Pipeline Project

There is a lot to grab your attention right now when it comes to local government. Budget deliberations, mobility pricing, the ongoing housing crisis, election 2018; it is hard to pick your battles sometimes.

However, the pending start of construction activity along the proposed Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline Expansion is likely to spend some time in the news this spring and summer. Although directly-impacted local governments such as Coquitlam and Burnaby have taken very different approaches to the project, there have been people in New Westminster raising alarm about the potential impacts on the Brunette River watershed, along our eastern border.

What has not been discussed as much in our local government context, is what this project means to the First Nations along the route and to the indigenous people upon whose traditional lands this project will impose itself. As our own City approaches reconciliation, we need to start thinking more broadly about how we engage the indigenous community when we are evaluating our support or opposition to resource projects – even ones we have little jurisdiction over.

Next week, the Massey Theatre Society is partnering with Savage Society and Itsazoo Productions to present “The Pipeline Project”, a multi-media theatre event and conversation that explores these themes. As part of the Massey’s ongoing “Skookum Indigenous Arts Program

By all reviews, it is a serious, but at times humourous and disarming discussion of pipeline politics, and the sometimes unrecognized push-pull between “environmentalism” and the ongoing fight for indigenous rights. There are even a couple of matinee performances/discussions for those who can’t get out at night.

Here is a (slightly NSFW, but funny when it is) preview:

I think it is pretty timely with where New West, the province, and the nation are on this discussion. It’s gut check time when it comes to defining what kind of place we want Canada to be. This is a good chance to start listening. Get tickets here.


The long-anticipated and irrationally-political Mobi bikeshare program has finally launched in Vancouver. I hope it works, but have my doubts.

Regular readers (hi Mom!) will remember that I went to New York City around Christmas time last year, and had a chance to try out their massively successful bikeshare program, product-placemently named “Citi Bikes”. The experience not only made me a fan of bikeshare- but changed a lot of my misconceptions about what bikeshare is. As I see many of my own misconceptions being repeated in the Vancouver media (social and otherwise) around Mobi, it is worth discussion.

Citi Bikes operate on short-term rental system. You can pick up a bike while walking by a station, and ride for up to 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if you have an annual pass) before you need to check the bike in again at any station. You can buy a day pass for $12, which gives you unlimited rides within 24 hours, or you can buy an annual pass for $150 and use it whenever you feel the need.

Now, 30 minutes seems a pretty short period of time to rent a bike, but that is the entire point of the system. If you want to rent a bike for a couple of hours to noodle around Stanley Park, or for a few days to add biking adventures to your vacation, then a private bike rental company is still the best option for you. Bikeshare is not about replacing other bikes, it is about expanding your walking distance and facilitating multi-modal trips.

I can probably explain better by talking about the day we spent in Brooklyn and Manhattan using Citi Bikes:

  • We walk the block from our place in residential Bedford-Sty to our nearest Citi Bike Station. After about 5 minutes of paying for a day pass and checking the bikes out, we were on our way east along brownstone-lined streets.
  • About 20 minutes later, we were at Barclay’s Centre where another Citi Bike station was awaiting. We dock the bikes and hang out a bit at the sprawling plaza. The dock also has a digital map kiosk, so we orient ourselves and plan the best route to the Brooklyn Bridge before we check out a couple of new bikes.


  • Near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, we dock the bikes. We grab a coffee, then wander over to the bridge. The pedestrian/bike walkway is packed with tourists, so we slowly walk across enjoying the sites, the crowd, the experience, without abandoning bikes at one end we need to retrieve later, or feeling like we needed to drag them along.


  • We spend an hour or two wandering around China Town and Little Italy, then hop on a Citi Bike to loop around the Bowery to the Village. Some places were better for walking, some better for riding, and we made the choice. village2
  • After some more meandering, we check out another set of bikes and cross the Williamsburg Bridge. Back on the Brooklyn side, we quickly swap bikes to get ourselves an extra few minutes, then head through Williamsburg to find a brewery.


  • After a tasting and a meal and some wandering about loving the vibe of Williamsburg, we found a nearby station and mapped out the best route home to Bed Sty as the sun was setting. Probably being a 40-minute ride at an easy pace, we figured we would need to swap out bikes half way. We didn’t know about the “Citi Bike Dead Zone” in the Hasidic part of south Williamsburg, but managed to find a station with 5 minutes to spare. If we had downloaded the Citi Bike App, we could have avoided this peril.


  • Back at our base station as it was getting dark (the Citi Bike has built-in front and rear lights run by a generator in the front hub), we checked in and walked the block home with time enough to catch a great Sousaphone-Accordion trio.


A nice 8-hour day, about 7 bike station stops, we probably covered 20 kilometres on bikes, just to connect up our fun walking spots. We never fussed with a bike lock (or a helmet – more on that later) or worried about bike storage or security, and were left with nothing but a pocket full of access codes.


That is just a tourist experience. If you live and work in the service area, the Citi Bike can change the decision you make every day when you walk out the door to run an errand or meet a friend. Walk for 15 minutes? Bike for 5minutes? Wait for 5 minutes for the bus? Screw it, I’ll just drive? The magic of bikeshare is that you don’t have to worry about the hassles inherent in the “Bike for 5 minutes” choice: you don’t need special clothes, you don’t have to fuss with locks or worry about bringing the bike back with you if you have a multi-stop trip planned. Bikeshare, when working properly, is like having a bunch of moving sidewalks around that can cut your walking time in a third, with no more hassle than walking.

The ease and functionality of Citi Bike relies on several things, though, and New York gets them right.

Stations need to be ubiquitous. Within the service area of Citi Bike, you are never more than a 5-miunte ride to the nearest station. They also manage the bikes well, in that I think there was only one occasion when we arrived at a station and found it empty of bikes. Fortunately, the on-line app and maps in the station kiosks have real-time measures of how full the stations are, allowing you to plan at the beginning of your rental. How ubiquitous? Look at the map of Manhattan and Brooklyn:


Bikes need to be Euro. By this, they need to be durable, friendly, simple, and built for casual use. Citi Bike rides are bomb-proof and a little heavy, but run like a Swiss watch. The transmission is internally-geared with a twist-shifter, the chain is in a case, so no grease or oil splatter problems. The wheels have full and deep fenders to keep the spray off, and to keep toes, cuffs, or scarfs out of the spokes. The pedals and seat are wide, flat and grippy so no special clothes are needed. There is a unique-sounding bell, a big basket for groceries, and front and rear lights are always on thanks to the nifty generator in the front wheel. They aren’t specifically elegant, and won’t win any criterium races, but they are the right tool for the job.


The payment has to be simple. Similarly, the kiosks for Citi Bike are simple to use, but have a ton of utility. It takes only a few minutes to buy a day pass using a credit card, and once you are in the system, it takes literally seconds to check a bike out (check in is as easy as park-it-and-walk-away). I could see how an annual passholder would be walking down the street, see a kiosk, and, on a whim, check out a bike to get 6 blocks down the street faster. As a bonus, there are digital maps to show you your location that allow you to zoom out to other station locations, which (as a super-double-bonus) serve as wayfinding tools for all tourists who happen by, not just Citi Bike users.

You can’t have a helmet law. Everything above about the need for the system to be easy, fuss-free, and comfortable is tossed by the wayside when you add helmets. Citi Bike is successful because it accommodates street clothes and on-a-whim decision making. Aside from the (not insignificant) yuck-factor, helmets significantly increase the hassle factor, and change the math on that walk-for-15/ ride-for-5/ wait-for-bus math. The kludged Vancouver solution (ugly, uncomfortable, dirty helmets that are likely more of a choking hazard than actual brain protector) stands in contrast to everything that makes Citi Bike work.


The most significant stat about Citi Bike is that they have, since summer of 2013, had more than 25 million rides, with no fatalities and no major injuries. Manhattan and Brooklyn are not famous for their excellent roads or courteous drivers – the roads are crowded, potholed, and at times chaotic, and Citi Bike users are (reportedly) every bit as chaotic as other users. Many are novice riders, and very few wear helmets. Bikeshare is safer than driving, and Manhattan, it is safer than walking. The statistics are the same for bikeshare systems across North America. Part of this is intrinsic to the bikes: upright, slow, stable, comfortable, and visible. Part of it is the demonstrated phenomenon that the best way to make cycling safe is to put more bikes on the road – areas with bikeshare systems have been found to be safer for those cyclists not using bikeshare systems. Helmets Laws are not only a deterrent to use, they are demonstrably unnecessary for the inherent risk.

So I wish the best for Mobi. I’m not sure there is a sufficiently saturated market outside of downtown and the Commercial-to-Kitsilano corridor to provide the effective station saturation you need to make the system work, but within that area all of the pieces for success are in place. However, until we grow up and have a rational re-evaluation of the province’s silly anti-cyclist helmet law, I am afraid the system will suffer from lack of appeal. And that would be a shame.

New West Doc Fest Year 3!

So you all know there is DocFest happening this week, right?

This is the 3rd Annual New West Doc Fest, and the big news is a move to the Landmark Cinemas at New Westminster Station. This was a fun event the last two years at Douglas College, but the move to a new, sleek, comfy, modern theatre will definitely raise the game a bit for the Fest.

There is a great variety of films this year – some probably not what you expect from a DocFest that is organized by the Green Ideas Network and the New Westminster Environmental Partners. Yeah, there are a couple that hit the topic of “sustainability” pretty hard, but there is also a 3D animated movie re-telling an Inuit legend, and a movie about what its like to stare at the back of famous people for a living!

However, what makes this event different from a night (or three) at the movies is the rest of the schedule. There will be live music and other performances each night. Most films will be preceded by a short film – like they used to do for every movie when we were kinds. And each night will have special hosts who can talk about the films that you are seeing, or the topics that were discussed in the film.

And unlike in previous years at the Doc Fest, this year there will be popcorn.

Films are $5 – $7 each, but the best deal is to buy a $20 Full Festival pass – you can see all 5 features, 4 shorts, live music, talks, and you can hang out at the Friday Night Post-Fest social at Spud Shack next door. Three nights entertainment and education for $20 is cheaper than sitting at home!

I haven’t seen any of the movies showing this year, and I ain’t much of a Movie Critic, but I want to mention three of the Docs I am most looking forward to:

The first is Blackfish. This is a film about a captured orca that lived/worked at SeaWorld, and was involved in the death of a trainer. However, that incident just sets the backdrop for a deeper analysis of the entertainment-aquarium industry, and the ethics of keeping large cetaceans in captivity strictly for entertainment purposes. This film opened at Sundance, and has been winning awards at festivals across Europe and North America (there is even some Oscar hype building), but perhaps the real impact is the media exposure that this film has generated, forcing Sea World to fight back and attempt to re-claim the message.

The second is 20 Feet from Stardom. This movie looks at the lives of singers whose work you have all heard, thought you didn’t know it. The film profiles several “back up singers” who worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Stevie Wonder to the Rolling Stones, but were always 20 feet behind them. Clearly massive talents, these singers spent their careers under the lights, but in the “shadow of superstardom”. With remarkably good reviews from critics and fans (the words “universal acclaim” appear commonly in discussions of the film), this is a movie you want to see on the big screen with modern theatre sound.

Third is Bidder 70, a film about an American who went to extraordinary lengths to protect 22,000 acres of pristine wilderness in Utah. When oil and gas development rights were put up to auction on the lands adjacent to Canyonlands National Park, Tim DeChristopher first sought to prevent the auction from happening, then when the controversial auction began, he bid more than $1.8Million for the rights and won them. Not having $1.8 Million, the Federal Government had him charged with fraud and thrown in jail. The movie is about this action, but it is also about what persons in a free society do when the laws are wrong, when an accountable government threatens its own land and citizens, or when an injustice is being done by those sworn to preserve justice. It is also a personal tale about what makes a single person decide to risk their personal freedom for an idea. As we in Canada see hydrocarbon development rushing ahead at a pace that makes so many people uncomfortable, this might be the most important film of the fest to see.

Like I said, there is a great variety of films being shown, and the conversations before and after should make for a great event. The tickets are cheap because the event is run on shoestring – this is not a fundraiser for the NWEP or anyone else – but the movies are the best on the documentary circuit right now, and we are lucky to have them here in New West! It’s a great opportunity to see some interesting films with a distinct paucity explosions, Michael Bay edits, or comic book characters. Each will make you laugh and think. And besides, it starts the day after the Hyack meeting, so we will all be tired of fireworks by then…

See you there!

Where I been

I’ve got excuses.

I haven’t written much in the last two weeks, but I have been on vacation, pulling Scotch Broom, digging a km of Mountain Bike trail, sawing down trees without a chainsaw, drinking beer to stave off the heat, and, most time-eating of all, I picked up the latest Neal Stephenson novel, REAMDE.

This was an impulse purchase the way off to vacation, but I knew what I was getting into. I still remember where I was (on a school bus in the Nevada Desert) the first time I read chapter 1 of Snow Crash and met The Deliverator.  I love the stuff Stephenson writes, and I had held off until the new one came out in Paperback, partly to reduce the size of the damn thing to less than a curling rock, and partly because I don’t have time for fiction right now.

Alas, it is pretty engrossing. It reads like an action movie (much like his break-out novel Snow Crash), and large swathsof it take part in my old neighbourhood – the Kootenays. So far, it is less intellectually satisfying than some of his other books. I think this is because it is Stephenson’s first book where he has fetishizes guns. Much like he fetishized nanotechnology in Diamond Age or Science-as-Religion in Anathem, this is a book not about guns, but where guns are the locus of most plot advancement from the opening scene of a family reunion shoot-off. And unlike other topics he has fetishized in the past (radical environmentalism in Zodiac, code-making and code-breaking in Cryptonomicon), I am just not all that interested in guns as a topic.

Still, the guy can write some compelling characters and his level of detail makes me want to have a copy of Google Earth open while I read, just so I can scan the streets he is describing in Xiamen, China or Georgetown, Washington. (he also has an early humourous tip-of-the-hat to the legend that the original idea for Google Earth itself was cribbed from his novel Snow Crash)

I’m only 700 pages in, so bug off, I’m reading. Its Summertime.

Plaza 88 – The Good, the Bad, and the Industrial.

There is no more prominent symbol of the renaissance on New Westminster than the Plaza 88 Residential / Commercial / Entertainment / Transit complex. This cornerstone project is not only the largest single residential development in New West, it is also a new gateway to the City at our namesake SkyTrain station, and regionally significant in the way it integrates retail space with a transit node.

As the residential buildings are completed, the anchor retail tenants are open, and the rest of the space is starting to fill up, I took the opportunity to wander around the Site this weekend, to see how it is filling in. The much-anticipated theatre complex and the retail at the Skytrain level is still a few weeks (months?) off. Clearly, some re-jigging will be necessary with the wedging of FalconGates into the otherwise open plaza, but we have enough of the project completed that I thought it was worth taking a closer look around, and getting a sense of what the project offers as an open space. It helps that the CIBC was holing their little Grand Opening Shindig so I could get a free hotdog and a brush with greatness:

First off, I can’t really declare myself a fan of the residential towers. They are big, out of scale with the surrounding high rises, they are close together, and they are a unique mix of standard-issue-glass-wall-small-balcony-vancouver-condo-tower and bare-concrete-slab-sided-soviet-design-bureau designs that add up to pretty unappealing.

Pretty much the entire building complex, from the outside is unattractive and oversized. The imposing 8-story parkade looms over and shades out Carnarvon Street, although this may eventually be softened by the green wall design and opening of the live-work spaces at ground level. The view from the south is also a rather imposing 8-story concrete wall, with the notable exception of the Art-Deco Façade from the old Sally Ann (which I like), and the brash pattered red and green wall covering (which I am still unsure about). I did manage to decode the message hidden in the pattern on the red/grey part of the wall, but the pattern on the green/grey side is either nonsense, or I am missing something… CSFAO?

While looking at the wall from the Quayside Drive overpass, I was reminded about yet another “missing link” for pedestrians in New West. From the west exit of Plaza 88, you are only a few hundred metres from the River Market, but the overpass curves west, making it a much longer trip. A staircase on the southeast corner of the overpass would create a much shorter link between Plaza 88 and the River Market, but I digress…

No, wait, I don’t digress. One of my biggest pet peeves with the Plaza 88 project is that it is, on the outside, a pedestrian disaster. The pedestrian mall around a SkyTrain station is a great idea, but anyone trying to get to or from or around the complex is met with horrible pedestrian space. I have already wailed and whined about the east exit, where the primary link between Plaza 88 and the rest of the commercial enterprises on Columbia Street was designed to accommodate trucks and cars, at the cost of being completely unappealing and likely unsafe for pedestrians. The south side has a wide sidewalk, and 100m of concrete wall and parkade cages…, with intermittent awnings of questionable value. The Carnarvon Street environment is crowded, with a bus loop and multiple garage entrances, inadequate cross walks, and will be loaded with busses, as the new bus loop under Plaza88 is already too small for projected bus needs. At every corner, it is clear that pedestrian access and safety was an afterthought in designing the street level of this complex.

The bright side is the new Tim Hortons plaza exit heading north, although the compelling view of the back of the Spaghetti Factory and the front of a Pawn Shop won’t do much to improve the first impressions of people arriving in New West….

Back to the McInnes overpass, where you get to enter the Pedestrian mall right under the SkyTrain tracks, I have to admit the effect is very City of the Future when you watch the SkyTrain enter the building.

The first thing you notice is what appears to be some sort of stage or platform, right under the tracks. I imagine it is just there for architectural reasons, but I wonder what the intended use is. The roof clearance is less than two metres, so any musician would need to avoid Pete Townshend windmills or loose the skin off their knuckles. Restaurant seating would be interesting, although dinner conversation would be challenging with the roar of trains over head…

Once you enter the pedestrian mall, the space itself is pretty cool. The smooth concrete, pale tile and blue LED lighting effects have that retro-future industrial look. The roof is low and the bottom of the SkyTrain rails could use a power-washing, though.

In some spots, it is pretty clear that no-one at SkyTrain ever intended for people to be wandering around just under their rails. Anyone over 6 feet could easily reach into the cable trays hanging off the railbeds. The lack of “electricity can kill you!” signs suggests those are low-voltage or communications cables, but they add to a pretty gritty industrial feel, more so with the pigeon shit factor.

There are businesses slowly filling in. Some look pretty promising:

Others not so much.

It all seems pretty oriented towards service to local residents, as opposed to destination shopping. This is not MetroTown with rails through, it is a service centre at a Transit node. Banks, travel agents, dentists, and small restaurants and cafés: clearly targeting local residents and SkyTrain riders. I’m not sure of that will shift slightly when the upstairs level (with their multi-screen theatre) opens. Time will tell.

So far, the only space to sit in the pedestrian mall is outside the Starbucks attached to the Safeway. Here we see one of the strangest design choices:

I’m not sure what compelled Safeway to defend their little café sitting spot with 6-foot steel pillars and plexiglass. The unfortunate effect is to separate people at the café from the pedestrians, making both spaces less friendly, and making it way less likely I would sit in that glassed-in closet like area and have a coffee, watching the world walk by…

It is vaguely reminiscent of this caged-off area next to another City Square, both unfortunately less friendly becasue of their disconnectedness.

Not that many people will be sitting outside for too long in the lower level at Plaza 88. I hate to admit it, but the SkyTrain is freaking loud. There are places to the west of Safeway where the sound clearly echoes off the apron suspended over the rails, down through the gap between the upper concourse an the rails. I’m not sure of the vertical glass baffles in that gap help, or make the echo situation worse.

The gap also allows rain to sprinkle down over one enigmatically exposed 5-foot-wide strip adjacent to Safeway, when the rest of the mall is covered. I thought the original design was for it to be all covered. There was also suggestion that the SkyTrain rail bottoms would be more integrated into the design. Like or hate the look, it sure doesn’t look like what we were sold a few years ago:

One more aside. There was a bit of a local Twitterstorm this week around smoking in the Plaza 88 public mall spaces. A few local rabble-rousers (I may have been one of them) asked if the mall was going to be smoke-free, and to the credit of both TransLink and the City, there was some quick response to the Tweets: everyone is, apparently, looking into it. There is a system-wide ban on Smoking in Translink stations, but most of the pedestrian spaces are outside of that. Of course you can’t smoke indoors anywhere, but most of the pedestrian space is really outdoors, in an indoors kind of way. Its not like any outdoor plants would survive on the Safeway Level. You would be hard pressed to find any spot in the plaza that isn’t within 6 Metres of a door, so I guess that Provincial Law could be enforced, but by whom? (TransLink Cops? Mall Security? New West PD? Bylaw Officers?).

As this is a unique project and setting, I guess we can expect little teething problems like this to come along. I know from conversations I have had outside of New Westminster that this project was a difficult one to push along. There was a lot of work by the Mayor, Council, and City staff to make this project happen, between integration with a reluctant TransLink to various design components. At every step, it was pushing the limits of Urban Design in Greater Vancouver.

Am I fan? I don’t know. I hope I will be. Many of the design elements, from the tower facades, to the pedestrian challenges, to the head-scraping pigeon nests are kind of disappointing, but overall, I dig the Blade-Runneresque blue light retro-future look. I also think the risk will pay off if we manage to use the Kyoto block and integrate this project more effectively with the MUCF, Hyack Square, and the River Market. The commercial plaza wrapped around a SkyTrain Station is a brilliant idea, and there are lots of reasons to think it will be a model for development elsewhere along the SkyTrain system.

Now bring on the Theatres

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Review – Part 6 – Fit the last.

As diligent readers are aware (Hi Mom!), I have been ploughing my way through Dr. Patrick Moore’s dissertation on “Sensible Environmentalism”. What started as a review turned into a lengthy criticism. This is the last fit of a 6-part essay, and it is worth reading it all if you want to learn about how Patrick Moore and his Greenwashing company use misinformation, self-contradiction, and frankly absurd ideas to market everything from coal mining to salmon farming as “Green Industries” You can follow these links:

Although this book is full of ideas with which I disagree, and many ideas that are just flat wrong, I always suspected Dr. Moore at the least came by his ideas honestly, or for the most pragmatic reasons. His debatable ideas on clear-cut logging (the best thing one can do for a forest!) and fish farming (the only way we could possibly save the native salmon!) likely rise form his history working as a logger and a farmer of fish. His call to end government subsidies for wind and solar, while at the same time making the use of ground-source heat pumps mandatory, may have to do with his promotion to Vice President of NextEnergy: “the Canadian leader in designing and marketing geothermal systems for the home!”

Or maybe those are coincidences.

However, in his discussion of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), Dr. Moore not only loses his remaining credibility, but loses any claim to being science-minded, skeptical, sensible, or an environmentalist. Coming from someone with the intelligence, training in science, and access to information that Dr. Moore is alleged to have, his arguments are so poorly thought-out, so anti-science, and so ill-informed, that it can only be the result of a disingenuous and callow disregard for the truth, and for the intelligence of his readers. I am going to waste a lot of words discussing this part of the book, because it is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the current public discourse on AGW.

To get there, we have to first take a step back and talk about Duane Gish. Dr. Gish is a Young-Earth Creationist who met with some small fame holding public debates against scientists on the topic of Evolution. Dr. Gish brought to these his opinion that the Bible is literally true and that the Universe was created in a single 6-day fit about 8,000 years ago, in exactly the order that is written in Genesis. Clearly, this is a preposterous position to debate against a serious scientist with academic expertise in genetics, geology, astronomy, or, for that matter, physics or chemistry. That did not stop Dr. Gish. Paradoxically, audiences would quite often leave the debates feeling Dr. Gish had “won”. This is because he used a rhetorical technique that he wielded with such might and power that it now bears his name.

The Gish Gallop is a debating technique where one uses their allotted time to throw out such a large number of disconnected, unsupported, misrepresented or simply untrue “facts” that the opponent can only hope to refute one or two of them in their rebuttal time. After rebuttal, the Galloper ignores the countering points made by their learned opponent, and just throws out a new random pile of other points, or even the same ones slightly re-phrased, until the opponent is left to throw up their arms in frustration. It is less the shotgun technique than the M61 Vulcan technique.

The point is: for the Galloper, it is not important that you support any of your allegations with truth or data, or even if several of your allegations contradict one another – just keep shooting out stuff and let the poor bastard on the other side try to refute it all. To a general audience, one guy sounds like he has all the facts, the other guy can hardly refute any of them, so guess who wins? The Gish Gallop is well known by Creationist “debaters”, and has been adopted very successfully by people like Lord Monckton when discussing AGW. In skilled hands, it is an effective debating tool. It is also the mark of someone who knows that few of their actual arguments will stand to scrutiny on their own, so in that sense, it is the epitome of being disingenuous.

When I read Dr. Moore’s discussion of AGW, I couldn’t help but see Gish Gallop all over it. He, in turns, argues that it isn’t getting warmer, that warmer is better, that climate scientists lie, that scientists are incompetent, that most scientists don’t believe in AGW, that CO2 cannot cause warming, that the warming caused by CO2 is good for plants, that the ocean is not acidifying, that ocean acidification is good for corals, that human action can’t possibly impact the climate, that human activity might have prevented an ice age, that AGW will lead to more species, that sea level is not rising, that sea level rise is a good thing, that ice is not shrinking, that ice shrinking is a good thing…etc. etc. It is painful to read, mostly because it seems that Dr. Moore forgot that Gish Galloping does not work if those you are debating against have infinite time to refute each point one at a time.

Now I cannot hope to address each of his points here. Even given infinite time and near-infinite bandwidth, my patience to stupidity is not infinite, nor should yours be. So I am going skim the cream off the top of his Gallop, and allow you to find out for yourself if there are any curds below.

Dr. Moore’s discussion of AGW starts by suggesting there is no scientific consensus on AGW. This argument can be summed up into three Logical Fallacies: Argument from Incredulity, Argument from Authority, and Argument from Popularity.

The first argument is basically this:

“The subject of climate change… is perhaps the most complex scientific issue we have ever attempted to resolve. Hundreds, possibly thousands of factors influence the earth’s climate, many in ways we do not fully understand” pg. 330

This is a rather uncompelling argument. I hardly think measuring the basic energy flows of the earth’s atmosphere is all that more complex that, oh, I don’t know, tracking speed-of light particles with half-lives measured in the picoseconds at the Large Hadron Collider or unravelling the 3 billion base pairs in the Human Genome Project. Yeah, complicated, but hardly insurmountable, and with numerous lines of evidence from dozens of different disciplines pointing to the same conclusion, and a well-understood causation train, it is not really that big a scientific leap to conclude that increased CO2 output results in higher atmospheric CO2, which results in a stronger Greenhouse effect.

Argument two sounds like this:

“A comprehensive scientific critique of the IPCC’s findings… was signed by more than 31,000 American scientists and concluded, ‘there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of…greenhouse gasses is causing or will cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere’. Clearly there is no overwhelming consensus among scientists on the subject of climate.” Pg 332

The 31,000+ name petition of which he writes is none other than the one generated by the venerable climate research foundation the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. You need to follow that link to see what they are about, seriously, take a look. It is telling that Dr. Moore talks about their work, and provides lots of references to them in this chapter (more on that later), but he clearly recognized that linking to this source would not improve his credibility. This is what I mean by being disingenuous.

I know, that is a bit of an ad hominem (although, ad hominem is actually a valid rebuttal to Argument from Authority), so lets take a closer look at the 31,000 scientists. You can see from the Petition Project Site that, of the 31,000, exactly 39 self-declared as Climate Scientists. This in comparison to the 2,000+ Climate Scientists who took part in the IPCC Working Group that the Petition Project was a response to. Sounds like something close to a consensus there. What of the other 30,961 scientists? A random mix of biologists, geologists, computer scientists, chemists, engineers and medical doctors. Yes, more than 13,000 were trained in medicine or engineering (I know my podiatrist has strong feelings about Climate Change, but does his M.D. really represent authority on the subject?) The only selection criteria for this Petition Project is that you had to get at least a B.Sc. in some physical science field, or medicine, or engineering. To put that in perspective, there are, according to recent counts, at least 10 Million Americans who have received their B.Sc. in an applicable discipline since 1970. So the 31,000 represent about 0.3% of “American Scientists” the way the petition itself defines them. I dunno, 99.7% sounds pretty close to a consensus to me.

As an aside, they seem to put a lot of emphasis on the scientific credibility of TV weather forecasters. I rest my case.

Ultimately, the Petition Project is a marketing exercise, not a scientific survey. It was a voluntary on-line sign-up, with no vetting of actual credentials. Luckily, a scientific analysis has been done, judging the opinions of climate scientists, other scientists, and the general public. It seems the consensus decreases the less people actually know about the climate and about science. Likely the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Which brings us to Argument #3.

This third argument is a general discussion of how the general public doesn’t believe in AGW. He quotes a bunch of public opinion polls indicating the “man on the street” does not believe in AGW. Or even that people don’t believe that other people believe in AGW, like that is relevant to the scientific certainty of the issue:

“ a poll taken by Ipsos Mori found 60 percent of Britons believed ‘many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing the climate change’. Clearly a majority of the British public does not believe there is a scientific certainty on the subject”. Pg 334.

Now, I hate to sound like a weedy academic elitist, but polling public opinion about the opinions of researchers is not really the best way to find scientific truth.

Do I really need to say that to a guy with a PhD?

Again, for perspective only, I can list things that a majority of Americans think, according to polls similar to the ones Dr. Moore cites, and you can decide if these are, therefore, scientific facts:
80% believe in the literal existence of angels;
78% believe Evolution by Natural Selection is false;
60% believe that Noahs Flood actually happened.
So much for the wisdom of the majority.

Soon after this, Dr. Moore’s honesty takes another dive. There is a bit of intellectual dishonesty that people often engage in, on both sides of this discussion: “cherry picking” data. This is a type of scientific fraud where you pick data that supports your theory, but disregard data that does not, without any justification for that dismissal. Aware of this concern, Dr. Moore says:

”I will try not to ‘trick’ the reader by cherry-picking timelines that support a particular bias” pg336

Then, on the bottom of the very same page he engages in this blatant piece of cherry picking:

”Since 1998 there has been no further warming and apparently a slight cooling” pg336

On… the… very… same… page. He also engages in timeline cherry picking in other areas, such as on Page 344, alleging “cooling” between 1940 and 1980 (when there was actually a slight slowing of the continued warming trend), but let’s concentrate on the first cherry pick, as it is very commonly heard in the Anti-AGW noise.

The grain of truth in that pile of bullshit is that 1998 was previously thought to be the year with the highest average temperature ever recorded by surface-based instruments since reliable instrument records began around the turn of the previous century. It is more commonly held now that 2005 and 2010 were both warmer, with the benefit of more robust analysis. The argument about 1998 vs. 2005 vs. 2010 is kind of irrelevant, though, seeing as how the nine of the hottest years recorded have happened in the last 10 years, with 1998 being the one outlier. Plain and simple: the world is getting hotter at a rate unprecedented in our recorded history, or in the proxy record (Tree rings, varves, coral layers, ice cores, etc.). Surface temperature logs are not the only effect that we measure that demonstrates AGW.

The importance of Rate of Change is a topic that Dr. Moore completely ignores. In 15,000 words on AGW, where he often mentions that the temperature has been warmer in the past (ironically putting trust in scientists who make assumptions about the earths temperature millions of years ago, but not trusting them when they suggest that it is warming now…. cognitive dissonance much?), he never mentions that the rate of temperature change is as important as, if not more important than, the actual amount of change.

This is strange, because Dr. Moore spends a bunch of time talking about how easy it will be for the planet’s species (including people) to react to climate change (after denying it exists). The scientific literature has been pretty clear in demonstrating that adaptation to natural epochal shifts in temperature is a normal part of the world’s ecosystems, but it is the century-scale shifts of multiple degrees that will cause most of the negative ecological effects of AGW. There is no way the boreal forests will have time to shift north if the planet’s temperature increases markedly over less than a century, to give a single example.

Dr. Moore even talks about how the planet was warmer 9,000 years ago by almost 3 degrees during the Holocene Thermal Maximum (which he actually lies about, since the HTM was a regional temperature trend driven by the recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, not a global trend, and it was only about 1.6 degrees warmer in areas than today.) but not notice that 3 degrees over 9,000 years is a much different thing than 3 degrees over 100 years. I suspect he is being deliberately obtuse here, or he just hasn’t read the science.

Or maybe he figures the researchers who spend their lives studying historic climates don’t know about the HTM, just like he assumes NASA doesn’t know how to locate or read thermometers. This is the basic accusation he makes against NASA and NOAA. On Page 337 he purports that the Urban Heat Island Effect is causing us to observe increasing temperatures due to local effects only (blithely assuming the scientists at GISS and NASA, who I note are able to put a freaking temperature probe into orbit around Jupiter – haven’t thought about this little detail).

Then on Page 345 he accuses NASA of deliberately removing the “colder” thermometers (an accusation of scientific fraud that has no actual data to support it, and nonetheless has been proven false) to lead to a false conclusion about current temperature trends. He is conveniently avoiding mentioning the myriad of other ways we measure the earth’s temperature aside from the surface thermometer record, such as ocean temperature, satellite observations, and dozens of proxy techniques.

With his scientific credibility tied to Ecology, Dr. Moore, should know more about plants than he is letting on. Perhaps this points to his lack of Masters research, and his apparent lack of academic publishing after his PhD (which was a study on mining policy and local tidal effects). So when he states that the measured increase in atmospheric CO2 is good for plants – and uses some ridiculous horticultural greenhouse studies to support his argument – it is hard to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows not what he thinks.

Dr. Moore (taking cues from other climate change deniers) takes the argument to the most ridiculous extreme on Page 352, suggesting that if human society and the industrial revolution hadn’t come along to produce all of this CO2, then plants probably would have died out from lack of CO2 (wait, didn’t he, few pages earlier, argue that most of the CO2 increase was natural? Yikes).

While it is true that in a hydroponic greenhouse system where there is an infinite supply of all nutrients available to plants, CO2 (which is not plant “food”, but is more plant “air”, to correct the allegory) may become a limiting factor in growth. In this case, adding more CO2 may hasten the growth rate of plants in that very specific, tightly controlled environment. Of course, this translates nada to the real world outside of greenhouses or basement pot farms. The reason for this, as Dr. Moore surely knows, was well understood in the 1800s, when Liebig developed his Law of the Minimum.

Like most biological ideas form the 1800s, this makes perfect sense to even the uneducated in the subject today. Plants require a suite of nutrients to grow: CO2, water, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, etc. Liebig demonstrated, using fertilizers, that their growth is limited by one “limiting nutrient”. That nutrient in nature is usually either water or nitrogen (or, more specifically, the ability of soil bacteria to fix nitrogen). This makes sense to animals too, if you are deprived of water and carbohydrates, no amount of oxygen in the world is going to keep you alive for very long. In reality, increasing atmospheric CO2 enough to dramatically raise atmospheric temperatures will have a negligible effect on plant growth rates, and if it did, it would likely dramatically increase demand for nitrogen in the soil – already the limiting factor for most commercial farming. Even this response is likely to be short-lived and have severe negative repercussions. Don’t take my word for it. And certainly don’t take Dr. Moore’s.

Idiotic is the word that comes to mind when Dr. Moore starts talking about sea ice. He ignores all of the data currently available (on the very website he cites!) that demonstrates that Arctic Sea Ice is continuing to decline in mass, not recovering from 2008 levels as he implies on page 359. He takes one graph from the Cryosphere Today, claiming it shows no reduction in sea ice, yet fails to cite this graph from the same page, or this one, or this one from Antarctica. He also falsely claims that

“Our knowledge of the extent of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic began in 1979, the first year satellites were used to photograph the polar regions on a continual basis” Pg 359

This is stunning ignorance. Sea ice was measured by mariners for hundreds of years prior to 1979, and even longer by Inuit. There are also ice cores (which tell us the age of any single piece of sea ice), and dozens of analysis techniques that can be applied to arctic sediments such as varving of sea-floor sediments around arctic deltas, palynology records, arctic flora and fauna growth patterns, and other techniques to trace back the history if ice on both poles. This is another Argument from Personal Astonishment. I don’t know if you noticed, but we know there was ice over Georgia Straight 15,000 years ago, even when we don’t have satellite photos to prove it!

One has to wonder about his ability to do basic journal research when reading his discussion of ocean acidification. On pages 361-362, after quoting a paper by Orr et al that states “Between 1751 and 1994 surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.179 to 8.104 (a change of -0.075)”, Dr. Moore replies writing:

”One has to wonder how the pH of the ocean was measured to an accuracy of three decimal places in 1751 when the concept of pH was not introduced until 1909”

Well, one does not have to wonder, because one actually cited the actual freaking scientific paper! All one has to do is read the paper one cited. If one does that, though, one finds the paper cited by Dr. Moore contains no such quote! The quote seems to have been lifted from the esteemed scientific journal Wikipedia, as it appears in the introductory paragraph on the Wikipedia entry on “Ocean Acidification” , although with less precise numbers (which further erodes part of Dr. Moore’s original whinge, doesn’t it?)

Clearly, Dr. Moore didn’t even bother to read the papers he mis-quotes, nor did he bother to read the papers that Wikipedia cited as the source of the quote, because that paper from JGR explains that ocean-atmospheric gas exchange can be very accurately determined if you know the chemistry of the ocean and atmosphere, and a bit about temperatures (all of which can be currently measured from proxies, such as sediment cores, carbon and oxygen isotopes, and coral ring growth). Just because pH hadn’t been discovered, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Gravity existed before Newton, you nitwit.

Can we all agree that the days if citing Wikipedia in any discussion about anything other than Wikipedia is irrelevant? It is the internet equivalent of citing the Encyclopaedia Britannica while writing our grade 9 reports on Argentina – the teacher didn’t like it then, and they wouldn’t accept it now. But Dr. Moore cites Wikipedia no less than 12 times during his discussion of AGW.

This crappy citation rigour is, unfortunately, a trend continued during Dr. Moore’s brief Gish Gallop on pages 345-346 to how scientists used to predict a new ice age was coming, providing two excellent references: Spiked Online and something called ZombieBlog. I wonder if their scientists signed the petition.

Yet another argument from Dr. Moores’ personal incredulity is to question if the increases in atmospheric CO2 are actually man made, or just a natural trend; after all, CO2 has been higher in the past.

“Many scientists assume that human emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels are the main cause of this [observed] increase [in atmospheric CO2 since 1958]. Some scientists question this assumption.” Pg 336.

This is such an important point of contention, he raises the question rhetorically a few pages later:

”Is CO2, the main cause of global warming, either natural or human-caused?” pg 338

Except this is not an assumption made by scientists, nor is it a rhetorical question, it is an observable phenomenon. Atmospheric scientists can differentiate CO2 from natural and anthropogenic sources, using carbon isotopes . It is pretty clear from isotope analysis that the observed increases in atmospheric CO2 during the 20th century are dominated by fossil fuel burning. If  “some scientists question this assumption”, they need to come up with some data to support their point. They haven’t.

There are other topics of scientific illiteracy in this book, but at some point they are coming on so fast and so erratically, that response would be futile. Pure Gish Gallop Gold. Dr. Moore’s profound lack of understanding hydrology leads him to opine that glaciers don’t do anyone any good (Pg357). He suggests a warmer world is better because… wait for it… people like warm weather and can freeze to death when it isn’t warm enough (Pg340). Since wetlands are so good for migratory birds, what’s the problem with rising Sea Levels (pg366)? After a while, throwing this terrible book against the wall was causing me repetitive strain disorders.

Speaking of repetitive strain, Dr. Moore also jumps into “Climategate”. The book first makes a passing reference to this alleged scandal early in his discussion of AGW:

“in November 2009…thousands of emails, leaked or hacked from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the U.K. shocked the climate change community. These revelations were quickly dubbed ‘Climategate’” p337

After a paragraph introducing the topic, Dr. Moore Gish Gallops off to talk about the Copenhagen Conference, causation vs. correlation, polar bears, climate changes over time, etc. for 7 pages, before mentioning “Climategate” again in another stand-alone paragraph

“…the revelations of ‘Climategate’ in November 2009 … clearly showed that many of the most influential climate scientists associated with the IPCC have been manipulating data…”pg 344

There is another drive-by mention a page later, where he at least mentions there were inquiries in to the “scandal” (but fails to mention the scientists were exonerated in all inquiries, and many newspapers were forced to retract their stories previously written about the “scandal”. After no less than 22 pages of random garble on a variety of unrelated topics, Dr. Moore once again raises the topic of “Climategate”, in perfect Gish Gallop technique: if you mention it enough, the words will stick, even if you don’t make a convincing case.

It is actually this fourth mention of “Climategate”, 368 pages into his 390 page book, where Dr. Moore cements the case that he was not interested in the truth. He actually repeats the basest accusations of “Climategate”, the ones that forced reputable newspapers and media outlets to retract the story once they were found to be false. He dismisses the three separate independent inquiries in to the scandal that exonerated the scientists as “whitewashes”. He very clearly did not read the “damning” emails in context, nor did he read the results of the inquiries into the scandal. The only newspaper he cites is the Telegraph of UK, the only one not to retract its “Climategate” reporting.

He also accuses the journals Science and Nature as having “a marked bias in support of human-caused climate change”. It is apparent he is talking about the magazines, but he may as well say the same thing about actual nature (which keeps reacting predictably to a warming planet) and actual science (which keeps finding more evidence of AGW).

Sorry, Dr. Moore. No “Sensible Environmentalist” can continue to ignore both science and nature, and maintain their credibility.

My final review? Don’t read this book. It will make you dumber.

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Review – Part 5. On the topic of B.S.

As previously noted, Dr. Patrick “Sensible Environmentalist” Moore is a big fan of the Alberta Bituminous Sands. I call them that, because as Dr. Moore points out in his book, “Tar Sands” is a misnomer, as they don’t actually contain “tar” in the technical sense of the word. If we follow his footnote reference (I kid you not, Wikipedia is the actual reference he uses), we discover that they don’t contain oil either, in the technical sense of the word, so “Oil Sands” is an equal misnomer. Therefore I will call them what they are: Bituminous Sands, or B.S. for short. 
You see, “tar” is a highly viscous liquid hydrocarbon mixture originally extracted from coal, but more typically now extracted from petroleum. “Oil” is a less viscous liquid hydrocarbon mixture originally extracted from whales, and now more commonly extracted from petroleum. Since we are in a definition mood, bitumen is a naturally-occurring amalgam of numerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, with high sulfur content and relatively high concentrations of various metals (such as chromium, lead, nickel, mercury) and some non-metals (such as arsenic and selenium), in reduced (and therefore more bioavailable and toxic) states due to the anoxic conditions in the bitumen, but maybe that is too much detail. Dr. Moore’s fandom of B.S. is no secret, but in his book, he really lays out his best argument for B.S. development. Even in a book full of muddled thinking and logical fallacies, this argument may stand above all for it’s sheer absurdity:

“To put things in perspective, consider when a gas station spills oil or gasoline from a leaky underground tank. The site is declared “toxic real estate ” and must be cleaned up, often at the cost of millions of dollars. The oil sands [sic] in Albetra are a massive area of toxic soils, and the companies that operate in the oil sands [sic] are removing oil [sic] from the soil, on a very grand scale, making a profit selling the oil [sic] as a transportation fuel” Page 256

Now, I am no expert. I only took post-graduate courses in sedimentology from SFU and Petroleum Geology from the University of Illinois, and spend a few years working in the remediation of hydrocarbon-impacted soils and groundwater throughout BC, so by all means defer to Dr. Moore’s Ph.D in Ecology when it comes to these matters, but I contend B.S. extraction has almost exactly nothing to do with the remediation of fuels and oils spilled from underground fuel tanks.

The reason we clean up after fuel tanks spill or leak into the ground is because automobile fuels (gasoline and diesel) contain a variety of monocyclic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, along with a variety of halogenated hydrocarbon compounds. Many of these compounds are soluable in water (meaning they enter groundwater and flow towards drinking water sources or fisheries habitat) and/or volatile (meaning they evaporate at common surface temperatures, and can therefore move through the soil into basements, buildings, or confined spaces). These are generally bad things, because many of these substances are either carcinogenic or toxic to people, plants, or animals. They also cause reactions in soil and groundwater than can result in the reduction of metals found in the soil, ruining groundwater quality, or potentially increasing the toxicity of the metals in groundwater. Add to this waste oils and antifreeze, octane boosters, anti-microbial preservatives, fuel system solvents that “keep your engine running clean!”, and your average gas station has a lot of nasty things that can accumulate in the soil and groundwater. 
It is important to note that the gasoline (and, to a lesser extent, diesel) you put in your car is not a natural substance that is extracted from B.S. like one might extract moonshine from a pile of sopping grain mash. Instead, the B.S. is subject to chemical washes, solvents, thermal and/or catalytic cracking and distillation. Various substances are then added to stabilize the resultant fuel, to stop it from freezing, pre-ignition, gelling, separating, or rotting when exposed to oxygen and/or water. Very few of these things would you want collecting as vapor in you basement, or entering your drinking water supply, or corroding the water or gas pipes in your front yard. Therefore, it is often a good idea to “clean up” after a leaky gasoline tank. More than a good idea, if you are in an urban area and/or the leak migrates to your neighbours property, it is the Law.
Even then, Dr. Moore might be interested to learn that, increasingly, the most logical and efficient way to deal with gas station contaminated sites is not to physically clean them up, but to use a “risk-based” approach. Here, all or some of the actual contamination is left in the ground, because the Investigator has determined that the contamination is stable, and there is no practical pathway to human or ecological harm. If (for example) the hydrocarbons are 15 metres down below relatively impermeable soils, are slow moving, and are 2 km from the nearest surface water or drinking water source, then they may not constitute a risk to anyone or anything if left in the ground to naturally decompose. Sometimes systems are installed to pump air down to the contaminants, to hasten that natural decomposition, and in pretty much every case, the person responsible for the contamination has to monitor it to make sure this “no risk” condition doesn’t change. The point is that it is safer to just leave that stuff down there than to dig it up, truck it around, and find a facility to either treat or dispose of it. 
Which brings us to B.S. extraction.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the B.S. is not sitting there on the ground waiting to be scooped up. If it was, then it is unlikely that there would be much to extract, as natural processes such as rainwater dilution and organic and non-organic decomposition would have caused it all to go away over the millions of years since the bitumen migrated into the Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments in which it is trapped from the Paleozoic rocks which are it’s original source. The reason it is preserved in that younger “host rock” is that there is an overlying “cap” of impermeable sediments covering it. Except for a few small, local “seeps” where the bitumen actually comes to the surface, you either have to dig for it, or process it in the ground with heat or steam, and pump it to the surface. 
Since this impermeable surface cap is generally more than 50m thick, and since there is, therefore, no reasonable pathway to human health impacts or ecological health impacts if the B.S. we’re left where it was, most competent Contaminated Sites Professionals, when presented with an Athabaskan Bituminous Sands type scenario, would recommend leaving the contaminated soils in place, a limited annual monitoring program, and perhaps minor risk-mitigation measures such as burying the “seeps” under impermeable caps, or trap-and-treat at the seeps, and restricting the extraction of impacted groundwater as a drinking water source. It would be the most responsible, cost-effective, and lowest-impact approach.
Compare this to what is happening today at the B.S. This safely-tucked-away bitumen is being either scooped up (after removing and setting aside the protective overlying cap) and then treated with solvents and/or having hot water run through it, and is being sifted and sorted in extremely energy-intensive ways. The sand is then returned to the hole, but it is not “clean”. At a contaminated site, the sand used to fill an excavation must be tested to not itself contain contamination. As the extraction methods used at the B.S. are far from perfect, there is no way the sand byproduct would meet Contmainated Sites Regulations standards. 
The other wastes – mostly water, fine sediments, and residual solvents – are dumped into vast open-air settling ponds, where volatiles evaporate off, heavy metals collect on the sediments, and leakage into the surrounding ecosystem is a certainty. There is currently no long-range plan to manage these ponds.
Alternately, “in-situ” methods are used when the B.S. is too deep to economically dig out – if the protective impermeable cap keeping the B.S. from harming people and the environment is too thick to feasibly strip off. In this case, solvents, steam, hot water or even hot oil are pumped down to liquefy and volatalize the B.S., then pressure used to pump them through the ground to extraction wells. The same settling ponds for waste water and sediments are used, but this adds the bonus of mucking up the groundwater systems for large areas around the extraction zones. 
You can argue B.S. extraction is better or worse than conventional oil extraction, or risky deep sea drilling, but you cannot truthfully argue that it is the same thing as cleaning up a contaminated gas station site. 
I wish this terrible argument was anomaly in this book, but it isn’t. Dr. Moore’s Confession is so chock-full of bad thinking, logical fallacy, post-hoc rationalization, and straight-up bullshit, that it is hard to read without verbally responding to it while reading. My better half has asked me to stop reading it in her presence as my guffaws and invocations disturb our quiet time together. The best feature I have found about this book so far I that it is soft-covered and printed on pulpy paper, so it causes very little damage to anything more valuable than it when tossed in rage across the room.

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Part 4: Moore and Nukes

I opened up my analogue version of the Walrus and on page 28, there is “Patrick Moore, Ph.D, Environmentalist and Greenpeace Co-Founder” staring back at me from a glossy full-page ad extolling the environmental responsibility of the Alberta tar sands. His most recent shill for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers got me thinking it has been a while since I picked up his book. My seemingly endless review continues.

After much of the history and basic philosophy is dispatched, Moore’s book becomes a rather disjointed discussion of various environmental topics, and his “sensible environmentalist” approach to these issues.

His discussion of Energy starts with a rather nonsensical statement:

Motion requires energy, so without energy, time would stand still. (pg. 204)

Which reminds me of the Calvin & Hobbes comic where Calvin thought time had stopped, but it turned out his watch battery had died, but I digress.

His rather lengthy dismissal of most sustainable energy sources can be summarized into a few points: they are untested, unreliable and would require huge government subsidies to compete with what we have.

In many ways these very expensive technologies [wind and solar energy] are destroying wealth as they drain public and private investment away from more affordable and reliable energy-generating systems. (pg. 221)

I’m not sure how putting money into sustainable infrastructure constitutes “destroying wealth”, in fact I’m not even sure what “destroying wealth” means. He mixes this with even sillier arguments: solar panels are made of aluminum, and that takes energy to produce! How sustainable is that?

This is mostly preamble to his long argument about the wonders of Nuclear Power. Before I get too deep into it, I need to point out that I am not a reflexively “anti-nuclear” environmentalist. I think nuclear energy probably has a role in responsible energy policy, if it can be done safely with appropriate accounting for its waste streams. Those are, admittedly, very big “if”s.

I remember my first experiences writing reports and proposals in my life as a Consultant working for a major engineering firm. After interpreting some data, I wrote something along the lines of “the source of pollutant X cannot be determined”. My boss chuckled when reviewing it, and said “in Engineering, we never tell the client something cannot be done. It can always be done. We just need to outline for them the costs related to doing it, and they can decide if it should be done.” I asked what we do if the request really is impossible, and he remarked something along the lines of “impossible just means the technology isn’t there yet. So we budget the cost of developing the required technology”. I came to learn this is how engineers think. Bless them, the sorry bastards they are.

But along those lines, I do believe nuclear energy can be made safe (it is already way safer than getting energy from oil or coal), it is a question of costs and developing the appropriate technology. At this point, we have to decide whether that is a good investment in our money, or if the alternatives make more sense for our investment dollars.

However, this is where Dr. Moore’s argument falls apart. There hasn’t been a new nuclear plant built in the United States in decades, but it isn’t due to no-nukes fear mongering or radiation risks or a lack of political desire as Dr. Moore suggests, but due to something much more banal: economics.

Simply put, Nuclear Plants are too expensive to buildand too expensive to maintain. Currently, there is no business model to produce nuclear power capacity. Without significant government subsidies, like the ones Moore decries for truly sustainable energy alternatives like wind, geothermal and solar, there would be no nuclear industry at all. The people holding nuclear plants back are not environmentalists, they are accountants.

You wouldn’t know this from reading Moore’s book. On page 217, he decries Germany for subsidizing solar energy production to the order of $3 Billion, then, 33 pages later and seemingly unaware of the irony, Moore is extolling President Obama for providing more than $50 Billion in subsidies to Nuclear power industries. I guess you can’t “destroy wealth” by nuking it.

This pales in comparison to his silly arguments around radiation risk. I have written extensively on the poor understanding in the popular media of radiation risk, mostly around the unfounded local concern about impacts of Fukushima. Moore did not have the benefit of writing after Fukushima, but his argument around radiation risk is so Homer Simpsonian in it’s idiocy (and remember, I basically agree with him on Nuclear energy), all I can do is quote it verbatim from page 240:

…fire can be used to Burn down a City and kill Thousands of people. Should we ban fire for cooking and heating? Car bombs are made with fertilizer, diesel oil, and a car. Should we ban those three rather useful things? Guns can be used for hunting and for defending one’s country or for committing genocide?

Unfortunately, his argument for salmon farming is no more nuanced.

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Review – Part 3

Sorry to be so slow, but life is really busy right now. We are in the middle of an election campaign, there were some family emergencies, and work has been crazy busy. On top of my evening blogging schedule, I haven’t had a lot of free time to read. Oh, to be bored for a change!

Once we got past some of the painful introductory materials, the book gains some steam as Dr. Moore outlines his storied career as a Greenpeace organizer and campaigner. The short versions is that these guys were “Type-A” with a seemingly complete lack of common sense. They thought nothing of buying an old fish boat, spending a few weeks (or months) patching the holes and getting the motor running, and sailing out in the Pacific Ocean! They dodged weather and ran directly towards trouble with the US Coast Guard, the Soviet Union, the French Navy, and Japanese whaling ships. The rented helicopters and, with a paucity of planning, flew out onto ice floes in the Atlantic to film seal hunters.

At the time, they created in Greenpeace a heroic mythos though very careful collection and distribution of pictures and film. Dr. Moore outlines how co-founder Bob Hunter developed the idea of the “Mindbomb” – that perfect combination of images and words that the media (and the media consumer) could not resist putting on the front page – a phenomenon the New Media calls “going viral”.

In essence, Greenpeace did not sail to Amchitka to stop a nuclear test, they went there to create a Mindbomb that would shift the public conversation so that more people took the idea of banning nuclear testing seriously. They didn’t race around the Russian Whaling Fleet in zodiacs to save any actual whales (in fact their efforts were clearly fruitless), they did it to create the images of a bunch of heroes racing around in big seas challenging the Great Soviet Fleet to get the pictures in the newspaper and bring light to the plight of the world’s cetaceans. Dr. Moore didn’t sit on a baby seal in Labrador to stop it from getting clubbed, he did it to get photographed being arrested for assaulting a seal, when he was the only thing between that cute little bastard getting clubbed and skinned.

I found one interesting link behind all of the campaigns Dr. Moore took part in during those early days of Greenpeace. None of them are really about environmental sustainability as we think about it today. Besides his first trip to Amchitka to call attention to nuclear testing, all of his campaigns were centred around animal rights.

Although the entire anti-whaling campaign was around protecting several species of whales that had been hunted to the brink of extinction, Dr. Moore does not talk at all about this as a sustainability issue (as we talk about shark finning or the Bluefin Tuna fishery today), he talks about the majesty of the beasts, the intelligence of the animals, and the cruelty of hunting them.

“There is no way to kill a whale in a humane manner. Among the tens of whales we witnessed being harpooned over the years, most died slowly, spouting blood and gasping desperately” [pg. 70]

” With two Zodiacs and a rough sea we tried desperately to shield the whales during the next two hours as they were gunned down one after the other. The crew watched from the deck of the James Bay as blood filled the sea around us, whales screaming and writhing in agony until all was quiet… It was a gruesome scene and ironically it worked very much in our favour.” [pg. 94]

The anti-sealing campaign was more of the same, much about saving these cute fuzzy animals, with no discussion at all about whether the hunt was sustainable, economically important, socially significant. Greenpeace flew in movie stars to create “mind bombs” in the defence of defenceless (and cute) animals. Greenpeace of 1975 is not like SPEC of 2010, it is like PETA of 2011.

Notably, this was all before the Bruntland Report, and therefore before the modern concepts of environmental sustainability had really been developed, so the ideas were not well known outside of rather obscure schools of development and economics. Suggestions of future resource depletion were usually brushed aside by claims of people being too “Malthusian” or not having enough respect for engineering (see discussion of Ehrlich vs. Borlaug in this very book, pp.56-57).

This brings us to 1984 -1986 – the Second Act in Dr. Moore’s story – when he began stepping away from Greenpeace. This was a tumultuous time, with him raising a family, getting a real job, and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. But it was also the time that Greenpeace began to campaign for sustainable development in industries that were close to Dr. Moore’s roots and his family. After all, he was the son of a rain forest logger who was setting up one of the first salmon farms on the west coast.

He claims it was the Greenpeace initiative to “Ban Chlorine” that was the final straw, as he thought it wasn’t science based thinking. Problem is, no-one in Greenpeace seems to recall them saying they want to ban all chlorine from the planet. Greenpeace did take a strong stand then (and still do now) on the spilling of organochlorines related to paper bleaching, and the use of toxic chlorine-based substances when non-chlorine-based substitutes are available. That has extended to the modern practice of using PVC in places where environmentally-less damaging alternatives are practical. Considering how much of my time I spend at my work dealing with contaminated sites featuring hard-to manage carcinogenic, mutagenic and acutely toxic chlorinated solvents organochlorines, I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask questions about whether the money we save over using the less toxic alternatives is really money saved at all.

Or maybe Greenpeace was just using the idea of “banning chlorine” as a “Mindbomb” to get a few headlines and point the media to the real issues of chlorine in our environment. “Ban Chlorine” and “Devil Element” are much more compelling than “Organochlorides in our environment increase cancers and impact marine wildlife”. It is telling that Dr. Moore’s biggest conflict when he left Greenpeace is the guy who invented the “Mindbomb”. Dr. Moore himself admits there was no way he could save the seal pup he sat on, but he wanted to be filmed losing that fight – Mindbombs were rarely science-based.

It seems the nuance of this argument is lost to Dr. Moore, as he again dismissively waves away any concerns about the chlorine industry or the hazards of organochlorines by creating this long-winded false dichotomy argument and telling us that chlorine is the 11th most abundant element on Earth and table salt is 2/3rds chlorine, so how can that be bad?

On page 142 he goes off on a diatribe about the wonders of chlorine that includes a huge strawman argument (“[long list of potentially toxic metals]…all have important uses in health, technology, energy production and lighting”); a non-sequitor (“we have been bombarded into thinking lead is deadly, yet many of us drive around with 30 pounds of it in the battery of our cars.”); rank hyperbole (“chlorine is the most important element for public health”); the naturalistic fallacy (“Even herbal medicine is partly based on using plants that contain chemicals that are toxic”); and a long false dichotomy I won’t bore you with here. He even decries that although he was the lone scientist in the discussion, none of the other Greenpeace crew respected his scientific prowess. He follows this by describing Renate Kroesa (who, being a chemist, would qualify as a scientist to most of us) as “fanatical”. Page 142 is one of those pages of this book that I have marginal-marked the hell out of in red ink. It is just a bad argument, poorly supported, and it leads us into the wonders of his approach to fish farming, but I will blog about that in a later post.

Dr. Moore says he is proud of his work at Greenpeace, proud enough to engage in a bit of hyperbole:

“We got many things right in the early years of the movement: We stopped the Bomb, saved the whales, and ended toxic discharge into water and air.” [Pg.141]

Um, last time I checked we still have nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation is an increasing risk in the world; whales still face serious threats from habitat loss and pollution, and are still being actively hunted by several nations; and toxic discharges in to the air and water seem to continue world wide.

However, I am not going to take away from Dr. Moore the achievements of Greenpeace during his time there. He took a rag-tag groups of hippies on a fishboat and spun it into a multi-million dollar international organization that spoke truth to power on many fronts, often powered by little more than a string and a prayer. From reading his accounts of those early years, there were more than enough internal and external forces that could have torn it apart, and too many strong personalities and personal agendas (Paul Watson, anyone?). It should not have lasted, but pretty much everything we know in 2011 about the environmental movement, the good parts and the bad, can be traced back to the early efforts of Dr. Moore and Greenpeace.

Without him, I imagine this blog would have a different name!

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Review – Part 2

Still not through this book. What can I say, a lot has been happening in my life. There is lots of cool stuff about his campaigning in the 70s, with significant amounts of daring do and hijinks on the high seas, but first I would like to make one more point about Chapter 1.

For a guy with a Ph.D. in science, Dr. Moore has a pretty poor understanding of the scientific process. He seems to gloss over why it took him so long to get his dissertation done, although he alludes to corporate conspiracy. I wonder if he ever took a philosophy of science course? To be fair, he might be a victim of an overzealous editor’s ham-fisted attempt to dumb it down for the masses, but it comes across as a Grade 8 Science class outline of what science is, and how it works.

It starts with describing science as

“the accumulation of knowledge that could be passed down through generations” (p. 25).

Science is not a cumulative body of knowledge; it is a process to evaluate ideas, explore and describe the processes behind observable phenomenon, and make predictions based on a body of observational evidence. Accumulated knowledge is a product of science, but it is not what science is. That may sound like semantics, but it isn’t. Fundamentally, “science” is not a pile of books on a library shelf; it is a method to understand reality.

Then it gets worse:

“[an example of] a hypothesis is ‘If I drop a rock from a height, it will fall to the ground’. After thousands of replications the statement proves true in every case. The hypothesis is proved and soon becomes a theory, and ultimately a law, in this case a law of physics. A law is something that has never been disproven.”[p.25]

This is embarrassingly wrong, built on a meme that is repeatedly dragged out by the very pseudo-scientists he is wont to criticize (Flat-Earthers, Creationists, Wi-fi cancer-link scare mongers, etc.): that of a mythical scientific hierarchy-of-truth made up like this:

Facts < Hypotheses < Theories < Laws.

A better explanation of the relationship between those four terms is: Facts exist and can be determined with careful and systematic measurement of observable phenomenon , hypotheses are simple ideas that can be tested and verified using the measurement of facts, but only upon a framework of existing theories and laws.

A significant point: facts can exist without precision; they do not have to be exactly right to be correct. I love the story of the Richardson Problem. He was the mathematician who described the length of a border or a coastline varying based on the length of the tool used to measure it. As Mandlebrot put it: the length of Britain’s coastline increases to infinity as the ruler shrinks to infinity. But I digress…

A theory is not just a really, really good hypothesis. It is a functional model describing observed phenomena. A theory is something you test hypotheses against. Often theories describe a large number of observed phenomena in a single, elegant model. Plate Tectonics, Evolution through Natural Selection, General and Special Relativity, Germ Theory, Atomic Theory. These are the ideas upon which science is borne. Two things are certain: 1) none of them will ever be “proven”, because no-one will ever seek to prove them. The purpose of them is not to be proven, but to be accepted as useful models, upon which other ideas can be hung; and 2) They do not evolve into “Laws” by being proven. Neither of these points mean they are not “true”, or incredibly useful.

In science, a Law is usually a mathematical construct, an analytical relationship that can be used to measure, characterize, or evaluate phenomenon. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation says that all objects are attracted to all other objects by a force that varies relative to their mass and to the inverse square of the distances between their masses (multiplied by some factor). Laws also do not exist to be “proven” or “disproved”, they exist to allow us to make sense of phenomenon in a numerical sense, and to make predictions, within their acknowledged limits.

Since gravity is relatively non-controversial, and since Dr. Moore started with an example from gravity, let’s see how these terms are used by physical scientists when discussing gravity, starting with his example.

Rocks fall; that is an observable phenomenon. We can develop numerous theories as to why, and we can create and test various hypotheses and test them to see if they fit our theory. There are lots of observable facts: all objects fall at about the same rate regardless of weight; magnets fall at the same rate as insulators; falling objects are constantly accelerating, etc. A good theory to explain these observations (facts) is that of gravitation: that all objects with a mass are attracted to all other objects with a mass through some force. This was the theory developed by Galileo in the early 17th Century. By the end of the 17th Century, Newton had developed the math around it: the Law of Universal Gravitation: F= G *(m1*m2)/(r)^2. Through this he could predict the motions of pendulums before building them, and the motions of planets that had not yet been discovered. This Law is not the Theory “proven”; it is a mathematical formula that allows us to calculate the force described in the theory based on some measured variables.

Universal Gravitation works pretty well if you are building pendulum clocks or lobbing artillery shells, but if you try to really accurately measure the precession of the orbit of Mercury, it doesn’t work: in essence the Law was shown not to have predictive power (note, not disproven) in some special cases by Einstein’s General Relativity.

But that doesn’t mean Newton’s Universal Gravitation isn’t a perfectly valid Law, within its confines, useful for making predictions and describing an aspect of our universe. And (this is a really important part) it doesn’t even matter that neither Galileo, Newton, or Einstein really knew how gravity “worked”. Even lacking that, what would seem a fundamental fact, we could not live in the modern world without the benefit of the theory and the laws built around this force a century before the first direct observation of gravity waves.

Unfortunately, this book is full of either lazy or sloppy science. It would be pedantic to quote them all, but let me pick one paragraph that hits close to home for me, being a geologist. On Page 62, Dr. Moore describes whale evolution:

“They evolved after the great dinosaur extinction, caused by a large meteor that crashed near the Yucatan Peninsula, ending the Jurassic age. Among the dinosaurs exterminated were the large marine plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs.”

Perhaps an ecologist can be forgiven for not knowing the Jurassic from the Cretaceous (it is only an 80 million year difference), but anyone involved in animal ecology should know the marine reptiles he named were not “dinosaurs”. Oh, and the ichthyosaurs died out at least 25 million years before the Yucatan impact. That is a lot of bad science in two short sentences.

Finally, Dr. Moore leaves the ignominious Page 25 stating that

“Science… has weaknesses. One of these is that you cannot prove a negative” (pg. 25)

To that I say: Bullshit. Science has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Moon is not made of green cheese.