. That distinction is becoming increasingly important, as we begin to address global issues triggered by human behaviour.

Read moreConfirmation bias: Science and the Internet form a double-edged sword Story

Brexit, Trump offer lessons for climate change policy

First Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016
BY JASON MACLEAN

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS

People are sick of experts, evidently. Facts, too, are becoming troublingly unpopular. Brexit and the popularity of U.S. presidential candidate Donald J. Trump are cases in point. A closer look at each offers lessons for the design of an effective and democratically accountable climate change policy.
First, Brexit. Experts hated it. In a poll of 639 British economists, 88 per cent predicted that a vote to leave the EU would decrease economic growth and efficiency. 52 per cent of voters opted to leave anyway.
Why? A revealing geographic analysis of the referendum conducted by the Resolution Foundation found that the parts of Britain most supportive of Brexit were the parts that have historically been the poorest, particularly in the north. Brexit supporters didn’t share the experts’ obsession with economic efficiency. They care more about economic equality. About the affordable houses that aren’t being built. About the good, secure jobs that aren’t being created.
Whether they’re right or wrong is beside the point. Neoliberal globalization has left many in Britain (and elsewhere) feeling alienated, dispossessed and voiceless. Hence the highly effective slogan “vote leave, take back control.” The Brexit plebiscite was the plebs’ chance to make themselves heard. And now the experts are scrambling to figure out what comes next, both in Britain and the EU. Only 38 per cent of the French, for example, view the EU favourably. Alors, Frexit? What about Scotland? Sexit?

Read moreBrexit, Trump offer lessons for climate change policy

Heavy rain day helps make wettest June on record

By Graham Saunders

First Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 For The Chronicle-Journal

Was June wet enough for you? The long-term average rain total for June at the Thunder Bay Airport is 86 millimetres but varies considerably. For example, June 2003 had a total of 35.5 millimetres, compared to an estimated 228 millimetres this year. The previous record was 196 millimetres, set in June 2008.
This June total is slightly higher than the monthly total recorded in May 2012, the time of devastating flooding in Thunder Bay and some adjacent rural areas. Heavy rain totals on June 28 were similar to May 28, 2012 but the “character” and timing were different. The maximum rate in May 2012 was 48 millimetres/hour compared to intensities of about half of this a week ago.
Other factors helped:
• The city was better prepared.
• 84 to about 100 millimetres fell in two periods separated by about two hours.
• Afternoon and evening storm situations are easier to cope with than overnight events. (Most of the rain fell between midnight and 2 a.m. on May 28, 2012.)
An editorial titled “100-year storms every four years” was published in The Chronicle-Journal on June 28. It noted that the frequency and intensity of such severe-weather events is increasing. I noticed “These are not unusual weather events but rather regular summertime storms . . .” in one of the comments. This is not correct.

Read moreHeavy rain day helps make wettest June on record

Pondering Pipeline Possibilities

Gordon Laxer Energy East Position Evolves.

Published in the CJ Thu May 19, 2016 as Pondering Pipeline Possibilities

Gordon Laxer spoke at the Finlandia Hall Wednesday, hosted by Environment North and the Thunder Bay Environmental Coalition. He outlined the theory behind his latest book, After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians. Laxer is a PhD, the founding director and former head of the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, political economist and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, and a prominent public intellectual. He was a founding member of the Council of Canadians. He endorses Naomi Klein and the Leap Manifesto and offers a workable framework for a transition to a green economy.

Laxer’s position on the proposed Energy East pipeline has evolved since the publication of his book. In it he had indicated that he was supportive of EE for the sake of Canadian energy security and sovereignty. He qualified this stance by stating as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels, Energy East should ship conventional oil to Eastern Canadian consumers for another 15 years, (as opposed to rip and ship bitumen overseas).

Read morePondering Pipeline Possibilities

What’s the Plan? For Canada’s climate change policy, it’s a leap either way you look

“Forget about what you are escaping from,” the illusionist Harry Houdini used to say. “Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.” When it comes to Canada’s climate change policy, that’s wise counsel. Because whether you look to the left or to the right, it’s a leap either way.

Let’s start with the left, the already infamous Leap Manifesto.

Seldom has a four-page document loosely stringing together a series of disparate ideas—none original or genuinely controversial—generated so much handwringing.

What do the Leapers want? They call for Canada to generate 100% of its energy from renewable resources within 20 years, which is scientifically feasible; an end to fossil fuels subsidies, new oil pipelines, and other fossilized infrastructure investments; no more trade deals that compromise our ability to protect the environment; a universal guaranteed minimum income; recognition and enforcement of existing treaties with Indigenous peoples; and an expansion of low-carbon sectors of the economy, including caregiving, teaching, the arts, and public-interest media.

Above all, the Leapers demand the transition to a low-carbon future begin now.

Read moreWhat’s the Plan? For Canada’s climate change policy, it’s a leap either way you look

Want to fix the climate? Fix the corruption of expertise first

Firs published in the Chronicle Journal Monday April 25, 2016
by Jason MacLean

After the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizen United, the corrupting influence of money in politics was supposed to be an exceptionally American problem. But it turns out that it’s very much a Canadian problem, too. Worse still, the corruption of money in politics is trumped by the corruption of expertise. Worst of all, the corruption of expertise is at the root of every important public policy issue, including climate change.

Read moreWant to fix the climate? Fix the corruption of expertise first

The Challenge of Ontario’s New Cap and Trade Regime

First Published in the Toronto Star March 3, 2016

by Jason MacLean

The Ontario government has unveiled its long-awaited cap-and-trade regime. Meanwhile, the federal government is in the early days of establishing its pan-Canadian climate strategy featuring a minimum national carbon price of $15 per tonne. Will these policies help Canada meet its commitments under the Paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels?

It depends.

Read moreThe Challenge of Ontario’s New Cap and Trade Regime

Hope or hype? Paris climate agreement just a promise for now

First Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 in the Chronicle Journal

By Christine Penner Polle
Red Lake

The news of the Paris climate agreement reached by nearly 200 countries after decades of trying was cause for celebration in our house last weekend. The first worldwide commitment to phase out fossil fuels in order to limit global temperature rise is an enormous and unprecedented accomplishment.
Our joy, however, was bittersweet. It was overshadowed by awareness that the deal fell short of solving of the huge problem the world is facing.

Read moreHope or hype? Paris climate agreement just a promise for now

At stake: Everything; Walking the Paris climate talks

First Posted: Saturday, December 19, 2015 in The Chronicle-Journal
THE VIEW FROM PARIS

By Julee Boan

With nearly 200 countries at the table, is it not surprising that the Paris climate agreement that was negotiated last Saturday fell short of legally-binding caps on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Differences in wealth, geography, and population size were but a few of the complexities facing the talks. It was abundantly evident before the negotiations even began that economic (and carbon) powerhouses like the United States and China would only agree to non-binding targets.
Yet, the significance of the agreement is unmistakable. The signatories recognize that, “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet.”

Read moreAt stake: Everything; Walking the Paris climate talks

The cruel optimism of Paris

First Posted Monday, December 21, 2015 in the Chronicle Journal
SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS
By Jason MacLean

Cultural critic Lauren Berlant defines cruel optimism as the desire for something that’s an obstacle to our flourishing. We fantasize about a “good life” — of enduring reciprocity in romantic couples, organizations, political systems — despite the evidence of their instability and diminishing returns.
The optimism about the recent Paris climate agreement is a cruel case in point.
According to the world’s leading science journal Nature, “the Paris agreement represents a bet on technological innovation and human ingenuity.”
Why? Because the agreement is a legal and scientific failure.

Read moreThe cruel optimism of Paris