Thursday, March 13, 2008

Climate Changes

They're still out there. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, the climate change naysayers believe that all of the concern about rising carbon dioxide levels is just atmospheric gassing off. They are convinced that the call to drastically reduce our energy consumption is being fueled by those crazy environmentalists who need to get real jobs. To prove their point, these same naysayers are pointing to what is dangerously close to being the worst winter on record in Ontario as proof that the good old days of the hardy Canadian winter are back. Right?

Wrong. A recently released study commissioned by Natural Resources Canada says that these kinds of climate extremes are a clear indicator that the impacts of climate change are already being felt. The 500 page report, which was produced by 145 of Canada's leading scientists, confirms that bizarre winter weather is just one of the impacts that Canadians will have to get used to. Continuing water shortage in the prairie provinces will increasingly put Canada's breadbasket in drought conditions. Severe storms will increasingly become the norm, while summer smog conditions will put further demands on our already stressed health care system.

One of the study's lead authors is Norm Catto, a geographer at St. John's Memorial University. His concern is that the intensity of weather events is increasing. For example, Hurricane Juan devastated Atlantic Canada in 2003. If the storm surge had coincided with high tide, water levels could have been up to a half a metre higher.

The damaging effects won't be limited to coastal areas, either. Thanks to more intense rainfalls, cities could routinely face the kind of flooding that caused billions of dollars in damage in Peterborough and Toronto in 2005.

While the government report was not publicly available as of this writing, another report released last Friday. Tomorrow Today: How Canada can make a world of difference, combines the considerable expertise of Canada's leading environmental groups and conservation agencies. The list of contributors includes Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Greenpeace Canada, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Pollution Probe, Sierra Club of Canada and WWF Canada.

The Tomorrow Today report calls for an immediate recommittment to the Kyoto Protocol and a policy change that would put a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions that would start at $30 per tonne of CO2 in 2009, then increase to $75 by 2020.

"Canada is at a critical turning point. If we further destabilize our climate, release toxics into our air or water, destroy critical habitat for species and continue to over-exploit our oceans, we are going to pay a big price," said Peter Robinson of the David Suzuki Foundation. "That's why we need to take action today - not tomorrow - while we still have a chance to preserve clean water, wild habitat and to prevent the worst impacts of climate change."

"Action today is going to be much more valuable than action tomorrow, especially on issues like protecting intact wilderness, including the Fort Knox of carbon storage - our intact boreal forest," points out Anne Levesque, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The Tomorrow Today roadmap sets out five principles that should shape all federal laws and policies, including precaution, polluter pays, protecting future opportunities, accountability, and good global citizenship.

The report concludes that as one of the world's most prosperous nations, Canada has a moral and economic responsibility to take actions that will provide sustainable solutions for everyone. For the naysayers who stand firm in their commitment that action on climate change will hurt us economically, Tomorrow Today’s roadmap makes it clear that Canada is well positioned to make the transition to a more sustainable economy.

"We have the resources and ingenuity to help citizens and businesses through this transition," states the report's conclusion, "and we have citizens and leaders with the foresight to see how much this country could lose if we continue with business as usual."


The report, Tomorrow Today: How Canada can make a world of difference, is available online at

The Alliance for Resilient Cities, a project of the Clean Air Partnership, is a collaborative network designed to support local governments to identify the impacts of climate change and identify pro-active strategies to protect their communities.

In Praise of Darkness

I have the most amazing poster in my office. Entitled, The Brilliant Sky: Alight by Night, it is a composite satellite picture of the Earth at night. Entire sections of North America and Europe are illuminated, and even the most remote regions of darkest Africa are speckled with dots of light, like brilliant diamonds cast on a background of black velvet.

The picture is both breathtakingly beautiful and very disturbing. For the first time in human history, the brilliant, awe-inspiring canopy of the night sky is being stolen from us by the down-to-earth glare from artificial light. In the natural night sky, weshould be able to see approximately 3,500 planets and stars with the naked eye. Thanks to the interference of artificial light, in most cities a mere 50 stars are visible. An estimated 97 percent of Canadians live under skies that are polluted by artificial light of some kind.

This phenomenon has been called light pollution, and it isn't just robbing us of our view of the stars. According to Italian astronomer Pierantonio Cinzano, 59 percent of Canadians have lost much of their night vision. A study done by the University of Pennsylvania found that young children who sleep with a night-light were more likely to develop nearsightedness later in adolescence.

Light pollution may have even more dramatic health impacts. In the late 1980s, Epidemiologist Richard Stevens made the connection between light pollution and breast cancer. He concluded that the absence of complete darkness suppresses the body's ability to produce the hormone melatonin. This disruption in melatonin production may lead to chronic fatigue, depression, reproductive anomalies and even cancer. Other research has found that the risk of breast cancer is 50 percent lower in blind women.

Wildlife is also being impacted by light pollution. Florida researchers have discovered that sea turtle hatchlings are being drawn toward artificial lighting along beaches, rather than to the moonlight on the water. Unable to locate a single beacon to follow, countless hatchings are crushed by passing cars or end up wandering aimlessly on the beach. Because they steer by the stars, light pollution is also disrupting the migratory patterns of many birds, particularly around large urban areas.

While nobody's suggesting that we bump around in the dark, we need to get a lot more creative about how and when we use artificial light. Starry Night Lights, an interesting commercial website based in Utah, Colorado, offers some excellent, simple suggestions. For starters, light only what you need, when you need it. Replace that glaring porch light with a motion sensor and consider using lower-wattage bulbs outdoors. Invest in full cutoff fixtures that maximum lighting efficiency by focusing light on the ground where it's needed while shielding the night sky.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has some good ideas too. For example, lighting billboards from the top down, rather than with the traditional bottom up illumination that throws unnecessary light up into the sky, and installing light timers, can maximize the effectiveness of lighting, while significantly reducing energy costs. The IDA estimates that in the U.S. alone about one billion dollars is wasted annually lighting up the night sky. That's a whole lot of wasted energy and unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.

While the idea of light pollution isn't universally known, I think intuitively we've already figured out that too much light is basically bad thing for everyone. Maybe this is why the idea of Earth Hour is rapidly becoming such a global phenomenon. We crave the darkness and its ability to connect us with each other and the Universe beyond.

Let Earth Hour be the starting point. Join the world in an hour of darkness on March 29th at 8:00 pm; celebrate the night and the stars that come out to shine.


Sign up for Earth Hour

The International Dark-Sky Association

For more information, check out the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Light Pollution Abatement Program.

Starry Night Lights is a Utah-based company specializing in light pollution solutions. The website is also a great source of information about the environmental impacts of light pollution.

Established in 1999, The Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve located near Bracebridge, Ontario, is the world’s first Dark Sky Reserve.

Red Dot Campaign

Over the years I'd come to the conclusion that there were actually three things I couldn't avoid; Death, taxes and junk mail. My kitchen counters were full of the stuff, burying the bills that I should have paid until after their due date, filling my blue box until it runneth over, and otherwise cluttering up my life.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my dislike of unsolicited mail. According to the Canadian Marketing Association, a whopping 67 percent of Canadians are not interested in flyers and advertising that comes in the mail and a quarter of us discard them without even reading them.

Fortunately, thanks to something called the Red Dot Campaign, my credit rating and kitchen counter may soon be saved. And, as an added bonus, I will be able to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

Launched last month, the Red Dot Campaign promises to rid us all of unwanted ad mail. According to the Red Dot website, "The Red Dot Campaign provides consumers with a simple action they can take to reduce carbon emissions. Simply by putting a signed letter in your mail box, and leaving a "No Admail Please" sign on your box, Canada Post will not deliver any unaddressed marketing material."

What's intriguing about the Red Dot Campaign is that it wasn't launched by an environmental group or citizen's advocacy organization. Red Dot is actually the brainchild of three social marketing companies that want nothing less than to change the way we do business.

Ecoeco's mandate is to provide innovative marketing strategies that will positively impact our economy, ecology and the community. Buddha Branding offers web, print and fashion marketing expertise. Squint Creative is a small Vancouver-based creative studio that supports the creative endeavors of its community by providing professional, affordable web production services. By launching the Red Dot Campaign, these leading edge marketers have staked their reputations on the belief that there is a better, more sustainable way to sell goods and services.

"And, if enough of us say No!"states the Red Dot website, "advertisers may take notice and find more environmentally-friendly ways to reach their customers."

To find out if Red Dot could actually transform my life, I visited the website. The good news is that it really is as simple as it sounds.

The first step is to print out the "No Junk Mail" letter that's available online, sign it, and ask your mail carrier to deliver it to Canada Post. Secondly, print out the "No Junk Mail" sign and attach it to your mailbox or mail slot. The bad news is that this will only stop unaddressed ad mail that's delivered by Canada Post. Ridding yourself of all of the personalized mail that you receive takes a little more work and a lot more patience.

You can begin the process by contacting the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) and adding your name to the "Do Not Contact Registry". This registry will not only stop addressed ad mail, but can also cut down on those unwanted telemarketing calls that always arrive during dinner and those equally annoying faxes that fill up your in-tray and use up all your paper. It's important to make sure that you provide the CMA with all the possible variations of your name as it has appeared on junk mail in the past, including stuff that is misspelled, for example: Ms. Sally Smith, Mrs. S. Smith, Sally Ann Smith, or S.A. Smyth or Symthe, or whatever. You get the idea.

Be patient. Since marketers often buy their lists months in advance, it will take a while for the deluge of mail to trickle down to the point where you can actually find your kitchen counter again.

As for greenhouse gas reductions, manufacturing paper, driving it to your mailbox, picking it up in your blue box and recycling it all takes energy, which ultimately translates into carbon dioxide emissions.


Visit and take action to rid your mailbox (and your life) of unaddressed ad mail.

If you really want to get serious, visit the Canadian Marketing Association to have your name removed from personalized marketing materials, including mail, telephone and fax.

Innovation and environmental stewardship is worth our attention. Check out:
Budda Branding
Squint Creative

Have you signed on to Earth Hour yet? Be part of a global movement and visit