12/6/12

The Known Unknowns


Known Unknowns“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know,” said United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld in a now-famous statement. “There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Monday night, Council was treated to a “known unknown” when we were asked to approve a motion* that condemned a report that at least seven of us had never seen, let alone read.
 
The report in question was written to justify erecting wind turbines near the Collingwood Airport. The motion expressed concerns about the location of some of these proposed turbines – they may lie too close to the flight paths for landing and takeoff. I have no problem with that – I share their concerns. I have no issues with wind turbines in general, and am supportive of alternate energy projects, where they do not present potential safety issues. My concern would be for the placement of specific turbines, not turbines in general.

There were several ways to present this. The airport board could have provided a copy of the reports mentioned in the motion for council to read. A single copy, placed in the council room a week before the meeting, would have sufficed. The board could have done a presentation that showed slides of the proposed turbine locations and the sections of the report considered contentious, and explained to council and the public why these locations were worrisome. The board could have written the motion to refer to the turbines without making reference to specific sections of the report, but dealing in general with concerns about safety and the turbine locations.

None of these were done. Council did not even get a written staff report explaining the issues. We never even saw a map identifying the proposed turbines. Instead, we were asked to condemn some very specific sections of a report that we never saw.

All we got were the terse minutes from an Airport Services Board that included the original recommendation and a comment that the chair of the board expressed concerns about  the turbines and had written a motion to challenge the report:

“…expressed his concerns to the recommendations provided in the Project Description Report as they do not address or acknowledge the concerns of the airport with respect to the safety of the aircraft when coming to and leaving the airport.”

There is no indication in the minutes that any of the other board members expressed similar concerns, and neither of Collingwood’s two council representatives on the board (Deputy Mayor Lloyd and Councillor Edwards) spoke about the reports when the motion was presented to council. I assume they have read them – but neither said they had done so when the motion was presented.

The Enterprise-Bulletin story notes,

Councillor Mike Edwards noted the board would not have presented a recommendation “if it had not been factual.” Councillor Keith Hull pointed out council recently approved the demolition of the Mountainview Hotel based on a staff recommendation: “We didn’t need to read the documents on how to take down the building.”

“Time is of the essence to get this to the province,” added Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd. “This is not anti-wind turbine; this is a safety issue for the airport.”

Factual or not, I feel it dishonest to approve a motion that refers to a document that I have never seen or read. By this logic, council should be merely a rubber stamp for committees, and doing our due diligence is unnecessary. When I worked for magazines and newspapers, I would never have written a review of a film I’d never seen or a book I’d never read.

As for the Mountainview Hotel, that’s a canard: council was asked to approve the demolition, not the contract for doing so. In the same manner, we approved the construction of two fabric structures for our rec facilities – we were not asked to approve the contracts with the builder. Had we been asked to approve either contract, would it have been ethical to approve them without seeing them first?

This motion was about specific documents and specific sections within those documents, not just concerns about airport safety. It could have been written in a way to deal with the general considerations of airport safety, but it was written differently to bring forward the reports themselves.

When we were asked to approve the Official Plan or Sustainability Plan or the Active Transportation Plan, council was provided with both a copy of the documents, and received a presentation to highlight key sections in each. Why was this motion done differently?

The board chair, Charlie Tatham is quoted in the Collingwood Connection as saying on Monday night,

“We believe that this is a dangerous proposition. Here’s our chance to rub their noses in it and make sure it doesn’t go by unchallenged,”

I don’t disagree that turbines in close proximity to an airport is dangerous. However, I don’t believe it is the role of a municipal council to rub anyone’s noses in anything. The originally proposed motion (see below) was inflammatory in its language, but was toned down by staff before the meeting.

I asked for a deferral until the next meeting to give council the opportunity to review the documents were were being asked to condemn. To me, that was simply doing the due diligence I believe is my responsibility as a councillor. No one seconded my motion. Council passed the motion 8-1, approving the unknowns.

~~~~~

* Here is the motion in its entirety as revised and read at the table. The sections that concerned me are in red:
Whereas it is noted in the technical guidelines for a Renewable Energy Approval that if the proponent believes that a negative environmental impact has no potential to occur, the draft project description report should include an explanation of how this determination was made;
AND WHEREAS the Project Description Report and Appendix C in particular (Stantec, May, 2012) contains virtually no reference to Collingwood Regional Airport;
AND WHEREAS the Collingwood Regional Airport Services Board and Collingwood Council express significant concerns with Section 5.65 of the Design and Operations Report (Stantec, May, 2012) with respect to the potential impact of turbines 1, 3, 4, and 8 on aircraft operations arriving and departing Collingwood Regional Airport, and the attendant negative impacts to airport operations, all as described in the Charlie Cormier report dated August 23, 2012;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Council of the Corporation of the Town of Collingwood inform the Ministry of the Environment that the documents submitted in support of the application by WPD for project approval under the Renewable Energy Act does not adequately report on the negative impacts of the proposed wind farm, and it is not in compliance with the Environmental Protection Act, the Green Energy Act, and Ontario Regulation 359/09, because the proponent has failed to carry out the assessment required by O.Reg. 359/09 of any negative environmental effects that may result from the development of a wind farm in the close proximity of the Collingwood Regional Airport, and in turn has failed to identify modifications to the proposal to reduce or remove the negative impacts.

The original motion, as proposed in the agenda and in the airport board mintures, was more confrontational, and I had also expressed concerns about the wording (noted in red, below) before the council meeting:
THAT Council of the Town of Collingwood, Township of Clearview and Town of Wasaga Beach consider the following motion:
WHEREAS it is noted in the technical guidelines for a Renewable Energy Approval that if
the proponent believes that a negative environmental impact has no potential to occur, the
draft project description report should include an explanation of how this determination was made;
AND WHEREAS the Project Description Report and Appendix C in particular (Stantec, May, 2012) contains virtually no reference to Collingwood Regional Airport;
AND WHEREAS Section 5.65 of the Design and Operations Report (Stantec, May, 2012) is fundamentally flawed, inadequate, and misleading with respect to the potential impact of
turbines 1, 3, 4, and 8 on aircraft operations arriving and departing Collingwood Regional
Airport, and the attendant negative impacts to airport operations, all as described in the
Charlie Cormier report dated August 23, 2012;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Ministry of the Environment be informed that
the Council of the Corporation of the Town of Collingwood believes that the documents
submitted in support of the application by wpd for project approval under the Renewable
Energy Act are inadequate and incomplete, and not in compliance with the Environmental
Protection Act, the Green Energy Act, and Ontario Regulation 359/09, because the
proponent has failed to carry out the assessment required by O.Reg. 359/09 of any negative environmental effects that may result from the engaging in the project upon Collingwood Regional Airport and on the social/economic wellbeing of the Georgian Triangle area, and in turn has failed to identify modifications to the proposal to reduce or remove the negative impacts.

 

12/5/12

How to Survive the Mayan Apocalypse


Bizarro cartoonHow will anyone survive the “end of the world” predicted for December 21, 2012? Easy: by breathing. That’s because it won’t happen. That the Mayans never predicted it would seems to have bypassed a few of the tin-foil-hat brigade.

The complex Mayan calendar simply ends one of its long cycles – just like ours ends its annual cycle on December 31. Just like we end decades, centuries and millennia on Dec. 31 with a year that ends in zero (10, 100, 1000). But most important: it’s a calendar, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s not a Magic 8 Ball. You think the free bank calendar you picked up last week is going to predict anything?

This is bad news for Bugarach, of course. The tiny French hamlet has been identified by the cohorts of believers in faux-Mayan silliness as the only place on Earth that will survive the imagined apocalypse:

 …Bugarach – population 176 – has been earmarked by some of the doomsday cultists as the only place in the world which is going to survive Armageddon, scheduled for December 21 this year by an ancient Mayan prophecy.

The canny residents of Bugarach are making the most of the sudden influx of loony souvenir hunters by overcharging for everything that’s not nailed down:

Souvenirs include ‘authentic Bugarach stones’ from Pic de Bugarach’s rock-face itself, on sale for €1.50 (£1.20) a gram, and ‘natural pyramids of pyrite iron’ from underground.
Meanwhile, a bottle of water from the local spring, which can apparently cure a range of ailments, costs an eye-watering €15 (£12).
One landowner is even offering up his four-bedroom home with close up views of the mysterious peak for £1,200 a night.
But for those on a budget, he can offer camping space in his field (tent not included) for 400 euros a night.

As the Daily Mail noted in late November, the waves of gullible tourists has caused a local crisis:

In France, the authorities have been forced to ban access to a sacred mountain, rumoured to be a haven from the apocalypse, because hordes of believers have been flocking to the region in recent weeks.
Legend has it that the Pic de Bugarach in south-west France will burst open on that day revealing an alien spaceship which will carry nearby humans to safety.
A hundred police and firefighters will also control approaches to the tiny village of the same name at the foot of the mountain, and if too many people turn up, they will block access there, too.

“Legend” has it? Not quite. According to Wikipedia that is the belief of a small group of New Agers on a nearby commune. They seem to be growing in number (and are possibly planning a mass suicide), but it’s not a local “legend” as the Daily Mail suggests. It’s a recent delusion. And as the exasperated mayor of this hamlet, Jean-Pierre Delord says, authorities should ban visitors until at least December 22 because it would prevent,

“all these idiots turning up in sandals walking up a snowy mountain, that we then have to rescue”.

Seems, however, that Bugarch isn’t the only place that will survive, however. Sirince, a small town in Turkey, has also be deemed a safe haven by the New Agers, and locals are cashing in on the waves of gullible fringies who are arriving:

Sirince, a small town of 570 — with a bed capacity of around 1,000 — is now expected to host more than 60,000 people trying to avoid the apocalypse as the date of Dec. 21 approaches.
Normally a one-day accommodation at a hotel in the village costs around TL 100-500. Following the prophecy, costs of accommodation hit a new record. Prices per single room are currently TL 3,000 and could reach as high as TL 6,000. Moreover, around 3,000 members of national and foreign press will be in the village for a live broadcast.

Dork Tower cartoonDeja vu: who can forget the thousands of witless celebrants flocking to world sites at great expense to see in the “new millennium” arrive on January 1, 2000. All that proved was that idiots are bad at simple math – the millennium actually began in 2001. But the tourist operators weren’t about to correct these fools, at least until their cheques cleared. (They may flock to Guatemala this time, however, if the Guatemalan government has its way.)

There are apparently many people who believe this improbable “apocalypse” will really happen, although you can never be sure online whether someone believes or is just riding the trend of popular attention. Or that they’re not just pulling your leg. For example, on 2012apocalypse.net – a mishmash of all sorts of pseudoscience, superstition, New Age spiritualism, aliens, Nostradamus, and related claptrap – the writer says:

Many Great Prophets, Religious Scriptures, and Scientific evidence point to a possible apocalyptic event happening in the year 2012.

Well, you can already see the flaws in this argument. First you have to believe in the validity of any prophet, and of the literality of any religious scripture, or in this case, apparently every religious scripture. But the science? Nah. Not there.

The end of the Mayan calendar coincides with a galactic alignment, in which the Sun will align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Not quite, it’s actually about 6 degrees north of the galactic centre line on Dec. 21. But so what? It’s an annual occurrence. As NASA notes:

Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.

NASA goes on at great length to explain the so-called alignment, stating, “…the sun appears to enter the part of the sky occupied by the Dark Rift every year at the same time, and its arrival there in Dec. 2012 portends precisely nothing.”

Precisely nothing is exactly the amount of credibility in the entire Mayan apocalypse conspiracy. Coincidentally it’s the same credibility you find in crop circles, UFOs, magic crystals, astrology, numerology, angels, psychics and ghosts.

That hasn’t deterred the believers. In fact, little seems to dent the armour of their belief. One man in China (about as far from the Mayans as anyone could be), spent his whole life’s savings to build an ark to escape the expected destruction, according to the Daily Mail:
Daily Mail

Other wingnut sites promote the idea of a rogue planet – “Nibiru” or “Planet X” – or maybe a brown dwarf star suddenly appearing in the solar system on that date and hitting Earth. Or maybe just changing us irrevocably by dumping hostile aliens on us, as one (wacky conspiracy-theory) site suggests:

Nibiru will not bring worldwide destruction, although we could say that life will change as we know it. With all the attention that our extraterrestrial family is paying to earth, it’s unlikely that we will visited by the Anunnaki to further enslave us… or that we be destroyed… we’re already a totally enslaved planet. Everybody in our universe eventually turns to the Light, and this is the case with Anunnaki.

And this is not the wackiest of the lot. Over at this site, you’ll walk the path of the furthest edge of the lunatic fringe:

Without a doubt, Planet X is bombarding Earth with flaming fireballs from its debris tail, which, blown by the solar wind, billows directly toward Earth. Blazing hunks of junk from this tail are hurled at us with increasing regularity.

Another zany New Age site has all sorts of bizarre stories about this mysterious planet that apparently only its believers can spot and photograph, since it eludes the equipment of skeptics and astronomers alike:

Many pictures and videos of “Second Sun” sightings are being captured on cameras by people all over the world. Alberto Cardin in Italy gets excellent captures of Planet X in the sky. How does he do it?
Alberto says it is easy to do. He uses the film cut from an old floppy disk as a filter and closes the the camera lens (having a good view). He also uses classic Mylar and orange colors. As can be seen in Alberto’s pictures, using different color filters to repress the Sun’s glare brings out different features. Due to the red dust in Planet X’s tail, a red filter allows more of this color to come through and yellow is close to red in the spectrum (ZetaTalk and Poleshift.ning).
You cannot cover-up a second sun in the sky!
The citizens of earth have a right to know about the catastrophes and earth changes Planet X brings and what the future holds for Earth, so that all, and not just a select few, can prepare for what lies ahead, in their own way, as as best they can. It’s time for the truth.

The truth is that your tin-foil hat is on too tight.

And don’t even get me started on the self-described “psychic” Nancy Leider, who claims to be channeling aliens from the star system Zeta Reticuli. Leider, who is nuttiness incarnate, claims she was abducted by gray extraterrestrials, the Zetas, when she was a child. They implanted a chip in her brain to allow them to communicate telepathically with her, which she spews forth on her website, Zetatalk (when the aliens are not channeling their anti-Israeli political diatribes through her, it seems). For example, the Zetas made this comment on Dec. 1:

We have described the location of Planet X since 2005 as being within the orbit of Venus and moving slowly outbound.  It is moving in a retrograde orbit, pushing the Earth back from when it was stopped in its orbit in 2003 in the December position. It was in the September position in 2009 and then by 2012 had moved to where it will remain until the Pole Shift –  the August position. Meanwhile, the cup has tightened. Venus has pushed closer to the Earth, the Dark Twin has fallen behind the Earth and is trying to pass the Earth in their shared orbit, and the Earth’s wobble has gotten more severe and violent. It is the very crowding of these planets in the cup in front of Planet X that causes the slow pace of Planet X as it tries to move outbound away from the Sun in its retrograde orbit.

She goes on to say that NASA is covering this up, but President Obama will make the announcement that Nibiru is real, later this month, once he escapes from their scientific clutches. It’s fascinating, disturbing reading, but ultimately entertaining, even if it’s not really polite to laugh aloud at the hard of thinking. I love a good conspiracy theory and can’t help myself reading this stuff (local conspiracy theories have become thin and worn of late, and could benefit from a dose of Mayan apocalypse drama).

In 1995, Nancy Leider originally predicted this imaginary body would hit Earth in 2003 and wipe out mankind, but when it failed to happen, she changed the date to 2012, and her hapless followers… well, they followed her like the sheep they are. Does this remind you of Harold Camping and his “rapture” of 2011?

NASA says (and you can read the sigh and shaking head in the response):

Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.

Wacky New Age siteSome loonies thought Nibiru was going to crash into the Earth on November 21. NASA scientists apparently “confirmed” it, they told us. Maybe you missed the impact. Or maybe it just passed by us in 2003 (Nibiru, the writer says, is the home of the Anunnaki, a reptilian super race, “…evil, lustful, incestuous, bloodthirsty, deceitful, jealous and domineering. They are also carnivorous and are often cannibalistic. They also demand human sacrifices of virgins from those they conquer and from their own kind whom they enslave.”). I seem to have missed the “earthquakes, tidal waves, severe flooding, food shortages due to climatic conditions, diseases, meteor fire storms, volcanic eruptions and the like” that the near-hit created.

Or maybe Planet X never existed at all and the astronomers are right! That would mean either the hoaxers were deliberately misleading people or are complete fruit loops who have lost all contact with reality (both of which traits are found in creationists, by the way). I’m never sure whether to be amused, entertained or frightened by these people, their wild claims and their equally wonky followers.

No amount of debunking can allay the fears of the superstitious twits, however. In response – no doubt to the frustrating necessity of denying the end of the world so often – the US Government actually released an official message saying “don’t worry“:

False rumors about the end of the world in 2012 have been commonplace on the Internet for some time. Many of these rumors involve the Mayan calendar ending in 2012 (it won’t), a comet causing catastrophic effects (definitely not), a hidden planet sneaking up and colliding with us (no and no), and many others.
The world will not end on December 21, 2012, or any day in 2012.

The Center for Disease Control was a little more humorous, in posting a satiric blog piece about the impending zombie apocalypse. Why not? It’s as likely as the imaginary Nibiru or some other fancified end-of-the-world mechanism. Or the “Anunnaki” – an invention way beyond mere crazy. If people actually believe that, it’s no wonder we can’t teach science in schools.

I know what I’ll be doing on December 22, too: blogging “I told you so” to all the gullible New Agers who bought into one more internet hoax.