Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
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Vol. 15, No. 1, March 26, 2010
Honoured Reader Edition
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The Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is billed as the largest annual general science conference in the world. At this year's conference, held last month in San Diego, close to 30% of papers related to environmental topics. In this issue we are providing an overview of some of the more interesting presentations and sessions, several of which focused on various aspects of climate change. Others focused on such topics as biotechnology and geoengineering, even going so far as to suggest that humans may be able to outperform nature in running global systems.

We also share some notes from a conference handout called Bad Presentation Bingo. This should be a must-read for all presenters. Otherwise many presenters may be hearing BINGO in a lot of the conference halls in which they are speaking!

The editorial in this issue is about apple pie. You may wonder why, but there is a strong link between the federal government's food labelling rules and our ability to preferentially purchase locally processed foods. The Canadian government did not get it right the first time around, in part because of the way it makes policy, something that can affect all corporate victims of federal government regulations. Our editorial hopes they have learned from their mistake and will do better in future.

In response to our article on the Ontario green universities initiative we have a Letter to the Editor on another post-secondary greening initiative. Well done, Georgian College. We also catch you up on a couple of items in our 30 Second Summary section, we look at Ontario Nature's views on desirable natural heritage policies, we review a mathematics book which has a lot to do with the way we approach environmental issues, and we look at one of the nominees for a Globe Award. They weren't the winner but we think the company has much to commend it.

While reporting on AAAS and implicitly advocating the important role that science plays in the environment and the economy, we could not help but notice a recent report from the Climate Action Network which suggests that the federal government is once again muzzling its scientists. If the government responds we will let you know. While mentioning Big Brother, there is a group in the UK that is worried that incorporation of microchips in garbage cans may be a serious invasion of privacy. GL is not aware of any Canadian municipality that is currently using microchips in garbage or recycling bins but it would seem to be the kind of thing that could come. Chips could report not only on weight but other aspects of our recycling and garbage habits. If consumer products also contains chips, the day could be not too far off when our garbage bin chip contains all the information about the goods we are discarding. We have no doubt that some companies and municipalities are studying this possibility - maybe we should start the discussion on whether or not it is a 'good thing'.

In our next issue we will be looking a recent developments in the area of water quantity and quality. Water is rapidly becoming as important an issue as energy. Stay tuned and while you are waiting for the next issue let us know what you think of this issue. Send Letters to the Editor to


In 2007 the Prime Minister announced that any product labelled as 'Product of Canada' must be 'grown in Canada, processed in Canada, and packaged in Canada by Canadian farmers and producers. The policy decision arose from a media campaign, apparently led by the CBC, to overturn the then existing rule that a Product of Canada description could be applied to any product that contained 51% of Canadian value-added content. Under the old rule a marmalade, for example, could be labelled as 'Product of Canada' as long as it was made in Canada from imported oranges and sugar, with the Canadian effort comprising more than 51% of the product's value. The critics felt that 'Product of Canada' should mean that a product is entirely Canadian. The Prime Minister apparently agreed and achieved a great deal of positive press for introducing the new initiative.

As we pointed out at the time, the new rules have made it virtually impossible to legally market an apple pie as a 'Product of Canada' because there is not enough Canadian grown and processed sugar to make a commercial apple pie that meets the rule of no more than 2% foreign content in a 'Product of Canada' product. Of course, the problem extends to much more than apple pie: the major result of the new 'Product of Canada' rule has been that this label has virtually disappeared from retail store shelves. Farmers who grow foods commonly incorporated into processed products had hoped to benefit from a resurgence of interest in products of Canada. Instead, products labelled as 'Product of Canada' have disappeared and Canadian farmers are forced to compete with foreign product without the benefit of a 'Product of Canada' label.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has noticed that the new 'Product of Canada' labelling rules are not working and has initiated yet another consultation on the topic. This month they plan to launch an online consultation to consider changing the rules to exempt ingredients which are difficult to find in Canada. This will mean that a 'Product of Canada' apple pie, and thousands of other products which have been disqualified from a 'Product of Canada' label since the government's ill-conceived 2008 policy.

Product of Canada food labels are important not only to consumers but also to farmers, food processors, including smaller companies, and retailers. Buying Local means not only buying local fresh product but also buying locally processed products whenever possible. Consumers need information that will help them buy products that are made from as much Canadian content as is reasonable. For example, in an apple pie, if the apples are Canadian and the flour is Canadian, it is GL's view that most reasonable people would call it a Product of Canada apple pie.

Ridiculously strict labelling requirements inhibit consumer choice and hurt Canadian farmers. It is surprising to us that a Cabinet that claims to support smaller government and less regulation is allowing its bureaucracy to spend time on exempting "specific ingredients which are difficult to find in Canada" from labelling rules. Is this a priority for spending of tax dollars? But after making policy on the fly and finding that bad policy hurts farmers and does not help consumers, maybe having a second consultation within two years on the same topic is the only way out of the mess that should not have been created in the first place.

GL urges readers to sign up for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency consultation on 'Product of Canada' labelling rules. We think that a sensible policy would state that a product qualifies for a 'Product of Canada' label if the principle ingredients are grown in Canada. Do we need more complexity than that?

Colin Isaacs

Product of Canada Online Consultation

By the way, do not be fooled by the fact that CFIA calls its rule 'guidelines'. These 'guidelines' exist to guide inspectors in making decisions about misleading advertising, which is a serious offence in Canada. In effect, the 'guidelines' are rules with which all food processors and retailers must comply.

For background information: The Canadian Food Labelling Initiative


The American Association for the Advancement of Science AAAS conference attracts thousands of people and comes with a program agenda of 175 pages. Although four days of sessions can't be covered in any detail in this GL issue, the range of topics related to environment included:
For abstracts and program listing see


Philip Robertson from Michigan State University spoke of the importance of dealing with environmental challenges by understanding the interface between social and ecological systems. Research in the US and elsewhere tends to be conducted in separate and traditional fields, biophysical or social with few formal interactions. He suggests that a new framework is needed to better understand:
The US Long-term Ecological Research Network began its 30th year this year to develop such a framework (called the Integrative Science for Society and Environment (ISSE) framework) applicable to different ecosystems such as arctic tundra, eastern forests, deserts, croplands and cities.

Examples of some of the work includes research on a low-input, high diversity prairie restoration to produce biofuels and environmental benefits, a summer ecology program for low-income children called "Ecology Explorers" in Phoenix and an EcoTrends database with research sites and datasets to help determine the direction of changes of plant, animal, microbial and human populations, climate, land cover and habitat availability.

Robertson, G. Philip, Michigan State University. Integrated Science for Society and the Environment. 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting. February 19, 2010.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The session on climate change skepticism was lively and full and the focus was mainly on the reality of climate change and countering the misperceptions created by the mass media and the small circle of climate skeptics, "a small circle of ideologically orientated 'think tanks' that are partly funded by fossil fuel interests.". As mentioned in GL's last issue, William Freudenburg of the University of California identifies the tactic of media covering supposed debates about the reality of climate change as "Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods, or SCAMS". The public doesn't really understand that science isn't black and white certainty but is a gradual and cumulative improvement in understanding. Special interest groups exploit the "uncertainty", saying that there isn't a consensus. Freudenberg says "Similar SCAMs were used in fights against the regulation of cigarette smoking, asbestos, agricultural chemicals and even the use of lead in gasoline." He suggests that even scientists may downshift their statements to accommodate these opposing views, to be fair, resulting in consensus statements. such as that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, potentially understating the significance of the problems facing the world. The intense scrutiny supplied by the climate sceptics/outliers is, however, likely to ensure that climate change findings prove more credible in the long term.

GL notes that there were no speakers that we heard who came anywhere close to being a climate skeptic. The most common response to our question, "What do you think of those who don't believe in climate change" was "They will." But there was no session anywhere presenting the much-touted facts and supposed controversy so much talked of by the climate sceptics. In one session there was one audience member who asked a question which may have indicated a degree of scepticism but overall it seems that sceptics do not wish to be identified at mainstream science conferences.

Freudenberg, William R. Understanding climate-change skepticism: its sources and strategies. 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting. February 22, 2010.

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The 2010 AAAS had its own buzz. When GL's editor was strolling through the high-noise crowd at the reception to promote Canadian science hosted by David Fransen, Canadian Consul General in Los Angeles, the words most commonly overheard were publish, published, publishing, etc. When research articles are peer-reviewed, there is a certain level of scrutiny by other scientists. Peer review doesn't eliminate all fraud as a few fraudulent papers have passed peer review and been published in credible science journals. Recent controversy about two papers on dog cloning in 2004 and 2005 have created discussion in the science community about how to strengthen peer review but the idea that full third-party audits be required which would include replicating some or all of the experiment/study before publication would mean science research publication would crawl to a halt. Some suggest there are over 40,000 scientific journals.

While science relies on the ability of others to replicate the experiment, scientists are more likely to get published and recognized if their work is new and innovative. While that new revelation may be significant and important, what may be even more significant and important is followup studies to replicate the results which may show flaws, or support the original results. Sometimes those replicative studies don't get done. Even peer-reviewed, some findings are more credible than others. Some peer-reviewed articles are not very good or even wrong: some researchers, some journals, some peer reviewers have higher standards than others. Meta-analysis are sometimes used to provide statistical data of a large number of studies integrating the features of the studies and the outcomes from published literature; this sometimes helps to identify outlier studies which are inconsistent usually due to small sample size or other design feature compared to those studies with generally accepted results. Occasionally, the outlier studies may indicate the need for more studies to check why there is the inconsistency.

Another issue is that environmental issues cross traditional scientific disciplines, making it much more difficult to peer review because reviewers are rarely expert in a range of science topics.

Errors by scientific experts can have serious results. For example when Canadian forensic pathologist Charles Smith identified sudden infant deaths as child murder, parents went to jail. In this case, peer review through publication doesn't apply but building in another form of expert review or redundancy as a second, or, if the consequences are severe, even a third, opinion might be necessary. Critics of "corporate science", ie research funded solely by the private sector which forms the basis of many policy decisions by government, say that public research must be funded and conducted to ensure the public interest is protected.

Peer review is not perfect but may be the same as democracy which Winston Churchill said was the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried. Fostering trust by ensuring integrity and honesty isn't a problem of science alone. GL thought of this when reading a news story about John Felderhof who was speaking on due diligence and independent assessments of companies doing assay tests in mining at the 2010 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. In 1997, PDAC awarded him Prospector of the Year award for his work as chief geologist and vice-chairman of Bre-X, a company claiming an extraordinary gold find in Indonesia, When the claim was found to be a (very big) fraud, the collapse of the company became a very big mining scandal. Felderhof was found not guilty of insider trading and never faced criminal charges.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Some advocate that scientists ought not to speak on anything except the science they research and then only very specifically on the research itself. Others such as Stephen Schneider, a climate research scientist at Stanford University, said that scientists should enter into public debate on policy issues as advocates or science popularizers, "Because I have a PhD is not a reason to 'hang up my citizenship at the door' of a public meeting - we too are entitled to personal opinions. But, we also have a special obligation to make our value judgements explicit and to separate them explicitly from the scientific assessment process....An effective scientist-popularizer must balance the need to be heard (good sound bites) with the responsibility to be honest (all the caveats)..We must be both honest and effective-but this is never fully possible in the world of 20 second sound-bites. So the use of metaphors that convey both the urgency and uncertainty are necessary."

Schneider has written a book called Science as a Contact Sport which describes his own "scientific odyssey, navigating in both the turbulent waters of the world’s power structures and the arcane theatre of academic debaters."

Schneider, Stephen, Stanford University. Communication, Policy and Climate Change. Session: Communicating on the State and Local Level: How can Scientists Support Policy-Makers. AAAS 2010 Presentation. February 19 2019.

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Robert T. Fraley, PhD, Executive VP, Chief Technology Officer, Monsanto, gave one of the Topical Lecture Series at the AAAS Annual Meeting on February 21. It was titled Sustainable Solutions for Doubling Crop Productivity by 2030. Unlike the other presentations where the scientists were generally restrained both in their use of language and their conclusions, Fraley was on the extravagant side in his language about Monsanto's biotechnology: "unprecedented with new types of solutions", "new and different solutions", "interesting times", "exciting" and "fantastic", If there is a problem, Monsanto apparently is the solution (also apparently with no negative effect or downsides) including global food security, water availability, phosphorous pollution, climate change, biofuels, benefits and improving the lives of farmers around the world, proven economic and environmental benefits, a cycle of wealth, health benefits from an expansion of soy food ingredients in yoghurt and more, obesity and more.

The downsides such as the recent announcement by Monsanto that a cotton bollworm has developed resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis genetics in GM cotton in India were not mentioned. Resistance is not new to GM but the widespread use of these crops with this single feature makes it more probable that some pests will become resistant. One of the concerns of organically certified farmers is that pests made resistant to BT by genetically modified crops make one of the relatively few organic pest control measures (BT applied directly) ineffective. Similarly there is a growing concern about weeds now resistant to glyphosate, the herbicide used to kill weeds in crops with the gene inserted to survive the herbicide. Growth of resistant weeds may mean farmers have to adopt more tillage or use additional pesticides. Some weed scientists have recommended over some years now that farmers not plant GM crops with glyphosate applications repeatedly in the same field on an annual basis as the weed pressures from some of the resistant weeds are going to get worse.

Fraley spoke of a target to double yields of corn, canola and soybeans by 2030 (base 2000) and to reduce by 1/3 the inputs required per unit of output. Along the way, it turned out that he wasn't committing Monsanto to fulfill this promised target (or at least not alone.)

Monsanto describes itself on one hand as just an agricultural company working with simply bugs and seeds and on the other hand as a technology company with a megachipper which can splice hundreds of thousands of seeds by robots to generate source material for genetically modified seed. Fraley too has a similar persona describing himself as a farm boy when the yield on his father's farm was apparently low compared to today. Again, it seems that it must be Monsanto responsible for this yield increase, else why mention, it but perhaps not. In its advertising, Monsanto often uses the term "higher yield potential" rather than promising to increase yield but yield is obviously what is being marketed.

With the theme of the AAAS annual conference "Bridging Science and Society", Fraley gave a good demonstration of how to communicate and to make a strong effort to persuade and it is to his credit that he understands that having a high profile at a science conference increases credibility and is good for business. However GL thinks the AAAS made a mistake hosting this session as part of its science lectures when it was such overt corporate public relations talk. Even Fraley seemed to acknowledge that he was giving a set promo-speech when he said that this time he threw in a photo of the megachipper because it was a science conference. Overall, the AAAS has reasonably high standards for vetting speakers and sessions e.g. speakers have to declare conflict of interest.

Fraley, Robert. Sustainable Solutions for Doubling Crop Productivity by 2030. Topical Lecture. AAAS. San Diego, California: February 21, 2010.

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The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-governmental group of scientists and citizens, distributed a press release asking that "Journalists covering Fraley's talk should probe his assertions." (see above article) In 2009, the group produced two reports and funded a third covering GM crops and pesticides, fertilizer use and yields. Just in terms of yield, an April 2009 report by UCS Senior scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman found that genetic engineering has had little impact on crop yields. Yields for both corn and soybeans have increased over the last 13 years but mostly due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices. GM crops were introduced to North America in the mid-1990s.

GL notes that the literature indicates that in the US, for example, yield changed little between 1866 to 1930 but increased rapidly from 1950 with corn yields doubling between 1950 and 1977 with a five-fold increase from 1950 to 2005. Soybean yields increased by four times between 1924 and 2005. Although yield gains are distributed unevenly in diffferent geographic areas and in different times, similar yield gains were seen worldwide and for different crops such as rice, wheat and other crops. Huge yield gains were made for crops and in eras without any biotech due to conventional plant breeding and management practices such as high inputs of fertilizer and herbicides. Yield gains are levelling off in recent years.

Union of Concerned Scientists. Biotechnology's Broken Promises. Recent reports challenge Biotech Industry's Claims about Genetically Engineered Crops. Washington, DC: February 17, 2010. Handout at AAAS Annual Meeting.

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A number of the sessions at the AAAS 2010 Annual Meeting outlined societal strategies for responding to the climate crisis, a potential emergency on a global scale (1). Some of the sessions concluded that the transition to a zero-or-near-zero-emissions energy system is unlikely to happen fast enough to deal with climate change.

One session on geoengineering discussed in a major report by the UK Royal Society released in September 2009. David Keith, Director of the Energy and Environmental Systems Group, University of Calgary, who has written about geoengineering was among those discussing the study. Keith started by declaring a conflict of interest because he owns a company involved in geoengineering technologies. Geoengineering is defined as the deliberate large scale intervention in the Earth's climate system in order to moderate global warming.

Keith said that over the years there has discussion about planet-scale engineering to deal with climate, for example in the 1965 report to President Johnson by the science advisory committee.(2) While the Royal Society report continues to put the main priority on reducing global greenhouse emissions, if countries continue to burn fossil fuels for the next number of decades, the long-term consequences will be very threatening. Geoengineering may become a Plan B but any deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth's climate system to moderate global warming raises social, legal, and political issues as well as scientific and technical ones. One country or private entity could create impacts extending beyond national boundaries so the governance of such methods needs to be in place at a global level. The purpose of the report is to recommend only geoengineering methods demonstrated to be safe, effective, sustainable and affordable and also to foster well-informed debate and to reduce confusion and misinformation about other potential methods.. Key questions many of which are barely answered yet include: What is geoengineering? Do we need it? How could it be done? Is it feasible? At what costs? What are the unintended consequences?

There are two different categories of geoengineering:
1. Carbon dioxide removal techniques which directly address global warming by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere Examples: land use to protect carbon sinks, biomass for sequestration e.g. biochar, enhancing natural weathering to remove CO2, engineered capture of CO2 from the air, fertilizing of oceans to take up more CO2
2. Solar radiation management techniques which don't affect the concentration of greenhouse gases but cause the earth to absorb less solar radiation. Examples: increase reflectivity of the planet's surface with white roofs or covering deserts with reflective material, enhance marine cloud reflectivity, mimic volcanoes by spraying sulphate aerosols into the lower atmosphere, place shields such as mirrors in space to prevent sunlight reaching the earth.

Among some of the observations are:
Different methods in each category are different in their effectiveness (e.g. spatial scale and uniformity of the effect), timeliness (e.g. state of readiness for implementation), costs (e.g. deployment and operations - cost estimates are extremely tentative), and environmental/safety impacts (e.g predictability, verifiability of effects, level of potential to go wrong on a large scale). These affect implications for public policy. Each method is reviewed in the report with a technical description and an evaluation of the four technical criteria (effectiveness, timeliness, safety and costs) on a low, medium, high scale.

Discussion and recommendations also related to the kind of research needed not only on technical aspects but also on factors such as public reaction and acceptance/resistance, eligibility of these methods for programs such as Clean Development Mechanisms, and governance and regulations required e.g compensation for those adversely affected. Overall, though, the intent of this report is to encourage research on the consequences of deploying these methods because these scientists think it possible that not just one but a number of geoengineering technologies may be implemented as greenhouse gas emissions rise. Some call it hubris and dangerous to try to "fix the sky" (humans haven't had very much experience in planet management) while this report calls it "Plan B". It sure makes one think that high level scientists have projected a scenario of climate change that is highly risky to ignore.



Braden Allenby, who is best known to GL for his work on industrial ecology and design for the environment in the 1990s, has in recent years discussed geoengineering but has a different view as to the important factors defining what geoengineering is. He says humans have to "begin learning how to work within the complex systems that characterise the Anthropocene (1)." He identifies the "real geoengineering" as "The Five Horsemen": nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, information and communication technology and cognitive science (e.g. telepathic helmet). While some see the term Horsemen as invariably linked to the Apocalypse, not so Allenby who sees opportunity as long as humans observe the principles of "Earth Systems Engineering and Management" some of which are:
GL found these types of AAAS presentations somewhat disturbing. There were several in the same vein. While the general public and media seem to be still thinking that climate change as a figment, there are some such as Allenby who have been involved in studying environmental threats and issues who are going to a place where no man or woman (except James Lovelock perhaps) has gone before: concluding that the earth is inevitably not going to function on its own but require planet management. Gulp!

Allenby, Braden. . Technological Change and Earth Systems: A Critique of Geoengineering. Arizona State University. February 19, 2010.


Several people at the AAAS meeting asked us what we were doing in San Diego when we could be at the Olympics in Vancouver. But we did get to see a medal anyway.

One of our associates sat next to Mark Clampin. He is a scientist at the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He and others including leader of the team Christian Marois, now at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, British Columbia, won the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize. The award was for the most outstanding paper published in Science between June 1, 2008 and May 31, 2009. The paper included for the first time a visible light photo of a planet outside our solar system, this one at a distance of 25 light years, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Although there are about 300 known planetary systems besides ours, pictures of planets have been impossible to get because at these large distances, they appear to be very small and dim and so close to their host sun-star that it has been difficult to get a separate image of the planet. Dr. Clampin was generous enough to show us his bronze medal which included his name and the inscription "For outstanding contribution to science." Understanding other planets might give us greater incentive to preserve the one we live on.

Athletes were garnering world attention for their medals at the 2010 Olympics. It seems unlikely but perhaps one day, medals received by scientists will also generate such public fervour.

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Money from corporations and government to pay for research can be essential and a good thing except when those paying the piper want to call the tune. When in 1997, Dr. Nancy Olivieri published a paper on harmful side effects caused by a drug used in a clinical trial, she breached the confidentiality agreement with the drug company, Apotex. Since then she has suffered many actions against her to this day but during the AAAS meeting she was recognized for her integrity and courage receiving the AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. The ability of companies to pay for research and to publish only studies positive to their claim is one of the bigger dangers for policy-makers especially if governments reduce spending on scientific research.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


One of the handouts at the AAAS conference was a sheet with the title Bad Presentation Bingo, which is intended by the Illinois Science Council to encourage scientists to consider the presentation as well as the content. Among the squares were:
Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.



Hi Colin,

Georgian College isn't a university, but its University Partnerships Centre now has about 2000 university students taking courses with several universities (eg: Laurentian, York, Windsor, U of T's OISE, Central MIchigan, & others) here in Barrie.

Georgian had a number of remarkable energy initiatives, several of which are saving so much money that they more than pay for the cost of the loans taken out to install them.

I was very impressed with what they had done several years ago. Georgian has built some new buildings since then and I expect that the best energy efficiency technology has been incorporated into the designs.

Peter Bursztyn
Barrie, Ontario


Science and Budgets Matter: Perhaps Canada's best well-known science-popularizer David Suzuki writes a regular column called Science Matters. He and Faisal Moola, director of science at the David Suzuki Foundation, wrote a column on the federal budget saying that the short term emphasis on resources in the "Jobs and Growth Budget" would "would make little sense from a long-range perspective. Where will the jobs - and indeed, the growth - be when the oil runs out, or when all of our economic resources have to be put toward controlling or adapting to the devastating effects of climate change? "

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.
Federal SD: The Globe and Mail blog called Ottawa Notebook carried a story which suggested that federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice is waking up to the importance of environment to Canadians by launching a consultation on the federal sustainable development strategy for Canada. It sounded too good to be true and indeed it was. As comments to the blog indicated, the government is required to develop the strategy. Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has mentioned his responsibility to review the yet-to-be-developed strategy in his annual reports.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act which was assented to June 26, 2008 says, "Within two years after this Act comes into force and within every three-year period after that, the Minister shall develop, in accordance with this section, a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy based on the precautionary principle." So the deadline for the strategy is June 26, 2010 but the consultation continues to July 12, 2010 with further time delays in formulating the strategy. Comments can be sent to The deadline for the consultation or mailed to
Federal Sustainable Development Office
10 Wellington Street, 25th Floor
Environment Canada
Gatineau, QC K1A 0H3
A summary of the public input received will be posted online shortly after the completion of the review period.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.
Environment Canada - Sustainable Development - Public Consultation on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. March 15, 2010. [Find link here also for consultation document - Planning for a Sustainable Future: A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada]


Ontario Nature, a conservation group, has published a report reviewing the Natural Heritage Policies for Southern Ontario. Five major "lacks" are outlined:
1. The lack of an effective, system-based approach to natural heritage planning and protection
2. The lack of monitoring of Ontario’s large-scale land use plans
3. Insufficient constraints on infrastructure development in policies intended to protect natural
heritage values
4. Insufficient constraints on aggregate extraction in policies intended to protect natural
heritage values
5. The lack of inter-ministerial coordination in developing and implementing policies to protect
natural heritage features and systems

Despite these lacks, the Ontario government is given credit for having "taken significant steps in recent years to incorporate the concept of sustainability into provincial policy, including the consideration of smart growth, landscape ecology and conservation biology principles in matters of land use planning and development and biodiversity protection." Some of these are described and 24 recommendations are offered to address the gaps in these policies.

Caroline Schultz, Executive Director, in her email alert on the report writes, "Why is a Greenway important? A Greenway will conserve sensitive ecosystems, protect waterways, improve air and soil quality, protect and restore natural areas for wildlife and species at risk, enhance human health and well-being and, critically, enable wildlife to adapt to the anticipated impacts of climate change...As the province’s human population grows, and the likelihood of negative impacts from climate change increases, we need courageous and forward thinking initiatives like the Greenway to safeguard the biodiversity of southern and eastern Ontario."

Ontario Nature. The Green Way Forward: A Review of Natural Heritage Policies for Southern Ontario. March 2010.


In Our Days Are Numbered, Dalhousie University mathematics professor covers an array of topics ranging from party games (such as when one is likely to be thought a whiz by saying that at least two people in the room have the same birthday), how graphs tell the truth or lie, how Google uses mathematics for prioritizing  searching, to how music is essentially mathematical. While environment is mentioned such as on climate change decisions and the best routing of garbage pickup, the environmental examples are among many which illustrate the range of concepts Brown discusses often in an entertaining way.

Some of the lessons a reader might learn include:
The light-hearted approach doesn't necessarily make this book exactly a piece of cake to understand if one feels mathematically-challenged; one could easily read it more than once. In GL's view, Brown has found a great way to encourage basic understanding of mathematics including graphs, statistics, probability and even fractals. Such basic understanding is essential if the public and decision-makers are to connect the dots between science and policy. Brown writes, "A little mathematics can take us far. And it's not only the calculations and concepts that can be so helpful but even the perspective mathematics offers. Life is full of problems, begging for solutions..What mathematics can do is add to our bag of tricks for problem solving, thereby dramatically increasing our chances of success. Mathematics can sweep away some of the limits we pose on ourselves, if only we are receptive. One of my favourite quotes is Paul Erdos' "My brain is open," a sentiment I think we should all aspire to." GL says, "Count us in, Professor Brown." The book is among the three books shortlisted for the Evelyn Richardson Memorial Literary Prize for Non-Fiction said to be the top non-fiction award in Atlantic Canada. The book recognized must be by a Nova Scotian. The winner will be announced April 14.

Brown, Jason I. Our Days are numbered: How mathematics orders our lives. McClelland & Stewart. Toronto, Ontario: 2009. $32.99


Saltworks Technologies Inc. was one of three finalists for the Globe 2010 Award for Excellence in Emerging Technology that was recently awarded in Vancouver. The other two nominees in this category were Climate Smart Businesses Inc. and Dow Chemical Canada ULC. Dow was the winner for solar shingles.

Technology Review, an information service of MIT, reviewed Saltworks Technologies' desalination process. Saltworks Technologies is a Vancouver-based company that was founded in 2008. Ben Sparrow, the engineer who founded the company, spoke of the technology and said "We've taken it from a benchtop prototype to a fully functional seawater pilot plant." Most desalination plants are energy-intensive and expensive. Saltworks' innovation is using ionic exchange instead of the common distillation through evaporation-condensation or membrane filtration through reverse osmosis. Using solar evaporation or waste heat from a nearby industrial facility before desalinating leads to a process that claims to save 80% of the energy commonly used in desalination.


In September 2009, Saltworks received funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada SDTC for "building and testing a commercial-scale 5,000 liter/ day transportable pilot plant for seawater and brackish industrial water treatment."

Although SDTC issued its 17th call for applications for funding for clean technology at the end of February, the federal budget cuts may mean funding for clean technology may be much less available.

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A large network of environmental groups, unions, and conservation and nature groups has issued a report charging that the government of Canada is muzzling its scientists on climate change. Graham Saul, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada is quoted in the press release, "“While the government’s inaction on climate change is well-known, this report uncovers new evidence of Environment Canada’s successful efforts to restrict media access to its own scientists, effectively burying the truth. It has become virtually impossible to believe this government when they claim to support the science of climate change, because they’re behaving more like a group of climate skeptics that is simply looking for excuses not to act.” The report was written by Andrew Cuddy, a third year student in politics and earth science at McGill School of Environment and a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to the Copenhagen climate negotiations.

Among the observations in the report are:
The report proceeds to discuss these and other matters in more detail saying, "What we uncovered, and have documented in this report, is a troubling catalogue of actions by the present federal government that undermine Canadian climate science research and its practitioners."

The Climate Action Network is a network of NGOs, including Algonquin Wildlands League, Assembly of First Nations, United Church of Canada, Pembina, United Steelworkers of America, KAIROS, Nature Canada, and many other groups.

Climate Action Network Canada 1 Nicholas Street, Suite 412 Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7B7 Phone: 613-241-4413 Email:

Climate Action Network Canada. New report details government actions that undermine
research into the science of climate change. March 15, 2010.
Cuddy, Andrew. Troubling Evidence The Harper Government’s Approach to Climate Science Research in Canada. Climate Action Network. March 2010 Troubling Evidence The Harper Government’s Approach to Climate Science Research in Canada By Andrew Cuddy Ottawa, Ontario: Climate Action Network. March 2010


A UK group called Big Brother Watch, a taxpayer group, has produced a report on the use of microchips installed in garbage bins in the United Kingdom. The report says that 68 local authorities in Britain and Northern Ireland has installed microchips in bins at about 2.6 million households. South Norfolk is the only community which has began a pilot program which was abandoned partly due to public negativity and partly due to technical difficulty: in some cases during the cold the chips failed. The idea is to weigh the bins to allow for charging for waste. Objections include:
GL thinks the privacy issue is very important and needs to be addressed but may be similar to smart meters which provide more information about whether the persons might be at home or away and some level of details, depending on the nature of the meter, about what the household is doing. The idea of charging for garbage won't go away although there may be alternatives to charging the home owner such as Germany where there is more of a focus at charging the seller/manufacturer/distributor.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


At the AAAS conference, a number of winners of the 2009 Ig Noble Awards spoke on their research to much applause from the rather-well-informed and appreciative audience. For example, Donald L. Unger won the 2009 Ig Noble Medicine Prize. He told the story of how when he was young, his mother told him not to crack his knuckles because he would get arthritis in his fingers. So for more than sixty years he cracked the knuckles of his left hand but never cracked the knuckles of his right hand. Now he is in his eighties, he said he can confidently say that his mother was wrong: cracking your knuckles does not inevitably cause arthritis.

The Ig Nobles awards are organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research which promotes itself as research which makes you laugh and think. In 2009, they were handed out by genuine Nobel Laureates, nine of them. The Twentieth 1st Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will happen on Thursday, September 30, 2010. The ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Student, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, and the Harvard Computer Society.

GL's editor realized why this is an example of why he chose not to accept the opportunity to become a research chemist: there is way too much repetition involved. Although some climate sceptics/deniers/outliers seem willing to see a vast conspiracy by climate researchers to con the public by getting grants for their research, GL sees the long years of education (apparently the average age of those who obtain grants from the US National Institute of Health is 42), most get only a salary and do work which in some cases is equivalent to cracking the left knuckle but not the right for years and years. To take lessons from Winston Churchill: when he was in the military in his early 20s, he sought to participate in all the active campaigns (e.g Cuba, India, Egypt) he could but some thought he was gadding about too much for glory and should stay with his regiment practicising. Later as First Admiral, he routinely used to override what he called "red-tape curmudgeons" trying to deny permission for such enthusiasm. Churchill said that after all, what were young applicants for action really asking for but to take a bullet. The analogy with climate researchers seems to be similar: what are they asking for but support for doing what we as society need done and for the most part, while they might find it exciting, most of us would find a lot of that research rather a slog. 

Unger, L. Donald. "Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis of the Fingers?", Donald L. Unger, Arthritis and Rheumatism, vol. 41, no. 5, 1998, pp. 949-50.
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