Strange Weather, Terrible Politics

July 26, 2011 10:05 am

It is July and, like an annual summer ritual, much of Canada and the U.S. are in the grips of a sweltering heat wave. Record temperatures were set for much of the country last week. The forecast, moreover, is for sustained heat with very little or no rain over the next short while. Many of those living in urban centers welcome the scorching hot days. The unrelenting heat makes the relief of spending a day at the beach and swimming in a cold lake or drinking beer on a shaded patio all that much sweeter.  Venture beyond the city, however, and the issues the weather raises are often more immediate and pressing. In Northern Ontario, the intense heat has sparked hundreds of forest fires. The leaders of the Keewaywin First Nation and Land Lake First Nation respectively are asking the province to declare a state of emergency, as entire communities are being evacuated to escape the approaching blazes. Only weeks after the flooding of the Assiniboine River, the combination of sustained heat and rainless days has created fears of drought in the prairies. Farmers understand in a much more intimate way the dangers of an unstable climate generating extreme weather conditions. Flooding followed by unrelenting dry conditions weeks later is hardly conducive to good harvests.


A consequence of extreme drought.

To be sure, intense summer heat is nothing new. Moreover, the sources of weather patterns vary. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, El Nino-Southern Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation: all are climatic systems capable of playing havoc with weather.  Thus who is to say that a couple of intensely hot and dry weeks in July can be attributed to something as relatively specific as greenhouse gas emissions? The problem is that record heat and dry days constitute only one example of extreme weather. Much of the U.S. mid-west has endured a particularly brutal tornado season and much of the Southern U.S. is contending with its own threat of drought. In Somalia, drought is fuelling the latest threat of famine.

Or consider Canada’s Arctic region. The Arctic has long been considered a bellwether region in the ongoing efforts to understand our climate. The area is thus always a focus in the reports published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In them, the panel uses complicated computer models to predict the rate of melting of Arctic sea ice and glaciers. The IPCC has been criticized in the past for, among other things, selectively choosing data and alarmist projections. Yet a recent study sets out to answer the question of why arctic ice is melting much more rapidly than IPCC climate models anticipate. A group of UK scientists have made the following hypothesis. More recently formed ice has a heavier salt content than older ice. When recently formed ice melts it is thus denser and heavier than the surface water. It thus sinks and in so doing displaces warmer water, which rises to the top. The warmer water then accelerates the melting of the arctic ice. In keeping with the scientific method, the UK scientists insist more evidence is required before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. Nevertheless their hypothesis is very much in keeping with theories of how changes to the climate will unfold. That is to say, there is a very real risk that the warming process will initiate feed-back loops which will, in turn, amplify warming’s effects. Warming and its many consequences will thus not necessarily proceed in an incremental fashion.

Melting sea ice in the Canadian Arctic.

This is precisely what climatologists have been warning us about. Changes to our climate will produce more examples of strange weather. Storms will be more violent and frequent. Weather patterns will be more volatile, thus rendering something as fundamentally important as farming much more difficult. This is especially true in arid or semi-arid landscapes, as the ongoing tragedy in Somalia demonstrates. Sea ice will melt and snow cover throughout much of the Northern hemisphere will continue to diminish. Such patterns will, in turn, initiate changes to biological systems. In order to stem these changes, most climatologists argue, greenhouse gas emissions must be dramatically curtailed.

One legitimately wonders how hot it must get or how much Arctic ice must melt before the Harper government understands the threats posed by a radically altered climate. Harper insists his government is prepared to act, but only in tandem with their U.S. counterparts. The problem, of course, is that all the forces in the U.S. are conspiring to minimize any concerted effort to actually address the issue. Congress is now controlled by the Republicans, many of whom consider climate change merely a hoax peddled by members of the media and rogue elements of the scientific community. They regard any government led efforts to address the dangers of a changing climate like universal health care, namely, as part of President Obama’s insidious campaign to create a more intrusive state. Indeed their rhetoric is a sad reflection of how shallow, unscientific and intensely partisan the GOP has become.  Regrettably Obama has seemingly capitulated to GOP pressure tactics.  In the early days of his administration Obama acknowledged the threats associated with climate change and promised action. But a moribund economy, persistently high unemployment, a staggering debt and the ongoing challenge of having to contend with a Republican controlled congress have created an alternative set of priorities for his government. Now he doesn’t use the term ‘climate change’ when speaking about American energy policy or when speaking at a memorial for the latest tornado victims.

With rising temperatures, the heat is certainly on politicians.

The Harper administration has no such government impediments to addressing the issue. The Conservatives now have a majority and, besides, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Green Party acknowledge the reality that many of the changes to our climate are anthropogenic induced. Nevertheless so long as the Obama administration does nothing substantive on the climate change file, we can expect a similarly dispirited effort from our own government. Despite his occasional claims to the contrary, this suits Harper just fine. He still doesn’t utter the term climate change when speaking publicly and indeed has expressed doubts that it is a real phenomenon worthy of our attention.

More importantly, any attempt to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions would require a dramatic shift in the government’s approach to Alberta’s tar sands development. Oil production is a source of carbon emissions and is thus a vital contributor to climate change. This has done nothing to stem the demand for oil, the price of which has been steadily rising for years. Alberta’s tar sands were too expensive to develop so long as the price of oil remained below a certain threshold.  That has long ceased to be a problem.  On the contrary, Alberta’s sustained economic boom is largely due to the tar sands. Harper would risk alienating his core constituency to address a problem he has yet to declare actually exists. Small wonder then that Canada has repeatedly received a “fossil of the year,” given to the country which demonstrates the least resolve in reducing green-gas emissions and addressing climate change.

Terri-Jean Cracks Her Whip

July 20, 2011 11:20 am
Cover of Terri-Jean Bedford's new book "Dominatrix OnTrial"

With a new book entitled “Dominatrix On Trial” which hit the book shelves this week at Chapters, Indigo, and Coles, as well as a e-book version currently available,Terri-Jean Bedford, Canada’s most famous Dominatrix, is a determined woman who is anxious to tell her story.  Dominatrix, woman’s advocate, activist, painter, writer, and her most prized title “Grandma”, Terri-Jean gives us her take on the law, its limits, politicians, and Prime Minister Harper.

Terri-Jean has stared adversity in the face most of her life.  Throughout her childhood, teenage years, and as an adult, she was strong willed and determined yet unconventional.    She is not someone that could be bullied nor silenced.  She has faced the law in the past, most notably with charges of operating a common bawdy house under the then current anti-prostitution laws.  Now she finds herself in a constitutional fight that has brought down those same laws and divided a province.

Photo: Book cover of Terri-Jean Bedford’s new book “Dominatrix On Trial”.

Crimes Against Children

July 11, 2011 9:06 am
child soldiers

When you look deep into a child’s eyes, you can see their complete trust in the world and their vulnerability. You can hear it in their voices and laughs. They are little people that simply wear their hearts on their sleeves showing their bravery, trust, love, and fears. Their lives are literally in our hands.  We have the ability to help mould and support creative, compassionate, intelligent adults that will lead our world into a state of peace, longevity, as well as economic and environmental sustainability.

Although 194 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children around the world, the reality of the current situation brings us to reflect on the question of whether or not we are doing all we can to protect the children of the world.

Crimes against children are of the most deplorable acts in the world. They are crimes that cannot be forgiven, nor forgotten. There is the military use of children in which children, sometimes as young as 7 years old, are used as human shields or child soldiers. Children are more likely to experience racial discrimination. The genital mutilation of girls and boys still happens in parts of the world and within certain cultures. Children are trafficked, sold, and traded for sex, drugs, and/or money. From young ages many of them experience violence, homelessness, child abuse, disease, hunger, and neglect. Every day, millions of children are subject to some type of victimization.  Some of them are right here in our communities. What are we doing to protect them?

From a global perspective, the statistics are astonishing. Various studies and reports that were completed between 2000 and 2006 by several world organizations including the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization, demonstrate the severity of the issue. They revealed the following:

Child Soldiers: Over 50 countries are recruiting child soldiers in their wars and there are over 250,000 children participating in war.

Child Labour: In 2004, it was estimated that 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 were involved in child labour and 126 million of those were in hazardous work. In 2000, estimates suggested that 5.7 million children were in forced labour, 1.8 million in prostitution and/or pornography, and 1.2 million were trafficked as sex workers.

Genital Mutilation:  It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to female genital mutilation. An estimated 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.

Sex Trade: Estimates suggest that EACH year, 1 million children all over the world are sold internationally and across borders into the sex trade.

Murder: Estimates gathered from country-level data suggest that 53,000 children died worldwide as a result of homicide (2002)

Infrastructure: 30,500 children under 5 die each day of mainly preventable disease and thousands more are ill due to poor sanitation and the lack of clean drinking water.

Racism: Groups of children that are most vulnerable to violence are those with disabilities, from ethnic minorities, refugees, and other displaced children.

These are not just numbers and statistics. They represent countless living, breathing, human beings that suffer this victimization. As a collective force, all nations need to express our abhorrence towards those who commit heinous acts against the most vulnerable people in society. The indifference of the world governments and leaders must be shaken to create awareness that these atrocities, including the negligence of providing adequate infrastructure, education, and health care to children, are simply not acceptable and are against international laws. How do we do this? We begin to make a difference in the lives of children that are closest to us.  Then we open ourselves up to the ideology that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We have a collective responsibility toward the most “at risk people” in our society, to those who have no voice.  We are the ones that must stand up for them when their parents, their schoolmates, their teachers, and their governments won’t.

Have you ever turned a blind eye on a child that is being victimized? Have their eyes met yours for a few seconds only for you look away because you thought it wasn’t your business? Perhaps afterwards you’ve had it in the back of your mind that you could have made a difference in that child’s life? Simply put, you probably could have.


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