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.

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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?

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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.

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Forestry can be done without herbicides

by Lynn Palmer

First posted in the Chronicle Journal : Saturday, October 3, 2015 6:00 am

Public concern about spraying herbicides on our local forests is not new. For at least 20 years, the issue has circulated in the public sphere.
Surveys undertaken since the mid-1990s indicate that the general public in Ontario deem herbicide use on publicly owned forests unacceptable.
This past March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the United Nations’ World Health Organization) declared that glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide, is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and public concern over spraying has intensified. On Sept. 5, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced that it plans to label glyphosate as a “chemical known to cause cancer.”
Opposition to glyphosate-based herbicide spraying and linked petitions have been increasing from New Brunswick to California. In Ontario, people living in and around Dog-River Matawin, Kenogami, Ogoki, Martel, Magpie, Timiskaming, Sudbury, Black Spruce, and Nipigon Forests, among others, have expressed to the province and some forestry companies that they want their voices to be heard. The message is clear. It’s time to get serious about implementing alternatives.

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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.

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Footprint vs handprint: Engaging with global warming

First posted in the Chronicle Journal Sunday, May 15, 2016

The world’s best scientists, across a broad range of disciplines, have advised us that we humans are responsible for a spike in global temperatures not seen in hundreds of thousands of years.
They state that digging up and burning, in a couple of hundred years, solar energy stored as coal, gas and oil over hundreds of millions of years as the reason.

They have equated the addition of resulting greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly carbon dioxide, to the detonation of 400,000 atomic bombs daily, 365 days a year.
And so they have asked us to reduce our “carbon footprint,” as ice-core samples have established a direct link between carbon in the atmosphere and global warming.

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Forests For All, Forever

First published in the Chronicle Journal Wed April 20, 2016

Julee Boan

Debate over the use of Ontario’s forests has intensified in recent years. At the heart of the matter: how do we determine which activities are sustainable, and which are not? How much risk is too much risk? And most importantly, who should decide?
Even in a democratic society, such as Canada, expectations for determining whether forestry activities are sustainable go beyond mere compliance with federal and provincial laws. They also go beyond assertions of sustainability from companies themselves or their industry associations.

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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.”

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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.

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Like a bike – it’ll save you and the planet

First Published in the Chronicle Journal Tuesday, September 8, 2015

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS by Jason MacLean | 7 comments
Two years. Two years since I moved to Thunder Bay. Two years in Thunder Bay without a car. Or truck. Or monster truck.
How do I get around?
I bike (mostly). And forgive me for saying so, but so should you.
Some background: Every so often I give a public lecture on environmental law and sustainability, and the question I get most often is this: As an ordinary citizen, what can I do to help?

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