Climate engineering – two views

I’d like to contrast two views of geo-engineering – of trying to secure a technical fix that would solve, or at least stem, significant climate change. Several ways of doing this are proposed, such as sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and burying it deep underground in empty aquifers. Or pumping up sulphates into the high atmosphere where they will reflect sunlight back to space – similar to when a volcano erupts.

View one:

A few months back I mentioned Clive Hamilton’s new book, Earthmasters. . Clive recently wrote this piece in the New York Times and gave this interview at Democracy Now.

View two:

Back in May I had a chance to hear David Keith speak. He is a climate scientist at Harvard and has a new book coming out with MIT Press that makes the case for climate engineering. In his view, the science is sound – so we know what will happen when we do certain things like put sulphates up in the atmosphere. But the solutions are imperfect, so we might not know all that happens. But that just means it is not a silver bullet. It is one part of our arsenal that cannot be avoided in public policy. Here is a talk Keith gave:

I bring up these two views because an article was recently published in Science that suggests sulphates are not as well understood as previously thought. Here is a lay summary of the article.

New book: Reclaiming Indigenous Planning

From McGill-Queens Press:

Reclaiming Indigenous Planning9780773541948

Centuries-old community planning practices in Indigenous communities in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia have, in modern times, been eclipsed by ill-suited western approaches, mostly derived from colonial and neo-colonial traditions. Since planning outcomes have failed to reflect the rights and interests of Indigenous people, attempts to reclaim planning have become a priority for many Indigenous nations throughout the world.

In Reclaiming Indigenous Planning, scholars and practitioners connect the past and present to facilitate better planning for the future. With examples from the Canadian Arctic to the Australian desert, and the cities, towns, reserves and reservations in between, contributors engage topics including Indigenous mobilization and resistance, awareness-raising and seven-generations visioning, Indigenous participation in community planning processes, and forms of governance. Relying on case studies and personal narratives, these essays emphasize the critical need for Indigenous communities to reclaim control of the political, socio-cultural, and economic agendas that shape their lives.

The first book to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors together across continents, Reclaiming Indigenous Planning shows how urban and rural communities around the world are reformulating planning practices that incorporate traditional knowledge, cultural identity, and stewardship over land and resources.

Contributors include Robert Adkins (Community and Economic Development Consultant, USA), Chris Andersen (Alberta), Giovanni Attili (La Sapienza), Aaron Aubin (Dillon Consulting), Shaun Awatere (Landcare Research, New Zealand), Yale Belanger (Lethbridge), Keith Chaulk (Memorial), Stephen Cornell (Arizona), Sherrie Cross (Macquarie), Kim Doohan (Native Title and Resource Claims Consultant, Australia), Kerri Jo Fortier (Simpcw First Nation), Bethany Haalboom (Victoria University, New Zealand), Lisa Hardess (Hardess Planning Inc.), Garth Harmsworth (Landcare Research, New Zealand), Sharon Hausam (Pueblo of Laguna), Michael Hibbard (Oregon), Richard Howitt (Macquarie), Ted Jojola (New Mexico), Tanira Kingi (AgResearch, New Zealand), Marcus Lane (Griffith), Rebecca Lawrence (Umea), Gaim Lunkapis (Malaysia Sabah), Laura Mannell (Planning Consultant, Canada), Hirini Matunga (Lincoln University, New Zealand), Deborah McGregor (Toronto), Oscar Montes de Oca (AgResearch, New Zealand), Samantha Muller (Flinders), David Natcher (Saskatchewan), Frank Palermo (Dalhousie), Robert Patrick (Saskatchewan), Craig Pauling (Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu), Kurt Peters (Oregon State), Libby Porter (Monash), Andrea Procter (Memorial), Sarah Prout (Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, Australia), Catherine Robinson (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia), Shadrach Rolleston (Planning Consultant, New Zealand), Leonie Sandercock (British Columbia), Crispin Smith (Planning Consultant, Canada), Sandie Suchet-Pearson (Macquarie), Siri Veland (Brown), Ryan Walker (Saskatchewan), Liz Wedderburn (AgResearch, New Zealand).

Federal goverment stops environmental assessments for 80% of Alberta oilsands

Yesterday IPolitics reported that Ottawa will no longer require environmental assessments for in situ oilsands mining in Alberta.

In Situ Mining

This is a very big decision because over 80% of total oil sands reserves in Northern Alberta lie in deposits too deep to be reached by surface mining. Alberta Oilsands Inc states: In situ oil sands production means extracting bitumen from underground by drilling wells into the reservoir, as with conventional oil and natural gas production. This distinguishes in situ recovery from surface mining, which requires removing topsoil and other overburden and creating a large open pit mining area.”

Long story short: there will be no more massively denuded landscape shots of the Edward Burtynsky type.

The above definition doesn’t do justice to the complexity of in situ oilsands, so here is a sanitized video for children (no kidding – it’s of interest in itself as an educational exercise) that introduces just a bit more, followed by some more detailed explanations.

Given the large amount of bitumen that will be recovered via in situ mining there are a number of concerns about groundwater, water use, and water quality. In 2011, Water Matters put out a really good report on in situ mining and groundwater in Alberta that you can get here titled, “Drilling down: Groundwater risks imposed by in situ oil sands development”. In that report they detail more of the technical issues, such as the superheated steam required to liquefy bitumen and the interconnected hydrological and ecological systems of Northern Alberta.

The Pembina Institute also put out this primer on in situ development here (pdf download) with some helpful facts assembled.

New Materialism, Fragility, and Activism, William E.Connolly


Keynote talk by William E. Connolly at the 3rd Annual Radical Democracy Conference on March 16, 2013 at The New School in New York. Talk on “The New Materialism, Fragility, and Activism.”
For more information visit

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Navigating a wasting world: Graeme Wynn Lectures

Graeme Wynn of UBC Geography gave a series of lectures on Navigating a wasting world: perspectives on environmentalism and sustainability in Canada for the Mclean Series in Canadian Studies. They are put in sequence below.

Dams and the Anthropocene

Despite the proliferation of tens of thousands of mega-dams in the 20th century they are still being planned – a mega-dam is one that is over 15 meters high. A recently proposed one in Malaysia has been met with strong resistance. If you are curious about just how many big dams exist and when they came online, watch this short clip made by Bernhard Lehner:

The continued push for large dams is now coming from the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, which you can download here. The protocol is being advanced by the International Hydropower Association. The protocol claims to advance a “neutral platform” for sustainable hydropower through multi-stakeholder consensus. This would be a real achievement, but I am highly doubtful that there is any neutral platform to be had – a point I’ve made and remade since writing the introduction to our book on water ethics.

I’m not alone in my critical stance. Reviews from several quarters are already taking issue with the new protocol. You can read responses from the International Rivers Association, who also include a way to have your input into the current 60-day window of consultation here.

But why should we care about the proliferation of large dams? This is a good question, to which there are lots of good, yet conflicting answers. It is interesting to me that these issues are rising alongside the Global Water System Project’s conference on water in the anthropocene. The concern with the Anthropocene is that humans are dominating global systems in a way that is pushing them into new and uncharted territory – where the conditions may be quite different from those in which many species and processes evolved.

Here is a video put together on water in the Anthropocene that looks at more than just dams. If it doesn’t work for you, click here.

Chantal Mouffe: Democratic Politics and Agonistic Public Spaces

Chantal Mouffe is the editor of Gramsci and Marxist Theory, Dimensions of Radical Democracy, Deconstruction and Pragmatism, and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt; co-author (with Ernesto Laclau) of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (1985); and author of The Return of the Political (1993), and The Democratic Paradox (2000). Her latest work is On the Political published by Routledge in 2005.

She is currently elaborating a non-rationalist approach to political theory; formulating an ‘agonistic’ model of democracy; and engaged in research projects on the rise of right-wing populism in Europe and the place of Europe in a multipolar world order.


Measurement, mining and Canada’s foreign finances

A couple of new items out on mining. One is a new article published in Minerals Engineering that compares different ways of measuring “sustainability“.

Here is the ABSTRACT: Recent years have seen a proliferation of frameworks for assessing and reporting mining sustainability. While these frameworks vary substantially in scope and approach, they all seem to share the purported goal of better informing decision-makers about the future implications of mining to the environment and society. Whether they do so, however, remains an open question. The purpose of this paper is to describe, compare and critically analyse five sustainability assessment and reporting frameworks used by, or proposed for, the mining industry. Based on literature reviews, the paper highlights the underlying assumptions of those frameworks and presents a diagram that helps to clarify aspects such as temporal orientation, geographical scope and quantity of indicators. Three out of the five frameworks follow a siloed approach to assessing mining sustainability, overlooking trade-offs and synergies among variables and sustainability dimensions. None of the frameworks seems to fully shed light on the problem of mineral scarcity and the effective legacy of mineral operations. The paper concludes by emphasizing the need to carefully consider the information generated by the analysed frameworks and suggest more fruitful ways to foster sustainability reports.


A second item is more Canada specific. I’ve identified previously the increasing literature that identifies Canada’s unique place in the global mining context. This latest piece is on whether Canada is out of step with the push for more transparency around the extractive resource sector more broadly.

“As the G8 works to increase financial oversight and accountability for the extractive sector, is Canada standing off in the corner?

When the G8 leaders get together in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland on June 17-18, they’ll be following summit host and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s, agenda: tax, trade and transparency. Cameron has also made clear his intentions to renew the international community’s focus on financial openness in the extractive sector.

Cameron is riffing off a trend that is increasingly common in the extractive sector. In matters of corruption, sunlight is the best disinfectant: making public payment data from oil, gas and mineral companies will push out corruption, free industry from having to line the pockets of greedy middlemen, and ensure that local communities know where their royalties are going. Though the consensus appears to be calcifying around Cameron’s push, Canada appears to be more tepid in its support…” Read more here.

Friday fodder: fracking UNESCO world heritage sites

CBC News is reporting this morning on potential fracking in Gros Morne, Newfoundland. Gros Morne is a UNESCO world heritage site and UNESCO threatens to take the site off the list if fracking goes ahead. Gros Morne Fjord

It would be a symbolic gesture, but one that would expose Canada to further international scrutiny on its environmental record.

In eastern Canada, the issue of fracking is increasingly in the news. Also reported today is that the small town of Debert, Nova Scotia has denied the request of a company that 4.5 million gallons of fracking wastewater be cycled through the town’s wastewater treatment plant, which empties into the Bay of Fundy.

Thankfully, the local county decided not to use the Bay of Fundy as a “petri dish” for experiments. Their words.

Yesterday the U.S. released some fracking rules for public lands but there is a growing concern that not only will fracking pose a threat to water quality, but that in certain parts of the U.S. it will cause problems over quantity in water scarce areas.

Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene now accepting submissions

New, nonprofit, open-access scientific journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene is now accepting submissions online
Press Release: May 15th, 2013.
Elementa is an open-access, nonprofit journal, founded by BioOne and five collaborating academic institutions: Dartmouth, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington.
Elementa will publish original research reporting on new knowledge of the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems; interactions between human and natural systems; and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to global change. Embracing the concept that basic knowledge can foster sustainable solutions for society, Elementa is organized initially into six knowledge domains, each led by a prominent Editor-in-Chief.
Elementa is published on an open-access, public-good basis. Open access allows research to be freely available to all—including those from developing countries whose academic institutions may not be able to afford costly publications—in the interests of accelerating scientific progress, and ultimately resulting in public good. Open access not only ensures the widest dissemination of research possible, but also the greatest impact, by allowing others to cite, re-purpose, and build upon existing published research.
Elementa is now accepting submissions through its online peer-review system ( Benefits of publishing with Elementa include rapid, rigorous peer-review; a detailed manuscript tracking system for authors; and publications of articles through a variety of human- and machine-intelligible formats: XML, HTML, JSON, PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket, Elementa‘s first articles will be published on September 3rd.
Submissions may be bade under these domains:
Atmospheric Science
Detlev Helmig, University of Colorado Boulder
Earth and Environmental Science
Joel D. Blum, University of Michigan
Donald R. Zak, University of Michigan
Ocean Science
Jody W. Deming, University of Washington
Sustainable Engineering
Michael E. Chang, Georgia Institute of Technology

Visit the site and follow us on Twitter for more details:, @elementascience.

If you would like to receive more information about Elementa, or to schedule an interview, please contact Clare Dean at

21 Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington D.C., 20036