Friday, 11 July 2014

Now We're Getting Into It

There's been some good reporting on the use of neonicotinoids, the most widely used insecticide, found on everything from flea collars for pets, to seed coating on the most widely grown crops, soybeans and corn.  It replaced a class of pesticides called organphosphates which are close chemical relatives to nerve gases developed in the second world war, and therefore toxic to mammals (people). The neonicotinoids  are relatively safer for us, but have a debilitating impact on the behavior of bees, and are clearly linked to the a huge jump in bee mortality around the world.  Ontario has now announced it will bring in restrictions on its use, following a similar move in Europe. Commercial grain farmers are fighting back, and this week the Conference Board of Canada jumped in with it's own report, partly funded by grain farmers, and Crop Life Canada, the trade association for the large pesticide manufacturers.  PEI potato growers and other farmers  do use a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid as a systemic pesticide when planting.  The upside is there isn't the need for insecticide spraying, and fortunately bees have little interest in potato flowers as a source of pollen, but there is growing evidence that  neonicotinoids remain active for years, and even at very low levels can negatively impact bee behavior.  Here are some recent stories on new developments, and a column I wrote a few months ago.

Pesticide linked to bee deaths to be restricted in Ontario

Ontario intends to become the first province to restrict the use of a controversial pesticide linked to bee deaths, requiring farmers and other commercial growers to apply for permits to plant seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides.
The government wants to limit the blanket use of the seed treatment, while balancing the protection of insect pollinators with the needs of farmers to guard their crops and livelihoods against insects.
The provincial agriculture ministry will soon begin holding meetings with farmers, beekeepers and pesticide makers with the goal of having a licensing system in place by the fall, when growers order seeds for next year.
“We are committed to working with stakeholders to develop a system that targets the use of neonicotinoid-treated seed only to areas or circumstances where there is demonstrated need,” said Jeff Leal, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
“Our intention is to work with the industry to move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides,” he said.
“Ideally, we would have a structure in place for the 2015 planting season – that is what we are working toward.”
Neonicotinoids, – neonics for short – protect seeds and plants from worms and other crop-destroying insects, and have been blamed by several studies and Health Canada for the widespread collapse in colonies of honey bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
Bees are exposed to neonicotinoids in two ways: by eating the pollen, or by ingesting or carrying back to the hive the neonic-infused field dust kicked up by the tractor and planter. A University of Saskatchewan biologist found the chemicals in the province’s streams, ditches and insects, and even up the food chain in birds. To reduce the dust, neonic suppliers such as Bayer AG and Syngenta have begun supplying the seeds with a wax-based lubricant, under the direction of Health Canada. But the lubricant, combined with modified planting machines, reduces dust by only 20 per cent.
The use of neonicotinoids has been banned temporarily in Europe, but are unregulated in Canada and the United States. Ontario does not have the power to ban pesticides, which are regulated by Health Canada, but the province can control or ban their sale.
The connection between bee deaths and the pesticides is murky. Some studies point to parasitic mites and viruses as the more likely causes of bee deaths, in addition to winter starvation and loss of habitat. Some say insects do not absorb lethal doses of the insecticide through pollen, though beekeepers and others maintain even small amounts can weaken bees and make them susceptible to other maladies. However, beekeepers in Western Canada have not seen their colonies collapse, even though their hives feed on the flowers of canola, a crop that is treated with neonicotinoids.
Most of the bee deaths have been concentrated in Ontario, a province with the warm summers best suited to growing corn, a grain used in biofuels and animal feed. Ontario grows more than 60 per cent of the country’s corn, and corn is thought to be most closely linked to the province’s bee deaths. The irregular shape and size of the seeds, combined with the compressed-air planters, make the planting process quite dusty.
Beekeepers in Ontario say their winter losses have risen to as high as 50 per cent from 15 per cent before neonicotinoids became popular, and many want the pesticide banned. However, that view is not shared by all beekeepers in the province, nor the Canadian Honey Council, which represents 7,000 apiarists across the country.
Rod Scarlett, executive director of the group said he welcomes a reduction in the use of neonicotinoids. But he doubts the effectiveness of a licensing system because farmers and government officials might not know at the beginning of the season where the pesticide is or isn’t needed.
“We want to ensure farmers don’t suffer,” Mr. Scarlett said in an interview from his office near Edmonton.
Growers of flowers, fruits and vegetables are also heavy users of the insecticide. Neonicotinoid proponents note the chemical is not absorbed by humans, and it is much more effective, cheaper and safer than the older insecticides it replaced.
“Even the crop protection companies will tell you neonics kills bees. They are designed to be an insecticide,” Mr. Scarlett said. “The bigger question in the mind of the Canadian Honey Council is, what’s next? How do we mitigate the risk? If that product isn’t available for farmers to use, do they go back to organophosphates, which are far worse for mammals and insects?”
Ontario is home to about 3,000 of the country’s 7,000 beekeepers. Most beekeepers know to keep their bees away from corn fields during planting. But given the prevalence of the crop, and the high density of Ontario’s farmland, this is often not possible, Mr. Scarlett said.
Ontario has taken other steps to support the honey industry, providing $105 per hive to those who lose 40 per cent of their bees, and committing $1.2-million to research on pollinator health and farming methods.

Neonics restrictions risk killing some Ontario grain farms: Conference Board

By | Jul 10, 2014

Ontario’s plans to move away from a controversial – yet highly popular – class of pesticides believed to be killing bees risk costing the province’s grain farmers millions of dollars in lost acreages, a new Conference Board of Canada report warned Thursday.
“We estimate that such a restriction [on neonicotinoids] would cause farms to exit the market or reduce acreage, costing Ontario farmers more than $630 million annually in lost revenue and reducing Ontario’s GDP by nearly $440 million,” the report reads.
Neonicotinoids – or neonics – are used as a coating on corn, soybean and canola seeds. Systemic in nature, the insecticides permeate the entire plant, protecting it from harmful pests. The chemicals are developed by Bayer and Syngenta.
The report comes just days after Ontario’s Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal announced he plans to restrict the use of neonics, a move that would see the province become the first in Canada to regulate the insecticide.
The move has been heralded by most Ontario beekeepers, who argue the current level of bee deaths is unsustainable. Grain farmers, along with a handful of commercial beekeepers, though, are convinced the restrictions will mean lower yields, with some farmers forced out of business.
“Farm income is not evenly distributed. Some farmers are in a strong financial position, while others break even or operate at a loss,” the report notes.
“Depending on their financial performance, farms will likely either reduce their production or exit the industry in response to higher production costs, lowers crop yields, or a combination of both,” if tougher regulations are imposed, the board warned.
A restriction, the report adds, would put Ontario farmers at a competitive disadvantage because “no restriction on their use has been implemented in Canada or the United States.”
The move would be particularly devastating for Ontario corn and soybean growers who would see higher input costs in a market already dominated by larger American growers, the report cautioned. Corn and soybeans are the two largest grain and oilseed crops grown in Ontario, worth some $3.5 billion in farm cash receipts in 2012.
Farmers would also be forced to purchase more expensive insecticides should Ontario follow through on plans to restrict the chemical,” the report reads. And, while some alternatives are available, the report warned neonics are also “used to control some insects for which there is no alternative.”
Instead, growers would be forced to use foliar sprays (sprayed onto the plant’s leaves during growth), the report argues, which can be less effective.
The eighty-page Conference Board report was funded in part by the Grain Farmers of Ontario and CropLife Canada – two proponents of the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
The study was launched at the request of Grain Farmers of Ontario, who asked the Conference Board of Canada to conduct an “independent economic analysis of a hypothetical restriction” on neonics.
Highly controversial, neonics are at the heart of a divisive and public debate within Canada’s farming community. Beekeepers, environmentalists and several scientists insist the chemicals are responsible for major bee deaths – averaging around 30 per cent per year – losses they say are simply unsustainable.
They want the insecticides banned for a minimum of four years – a move that would see Canada fall in step with the European Union. The EU imposed a two-year moratorium on three neonicotinoid pesticides in 2013 – a moratorium many expect will be extended past its 2015 deadline.
The pesticides are currently being reviewed by Health Canada’s Pest Management Agency (PMRA) – the body responsible for regulating pesticide used in Canada.
While their final report is not expected until sometime in 2015, preliminary findings by the agency in September 2013 determined contaminated dust during planting has contributed to bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec.
As a result of their findings, the agency ordered grain farmers to use a new seed lubricant – used to ease the flow of seeds through the planter – during the 2014 planting season. The new lubricant is meant to reduce the amount of dust created. Its effectiveness, though, is still unknown.
The Senate Agriculture and Forestry committee is currently conducting a detailed and lengthy study on bee health. Their final report is expected in December 2014.
Meanwhile, the federal government has repeatedly insisted it will not consider restricting the use of neonics until the PMRA report is made public or the science becomes more “conclusive.”

All abuzz over neonics debate

By | Jul 10, 2014

Ontario farm fields are buzzing this summer – not with bees, but with controversy. At issue is a proposed provincial ban on the sale of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that protects crops but stands accused of killing bees. Bee farmers claim it has decimated their hives, while grain farmers call their accusations junk science. And now a Conference Board of Canada report warns that the proposed ban would force some farmers out of business, and cost farmers – and the province – hundreds of millions in lost revenue.
Neonocotinoids, or neonics, have been around for two decades. Instead of spraying them on their fields, which can affect other crops and organisms, farmers purchase seed pre-coated with the compound, and the product is present throughout the plant. In Canada, they are heavily used in the west for grain crops: some 19 million acres of canola, for example, are pollinated by bees, and 100 percent treated with neonicotinoids.
Between 2007 and 2012 the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency reported no bee kills associated with neonics in all of western Canada. There have been some reported issues in corn fields with corn dust affecting bee populations. Consequently, last year the PMRA proposed not to ban the product, but to use different seeding techniques to eliminate the dust.
However, in Ontario, many bee growers are convinced that neonics are killing their bees. The Ontario Beekeeper Association’s website is awash in articles about the evils of neonicotinoids. At the same time, other studies suggest that fungicides are a far greater threat to bee health. Other suspects in mass bee deaths include harsh winters, viruses and the varroa mite, a tiny parasitic insect which feeds on the bees “blood” and causes them to become prone to infections.
The bee population in Canada has actually grown, from 600,000 colonies in 2000 to 700,000 in 2012. Around the world, bee colonies are also increasing, despite the increasing use of the products.
The Ontario law would bring the province in line with the European Union, which voted to ban neonics because of alleged bee deaths. What Canadians may not know is that the country that drove the European ban on neonics, France, did so not for reasons of science, but politics. Domestic pressure by French environmentalists had pushed that country to ban the substance, which disadvantaged their farmers, and led France to seek an EU ban to level the playing field. The French went so far as to issue a press release that misrepresented the data on neonics and bees (which did not support a ban) in their efforts. At the end of 2013, a two-year EU ban took effect.
Recent evidence is making many Europeans rethink the ban. Research published this spring in the Journal of the Entomological Society of America found that soybean and cotton plants grown from neonic-treated seed had no traces of neonics in soybean flowers or cotton nectar. They did find microscopic traces of neonics in corn at levels of 2.3 parts per billion, levels so small that the American EPA considers them insignificant. One of the study’s authors, Dr. Gus Lorenz, concluded that neonics are “not being expressed in the reproductive parts of the plants.” Canadian researcher Cynthia Scott-Dupree of the University of Guelph reached similar conclusions, finding “no effects or “poor performance” in treatment colonies” of bees who feasted on neonicotinoid-treated crops.
Studies that have established negative effects have been done in the lab, exposing bees directly to the chemical, in a manner that would not arguably happen when they pollinate treated plants. Some researchers claim that over time, “sublethal” exposure in the field would achieve the same effect. This flies in the face, however, of sheer numbers: the bee population in Canada has actually grown, from 600,000 colonies in 2000 to 700,000 colonies in 2012. Around the world, bee colonies are also increasing, despite the increasing use of the products.
What would happen if Ontario bans neonics – and other provinces follow suit? Farmers would turn to other pesticides, such as organophosphates and pyrethroids, both of which have been proven toxic to bees, and which aren’t exactly embraced by environmentalist for human consumption, either. If the Wynne government rushes to judgement on neonics, it risks hurting crop farmers and consumers, by lowering yields and increasing prices. And that buzzing they hear won’t be bees, but angry voters.




Time to Take Their Own Advice

Pesticide companies are hard to love. They make a lot of money even when their customers don’t, and whatever the science says there’s a gnawing feeling amongst many that pesticide use is behind growing cancer numbers and environmental degradation.  

The companies play the public relations game as well as anyone.  When family doctors promote the idea that cosmetic use of pesticides should be banned, you can bet that Crop Life Canada, the trade association representing developers and distributors of pesticides, will argue that all products are approved by Health Canada, and if used properly pose no risk.

We will hear more from Crop Life in the months ahead as debate heats up over the use of neonicotinoids, the widely used family of  insecticides that’s been linked to bee deaths. Neonicotinoids are facing regulatory reviews in Europe, new label requirements in the United States, and a growing social media campaign opposing their use here in Canada.  

Crop Life should pay attention to a section of its own website that could help us understand the risks of neonicotinoids, and how they might be used more safely:

The responsible use of crop protection products is undertaken within the context of promoting Integrated Pest Management strategies, with the underlying principles that a crop protection product should be used only when necessary – using the right tool at the right time, in the right place and in the right way.

That’s in fact close to what Rachael Carson, the godmother of modern environmentalism was saying in Silent Spring:

"It’s not my contention that chemical pesticides must never be used.  I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of  persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potential for harm... "

That’s not how neonicotinoids are used.  Seeds are coated  with the insecticide before planting and every stalk or plant becomes a source of  the pesticide. There are benefits to this, farmers don’t need to regularly spray during the summer, but it’s still a far cry from “Integrated Pest Management” called for by Crop Life: sampling to find if insect levels are serious enough to need a pesticide and then using “only when necessary – using the right tool at the right time, in the right place and in the right way.”

There’s a similar issue with “round-up ready” crops, the GMO soybeans, corn, and canola varieties so widely grown in North America. They resist glyphosphate, a relatively safe herbicide.  It’s become very convenient for farmers to use these GMO crops and control weeds with one or two passes of Round-up. But nature has responded (as it always does) and created super weeds that themselves resist glyphosphate.  Again this isn’t using herbicides “when necessary, and in the right place”, but blanketing millions of acres with one product, with the resulting “resistance” that’s the inevitable result.  The pesticide companies then get the additional benefit of developing new herbicides to control the superweeds, with the patents and profits that go along with that.

No doubt the media will present the fight over neonicotinoids as all or nothing, a ban or hell in a hand basket. Maybe the more important question is how these products are used, that convenience for farmers, and profits for pesticide companies has trumped common sense and biology. Crop Life could take a leadership role in changing the nature of the debate, and all it has to do is follow it’s own advice.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Maybe When We're Hungry We'll Pay Attention

I-Politics is an on-line publication that's a good read for anyone interested in politics and government policy. It also takes a real interest in agriculture. In fact it's headline on a Saturday in early July was about little known research about Canadian's attitudes towards farming. It's an important read.

Farm-to-fork divide is a yawning gulf, federal research shows

By | Jul 5, 2014 5:00 am |
From a crisis in western rail capacity to the major stumbling blocks in transcontinental trade agreements, Canadian agriculture has been at the heart of some of the past year’s most important policy debates.
Yet recently released government research reveals something farmers have long warned of: most Canadians have no idea where their food comes from, how its made or how important it is to their own economic fortunes.
“Findings from this series of focus groups clearly indicate a relatively low level of awareness, particularly among urban dwellers, of the current state of the [agriculture] sector and its contributions to provincial, regional and the national economy,” the report reads.
Similar findings were reported in rural centres, the report added. While rural residents noted a higher familiarity with agriculture in general, researchers found “they nonetheless felt they too were not as knowledgeable of the larger national picture and outlook.”
The information was collected for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada last December via 18 focus groups held in eight communities across Canada: Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, New Liskeard, Ont., Montmagny, Que. and Selkirk, MB.
Each meeting lasted just over two hours and was made up of eight to 11 participants with men and women over 18 years old.
Few of those polled identified the agriculture sector as a “key economic driver.” That, despite the fact Canada’s agriculture sector contributes $100 billion to the national economy annually and is tied to one in eight jobs in this country, a statistic which “surprised” many focus group members, the report said.
In fact, most participants, the report reads, “felt Canada’s agricultural sector could be considered ‘relatively low-tech’ or not as innovative” as the energy sector, the auto sector or the service sector.
Participants, the report argues, are stuck in the past with “romanticized” or “idealistic” view of agriculture. An image researchers said, more in tune with what farming used to look like “in the last century” than with today’s modern farm.
Only a handful of those surveyed had visited a working farm.
The result is a major disconnect from an industry expected to dominate the future Canadian trade agenda.
Canada is currently the fifth largest exporter of agricultural goods, a fact unfamiliar to most participants. While most could name wheat as a major export, few were able to list other Canadian exports.
In fact, pollsters were routinely told Canada was a net importer of food thanks to the wide variety of imported fruits and vegetables found in Canadian grocery stores.
“I feel like agriculture is silent in Canada,” one participant noted. Despite widespread government advertizing campaigns attempting to reconnect Canadians with the farm, for everyday folks food, they said, comes from the grocery stores.
The unfamiliarity with the farming world also means few participants were aware of major policy debates including ones on supply management or the pending Canada-European Trade Agreement.
While most participants had heard of marketing boards, researchers found few were familiar with the workings of supply management with many participants posing questions about how quotas were set.
Debate on the issue reportedly generated “mixed responses” with participants noting the system likely benefited producers by “offering greater income security.” However, many raised concerns about the impact supply management had on consumer choices, restricted competition and higher prices.
As for the European trade deal, pollsters found most participants hadn’t heard of it.
While some had heard rumblings of a “perceived negative impact on fine cheese producers in Quebec,” along with possible gains for beef, the report found “they had no specific knowledge of the terms of the agreement or how it might benefit the Canadian agriculture industry.”

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Kill the Documentary Unit at CBC... Really???


40 journalists protest reported plans to close down documentary team at CBC | CMG

Below is the letter signed by 40 journalists protesting reported plans to close down the in-house documentary team at the CBC. There’s a broad concern that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and signals a broader intent to privatize more and more portions of the CBC, and weaken it.
The presence of original documentary programming, independent and in-house is at its lowest point in over 20 years on the CBC. The issue should be increasing in-depth journalism, not cutting it even further.
The initial letter is followed by a response by Heather Conway, Executive Vice-President, English Services. The journalists’ subsequent response is also posted 
Hubert Lacroix (President and CEO)
Heather Conway (Executive Vice-President, English Services)
Dear Hubert and Heather,
The undersigned journalists have become alarmed at the precipitous decline of documentaries in the CBC-TV schedule, which has occurred not just for financial reasons, but because of programming priorities over many years.
Now there are plans to shut down in-house production of feature documentaries, including the Unit which has produced “The People’s History of Canada”, “The Canadian Experience”, “Eighth Fire” as well as topical quick-response documentaries such as the award-winning “Syria: Behind Rebel Lines”.
CBC Television, to be true to its core mandate, needs more long-form journalism and legacy programming –not less.
We have observed the steady erosion of long-form documentary production within the CBC in the past few years. Strands like Nature of Things and Doc Zone and fifth estate  have continued, but any documentary mini-series or Sunday night specials outside those strands have virtually disappeared from the CBC TV Network. In fact, the overall production of documentaries –independent or in-house– has fallen dramatically over recent years.
We stress that we continue to believe it is important to support and nurture and expand independent documentary production, which has always been an important component of series such “Life and Times”, “Witness” and “Doc Zone”.    But some productions, such as Eighth Fire, which combined efforts of TV, radio, French and English and aboriginal CBC staff, can only be done internally. On the immediate news fronts, it often takes CBC News and documentary teams to produce quick-turnaround long-form documentaries to provide context and depth to immediate events.
The remedy, we suggest, is not to compound the documentary deficiency of the CBC by eliminating the in-house unit, but strengthen our commitment by embedding that unit as part of the CBC News and Current Affairs department. There is already a considerable sharing of staff and resources between them, on which we can build; the documentary unit would use existing News infrastructure and facilities. This would preserve our legacy production, and give wider opportunities to our journalists, as well as develop our younger staff. Harmonizing our structure with SRC, where documentaries come under the news umbrella, would increase our ability to co-ordinate major bi-cultural projects.
Shutting down the in-house documentary unit would be a negative message to send to core supporters of the CBC, as well as a dispiriting message to our journalists that the management does not value their long-form journalism, and there will be no room for it in the future.
Aligning the strengths of in-house documentaries and CBC News, on the other hand, achieves efficiencies and strengthens the brand of CBC journalism, of which we’re all proud.
Nahlah Ayed (Foreign Correspondent: London)
Lynn Burgess (Producer: “Marketplace”)
Tony Burman (Former Editor-in-Chief: CBC News and Current Affairs)
Patrick Brown (Former Correspondent: China)
Harvey Cashore (Senior Producer: CBC News)
David Common (Host: “World Report”)
Michael Claydon (Executive Producer: “DocZone”)
Sue Dando (Executive Producer: “The Nature of Things”)
Neil Docherty (Senior Producer: “the fifth estate”)
Margaret Evans (European Correspondent: London)
Gillian Findlay (Host: “the fifth estate”)
Matt Galloway (Host: “Metro Morning”)
Erica Johnson (Host: “Marketplace”)
Michelle Gagnon (Producer: “The National”)
Sylvene Gilchrist (Producer: “The National”)
Chris Hall (National Affairs Editor: Ottawa)
David Halton (Former Senior National Affairs Correspondent: Ottawa)
Tom Harrington (Host: “Marketplace”)
Mark Kelley (Host: ‘the fifth estate”)
Neil MacDonald (Senior Correspondent: Washington)
Linden MacIntyre (Host: “the fifth estate”)
Peter Mansbridge (Chief Correspondent/Anchor “The National”)
Duncan McCue (Correspondent: “The National”)
Terence McKenna (Correspondent: “The National”)
Bob Mckeown (Host: “the fifth estate)
Carmen Merrifield (Producer: “The National”)
Wendy Mesley (Host: “The National”)
Terry Milewski (Senior Correspondent: Ottawa)
Don Murray (Former Correspondent: London)
Carol Off (Host: “As It Happens”)
Catherine Olsen (Executive Producer/Documentaries: CBC News Network)
Sasa Petricic (Middle East Correspondent: Jerusalem)
Julian Sher (Senior Producer: “the fifth estate”)
Alex Shprintsen (Producer: “The National”)
Don Spandier (Senior Producer: “The World at Six”)
David Suzuki (Host: “The Nature of Things”)
Anna Maria Tremonti (Host: “The Current”)
Connie Walker (Lead Reporter: CBC Aboriginal)
Tamar Weinstein (Producer: “the fifth estate”)
Hello all,
First, thanks for taking the time to sign your names to the email; your views and thoughts are both welcomed and appreciated.
There is, as you point out, a long and storied history of documentary programming at the CBC, many of which were produced by some of you.  I am sure you are all equally proud that many more, who having been trained here, have gone on to make extraordinary docs themselves.
There does seem to be some confusion and an apparent perception we have an intention to reduce docs on the network(s).  This is especially problematic given that I have stated publicly, as has Sally Catto, most recently at our Upfronts and repeated at Banff last week that we are of the view that docs is a genre we not only favour but also recognize the resurgence they’re having creatively with audiences, especially younger audiences.
To be fair, we have clearly signalled our support for the form and we agree there are many journalists in News and Current Affairs who are capable and interested in making short and long form docs.  That said, there is also a thriving independent documentary community, many of whom were and are mentored by our own teams.
It is true we are reviewing every area of our business to determine whether or not there are opportunities to meet our desired programming needs differently and more cost effectively and, as you know, we are not the only people who can produce documentaries.  Our appetite for docs has not changed or diminished in this context but our willingness to consider options for producing them is open.  There is a real opportunity for docs to be created by some of the talent in News and Current Affairs as well as the option to acquire docs from talented Canadian documentary producers.
The fact that we have documentary capable talent in News and Current Affairs does not support the suggestion to move the current documentary area into that division.  First, documentaries such as “Wild Canada” are neither news nor current affairs but rather nature documentaries.  The Nature of Things is also not a news program.  Part of the power of many documentaries is their very strong and personal point of view approach – a posture difficult to maintain in an environment very much subject to journalistic standards and practices.  I believe the editorial and artistic freedom of the documentary area is better served outside of News and Current Affairs.
There are fresh and compelling approaches to documentaries and many documentary producers who would love an opportunity to see their work on the public broadcaster.  Some of you have talked about Vice as one example of a contemporary approach to the form.  I can tell you having met with them, as no doubt a number of you have, that they cite the CBC documentary tradition as inspiring their approach.
But the Vice team is only one of many Canadian producers of docs.  There are 114 Canadian independent documentary producers listed in the Canadian Media Production Association’s guide and, at their request, I met with the Documentary Organization of Canada as they feel there should be more opportunities for their members to produce for the CBC.  We have an obligation to listen to that constituency as they too produce high quality, compelling, relevant content.  Many young producers say docs are the new feature films for them and a journalistic form they find more engaging than headline news.
We also have a documentary channel that privileges acquiring and commissioning Canadian documentaries.
So, we are reviewing the absolute necessity of producing our own docs for both financial and creative reasons and are open to engaging with other points of view about how we best achieve those goals of providing great documentary content on CBC’s schedules.
I am genuinely sorry that the speed with which our financial challenges have to be dealt with has short- circuited a more comprehensive consultation with you as individuals.  Regrettably, time is not on our side.
I hope I’ve provided some further context for the thinking behind this review.  Please know that the genre and the individuals, especially Mark, have my utmost respect and that our deliberations in the current context do not single out the genre precipitously or on a cost only basis.
Thank you again for bringing your concerns to the fore.
Dear Heather,
Thank you again for your response to our original note. We have a few points we would like to make in return.
At the core of this issue is the alarming decline in documentary production at the CBC, and, beyond documentary, the network’s declining commitment to in-depth programming, whether produced by us or by independents.  The stark fact is that CBC Television has dramatically drifted from one of the core mandates of public broadcasting.
In the past ten years, the number of original documentaries on the network has been cut by 52 per cent, to the lowest documentary level in over 20 years.  The budget of the documentary department has been cut to a quarter of its size.  Network documentary series and original feature-length Canadian documentaries have largely disappeared from the landscape. The problem, it seems clear to us, is not just money but policy.
You raise the importance of being open to other voices and independent producers across the country. We agree.
Seventy five per cent of the output of the CBC Documentary Department is independent.  Only 25 per cent is in-house. That means The Nature of Things and Doc Zone are overwhelmingly produced by independent companies.  In the past four years alone, figures show these strands have commissioned documentaries from over 60 different companies, from every region in the country.
We are broadly comfortable with the principle that that which can be produced by independents, in most cases, should be. But we are not comfortable with the inverse idea that what can’t be produced by contracting out should not get done – which is essentially the result of the strategy we seem to be embarking on.  And that comes to the core of this disagreement:
The public broadcaster should undertake enterprises that are legacy projects of national scale and importance, like 8th Fire, projects of record, projects that are investigative, projects that are controversial and require the protection and infrastructure support of a major institution. The CBC affords legal, moral and institutional protection that is not always available to an isolated independent company.  The public broadcaster should also undertake projects that bring depth and eyewitness to the breaking news stories of the day.
We have a wealth of talent and experience in our News and Current Affairs department that has virtually no access to producing in-depth documentary journalism. Stories of global crises like Iraq and Ukraine are precisely when we need insight, eyewitness and depth. Breaking and quick-response documentaries are largely un-financeable through independent production.  It takes months to finance an independent production through a maze of CMF funding, Rogers or Bell funds, provincial tax credits, etc.
These documentaries –quick response, legacy, risky or controversial—will become scarcer and scarcer unless the CBC determines they WILL be done and has purpose-built units to assure that.
Then there is the issue of associating Documentaries with News and Current Affairs, which our initial letter endorses.
First there is the immediate practical issue that the network seems intent on getting out of all in-house production and plant infrastructure except for News, and so in-house Documentaries would be swept out for the sake of symmetry and lack of plant support and facilities.  In-house documentaries can easily use CBC News facilities. Second, it is important to give creative space to the talent and resources contained within the News service, which adds up to an efficient use of resources.
There is no contradiction implicit in associating Documentaries with the News and Current Affairs family.
You base your argument on what we feel is a rather narrow definition of News and Current Affairs.  You say documentaries such as “Wild Canada” are neither news nor current affairs but rather nature documentaries, and that The Nature of Things is not a news program, and therefore should not reside under a News and Current Affairs Department umbrella.  In fact, science programming (Découverte) resides within News and Current Affairs in Radio-Canada, and has for over 25 years, without creating any apparent confusion or restriction.  It’s also important to understand that The Nature of Things is far more than nature programming; it is science, technology, environment, ecology, medicine, and the whole spectrum of the human condition from psychology to brain science, genetics to social sciences, all of which also falls under current affairs.
You say that part of the power of many documentaries lies in their strong personal point of view approach, and we agree. But you add that this is “a posture difficult to maintain in an environment very much subject to journalistic standards and practice.”  We should point out that it is a long-standing corporate policy, passed by the Board, that all information programming on the CBC, including all independent documentaries, must be governed by the Journalistic Standards and Practices.  We do not have two standards for ethical conduct –such as chequebook journalism, hidden cameras, entrapment, or misrepresentation– on the same network, nor should we.
Neither has the fact that we are all governed by the same ethical standards proved to be an impediment to editorial and artistic freedom of the documentary form.  In fact the Journalistic Standards and Practices policy explicitly recognizes the POV genre and that documentaries often need to be provocative, and we air them where “There is a compelling argument, well-presented, for a single point of view that provides insight into a controversial subject and may provoke public debate.”
The CBC has a very strong tradition of documentary programing generated by its own staff. We don’t want to lose it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Words Matter

Natural and trust are some of the "nice", "hopeful" words that we use. One is being terribly abused, and the other is short supply.  A recent report, and a column I wrote trying to find a little light in the deep water-irrigation  tunnel.

What does "natural" mean?

Last year, according to Nielsen, foods labeled "natural" generated $43 billion in sales. That's more than five times the figure for foods carrying an "organic" label ($8.9 billion). A new Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 people found that two-thirds of respondents believed  that a "natural" label meant that a food contained:
  • No artificial materials during processing
  • No pesticides
  • No artificial ingredients
  • No GMOs
More than half of those surveyed said that they specifically looked for a "natural" label on their foods.
There's just one problem: There are no real federal regulations around the word "natural."
According to the USDA, "natural" meat, poultry, and egg products must be "minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients." But the agency doesn't go on to define "artificial." Meat from livestock fed genetically modified corn, for example, can still be labeled "natural," as can animals raised with regular doses of antibiotics. And the USDA has no regulations at all for labeling natural foods that do not contain meat or eggs.
Meanwhile, the FDA just has an informal policy that it issued in 1993, which gently recommends that manufacturers use the term "natural" if  "nothing artificial or synthetic . . . has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food." In January 2014, the FDA "respectfully decline[d]" requests by three federal judges asking the agency for a decision on whether GMO ingredients could be used in foods labeled "all-natural." That decision led one of the judges to terminate a lawsuit against General Mills' Kix cereal, which, plaintiffs said, carried an all-natural label despite its use of genetically modified corn.
Even with the lack of regulation, plaintiffs can sue companies individually for false advertising—and in recent years, consumers have done just that. In 2013, PepsiCo. agreed to a $9 million class action settlement fund after plaintiffs complained about Naked Juice's "all natural" labeling that belied ingredients like genetically modified soy.
Attorney Stephen Gardner of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the news site Real Clear Politics earlier this year that there have been around 50 "natural label" lawsuits in the past decade targeting products from Kraft Foods' Crystal Light "all natural" lemonade mix  to Pepperidge Farms' Goldfish (which, plaintiffs said, contained ingredients from genetically modified soybeans). However, said Gardner, this list "only scratches the surfaces of the number of companies that are making these claims."
"There's so much green noise out there," says Urvashi Rangan, who directs the Consumer Safety Sustainability Group at Consumer Reports. "Labels can only succeed if you get rid of the noise."

Trust in Short Supply

Trust is one of those touchy-feely concepts spoken about in polite circles. Even so it’s important, and in very short supply when it comes to discussing environmental issues in general, and the demand for increased use of high capacity wells in particular.

A lack of trust means people stop listening. That’s on top of convincing evidence that people’s beliefs are way more important than new information or facts.  We come to our beliefs through our upbringing, education, experiences,  what we learn from people we trust.  

Everyone in the debate over new irrigation wells says they’re waiting for the science,  the peer reviewed proof  that it’s OK, or it’s not.   Some say this because they mean it. Others say it because it’s good public relations,   still others because it delays the government making a decision.  I  think most of the  scientific proof we can expect is in, but that doesn’t make getting to the proper decision any easier, and the lack of trust is a big reason why.

Let’s state the obvious, that many in the general public don’t trust potato farmers, and potato farmers don’t trust them.  This Bermuda Triangle where thoughtful, rational discussion and decision making  go to die is completed by the lack of trust by both in the government’s willingness and ability to fairly enforce regulations. “Ghiz’ Gestapo” is what some farmers are now  calling conservation officers, while many, many in the general public think conservation officers only swing into action once the fish are dead.  This is really troubling.

The evidence I’ve seen including a pretty thorough presentation by hydrogeologist Cathryn Ryan recently at UPEI is that there is lots and lots of groundwater, and that irrigation would take just a small single digit percentage of it.  If this were just a question of quantity, it would be a no brainer (as Stephen Harper would say) but it’s not.  That’s big picture stuff, whereas water use and water extraction impact, is very local (see Charlottetown).  And  there’s a further complication. When it comes to potato production, it would be concentrated in a handful of watersheds that are already  dealing with high nitrate levels.  That’s where Dr. Ryan’s “science” becomes important again.  She had good evidence that if these wells are placed properly relative to local streams, and just as importantly cased for the first sixty metres or so, their impact on stream flow and aquatic life would be greatly reduced.  Water regulators need to demonstrate the ability to find these low-impact zones, and farmers need to indicate whether they’re prepared to  live with them. 

I am convinced that farmers do need the ability to irrigate, and I think the need will only increase because of climate change.  Let’s remember that it’s not just potato growers who use irrigation.  The demand for quality at the retail/consumer level is very high, and  if crops don’t get enough water at the right time,  quality can suffer, markets can be lost.  I also think used properly irrigation can lesson the impact of nitrates, but this requires a lot of precision and commitment from farmers to do this right. (there’s the issue of trust again, because if there’s too much irrigation then excess nitrates will be forced down into the aquifer.) And irrigation must not be a substitute for good soil management, proper crop rotations, and building up of organic matter.  The lack of trust by many that  farmers and government take these seriously is again part of the problem.

Another big  challenge to trust is whether farmers would stop irrigating if told.  It’s the middle of a long hot summer, there’s been no rain for weeks, stream flow drops  by 35% or whatever figure is considered necessary to maintain aquatic health (certainly no agreement there either), but a farmer has invested two hundred thousand dollars in irrigating equipment, another half million in inputs, and is facing a buyer that’s just lowered the base price and increased quality standards.  I can see the conflict and hear the news stories that would generate. 

The challenge is that trust must be earned, and that takes time.  There has to be actions and results,  not just news releases.   I think the government took a positive step making Todd Dupuis an assistant deputy minister in environment department.  The danger for Todd is that his hard earned credibility on environmental issues will be co-opted by the government.   Will he say the same things to government  officials  behind closed doors that he’s said in public. I think he will. There’s trust at work again.

I think the principles laid down by the Federation of Agriculture are a reasonable way forward:  an Environmental Impact Assessment of the policy done by an independent third party; rigorous monitoring of current and any future use of irrigation wells that includes local watershed groups (something the government has not done well to date);  the granting of any new permits would be done incrementally and rigorously monitored;  granting of permits would have to  include  proper nutrient management and soil building practices. I would add  one more: the need for more research on the impact of irrigation on nitrates in groundwater in PEI soils.  If that can’t be managed properly,  I couldn’t support any further development of irrigation wells.

I think the continuation of the moratorium is the right decision for now.  I’m hoping people can take a breath and give the issue a little more thought. The issue has huge economic, environmental,  and political implications.  And it’s not going to go away. Trust me.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Carbon Solutions

There's certainly no shortage of stories about the environmental impact of agriculture, and there are bad operators out there.  I continue to think that the financial squeeze from cheap imports and a brutally competitive food marketing system play a part. I also think that with the right incentives, agriculture can play a very positive role in solving environmental problems, like sequestering carbon. A couple of stories that speak to the possibilities, and the risks of pushing farmers to continually get bigger in order to survive.

A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan

KEWAUNEE, Wis. — Bryan T. Pagel, a dairy farmer, watched as a glistening slurry of cow manure disappeared down a culvert. If recycling the waste on his family’s farm would help to save the world, he was happy to go along.
Out back, machinery was breaking down the manure and capturing a byproduct called methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A huge Caterpillar engine roared as it burned the methane to generate electricity, keeping it out of the atmosphere.
The $3.2 million system also reduces odors at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, one of the largest in Wisconsin, but it would not have been built without a surprising source of funds: a California initiative that is investing in carefully chosen projects, even ones far beyond its borders, to reduce emissions as part of the battle against climate change.
“When they came out here and told us they were willing to send us checks, we were thrilled,” Mr. Pagel said.

California’s program is the latest incarnation of an increasingly popular — and much debated — mechanism that has emerged as one of the primary weapons against global warming. From China to Norway, Kazakhstan to the Northeastern United States, governments are requiring industries to buy permits allowing them to emit set levels of greenhouse gases. Under these plans, the allowable levels of pollution are steadily reduced and the cost of permits rises, creating an economic incentive for companies to cut emissions.

The system encourages companies to find the least expensive ways to make the cuts, either by adopting cleaner energy technology or by investing in outside emission-control projects, like the Pagels’ methane digester.
Congress rejected a national plan of this type during President Obama’s first term, but 10 states, including most of those in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, have developed their own programs. And the approach is expected to get a huge lift on Monday when Mr. Obama unveils a long-awaited national plan requiring states to lower their power plant emissions. One likely effect will be to encourage more states to adopt systems like California’s.
Already, the approach is spreading worldwide, with the number of people living in places that have such a system nearing one billion, or 14 percent of the world’s population, including about 80 million Americans.
“The point now is to say, look, this can work, it can be scaled, and please join,” said Frank A. Wolak, an economist at Stanford University.
Yet in the decade it has been used to tackle global warming, this approach has had a turbulent history. The world’s largest such system, in Europe, has had severe problems, including gyrations in the prices that polluters have to pay. Given a lack of evidence that the system can actually solve the emissions problem, some environmental groups and scientists have developed serious reservations.
“The reason I don’t support what we’re doing is not that I don’t think something needs to be done,” said Myles R. Allen, a leading British climate scientist at Oxford University. “I just don’t think it’s effective, and I don’t see it ever being effective.”
Drought-plagued California, which Gov. Jerry Brown recently called the “epicenter” of climate change, hopes to prove that capitalism can work in the fight against global warming. The state took great care in setting up its system, which is now being seen as a global test case.

Eighteen months into the venture, it is still too soon to tell how well it will work. But the state has so far managed to avoid some of the mistakes that have plagued efforts in other parts of the world. Hundreds of industrial facilities have been brought under the plan, prompting those businesses to study how to use less energy, and fuel suppliers will be pulled into it next year.
By the end of the decade, the state is expected to collect about $5 billion a year in permit fees, with the bulk of the money being recycled into clean-energy projects.
Worldwide, other approaches to global warming are also being considered. A more ambitious push could be made on renewable energy, like solar and wind. Power companies might be ordered to capture their carbon emissions and bury them underground. Forests could be preserved or allowed to regrow to absorb more carbon dioxide from the air.
But all those methods have drawbacks, and interviews by The New York Times with more than 80 experts in nine countries revealed sharp disagreements about which to embrace.

Experts say that limiting the effects of the human-induced warming will almost certainly cost trillions of dollars over generations and require an unprecedented level of cooperation across states and nations — if it can be done at all.
“How do we deal, as a global civilization, with a problem that is decades in the making and is caused by everything we do?” asked Peter Miller, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. “It’s the challenge of our time, and there is no road map.”
Drought, Rain and Fire
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations, found last year that total emissions of carbon into the atmosphere must be kept below one trillion tons if global warming is to be held to tolerable levels. More than half that amount has been emitted since the beginning of the industrial era, and at the rate emissions are going up, the limit will be reached in 30 years or less.
Already, the effects are being felt far and wide. A recent report, the National Climate Assessment, found that every corner of the United States was being hit hard, with more droughts in some regions, more torrential rains in others, worsening forest fires, melting land ice, and the deaths of millions of acres of trees from heat-loving insects.
This month, the global stakes were made clear yet again when researchers reported that ice sheets in the western section of Antarctica had begun an irreversible breakup that could ultimately raise the level of the sea by 10 feet or more.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the National Climate Assessment said.
Some environmental groups have contended that the best way to combat climate change would be for governments to impose tight regulations on businesses that produce greenhouse gases.
Economists have argued, instead, that governments should put a price on emissions. The simplest way to do that would be a tax — the same sort of sin tax applied to liquor and cigarettes, albeit on a vastly larger scale.
In the 1960s, economists in Canada and the United States developed an alternative concept: a market in pollution rights, which they believed would allow companies to decide for themselves how to limit their emissions at the lowest cost.
That approach got its first major tryout in 1990 when the administration of George Bush embraced it to battle acid rain, persuading reluctant congressional Democrats to go along. It reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide far more cheaply than expected, and it was seen as a triumph of conservative thinking about the environment.

The strategy, called cap and trade, is now being applied to greenhouse gases. Governments impose a limit, or cap, on the amount of the gases that can be spewed into the atmosphere by polluters like power plants and refiners. It then issues permits, often called carbon allowances, equal to the level of the cap, with each permit representing a ton of emissions.
The government requires industries to acquire enough permits to equal their emissions. Companies that need permits buy them, either from the government or on a commodity market, with the value set by supply and demand. Over time, the government reduces the cap and the number of permits, driving up their value.
The system is intended to ensure that polluters reduce their emissions, but do it in a way that makes the most financial sense. A company might spend money to upgrade to more efficient equipment, for instance, if that is less expensive than buying permits at the market price at that time. The sale of permits also creates a flow of funds to reduce emissions in economic sectors not covered by the permit system, such as farming or forestry.
Over the past decade, carbon allowances have become the world’s newest commodity. Thousands of people — in small offices in San Francisco, on trading floors in Houston, at power stations all over Europe — now buy and sell the permits every day. They are not all representing polluters; some are simply speculators placing bets on what will happen to carbon prices over time. Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, a research firm, expects permits representing more than nine billion tons of emissions to trade hands this year, with a transaction value of nearly $90 billion.
Yet a few of these government-created markets have been seriously flawed, and some experts argue that time is being wasted on an effort that could, ultimately, fall short.
Problems in Europe
While the United States has been embroiled in a political argument over the past decade about whether climate change is even real, the European Union has largely embraced the science and moved forward. The European Emissions Trading System, which went into operation in 2005, has proved that a market in pollution permits can be made to work across barriers of language and national interest. Yet the European Union has also come to be seen as a case study in what can go wrong if such a system is not set up carefully.
Early on, instead of scrutinizing data on emissions, European regulators trusted companies to tell them how much greenhouse gas they were emitting. Since those numbers would be used in setting the initial emissions cap, the companies had an obvious incentive to exaggerate. When it finally became clear in 2006 that they had done so, and emissions were actually lower than traders had been led to believe, permits suddenly became less valuable and their price crashed in a matter of hours.
Then, just as Europe was tightening its rules, the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and 2009. “You produced less electricity, less steel, less toilet paper — less of everything that was included in the system,” said Stig Schjolset, chief carbon markets analyst with Thomson Reuters Point Carbon in Oslo.
The European Union had put no mechanism in place to respond to these changing economic conditions, so governments kept cranking out carbon permits even as the decline in output meant that fewer were needed. Carbon prices tanked yet again.
Recently the European Union adopted changes that have firmed up prices somewhat. But at just over $7 per ton of carbon dioxide, they are still far below their peak, and below the $30 level that many analysts believe is needed to spur investment in cleaner energy sources.

Moreover, the Europeans have yet to agree on long-term emission targets that would drive up carbon prices and reward investors in clean energy, though proposals are under discussion. “Through the 2020s, there is no clear signal about how the cap will tighten,” said Adrian Gault, chief economist with Britain’s national Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on the problem.
Europe’s broader goals have by no means been a complete failure. The European Union set a target of lowering emissions 20 percent by 2020, and that appears likely to be met — but several studies suggest that is less a result of the carbon market than of economic weakness, as well as subsidies for renewable power. Many experts in Europe fear that later, more ambitious goals will prove unattainable if companies have too little incentive to invest in clean technology. The experts believe emissions throughout the developed world need to fall 80 percent or more by 2050.
“Even if we’re fine to meet the emissions target for 2020, it will be very challenging to meet Europe’s long-term targets,” Mr. Schjolset said. “For that, you need a higher carbon price now.”
California as Pioneer
Mary Nichols cut her teeth as a young lawyer by successfully suing the California state government for violating the federal Clean Air Act. She has long since become an insider, running the most powerful state environmental agency in the country, California’s Air Resources Board.
Ms. Nichols — chosen by a Republican governor and kept on by the Democrat who succeeded him — said that when her agency set out to create a carbon market, her European counterparts were candid in advising the state how not to repeat their mistakes. “It was an act of great generosity on their part,” she said.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, signed in 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, set a goal of lowering California’s greenhouse gases in 2020 to the 1990 level, a cut of 28 percent from the level they had been expected to reach in 2020 without the law.
Even after it was signed, the law was the subject of political and legal battles, with oil companies and other polluters fighting to overturn it. When voters were asked whether they wanted the state to tackle global warming in 2010, they voted 62 percent to 38 percent to move forward with the law, which requires more efficient cars, more renewable power on the state’s electric grid and many other steps. A centerpiece was a provision capping emissions from big polluters, including power generators and gasoline refiners, and setting up a permit-trading system.
California spent several years developing regulations, then began its cap-and-trade system in 2013. The project is taking hold gradually. California adopted rules shielding companies vulnerable to out-of-state competition, as well as residential electricity customers, from the full impact of the costs. In the early days, it is giving away many of the required carbon permits for free to ease companies into the system.
Nonetheless, at just over $11 a ton, the carbon price in California is now the highest in any cap-and-trade market, 60 percent above the price in Europe.
In setting up the market, California took measures to prevent the wild price gyrations seen in Europe. The state spent years getting accurate emissions data, for instance. And it established de facto floor and ceiling prices for its permits. The price so far has been highly predictable, trading in a range from $11 to $14 a ton.

As part of its plan, the state decided to allow emission-lowering projects in sectors not covered by the cap-and-trade system, such as forestry and farming. These “offset projects,” which can be located anywhere in the United States, are subject to strict auditing. The projects create credits that can be sold in the California market.

New companies have sprung up to serve as middlemen, helping farmers, forest owners and others set up eligible offset projects. One of those companies, TerraPass of San Francisco, matched the Pagel dairy farm in Wisconsin with California’s money.
John T. Pagel, the owner, said that he had thought for several years about installing a system to reduce odors and capture methane emissions from the manure of thousands of cows. But he could not figure out how to make the economics work. “It’s the right thing to do, but it has to support itself, too,” Mr. Pagel said.
Then he met a TerraPass representative at an agricultural fair several years ago and learned he could receive payments totaling tens of thousands of dollars a year.
On a tour of his farm near Kewaunee, Mr. Pagel proudly showed off the gear. A 20-cylinder Caterpillar engine, powered by methane from cow manure, throbbed in a large building behind his barns. As it turned a generator, it was pumping enough renewable power into the local electric grid to supply about 1,200 homes.
“I love that thing!” Mr. Pagel said.
One of his sons, Bryan, described meticulous oversight from California, including instruments that send a stream of data back to TerraPass headquarters to verify that the system is working properly. Otherwise, said Peter Freed, a former TerraPass employee who helped set up the deal, the state might disallow the carbon credits. “The California system doesn’t have a real tolerance for error,” he said.
Still, it will not be clear for years how successful the state’s carbon market has been in lowering emissions, or in spurring investment in clean energy. In the meantime, the Obama administration must decide how hard to push other states toward copying California’s program.
“What’s good for California, and what others will ultimately look to, is success,” said Richard Corey, chief executive of the Air Resources Board. “The ultimate test of success is going to be: Did it work?”

Questioning Cap and Trade
Some environmental groups and academics have never reconciled themselves to the idea of a market in pollution rights, and Europe’s problems have heightened their doubts. So far, they point out, global emissions are still rising.
“I would throw the markets out and start over with something different,” said Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of global environmental politics at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Me. “I think we can’t be sidetracked by playing around with a market, because this objective is so important, so pressing and so difficult.”
Economists and analysts who support cap and trade say they are confident the problems can be worked out, and they believe California is in the process of proving it. The key issue now, they say, is whether governments that adopt these systems will tighten the emissions caps, driving up carbon prices — and do it soon enough to make a real dent in global warming.
A second carbon market operating in the United States shows that the gradual lowering of emissions targets can have an impact. That system, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, started with far more modest goals than California’s, covering a smaller segment of the economy, and for much of its history carbon prices were below $2 a ton.
But the system has worked smoothly for several years, generating $1.7 billion that nine state governments in the Northeast have used largely to support clean-energy projects. Those investments, as well as utilities’ switch to cleaner natural gas, have sharply reduced carbon emissions in the region.
Recently, the nine states decided to cut their emissions cap by 45 percent and to let carbon prices rise. They have nearly doubled, to $4 a ton, and the revisions are expected to spur still more clean-energy investment.

Some experts believe that in the long run, carbon markets will make a substantial contribution only if they can be tied together across political boundaries. That would allow polluters to search the world for the cheapest ways of cutting emissions.
To a limited extent, such networking has already begun. Europe has allowed billions to flow abroad to developing countries, underwriting projects that have, for example, helped poor families switch to more efficient coal-burning stoves. California and Quebec have tied their markets together, and trading between them began early this year.
The world’s biggest carbon polluter, China, has begun experimenting with markets in seven cities and provinces, with a view toward forming a national carbon market this decade. Both California and Europe are tentatively speaking to the Chinese about future linkages.
As such developments take hold, the once unthinkable has begun to seem plausible, if by no means inevitable: a linked global carbon price high enough to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
“We might be witnessing the birth of a new system, without quite realizing it,” said Glen P. Peters, a climate researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. “When you think of all these bottom-up initiatives around the world, maybe we are living through the transformation right now.”

Experts who support cap and trade contend that a market mechanism can reach more deeply into the economy than any other approach, changing the behavior even of people and companies that might not necessarily care about global warming.
The Wisconsin dairymen perhaps serve as an example of that.
Even as the methane-powered generator roared on his property, John T. Pagel said he was not convinced that the climatic changes happening in the United States were a result of human emissions. He suspects they might be part of a natural cycle. But with Californians dangling cash in exchange for his willingness to cut emissions, he jumped at the chance to build his digester.
“We are doing exactly what they asked us to do to get paid to reduce carbon,” Mr. Pagel said. “If somebody else believes in it enough to put up the money, that’s all I need to know.”
Reporting was contributed by Mark Scott from London, Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley from Hong Kong, and Felicity Barringer from San Francisco.