Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 17, No. 7, January 29, 2013

Drawing on some of the information released around the talks in Doha, Qatar, last month, our issue this month focusses on climate change. Incidentally, Qatar, with a population of about 1.9 million people, is reported to have the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
Our report begins with a review of decisions made, and not made, at the Doha conference. For readers not familiar with the process, it is important to note that although countries such as the US and Canada are not parties to the Kyoto Protocol they are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and therefore are still participants in much of the conference proceedings.
A US government advisory committee has published a draft national climate assessment report which describes the state of climate change risks and examples of adaptation measures. We summarize the report. The UN Environment Programme has issued a climate change report entitled The Emissions Gap Report which at best we can only describe as less than encouraging. The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation has looked at reporting of greenhouse gas and carbon black emissions across the three NAFTA countries and has found significant inconsistencies even in this limited area of the world.

Energy subsidies have been a concern of many environmental experts for decades. Recently the International Institute of Sustainable Development has commented on the renewable energy subsidies contained in the US 'fiscal cliff' agreement. The point they make is important for the biofuel industry and biofuel users. The Rinkwatch project provides for Canadians a graphic illustration of climate change - we describe the project. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario also weighs in on similar topics for his province.

You might have heard that water quality in northern Alberta lakes is being monitored for the effects of oil sand extraction but if it is the data are not being released. The latest study begins with the words "The absence of well-executed environmental monitoring in the Athabasca oil sands". We provide more detail in our article.

One doesn't often think of Canada's national sport (hockey) as green but the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, has taken some key green steps. Maybe hockey can become a green leader across all of Canada. Winston Churchill was not talking about climate change but about war with Germany. However, his remarks have an eerily familiar ring.
Finally in this issue, an eminent philosopher says it should be a global priority to pay attention to what he calls 'existential risk to humanity', CBC television runs a comedy skit on climate change, and Alex Bielak gives readers advance notice of the 2013 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum.

Our concept for our next issue may sound like a load of rubble but there have been quite a few interesting developments recently in the area of recycling of demolition and construction waste. We plan to provide an update. Meanwhile we hope you find this issue both interesting and useful. We welcome Letters to the Editor at and will pick a selection of the most interesting for publication.


The Doha Conference in December was the 18th in the series of annual international conferences under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, yet an effective international agreement to set targets for actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions seems as far away as ever. GallonLetter is inclined to support the view that such an agreement may never be ratified but that this may not be so important.

The need for an international agreement along the lines of the much maligned Kyoto Protocol is easy to understand. The greenhouse problem is global, with emissions from one country clearly influencing the climate in all other countries. The conventional thinking is that taking action on climate change will damage the economy of the country where the action takes place. Developing countries argue, with great effect, that the developed world has gained tremendously in economic growth over the last couple of centuries because they have taken advantage of the free opportunity to dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and that if that opportunity is to be curtailed then they, the developing countries, want what amounts to compensation for the fact that their freedom to emit has been restricted. Developed countries, at least some of them, argue that they will not do anything to reduce climate changing emissions until every country is forced to take action.

All of these arguments are fundamentally flawed, most significantly because of the error in the argument that action on climate change causes corresponding harm to the economy. Fixing problems helps the economy. Inventing and commercializing new technologies helps the economy. Becoming more energy efficient means more productivity per unit of energy and helps make industry more competitive. If implemented wisely, action on climate change can be a significant boost to a country's economy and fiscal situation. Many of the more developed countries, as well as many industrialists and politicians in Europe, understand that but the right wing of industry and government in North America refuses to accept that the future lies more with high tech than with burning of fossil fuels. For example, the first large commercial scale hybrid car was the Toyota Prius in 1997. In 2013 the government of Canada has given money to Toyota to assemble Canada's first-ever hybrid car.

The United States has not ratified any international human rights treaties since 2002. It has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes & Their Disposal. The political mood of the US Congress is currently against international treaties. There are also a significant number of fossil energy supporters and climate change deniers in the US Congress. Those people will likely block any US ratification of a climate change treaty until well into the next decade. Without the US, let alone many other large emitters of greenhouse gases, a new international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions is likely to be stalled for a long while.

While GallonLetter is inclined to the opinion that the nations of the world will not be able to agree on a new climate change deal anytime soon we also suspect that it may not matter. Government do not emit any significant percentage of the world's greenhouse gases. Most emissions come from industry and the public. We suspect that these sectors will decide to do something and that emissions will soon start following a downward path because of coordinated action in civil society and business.

We are certainly hoping so.

Colin Isaacs


A report by the German Wuppertal Institute, which links sustainable development research to more practical applications in the economy and society, summarizes succinctly the results of the Doha climate conference. Although Qatar, an oil state, was criticized by environmentalists as the location of the 18th Conference of the Parties and 9th Meeting for the Kyoto Protocol, COP President Al-Attiyah, a past President of Qatar Petroleum and Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, who "gavelled through the key decisions in 2 minutes and overruled Russia's procedural objection", is said to have saved the UN climate process.

But saving the process came at the expense of much in the way of results as a new more permanent agreement is not scheduled for passage until 2015.

Among the very modest outcomes of COP 18 are:
Key issues which raised fundamental differences of opinion included:
Why the Kyoto Protocol Is Important

The protocol quantified emission reduction commitments, set common rules for emissions accounting and established a global carbon market. The second commitment period includes these features.

Yet Kyoto is a shadow of its former self because as first agreed to more than 50% of global emissions were covered. The US pulled out without ratifying it. Additional "defections" by Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Russian Federation makes the 2nd commitment period CP2 include only 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The CP2 commitments are too weak, too close to business as usual. Additional weakness is the carryover of surplus units mostly due to "hot air" (emission reductions due to a weak economy) although certain conditions on these and political commitments from some countries not to buy these surplus units may reduce the negative impact. No new hot air emission reductions are allowed for CP2.

The UN Shouldn't Be the Scapegoat

The authors say that the problem is not the UN process but domestic political situations. The EU was a leader in climate change action but now with addition of Eastern European countries is a different place politically e.g. Poland relies 90% on coal. The US Congress is very divided. Businesses such as energy and transport use fossil fuels and represent models which need to be ended to fight climate change in order that the planet's fossil fuel reserves are left underground if the world is to stay below the 2 deg C. Countries' positions on climate change tend to mirror their reserves of fossil fuels.

The report suggests that the main problem is that countries and people see going off fossil fuels as a step back so developing countries say we won't stop development to deal with climate change and industrial countries say we won't cut back on our standard of living and damage our industry. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will hold a world leaders summit on climate change in 2014 which might help highlight opportunities for identifying trends which mean people can have their lifestyle and reduce emissions.

Founded in 1991 based in Wuppertal, Germany, the Wuppertal Institute is a non-profit limited company owned by the Federal State North Rhine Westphalia. It receives funding from government, civil society and business and industry. Their research seeks in an interdisciplinary way to connect science with practical applications for sustainability through resource efficiency and sufficiency. The team helped to develop the Kyoto Protocol, the first international agreement with measurable greenhouse gas emission limits.

Sterk, W, C. Arens, N. Kreibich, F. Mersmann, T. Wehnert. Sands Are Running Out for Climate Protection - The Doha Climate Conference Once Again Saves the UN Climate Process While Real Climate Action Is Shelved for Later. Wuppertal, Germany: Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy, December 21, 2013. [find “downloads” and click on citation”


The US National Climate Assessment report published as a draft for public comment was prepared by the 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The "National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee" or NCADAC) set up by the US Department of Commerce in December 2010 and supported through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The over 1000 page report describes many types of risks. It begins with a letter to the American people with the first sentence reading, "Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present." The report discusses:
Both non-governmental and the private sector are seen as "significant actors in the national effort to prepare for climate change." Services by NGOs include networking and best practices exchange, tools for adaptation planning, climate information, policy, legal and institutional support. Examples include ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, Union of Concerned Scientists, Carbon Disclosure Project and many others. For the private sector, evidence from the Securities and Exchange Commission's SEC Climate Change 10-K Disclosure, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions C2ES indicate growing number of companies are actively addressing climate change risks.

Climate Impacts Beyond Core Operations

A chart with widening rings shows the aspects of business that might be affected by climate change:
Smallest ring:
2nd ring:
broadest ring showing changes to the economy and infrastructure:
Some examples of private sector actions to adapt to climate risks from the Carbon Disclosure Project include:
Some companies are also taking action to identify opportunities for new products and services including consulting services, new growing seasons and new geographic locations for operations.

Climate Change Risks

Some key points are:

After review by the National Academies of Sciences and by the public which has until April 12 2013 to comment, the revised report will be submitted to the Federal Government for consideration in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The emissions gap between projected emissions of greenhouse gases and emissions needed to limit global temperature rise to 2 deg. C is growing for 2012 compared to previous reports of the United Nations Environment Emissions Gap report. The emissions gap in 2020 for a 2 deg C increase is projected to be between 8 and 13 GT Co2eq depending on four different scenarios.

An estimate for the median cumulative emission budget from 2000 to 2050 in pathways consistent with the 2 deg C is 1890 Gt CO2eq. Almost a quarter (24%) of this emissions budget had already been "spent" from 2000 to 2010 and in the last three years another 8% which leaves about 1250 Gt CO2eq to 2050.

Current pledges of nations for 2020 ( which the countries judging from the past might not achieve) show that there is a greater than 66% chance that global temperature will rise to 3 to 5 deg C above pre-industrial levels during the 21st century. Many of the options for mitigation options, ie reducing emissions, are low to moderate costs and if countries go beyond their pledges implementing these could bring the temperature in 2020 to the 2 deg C. Overshooting the targets poses a greater risk of large scale and possibly irreversible climate change. The longer the higher temperature remains, the more risk of impacts of climate change even though Earth's systems are resilient and may buffer the effects at some level.

Some observations include:
Bridging the Gap

Chapter 4 of the report addresses various approaches to closing the gap. Some observations include:
Best Practices

This chapter suggests principles for best practices. For example the following is a guide for vehicle performance standards:
"(i) standards should be technology-neutral so that markets find the most cost-effective solution;
(ii) standards should be made continuously more stringent – by 3 to 6% annually – to encourage on-going innovation and send long-term signals to automakers (ClimateWorks Foundation and ICCT, 2012);
(iii) standards should include all vehicle classes to prevent loopholes;
(iv) standards should not be weight-based, but footprint-based so they no longer discourage the use of lightweight materials;
(v) countries should improve testing procedures and rules so that test vehicle efficiency closely reflects real-world performance; and,
(vi) countries should combine vehicle performance standards with fiscal mechanisms and vehicle scrappage programmes that can help incentivize purchase of the most efficient vehicles and speed up the turnover of the existing fleet."

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The three countries of North America, Canada, US and Mexico, use different approaches for greenhouse gas reporting. A background report prepared by ICF International for the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the organization founded under a side agreement of the North American Free Trade Act NAFTA to address environmental issues, reviews the elements of national, state and provincial inventories for the three countries to compare them to each other and the reporting guidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC.

Both Canada and the US as industrialized countries or Annex I must submit annual GHG inventories to the UNFCCC using IPCC guidelines. Mexico, as a developing country or non-Annex I, has to prepare periodic National Communications and submit them to the UNFCCC.

Much of the data especially between the US, Canada and Mexico is comparable but there are gaps and differences from each other and in some cases best practice. A big difference is in waste incineration: in the US emissions from waste incineration are reported under Energy ie as a source category while in Mexico and Canada emissions from waste incineration are under the heading of waste. Under the 2006 IPCC guidelines which serve as the basis for reporting, when energy is recovered from waste combustion, the greenhouse gases should be accounted under Energy but when there is no energy recovered it should be under waste. The US says most of its waste incineration is due to energy from waste facilities.

Some sources not listed in all inventories include:
Some differences in sector-specific metrics included:
Five Canadian provinces and territories, thirty-one states in the US and ten states in Mexico has compiled GHG inventories separate from the national reports. The five subnational inventories in Canada are from Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Northwest Territories.

Carbon Black

Black carbon BC is the carbon part of particulate matter e.g. PM2.5 which are particles 2.5 microns or smaller including other chemicals as well as carbon black released due to incomplete combustion. BC is harmful to health but also creates regional warming as it absorbs many more times more energy than carbon dioxide. When BC is deposited on snow, it reduces solar reflection and hastens melting.

Canada's national Black Carbon inventory for Canada was compiled by Environment Canada in 2011 for the year 2006 as part of the Arctic Council's Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Options for Black Carbon". The data was from Environment Canada's 2006 National Pollutant Release Inventory.

The distribution of sources for Black Carbon are noticeably different in Canada and the US: For example in Canada mobile on-road sources are 8.4% compared to 26.6% in the US and mobile non-road sources in Canada are 43.5% and 25.7% in the US. Agriculture burning is only 0.6% of total black carbon in Canada but 11.4% in the US.

Strategies for reducing black carbon include reducing biomass and coal use in stoves globally, retrofitting existing engines or new engine standards, regulating emission standards and alternative vehicle fuels and training for proper burning techniques and tools and proper use of prescribed fires.

Metrics as a Step Towards a Low Carbon Economy

The report will be used to make recommendations on improving greenhouse gases and carbon black reporting as one element to reducing emissions in the move to a low carbon economy.

Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Report compares greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions tracking across North America: Addressing gaps, improving comparability key to advancing domestic and regional emissions objectives. Montreal, Quebec: 10 December 2012.
and report
Assessment of the Comparability of Greenhouse Gas and Black Carbon Emissions Inventories in North America. Montreal, Quebec: October 2012.


In a series of reports, the International Institute of Sustainable Development's project Global Subsidies Initiative based in Geneva Switzerland has reported on how subsidies for different kinds of energy delays action on climate change. Global subsidies for fossil fuels are estimated to be $600 billion although there is no framework for monitoring the subsidies worldwide. Since 2005, the Global Subsidies Initiative has been working on improving the estimates for these subsidies. But subsidies for biofuels which don't achieve carbon emission reductions in a cost efficient way are also of concern.

In a January 2013 press release, the IISD reported that in negotiating the "fiscal cliff" agreement, US lawmakers reinstated a US$1 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel which is expected to cost US taxpayers more than $2 billion and which had expired December 2011. The credit will be applied retroactively to 2012 and is said to reward producers who are already being subsidized by the state level. No additional biodiesel will be produced. IISD's Biofuels - At What Cost studies indicate that the average subsidy cost for each tonne of greenhouse gas emissions for biofuels is 33 times more expensive than purchasing equivalent amount of carbon offsets on the Chicago Climate Exchange or elsewhere. IISD urges all governments to review the full range of energy subsidies to fossil fuels, biofuels, nuclear power and renewables to ensure that the subsidies achieve the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and are not misused.

International Institute of Sustainable Development. IISD concerned over U.S. tax credit for biodiesel; US$2 billion price tag for taxpayers. Geneva, Switzerland: January 4, 2013.
Additional news and reports are available at

International Institute of Sustainable Development IISD. Global Subsidies Initiative. Fossil Fuels - At What Cost?


Described as where "backyard skating meets environmental science", Rinkwatch asks Canadians to record days on which they are able to skate on their outdoor/backyard rinks. Geographers at Wilfred Laurier University will track the data from across Canada to tally how climate change is affecting the number of skating days. Over 225 rinks have been registered.

A paper from researchers in Montreal published in Environmental Research Letters concluded that the outdoor skating season has been significantly shortened in five out of six regions (Atlantic Canada has a mix of increasing and decreasing trends) in Canada from 1951 to 2005. Southwest Canada and the Prairies had the most significant outdoor skating season length declines. This is apparently the first such study although ice related studies such as opening and closing dates on ice road in the Northwest Territories and various trends in lake and river ice cover indicate ice-free periods have lengthened over their study periods.

The length of the skating season is also shortened due to delays at the start of the season: several consecutive days are needed to set the foundation of ice for a rink. A projection of the trend line for the last 30 years to mid-century suggests that for Southwest Canada region, there will be zero rink-flooding days with other regions also negatively affected but not so dramatically. The article ends with "The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of Canadian identity and culture. Wayne Gretzky learned to skate on a backyard skating rink; our results imply that such opportunities may not available to future generations of Canadian children."

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Two reports from the Ontario Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) are linked in impacts and also in the importance of measuring to ensure progress: one is on the government's climate action and the other on energy conservation.

Ontario Energy Conservation: Metrics

While to Government of Ontario committed to an energy conservation culture a decade ago, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario says that the building of that culture is still at the stage of constructing the foundation. Many of the goals are stated as "aspirational policy slogans" lacking indicators and measurements of progress.

Example of a few selected energy targets:
The report said that the energy conservation programs in Ontario produce the cheapest electricity at just 3 cents per kWh.

Climate Change Action

The Government of Ontario’s closing of coal fired plants takes it a long way to its 2014 goal for greenhouse gas emissions but for 2020 there is a 30 megatonne gap. The target for 2020 is 15% below 1990 levels or about 150 MT. The electricity and industry sectors have energy declines while transport has increased significantly. Mostly due to coal phase out, GHG intensity has declined from 290 grams of CO2eq/kWh in 2000 to 130 g CO2eq/kWh in 2010. More renewables are seen as contributors to decarbonizing the economy.

Renewables are supplying more of the electricity with wind, solar and biomass having 7% of the installed capacity and generating 3% of the overall supply for the first time more than coal which generated 2.7%. ECO encourages the expansion of non-hydro renewables as nuclear facilities generate just over 57% of electricity and some facilities will need refurbishment in the near term. Good signs are that the Independent Electricity Systems Operator is working to integrate renewables into the grid e.g. through weather forecasting to improve wind and solar generation predictions. Trends are looking better for energy storage but the province needs a provincial strategy for energy storage.

ECO promotes carbon pricing; the government responds that it will not implement a carbon tax but might consider an emissions trading program.

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Storing Balance - Results. Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report 2011 Vol 2. January 8, 2013.
and Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2012: A Question of Commitment. December 4, 2012.


Readers read about the effect of oil sand pollution on northern Alberta lakes in our December issue. The publication of the research article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS received worldwide attention but just to illustrate GallonLetter's complaint of the lack of information on Environment Canada's website with so-called "monitoring of the oil sands region" there is no news release of this information, the latest news release on the website being February 2012. Canadians and the world have been assured that industry and government are ensuring "responsible resource development" but it seems this has been based on no evidence as the paper begins with "The absence of well-executed environmental monitoring in the Athabasca oil sands (Alberta, Canada) has necessitated the use of indirect approaches to determine background conditions of freshwater ecosystems before development of one of the Earth’s largest energy deposits."

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The National Hockey League and Players Association are back to business along with ticket holders, business partners, sponsors, employees and others who benefit by the sports activity and sales of food and stuff. At the Bell Centre where the Montreal Canadiens play, the club and the venue has taken steps to reduce the environmental impacts of their sport in a program called the Goal is Green! The Bell Centre has received three environmental certifications Ici on Recycle (Level 3), LEED-EB (Existing Building), and ISO 14001 - the most of any venue in North America.

Quebec's Ici on Recycle (Level 2) requires that 80% of the facility's residual waste is recycled or composted. This compares to 25% for the Bell Centre before the environmental initiative.

The club outlines what it calls fan-friendly initiatives including:
Environmental initiatives by NHL teams as an example of a number by various sports businesses are described in NHL Green. For example, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment have a sustainability plan for improving their venue at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Among the activities are:
These and initiatives in other sports are described in the US NGO Natural Resources Defense Council report called Game Changer released in September 2012.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.

“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent…. Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger…. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences…. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now….” This is a quote contained in the report of the Wuppertal Institute on the Doha climate talks (see separate article) and at the top of the email co-author Wolfgang Sterk, Project Co-Ordinator, Research Group Energy, Transport and Climate Policy sent to announce the report.

The quote, GallonLetter notes, are the words that British politician Winston Churchill ((1874-1965) uttered in the UK House of Commons in 1936 about the threat of Germany's preparations for war. Churchill also said that he had talked two years previously of the "dangers to Europe and to this country which were coming upon us through the vast process of German rearmament then already in full swing. The speech which I made on that occasion was much censured as being alarmist by leading Conservative newspapers." He outlines the evidence for the warlike preparations Germany was making. He refers to the lost years in which Western democracies failed to take measures "equal to the situation, or to make up for the years that were lost."

The Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, chastised Churchill ("my right hon. friend" and a member of his own party the Conservatives) saying that picking up the pace irrespective of the effect on commerce, industry and finance was not justified due to the dislocation of trade. In contrast, Churchill said that the mandate of the Government and the Ministers is to be responsible for public safety

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Some threats have zero change of occurring: the world was never going to end December 21, 2012 because of a Mayan calendar. An interpretation actively disputed by scholars about the prophecy of December 21, 2012 as the end of the world were hoaxes that many news media treated with such quasi-seriousness that at least some people felt there must be some threat. Our nearest city newspaper carried many more inches of paper space in December on this "prophecy" than to the Idle No More demonstrations or to the talks in Doha on climate change. The problem with this attention to these hoax threats is that it encourages people to think that discussions of all large scale threats are unnecessary or silly: oh, well, we are always being told about threats so any other ones that we are being told about are just the same: no need to worry about them either.
Even threats that claim to be based on science such as the Club of Rome and Paul Erhlich's books can be wrong at least in the time frame discussed e.g running out of oil reserves or not growing enough food. The prognosticators may have been inaccurate because they were too optimistic about their ability to deal with uncertainty and inability to foresee what are called unknown unknowns.. But just because there have always been doomsayers, both charlatan and more reputable, doesn't mean that there isn't (although an extremely low possibility) of a doomsday for the human race. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University UK says it should be a global priority to pay attention to what he calls existential risk to humanity. Some actions such as globally coordinating potential hazards of technologies may prevent a catastrophic event which could occur even if such an event is extremely unlikely.

An informal review of academic papers found little research on threats to humanity as a whole compared to other topics such as dung beetle (over 1000 papers), snowboarding (close to 600), zinc oxalate (175) with human extinction (less than 25).

Existential risks to humanity are categorized in one of Bostrom’s papers in four ways: extinction, permanent stagnation, humans develop to their potential with technology that is irremediably flawed; humans develop to their potential future, prospects look good but technology collapse leads to ruination. GallonLetter frankly doesn't quite get the philosophical distinctions but understands that these are circumstances not good for humanity. These are visualized as extreme and massive events - the casualties of World War I and II, the Spanish Flu epidemic and such like don't even register on the scale.

Bostrom suggests that even these existential risks might not be all bad e.g. humans could merge with machines in a good way, the human species might technically cease to exist. If human extinction occurred in other ways, it is possible that a new intelligent species might evolve in the billion years the Earth is expected to continue but human extinction will probably mean the great apes and close relatives also become extinct so the potential for a human like species is unlikely. Humanity doesn't know what their future needs might be so he suggests that one view of sustainability which includes the longevity of our species in the face of uncertainty is to see value in preserving options.

Human-Caused Risks Most Likely

He suggests that humanity has survived natural existential risks for hundreds of thousands of years so it is more likely to be able to survive specific risks from nature such as asteroid impacts, supervolcanic eruptions, earthquakes, gamma-ray bursts, and so on. It is unlikely that over the next century humanity will succumb to natural existential risk. In contrast, humanity has no track record for anthropogenic risk, human caused risk especially possibly future technological breakthroughs which allow for even more manipulation of the world and our biology. While some might have positive effects, there could be significant negative and unintended consequences.

Among the risks identified are synthetic biology including biotechnology, nanotechnology, global totalitarianism technologies, climate change and other environmental disturbances, machine intelligence. GallonLetter notes that in some cases business and industry are the agents for introducing those risks. For example, the depletion of the atmospheric ozone layer which protects against the sun's UV rays was discovered in the 1980s and was found to be due to chemicals such as CFCs introduced by DuPont under the brand name Freon years earlier. Through the Montreal Protocol, limits on ozone depleting chemicals were put in place globally. Because it can take years for the chemicals to migrate from the lower into the upper atmosphere and then another 40-100 years before they are degraded, the ozone hole over the Antarctic seasonally still sometimes covers as much as the entire North American continent including the US, Canada and Mexico but US NOAA reports that the depletion of the ozone layer has stopped.

Among the reasons why there is little attention paid to extreme events is :
Grounds for optimism include:
GallonLetter notes The World Economic Forum has published a global risk report for a number of years. (see GallonDaily's article on the 2013 report). Other organizations conduct surveys of experts on their perception of extreme risks illustrating the conclusions with a "doomsday clock", examples are the Asahi Glass Foundations and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

GallonDaily. Antibiotic resistance, and many others, fingered as big future risks to humans. 9 January 2013.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Climate change was a topic in the New Year's edition of the comedy television broadcast of the Ron James Show, a combination of stand-up comedy and skits. For example, he welcomed 2013 because now those costly Government of Canada ads for the War of 1812 will be over; he said that the government was anxious to have Canadians think back to the last 200 years rather than about the effect of climate change to the next 200. There was a skit of a broadcaster questioning a climate scientist; the broadcaster continuously denied the facts and when the scientist walked out finally, said: "I'm right and he's left."

Ron James has a regular evening show on CBC television.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The 2013 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum will be held June 3-4, 2013 in Mississauga, Ontario. Alex Bielak, Former Senior Fellow and Knowledge Broker at UNU-INWEH and Environment Canada, National Water Research Institute – Environment is on the committee for the the Forum.

Other members are:
Judy Ferguson, Director, Community and Member Engagement at the Alberta Rural Development Network
Kyla Reid, Research Facilitator, Faculty of Public Affairs at Carleton University
Shawna L. Reibling, Knowledge Mobilization Officer, Office of Research Services at Wilfrid Laurier University
Dave Walker, Technical Analyst, Knowledge Exchange Centre, Mental Health Commission of Canada
Kelly Bairos, PhD student at University of Western Ontario, Chair of the Graduate Research in Education Symposium and Network Manager of the Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research
Rachel Benoît, Directrice de projets at Centre de liaison sur l’intervention et la prévention psychosociales (CLIPP)

Knowledge mobilization covers a number of terms so the concept is encapsulated in the short term K* which includes knowledge transfer, translation and implementation. The aim of K* professionals is to "make the world a better place by ensuring that what we know from practice and research is actually used to make better decisions about program, policies, and practices, and ultimately changes behaviour." GallonLetter notes that when we have a federal government executive which doesn't believe in evidence this is a particularly timely event. As keynote speaker at the 2012 conference Dr. David Phipps, Director, Office of Research Services, York University said, "There will always be voices screaming louder and in a more timely fashion than evidence."

Kudos Welcomed by Gallonletter

Bielak wrote that he found the last GallonLetter "an exceptional issue: What a perfect edition of Gallon! It was interesting and stimulating with such a great diversity of topics ranging from Ed Begley, kale, pigeons and raptors, cookware and oil sands. I particularly liked the numerous food references and will refer to the latest edition in a food column that I write." When he was a lot younger, he was a fish biologist testing fish for toxicity of nickel and chromium so he was interested in the stories from the SETAC conference  poster on nickel from stainless steel in what he described as his "favourite environmental policy bulletin, the influential Gallon Environment Letter." Being a knowledge broker, he then added to the information and brought an additional perspective in a series of articles he writes.

2013 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum Selection Committee by Peter Levesque on November 15, 2012.

Bielak, Alex. Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Loaves and Fishes. Hamilton Net. December 9, 2012.


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