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Articles by 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

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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 NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a climate-change prophet, favors the so-called fourth-generation nuclear systems, which would substantially reduce the amount of nuclear waste. Hans Blix, the former U.N. chief weapons inspector, is another supporter. So, within limits, are liberal senators like John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. And so is President Obama.

I assume I don’t have to spend a lot of time talking about Moore, Brand, or Hansen.  But Hans Blix’s position on this list puzzles me. Whatever Blix’s political... Read more

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  • 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 […]

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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 […]