Warm Thoughts In The Dead Of Winter

It’s hard to find much good to say about last week’s extreme frigidity. Offhand, the only thing that lightens my mood when it’s -25 C out is the reappearance of the anti-climate change Luddites. I’m talking about the diehard few who cling to the completely debunked idea that global temperatures aren’t continuing to climb at an alarming rate.

Nothing brings these folks out of hiding like a record-setting cold snap. Refrains of “Whatever happened to your global warming?” were all the rage last week, rising meteorically in equal proportion to the plummeting temperatures outside.

I appreciate the fact that many of these people are just joking. It’s their winter equivalent of “Hot enough for you?” in the dog days of summer – and, just like that popular slogan, it gets tired mighty fast.

Like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, these “denialists” claim glaciers aren’t melting, snow cover isn’t disappearing, spring isn’t coming earlier, humidity isn’t rising, temperatures over lands and oceans aren’t increasing, sea levels aren’t rising, sea ice and ice sheets aren’t disappearing, oceans aren’t warming, species aren’t migrating and tree-lines aren’t moving poleward and upward.

Thankfully, the number of misinformed individuals continues to decline – and worldwide acceptance of manmade climate change continues to grow. Apparently, all it took was a series of epic extreme weather incidents to make a large chunk of the few remaining naysayers change their opinions.

That’s especially true with Americans, a nation that often seems to thrive on dismissing everything that’s happening around them. After a series of cataclysmic events, including Hurricane Katrina (over 1,800 dead, $81 billion in damage, according to Wikipedia), Hurricane Sandy (nearly 300 dead, $68 billion in damage and massive flooding), drought (the current one is called the largest natural disaster in American history) and record-setting heat waves, the number of climate change deniers in that country may soon drop to less than 10%. Hallelujah.

It’s always nice to see Americans catching up to the rest of the world, considering the untold destruction and loss of human life that’s already occurred in other parts of the planet, directly or indirectly caused by climate change.

Personally, I knew the tide was turning when one of the last bastions of global warming denial crumbled last year. In my case, I’d be talking about my 86-year old father who I always assumed would drown underneath a melting polar ice cap while holding a placard that said, “Climate Change Is A Hoax.” I nearly fell off my soapbox when he informed me that, “There might be something to this global warming after all.” Miracles never cease.

Like many popular hoaxes, the anti-climate change folks still cling to the junk science that exists on the Internet, although the remaining websites that promote this crud are starting to look like projects some college pranksters might have designed when they were both extremely wasted – and terminally bored.

It was priceless to see right-wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh hit the crackpot jackpot last week after he claimed scientists had made up the idea of a “polar vortex” to explain the frigid temperatures. In Limbaugh’s words, “They’re relying on their total dominance of the media to lie to you each and every day about climate change and global warming.”

When the anti-climate change contingent is forced to rely on someone like Limbaugh to make its case, you know they’re in trouble. This is the same clown who regularly rants against women, African Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, any religion except Christianity, homosexuals, immigrants and anyone who’s not a member of the Republican Party. This is someone you want on your side? Why not hire Krusty the Clown? At least that clown’s got a sense of humour.

Thankfully for Limbaugh, he probably won’t be around in 20 years or so when the world starts to get really nasty. As if it isn’t already insufferable enough in many tropical countries where temperatures are making life nearly unlivable for much of the year, it’s going to get a whole lot worse. According to a study in the respected journal Nature, tropical countries like Indonesia will start experiencing regular, unprecedented heat waves just five years from now.

An article in USA Today from last October 10th, says these heat waves will start to affect much of the U.S. just 20 years later and will create a tipping point after which the temperatures will rise every year. The figures will break every record set in the last 150 years if climate conditions continue to change at their current pace. The study’s lead author says, “Whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.” Scary stuff.

It’s fun to make jokes about global warming – but man-made climate change will soon be anything except a laughing matter. Living in Canada, we may end up being insulated from some of the most radical changes for a few extra years. Right now, it’s rather enjoyable to have spring arrive earlier, winters pass faster, less snowfall and rainfall, and some of the other benefits we’re becoming accustomed to.

But, ask people in tropical countries what their lives are like today compared to what they grew up with – or talk to Americans in the drought-stricken regions – and you’ll gain a different appreciation for why climate change is something none of us should be looking forward to.

“Hot enough for you?” will no longer be a tired, summer catchphrase. Instead, it will be an inescapable reality. As the number of those opposed to the idea of manmade climate change dwindles and the temperatures skyrocket, it will be more than hot enough for everyone. And clowns like Rush Limbaugh will, no doubt, find someone else to blame for it.

 

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All About Autumn

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” – William Cullen Bryant

It’s the season so nice, they named it twice. Some call it fall. Some call it autumn. I call it awesome. What a glorious time of year it is. Nature’s harvest in its full majesty. Gorgeous sunsets. Crisp, cool mornings. A rainbow of fall colours. Thanksgiving. Halloween. Bundled up school kids. Hearty meals prepared with the season’s bounty. Falling leaves. More falling leaves. Taking off the crops. Cozying up under a blanket. Craft sales. Hot apple cider spiced just right. Leisurely fall walks. Pumpkins, squashes and gourds, oh my. The World Series (aka The Fall Classic).

It’s an autumn extravaganza of dazzling pleasures, just waiting to be enjoyed. As George Eliot once said, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

Ms. Eliot had that right. Unlike other seasons, where you’re anxious for the next one to arrive, most of us would be perfectly happy if fall stayed around a little while longer. Even in the bleakest days of November, you’re still hoping for one more of those lingering autumn afternoons where you put on a fall jacket, take a hearty deep breath, stroll through a forest of changing colours, and reminisce about the year that’s slowly fading into the horizon.

Everyone has the season they enjoy most, one that often reflects your personality. For me, it’s always been autumn. Writer Lauren DeStefano feels the same way: “Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” Author and journalist Jim Bishop agrees: “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

To me, the other three seasons seem so showy, so full of themselves. Autumn is a time of peace, of contemplation, of reflection, of giving thanks. Yoko Ono said, “Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

Reverence. That’s a good word for it. “A feeling or attitude of deep respect, tinged with awe.” What a perfect description of this wonderful season. It’s a time when the farmers’ labour is repaid with the bountiful harvest. When we settle back into a warm, welcome routine following the vagaries of summer. When we give thanks for the warm memories that have come and gone throughout the year. And when we prepare for the long winter ahead and enjoy those remaining moments of sunshine and warmth.

It’s sad and happy and toasty and frigid and melancholy and joyous and light and dark and new and old and romantic and heartbreaking and so much more – all rolled into one magnificent, meandering collection of moments. It’s autumn. Enjoy every second of its transcendent beauty before it’s gone.

 

 

The Winds Are Changing

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about industrial wind turbines.

Forget about the fact that some people can’t sleep because of them. Or that they cause property devaluations by up to 50%. Or that they’re a blight on the rural landscape.

Forget about the fact that they make life unlivable for many autistic children. Or that many countries in the world are in the process of abandoning them. Or that they only operate less than 30% of the time and often when they’re not needed.

Forget about the fact that they create virtually no jobs. Or that they seriously affect tourism. Or that they kill birds, bats and other wildlife.

Forget about the fact that they’re causing the destruction of valuable, productive farmland. Or that much of their profits go to U.S.-based corporations. Or that they cause tinnitus and other hearing disorders for many people.

Forget about the fact that it will likely cost us hundreds of millions of dollars to tear them down in two decades or whenever they need to be decommissioned. Or that they’re driving a wedge between rural neighbours. Or that many people suffer headaches, dizziness, vertigo, nausea and other health disorders because of them.

Forget about the fact that they’re so unreliable they require other traditional forms of energy production just to supplement the meagre amount of power they produce. Or that when the nearly 800 litres of oil they contain starts burning most municipal fire departments are instructed to stand and watch them go up in flames because of safety and insurance concerns. Or that in the winter they throw chunks of ice as large as refrigerators hundreds of metres through the air.

Forget all of it. Just remember this. Industrial wind turbines make absolutely zero economic sense. And, finally, the reality is starting to sink in across the province.

Don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to all the propaganda and rhetoric and hyperbole that get tossed around regularly by both sides of the wind energy debate. Listen to the Auditor General of Ontario whose damning 2011 report on Renewable Energy Initiatives, including industrial wind turbines, paints a bleak picture of Ontario’s energy future.

In the report, the AG notes that when the Green Energy Act was passed in May 2009, the Ministry of Energy predicted modest annual increases of 1% in electricity bills because of the cost of adding renewable energy sources. Within a year, the same Ministry had revised its estimates to indicate increases of almost 8% annually for the next five years.

And that’s just for residential users. The increased cost to businesses will be astronomical. In the AG’s report, it’s estimated that the Renewable Energy-related Electricity Charge will increase by 1000% between 2010 and 2018. It’s going to make Ontario one of the most unattractive places to do business in all of North America.

The AG’s report also notes that, instead of sticking with a Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program that included competitive bidding, the Ontario government introduced the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program in 2009 that added about $4.4 billion in costs through extremely generous incentives to energy providers.

Because a large portion of wind energy is produced when we don’t need it (at night or in lower-use seasons), it has to be dumped or it’s lost forever. As the AG’s report notes, “Ontario deals with surplus-power situations mainly by exporting electricity to other jurisdictions at a price that is lower than the cost of generating that power.” That’s great news for the U.S. states that buy the cheap electricity from us, but not so much for the people here in Ontario who pay for it.

And for what? The Ontario Power Authority says both average and peak demand for electricity will drop between now and 2025 and that both our installed and effective capacity is already more than enough to meet that demand. However, we’ll still be paying handsomely. As the AG’s report notes, “Renewable energy generators who have contracts with the OPA will get paid even though Ontario does not need their electricity.” Those contracts last 20 years.

And that’s just the tip of the ice-encrusted, 40-ton, 180-foot turbine blade. From whatever economic perspective you look at them, industrial wind turbines are a financial disaster that we’ll be paying for long after they’ve stopped generating even a trickle of power.

At long last, the media in larger centres are starting to catch on. Rather than assuming it’s just some scattered grassroots complaints from people they like to call NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), people in urban areas are beginning to see the big picture, that we’re all headed down an economic sinkhole from which we’ll never recover. It’s about time they realized the truth in what people from rural areas have been saying for years. This delusional, wind-powered flimflam scam must end. The Ontario government got us into this mess. Now it’s time for them to get us out, whatever the cost, before it takes down the entire province.

What’s The Deal With Farmers Anyway?

Recently, I’ve been writing a series of articles on the agricultural industry. During that time, I’ve had the great fortune to meet with a number of area farmers who are involved with just about every type of operation you can imagine, from start-up ventures to large-scale farms.

It’s certainly been an interesting experience, but I come away asking myself one question, “What’s up with these people?”

For instance, we’ve had both killer frosts and a devastating drought in less than half a year and yet these people are upbeat, optimistic and more committed to farming than ever. I mean, really! Shouldn’t they be moaning and griping and ready to pack it in by now? What more can we throw at them?

If the weather hasn’t managed to sap all their energy and fortitude, what’s it going to take? How about ever-fluctuating prices for commodities? Misguided government programs? What about trying to keep up with the latest advances in technology? Maybe the high Canadian dollar will do the trick? Or outdated tax measures and regulations that are years behind those of other countries. What about pushing themselves to the limit trying to maximize productivity while minimizing their costs?

Still nothing? Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to make these people throw in the towel. They’re like that Energizer bunny that keeps going and going – except a lot less pink and a lot more resilient.

And what’s with all their friendliness? Everywhere I went and every farmer I’ve spoken with in the last few weeks has been so welcoming and accommodating. That’s awfully suspicious, don’t you think? Taking an hour out of your busy day to talk with a reporter seems very odd.

On the other hand, when I’ve tried interviewing government employees recently, I’ve had the door slammed in my face repeatedly and told that they’re not allowed to talk with the media. Now, that seems a lot more normal.

Seriously, I don’t know what to make of it all.

What is it that makes these people tick? Do they actually like working that hard and still struggling to make ends meet? Do they get a kick out of dealing with bureaucrats and bookwork and red tape? Does it make them happy to be taken for granted when they’re responsible for keeping us and the rest of the world fed? Do they enjoy watching their operating costs skyrocket when their payback can’t possibly keep pace?

There’s an answer here somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out what it is. In the meantime, I just hope they keep on doing what they’re doing. Because who else would possibly take their place if they ever decide they’ve had enough? I certainly hope I’m not around when it comes time to answer that question.