From an unusual chill in central Canada to record heat in the east and west, extreme fluctuations in the jet stream are causing wacky weather across 5½ North American time zones. “It’s not unusual to see extremes” in summer temperatures, explained CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. “What’s notable this year is that the heat wave isn’t happening in Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal, which is where we normally see the rise in the jet stream.” Although it’s tough to link any specific weather anomaly to climate change, University of British Columbia climate professor Simon Donner said a warming climate definitely has an impact on the jet stream. “It’s possible that what we are going to see in the future is that the jet stream is a bit slower and a bit wavier,” he told CBC News. “Air is going to drag up further north from southern regions and cold air is going to be dragged further south, and I think that’s a little of what we’re seeing this summer.”
More than 100 wildfires are burning across Canada’s Northwest Territories, the result of warmer-than-usual temperatures and the driest conditions in 50 years. Last week, there were news reports that the highway into the NWT capital, Yellowknife, might melt, and that nearby communication lines could also be damaged. “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change,” Prof. Mike Flannigan of the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department told CBC. “Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.” One resident described “tornadoes of fire” near his father’s cabin, about 80 kilometres east of Yellowknife.
If Enbridge decides to move Alberta oil through its Line 9 pipeline to the U.S. east coast, it won’t be able to ship that oil through Portland, Maine. The company says it has no plans to use the route, but South Portland city councilors still voted earlier this week—just in case—to ban bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tankers through the city or port. “They say they’re concerned there could be a push to reverse the flow of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, a subsidiary of the Canadian parent company that is owned by three companies involved in the Alberta oilsands: Shell, Suncor and Imperial Oil,” CBC reports.
First Nations in British Columbia will mount at least nine constitutional challenges to federal approval of the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, CBC reported earlier this week. “The First Nations leaders said they will argue the proposed pipeline and its recent approval by the federal government is a constitutional violation of their Aboriginal land rights in their respective territories, particularly in light of the Supreme Court of Canada victory last month by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation,” Laanela writes.
Rapid growth in jellyfish populations is causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in some parts of the world, and has sometimes brought nuclear power plants close to meltdown, according to a Ph.D researcher at the University of British Columbia. “In some places, it’s clogging fishing nets and damaging fishing gear. In other places, jellyfish are clogging the intake pipes [that bring cooling water to] power plants,” Lucas Brotz told CBC. “In many places, we’ve actually seen ecosystems switch from being dominated by fish to being dominated by jellyfish.”
In a sharp analysis of Canada’s energy sector, CBC producer Kathleen Petty suggests that over-dependence on a single source of economic activity could explain nearly eight years of federal inaction since Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised carbon pollution regulations in October 2006. “Perhaps the delay is prompted by a real fear. Regulations to curb oil sands emissions might curb their growth, but they could also curb the oversized contributions the oil sands are making to the entire Canadian economy,” Petty writes. “But what does it say about the federal government’s job creation record and its stewardship of the national economy? Surely a national economy that is so reliant on one industry in one province isn’t a healthy one.”
Water has overtaken fire as the greatest insurance risk for homes, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is testing a new Municipal Risk Assessment Tool to identify streets that will be hardest hit by severe weather. “There’s been a 12% increase in the amount of rain in Canada since 1950, and extreme weather events that happened every 40 years in the past now occur every six years, both factors that have helped drive up insurance claims,” CBC reports. In 2013, the industry paid out $1.7 billion for insurance claims in Alberta and $1 billion in Ontario. Bill Adams, vice-president of IBC’s Western and Pacific region, said predicting severe weather is an “actuary’s nightmare.” (h/t to Corporate Knights for spotting this story)
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced last week that his company was placing its 203 patents in the public domain, to help speed up global production of electric cars. “Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately two billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis,” he wrote. “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”
After gutting environmental protection under the federal Fisheries Act and cutting budgets at Parks Canada, Canada’s national parks service, the Stephen Harper government has released a five-year, $252-million conservation plan that has nothing to say about parks or wilderness. By focusing on private lands, largely through grants to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited, the government “is trying to divest itself of the responsibility, and accountability, of conserving Canada’s environment and biodiversity,” said University of Winnipeg ecologist Diane Orihel. “A national conservation plan, in our view, would not exclude 90% of the landscape of Canada,” said Éric Hébert-Daly, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
The Canadian government’s new $1 billion limit on liability for any pipeline operator involved in an oil spill is an improvement over past rules, but falls far short of what a major cleanup would cost, critics say. Enbridge’s 2010 bitumen spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan has already exceeded $1 billion in clean-up costs, and pipeline safety specialist Nathan Lemphers said a similar spill along the route of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would likely cost much more. The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said the change in liability formalizes the polluter-pay principle to which its members already adhere. (Hmm. A nice, new definition of polluter-pay?)