Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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“An attempt to guarantee public ignorance”

“A recent New York Times editorial, referencing the rapid development of the Alberta oil sands, went so far as to describe new communications restrictions on government scientists as ‘an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.’” – from an open letter to the current Canadian government, signed by more than 800 scientists from 32 countries.

ed-nease12

Image: Steve Nease, The Toronto Star

The international roster of scientists called on the Harper government to end “burdensome restrictions on scientific communication and collaboration faced by Canadian government scientists.” More detail on the story here.

The call was made in an open letter drafted by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.  UCS represents U.S. scientists, and fosters “rigorous science to build a healthier planet and a safer world.”

The need for this unusual intervention is strongly reinforced in a new report from the Canadian organization Evidence for Democracy.  It  assesses the communication and media policies of 16 Canadian federal government departments.

For more on the fight for open science and democracy, see chapters 9 and 12 in Bold Scientists. Read an excerpt here.

 


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Stop! Dirty oil on the move

Tar sands oil is a cumulative disaster at every stage: extraction, processing, transport, refining, and end uses that dump incalculable amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But the oil industry and its government backers are hell bent on getting their dirty plunder to port, for shipment overseas to countries where they can get a higher price.

Canada-Oil Train Derailment

Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, July 26, 2014.  Photo: Boston Herald.

There is no safe transport method. Oil trains leak, derail and explode, oil pipelines leak and burst with shocking frequency.

A well-oiled corporate/government PR machine relentlessly denies the overwhelming risks, even after they’re proven by bitter experience. Fortunately for all of us, people living along the routes are onto these lies, and organizing to block the dangerous traffic.

These two crucial initiatives need and deserve support:

* The Enbridge corporation is pushing to activate the notorious Line 9 through southern Ontario and Quebec. If they succeed, within the next few weeks this aging, vulnerable pipeline could be pumping heavy oil under pressure through a densely populated region laced with vital freshwater sources. Citizens groups along the way are working hard to stop it.

In June, 2014, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation launched a legal challenge to the National Energy Board’s approval* of Line 9, on the grounds that constitutional obligations for consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal rights had not been met. (*The NEB pretends to be independent, but the federal government has effectively stacked it with oil/gas industry supporters.)

The Chippewa challenge is yet to be heard in court, but a public petition in support of it is gathering momentum. Add your voice here: http://you.leadnow.ca/petitions/demand-the-neb-respect-indigenous-rights-sign-to-support-chippewas-of-the-thames-first-nation.

And:

* Now the St. Lawrence River in eastern Canada is also being turned into a transport route for tar sands oil, one of the world’s dirtiest fuels. On September 24, the Suncor corporation shipped the first ever vessel of heavy crude down the St. Lawrence River from a port east of Montreal, bound for Italy. A second vessel was stopped recently on the St. Lawrence and temporarily blocked from departing for safety reasons.

The St. Lawrence River is the second longest river in Canada, flowing from the Great Lakes into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way it provides drinking water to millions of people. The river includes four areas designated under the UN Convention of Wetlands of International Importance.  The Gulf is the world’s largest estuary, bordering five of 10 Canadian provinces.

All of this faces imminent, irreversible threat. The oil corporations plan to send 20 to 30 vessels loaded with dirty crude down the river each year.

The Council of Canadians is pressing federal elected representatives to stop tar sands oil shipments in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. Add your voice here: http://canadians.org/action/tar-sands-oil-shipments-st-lawrence-river-no-way.

Delve into the long struggle to defend the St Lawrence with Henry Lickers, Seneca First Nation biologist at Akwesasne, an island in the middle of the living river: When the river roared, chapter 1, Bold ScientistsRead an excerpt here: http://naturesciencepower.wordpress.com/inside-bold-scientists/excerpts/.


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Whole food for free-range minds

Available September 4, 2014

Bold Scientists, front coverCritical comment:

“A gripping tale of heroic scientists working in the public interest despite powerful
opposition.  At once, both tremendously hopeful and profoundly disturbing.  The world
needs more bold authors like Michael Riordon.”

 Thomas Duck, Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science,Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

“Silence is consent, my fellow scientists. Riordon’s profiles in courage encourage us to take our data and our voices into the gladiator’s arena and engage in the great moral and political battles of our time.  As Bold Scientists so clearly shows, it’s where we belong.”

Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment; co-founder, Concerned Health Professionals of New York

The menu/chapters:

When the river roared.   First Nations, a long view.
Digging thistles.   An experimental post-oil farm.
A dialogue with the world.   Biology, from the ground up.
Blood on my hands.   Life and death in the garden.
Stolen children.   In El Salvador, war, genes and human rights.
The Cloud.   Watching Big Brother.
ODD.   Psychology and power
Awe.   The wisdom of a spider web.
Pesky data.   Under lakes, dark truths.
The unsolved problem.   Fracking: homeland insecurity.
When the lights go out.   Awakening in an ice storm.
No time for cowardice.   An elemental fight for science and democracy.

Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science

Now:

  • Pre-order it from independent bookstores and Chapters/Indigo stores across Canada.

After September 4th:

    • Purchase or order Bold Scientists from local retailers or libraries across Canada.
    • Purchase it directly from the publisher, Between the Lines, online (within Canada) at http://btlbooks.com/book/bold-scientists, or by phone toll-free at 1-800-718-7201.
    • Purchase online through Amazon.
    • Internationally, the book will also be available via Central Books Ltd:  orders@centralbooks.com / centralbooks.com. (Tel) +44 20 8986 4854.

Unspun science for dangerous times


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The wisdom of webs

On a summer morning walk with the dog, she gallops, I walk into a dew-laden meadow – and stop, abruptly.

spider web with dewHundreds of freshly spun spider webs glitter between blades of grass, traced in silver by the rising sun.  I’ve seen this graceful display before, but today I notice for the first time that all the webs are set in exactly the same orientation, each one in parallel to the others.

Why?

Are they set at right angles to the wind, for maximum flow of air, and thus of airborne insects, food?  Not enough wind this morning to tell.

In fact I have no idea.

But clearly the spiders know.

Explore Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science, coming September 2014 from Between the Lines.


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Mayday, Mayday!

DSCF2066Peony at first light, my garden, June 2014

Where I live in eastern Ontario, Canada, an unusually cool, wet spring has generated sumptuous gardens, planting problems for farmers, hordes of hungry mosquitoes, and complaints from people bound for the beach.

But in the big picture, on the only planet we have, yesterday the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its latest global climate report:

  • May 2014 was the warmest May on record.
  • Four of the five warmest Mays on record have occurred in the past five years.
  • May 2014 marked the 351st consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th-century average.

When will we ever learn?

Scientists wrestle with urgent conundrums in Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science, due September 20, 2014 from Between the Lines.

 

 


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What are we waiting for?

As Atlantic gales batter the south of England, and historic rains swamp other parts of it, a scan of mainstream British print media reveals that less than 1 in 10 of the stories about the floods venture to suggest any possible link to climate change.

Can we talk about climate change(Photo: Climate Outreach)

At the same time, polls indicate that two thirds of people in the UK have never talked about climate change outside their immediate social circle, and a third of people have never talked about it with anyone at all.

I strongly suspect that the British are not unusual in their deathly silence on this most vital of all subjects.  But:

This short February 13 commentary looks at one local attempt to break the silence, and make the link.

More on scientists and climate change/global warming in Pesky Facts: unspun science for dangerous times, coming from Between the Lines, autumn 2014.