Across Arctic Canada, sea ice levels are again at record lows

Across Arctic Canada, sea ice levels are again at record lows

“We could be up to a month behind where we should be at this time of year”

“Freeze-up is very, very late this year,” says Gjoa Haven’s Willie Aglukkaq, who took this photo on Oct. 18. “Can still drive boats to mainland, which is very unusual for Gjoa Haven. Never seen the ocean open this late in my lifetime.” (Photo by Willie Aglukkaq)

By Dustin Patar

Last October, when Juuta Sarpinak of Igloolik set off on a seal hunt, he took his snowmobile. For the same trip exactly a year later, he’d need a boat.

Across Nunavut and the rest of the Arctic, the same scenario is playing out.

“It’s the latest I’ve ever seen it freeze up in my lifetime,” said Willie Aglukkaq, who’s lived in Gjoa Haven for nearly 40 years.

He’s right.

As of Oct. 15, sea ice levels hit 5.118 million square kilometres, making them the lowest on record, which began in 1968.

“Depending on the area, we could be up to a month behind where we should be at this time of year,” said Gilles Langis, senior ice forecaster with the meteorological service of Canada.

But it’s not the first time this year ice levels have been at record lows.

April also saw the least amount of sea ice ever recorded.

This was then followed by a record-setting July.

In August, the ice loss slowed.

“We were tied for the second-lowest [amount of ice] with 2007 and 2016, but quite a bit above 2012,” said Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“But now we’re actually below 2012 levels for this time of year because it’s a slow freeze-up—2012 recovered pretty quickly, but we’ve been very sluggish in growing ice this year.”

As of Oct. 15, sea ice levels dropped below those from 2012, which previously held the record. (Graph courtesy of the NSIDC)

With sea ice growth, the big driver is air temperature.

“If you have an area of open water and the temperatures above it are cooler than the water temperature, it’ll lose heat into the atmosphere and the water will start cooling off to the point where it reaches freezing,” said Langis.

But Arctic air temperatures through October have been unseasonably warm, much like the previous six months.

“It was a pretty extreme summer,” said Meier.

From April onward, every month has ranked in the top three warmest—in terms of Arctic air temperature—on record, with May and August now holding top spots.

According to Meier, because of this, there was an abundance of ice-free water throughout the summer that absorbed a lot of solar energy and warmed up quite a bit.

“That heat is just taking a while to dissipate into the atmosphere and for the ocean to cool enough to grow ice.”

(Photo courtesy of UNEP)

What’s going on this year is representative of something larger.

“Under the influence of global heating caused by human-induced greenhouse gases emissions, we have seen a sharp decrease in the extent of Arctic sea [ice] since 1979,” says Pascal Peduzzi, Director of GRID-Geneva, in a press release published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Much like the scenario currently playing out across the Arctic this year, declining sea ice has amplified Arctic warming over the last several decades.

According to the press release, “Temperatures increased by around 0.5°C per decade between 1982 and 2017, primarily due to increased absorbed solar radiation accompanying sea ice loss since 1979. This is twice as fast as the global average.”

This season isn’t an exception.

But while the year-to-year trend continues on, ice coverage this year is on the rebound.

“It’s just finally starting to freeze,” said Aglukkaq.

Over the last 10 days, since Oct. 20, sea ice coverage has increased by almost 1.5 million square kilometres, including the water near Gjoa Haven.

If the current pace of ice growth continues, 2019 may soon once again be above 2012 levels.

Thunberg faces counter-rally by workers in Canada’s oil heartland

EDMONTON, Alberta, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s planned march in Canada’s energy heartland of Alberta will face a counter-rally by a convoy of oil and gas workers on Friday.

The truck convoy organized by pro-oil group United We Roll left the city of Red Deer on Friday morning, bound for Edmonton where the organizers plan to protest against outside interference.

“I am asking everyone connected to the oil and gas industry to come out in unity to show Greta we do not need her yelling at us,” United We Roll said on its Facebook page, adding that Alberta was proud of its “clean energy.”

Swedish activist Thunberg, who has mobilized a global youth movement against climate change, faces a difficult audience in Alberta where the energy sector provides 150,000 direct jobs and contributes more than C$71 billion ($54.1 billion) annually to Canada’s gross domestic product.

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Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg

Thunberg’s Edmonton march, which is being organized by indigenous and environmental groups, comes days before a tight Canadian federal election in which climate change and the future of Canada’s oil and gas sector are hot topics.

Premier Jason Kenney said he has not had any request to meet Thunberg and hoped she would take a “fair and objective look” at Alberta’s energy sector. Last month in Montreal she met privately with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following a massive rally in Montreal.

Canada is the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas producer but the sector, which accounts for roughly 11% of GDP, has struggled to recover from the 2014-15 global oil price crash because of delays building new export pipelines as a result of environmental opposition and regulatory hold-ups.

Its vast oil sands, which hold the third-largest crude reserves globally, have been blacklisted by environmentalists for high carbon emissions and many oil and gas workers feel unfairly targeted by foreign activists.

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Celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Fonda have campaigned against the sector after visits to northern Alberta where some 3 million barrels of bitumen are extracted every day.

United We Roll organized a truck convoy across Canada earlier this year protesting new energy sector regulations introduced by the Liberal government.

Edmonton Police Service (EPS) said they were aware of the climate rally and convoy counter-protest and had prepared as they would for any major event. ($1 = 1.3134 Canadian dollars) (Writing by Nia Williams; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Survivors of rare wolf attack in Banff recount how animal tried to drag man from tent in middle of night

Russ Fee rushed to a neighbouring campsite when he heard screaming and found a wolf trying to drag a man away

Russ Fee was camping when he heard screams coming from the neighbouring site. He rushed over and helped stop a wolf attack. (Elizabeth Withey/CBC)

Russ Fee thought the panicked voices rising from the campsite next to his were from parents whose child had gone missing — until he heard both a man and a woman desperately scream, “Help!”

Panicked himself, Fee fumbled with the zipper on his tent, finally got the mesh door open and rushed over with a lantern in hand.

At the neighbouring campsite, the Calgary man saw a wolf trying to drag something from a destroyed tent, like a dog yanking at a bone.

“It was just so much larger than any dog I’ve ever seen,” Fee told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.

Calgary Eyeopener
Rare wolf attack
00:00 08:17

A Calgary man witnessed a serious wolf attack while camping last week in Banff National Park. We hear more about what he saw. 8:17

Inside the tent was a family of four visiting Banff, Alta., from New Jersey — two young boys and their mom and dad. The father’s arm was clamped in the animal’s jaws as he tried to fend off the wolf.

Fee made a snap decision on how to help.

“I had a good run going at the time … and it was just so quick and the screams were so intense, that I knew it was obviously a terrible situation, so I just kind of kept running at it and I just kicked it sort of in the back hip area.”

An opponent ‘out of my weight class’

Fee doesn’t think his kick injured the wolf, but it was enough to startle it.

The animal let go of its would-be prey — the father, Matt Rispoli — but didn’t run away.

Fee started wondering if he had made a big mistake.

“I felt like I had kind of punched someone that was way out of my weight class,” he said.

“I immediately regretted kicking it, but as soon as it popped out of the tent, Matt came flying out. His whole half side was just covered in blood, but he was pretty amped up too, so we both just started screaming at it.”

Fee says the animal backed off a bit, but they had to throw rocks at it to keep it at bay.

Eventually, Fee and the American family fled to Fee’s campsite and joined his wife, taking shelter in their vehicle.

The view from inside the tent

Elisa Rispoli, Matt’s wife, posted the story from her point of view from inside the tent on Facebook.

She says her husband threw himself between the snarling wolf and his family.

“I laid my body on top of the kids and Matt pinned the wolf to the ground and held open its jaw with his hands, and the wolf started to drag Matt away, while I was pulling on his legs trying to get him back,” wrote Elisa.

“I cannot and don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly describe the terror.”

She wrote that Matt suffered puncture wounds and cuts on his arms and hands, but that he’s OK.

She said Fee was a “guardian angel.”

Parks Canada tracked the wolf believed to be responsible for the attack to a location about one kilometre south of the campground and killed it.

On Tuesday, the agency said DNA tests confirmed the wolf that was killed was responsible for the attack.

“Veterinary tests have confirmed that the wolf was in poor condition and likely nearing the end of its natural life span,” read Tuesday’s release.

“The wolf’s condition was likely a contributing factor for its unusual behaviour and this remains a very rare incident.”

Jon Stuart-Smith, a wildlife management specialist with Parks Canada, said this is the first incident of its kind within a national park.

“There have been two other incidents in provincial parks, one in B.C. and one in Ontario,” he said. “These three incidents are the only ones where people have actually been injured [in protected areas like provincial parks and national parks].”

Smith said there have been other incidents outside of parks where people have been injured in wolf attacks.

A sign indicates the temporary closure of the Rampart Creek Campground in Banff National Park after the wolf attack. (Russ Fee)

Previously, the federal agency said there were “no significant wildlife attractants or food found inside or in the immediate vicinity of the tent.”

Rampart Creek Campground, where the attack took place, has since reopened.

Chuckwagon driver speaks out amidst Calgary Stampede safety review

WATCH: After a difficult year for the chucks at the Calgary Stampede, one chuckwagon driver is sharing his perspective on a safety review into the deaths of six horses and the future of the sport.

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Jordie Fike and his team of thoroughbreds are back home for some rest after a tough year for the GMC Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede.

“The chuckwagon community is still mourning,” Fike said. “We lost family members. It hurts.”

Six horses died over 10 days in incidents related to the chuckwagon races, compared to no deaths at in at least three other circuit stops this year.

Fike isn’t sure why that’s the case, but he acknowledged that for drivers, the stakes are very high at Stampede.

He hopes to share a competitor’s perspective on the Stampede’s safety review.

“Our sport has evolved a long way. If it needs more in the name of horse safety, the drivers are all for it,” Fike, a fourth-generation driver, said. “During a race, if you feel something is wrong, you just do your best to save your animals.


READ MORE: Alberta chuckwagon driver fined, facing lifetime ban from Calgary Stampede after crash

It’s a view shared by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the national body representing Canada’s veterinarians.

“Thoroughbreds are very much bred to race,” CVMA council member Dr. Trevor Lawson said from the group’s annual conference in Toronto. “However, any animal put in a situation that maybe doesn’t provide ideal conditions could provide risk. Many thoroughbreds race uneventfully without harm.”

The CVMA accepts the humane use of animals in competition and sport, according to its official position statement.

“Risk of injury, suffering, illness, and distress must be mitigated during training, sport and competition and every opportunity must be provided for the expression of normal behaviour in the rest periods between training, sporting, and competition events,” part of the statement reads.

READ MORE: Protesters demand end to chuckwagon races, rally outside Alberta premier’s office

It has been consulted by Stampede in other safety investigations in the past and hopes to take part in this new study.

“There are a number of potential things that can lead to greater risk, like track conditions, as well as driver error,” Lawson added. “These are all items that need to be examined.

“Some of these, bear in mind, were not preventable.

“Animals can have medical conditions that can not necessarily be picked up on a pre-race veterinary examination. In at least one of the situations (at Stampede), that was the case.”

READ MORE: University of Calgary studying stressors, injury in Stampede bulls

As protestors gathered in Edmonton Tuesday again calling for an end to the races, Fike is extending an invitation.

“I don’t want those people to like me,” Fike said. “I just want them to come spend a day with me.

“Come see how the horses and rodeo stock are treated, see the life they get.

“People don’t realize how many horses get to live longer because of our sport and because of rodeo.”

Lawson and Fike expect to see the chuckwagon races continue but hope to reduce risks as the pro chuckwagon circuit moves on to Strathmore for August 2.

People are losing their homes to wildfires. They are dealing with floods. Their loved ones are dying in extreme heat. Their houses are falling into the sea.

Climate change is no longer theoretical. It’s in our backyard.

Here are four snapshots of this new reality — and what we’re doing about it.

The only thing I’m thinking is my mama burning alive, and she’ll be crying out my name.
When John Bino learned that a wildfire was closing in on his home in Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood on May 3, 2016, he was at work — one and a half hours away.

John Bino holds up the framed number of his house in Fort McMurray.
John Bino holds up the framed number of his house in Fort McMurray, which burned to the ground in the 2016 wildfire. (Craig Chivers/CBC)
He called home and told his wife, Jenny Solidum, to gather their two young boys and go to a friend’s place in nearby Timberlea. In the meantime, Bino would drive back to the house to retrieve his 76-year-old mother, who was visiting from India. She was a polio survivor and too heavy for his wife to lift.

But by the time he arrived at home, police had barricaded the road. Bino pleaded with them to let him through.

“I said, ‘My mom, she’s handicapped, she cannot move. She doesn’t speak the language. She’s stuck. She has no idea what’s happening. We need to rescue her and the door is locked.'”

Police assured him his mother would be rescued and told him to go. Bino waited hours at a nearby evacuation centre. But Solidum kept calling him, in a panic, as the fire approached Timberlea.

“I had to make a decision, right? To take care of my wife and kids or to take care of my mom.” Bino decided to rejoin his family. But as they fled north from evacuation centre to evacuation centre and eventually onto a flight to Calgary, Bino made frantic phone calls to 911 and the Red Cross. No one knew anything about his mother’s whereabouts.

Bino tried not to dwell on reports that Abasand was burning. “The only thing I’m thinking is my mama burning alive, and she’ll be crying out my name.”

Two days after being forced to abandon his home, Bino got a surprise phone call. A doctor at Leduc Community Hospital, just outside Edmonton, asked if he knew someone named Salimma Michael, who had been airlifted to safety.

“I was so relieved, my knees were shaking,” Bino said. The family rushed to Edmonton, and arrived at the hospital to visit Michael the next morning.

When Bino and Solidum bought the house in Abasand back in 2014, they loved the fact that the neighbourhood was on a hill surrounded by forest. “The trails were great. And it was peaceful and quiet,” Bino said. “No one ever mentioned [anything] about forest fires being a risk.”

Infographic showing the number of hectares burned by wildfires each year across Canada. Source: National Forestry Database
Growing wildfires
There has been a “significant increase” in the area burned by wildfires each year across Canada, Environment Canada reports. On average, wildfires in Canada have been burning 2.5 million hectares a year (nearly half the area of Nova Scotia) — double the 1970s average. B.C. and Alberta have been bearing the brunt of that increase.

Source: National Forestry Database

Climate change has increased the risk of major wildfires by extending the fire season by several weeks and generating hotter, drier conditions that support more extreme, fast-burning fires. The Fort McMurray fire in 2016, nicknamed “The Beast,” led to the largest wildfire evacuation in Canadian history. By the time it was extinguished that August, the fire had destroyed 6,000 square kilometres and caused $3.8 billion in insured damage alone.

When Bino and Solidum finally returned to the house, it was among 2,400 buildings that had burned to the ground. Almost everything the family owned was gone — from their children’s first locks of hair to a medal of valour Bino’s late father had received from the Indian navy.

The events of those few, intense days changed Bino’s perspective. “You know, we got our mom back. So to hell with the stuff, right?” But their struggles weren’t over. Solidum was so traumatized by the event, and the guilt of leaving Bino’s mother behind, that for more than a year, she became shell-shocked and unresponsive whenever she heard sirens or saw flashing lights.

Ashy remains of Bino’s neighbourhood after the wildfire had been extinguished.
This photo of the Abasand neighbourhood after the fire was taken by John Bino’s neighbour, Peter Fortna, when residents were allowed to return and look for belongings that may have survived. (Peter Fortna)
Bino also suffered. He was laid off from his engineering job, and once the family had settled in Edmonton, he got a position that required a five-hour commute back to Fort McMurray. Bino ended up quitting that job to care for his mother, but the situation eventually became untenable, and he was forced to send his mother back to India.

In spite of the trauma, Bino said the whole experience left him with a deep sense of gratitude for his family’s safety and care.

“The government, people — everybody was so helpful. It was amazing. It was like … how do people care about each other so damn much here?”

Adapting to wildfires
Climate change is the biggest and most significant factor behind the increase in wildfire risk and damage, said Laura Stewart, president of Firesmart Canada, which provides tools to communities to reduce the risks and impacts of wildfires.

But the development of industry and housing in forested or grassland areas also plays a role — as illustrated by Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood, which is surrounded by boreal forest.

Boreal forests contain trees like jack pine and lodgepole pine, whose seed cones only open when exposed to heat, and are reliant on wildfires to regenerate.

Natural Resources Canada estimates the cost of managing wildfires has been rising about $120 million per decade since 1970, to an annual cost of up to $1 billion in recent years.

Governments and communities can reduce the risks and impacts of wildfires by:

Imposing fire bans or even forest closures to shut down industrial operations when the risk of fires is high.
Thinning or removing conifer trees in surrounding communities to reduce the risk of crown fires, which spread from treetop to treetop, and are the most intense and dangerous wildland fires.
Creating fire breaks around communities, such as golf courses and soccer fields.
Burying power lines to eliminate the risk of them starting fires (as happened in California in 2018).

The climate renegade

What happens when someone wants to go it alone on fixing the climate?

Deep in the ocean west of British Columbia, salmon eat fish and plankton before they head inland to spawn. Well-fed enough to make it upriver, they swim back toward the coast and past the islands of Haida Gwaii, where the area’s indigenous population fishes them.

That’s how it was for decades. But in the 2000s, fish populations were declining, and unemployment among the Haida was high.

Enter an eccentric San Francisco-based entrepreneur named Russ George. He had spent much of his career bouncing between ambitious environmental projects: cold fusion, reforestation, and, most recently at the time, a startup called Planktos, which focused on something called “ocean restoration.”

Javier Zarracina/Vox

His theory: that the iron would trigger an algae bloom about the size of Jamaica over the course of the following weeks. The salmon would feed on the algae (and the smaller fish it attracted). And the uneaten algae would take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then sink to the ocean floor when it died off, essentially “capturing” carbon at the bottom of the sea. They’d fight climate change and restore their fisheries at the same time.

With the Haida’s blessing (and money from their economic development fund), George and his crew of 11 ventured into the cold waters of the Pacific in July 2012. The ship, the Ocean Pearl, was outfitted with state-of-the-art oceanographic equipment borrowed from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and with 100 tons of iron sulfate in a fine greenish-brown dust.

The ship zigzagged slowly across the target patch of ocean. The iron, mixed into an acidic slurry, got dumped — and that’s when the trouble began for George. Upon his return to land, he was accused of violating international law. The agencies whose equipment he’d borrowed renounced him, claiming they hadn’t known what he was really up to. Canada investigated him for illegal dumping.

“The story was that I was an independent and rogue geoengineer,” George told me this spring. “The facts prove that those are utter lies.”

Seven years later, George’s venture into the Pacific has become a flashpoint in the growing debate over the possibilities and limits of technology and unilateral action to fight climate change.

George points out that, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the year after his venture saw a record salmon harvest. He also insists that the data he was collecting would have demonstrated that he had succeeded in removing carbon, if the Canadian government hadn’t seized it for an investigation.

But environmentalist groups saw things differently, accusing George of illegal dumping and of being a dangerous distraction to better climate mitigation efforts. Experts say the salmon boom is hard to attribute to George’s actions, and the carbon benefits unproven. And in George’s broader ambitions to curb climate change unilaterally, they saw something frightening — the dawn of the age in which actors take matters into their own hands and attempt to solve the climate crisis themselves.

“What would the world do if someone were to decide to go ahead and undertake unilateral action?” Janos Pasztor, the executive director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, asked me.

In a recent paper, Pasztor warned of a “chaotic and dangerous future” where “a single country, a large company or indeed a wealthy individual might take unilateral action on climate geoengineering” — perhaps injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, which would change the climate a lot faster than any ocean dumping ever could.

What happens when some individual or country wants to go big in the battle against climate change without buy-in from their neighbors? Could a country unilaterally pursue climate solutions that, unlike ocean iron dumping, pose substantial risks?

Geoengineering and its discontents

One word was frequently thrown around about the work George was doing: geoengineering.

Geoengineering refers to deliberate, typically large-scale intervention in the Earth’s ecosystems to slow or reverse climate change. These proposals commonly fall into two camps. In the first camp is solar geoengineering: to cool the planet by, say, imitating the cooling atmospheric effects of a supervolcano via releasing chemicals into the upper atmosphere.

The second set of proposals involves the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, often via alteration of Earth’s ecosystems to use — and keep — more carbon.

The two strategies are very different, and the term “geoengineering” is sometimes wielded to misleadingly conflate them. But there are important similarities. Both of them might be necessary parts of the climate solution. Both of them can also affect the whole world — but don’t require worldwide buy-in to pull off.

While George’s stunt raises the specter of one form of disaster — zealots or billionaires trying to take the climate into their own hands — many experts think the more plausible scenarios involve nation-states, perhaps driven to desperation by a rapidly changing world.

“As effects intensify, the propensity toward unilateral action will grow stronger,” Florian Rabitz, a political scientist at Kaunas University of Technology, told me. His paper “Going rogue? Scenarios for unilateral geoengineering” explores the plausibility of “rogue rich guy” scenarios as well as geopolitical ones.

While he thinks it’d be easy to shut down future individual actors before they do too much damage, major nation-states could move ahead with a project and leave their neighbors few alternatives but war. “We have countries with serious climate risks, like China, where a lot of the climate centers are in coastal regions. India, similar story,” he told me. “If one of those countries decided to go unilateral, there’s a lot of scope for conflict.”

But while the urgency over geoengineering has been mounting, international policy hasn’t really kept up. And that’s why George’s 2012 excursion was seen as a harbinger of future trouble.

Iron dust in the oceans

The idea George pitched to the Haida villagers was simple. Large areas of the ocean have sunlight but little plant life. There aren’t enough nutrients for many plants to grow there, and things that feed on them can’t grow there either.

Some scientists, starting with oceanographer John Martin in 1990, have argued that the missing ingredient is iron, which would greatly enhance ocean plants’ ability to make use of the rest of the nutrients in the ocean. More plants would lead to more salmon.

That’s the pitch George made to the population of Old Massett. But there was another potential benefit: In theory, you should be able to capture a lot of carbon if you quickly grow a lot of algae.

Here’s how the process works:

Javier Zarracina/Vox

Martin once declared: “Give me a half tanker of iron, and I will give you an ice age.” Research has proven to be more equivocal. A large-scale iron fertilization experiment in 2000 was unable to detect any significant carbon uptake, leading some to argue that iron fertilization won’t work; a review in 2008 of such research argued that most early studies were poorly designed and wouldn’t have observed carbon capture even if substantial carbon capture occurred.

The 2012 foray wasn’t even George’s first attempt at rolling back global warming with an ocean dump. In 2007, he had planned a similar project winding around much of the Pacific, hoping to dump up to 100 tons of iron into the water.

But the plan was scuttled amid outrage from regulators and scientific and environmental groups. ETC Group, an advocacy organization focused on environmental issues, issued a press release condemning George titled “Geoengineers to Foul Galápagos Seas.” (George and Planktos had been trying to avoid the “geoengineering” label — they prefer “ocean restoration.”) “Climate change should be tackled by reducing emissions, not by altering ocean ecosystems,” Dr. Paul Johnston, head of Greenpeace International’s science unit, said in the ETC Group press release.

Recounting the experience years later, George remains embittered by what he sees as unfair treatment by the media and advocacy groups.

“There was this maelstrom of anti-Planktos, anti-Russ George, anti-ocean restoration publicity,” he told me. He seethed at what he saw as inaccurate claims by critics, including allegations that he’d be dumping near protected areas and their representation of the scientific consensus as having settled that ocean iron fertilization could never work.

“They knew full well that was an utter lie,” he added. (Greenpeace, responding to George’s charge, stands by Johnston’s assessment at the time.)

But that failure did not stop George. One of the dumping grounds he’d been considering for subsequent excursions, if the 2008 voyage had gone better, had been a location off the coast of British Columbia. And he had contacts: In 2004, running a reforestation community, he’d worked with Old Massett’s economic development officer John Disney.

“He told us he was the world’s leading expert on OIF [ocean iron fertilization],” Disney told an interviewer in 2017. Disney, in turn, pitched the plan to locals as a route to financial independence. “Old Massett is controlled by the outside world,” he told residents at these meetings. “You need to create your own wealth to govern yourselves.”

With funding and backing from Old Massett’s community, plus oceanographic equipment borrowed from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to measure the results, the Ocean Pearl set off.

“It worked like a charm,” George told me. “We put 100 tons of rock dust into 10,000 square kilometers. And that area of ocean swirled and mixed and the ocean bloomed immediately. Fish arrived by the tens of thousands, whales arrived by the hundreds.” (Satellite imagery confirmed the magnitude of the algae bloom.)

An image of the algae bloom that grew in the aftermath of George’s ocean iron fertilization venture. 
Javier Zarracina/Vox

George argues that the project succeeded at capturing carbon too. There’s no available evidence to back him up — it’s exceptionally difficult to measure the carbon captured by experiments like these, and the results from more carefully controlled experiments are not promising.

But the next year was, as promised, a record one for Pacific pink salmon.

“A near legal vacuum”

It wasn’t until a few months after George’s experiment that the word got out, with a report in the Guardian raising outrage worldwide. Environmentalists worried that experiments like these could trigger ecological catastrophes. “Ministers of the government of Canada stood up inside Parliament and called me a criminal,” George laments.

In 2008, in response to George’s first experiment, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted resolutions frowning on ocean fertilization and geoengineering. The signatories — Canada among them — agreed to “ensure … that no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place” until there is an “adequate” scientific basis for them or unless they’re small-scale and for the sole purpose of research.

But “it doesn’t have any legal teeth,” Andy Parker, who studies governance for solar geoengineering at the University of Bristol, told me. It’s not clear whom enforcement would fall to or what forms it could take. It’s not clear how disputes are resolved.

Indeed, here are some questions that international law leaves unanswered: If one country undertakes a project that harms their neighbors, can their neighbors demand it stop? Demand compensation? Whose buy-in is needed to embark on a large project?

UCLA environmental law professor Ted Parson told me that these discussions are mired in the same inaction that characterizes international climate negotiations generally. Until we fix that, he argued, George’s project — and other interventions like it — “exist in a near legal vacuum.”

Researchers have conducted extremely small-scale tests of solar engineering, as well as continuing to explore ocean fertilization. These ideas have graduated from fringe proposals to ones seriously contemplated in the IPCC’s most recent report on the state of options for managing climate change.

So geoengineering is being taken more seriously as part of the response to climate change — but geoengineering governance remains stalled at, basically, nothing.

That opens us up to trouble. One 2018 paper outlined one (deeply unlikely) nightmare scenario: some desperate anti-climate change group calling on individuals to release heat-reflecting particles in weather balloons — which would be a chaotic, uncontrolled way to do solar geoengineering. A former United Nations climate official has warned of a different kind of nightmare scenario, “where a country decides to do geoengineering and another country decides to do counter-geoengineering” — escalating tensions and maybe provoking a war.

“At some point,” Rabitz told me, “we might stumble into geoengineering when it turns out that climate change is worse than we thought, and some government might rush into a geoengineering scheme without governance measures in place.”

When Russ George dumped iron filings in the ocean, the world was outraged, critics issued condemnations, and experts talked soberly about the potential for disaster. But we failed — as we have on climate change in general — to build any kind of international consensus about a solution.

In the meantime, we live in a world where anyone can dump iron into the oceans, and where local, commercial, and national actors might move ahead with larger-scale interventions as climate change worsens. Recent papers have outlined new ways that individuals could DIY-engineer our planet out of the climate crisis — or at least try, with uncertain consequences. Are we more prepared for that than we were in 2012? Not really.

Russ George, for his part, considers himself vindicated, and told me he’s continuing to work. In his last email to me, he signed off: “The greatest threat to the environment is waiting for someone else to save it.”

Credit River watershed home to dozens of species at risk of extinction

Credit Valley Conservation ecologist Laura Timms says the number of at-risk species in the Credit River watershed is increasing.

There are 65 species of plants and animals living in the Credit River watershed that are at risk of extinction.

Earlier this month, United Nations (UN) agency Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a critical report assessing 1 million species threatened with extinction across the world. It was compiled by 145 experts from 50 different countries based on a review of 15,000 scientific and government sources.

The report blamed the stark rise of at-risk species on human land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. It also made recommendations for governments to act in response to the “unprecedented” species extinction in human history.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide,” IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said.

In Brampton and Mississauga, that might not appear to be the case at first glance, but assessments from the Committee of the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and confirmed by Credit Valley Conservation, show that there are a significant number of at-risk species in our own backyard.

Credit Valley Conservation ecologist Laura Timms says the numbers are higher than what’s expected for “baseline extinction” — species that go extinct because of natural processes.

“The number of species going extinct now is way higher because of human activity,” she said. “There’s a lot of evidence for it.”

An example from the watershed is the Jefferson Salamander. It’s a salamander that lives in the wetlands and forests that has been threatened by development and land conversion in Brampton and Mississauga.

“They’re a symptom of this problem of wetland loss,” Timms said.

She explained Ontario has lost around 85 per cent of its wetlands since European settlement and that the loss of wetlands not only threatens species, but flood attenuation.

“Wetlands are like sponges,” Timms said. “They soak up the water, collect it, and prevent it from spilling over and creating floods.”

With the rise of floods in cottage country this year, the threat of wetland loss is visible, she added.

Another example of an at-risk species in the watershed is the Bank Swallow. This bird, an aerial insectivore, is in decline, which inadvertently increases the number of mosquitoes — their prey. Timms added that there are indeed “more mosquitoes around these days.”

In the watershed, land development is the primary cause of creating at-risk species, Timms identified.

UTM associate professor of political science and geography Andrea Olive says the IPBES report coincides with new changes to the Endangered Species Act.

Olive says when it comes to environmental matters in the watershed, they’re a provincial responsibility.

“Ontario’s Endangered Species Act was seen as the best one in Canada,” Olive said. “But now, you can pay to get out of protecting a species.”

Olive is referring to changes to the act proposed through Bill 108, which would allow developers to pay a charge or a mitigation fee to build in areas where there are endangered species. The money would be collected into a fund that is intended to be used for conservation and other services.

“You can never pay enough,” she said. “You’ll never be able to replace the habitat.”

At-risk species in the Credit River watershed:


Jefferson Salamander

Blue-spotted Jefferson Salamander

Western Chorus Frog


Acadian Flycatcher

American White Pelican

Bald Eagle

Bank Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black Tern


Canada Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Chimney Swift

Common Nighthawk

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Eastern Wood-pewee

Evening Grosbeak

Golden Eagle

Golden-winged Warbler

Grasshopper Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow

Horned Grebe

Least Bittern

Loggerhead Shrike

Louisiana Waterthrush

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Peregrine Falcon

Prothonotary Warbler

Red-headed Woodpecker

Rusty Blackbird

Short-eared Owls

Wood Thrush

Yellow-breasted Chat


American Eel

Atlantic Salmon

Deepwater Sculpin

Lake Ontario Kiyi

Lake Sturgeon

Redside Dace

Shortnose Cisco


Eastern Persius Duskywing

Monarch Butterfly

Mottled Duskywing

Rapids Clubtail

West Virginia White


Eastern Small footed Myotis (bat)

Little Brown Myotis

Northern Myotis

Tricolored Bat

Woodland Vole


American Chestnut

American Ginseng

Black Ash


Common Hop-tree

Eastern Flowering Dogwood

Hart’s-tongue Fern

Hill’s Pondweed

Kentucky Coffee-tree


Blanding’s Turtle

Eastern Milksnake

Eastern Ribbonsnake

Midland Painted Turtle

Northern Map Turtle

Credit Valley Conservation ecologist Laura Timms says the number of at-risk species in the Credit River watershed is increasing.

Snapping Turtle

Ali Raza is a reporter for Mississauga News and Brampton Guardian. Reach him via email:

Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, report says

Ice Forming In Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Arctic CanadaImage copyrightUIG VIA GETTY IMAGES
Image captionCanada’s Arctic is warming faster than southern Canada

Canada is warming on average at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world, a new scientific report indicates.

The federal government climate report also warns that changes are already evident in many parts of the country and are projected to intensify.

Canada’s Arctic has seen the deepest impact and will continue to warm at more than double the global rate.

The report suggests that many of the effects already seen are probably irreversible.

Canada’s annual average temperature has increased by an estimated 1.7C (3F) since 1948, when nationwide temperatures were first recorded.

The largest temperature increases have been seen in the North, the Prairies, and in northern British Columbia.

Annual average temperature in northern Canada increased by approximately 2.3C.

“While both human activities and natural variations in the climate have contributed to the observed warming in Canada, the human factor is dominant,” the report states.

“It is likely that more than half of the observed warming in Canada is due to the influence of human activities.”

The report came as the government imposed carbon taxes on four of Canada’s 10 provinces for failing to introduce their own plans for tackling climate change.

What are the effects?

The effects of global warming on Canada’s environment include more extreme weather.

Hotter temperatures could mean more heat waves and a higher risk of wildfires and droughts in some parts of the country.

Oceans are expected to become more acidic and less oxygenated, which could harm marine life.

Media captionWhat is global warming?

Parts of Canada’s Arctic Ocean are projected to have extensive ice-free periods during summer within a few decades.

A rise in sea levels could also increase the risk of coastal flooding and more intense rainfall could cause problems with flooding in urban centres.

What caused Canada’s warming?

Canada’s rapid warming is due to a number of factors, including a loss of snow and sea ice, which is increasing the absorption of solar radiation and causing larger surface warming than in other regions, according to the report.

Despite the bleak projections, the report notes that the amount of warming could be limited if global action is taken by drastically reducing “carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century and [reducing] emissions of other greenhouse gases substantially”.

Canada is one of nearly 200 countries that have signed on to the Paris Agreement – a single global agreement on tackling climate change that seeks to keep temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C.

The Canadian government says it will meet the Paris target of cutting emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 despite the fact that a number of official reports indicate the country is unlikely to meet its reduction targets without significant effort.

Is public opinion changing?

University of Toronto professor Matthew Hoffmann told the BBC that, like the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, this one underscores the warnings about the impact of climate change.

“This is yet another reaffirmation of the urgency of this problem,” he said.

Civil society appeared to be at a “tipping point” on the issue with public opinion moving in support of governments taking action.

Students in Quebec join a global protest to push for more action on climate change, 15 March 2019Image copyrightAFP
Image captionStudents in Quebec were among thousands protesting around the world in March

Mr Hoffmann points to recent student protests in the UK, Canada and elsewhere pushing for governments to take active steps to tackle the problem.

“People are starting to feel climate change – it’s starting to be part of their lived experience,” he said.

What else is the government doing?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned the country’s provinces two years ago that they needed to come up with plans by 1 April setting out how they would contribute to Canada’s reduction targets.

The four that the government accuses of failing to do so are Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

The carbon tax will be added to the cost of fuel – 4.4 Canadian cents (3.6 US cents) per litre initially – equivalent to 20 Canadian dollars per tonne of carbon produced, more than doubling by 2022.

However, households are expected to be compensated by the federal government in the form of “climate action incentive” rebates.

The opposition Conservatives have vowed to scrap the tax should they win federal elections in October.

Increase wolf cull, pen pregnant cows to save endangered caribou: study

Endangered mountain caribou. (D. Craig/Alberta Wilderness Association)

An extensive study of caribou herds across British Columbia and Alberta suggests a way to reverse a long and steady decline of the endangered species — kill more wolves and moose and pen pregnant cows.

“It’s go hard or go home,” said Rob Serrouya, a University of Alberta biologist and lead author of the study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Unfortunately, it’s that black or white.”

Another study released within days of Serrouya’s suggests another way. And wildlife advocates worry Serrouya’s findings could be misused, illustrating the complexity of what he calls the “toughest conservation challenge in North America.”

Improvement with managed herds

Serrouya and his colleagues looked at 18 caribou herds ranging over more than 90,000 square kilometres. At the study’s start in 2004, 16 herds were declining.

Restoring habitat damaged by oil, gas and forestry activity is too slow, said Serrouya. Herds don’t have the decades that takes.

The scientists compared four government-run management programs — killing wolves, protecting pregnant cows, moving caribou between ranges and culling moose that attract predators. Six of the herds were not managed.

By 2018, the unmanaged herds remained unchanged.

But eight of the 12 managed herds improved. Half of them had either stabilized or begun increasing. One almost doubled over three years to 67 from 36 animals.

Herds with the best growth rates were linked to both maternity pens to protect pregnant cows during calving, and the extensive wolf kills. (MacNeil Lyons/National Park Service)

“That’s almost unprecedented,” Serrouya said. “It doesn’t mean recovery, but it means some of these herds have turned around. It’s the first study to show management has turned around sharp declines of caribou on such a broad scale.”

Herds with the best growth rates were linked to both maternity pens to protect pregnant cows during calving and extensive wolf kills. Ranges with the best herd growth had the most intense cull.

Those five ranges saw a total of 144 wolves killed every year, mostly by aerial gunning and strychnine. A cull that large over the entire study area would result annually in nearly 650 carcasses, although Serrouya said that’s not being recommended.

Removing moose at the same time would allow managers to kill up to 80 per cent fewer wolves, he said. Still, moose numbers in any one range would have to be reduced by up to 83 per cent.

Alternative: Reduce wolf-caribou encounters

Jonah Keim, an independent biologist and consultant, offers a different solution. In research published in the British Ecological Society’s journal, he suggests caribou can be adequately protected by making it tough for wolves to get to them.

“What we need to do is reduce the encounters between wolves and caribou,” he said. “You can do that without reducing the number of wolves.”

Between 2011 and 2014, Keim studied what would happen if it weren’t so easy for wolves, deer and moose to follow cutlines and forestry roads into caribou habitat. Over an 800-square-kilometre area, researchers dropped 200 cubic metres of tree debris every 200 metres.

The rate at which wolves stopped using the paths dropped 70 per cent, the study found.

“It was unbelievably effective at reducing wolf use,” said Keim.

Serrouya applauded Keim’s paper, but questioned its practicality on a landscape with 350,000 kilometres of linear disturbance.

“To block 350,000 kilometres would take years and years,” he said. “What would happen in the meantime?”

Four herds vanished between 2004 and 2018.

‘War on wildlife’

Keim said efforts could be focused on where they’d do the most good. He suggested that snowmobile trails could be designed to draw wolf packs away from caribou. It wouldn’t be that hard, he said.

“That type of work can be done in the summer or winter by somebody on foot.”

Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association fears Serrouya’s findings could be used to declare “a war on wildlife.”

“These findings could be used by industry and government to prolong unsustainable forest exploitation while endlessly harming wildlife species,” she said.

She urged governments to keep restoring habitat.

Serrouya said drastic measures will be needed into the foreseeable future.

“Society would have to change the way it values natural resources. Society would have to decide to reduce the rate of resource extraction.”

A landscape unseen in over 40,000 years

Rapidly receding glaciers on Baffin Island reveal long-covered Arctic landscapes


“A high elevation location might hold onto its ice longer, for example. But the magnitude of warming is so high that everything is melting everywhere now.

Glacial retreat in the Canadian Arctic has uncovered landscapes that haven’t been ice-free in more than 40,000 years and the region may be experiencing its warmest century in 115,000 years, new University of Colorado Boulder research finds.

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications [ open access ] <<>>, uses radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of plants collected at the edges of 30 ice caps on Baffin Island, west of Greenland. The island has experienced significant summertime warming in recent decades.

“The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster,” said Simon Pendleton, lead author and a doctoral researcher in CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).

Baffin is the world’s fifth largest island, dominated by deeply incised fjords separated by high-elevation, low-relief plateaus. The thin, cold plateau ice acts as a kind of natural cold storage, preserving ancient moss and lichens in their original growth position for millennia.

“We travel to the retreating ice margins, sample newly exposed plants preserved on these ancient landscapes and carbon date the plants to get a sense of when the ice last advanced over that location,” Pendleton said. “Because dead plants are efficiently removed from the landscape, the radiocarbon age of rooted plants define the last time summers were as warm, on average, as those of the past century”

In August, the researchers collected 48 plant samples from 30 different Baffin ice caps, encompassing a range of elevations and exposures. They also sampled quartz from each site in order to further establish the age and ice cover history of the landscape.

Once the samples were processed and radiocarbon dated back in labs at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at CU Boulder and the University of California Irvine, the researchers found that these ancient plants at all 30 ice caps have likely been continuously covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years.

“Unlike biology, which has spent the past three billion years developing schemes to avoid being impacted by climate change, glaciers have no strategy for survival,” said Gifford Miller, senior author of the research and a professor of geological sciences at CU Boulder. “They’re well behaved, responding directly to summer temperature. If summers warm, they immediately recede; if summers cool, they advance. This makes them one of the most reliable proxies for changes in summer temperature.”

When compared against temperature data reconstructed from Baffin and Greenland ice cores, the findings suggest that modern temperatures represent the warmest century for the region in 115,000 years and that Baffin could be completely ice-free within the next few centuries.

“You’d normally expect to see different plant ages in different topographical conditions,” Pendleton said. “A high elevation location might hold onto its ice longer, for example. But the magnitude of warming is so high that everything is melting everywhere now.”

“We haven’t seen anything as pronounced as this before,” Pendleton said.