Tapping Big Data: Was Global Warming Changed to Climate Change?

If you follow climate change/global warming, you will likely encounter people who insist that the term “global warming” was changed to “climate change” for various reasons (e.g., “global warming stopped, so they changed the name”, etc.).

One way to test this hypothesis is to tap into “big data”, in this case Google’s database of English books. Google has a cool tool called the “Ngram Viewer“, which allows you to determine the frequency of words and phrases in their database of books. What does Google’s Ngram Viewer tell us about this hypothesis?


Figure 1: Global warming vs climate change for all English books

American English

Figure 2: Global warming vs. climate change for American English books

British English

Figure 3: Global warming vs climate change for British English books

Some observations:

  1. For all English books and American English books, it’s clear that the phrase “climate change” was in use before the term “global warming”. This contradicts the hypothesis that global warming was changed to climate change.
  2. Global warming is more common in American English than it is in British English, but climate change dominates in both.
  3. Usage of “climate change” peaked in the year 2001. This was driven by British English usage. This is quite interesting and merits additional research about if this is a real trend, or an artifact of the Google Books database.

For additional discussion and the history of these two terms, check out Skeptical Science.

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Open Letter to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq


Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, M.P.
Minister of Environment
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Re: Living Up to Our Climate Change Promises

Dear Minister Aglukkaq,

On behalf of Canada, your government made a promise to the world to reduce our GHG emissions by 17% by 2020, from a 2005 base year. The world expects Canada to live up to that promise. Canadians expect our government to live up to that promise. I expect you to fulfil that promise.

Before you left for the Warsaw COP conference, you affirmed your government’s commitment to our 2020 Copenhagen reduction target. I would welcome this announcement if it was credible. However, based on your own analysis (Environment Canada, 2013: Canada’s GHG Emissions Projections), there is no plan in place to reach our 2020 goal.

I urge you to develop and implement a plan to meet our 2020 GHG emission reduction target. There are multiple analyses available as to what needs to be included in a credible plan to reach our 2020 target. At a minimum, this plan needs to put a price on carbon pollution and phase out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

In his speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’”

It’s already too late for the victims of climate change enhanced extreme weather like Typhoon Haiyan, Super Storm Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina. By the time our children confront extreme heat, terrifying storms and complete loss of summer arctic sea ice, it might well be too late for all of us. It isn’t too late for us to act … yet. We can still avert what could be a disastrous climate crisis. There are no excuses for delay.

I am willing to do my part to avoid dangerous climate change. Are you willing to do yours?


Duncan Noble

Copy:     Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty, Cheryl Gallant, Megan Leslie, John McKay, Elizabeth May

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Government Newspeak & Greenwash: We Demand Better

Shouldn’t we hold our elected governments to a higher standard than we expect from the folks who sell soap? Or at least as high a standard as we expect from marketers?

In October 2013, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced six enforcement actions, including one that imposes a $450,000 civil penalty and five that address biodegradable plastic claims, as part of the agency’s ongoing crackdown on false and misleading environmental claims. In Canada we rely on a voluntary approach, with enforcement weak or non-existent.

Strictly speaking, greenwashing rules apply to claims made about a product. However, it’s getting harder to tell the difference between a marketer selling a product and a government pitching for votes. Susan Delacourt explores this connection in her recent book Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them. According to one analyst who reviewed this book, “Canadian politics has moved into an era when voters no longer think much of themselves as citizens, with duties and obligations and longer-term perspectives, but as taxpayers in a consumer society who shop among politicians for those who will give them the most at the lowest cost”.

In a recent example of newspeak, the government of Canada congratulated the government of Australia on its initiative to repeal its carbon tax, and made the following statement:

Our government has reduced greenhouse gas emissions while protecting and creating Canadians jobs – greenhouse gas emissions are down since 2006, and we’ve created 1 million net new jobs since the recession – and we have done this without penalizing Canadian families with a carbon tax.

I won’t examine the jobs number, although I’m skeptical of it. The greenhouse gas emissions claim is incomplete and misleading. The reason that GHG emissions are lower “now” (the latest year with data is 2011) than they were in 2005 is that Canada’s emissions fell during the global recession. Emissions have been rising again since 2009, and the trend is going in the wrong direction. Harper’s government did not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the global recession did, supplemented by provincial actions such as Ontario’s phase out of coal fired power.


Source: Pembina Institute, Environment Canada

According to the government’s own analysis, Canada will miss, and miss badly, its emission reduction target of 17% by 2020, from a 2005 baseline. Environment Canada estimates our GHG emissions will be 20 per cent higher than our 2020 commitment.

In an article about Canada’s latest GHG Emissions Projections, the Pembina Institute commented:

… this year’s edition shows that Ottawa has done nothing over the past year to change this trajectory: there is not a single new policy (my emphasis) on the list of federal initiatives to reduce emissions in Canada. So it’s little surprise that the country is no closer to reaching its emissions target. In fact, the gap between where we are headed and where we should be headed has grown slightly in the past year.

The central conclusion of this year’s report is inescapable: without a serious ramp up of effort from our government, Canada is headed for another major broken promise on climate change. This is bad news for a lot of reasons, not least for our credibility.

Canada was singled out by authors of the United Nations’ most recent emissions gap report:

The authors picked out Canada as a lead laggard. Canada is on track to exceed its 2020 target of 607 megatonnes by slightly more than 110 megatonnes or about 20 per cent, according to its own reports. (A megatonne is a million tonnes.)

“So it is significantly off track right now,” Taryn Fransen, another report author, said.

Morgan added, “Canada doesn’t seem to fully grasp the risk that climate change poses to it and its people in its approach to climate change.”

“It is very important that countries like Canada meet its targets not only for atmospheric reasons – I mean the need to reduce emissions in the atmosphere – but also because of the signal that it sends to others,” Morgan said. “Canada is a wealthy country. It certainly has the resources to do it.”

If Canada was selling soap, it would be guilty of at least two greenwashing sins. First the “Sin of the Hidden Trade Off”, committed by suggesting a product is “green” based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues. Add to that the “Sin of Irrelevance”, committed by making an environmental claim that may be truthful but which is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. Claiming that Canada is making progress on climate change ignores the bigger reality that, absent drastic actions, we are on track to renege on our promises to the international community.

Other examples of greenwashing, or to put it plainly, lying, by Canadian government ministers, are regrettably common. For example, Robyn Allan, former President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, accused Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver of resorting to “desperate and false arguments” to sell the Keystone XL pipeline. Allan concludes her article as follows:

Mr. Oliver’s claim that Keystone XL would enhance energy security, create thousands of jobs and support the environment is wrong. For many of us concerned about adding value to our non-renewable resources, meaningful and long term jobs for Canadians, global warming and climate change, his brazen misrepresentations are insulting.

Canadians expect their federal government to demonstrate leadership on climate change.

We also expect them to tell the truth.

Perhaps it’s time to put in place greenwashing rules for governments.

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What Does it Take to Become a Climate Leader?


Image: Duncan Noble

There is a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

I have been resisting becoming a climate change activist. I can resist no more. My heart is broken by what we are doing to our planet. My head is seething with the injustice of it. And now, I know what to do about it.

Chicago is a magic city for me. It sets off eruptions in my heart that reverberate for a long time. In 1998, I attended a conference there on The Natural Step. I was going through some difficult times. It helped me get unstuck. A speech by Paul Hawken touched me deeply, and helped me find the courage to make some difficult decisions.

Fast forward to 2013. I was in Chicago with more than a thousand people from over 70 countries, and all 50 States. We were there as part of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, being trained to spread the word about the climate crisis, and what to do about it. Al Gore spent the entire day Wednesday going straight through his updated “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation, and then going through it more slowly and in more detail, explaining the transitions between sections, and some of the more complex details. He was a rock star, with an incredible amount of energy and passion. He was also personal and vulnerable, sharing his authentic self. And Gore was only one highlight. There were other incredible speakers, including Jonah Sachs (author of “Winning the Story Wars”), Kim Wasserman (a Chicago community activist who helped shut down a coal fired power plant next to her low income community, and who received the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize), Maggie Fox (President and CEO, The Climate Reality Project) and many others.

We learned a lot about climate change, and we also learned a lot about how to connect and empower others by telling our own stories. It was truly wonderful to be with so many people that are so aligned, despite our superficially diverse origins, backgrounds and experiences. I met some great people, had some interesting conversations, and plan to stay in touch with many of them. The Climate Reality Project is big on social media; we learned how to leverage social media to tell our story. They also have a good social media infrastructure in place to help people stay connected after the training. I have spent several hours doing just that since being in Chicago. It’s a great way to maintain existing relationships, and build new ones. This seems like a really good way to amplify the impact of a conference.

Carla Shatz famously said “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. I don’t know what the equivalent is for humans that share intense experiences, but whatever it is called, it happened in Chicago.

My time in Chicago was a very positive and empowering experience. I came away from the training with a new perspective. I feel more in touch with my heart, and this seems to make everything easier. I am more comfortable going ahead with things are not yet fully developed – this is a good thing, and helps avoid procrastination. I also feel more open to asking others to help. As the African proverb says: If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.

So what does it take to become a Climate Leader? It takes knowledge, empathy, courage, convictions, passion, and energy. It takes a rock solid, unshakeable belief that we have the power to change our destiny. We have the power to change our personal destiny and we have the power to change our collective destiny. And, with thanks to The Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps and Chicago, we have the power to get up every day and get it done.

Posted in Climate Change, Sustainability | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Book Review: Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail by William Ophuls

Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations FailImmoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail by William Ophuls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

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Greenhouse Effect: CO2 Concentrations Set to Hit Record High of 400 PPM

When I was born, CO2 was 316 ppm. You work it out ;-). At this rate, we are set to blow right past 450 ppm and any hope of staying within 2C of warming in less than 20 years. Not good… It’s up to all of us to rethink everything we do that contributes to CO2 emissions. Where we live, how we move, what we eat. Everything.

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Is Sustainability Naked?


Image Source: Gutenberg.org

In the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, almost everyone is willing to go along with the emperor’s delusion. Only a child is willing to say the emperor is walking around naked. “Out of the mouths of babes…”

There are a growing number of intelligent adults who have concluded that (corporate) sustainability is either dead, walking around naked, or simply not up to the task. I am seeing, perhaps because I am looking for, more and more critiques and alternatives to “conventional” approaches to (corporate) sustainability. Below are a few of the recent ones that stand out for me. Some common themes include:

  • Our current approach to sustainability will not get us to where we want, and need, to go
  • “Sustainability” has been appropriated by the dominant culture to align with non-sustainable goals
  • We need to rethink our overall goals and strategies

Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption

Patagonia’s founder and CEO, Yvon Chouinard, talks with Joel Makower at the 2013 GreenBiz Forum on authenticity, responsibility and sustainability (video)

John Elkington/Volans
Book: The Zeronauts – Breaking though the sustainability barrier.
Breakthrough Capitalism – a program for people to engage with the idea of businesses creating system-level change

John Ehrenfeld and Andrew Hoffman
The wrong-headed solutions of corporate sustainability

As Dana Meadows so eloquently pointed out many years ago (“Places to Intervene in a System“), changing the goals of a system is one of the most powerful ways of intervening in that system to change outcomes. It’s clear that sustainability has NOT changed the goals of our global economic system. Until that happens, can we really expect to see meaningful change?

Posted in Business, Sustainability | 2 Comments

Sometimes it’s not WHAT is said, it’s WHO is saying it. When large (OK, very large, perhaps ginormous) banks are saying this, perhaps Paul Gilding is right that Victory is in sight for the climate movement.

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10 Tips – How to Improve Your CDP Scores and Generate Business Value


The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an independent not-for-profit organization working to drive greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainable water use by business and cities. Responding to the CDP requires significant effort. Here are ten tips to help you get it done better.

1.      Start early

Your CDP response includes carbon footprint data and descriptive text about how you are managing the risks and opportunities associated with climate change. Gathering the data required to quantify your carbon footprint can take several months, especially if you do not have regular data collection systems in place. If you start early, your life will be better.

2.      Get a team (internal and external)

CDP’s template for drafting your response is more than 40 pages long. No one person will have all the information necessary to develop a comprehensive response. Make sure you have all the necessary company stakeholders on your team, and take this opportunity to further engage with departments you will need buy-in from.

3.      Answer ALL questions

When reviewing responses, it’s amazing how many are incomplete. Even if you are not proud of how you answer a particular question, make sure to put something there. If you are just beginning to address a specific area, disclosing that can be a useful first step.

4.      Do not cross reference responses

It’s frustrating for a reader to flip back and forth between sections of a report. More importantly, each question is scored based on your response to that specific question; and databases that include your response (e.g., Bloomberg) won’t cross reference your answer to another question. So whenever you are in doubt, repeat information that may be relevant to more than one question.

5.      Use CDP Guidance and benchmark

The extensive guidance documents available from the CDP are very valuable for developing your response. Use them. Benchmarking against the highest scoring companies in your sector may also be useful.

Generating Business Value

How can you derive the most business value from completing your CDP response? The following tips will put you on the right path.

6.      Think strategically

Responding to the CDP is more than simply ticking off a very long check list. Think about the strategic implications of climate change for your business. What are the real business risks and opportunities? What is the short list of things your company should do to manage these risks and maximize the opportunities?

7.      Set goals

To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do”. What are you hoping to accomplish with your CDP response? Is it mainly aimed at external or internal stakeholders? Are you aiming for a specific disclosure or performance score? Making your goals explicit will encourage you to develop a response that meets your company’s needs.

8.      Understand your Disclosure and Performance scores – and benchmark them

If you responded last year, take some time to review and understand your scores and the feedback provided by CDP. Did you score poorly in a certain area because of a real gap? Or are you not including sufficient information about the full range of your efforts? How did your major competitors and leadership companies you respect score?

9.      Consider the full value chain

Climate change has real implications for your operations, your supply chain and for your customers. Make sure to consider the full value chain as you develop your strategy and CDP response.

10.   Use this process to drive change

Take advantage of this process to more fully engage and get buy in from your key internal stakeholders. What are your most important barriers to change? How can responding to the CDP help address these barriers?

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