Asia to go dry – or be submerged

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Bhutanese politician Tshering Togbay holds up a copy of the ICIMOD assessment that predicts 2/3 of glaciers in the Hindu-Kush mountains will melt by 2100 if current global warming continues.

This short TED talk is a short, clear description of why everyone in the world should care that Mt Everest and its neighbours are melting.

Hint: the Hindu-Kush mountains are also known as the 3rd Pole, and the water that flows from them nourishes the lives of more than 2 billion people in Asia.

Tshering Togbay, a politician from Bhutan, presents a scary scenario here but as he makes clear, inaction is not an option.

His suggestion is to create a new body of all the governments in the Hindu-Kush, with particularly active involvement from giants – and major greenhouse gas producers – China and India. It’s easy to dismiss yet another government ‘talk shop’ but if the leaders of countries at risk won’t take action, who will?

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Nepal has greater heights to scale than Mt Everest

WASH_Achham_Marty_Logan_2018As the ‘custodian’ of Mt Everest, the Nepal Government must make changes to how it manages the precious global resource. But far below, leaders are struggling to overcome other obstacles that block the country’s graduation from least-developing country status.

Earlier this month a National Geographic team set up the world’s highest weather station, very close to the peak of Mt Everest. Its purpose is to monitor the Central Asian Jet Stream, to see how winds and moisture move above 29,000 feet and affect the warming climate. In effect the multinational team has also opened a window to the land where glaciers are born.

With great potential for gleaning information about this much celebrated, increasingly exploited, but little known environment, the weather stations are a exciting advance. Yet you get the feeling that the die is already cast: like its neighbours in the Himalaya Hindu-Kush (HKH) range, Everest is melting.

2/3 of glaciers could melt by 2100

The worst-case scenario in a recent assessment predicts that two-thirds of glaciers in the HKH, which spans from Afghanistan to China, will melt by 2100. Earlier last week another team of scientists announced  they found the internal temperatures of the Khumbu glacier on Everest to be higher than expected, just -3.3C. They predicted accelerated melting in the short term, followed by flooding, droughts and unstable, dangerous conditions for climbers.

This climate peril illustrates the double-barrel challenge facing countries like Nepal: they must provide the basics expected from an increasingly wealthy, globally-savvy population — such as infrastructure, health and education — and at the same time confront global threats like the climate crisis and deadly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that bedevil rich and poor countries alike. Continue reading

Mt Everest as amusement park

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Photo: Globe and Mail

This is the article I wrote about the overcrowding and deaths on Mt Everest during the spring climbing season that just ended. It was published in the Globe and Mail on 28 May.

Heated discussions continue about how to deal with the growing number of climbers  wanting to scale the world’s tallest mountain. Of course, climbing Everest is a risky endeavour, but I don’t think it should include waiting in a queue for hours at 8,848 metres. I hope that the Government of Nepal takes some steps to address that issue. Also, I see little mention of the potential damage to the environment – this needs to be taken into account too.

The article:

Mount Everest cannot become an amusement park

When I saw the now famous photo of the queue of climbers atop Mount Everest – hordes of people waiting to ascend to the summit – I was awestruck. Such colour, such clarity, in a picture from the top of the world – wow. But the awe quickly became a sinking feeling in my stomach. Continue reading

Breathtaking Himalayan view – melting

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This photo from Nepali Times shows green and blue melt pools on the North Ama Dablam Glacier, where the vanishing icefall has exposed the eroded bedrock below.

I remember the first time I looked up at the Himalayan range from Nepal: I was dumbstruck. It seemed like I had to tilt my head back an extra notch in order to see to the very tops of the peaks, compared to gazing up at the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Today I’m back in Nepal, fortunate that once a year or so I get to fly out of Kathmandu, which almost always means a view of the Himalayan range once the plane climbs above the smog and clouds. It is a magnificent sight, and I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to take to the skies – especially when the other option is the traffic on Nepal’s increasingly crowded, dust-choked roads.

But two decades later even these most majestic mountains are at risk from – you guessed it – global warming. Continue reading

Indigenous peoples’ protection of the land limits climate change

Tauli_Cortuz_post_081017This a follow-up to my last post, where I took issue with an argument in a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Kenan Malik. He contended that the common claim that Indigenous People have a “special attachment to the land and a unique form of ecological wisdom” is the flip side of the historical argument that they are primitives who cannot adapt in the modern world. He calls it a “reworking of the ‘noble savage’ myth.” Continue reading

Why I’ll be at Monday’s Keystone XL pipeline rally

On Monday September 26, people from across Canada will gather at Parliament Hill to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that will carry oil from Alberta’s oil/tar sands (O/TS) through the United States to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

I don’t have particularly strong feelings about this pipeline compared to, say, the Trans Mountain line that is already taking oil across the Rocky Mountains and under the Fraser River to Vancouver and Washington State, or the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would run further north from Alberta to the BC coast to fill oil tankers plying to and from Asian markets.

Nor am I completely opposed to oil and other conventional energy supplies: we heat our house with natural gas, my co-op vehicle runs on gasoline and while I am willing to invest my money in companies that produce energy via wind and solar power, those sources of energy are not plentiful enough today to replace oil, gas, hydroelectric and nuclear sources and run Canada’s homes, cars and businesses.

But I do think that the O/TS are being exploited carelessly, and that this must change, particularly since only a tiny fraction of its potential has been developed to date.

It is estimated that Alberta’s O/TS represent the second largest oil field in the world, behind only Saudi Arabia. (British Petroleum report, 2009).

Because of the size of the O/TS and their impact on Canada’s people, economy and environment – and the impact beyond this country – I’ve tried to learn at least the basics about this issue. Knowing it has become a hot button topic in Canada and beyond, and that in many cases rhetoric is substituting for verified information, I’ve tried to gather material from a range of sources.

The following points are taken from a December 2010 report by the Royal Society of Canada, a group that I would hazard to label middle-of-the-road, if not conservative; they raise enough questions to convince me that further development of the oil sands must be held back until some of the concerns can be answered.

(Except where marked by quotation marks, I am paraphrasing from the brief version of the report’s executive summary. All bold emphasis is mine).

• The elevated rate of certain cancers reported among residents of Fort Chipewyan (a small town located 250 km downstream from O/TS development) – there is no credible evidence that cancer caused but “more monitoring is needed”;
• Water supply – current industrial use does not threaten the Athabasca River system if the Water Management Framework is fully implemented and enforced;
• Regional water quality and groundwater quantity – current oil patch activities are not a current threat to water quality; the “cumulative impact on groundwater quantity and quality has not been assessed”;
• Tailings pond operation and reclamation – the inventory of ponds is growing despite emerging technologies; “reclamation and management options for wet landscapes derived from tailings ponds have been researched but are not adequately demonstrated”;
• Air quality in the region – there have been “minimal impacts” to date; control of NOx [nitrous oxide] emissions and regional acidification remain valid concerns;
• Greenhouse gas emissions – progress has been made, “nonetheless increasing GHG emissions from growing bitumen production creates a major challenge for Canada to meet our international commitments for overall GHG reduction that current technology options do not resolve”;
• Environmental regulatory performance – The environmental regulatory capacity of the Alberta and Canadian governments “does not appear to have kept pace with the rapid expansion of the oil sands industry over the past decade. The EIA [environmental impact assessment] process relied upon by decision-makers to determine whether proposed projects are in the public interest has serious deficiencies in relation to international best practice. Environmental data access for cumulative impact assessment needs to improve.”

For me, this last point is most damning: Canada’s governments are failing their responsibility to the people of Alberta, and beyond, and trying to play catch up to the profit-oriented energy industry.

Canada is one of the wealthiest, most developed countries in the world, and historically admired for its progressive stance on environmental and social issues. We can, and should, do better.