Thursday, March 28, 2024

Managed dog hunts of coyotes making a comeback

I had no idea that coyote hunting as a "sport" even existed, but apparently the government of Ontario (yes, them again!) has seen fit to expand a licensing regime that allows such things.

The so-called "train and trial" licenses are for dog hunting clubs where coyotes are caught in the wild and enclosed in a fenced area, and where hunting dogs are let loose on them, supposedly so they can learn to hunt such wild animals (why?) and to hone their hunting skills. Judges score the dogs on their hunting prowess, award points, and crown champions at meets. 

It sound to me like the next thing to dog-fighting and bear-baiting, but apparently it's legal, and the Ford Conservative government is even encouraging it, after previous administrations have played it down somewhat. 

The Ontario Sporting Dog Association insists that no animal is hurt in the sport - well, of course they do! - and the government obviously prefers this line. Others, though, beg to differ, claiming that coyotes have been hurt and killed by dogs, and that a coyote trade ring exists where coyotes are captured, kept in inhumane conditions, and then sold off to these train and trial clubs.

Doesn't seem like the kind of thing our elected representatives should be condoning or encouraging.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Is hydroelectricity contributing to climate change?

Hydroelectric power stations as a source of greenhouse gases (GHGs)? Really? Well, nothing about climate change is easy or straightforward, so it shouldn't really surprise us.

Methane is a potent GHG (an estimated 80 tonnes more potent than carbon dioxide, although much shorter-lived in the atmosphere). About 40% of it comes from oil and gas production, and 32% comes from agriculture (principally cow burps). But it turns out that a not insignificant amount of methane is created by hydroelectricity power generation - some 3 million tonnes of the 51 billion tonnes of GHGs emitted by people each year, or about 6%. So, a lot less than fossil fuels or even cows, but perhaps more than you might have thought.

The reason? There is a lot of carbon-rich organic matter captured in tropical swamps, peat bogs and waterlogged soils, but also in the sediment of (particularly tropical) freshwater. Waste-water treatment plants and rice paddies are other (man-made) water sources that store up potentially polluting organic matter. 

Whether naturally-occurring or man-made, this organic matter is decomposed by microbes, releasing methane. When it is agitated, this methane is released into the air, much like shaking up a soda bottle. So, when reservoir water is churned up in a hydroelectricity plant, this is exactly what happens.

Now, in the scheme of things, this is still a relatively minor source of GHGs, and hydro is still a good, relatively non-polluting source of power. But we should recognize that hardly anything we do is completely pollution-free. There are schemes afoot to capture and use the methane produced by hydroelectricity plants (methane is the primary component of natural gas, and a good power source in itself). These schemes are still in their infancy, but are showing promise. It certainly seems a lot more practical than capturing cow burps!

Monday, March 25, 2024

Israeli settlers move in on Gaza's "golden sands"

It's good to know that someone is finding a silver lining in Israel's invasion and decimation of Palestine's Gaza Strip.

Israeli settlers like Daniella Weiss (sometimes referred to as the "grandmother of Israel's settler movement"), and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has also lived in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank for years, have been very upfront about the prospect of Israelis moving "back" to settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli ultra-nationalists are already taking "bookings" for new settlements in Gaza, particularly on the "beautiful golden sand" of Gaza's beach area. The whole area is ripe for "re-settlement" according to some hawks, especially now, given that "the area is empty now" as one woman put it. The fact that Gaza is "the greatest open-air graveyard" in the world (this from a senior EU commentator), does not seem to faze these people in the least.

And Israelis wonder why they are not very popular people these days. "Cynical" doesn't even come close.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Why would ISIS be bombing Moscow?

The death toll in the gun attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue in suburban Moscow has now risen to 133 and counting. It might seem improbable, but Islamic State (ISIS), or, more specifically, ISIS-K (aka ISKP), the Afghan offshoot of ISIS, has claimed responsibility for it.

Now, ISIS and al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups are not above claiming responsibility for heinous attacks that they actually had nothing to do with. We may not have heard much about them for quite a while, but they do like to be associated with anything that destabilizes the West and the "Christian" hegemony.

Ignore anything Putin says about the gunmen heading back to Ukraine, or ex-President Medvedev openly blaming Ukraine for the attack; obviously, they look for anything that might even slightly legitimize their illegal war in Ukraine. But it is possible that ISIS-K may have been responsible for this one (see the video about halfway down this page).

Partly, this kind of outrageous mass shooting is recognizably the modus operandi of ISIS. But there are other clues: this attack occurred on the anniversary of the 2016 Brussels attacks, also claimed by ISIS, that killed 32 people; Russia was a close ally of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad in the civil war there, and bombed ISIS regularly; there was another foiled attack on a Moscow synagogue just a few weeks ago, also claimed by ISIS; the USA had warned Russia that its intelligence had heard of plans by ISIS to attack Russia; and ISIS-K is currently at war with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Russia is one of the Taliban's few supporters.

So, it may seem like an unlikely scenario at first blush, but there are actually good reasons why ISIS (and ISIS-K in particular) might want to attack Russia, while its attention is elsewhere.

Why attack a concert by Russian rock band Picnic at Crocus City Hall deep in the suburbs of Moscow? Well, you've got me there. But then, why Bataclan in Paris in 2015? Why a random metro station Brussels? Why many of the other places ISIS and al-Qaeda have attacked over the years? Who can really understand the mind of a fundamentalist religious terrorist?

Doug Ford goes NITBY

Doug Ford has gone full NITBY (Not In Their Back Yard) on housing. The Ontario Premier, who never wastes an opportunity to remind us how focussed he is on increasing the province's housing supply, apparently doesn't like the idea of increasing it by allowing fourplexes (four apartments within a single house structure). That wouldn't be because it's a Liberal suggestion, would it?

In his usual slightly apoplectic outraged manner, Ford waxed scathing about builders who want to "throw a four-storey tower up", upping the ante by saying, "You don't put four-, six-, eight-storey buildings in the middle of a community of single dwelling homes. Don't build it in people's backyards, they will lose their minds."

Well, sorry, Dougie, but that's exactly what you do if you are serious about increasing the supply of housing (and especially affordable housing) without contributing to urban sprawl. And, hold on, nobody mentioned anything about "four-, six-, eight-storey buildings". Most fourplexes are actually in two- and two-and-a-half-storey houses. 

The government's own housing task force has concluded that it would be the quickest way to boost housing in existing neighbourhoods. But Mr. "Housing" Ford seems not to like the idea. I guess he doesn't want them popping up in his own neighbourhood. So, maybe NIMBY rather than NITBY.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Surely this is a good reason to leave the Royal Family alone

I'm no fan of the Royal Family but, as both Princess Kate and King Charles announce cancer diagnoses, can we not all agree to just leave the poor buggers alone?

Is the carbon tax really hurting us economically?

Confused by all the contradictory claims by proponents and opponents of Canada's federal price on carbon (or "carbon tax", depending on your political affiliation)? You're not alone.

The price on carbon was brought in by Justin Trudeau's Liberal government to incentivize Canadians to change their habits away from carbon-intensive activities and products in favour of more environmentally-friendly options like heat pumps, public transit and electric vehicles. The idea is to gradually ramp up that price over time so that its impact is increasingly felt. 

It is still widely agreed worldwide that a carbon tax is the most efficient and cheapest way of combatting greenhouse gas emissions, although it is by no means the only one. An independent analysis by the Canadian Climate Institute has highlighted the fact that other methods need to be employed alongside a carbon tax, particularly industrial carbon pricing, a cap on oil and gas emissions, and methane regulations (the consumer carbon tax is described as "fuel charge" in this analysis).

It has been badly promoted and explained but, in return for the carbon taxes they pay, Canadians receive a Climate Action Initiative Payment (recently renamed the Canada Carbon Rebate in an attempt at more clarity) through their income tax returns so as to make the initiative largely revenue neutral, and to ensure that, broadly, consumers are not actually out of pocket. In practice, this rebate works in a progressive fashion so that lower income Canadians are more likely to benefit overall, while higher income Canadians, leading a more polluting lifestyle with bigger homes and cars, are more likely to find themselves out of pocket. People in rural areas also get an additional top-up on the grounds that they probably use more energy and don't have so much access to public transit options. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

In the last year or two, though, Conservative populist Pierre Poilievre had been on a crusade against the carbon tax during a time of high inflation and belt-tightening ("axe the tax", and all that). His fiery rhetoric (at least in comparison to Trudeau's rather tepid and lacklustre response) has been remarkably successful in turning large segments of the population away from the erstwhile broad support for the carbon tax to opposition. And the main way he has done that is by insisting that it makes everything more expensive, mainly by pretending that Canadians don't receive a rebate, but sometimes by arguing that the tax is not revenue neutral for most people.

There are two conflicting narratives at play here. The Liberals and NDP point to a Parliamentary Budget (PBO) report that concludes that 80% of Canadians are better off, in that their rebates are greater than the carbon tax they pay in day-to-day life. The breakdown of this by province and income level can be found in Figure 1 of the report.

Poilievre, on the other hand, focusses on Figure 2 of that same report, which attempts to include what it calls "economic impacts" (such as potential losses in employment and investment income) in addition to the direct "fiscal impact". (There are some serious questions about just why the PBO decided to add this additional, and very subjective, analysis.) This figure concludes that about 60% will pay slightly more in carbon taxes than they receive back in rebates. You can see why this is what Poilievre stresses in his parliamentary tirades and slick video advertising.

As so often, though, the devil is in the details. For one thing, the report looks at the fiscal and economic impact in 2030, when the carbon tax is planned to be at its highest level - $170 per tonne compared to $65 today - so any disparities are hugely magnified (although the rebate is planned to compensate proportionately). Plus, the 60% figure hides disparities between different provinces and income groups, with the lowest income groups still benefitting overall. Plus plus, the percentage increased cost to the average Canadian is actually pretty small, ranging from 1.2% to 1.9% (so pretty close to revenue-neutral, as advertised). And finally, it ignores completely the cost to Canadians of climate change if nothing is done (hard to assess, but palpable nonetheless).

Those are just a few points that occurred to me on a cursory look at the data (and I'm no analyst). But the bottom line, as I see it, is: nobody said this was going to be easy. People have been enjoying the benefits of heavily-subsidized oil and gas for decades, and now, when a government finally has the guts to make people pay for some of the externalities and pollution they have become so used to, there is a big fuss (well, to be fair almost entirely due to Poilievre power-hungry crusade and disingenuous arguments against it).

I get it that a lot of people are hurting financially at the moment, but the carbon tax is not the reason (it contributes 0.15% to the inflation rate, according to the Bank of Canada). This is just one individual politician's (and his coterie of hangers-on) campaign of disinformation and artful deceit. Poilievre sees this issue as his ticket to the top job, and he will pursue like a bulldog with a bone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Paying taxes makes you happy: it's official

Once again, Scandinavian countries have swept the World Happiness Report's index of the world's happiest countries: Finland (1), Denmark (2), Iceland (3),Sweden (4), Netherlands (6), and Norway (7). Is it a coincidence that the highest-taxing, highest-spending countries are also the happiest? I think not.

But, wait, what's No. 5? Turns out it's Israel. No explanation there, sorry, but it's salutary that Palestine comes in at No. 103. 

Canada? Number 15. Not bad, although lower than in previous years. At least we beat out the UK (20) and USA (23), although we've got a lot of happy work to do to reach Australia and New Zealand (10 and 11), which we can reasonably consider our peers in the world.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Wind turbines don't really affect house prices after all

So, you know the well-known problem with wind turbines leading to reduced property prices? Well, it turns out it's not a problem after all. In fact, it is a complete red herring manufactured out of nowhere by opponents of wind power, like the oil and gas industry and the average red-neck conservative.

And now we have more proof. Building on smaller studies in 2013, 2015 and 2016 that all concluded that property value impacts are either too small or too infrequent to be statistically observable, a couple of much larger and more up-to-date studies have shown ... the same.

One study, by a research team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA, looked at 500,000 home sales within 5 miles of a wind farm in 34 states over a period of 10 years. Crucially, it looked at the impact on sale prices throughout the whole development cycle of wind projects from initial announcement to construction to final operation.

While sale prices did fall for some properties within one mile of new wind projects, this impact was only found in particularly densely-populated areas (typically, houses are not built that close to wind farms, and vice versa). Also, it was only temporary, while the projects were in their very early stages. Within 3 to 5 years of the wind projects' operation, home prices return to inflation-adjusted pre-announcement levels.

An even larger study of 300 million home sales from 1997 to 2020 in the USA, Germany and Italy found that house sales may be impacted by up to 1% for houses within 10km of a wind power development. Also, more recently-installed wind turbines are less likely to affect house prices, suggesting that people may be becoming more accepting of wind turbines as a familiar part of the rural landscape.

So, maybe the sky is not falling, except perhaps in wealthier, more upscale communities.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Shock, horror - Putin wins election, again

Wow, Vlad Putin won the Russian election with nearly 88% of the vote! That's even better than in the last election in 2018. And a record voter turnout! He must be really popular!

He thanked the country for their support and trust, and praised Russia's voting system as "transparent and absolutely objective". Right. And all that stuff about ballot-stuffing and millions of dead people and removed oppositioncandidates? False news.

Good job, Vlad! We were wondering who would win.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Paying off the Two Michaels makes the whole incident look more suspicious

The Two Michaels were a cause célèbre in Canada for the best part of three years, since they were arrested and arbitrarily detailed by China in December 2018 in revenge for Canada's unwilling detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. 

At least that was the language we used, and the language that Justin Trudeau is still using today as details start to emerge about a multimillion dollar compensation settlement the government has struck with Michael Spavor (and possibly also with Michael Kovrig, that part seems uncertain). 

Trudeau insists that the fact that the government is paying big money out to Mr. Spavor should not be interpreted as meaning that either Spavor or Kovrig were actually engaged in espionage, but it has certainly muddied what once seemed to be pretty clear waters.

All this comes as Spavor is threatening to sue both the Canadian government and Mr. Kovrig for the intelligence on North Korea and China that Kovrig "unwittingly" shared with Spavor. So, at least Kovrig (who worked for a controversial intelligence unit at Global Affairs Canada) DOES seem to have been spying after all, just like China was claiming all the way through. And Spavor? Who knows? And who knows what "unwitting" sharing of sensitive intelligence actually means?

All of a sudden, China's "arbitrary detention" doesn't look quite so arbitrary, and the outrage with which Canadians met the news of the Two Michaels' unfair and illegal imprisonment is starting to look somewhat creaky. Maybe they were not just "pawns in geopolitical games", as the government has characterized them, after all. The fact that China "arbitrarily" released the Two Michaels in September 2021, straight after Canada was allowed by the USA to release Meng Wanzhou, certainly made China's conduct look suspiciously petty and spiteful, but now we're not really sure.

At the bottom of it all, the question remains: why is the Canadian government willing to pay an unspecified large sum of money to Mr. Spavor to avoid a court case? The Michaels spent a long time languishing in horrible Chinese penal accommodation (compared to Ms. Wahzhou's comfortable house arrest conditions), but should the government - and the Canadian taxpaying public - be paying them off for this? 

A cause that Canadians once righteously rallied around now looks that bit more tarnished and sullied.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Biden is fighting against unrealistic memories of Trump

A recent CBS poll gives a good idea of just what Joe Biden is up against when he tees off against Donald Trump later this year.

65% of respondents remember the economy under Trump as being good, while only 38% consider it good now, under Biden. In the same way, 59% think the economy today is bad, compared to just 28% under Trump.

So, this is nothing to do with anything that Trump has actually done or said. This is all about people's faulty perceptions and memories. Of course, Trump had the advantage of not having to deal with a pandemic for most of his time, nor the rampant inflation due to global geopolitics (and the lingering after-effects of the pandemic), all of which Biden has had to deal with. Plus, Trump was riding on the coattails of Obama's strong economy, while Biden inherited Trump's weaker one.

One other thing the poll says is that many more people think that prices will miraculously go down under a Trump administration. Wake-up call, guys: prices will not go down under ANY administration, that's not the way inflation works. 

There's some other stuff in there, like 83% of people leaning towards Trump believe (or say they believe) that he tried to stay in power legally, and Trump supporters are much less critical of Trump than Biden supporters are of Biden. No real news there - Democrats are always going to be more critical and analytical, and less driven by sheer emotion and sentiment and wishful thinking, than Republicans.

But the perceptions of the economy under Trump are key. In actual fact, the US economy is showing surprising resilience under Joe Biden, considering the challenges it has been presented with, challenges that, for the most part were wholly outside of Biden's control. It is showing a stronger-than-expected GDP, low unemployment, and falling inflation. God only knows how it would have fared under Trump.

But the other element is: presidents actually have a pretty limited influence on the country's economy. They tend to get credit when the economy is good, and get blamed when it tanks, but the boom and bust cycles actually don't have much to do with who's actually in the White House at the time. 

For what it's worth, a Forbes analysis of historical stock markets shows that, since the Second World War, they do MUCH better under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones, with Clinton and Obama being particularly big winners, and G.W. Bush and Nixon being big losers. Trump comes middle of the pack.

As for what Nikki Haley is up against in the Republican primaries, you could do worse than to hear what this Trump supporter says out loud in an interview: "A woman is not going to be a good president. She don't have no balls to scratch. She's just gonna scratch her head. All a woman is good for in my book is having babies and taking care of the house ... Don't get me wrong: females know what they're doing, but they still got to have a little bit of guidance."


There's not much you can do against that kind of ignorance, is there? And this guy is probably a not untypical Trump supporter. I wonder what his wife is like?

Monday, March 04, 2024

The environment is in pretty bad shape, but it could be much worse

I've been a bit gloomy about our environmental and climate change progress recently - check out this doom-laden screed from a few days ago - but maybe I need to lighten up a bit. Not too much, because things really are quite dire, but let's see what happy things I can say about the situation.

Well, here's one. Although global energy-related carbon emissions continued to increase in 2023 (when we need it to be decreasing, and fast), it didn't rise by as much as it did in 2022. Which is something, right? 

And the reason the pace of the increase slowed was because of the continued expansion of solar and wind (and nuclear) power, and the steady adoption of electric vehicles. Without that trend, the increase in global emissions over the last 5 years would have been three times larger, according to this latest annual update by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

I have to say I'm not looking forward to next year's update. But we should celebrate small victories, right?

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Trump's problem with language(s)

It has been pointed out many times how Donald Trump's language is changing of late, and how he is openly espousing more White Nationalist ideology, such as his Hitler-esque talk about immigrants "poisoning the blood of our country", and his vow to proceed with "the largest domestic deportation operation in American history". Plus, he has been having some cozy chats at Mar-a-Lago with a bunch of very suspect characters, including Kanye West, Nick Fuentes and Victor Orban.

Most recently, he has been waxing most unlyrically about foreign languages, and how "we have languages coming into our country". So, immigrants are not just bringing drugs and crime to America, they are bringing ... languages. "These are languages - it's the craziest thing - they have languages that nobody in this country had ever heard of. It's a very horrible thing." (That, right there, was English, in case you were wondering.)

So, to be clear, Mr. Trump elaborated further. These are "truly foreign languages", and "nobody speaks them". Well, presumably the people that speak them do, but leaving that aside, Trump worries about "pupils from foreign countries, from countries where they don't even know what the language is". Because, after all, "these are languages that no-one ever heard of". Finally, for ultimate clarification: "There are migrants invading from countries that we know nothing about, which is the point". Riiiight... Clearer now.

If that is how the English language is butchered in America, God help the poor benighted souls who are moving there.

The race to leave space litter

I have written before about Elon Musk's (and others') cavalier strewing of near earth orbit with thousand of satellites. Now, it seems there is a distinct possibility that the process of destroying satellites by forced re-entry into the atmosphere may be affecting our atmosphere, and resurrecting an ozone hole problem that we thought we had fixed.

This comes as Musk's SpaceX company casually mentions that they are deliberately scuppering 100 satellites over the next few months because of a design flaw that may cause them to fail. Now, 100 out of the 5,000 or so SpaceX satellites that are already up there is not a huge number, and it pales into insignificance against the 440 tonnes of meteorites that burn up daily in the atmosphere (who knew THAT?)

But there is just something very wrong with this kind of throwaway attitude to space junk. You'd think we had evolved sufficiently to learn from our past mistakes, and to be a bit more circumspect about what we put into orbit. Those satellites that burn up in the atmosphere don't just disappear, they just get broken up into smaller pieces, similar in some ways to the break up of plastics into equally dangerous micro-plastics here on earth. 

The other option is to move the satellites outwards to what has been labelled the "graveyard orbit", which sounds like an even more suspect solution. I hate to think what, and how much, is floating round the earth out there.

There's a similar glib attitude to what is happening in the Moon, our natural satellite. I was taken aback during the media coverage of the recent spate of unsuccessful Moon landings, to learn just how much stuff we have strewn across the face of that otherwise pristine planetoid. 

Wikipedia estimates there is over 187,400 kg of human "stuff" scattered across the Moon, much of it from those early Apollo missions. But we are still adding to that total, the latest addition being the much-lauded (for some reason) Odysseus privately-funded semi-failed landing. (Why we would celebrate the fact that private, commercial companies are getting in on the space game is beyond me. It's one of the more scary developments I can conceive of.)

We're even starting to leave litter on Mars now

Having made a mess of one planet, we are now starting to mess up others. Have we learned nothing?

Friday, March 01, 2024

Do beer cans and bottles actually get recycled?

Ever wonder what happens to all those cans and bottles we take back to the Beer Store? I did, so I looked into it. Maybe you thought it was all a scam and they just end up the landfill, but it turns out they don't - they actually DO get reused and recycled.

Ontario's Beer Store has had a very successful recycling system for decades now, since long before recycling was trendy. Today, about 1.8 billion alcohol containers are returned to the Beer Store each year, and about 98% of all refillable beer bottles sold in Ontario are reused and/or recycled.

Beer bottles have the best journey as this Beer Store video explains. You take the bottles back to the Beer Store and get your 10c deposit. The bottles are sorted by hand by colour and shape and size. They are then returned to the original brewers for refilling and reusing, after washing and sanitizing (yes, really!) Bottles are typically reused in this way about 15 times, after which they are broken up and recycled like other glass. This all happens quite quickly, usually within a few days. Imported and "non-standard" beer bottles, however, are only used once and then sold to recycling facilities to be ground up and recycled. Another good reason to support local breweries!

Cans, on the other hand, can't be reused in the same way. But aluminum and steel are among the easiest and most cost-effective materials to recycle, as this Beer Store video explains. So, after you get your 10c deposit back, your cans are consolidated into truckloads and then hydraulically crushed into cubes for more efficient shipping. These cubes are sold to can manufacturing factories, where they are melted down into aluminum ingots, then rolled flat into sheets to be made into brand new cans, all within about six weeks. They can be recycled over and over again. Because they are not actually reused directly, cans can be brought in to the Beer Store ready crushed to save space. 

Of course, the Beer Store also collects alcohol containers of any kind, even if they are not sold through the Beer Store itself, provided they are actually sold in Ontario. So, under the Ontario Deposit Return Program, the Beer Store also recycles wine and spirit bottles, coolers and alcopop cans, but also wine boxes and bladders, even ceramic containers, not to mention beverage packaging like bottle caps, pull tabs, plastic wraps and rings, and carrying boxes.

Wine and spirit bottles are not reused, though. They are just broken up and used as road-building materials and for other recycled glass purposes. Better than them ending up landfills, of course, and it does take some pressure off municipalities' own recycling systems. Plus, you get the 20c deposit back, so it's a no-brainer.

As an aside, you may have noticed that beer bottles are becoming rarer and rarer as most breweries move to cheaper and easier-to-handle cans. In particular, as more beer is now being sold in grocery stores and the LCBO as well as at the Beer Store, these stores are insisting on cans rather than bottles because they are easier for them to handle and store, and they take up less space on shelves. 

So, it is commercial interests rather than consumer preferences that have driven this change. I must admit it's a shame - I always preferred bottles - but it seems that cans are here to stay.