Monthly Archives: February 2007

Running On Fumes

The gas shortage that began last week wasn’t supposed to last this long. Instead, it’s getting worse.

Esso, Canadian Tire, Petro-Canada, and Shell gas stations in Toronto are all suffering from gas shortages, and some of them are completely out of fuel.

The shortage, we are told, is due to a fire that happened at a refinery in Nanticoke, Ontario on February 15th. Also, it’s due to the CN rail strike. Also, it’s due to cold weather.

In other words, there are a lot of things going wrong at once. Robert Theberge of Imperial Oil described the Nanticoke fire as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” His comments were probably an attempt to minimize the problem, but for me they do the opposite. If our gas supply is so susceptible to disruption that it can be broken by a straw, we’ve got a problem.

In the early 1970’s, North American oil production peaked, giving birth to the energy crisis. People woke up and took action (efficiency, conservation), but eventually new supplies from the Middle East drove prices back down, and old habbits returned. Three years ago, when gas prices spiked in Canada, individuals (though not government) smartened up again, and started buying fewer stupid, ugly vehicles. Then, again, prices dropped, and the pendulum of behaviour swung back.

By evolutionary design, we humans are adept at reacting to immediate threats (“Ah! Lion!”), but not as good at detecting gradual ones or noticing long emergencies. Doesn’t mean we can’t do it, just means we have to try a little harder. Just as every oil field has a peak production, and just as North America peaked in the 1770s, it’s becoming increasingly likely that global oil production will peak soon as well. In fact, some believe it already has.

This week, as gas prices went back up (and as we actually started running out of the stuff), some drivers reacted with anger and confusion, as if they’d had no warning that this kind of thing could happen. But of course, CN will go back to work, the refinery will get back up to speed, and prices will go back down again. The temporary supply problem (the one that’s easy to notice, the lion) will be resolved and the illusion that our oil supply is infinite and secure will be restored. The looming global supply problem will remain, of course, but that’s the one that’s much easier to sleep through.

Something else will remain as well — one question: how many more warnings can we afford to ignore?

Green Candidate Chris Tindal Congratulates Graham, Calls for Open Nomination


February 23, 2007, Toronto – Chris Tindal, nominated candidate for the Green Party of Canada in Toronto Centre, congratulated Bill Graham today on his thirteen years of service as the Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre, after Graham announced to his riding executive yesterday that he will not seek re-election.

“Bill is extremely well respected by people in this riding, myself included,” said Tindal. “He’s one of the best the Liberals had, and he’ll be hard to replace.”

Tindal ran against Graham in the last federal election, increasing the percentage of the Green vote by a factor of 47%.

Tindal is the Democratic Reform advocate for the Green Party, and called on the Liberal Party to ensure a fair and open nomination contest to select its next candidate. “It’s very important to the health of our democracy that local party members be allowed to select the candidate who can best represent them.”

The Green Party is the only party to have nominated a candidate in Toronto Centre for the next federal election, which could come as soon as the spring. Party leader Elizabeth May has said that Toronto will be a priority for Greens in the next campaign.


Bill Graham to Retire

The Toronto Star reports today what many have long suspected, that Bill Graham will not seek re-election in Toronto Centre. I spoke with Bill a few weeks ago and told him that I’ve been glad to have him as my MP for the past several years. He’s rightly respected, and will be missed.

The Star also reports that Stéphane Dion has said that there will be an open nomination race to select the next candidate. Let’s hope so. There are several local people who are interested, and Liberal members in Toronto Centre deserve to pick their own candidate. Whoever they choose, the next election will certainly be interesting.

An Emotional Truth

Al Gore brought his now famous slideshow to a sold-out crowd at the University of Toronto last night. Outside, a very Canadian phenomenon — the “friendly picket” — was taking place with signs that read “Welcome Al” and “Heed The Goracle.” Inside, former Ontario premiere David Peterson introduced Gore as a “moralist, philosopher, thinker, teacher, doer, and rock star.”

“I love you Al,” someone yelled from the upper seats of Convocation Hall once the first burst of applause had died down.

Before diving into his formal presentation, Gore stayed off script to single out Mayor David Miller and Toronto, saying the city stands out as a “beacon of hope,” and has a “determination to try and get it right.” He also couldn’t help but add, “I just wish Canadians could vote in American elections…retroactively.”

The presentation itself was largely the same as in the movie, An Inconvenient Truth. In short, not only is there no scientific disagreement regarding the reality of global warming or our role as a major cause (“the so-called skeptics are disappearing faster than icebergs”), the stakes could not be higher, and there’s no time to lose. It is no exaggeration to say that the climate crisis represents the greatest threat ever to face our entire species. The debate is over. Now, as Winston Churchill said while the storm clouds of fascism gathered before the second World War, “we are entering a period of consequences.”

There were, however, two interesting differences between Gore’s live presentation and his filmed one. First, there was even more scientific detail last night, and a greater recognition of the complexity of the climate change issue. That’s significant, because said complexity is often used by paid deniers (some of whom, by the way, are actually the same people who used to take money from the tobacco industry to tell us smoking didn’t cause cancer) to try and create confusion.

Gore also updated his slideshow to include the latest science and more current examples (some as recent as last week). For example, in the movie a big deal is made of the possibility that melting ice in Greenland could stop the flow of the Gulf Stream. That now seems less likely to scientists, and Gore told us so. (On the other hand, a lot of the science has gotten more dire.)

The second main difference is how much more emotional the facts are when delivered in person. Three quarters of the way through the presentation, Gore piles on the bad news: carbon concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it’s been in a million years; positive feedback loops (like the melting of the permafrost, which releases even more greenhouse gas) have already started to kick in; 100% of world fisheries have already peaked and declined in production; coral reefs are already starting to dissolve in more acidic oceans; floods and droughts (seemingly contradictory phenomenon caused by overall climate destabilization) are already costing people their water, food, and lives; both antarctic and arctic ice (the two “canaries in the mineshaft”) have already started to break up much faster than was predicted.

Whispers of “oh shit” rippled through the crowed as different people reached their own realizations.

However, at no point did Gore become more emotional than when talking about the solutions that are possible, and his belief in humanity’s ability to accomplish them. Straying from his typically American examples, Gore had some specific messages for Canada on this point. For one, he pointed out (as his slideshow omits) that per capita we are as bad as Americans when it comes to contributing to the climate crisis. On the other hand, he spoke of how respected Canada has been internationally for so many years, and then, under his breath and with deliberate coyness, said, “now, you wouldn’t walk away from Kyoto, would you?” If we don’t clean up our act, Gore explained, that makes it easier for the US not to act as well. “That’ll be the homework,” he said.

(These comments come a week after Harper’s environment minster, John Baird, was still trying to pretend that Gore supported his government’s plan, even after Gore’s office put out a statement to the contrary. Gore also said that Harper’s plan of intensity targets is an invention of the George W. Bush White House, and completely ineffective.)

At the end of the presentation, Gore told the story (if you’ve seen the film you’ve heard it) of when his six-year-old son slipped from his grasp, ran out into traffic, and was struck by a car. His son was in intensive care for months before pulling through. It’s the story of a father almost losing his son, and feeling like he could have done something to prevent it. It’s an impossible moment to replicate, but trust that everyone in the room was leaning forward, holding their breath. “If I could go back in time,” Gore explained, slowly, quietly, “I would go back to that moment right before his hand slipped from mine, and hold on tight.”

Then, turning to the image of the Earth on the screens behind him, Gore delivered his final message in the most urgent of whispers. “It’s beginning to slip from our grasp. I want you to hold on to it.”

This post also appears on Torontoist.