How green are Edmonton’s festivals? (Blog Action Day 2009)

Today is Blog Action Day, which means that bloggers around the world are writing about the same issue – climate change. The purpose of the initiative is to create a discussion. For my post, I’m hoping to stimulate a little discussion about how “green” Edmonton’s festivals are.

I first wrote about this topic back in December, when I noted a number of the changes BrightNights had made to become more environmentally friendly:

The City of Edmonton hopes to have a number of events operating green within three years, and BrightNights is just the first. I hope more festivals and events in Edmonton follow suit.

One of the big local stories this week is that BrightNights will no longer be taking place due to rising costs. I’m not at all sad to see the event go (the food bank and hot lunch program will be impacted in the short-term but will be fine I think). Even if they managed to make the event carbon-neutral (primarily by purchasing carbon credits, it should be noted) it still encouraged people to sit in a running car for an who knows how long. That’s not very green!

What about the rest of Edmonton’s festivals? What are they doing to be more environmentally friendly? If you have any links or other information, please post them in the comments!

As Canada’s Festival City, I think we have an opportunity (maybe even a responsibility) to lead the way in ensuring our events are green and sustainable. Let’s set the bar high and encourage others to follow suit!

Upcoming Climate Change Events

October 24th is the International Day of Climate Action. People all over the world are holding events pledging action on the science of 350:

350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

We’re currently at 387 parts per million, and rising (check out the Pew Center’s Global Warming Facts & Figures for more). There are six actions listed for Edmonton so far.

Of course, the main event this year is the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), which takes place from December 7th to 18th in Copenhagen.

One hour is just 0.01% of a year

earth hour From Wikipedia:

Earth Hour is an international event that asks households and businesses to turn off their lights and non-essential electrical appliances for one hour on the evening of 29 March at 8 pm local time until 9 pm to promote electricity conservation and thus lower carbon emissions.

I’ve written about this already, and I don’t think there’s much else to be said. If you’re participating in Earth Hour, that’s great, I’m glad you have an interest in making the world a better place to live.

But next time you feel the need to be green, pick an activity that will actually make a difference. Replace your lights with energy efficient ones. Turn the thermostat down in the winter. Buy a fuel efficient car, or better yet, switch to transit. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

You don’t lose weight by going on a diet for an hour, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll make the Earth more green by turning the lights out for an hour.

Anyone else sick of this global-warming-event bullshit?

lights Have you heard of Earth Hour? Sharon sent me a link for it today, pointing out that the City of Edmonton is participating in the “global movement” that aims to “take a stand against the greatest threat our planet has ever faced”. Cities around the world are pledging to turn off the lights for one hour on March 29th. From the about page:

On 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour – Earth Hour. This massive collective effort reduced Sydney’s energy consumption by 10.2% for one hour, which is the equivalent effect of taking 48,000 cars off the road for a year.

With Sydney icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House turning their lights off, and unique events such as weddings by candlelight, the world took notice. Inspired by the collective effort of millions of Sydneysiders, many major global cities are joining Earth Hour in 2008, turning a symbolic event into a global movement.

Reminds me a little of Live Earth. Remember that event? The worldwide concerts that did so much for the “climate in crisis”? Yeah, I remember that.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had it with this event bullshit.

  • Can we really say the current warming trend is “the greatest threat” the Earth has ever faced? What about the ice ages of the past? Or periods of space bombardment? Or World War II and nuclear weapons? I mean, come on.
  • At best, these events come out neutral in terms of net energy consumption/reduction. More than likely, they probably have the opposite of their intended effect. Think of all the TVs and computers tuned to the Live Earth concerts last year. The same thing will happen with Earth Hour.
  • Do these events really inspire change? I would argue that they actually make people complacent – “I don’t need to walk today, I participated in Earth Hour!”

Instead of turning the lights out for an hour, I’d rather see the City of Edmonton do something that would actually make a difference, such as replacing all our old street and traffic lights with new, energy efficient ones.

Read: Earth Hour

Trying to grok carbon offsets

Post ImageThere’s been a lot of talk about carbon offsets in the news lately, and a whole crop of companies have sprung up to cater to the environmentally-conscious westerner. One such company, Zerofootprint, is Canadian was profiled today at TechCrunch:

Their chief goal, says the company, is to raise awareness among individuals and groups that everything we consume has some impact on the environment. The company is fighting global warming in two ways: encourage carbon reduction, and sell offsets for the remainder.

You can pretty much ignore the first goal. It sounds great, but there’s absolutely no way to measure whether or not they have encouraged reduction. Zerofootprint could fire off a few press releases a month that suggest they having a positive impact, but there’s no way to know. That makes them primarily a vendor of carbon offsets.

The anti-TechCrunch, uncov, also wrote about the company today:

These hosers have even set up their own market for these offsets, outside of the official exchanges. So okay, Zerofootprint is the one selling you these carbon offsets, and they’re also the ones validating that the offset in carbon actually takes place. This doesn’t sit right.

No, it doesn’t sit right.

In fact, the whole concept of carbon offsetting just doesn’t sit right with me. Environmentalist and writer George Monbiot explains the problems with carbon offsets very well in his article titled Selling Indulgences. He compares purchasing carbon offsets to the 15th and 16th century practice of selling absolutions:

Just as in the 15th and 16th centuries you could sleep with your sister and kill and lie without fear of eternal damnation, today you can live exactly as you please as long as you give your ducats to one of the companies selling indulgences. It is pernicious and destructive nonsense.

I have absolutely no doubt that humankind will figure out a way to survive global warming. I’m also fairly certain that carbon offsetting is not the solution. In fact, I think purchasing carbon offsets could actually make things worse because doing so enables us to ignore the root causes. We need to do more than just make ourselves feel better.


REVIEW: An Inconvenient Truth

Post ImageSharon and I went to see Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth a few days ago at the Garneau. I thought the film was very well done, and unlike Sharon, I didn’t think it was too long. Gore is an incredibly engaging speaker, and he does a super job of getting his point across. I do have a few issues with the film though:

  • This is a very one-sided story. Which is okay, as long as you make the effort to find out about the other side.
  • Gore uses lots of numbered lists in the movie, which gets confusing after a while. Lists such as, “three reasons for this” and “four causes for this” and on and on.
  • A picture really is worth a thousand words, but I found myself wanting to know more about the flashy graphs Gore kept showing. I mean you could take them at face value, but how responsible would that be?
  • His self-introduction as “the former next president of the United States” is funny, but I have heard it a few times now, so it has lost that special ring.

If you want a good argument for “the other side”, I would suggest reading some of Michael Crichton’s work. He’s written some great stuff, such as:

Kill the wolves, and save the elk. Move the grizzlies, and avoid the lawyers. And on, and on. Its this simplistic, cause-and-effect thinking that must go.

And for that matter, who believes that the complex system of our atmosphere behaves in such a simple and predictable way that if we reduce one component, carbon dioxide, we will therefore reliably reduce temperature? CO2 is not like an accelerator on a car. Its not linear (and by the way, neither is a car accelerator.) And furthermore, who believes that the climate can be stabilized when it has never been stable throughout the earths history? We can only entertain such an idea if we dont really understand what a complex system is. Were like the blonde who returned the scarf because it was too tight. We dont get it.

I like that excerpt, because most of An Inconvenient Truth is focused on explaining how CO2 causes temperatures to rise.

There are some great non-climate-crisis gems in the movie. At the beginning, Gore shows some images of the earth, and explains how they were taken from space, and that one of them is the most commonly published photo in history. Fascinating stuff.

As a skeptic not of the earth’s temperature rising at the moment but of global warming, I didn’t leave the theatre preaching Gore’s gospel. I do think his movie is the best argument for global warming that I have seen though.

Interestingly, Sharon and I both had the same reaction when leaving the theatre – “I wish he had been president.”

Climate Change

Post ImageIf you’re friend of mine here in Edmonton, you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of discussing climate change, especially the particular variety known as “global warming”, with me at some point. In general, I don’t dispute that the globe is warming, but I do dispute that global warming is entirely caused by humans and poses a great threat, for the simple reason that we don’t have enough data.

We can show temperatures are rising (albeit over a very short period of time, so we don’t know if it’s normal or not) but we have absolutely no clue as to why. Sure there are many thoughts and ideas, but the fact that there are so many, and that they are so varied, only proves that we have absolutely no idea why the globe is warming. To blame it all on humans releasing CO2 seems a bit premature, and I hate that people jump on the bandwagon without thinking.

Here’s another reason we don’t know: the ozone layer. You might have heard over the last couple years that the ozone layer is healing. The fact is, it healed much faster than scientists predicted. That leads to many questions – if it healed up so quick, how big was the problem in the first place? Did humans really play a big role in causing the holes? Would it have healed without us doing anything? Again, we don’t know. And if we can’t understand an event like this that has already happened (to an extent), how can we understand something ongoing like climate change?

Even the definition at Wikipedia shows we don’t understand the “why” part of climate change:

Climate change refers to the variation in the Earth’s global climate or regional climates over time. It describes changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere – or average weather – over time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. These changes may come from internal processes, be driven by external forces or, most recently, be caused by human activities.

I came across a really interesting climate change explanation earlier today on Derek’s blog. He cites a transcript of the Planet TV Show:

According to the math, we cannot know for certain how close we are to the point of no return, until it is too late. So if you are looking for absolute proof, you will not get it unless you are willing to sacrifice everything. Because, you cannot have absolute confirmation that a catastrophic change is occurring until it has begun and cannot be stopped.

This is true of both climate cooling and climate warming. When have we reached the tipping point? We don’t know until we’re past it.

Even if our contribution of CO2 is not the main reason for climate change, it is still important that we reduce and eventually eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels. If we are close to the tipping point, then any small amount of increase may be the amount that pushes us over the edge. By the same token, if we are close to the tipping point, then any small decrease will take us that much further from the edge of a catastrophic shift in climate.

Good point, and I agree we should eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels.

Global warming does not pose a threat to the Earth. Nor does it pose a threat to life on this planet. Both the Earth and life on the planet will survive the effects of global warming and catastrophic climate change. What is in danger is us.

The reason it’s humans that are in danger is that climate change could lead to another ice age. Life would exist after the ice age has ended, as we have seen before. The only way the earth itself is going away is if humans blow it up, or something from space does. The full transcript is here.

I don’t think we’re in as much danger as Planet TV Show does. I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity, demonstrated throughout our relatively short history. If something related to climate change happens that might threaten our existence here on earth, I am pretty confident we’ll have already moved on to other planets or at least would be able to. That’s not to say everyone will survive, unfortunately, but I think the human race would.

There are a few main questions to ask when discussing climate change:

  • Are the temperature changes and other factors (storms increasing, etc) we are currently seeing indicative of a fluctuation (temporary) or a shift (permanent) in climate?
  • Is this fluctuation or shift natural, or caused by humans?
  • If caused by humans, are we the only cause, or just one of many factors?
  • Can we do anything about it?

The answers to these questions remain elusive. Many varied theories exist, but conclusive evidence is nowhere to be found.

I think we’ll figure it out eventually. And when we do, I would not be surprised if our contribution to climate change is but one of many factors. Maybe even a really small factor. As much as some people would like to think, humans are not the centre of the universe, nor responsible for everything that happens inside it.