John McGrath

John McGrath is an intinerant student and sometimes reporter currently living in Toronto, Canada. He mainly writes about Canadian and International Politics from an energy and climate perspective

Guess what? Salesmen sell things

I keep wating for a credible author to write a piece about the alleged “nuclear renaissance” that doesn’t make me gag a little. Today will not be that day.  Hendrik Hertzberg writes a piece for the New Yorker that basically repeats all the same names and talking points, but goes one step further: this passage gives me exactly zero confidence that Hertzberg knows what he’s talking about: Such founding fathers of the environmental movement as Stewart Brand, the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, and Patrick Moore, an early stalwart of Greenpeace, now support nukes. James Hansen, the head of …

My government dumps nuclear waste, and I cheer

Costs kill Ontario’s new nukes

It all started so well. Almost exactly three years ago, Ontario’s government announced the construction of two new nuclear reactors to replace ageing parts of our current power supply. Despite the drawbacks of being announced in the middle of summer vacation season and happening in Ontario, it nonetheless made news around the world. This was probably the furthest that any proposal for nuclear building had gotten in the 21st century, and it was kind of a big deal: The Washington Post said it “put Canada at the leading edge of what the nuclear industry calls a ‘renaissance’ of support for …

<em>Climate Wars</em>

Because we've always needed reasons to kill each other

Canada's public broadcaster, CBC, has just finished airing the three-part series Climate Wars, based on the Gwynne Dyer book of the same name. I haven't yet finished reading the book, but the thesis is easily summarized: If you thought that the effects of climate change only included withering droughts, torrential storms, and general freaky-deakiness, you've missed one of the big ones: anthropogenic mass death, or as the political scientists call it, "war." Yup, on top of all the other things we'll have to worry about in a melting world, there's the sad fact that we'll have more and more reasons to kill each other over dwindling water and food supplies. When you consider that the 20th century was bloody enough as economic and industrial opportunities were expanding, the 21st century is looking mighty depressing if you believe that wars can start over resource scarcity. You can download the podcasts of Parts I, II, and III of Climate Wars here, though I can't testify as to how long they'll stay up there. So give it a listen soon. And do check out the book -- like I said, haven't finished it, but it's excellent so far.

Worst idea ever?

I'm having a cow over beef-tallow biodiesel

I heard about this on the radio this morning, and couldn't believe the uncritical reporting on it: The City of Calgary's entire fleet of trucks and buses may soon be partly fueled by biodiesel produced from Alberta beef tallow.Tallow is all that's left over after an animal has been processed. The city has been experimenting with tallow from the meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., as part efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions....Not only is the tallow in ready supply locally, turning it into biofuel recycles a product that would normally be thrown away, he said.Tallow-waste biofuel is also more ethical than other alternative fuels, since it does not displace food crops such as corn, which is used in the production of ethanol, he said. That's a neat trick of sunk-cost accounting. Sure, beef production is ridiculously carbon-intensive, making this biodiesel probably more climate-hostile than even corn ethanol, but hey, we've already got all this surplus cow fat to get rid of. I'm all for waste recycling, but reducing the production of waste is the first step, right? I'll confess this is a first-blush impression, and welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong. But doesn't this sound like a poor excuse to support beef prices?

The week that Canada learned the definition of 'prorogue'

Canadian Parliament suspended, PM Harper survives … for now

The situation in Ottawa has passed, for now. The Governor-General (representing Her Majesty Elizabeth II) has granted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s request to prorogue (or suspend) Parliament, meaning that the confidence vote that had been scheduled for Monday will not happen for now. This is a day of firsts, as this is the shortest session of Parliament in this country ever and the first time a PM has suspended Parliament with a confidence vote on the docket. Harper has bought himself about two months as Parliament will return late January and almost immediately present a budget at that time. …

Harper's Black Friday

Canadian government may fall, bring in greener coalition

It looks like Stéphane Dion might just make it to the Prime Minister’s office after all, at least for a little while. According to frenzied reporting out of Ottawa, opposition parties in Canada’s Parliament (who, while not forming the government, hold the majority of seats between them) are preparing to topple the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. According to initial reports, Dion would become Prime Minister until the spring, when his party chooses a new leader. It will go down on Dec. 8, when opposition parties will table a motion of no confidence in the House of Commons; the motion …

Election night! (No, not that one.)

Canadian elections strengthen Conservatives, drinkers

Well, it was a short, boring campaign, and, uh, nothing really happened. I’m writing this before the polls have all reported in, but the Conservatives have almost certainly gained a couple dozen seats, putting them just — just — short of a majority government. The Liberals have run on a campaign of trying to be mildly less abusive of the planet, and will be even weaker in the 40th Parliament than they were in the 39th. This likely means a few things: Stéphane Dion, Liberal leader and Kyoto champion, will lose his job next spring if not sooner. I’ve got …

Why you don't let things get to the crisis point

The moral argument for curbing climate change

Robert Farley has a point I would like all environmentalists to have seared to the insides of our eyelids: Simply because something must happen does not mean that it will happen … It’s not that people are stupid (although many are) or dishonest (although many are); its that the institutions make certain outcomes difficult to achieve. Farley thinks that America isn’t in as bad straights as pre-Imperial Rome, but of course the bailout isn’t America’s only crisis at the moment. There is this whole "oh God oh God the planet is burning" thing we’ve got going on which America has …

That didn't take long

Hope dimming for Canadian carbon tax

Not too long after my earlier post was published, even Canada’s biggest carbon-tax booster inched away from the central plank of his election platform. To understand how disingenuous this is, Dion spent months preparing the ground for his carbon tax announcement, which was conducted with huge fanfare and hoopla. Now he’s saying the media are the ones who claimed it was a "major" part of his platform. Don’t get me wrong, I like the green shift, and I’ve been a fan of Dion for some time (which I put in writing here), but he sees the writing on the wall …

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