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Three Signs of Retreat in the Global War on Climate Change

As it was already thinking of dropping out of the Kyoto Protocol, the Harper government made a commitment in Copenhagen to reduce Canadian GHG emissions by 17 percent in 2020, going from 734 Mt in 2005 to 612 Mt in 2020. According to its “Sixth National Communication and First Biennial Report on Climate Change for 2014” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada will miss its target by 122 Mt (a 0.4 percent reduction). Canada’s own predictions (which I think are largely underestimated) shows that GHG emissions from the exploitation of tar sands alone will jump from 34 Mt in 2005 to more than 137 Mt in 2030, an increase of 303 percent. Of that increase, around 60 percent (or 82 Mt) will come from bitumen “in situ” extraction. In total, GHG emissions from Canada’s Oil and Gas Sector will reach 241 Mt in 2030, or around 30 percent of all Canadian GHG emissions compared to 4.6 percent in 2005.

This report doesn’t even include emissions associated with wildfires (within the managed forest) and carbon uptake (removals) associated with regrowth in areas disturbed in prior years as required under the UNFCCC. As the area burned by wild land fire is expected to increase across most of Canada as climate change progresses, the Canadian government doesn’t want to include GHG emissions and related removals resulting from natural disturbances. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRC), the number of fires (an average of 9,000 a year) has double since the 1970’s, and is predicted to double again or more by the end of the century, because of warmer temperatures expected as a result of climate change. In 2011, the NRC as estimated that “managed forests alone acted as an overall net carbon source, releasing around 84 Mt of CO2 to the atmosphere.

For countries in the Northern Hemisphere, fire on boreal peatlands represents a major concern. As climate change progresses, peatland gets dryer and more susceptible to catch fire. Peatlands ecosystems cover 2–3 percent of the earth’s land surface, but 25–30 percent of the boreal forest region. It is estimated to store 30 percent of all the world’s terrestrial carbon and 64 percent of the total global boreal forest carbon stock. It is also estimated that peat fires release mercury into the atmosphere at a rate 15 times greater than upland forests, which may be a serious human health concern.

Beside peatlands emissions, there are also all the potential larger methane emissions from the melting permafrost. All of that together creates a pretty scary picture; that is probably why the Canadian government wants to hide the truth from its own population and the rest of the world. It would also only add to the bad reputation that Canada already has around the world as a country not doing enough when it comes to deal with climate change.

René Ebacher

Toronto, CANADA

Feb 16 2014 - 2:54pm

Beyond Naturalism: On Ronald Dworkin

Why doesn’t the Golden Rule or Kant’s Moral Law or something like them offer a better argument? Segregationists, for example, would protest if they were suddenly treated accordingly. Frederick would not want his son to be a common solider, etc. People recognize fairness, which is why we justify inequality (for example), by saying it should come about fairly. I guess this comes closer to Rorty, since in small groups and families fairness is important, and when violated it causes problems.

Roger Seamon

Vancouver, CANADA

Feb 15 2014 - 11:16am

Beyond Naturalism: On Ronald Dworkin

Perhaps the only reasonable solution to the dilemma at the end of the piece on Dworkin—subjectivism on the one hand, theological ethics on the other—is found in evolutionary ethics. I blog on this topic at reasonandmeaning.com.

Dr. John Messerly

Seattle, WA

Feb 15 2014 - 12:01am

Three Signs of Retreat in the Global War on Climate Change

Life is tough. As someone who has had to collect deliquent payments for winter heating, I know firsthand how hard the poor are hit. You cannot just blow off the poor. Government works are in good shape, not the poor. Also I have worked in areas populated by the very environment-friendly trust-fund babies, and they are in a total different world than the working poor.

Jack Connell

Middleton, ID

Feb 13 2014 - 11:19pm

Distorting Russia

Cohen hits the nail on the nail. US media coverage is atrocious. Was the case back in 1917 when we invaded the country, didn’t like the Bolsheviks, to today, stray dogs, gays. God, we have our problems with stray dogs and gays in this country. We run a military imperium, and Russia is a threat, as is China; there are geostrategic considerations involved. But there is no need to demonize other countries. The fact is, we are a pretty inept world’s policemen. More cooperation is what’s needed. Peace in the world or the world in pieces.

Howard Kaplan

Belmont, MA

Feb 13 2014 - 9:42pm

Beyond Naturalism: On Ronald Dworkin

I read with interest the discussion about Ronald Dworkin’s ideas about values and rights. A few days ago CNN had a story about a Danish zoo that had put to death one of its healthy giraffes. As I understood it, the zoo runs a breeding program in which this particular giraffe did not fit in. So for the good of the over-all program, the animal was euthanized. Various values were discussed, including the value that animals should be treated well while they are alive and living at the zoo; so they were reluctant to transfer the animal to some other zoos. Still, the giraffe did not in their view have an inherent right to life that would trump their breeding program. I found it interesting that the anchor, Anderson Cooper, was not not so sure the giraffe didn’t have that right. Presumably we humans feel we have such an inherent right, but on what is it grounded? There does seem to be reference to a transcendent value, at least for now.

Jim McDonald

Cranston, RI

Feb 13 2014 - 6:25pm

Distorting Russia

S.F. Cohen’s lonely and unsupported article ensures my rejection of subscribing to your magazine, and I would appreciate not receiving any further e-mail communications or solicitations. I do subscribe to The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as Newsweek online.

Roger Allison

(somewhere in the United States)

Feb 13 2014 - 5:09pm

Why Bankrolling Israel Prevents Peace in the Middle East

As long as US aid to Israel continues the Israel lobby in Congress will be able to influence Congress and thereby continue oppression of the Palestinian people, which is not likely to end. The overwhelming majority of American citizens are not fully aware of why Israel has such a stranglehold on the high and mighty USA. The aid (American taxpayers’ money) received by Israel would be handled by the Procurement Department in the Israeli Embassy, which is likely to award commercial and military contracts to American companies that are expected to donate funds to candidates standing for election in both houses of Congress. This is one of the major reasons Israel is able to call the shots and determine who should be elected in Congress. Wake up, Americans, and stop supporting those senators and representatives who continue to support Israel.

Solly Jacquesson


Feb 12 2014 - 9:46am

Rand Paul Gets the Math Wrong on the Minimum Wage

At one time the phrase “the bottom line” was in vogue. Although a phrase of the past, it is still the principle governing corporate America.

The bottom line as to the minimum wage is this: the glut of low-wage workers has enabled employers to keep wages low. Workers have lost virtually all bargaining power. The current minimum wage is not only far below what it should be for inflation and productivity adjustments, it is far below a living wage. The bottom line: economic fairness dictates that the wage be increased appropriately and indexed for automatice increses in the future.

The arguments against the increase are rhetorical; even if there is some truth, fairness trumps all and the only bargaining power low-wage workers have is government intervention. However, one argument that cannot be dismissed out of hand is that corporate America (shortsighted, greedy and, yes, stupid) will focus on the bottom line and thus hours will be reduced. The increase in the minimum wage is a step towards economic fairness, but passage will mark the begining, not the end, of the struggle to have an economy that lifts all ships with the rising tide. No doubt President Obama would trumpet an increase in the minimum wage as a victory. There is no indication that he could or would after winning this battle, go on to win a war against the corporate and individual greed that is the hallmark of American society.

Asher Fried

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Feb 11 2014 - 11:22am

Why Now Is the Time to Reform How We Elect the President

It’s a rainbow with only red and blue (and purple). It’s a black and white (and gray) television picture. It’s multiculturalism with just two cultures represented. It’s an ice cream shop with only vanilla and strawberry (I like them both, but where’s the… chocolate, for God’s sakes!). It’s a highway full of two-toned automobiles. It’s either Bush or Clinton.

This project should have begun twenty, thirty years ago, but here we are. Make the best of it, please. El Salvador is going to the second round of its presidential elections because the leading candidate received only 49 percent of the total vote, and 50 percent is required!

Pete Healey

New Paltz, NY

Feb 11 2014 - 8:23am