Friday, April 3, 2009

Great minds think alike

Hedy Fry and David Suzuki are two apparently intelligent people, prone to making outlandish declarations.

Fry, 67, was born San Fernando, Trinidad and trained as a physician in Dublin, Ireland at the Royal College of Surgeons. She was first elected a Liberal Member of Parliament in 1993. Suzuki turned 73 on March 24 and earned a doctorate in zoology at the University of Chicago in 1961. He is host of the long-running CBC TV science show The Nature of Things. His foundation's latest work -- released March 30 during the 8th World Conference on Sport and the Environment -- is the alarmist On Thin Ice: Winter Sports and Climate Change report.

In 2001, Fry stood in the House of Commons and told the world that "crosses were burning" in Prince George, B.C. She retracted the remarks and apologized.

On March 30, Suzuki claimed in an interview that global warming has made it impossible for children to learn how to play hockey in backyard, outdoor rinks in Brantford, Ont., birthplace of Wayne Gretzky. Brantford Mayor Mike Hancock said that's not true.

"We still maintain approximately 22 outdoor rink locations each year and the duration of rink operations is generally an eight to 10 week period," Hancock told me.

Suzuki shoots. And misses.

(BTW, Suzuki's son Troy knows a bit more about hockey than his father. The Suzuki scion's Live from Moccasin Square Gardens: The Dawson City Nuggets' Hockey Adventure documentary chronicled the 1997 recreation of the 1905 Nuggets' epic challenge of the Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators.)

Enough of the 8th

Whenever the United Nations is involved, there has to be a broad, sweeping (dare I say, vague?) statement to end a convention with something to think about.

The 8th World Conference on Sport and the Environment, which ended March 31, was no different.

The Vancouver Declaration, under the letterhead of the UN Environment Program, International Olympic Committee and VANOC, acknowledged the convention was held on the traditional territories of the Four Host First Nations as the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics rapidly approach.

The economic crisis and importance of youth in the world of sport acted as backdrops for the convention, which was fueled by inspiration and innovation.

Nine recommendations were issued for National Olympic committees, international sports federations, Games organizing committees and corporate sponsors.

The declaration emphasized the role of organizing committees and bid cities, whose examples "should be studied by others in the sports world for possible application at an appropriate scale in their own programs.

"The sharing of and transferring of these best practices, is essential in ensuring that the sustainability of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is continuously advanced."

Community-based organizations and athletes -- the grassroots -- are central to local involvement and inspiring youth.

Thankfully, the UN appoints a rapporteur, a sage of sorts to offer a quickie review of what actually went on.

That was the job of David Chernushenko, the founder of the Living Lightly Project and vice-chair of Canada's National Round Table of the Environment and the Economy.

Chernushenko found the convention contained more action, less theory and sponsor innovation. He suggested the terms "sustainable sport" and "sustainability through sport" replace sport and environment. He recommended a greater emphasis on individual action, values and principles, better communication and solutions through collaboration.

"Humans wish to do more good, not just less bad. We have the power not just to reduce and protect and minimize, but to improve, regenerate and sow seeds, in sport as elsewhere in society."

Suzuki: hot air and a pretty face

There was an environmental emergency when the 7th edition of the United Nations and International Olympic Committee World Conference on Sport and the Environment was held in Beijing Oct. 25-27.

I arrived in Beijing on Oct. 26 on a train from Ulanbaatar, Mongolia. Smog and fog combined for an eerie shroud in the Chinese capital. The next city block was not visible. It appeared dusk-like at mid-afternoon. Flights were canceled at Beijing Capital Airport and freeways closed.

By contrast, the weather in Vancouver during the 8th WCSE March 29-31 was normal. The air appeared fresh and clear. Then it snowed on April 1. No fooling. Too bad that didn't happen on Monday morning when David Suzuki, Canada's foremost environmental panic-monger, held court at a news conference in the Pan Pacific Hotel.

The David Suzuki Foundation released its On Thin Ice: Winter Sports and Climate Change report. It's an attempt to ride the coattails of the 2010 Winter Olympics and includes some astounding predictions for the future of winter sport in Canada if global warming goes unchecked.

According to the report: under a high-emission scenario, the skating season on Ottawa's Rideau Canal would be reduced near the end of the century to one week and Whistler winter temperatures would rise 5 degrees Celsius within 70 years. The 94-day cross-country skiing season in southern Quebec and Ontario would be wiped out by 2050.

I did a word-search and "high-emission" appears 34 times throughout the report without a thorough definition.

Read between the lines of the report and it's more political than analytical. Suzuki wants more carbon taxes and wants more trading in carbon offsets. But are financial pollution penalties really the answer? Humans have done horrible things to the planet but are they really the cause for warming the weather?

Suzuki enjoys a measure of sainthood among the public of the Great White North. He was voted the fifth Greatest Canadian by CBC viewers in 2004. The CBC TV presenter and geneticist, who has a doctorate in zoology, was wedged between number four Sir Frederick Banting (of insulin fame) and number six Lester B. Pearson (the peacekeeping Prime Minister).

Suzuki is a talented communicator who deserves credit for helping Canadians understand the complexities of science through his long-running The Nature of Things on CBC. Since embracing the human-caused global warming theory espoused by Al Gore, Suzuki comes across more like a TV evangelist. He's made a shift away from professor, into the realm of preacher. The retired scientist is a professional celebrity.

When asked about differing views (and research) on the causes of climate change, Suzuki answered emotionally instead of rationally.

"It's not an argument, there is no argument about it scientifically. The discussion is what are we going to do about it, we're vulnerable as a northern country."

I asked him about his foundation's work with VANOC. The Games organization paid $10,000 for On Thin Ice's prequel, Meeting the Challenge: A Carbon Neutral 2010 Winter Games. "I don't know that," was his response.

I asked if the foundation was granted behind-the-scenes access to VANOC venues and operations so it could verify if VANOC's sustainability claims were genuine.

"We're really not that kind of an organization, we tend to look at the big picture.

"I'm sure they've got a lot of big problems, particularly economic problems in a time of economic downturn and overruns. The environment always tends to take a backseat."

Suzuki relied on anecdotal information in the news conference from snowboarder Justin Lamoreux and freestyle skier Warren Tanner, whose training has been curtailed by receding glaciers. The report did not examine the conditions of said glaciers. What's more, Suzuki conjured the name of Wayne Gretzky, Canada's greatest winter sportsman, and made an unsubstantiated claim about winter weather in Brantford, Ont., where Gretzky grew up.

"The one sport in Canada that Canadians respond to is hockey, the folklore of Canada is Wayne Gretzky, learning how to play in the backyard. Do you think in Brantford now you could learn how to play hockey in the backyard? I don't think so."

At one point, Suzuki suggested I direct my questions to Ian Bruce, author of the report. I pointed out that the report bears Suzuki's good name on the cover.

"It's the foundation. I'm just the pretty face."

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