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Years ago, Canada and the U.S. came together to end the acid rain threat. What changed?

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Nobody talks much about acid rain anymore.

But the one-time scourge of North American lakes and forests got a mention yesterday at the funeral of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush.

Delivering a eulogy for his old colleague and friend, former prime minister Brian Mulroney singled out Bush’s environmental record as a lasting part of his legacy.

“President Bush’s decision to go forward with strong environmental legislation, including the Clear Air Act, that resulted in the Acid Rain Accord with Canada, is a splendid gift to future generations of Americans and Canadians to savour in the air they breathe and the water they drink,” Mulroney said.

The fact that the acid rain threat has been mostly eliminated testifies to how effective Canada and the U.S. once were in responding together to a complex, shared environmental problem.

After years of prodding and lobbying, the U.S. updated its Clean Air Act in 1990. New rules cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, key elements in the creation of acid rain. The reductions were achieved in part by introducing the United States’ first national cap-and-trade system aimed at major polluters.

That was followed by Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement signed by Mulroney and Bush in Ottawa in 1991. The agreement was aimed at reducing pollution on both sides of the border that caused acid rain.

And it worked. “It was, by and large, a success,” said John Smol, a professor in the Department of Biology and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change at Queen’s University.

“I’m not saying acid rain is now completely no longer a problem. But (the agreement) actually did make major changes to the environment. And, in many ways, it’s a good example of how you can actually do this type of legislation, not devastate the economy, and help the environment.”

Climate change

Nearly three decades after Canada and the U.S. agreed to address the problem, Smol said, Canadian lakes are still in the process of recovering from acid rain.

“I think we caught it in time. With many environmental problems, if you wait too long you can’t go back,” he said.

Looking back on the fight against acid rain, Smol said he can now see it as a practice run for the much more daunting battle against climate change.

“Climate change is much more complicated and the consequences are far worse,” he said.

The comparison between the two environmental threats only goes so far, however. While acid rain was a relatively straightforward cross-border matter, climate change requires global action. And while acid rain was curtailed by reducing certain emissions, slowing down climate change likely will require much more: a complete phase-out of fossil fuel use.

Pulling out of Paris, reviving coal

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said he still believes there are important similarities that give him hope for progress on climate change.

“Acid rain was, relative to climate change, easier to solve,” he said. “But the key lesson from acid rain, I think, was when we stopped listening to industry lobbyists telling us this would destroy the economy.”

Stewart acknowledges one major difference between the fight against acid rain and the fight against climate change. The political climate in the United States has shifted dramatically since the days of the first President Bush — and the current White House tenant is much less interested in environmental causes.

President Donald Trump announced last year he was pulling his country out of the Paris climate accord. He also has actively campaigned to bring America’s coal industry back to life — the industry ultimately responsible for the emissions that contributed to acid rain in the 1980s.

Stewart calls Trump “a genuine problem” but said there’s still at least one good reason for hope:

“Donald Trump is keen on reviving the coal industry, trying to burn more coal. The silver lining is that he has proven remarkably incompetent at doing this, largely because the economics are against him.”

While Stewart questions the late president’s overall environmental record, he says there can be no doubt on this issue he was a success.

“On acid rain, he proved that conservatives can take environmental issues seriously and be part of that solution. And I think that’s something conservatives in Canada need to learn.”
 

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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DFO tries to allay fishermen’s fears that protected area would impact livelihood

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The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring “No Marine Protected Area Here!”

It’s a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.

The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.

The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.

“We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA,” said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.

A “No Marine Protected Area Here!” sign is seen along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. (Robert Short/CBC)

Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.

The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.

“The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It’s a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it’s not necessary to have a no-take,” Williams said in an interview.

“We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone.”

Fishermen seek assurances

But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.

“You have to remember this is deathbed conversion,” he said.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.

He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams’s promise.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Peter Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I want to know the mechanism that he’s going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations,” said Connors. “I don’t want a trust me proposition and I don’t want a temporary reprieve … just because they are facing a lot of opposition now.”

Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help “Canada’s brand” from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

‘Give and take’

Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.

Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.

“Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard,” said Fuller.

“For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take.”

While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.

“Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we’re looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn’t. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way,” she said.

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