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Forest burned in 2019 Indonesia wildfires already exceeds 2018

Forest burned in 2019 Indonesia wildfires already exceeds 2018

Area burned in 2019 forest fires in Indonesia exceeds 2018 – official

The amount of land in Indonesia consumed by fires through September this year has exceeded the amount burned during all of 2018, according to data given by a government official on Monday.

Raffles Panjaitan, forest fire management acting director at the Forestry and Environment Ministry, told reporters that by the end of September 2019 a total of 857,756 hectares (2.12 million acres) had been burned. (The area burned is 52 per cent larger than Prince Edward Island, which has a total area of 566,000 hectares.)

That is more than the 529,267 hectares that burned in 2018, according to Indonesian government data. The fires have consumed the most land since 2015, when government data showed 2.6 million hectares burned.

The area burned surged from 328,724 hectares that was consumed between January and August, Panjaitan said, and added that the size of the burned area is expected to continue expanding this month, although not “as drastic” as last month’s.

“Fire fighting is continued to be carried out, even today the teams are on the ground working to prevent escalation,” Panjaitan said.

Volunteer firefighters try to extinguish fires at a peatland forest in Pulang Pisau regency on the island of Borneo in Indonesia on Sept. 13, 2019. Forest and peat fires typically take place in Sumatra and Borneo, often linked to slash-and-burn practices to clear areas for palm cultivation. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

The country has spent months to battle forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that have caused thick haze which drifted over neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Rain has started falling in some areas on Sumatra which offered some respite, but Panjaitan does not expect the rainy season to fully arrive until around mid-November.

Linked to palm cultivation

Forest and peat fires typically take place in Sumatra and Borneo, often linked to slash-and-burn practices to clear areas for palm cultivation.

However, Panjaitan warned that there are rising cases of fire in Java island, including in conservation areas.

On Sunday, the country’s disaster mitigation agency said four hikers were evacuated from Mount Ranti in East Java due to forest fire.

“In Java, the fires are usually unintentional because people who went to hike throw away cigarette butts carelessly,” Panjaitan said.

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'Apple can't help': How a molecular biologist trained stay-at-home moms to recover lost iPhone photos

‘Apple can’t help’: How a molecular biologist trained stay-at-home moms to recover lost iPhone photos

Jessa Jones has always loved fixing things, and as a kid growing up in rural Maryland she knew that’s what she wanted to do for a living. But unlikely as it sounds, it was a battle with a blocked toilet that ultimately drove Jones to reshape a medical career — and specialize in recovering people’s iPhone photos.

Jones has a PhD in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and had been focused on helping to find a cure for cancer at a pancreatic cancer research lab at the university.

“I loved biology. And I wanted to fix people,” she said. “I wanted to fix things in people.”

Jones later moved with her neurologist husband to Rochester, N.Y., in the early 2000s. He had landed a residency at a medical facility there and she was working as a biology professor at a local college.

After the couple had four children, Jones decided to become a stay-at-home mom full-time.

Toilet troubles

In 2013, Jones realized her iPhone had disappeared while at home, which happened to coincide with the family’s toilet getting clogged.

Knowing that her kids would often “borrow” the phone, she put two and two together and concluded that there was a connection — the phone had been flushed.

“I did what anyone would do in that situation,” she said. “I tried to plunge it out.”

But the phone was stuck inside the toilet bowl.

“I carried it out and put it in the front yard, and then I got a sledgehammer and I sledgehammered it — and there was my iPhone,” she said. 

Repair expert Jessa Jones was forced to smash a toilet in order to recover an iPhone her child flushed down the toilet. 0:23

From that point on, Jones decided she wanted to learn how to repair iPhones, both because of her love of fixing things and the challenge the iPhone presented.

She went online and studied electronics and micro-soldering in her spare time, and eventually figured out how to fix them. 

“I remember the great feeling of putting in a new battery and making it alive … the internet can teach you anything,” she said.

“I thought it was really fun to refurbish these, and part of the fun was the people side. People didn’t think these were reparable.”

She quickly realized her skills were in demand outside the household.

“I spent a long time learning about how very tiny things inside cells go wrong and cause cancer,” she said. 

“Now I apply the same sort of analytical reasoning skills and working with things that are really, really small that have no user manual. So now I try to fix iPhones.”

Jones launched a makeshift business out of her house, and found other stay-at-home moms to take on the growing demand. They eventually moved into a small retail space down the street. 

“I think that women in general are very good at repair. They tend to have this sort of kind of ability be very gentle, and yet at times to apply enough pressure to get things to move around,” she said. 

“They’re appropriately cautious, but also aggressive, and some of those are the kinds of skills that you develop in being a mom.” 

Finding a niche

The shop, is called iPad Rehab, and is located in the centre of a tiny town called Honeoye Falls, just outside Rochester, N.Y. 

The business is now thriving. One of its key specialties is recovering data — mainly photos and videos — from “dead” iPhones and iPads sent by desperate customers across North America.

That’s how Jones ended up with one such iPhone belonging to Josephine and Dave Billard of St. John’s, N.L.

One beautiful day last summer, the Billards went canoeing on a pond just outside their rural property. Josephine couldn’t resist taking her iPhone in order to get photos of the picturesque setting.  

And then — catastrophe. 

“We went upside-down. We flipped the canoe,” she said. “The phone went in the pond, and went right to the bottom.”
They quickly recovered the phone, but it wouldn’t turn on.

It contained about 8,000 photos, including many from a recent five-month trip of a lifetime to Europe. 

The Billards were devastated. They called Apple, and weren’t thrilled with the response.

“We were surprised, of course, that the iPhone people at Apple can’t help. They appeared to have virtually no interest,” she said. 

“They’d like to sell you a new phone right away, but they don’t really care so much about the data — and we were more concerned about the data.”

Josephine would not give up. She visited various small repair shops in St. John’s until someone told her about the iPad Rehab website. 

That’s when she contacted Jones and sent her phone 3,000 km away to Honeoye Falls.    

“I was very doubtful, but you know, I tried to have hope that we would get them back,” she said. “In my heart I really didn’t think I would ever see those photos other than in my mind’s eye, truthfully.”

Apple’s approach

Most iPhone owners go directly to Apple when they have a problem.

But Apple staff often tells people that if a phone won’t power up, there’s nothing that can be done to recover their data unless it was backed up somewhere else. 

“The most common answer, and I hear this from customers all the time, is there is no way to get your pictures from your iPhone if it won’t turn on,” Jones said.

When people go looking for help online, one obvious place that comes up in Google searches about iPhone problems is the Apple Support Communities forum, where users can submit information to learn more about their device and troubleshoot their problems. But even there, people are often told they’re out of luck.

Jones said she had attempted to answer some users’ questions about data recovery, contradicted an answer suggesting that it couldn’t be done, and pointed out a solution. 

She said she was then warned about giving “questionable advice,” her message was deleted and eventually her account was banned from the forum. 

iPhone repair expert Jessa Jones is challenging Apple’s stance about data recovery from water-damaged phones. (Jon Castell/CBC)

This has happened several times, she added, both to her and to some of her colleagues.  

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, because it is absolutely not true,” she said. 

“Most toilet phones, common family water accidents, most of those are recoverable, especially [from] water damage.”

CBC News also contacted the official site for Apple Support and received a similar answer from one administrator. 

“As the photos weren’t backed up, unfortunately there is no way to recover them,” the response read.  

CBC News asked Apple to clarify if this was their official policy, but they never responded.

Jones, however, says there is a 95 per cent probability that she’ll be able to recover the data from a water-damaged phone, and backs it up with a guarantee — the $300 fixed fee she regularly charges will be refunded if she can’t recover the data.

Successful recovery

In the case of the Billards’ phone, Jones was able to recover their thousands of photos. The couple says while they were surprised and thrilled, the experience left them skeptical about Apple’s customer support.

“They should be providing a full range, cradle-to-grave [service], but that means also protecting, retrieving and working on the data,” Dave Billard said. 

“And if they’re not prepared to do that, then really is that ethical behaviour? Is that good business ethics?”

Meanwhile, Jones says she will keep fixing the problems that people bring to her.

“My conversation with Josephine — those are the best moments of my job,” she said. 

“I spend countless hours looking down the microscope, beating my head on some of these phones. And then being able to call her up and see that she’s a real person, to see how much these pictures meant to her and to give somebody back their own memories, is what drives us to continue solving these problems — no matter what obstacles are in our way.”

When a Newfoundland couple dropped their iPhone in a pond they thought thousands of their precious vacation photos were gone for good — at least that’s what Apple told them. Then they found Jessa Jones, an iPhone repair expert who is challenging Apple’s stance about data recovery from water-damaged phones. 9:37

If you have any tips or have had a similar experience repairing an Apple device, please send your story to

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Canadian Arctic has all the mineral ingredients for prized blue gemstones

Canadian Arctic has all the mineral ingredients for prized blue gemstones

Baffin Island holds some of its treasures in plain sight with rocks that produce rare gems sitting exposed to the elements, scientists say.

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows the area is home to a mineral that is prized by jewellers and collectors.

Study co-author Philippe Belley said in an interview that cobalt-blue spinel, “which is a ridiculously rare gemstone” gets a lot of interest from gemologists and jewellers but there’s not enough supply.

The most significant source of the gems is Vietnam, and even then production is limited, said Belley, who’s a PhD graduate within the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences.

He and report co-author UBC mineralogist Lee Groat conducted the first scientific study of the cobalt-blue spinel in Canada.

Research campsite on Baffin Island. (Submitted/Lee Groat)

Easy to spot on the island

Baffin Island is “really unique” because it has all the “right ingredients” needed to produce coloured gemstones but the area is “virtually” unexplored, Belley said.

“The rock is extremely well exposed so not only is it easy to see if you have a gem occurrence by just walking on the surface and doing geological mapping, but its also suitable for remote detection methods using drones and satellites to collect data on the rocks.”

Using remote detection can’t be done in most other gem-producing areas because of plant cover or challenging terrain, Belley said.

The researchers analysed 14 occurrences of spinel on Baffin Island, including two of cobalt-blue spinel, to better understand how it forms.

“It’s finding the right chemical components in the right concentration,” he said. “We found that most gem occurrences on Baffin Island were formed from the transformation of a mixture of mud and magnesium-rich limestone under high temperature and pressure.”

Almost 2 billion years old

They found it was formed 1.8 billion years ago at temperatures of about 800 C, but cobalt was only present in high-enough concentrations to produce gem-quality stones in small, localized areas.

Baffin Island spinel contains up to 500 parts-per-million of cobalt, giving it a vivid blue colour comparable to the best sources worldwide, Belley said in the news release.

Spinel also comes in red, pink and violet, Belley said.

Other gems found on Baffin Island include beluga sapphires, used in the Queen’s sapphire jubilee brooch, and lapis lazuli, a rock used as a gemstone by the Egyptians, he said.

Mining for the gems on Baffin Island wouldn’t necessarily leave a large geographical footprint, he said.

“Most gemstones are either mined from a relatively small mine and a lot of them are mined by one or a few people or families around the world, which is called artisanal mining.”

Baffin Island, Nunavut

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Australia could jail social media execs for streaming acts like New Zealand massacre

Australia could jail social media execs for streaming acts like New Zealand massacre

Australia’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream real violence such as the New Zealand mosque shootings.

Critics warn that some of the most restrictive laws about online communication in the democratic world could have unforeseen consequences, including media censorship and reduced investment in Australia.

The Liberal government introduced the bills in response to the March 15 attacks in Christchurch in which an Australian white supremacist apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live on Facebook as he shot worshippers in the two mosques.

Australia’s government rushed the legislation through the last two days that Parliament sits before elections are expected in May, dispensing with the usual procedure of a committee scrutinizing its content first.

“Together we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purpose of spreading their violent and extreme propaganda — these platforms should not be weaponized for evil,” Attorney General Christian Porter told Parliament while introducing the bill.

The opposition’s spokesperson on the attorney general portfolio, Mark Dreyfus, committed his centre-left Labor Party to support the bill despite misgivings. If Labor wins the election, the law would be reviewed by a parliamentary committee.

The law has made it a crime for social media platforms not to remove “abhorrent violent material” quickly. The crime would be punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of $10.5 million Australian (around $10 million Cdn), or 10 per cent of the platform’s annual turnover — whichever is larger.

Abhorrent violent material is defined as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping. The material must be recorded by the perpetrator or an accomplice for the law to apply. Platforms anywhere in the world would face fines of up to $840,000 Australian (around $799,000 Cdn) if they fail to notify Australian Federal Police if they are aware their service was streaming “abhorrent violent conduct” occurring in Australia.

‘Clumsy and flawed’

Dreyfus described the bill as “clumsy and flawed,” and the timetable to pass it as “ridiculous.” Labor first saw the legislation late Monday.

Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter, left, and Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, speaking in Canberra Wednesday about the new legislation. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via Associated Press)

The bill could potentially undermine Australia’s security co-operation with the United States by requiring U.S. internet providers to share content data with Australian Federal Police, in breach of U.S. law, Dreyfus said.

The Digital Industry Group Inc. — an association representing the digital industry in Australia, including Facebook, Google and Twitter — said taking down abhorrent content was a “highly complex problem” that required consultation with a range of experts, which the government had not done.

“This law, which was conceived and passed in five days without any meaningful consultation, does nothing to address hate speech, which was the fundamental motivation for the tragic Christchurch terrorist attacks,” the group’s managing director Sunita Bose said in a statement.

“This creates a strict internet intermediary liability regime that is out of step with the notice-and-takedown regimes in Europe and the United States, and is therefore bad for internet users as it encourages companies to proactively surveil the vast volumes of user-generated content being uploaded at any given minute,” Bose added.

Censorship risk

Arthur Moses, president of the Australian Law Council, the nation’s top lawyers group, said the law could lead to media censorship and prevent whistleblowers from using social media to shine a light on atrocities because of social media companies’ fear of prosecution.

“Media freedom and whistleblowing of atrocities here and overseas have been put at risk by the ill-informed live stream laws passed by the federal Parliament,” Moses said.

The penalties would be “bad for certainty and bad for business,” which could scare off online business investment in Australia, Moses said.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox, a leading business advocate, said more time was required to ensure the law did not unnecessarily impinge on existing fundamental media rights and freedoms.

Scott Farquhar, co-founder of the Sydney-based software company Atlassian, predicted job losses in the technology industry.

“As of today, any person working at any company [globally] that allows users to upload videos or images could go to jail,” Farquhar tweeted. “Guilty until proven innocent.”

Fergus Hanson, head of the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, saw problems in the legislation’s definitions, including how much time a company had to “expeditiously” remove offensive material.

Facebook live streamed the Christchurch massacre for 17 minutes without interruption before reacting. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shootings during the first 24 hours afterward.

It was allegedly filmed by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, the suspected gunman who faces 50 charges of murder and 39 charges of attempted murder and is scheduled to appear in court Friday.

A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him retrieving weapons from the boot of his car in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. (Twitter via Reuters)

Executives of Facebook, Google, Twitter, internet service providers and Australian phone companies met Prime Minister Scott Morrison and three ministers last week to discuss social media regulation. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said Facebook “did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. CEO Mark Zuckerberg used an op-ed in the Washington Post last week to invite a more active role by governments and regulators to deal with harmful online content.

“The rules governing the internet allowed a generation of entrepreneurs to build services that changed the world and created a lot of value in people’s lives,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s time to update these rules to define clear responsibilities for people, companies and governments going forward.”

Morrison wants to take the Australian law to a Group of 20 countries forum as a model for holding social media companies to account.

New Zealand’s Justice Minister Andrew Little said his government has also made a commitment to review the role of social media and the obligations of the companies that provide the platforms. He said he has asked officials to look at the effectiveness of current hate speech laws and whether there were gaps that need to be filled.

Little said he didn’t see any irony in that people were watching hearings into a bill that would place new restrictions on guns in real time on Facebook, the same platform the shooter used to broadcast the massacre.

“There’s a world of difference, I think, between the exercise of a democratic function and a democratic institution like a national parliament, and some of the more toxic stuff that you see put out by individuals,” he said.

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Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Japan’s space agency said its Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully dropped an explosive designed to make a crater on an asteroid and collect its underground samples to find possible clues to the origin of the solar system.

Friday’s crater mission is the riskiest for Hayabusa2, as it had to immediately get away so it won’t get hit by flying shards from the blast.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said that Hayabusa2 dropped a “small carry-on impactor” made of copper onto the asteroid Friday morning, and that data confirmed the spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact. JAXA is analyzing data to examine if or how the impactor made a crater.

The copper explosive is the size of a baseball weighing two kilograms. It was designed to come out of a cone-shaped piece of equipment. A copper plate on its bottom was to turn into a ball during its descent and slam into the asteroid at two kilometres per second.

JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the site later, when the dust and debris settle, for observations from above and to collect samples from underground that have not been exposed to the sun or space rays. Scientists hope the samples will be crucial to determine the history of the asteroid and our planet.

If successful, it would be the first time for a spacecraft to take such materials. In a 2005 “deep impact” mission to a comet, NASA observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them.

After dropping the impactor, the spacecraft was to move quickly to the other side of the asteroid to avoid flying shards from the blast. While moving away, Hayabusa2 also left a camera to capture the outcome. One of its first photos showed the impactor being successfully released and headed to the asteroid.

Members of The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, seen on screen, celebrate, as Hayabusa2 spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact after the blast. (Daisuke Suzuki/Kyodo News/Associated Press)

“So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted,” said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa. “But we still have more missions to achieve and it’s too early for us to celebrate with ‘banzai.”‘

Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on a tiny flat surface on the boulder-rich asteroid in February, when the spacecraft also collected some surface dust and small debris. The craft is scheduled to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019 and bring surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in late 2020.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth.

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Is it possible to stop a hurricane?

Is it possible to stop a hurricane?

Hello, people! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • Can you stop a hurricane?
  • Why Canada is getting hotter more quickly than the rest of the world
  • Gasoline prices and the new carbon tax
  • And a much-needed bulletin of good news

Can you stop a hurricane?

(Alfredo Estrella/Getty Images)

It’s been almost three weeks since Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique. Almost 500 people have died and 146,000 have been displaced. According to the World Health Organization, there are also more than 1,000 reported cases of cholera.

When you look at the damage caused by this one tropical storm — and the fact that scientists say storms in general are increasing in intensity — it’s no wonder some people are considering ways to prevent such devastation.

Grim Eidnes, a senior scientist at SINTEF, a renowned research and innovation facility in Trondheim, Norway, is trying to stop hurricanes from happening in the first place.

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons form when the surface water is 26.5 C or more, and warm air rises from the sea and mixes with the storm. Eidnes’s fix? A method called bubble curtains. The concept is quite simple. Put a perforated pipe 150 metres down into the ocean and push compressed air through the pipe to create bubbles. As the bubbles ascend, they change the temperature of the surface.

In Norway, bubble curtains push up warm water from the deep in order to prevent fjords from freezing in the winter, so ships can pass through. But in bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, the scenario is reversed, as the sea surface temperature is warmer than the water deep in the ocean.

Eidnes says putting a bubble curtain in the Gulf would bring up cold water from below — and if you can cool the surface of the sea, in theory, you’ll be taking the energy out of a hurricane.

Researchers have tried for decades to come up with ways to stop hurricanes — everything from dropping dry ice in the clouds to seeding the clouds with silver iodide. None of those ideas has been successful.

Frank Marks, director of hurricane research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said he gets pitches on how to stop hurricanes about once a week. (The most unique one came during Hurricane Katrina in 2005: “A general in the air force called me and said, ‘I got the bombs. Tell me where to put ’em.”)

Marks insists stopping a hurricane is more complicated than simply cooling the water, as Eidnes suggests. Marks said in a Norwegian fjord, bubble curtains “make a lot of sense.” But it gets “pretty complicated” in a hurricane environment, “when you get the whole ocean moving.”

Even so, Marks is not ready to shut the concept idea down completely. “Almost all of these ideas have some merit scientifically, and deserve to be looked at,” he said. That appears to be happening already: SINTEF hopes to have a bubble curtain pilot project going in the Gulf of Mexico next year.

— Madeline McNair

Back issues!

We’ve received a few emails from readers who want to see older issues of the newsletter. If you’re new to this joint, here’s a sampling of what we’ve been writing about:

How to track your carbon footprint, and the pros and cons of nuclear power

Making your home greener (and more efficient)

How Starbucks and A&W are tackling the plastic problem

Canada gets closer to a right to repair law

And, as always, if you’ve got any comments at all…

Canada is getting warmer faster than the rest of the world. Why is that?

(Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, the federal government released a report suggesting that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world — and that in Canada’s North, it might be three times the rate. Andre Mayer spoke to Dianne Saxe, the former environment commissioner for Ontario who now runs the green consultancy Saxe Facts, about how climate change is playing out in this country.

Why is Canada warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world?

Canada’s refrigerator, the Arctic, is warming fast. The Earth’s climate warms faster near the poles. Why is still being studied, but the reasons include feedback cycles that are internal to the climate system, such as the positive feedbacks that occur when snow and ice melt to reveal darker, warmer surfaces below, and when more energy in the air and water currents are transported to the high latitudes. Also, land warms faster than oceans, and Canada has a huge land area that is away from the oceans.

We often read that Canada has some of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. Why is that?

Reasons include Canada produces very large emissions from its industries, especially oil, gas and petrochemicals. Canadians drive the least efficient vehicles in the world, use a lot of heat during cold winters, fly often and far, eat a lot of beef and use up and throw away immense amounts of stuff of all kinds. Some provinces still burn a lot of coal.

How effective have politicians been in recent decades in helping Canadians understand their carbon footprint?

Some have tried very hard, but the majority continue to ignore, underplay or misstate the issues. Worse, some politicians have made climate change a partisan, divisive issue, when it should be something we work on together.

Climate scientists have known about this warming trend, but the broader public most likely has not. Do you think this recent report could change the conversation in Canada?

All across Ontario, my experience has been that more and more people already see the impacts of extreme events, and are starting to understand how climate change multiplies risks. I hope that this most recent report will encourage more people to translate their justifiable fear and outrage into action. But, like smokers who won’t quit till they get cancer, some people seem unwilling to do anything until they personally experience a climate disaster.

Is Canada prepared to adapt to the effects of warmer temperatures?

Absolutely not. The costs of adaptation, and of response to extreme events, may quickly mount up far beyond the ability of governments, individuals and communities to pay for. Insured losses from extreme events are already rising sharply, and uninsured losses are probably growing even faster.

Canada doesn’t even have much sense of where we are most vulnerable. People still react with outrage and disbelief to climate-related disasters and extreme events, and expect government to look after them whatever the circumstances or the costs. Meanwhile, we continue to worsen our vulnerability, for example by destroying the wetlands and woodlands that help us moderate floods and droughts, and by building more homes in vulnerable areas.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Big Picture: Gasoline prices and the federal carbon tax

On April 1, the federal government introduced its carbon-pricing backstop for the provinces (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan) that didn’t have an existing plan. Critics of the carbon tax made a great deal of the fact that it would add about four cents per litre to the price of gasoline. The graph below shows the average gas price in Canada over the past year. Prices are in a near-constant state of flux because of a number of factors, including oil prices and long weekend opportunism.


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • A group of climate activists, including essayist and long-time environmentalist George Monbiot, has issued a call to arms to commit to a “natural” solution to decarbonizing the world. In this Guardian column, Monbiot writes that “protecting and restoring natural forests and allowing native trees to repopulate deforested land” has more potential to clear the air, so to speak, than any high-tech carbon capture concept. (The group is called Natural Climate Solutions, and their website is here.)

  • Because of health concerns and the carbon footprint of raising cows, people are increasingly opting for alternative “milks” such as soy, almond and oat. According to the Dairy Farmers of America, U.S. milk sales fell by more than $1 billion in 2018.

And now for some good news

(Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

It’s been one of those weeks where the news and the tenor of the conversation around climate change seemed particularly dark. But one of the mandates of this newsletter is to provide hopeful news (alongside the more sobering stuff).

In that spirit, here are a handful of reasons to be optimistic:

One-third of the world’s power plant capacity is now renewable.

Carbon emissions in Germany dropped by four per cent in 2018.

A bill banning whale and dolphin captivity in Canada is on the cusp of becoming law.

The European Parliament approved a ban on single-use plastics by 2021.

Stay in touch!

Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at

Sign up here to get What on Earth? in your inbox every Thursday.

Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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Canada's failure to fight climate change 'disturbing,' environment watchdog says

Canada’s failure to fight climate change ‘disturbing,’ environment watchdog says

Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand says Canada is not doing enough to combat climate change.

Gelfand delivered her final audits Tuesday before her five-year term expires, looking at fossil-fuel subsidies, invasive aquatic species and mining pollution.

But her final conclusions as the country’s environmental watchdog say it is Canada’s slow action to deal with the warming planet that is most “disturbing” to her.

“For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate,” she said in a statement Tuesday morning. “This must change.”

Gelfand’s rebuke came a day after Environment Canada scientists sounded an alarm that Canada is warming up twice as fast as the rest of the world, causing irreversible changes to our climate.

Gelfand said neither Liberal nor Conservative governments have hit their own targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Canada is not on track to hit its 2030 target, despite policies like the national price on carbon that took effect this week.

‘Inefficient’ fossil-fuel subsidies

Gelfand’s audit says the Liberals are not keeping a promise to get rid of “inefficient” fossil-fuel subsidies, which are undermining efforts to combat climate change, encouraging wasteful consumption of fossil fuels and discouraging investments in cleaner energy sources.

Canada has pledged to eliminate inefficient subsidies by 2025 as part of both the G20 and G7 economic groups of nations, and the Liberals also campaigned on a promise to get rid of them.

Gelfand concludes that both Finance Canada and Environment Canada have defined “inefficient” so broadly they can’t decide what subsidies fall into that category.

Finance Canada’s work on the subsidies focused exclusively on fiscal and economic considerations without giving any attention to the social and environmental issues at play. For its part, Environment and Climate Change Canada only looked at 23 out of more than 200 federal organizations when it compiled an inventory of potential subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry, Gelfand found.

Last year Canada began a peer review with Argentina that sees each investigate and report on the other’s fossil-fuel subsidies. Last week Environment Minister Catherine McKenna started a public consultation on the subsidies to aid that peer review.

The draft regulations she released last week say her department has concluded that none of the federal non-tax subsidies for fossil fuels actually is “inefficient.”

The regulations identified just four subsidies at all, including support to help Indigenous communities keep electricity prices down; funding for electric and alternative-fuel vehicle infrastructure, such as charging stations; and funding for research on clean technologies for the oil-and-gas sector.

Philip Gass, a senior energy researcher for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said Tuesday using the World Trade Organization definition of subsidies, his organization found several that could or should be phased out.

The IISD list shows more than $1.2 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies from the federal government, and an even greater amount from provincial governments. Gelfand’s audit looked only at federal subsidies.

Gass said the government’s report on fossil-fuel subsidies is a good step toward transparency but that the reasoning behind the conclusion there are no inefficient subsidies is still confusing.

“We need a more ambitious approach and (to) have a better plan,” he said.

Gelfand’s audit is the second attempt to audit Finance Canada’s fossil-fuel subsidy programs. In 2017, the auditor general made an attempt but was blocked when the department refused to cough up the needed documents. Eventually the department gave in, resulting in the audits released Tuesday.

Gelfand also looked at the current impact of invasive aquatic species, most of which are accidentally introduced to Canadian waters on the hulls of ships coming from international waters and many of which harm native marine life after arrival.

She found that although Canada has made commitments to prevent invasive species from taking hold in Canadian waters, neither Fisheries and Oceans Canada nor the Canada Border Services Agency did what they promised to do. She says a lack of understanding of whether provincial or federal authorities are responsible is interfering with efforts to prevent invasive species from getting established.

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Chinese woman arrested after getting past Mar-a-Lago security with 'malicious' software

Chinese woman arrested after getting past Mar-a-Lago security with ‘malicious’ software

A Chinese woman who got through security checkpoints at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida  carrying a thumb drive coded with “malicious” software was arrested on Saturday for entering a restricted property and making false statements to officials, according to a court filing.

Documents filed by the Secret Service on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida say that shortly after noon on Saturday, the woman approached a Secret Service agent screening visitors to Mar-a-Lago seeking entrance to the club.

The woman produced two Chinese passports displaying her photo and said she wanted to go to the pool. Secret Service officers could not initially find her name on an access list for the property, according to the Secret Service affidavit filed with the court.

A club manager said that a man with the same last name was a club member, and even though the woman did not give a clear answer as to whether the man was her father, the Secret Service affidavit says resort officials allowed her on the property on the assumption she was related to a member.

Resort personnel became suspicious after she appeared to have trouble explaining why she was visiting Mar-a-Lago, 
according to the affidavit. 

Event woman claimed to be going to not scheduled

The woman initially said she was there for an event staged by a group called the United Nations Chinese American Association. But resort staff found no such event was scheduled, according to the court filing.

A receptionist then contacted Secret Service personnel who questioned the woman and concluded she did not have “any legitimate documentation” authorizing her entry to Mar-a-Lago, according to the filing.

After detaining her, investigators found in her possession four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive device and a thumb drive, the Secret Service court filing says. Initial examination of the thumb drive determined it contained “malicious malware,” the Secret Service said.

The White House referred questions on the incident to the Secret Service on Tuesday. The Secret Service declined comment, saying the investigation was still open.

In a court filing on Tuesday, a public defender representing Zhang said she was invoking her right to remain silent.

A Justice Department spokeswoman had no comment on the arrest.

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What you need to know about the new climate change report

What you need to know about the new climate change report

On Monday, a report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada called Canada’s Changing Climate Report said that, on average, Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

Among some of the other findings were:

  • Northern Canada is warming at more than three times the global average.
  • Precipitation is expected to increase across the country though summer rainfall may decrease.
  • Oceans around the country have warmed, becoming more acidic.
  • The warming climate will make extreme hot temperatures more frequent and more intense.

But readers had some lingering questions.

Why did they only use data from 1948?

It might seem strange that the report only referenced data from 1948, since we know that cities have data that go further back. It’s not some way of manipulating the data, but rather it is the time at which national records were kept on a consistent basis.

“It’s a question of the availability of datasets, and Environment Canada’s datasets are quite poor,” said Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario. “What they look for is continuous record-keeping in the same place over a long period of time, and we don’t have a lot of that.”

Is Canada changing the Arctic?

The effects seen across the Arctic, including shrinking sea ice and and less snow cover, are having a dire effect on global temperatures. Sea ice and snow cover are used to reflect the sun’s radiation back into space, but with more of the dark waters of the ocean exposed, that radiation is absorbed and causes heating and creates what is called a “positive feedback loop.”

Saxe, whose office was shut down by the Ontario government on Monday, said that there are two things to consider when considering what is causing the rapidly melting ice.

An increase of carbon dioxide may be the biggest problem, she says, but it’s the short-term climate forces that need attention.

“The use of diesel in the North in snowy areas has an extraordinary effect at melting snow because it lets out these little soot particles that absorb heat into the air and darkens the snow.”

Saxe says that some solutions would be including filters on vehicles that use diesel and changing out wood stoves.

“The greenhouse gas is the biggest problem, but the short-term climate forces are faster, and we could actually fix them easily.”

How did the report acquire the data?

The report gathered data from existing peer-reviewed studies. It also used model projections that may have not been peer-reviewed. However, all chapters of the report itself were peer-reviewed.

The report also acknowledged that Indigenous observations and knowledge play an important role in understanding climate change and “the ability of human and natural systems to adapt.”

The Arctic ice is melting. Does that mean Antarctic ice is growing?

The Arctic and Antarctic are two different beasts. While the Arctic exists as mostly sea ice, the Antarctic is a landmass that includes sea ice as well as glaciers. The ocean processes that drive them are different as well, and Antarctica has glaciers, an ice sheet and sea ice in the mix.

The signal is loud and clear in the Arctic: sea ice is not only melting, but it’s thinning, which in turn makes it more susceptible to further melt.

In Antarctica, the signal isn’t so clear. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet — which sits atop the Antarctic landmass — is fairly stable. And while West Antarctica is colder, the warming is much higher in the region, which in turn is causing warmer ocean water to thin the ice.

This data image illustrates warming across Antarctica. Red represents areas where temperatures, measured in degrees Celsius per decade, have increased the most during the last 50 years, while dark blue represents areas with a lesser degree of warming. West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, the craggy finger of land jutting out from the continent on the left, have experienced the most warming. (NASA/GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio)

A new study published in January suggested that Antarctic ice is melting six times faster than it did in the 1980s.

So while the Arctic is seeing the most dramatic effect of climate change, the Antarctic is also seeing its own effects, though at a somewhat slower pace. And that’s good news since if the entire Antarctic ice sheet melted, it would raise sea level by 57 metres.

Is this new?

“No,” said Saxe. “I didn’t see anything new in this report. However, I’m glad this is getting people’s attention.”

Saxe notes that when you look at the climate data available for Toronto, which goes back to 1841, it shows the city has warmed to almost three times the global average. This is data that was already available.

As well, it was already understood that humans are the main drivers of climate change, though there are natural forces at work. However, the natural forces cannot account for the rapid change we are observing.

Normal can’t come back. We’ve locked in a huge amount of change that is still going to come our way.– Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario

While people may want a return to normal, Saxe said, that’s not going to happen.

“Normal can’t come back,” she said. “We’ve locked in a huge amount of change that is still going to come our way.”

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Spearfishing Montrealer aims to equip world with eco-kits to combat plastic plague

Spearfishing Montrealer aims to equip world with eco-kits to combat plastic plague

About four years ago, a young Montrealer headed down to Costa Rica for a little sightseeing adventure with friends and quickly fell in love with the rainforests, beaches and way of life in Central America.

Though she only had a couple of hundred dollars to her name, Charlie Wade, now 25, decided to stay and learn how to live off the land, spear fish, speak Spanish and open coconuts with a machete.

Soon, other travellers were asking her to show them her ways and her first company, Sundara Tours, was born.

She guides ecotourists to off-the-beaten-path, secret locations where she teaches them how to camp, spear fish, surf, recognize edible plants and climb tropical trees — something Wade never saw herself doing while growing up in Canada.

Though she was a competitive swimmer in her teens, she always had a fear of the ocean.

Now she spends nearly every waking minute in it — but it breaks her heart to see the amount of plastic that plagues the very waters she’s come to love. 

“Plastic is a disease,” she said. “I see it everywhere now.”

‘When it comes to the people who are trying to embark on this zero-waste journey, I want them to feel empowered in their ability to make a difference in this world,’ says Charlie Wade. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Wade sees it in the innards of fish she cleans. She sees it in the husks of dead birds decomposing on the shore. She sees it in the sand, rivers, jungles and reefs.

Sickened by the sights and realizing she herself was guilty of using takeout containers and single-use bags all too often, she decided to do something about it by creating compact, portable kits that are loaded with bamboo cutlery, collapsible bento boxes, beeswax food wraps, plant-fiber napkins, cloth sacks, borosilicate glass straws and more.

The kits also include a large, sturdy grocery bag made of recycled plastic that has been pulled from the sea.

“I want people to feel like they are their own hero, in their own life and for this larger organism that we are all apart of,” she said.

Wade, smiling brightly, described the kits she designed as “clown cars” because they carry so many different tools that people can use in place of plastic products. All the tools come in a neatly organized hemp-fabric case that zips up for easy portability.

Charlie Wade explains how she came up with the idea for her eco-kits. 0:57

If enough people are equipped with the kits, she hopes it will help stem the tide of plastic that has become an environmental catastrophe in many parts of the world.

Her aim is to work with companies, Canadian companies whenever possible, that employ environmentally sustainable harvesting and manufacturing practices.

She’s spent months doing research, ensuring no producer she partners with is “greenwashing” the public in an effort to profit off the growing movement toward greener lifestyles.

The bamboo cutlery she imports from Thailand comes from sustainable farms, though she admits she has had to do a bit of quality control herself, hand-sanding some rough spots on the thousands of custom-stamped forks, knives and spoons.

Montrealer Charlie Wade has been busy with the sandpaper, ensuring each sustainably harvested bamboo cutlery set she sends out is perfect. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

She calls her company Keep Gaia Wild, named after what, in Greek mythology, is the mother of all life — the primal Mother Earth.

New company supported by parents, crowdfunding

Wade got the project off the ground with the help of her parents who, still living in Montreal, have been supporting her venture that launched a successful Kickstarter campaign back in December.

She raised more than $20,000 in about a month and has been hard at work since.

Soon she’ll be sending out the kits, which start at about $50, to all who supported the crowdfunding campaign and she’ll begin stocking some beach-side boutiques in Costa Rica.

She hired her mother and her mother’s wife, who own a web design company together, to help get her website up so people can order the kits online. Wade’s father has been backing her efforts as well, providing the extra support she needs to lift the budding business off the ground.

Keep Gaia Wild kits include glass straws, bamboo cutlery, a plant-fibre napkin, a beeswax wrap and more. Ali, Charlie Wade’s loyal companion, keeps guard in the background. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

“A business venture is cool, but there’s a mission in mind here,” said Wade. “Is it going to solve the world’s problems? No. It won’t. But I think it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Empowering individuals to make a difference

Wade said she wants to empower individuals to make a difference — to give people everything they need to stop using plastic — plastic, she said, that always seems to make its way into the ocean no matter where it’s disposed of.

“People are overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start, but they know it’s an issue,” she said. “At least if these kits get out there, people can feel good about their step forward.”

She wants to bring the world back to her grandmother’s youth when plastic wasn’t encasing or wrapped around everything people bought, she said.

“The issue right now is our over-consumption of plastic.”

With these kits, she said, “people can actually make a difference.”

As much as she’d like to, Charlie Wade doesn’t spend all her time in the water. Recently, she visited Montreal to plug away at her website and put kits together. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

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