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Northern Dreams

Northern Dreams

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In Alberta, Canada, news coverage of the environment avoids Emerson’s pothole. The July 3rd Edmonton Journal had a front page story headlined “Sustainable dreams – Viking project hopes eco-village can help preserve small towns through alternative farming” and an inside story headlined “Sustainable farming – One-mile diet pushes for healthier future.”  The stories sympathetically described Canadian initiatives to go local in food production-consumption and to foster small-town, no-commute living.

The lead story in that issue’s Business section had a different tone as it described efforts to find new markets for the SCO (synthetic crude oil) from Alberta’s vast oil sands deposits, which yield an oil that requires special refining. Alberta’s heavy oil producers want new markets because there has been an explosion of light crude oil production, using expanded shale fracking techniques, in Texas, North Dakota as well as southern Alberta, and new supplies of high-quality fracked oil reduce American demand for Alberta’s oil sands petroleum. That Edmonton Journal story assumed that petroleum mining needs to increase indefinitely, and did not even nod at evidence that burning long-buried hydrocarbons is warming the Earth.

Later we got hints of global warming during a walk on the Athabasca Glacier, which is part of the massive Columbia Icefield in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. The guide who took us far out on the ice said the glacier has been receding about 10 meters a year for decades. Athabasca grows about 15 meters each winter, then recedes about 25 meters each summer for a net annual loss of 10 meters, and we saw streams of ice melt flowing by as we shivered on top the packed ice. The frozen river is old and big, and our guide said it is deep enough in places to hold the Eiffel Tower. But the Athabasca Glacier is getting smaller, and has lost about 30 percent of its ice volume since observations started.

The cab driver who took us home after the flight from Calgary said it had been brutally hot in the Midwest while we were away, breaking thousands of heat records. She regularly takes travelers to and from the DFW airport, and volunteered reports that lakes in Wisconsin and other northern states haven’t been freezing over in recent winters like they used to. Continuing on, she believes that climate is changing, and the world is getting warmer, but that humans have nothing to do with it. Her global warming culprit is a “23 degree shift in the Earth’s axis.” It seemed pointless to argue the science that Earth’s axis shifts gradually over tens of thousands of years and could not explain rapid global warming in recent decades. Instead I filed our good driver’s remarks away as an illustration of the creativity intelligent people use to avoid accepting any responsibility for fowling our collective nest.

Image By Yo Hibino from Lafayette IN, United States (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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