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 CONFRONT THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY

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The following is the text of an open letter sent to to the Government of British Columbia

I read about it in the National Observer. They provided a link to the letter but did not publish its actual content. And the link led to a pdf file. I used their web page to send out a Tweet. I then decided that it was worth a bit of cut and paste to create a post here that will, I trust, reach a different audience than Twitter.

AN URGENT CALL TO THE BC GOVERNMENT

September 2021 

Dear Premier Horgan and the Government of BC,

We write on behalf of diverse environmental, Indigenous, labour, health, business, local government, academic, youth, and faith communities who collectively represent well over one million British Columbians.

We call on the BC government to recognize the urgency and alarm that people all over the province are feeling as the climate crisis directly impacts our communities and our health: deadly heat waves, wildfires, drought, floods, crop failure, fisheries collapse, and costly evacuations and infrastructure damage. These climate-related impacts are unprecedented and intensifying. Indigenous peoples stand to be disproportionately impacted by climate events despite successfully taking care of the land since time immemorial.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a ‘code red’ for humanity. The International Energy Agency has called on world governments to immediately stop investments in and approvals of new oil and gas projects. 

The provincial government’s CleanBC climate action plan is insufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C and will not keep British Columbians safe from the worst impacts of climate change. 

We therefore urge the BC government to develop and implement a transformative climate emergency plan that recognizes the interconnected climate, ecological, and social crises; embeds equity, anti-racism, and social justice at its core; and upholds Indigenous Title and Rights, and Treaty Rights.

To implement the rapid systemic change that is required, we call on the provincial government to demonstrate the leadership necessary to confront the climate emergency, and immediately undertake the following ten actions:

1

Set binding climate targets based on science and justice

Reduce BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by ~7.5% per year below 2007 levels. Set binding reduction targets of 15% by 2023; 30% by 2025; 60% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 (below 2007 levels). Review and update targets regularly as climate science evolves.

2

Invest in a thriving, regenerative, zero emissions economyInvest 2% of BC’s GDP ($6 billion dollars per year) to advance the zero emissions economy and create tens of thousands of good jobs. Spend what it takes to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new economic institutions to get the job done. Ensure that the economic component of Aboriginal Title is recognized through the sharing of benefits and revenues that result.

3

Rapidly wind down all fossil fuel production and use

Immediately stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure including fracking, oil and gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and fossil fuel-derived hydrogen. Rapidly phase out and decommission all existing fossil fuel production and exports.

4

End fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay

End all fossil fuel subsidies and financial incentives by 2022. Ensure that those industries that profit from fossil fuel pollution pay their fair share of the resulting climate damage.

5

Leave no-one behind 

Ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers, resource-dependent communities, and Indigenous and remote communities impacted by fossil fuel production. It will be critical to collaborate in true partnership with Indigenous peoples in climate action. Prepare our communities for the impacts of the climate crisis to minimize human suffering and infrastructure damage. Support those most vulnerable to climate change impact.

6

Protect and restore nature 

Protect 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030; support and invest in Indigenous-led conservation initiatives; restore natural ecosystems to enhance ecosystem functions and services, preserve biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration, and improve human and ecosystem resilience to climate impacts. Impose an immediate moratorium on the industrial logging of all old growth forests which are critical carbon sinks. 

7

Invest in local, organic, regenerative agriculture and food systems 

Incentivize carbon storage in soil, restore biodiversity, and ensure food sovereignty and food security across the province. Increase consumption of plant-based foods, and reduce food waste. Support Indigenous communities that wish to maintain traditional food systems and enhance their food security. 

8

Accelerate the transition to zero emission transportation 

Invest in affordable, accessible, and convenient public transit within and between all communities. Reallocate infrastructure funds from highway expansion to transit and active transportation (cycling, rolling, and walking). Mandate zero emissions for all new light vehicles by 2027, and all medium and heavy duty vehicles by 2030. 

Accelerate the transition to zero emission buildings 

Ban new natural gas connections to all new and existing buildings by end of 2022. Create a Crown Corporation to mobilize the workforce to retrofit all existing buildings and eliminate fossil fuel heating by 2035, and to build new affordable zero emissions buildings. 

10 

Track and report progress on these actions every year 

Embed all of these actions in legislation to ensure accountability, transparency, and inclusion. Establish rolling 5-year carbon budgets that decline over time towards zero emissions by 2040 or sooner 

A VISION FOR OUR FUTURE

The climate emergency offers an unprecedented opportunity to generate new, vibrant economic and social wealth as we transform where our energy comes from and how it is used. It offers an opportunity to achieve energy security, ensure food security, develop more sustainable local economies and jobs, transform our buildings, redesign transportation, reduce pollution, improve human health and wellbeing, and enhance our quality of life. The transition from fossil fuels to a zero emissions economy has clear benefits for people and natural ecosystems, and is an opportunity to create a more prosperous, just, and equitable society.

Every person, every business, every industry, and every government has a role to play as we coordinate individual and collective actions to create a thriving, resilient, and regenerative society that respects its interdependence with healthy ecosystems and a safe climate.

British Columbia is positioned to become a visionary world leader and demonstrate that innovative and rapid change is possible as we transition to a zero emissions economy.

We urge you to seize these opportunities, and demonstrate to British Columbians that our government is indeed a true climate leader by implementing the 10 climate emergency actions set out in this letter.

We must act now.

SIGNATORIES

Indigenous

British Columbia Assembly of First Nations

First Nations Summit

Gidimt’en Checkpoint

RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)

Union of BC Indian Chiefs

Arts / Culture

Brackendale Art Gallery

Canadian Media Producers Association (BC Branch)

Claymates Ceramics Studio Inc.

Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice

Hummingbird Music Studio

Indian Summer Arts Society

Neworld Theatre

South Cariboo Arts and Culture Society

Spring Magazine

Women in Film and Television Vancouver

Business

1st Knowledge Bank Ltd

Audiopile Records

Barnacle Strategies Consulting

Bydand Wealth Management

Calmura Natural Walls Inc.

Climb On Equipment Ltd

Cool.World

Crowned Vitta LLC

Curio Research Ltd.

Drinkfill Beverages LTD

Earnest Ice Cream

Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society

Goldilocks Goods

Harvey McKinnon Associates

Hollyhock

KWENCH

Lush Cosmetics North America 

Nada

New/Mode

OMC Inc.

Patagonia 

Persephone Brewing Company

Rain or Shine Ice Cream

Redroof Enterprizes

Renewal Funds

Rethink2gether

Salish Soils Inc.

Sea To Sky Cable Cam Inc.

Squamish ReBuild Society

Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD)

Tegan McMartin Photography

TREE WORLD Plant Care Products, Inc.

Vedalia Biological Inc.

Viridian Energy Coop

Visual Science

Community group

Alliance4Democracy (Sunshine Coast)

BC Hydro Ratepayers Association

Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.

Council of Canadians (Campbell River Chapter)

Council of Canadians (Comox Valley Chapter )

Council of Canadians (Nelson Chapter)

Council of Canadians (Terrace Chapter)

Council of Canadians (Victoria Chapter)]

Courage Coalition

Food Stash Foundation

Friends of Tilbury Working Group

Global Peace Alliance BC Society

Kaslo Community Action Team

Language Partners BC

Out Here Ski & Board Club

Philosophers Anonymous

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD)

South Park Family School

Tree of Life Nature Playschool 

UNBC Outdoors Club

Health

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Canadian Health Association for Sustainability & Equity (CHASE)

Doctors for Planetary Health (West Coast)

Inner Light Healing Arts

Mental Health and Climate Change Alliance

Public Health Association of BC

Faith

Anglican Diocese of New Westminster

Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice

First Unitarian Church of Victoria

Holy Cross and Saint Patricks RC Parishes 

KAIROS (BC-Yukon Region)

Naramata Community Church 

North Shore Unitarian Church Environmental Action Team

Salt Spring Island Unitarian Fellowship

Squamish United Church

Vancouver Unitarians

Yasodhara Ashram Society

Labour

Douglas College Faculty Association

Federation of Post-Secondary Educators

North Island College Faculty Association 

Public Service Alliance of Canada (BC Region)

Worker Solidarity Network 

Seniors

Canadian Senior Cohousing Society

Pacific Park Place Housing Cooperative

Squamish Seniors Society

Suzuki Elders

Youth

Douglas Students’ Union

My Sea to Sky Youth Council

Quest Student Environmental Committee 

Reel Youth

Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)

Students for Mining Justice

Sustainabiliteens

Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation

Environment / Climate action

350 Vancouver

Against Port Expansion in the Fraser Estuary

Alberni Climate Action

Alberni Valley Transition Town Society

Armstrong/Spallumcheen Climate Action

Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards

Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment 

Babies for Climate Action (New Westminster)

Babies for Climate Action (Vancouver)

BC Climate Alliance

BC Nature

BC Sea Wolves

Below2C

Better Transit Alliance of Greater Victoria

Bowen Island Conservancy

British Columbia Cycling Coalition

Burnaby Climate Hub 

Burnaby Residents Against Kinder MorganExpansion (BROKE)

Canadian Freshwater Alliance

Chase Environmental Action Group

Chemainus Climate Solutions

Citizen’s Climate Lobby (Okanagan Chapter)

Citizen’s Oil & Gas Council

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Nelson-West Kootenay Chapter)

Climate Action Now!

Climate Caucus

Climate Emergency Unit

Climate Justice Victoria

Concerned Citizens Bowen

Cowichan Valley Naturalists

Creatively United for the Planet

David Suzuki Foundation

Denman Island Climate Action Network

Dogwood

First Things First Okanagan

For Our Kids (North Shore)

For Our Kids (Sunshine Coast)

For Our Kids (Vancouver)

Force of Nature (North Shore Community Action Team)

Georgia Strait Alliance

GOAL12 Sustainable Consumption and Production Society

Green Teams of Canada

HUB Cycling

Lawyers For Climate Justice

Leadnow

Living Forest Institute Society

Living Oceans Society

Mount Work Coalition

My Sea to Sky

Nanaimo Climate Action Hub

Net0world 

North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club

OneEarth

Parents 4 Climate

Planetary Resilience Council of BC

Protect Our Winters Canada

Roots on the Roof

Saanich Eco Advocates

Salish Sea Renewable Energy Cooperative

Salt Spring Island Stream and Salmon Enhancement Society

Sea Smart

Shuswap Climate Action

Sierra Club BC

Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition

Squamish Climate Action Network (Squamish CAN)

Squamish Environment Society

Squamish Food Policy Council (SFPC)

Stand.earth

Sunshine Coast Conservation Association

Sunshine Coast Streamkeepers Society

Sustainability Action Group for the Environment

Synergia Institute

Transition Kamloops

Transition Salt Spring

Transition Sooke

Victoria Climate Hub

Victoria Transport Policy Institute

Watershed Watch Salmon Society

West Coast Climate Action Network (WE-CAN)

West Coast Environmental Law Association

West Kootenay EcoSociety

Wilderness Committee

Wildsight

Yellow Point Ecological Society

Zero Waste BC

Written by Stephen Rees

September 29, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Environment

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Private Equity Exacerbates the Climate Crisis

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The following is a Press Release from the Private Equity Stakeholder Project. If you are unfamiliar with Private Equity and how it works I suggest you read Cory Doctorow on the subject.

Pension Forum Investigates the Role Private Equity Plays in Exacerbating the Climate Crisis

The University of Washington’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies hosted a forum Wednesday that explored the relationship between pension funds and other institutional investors, the climate crisis, and the impacts on communities and the environment. Trustees and representatives of dozens of investors with more than $10 trillion in assets combined participated in the forum.  

Moderated by Michael McCann, the University of Washington Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship, panelists spoke of the growing urgency to interrogate the role private equity plays in exacerbating the climate crisis, often using pension fund capital. 

Treasurer of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union Paul Finch said at the forum, “What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed. And we need to better understand what the risk is and we need better measurements of investment risk. We need less blind trust of investment agents. We need to appoint more critical thinkers to these pension boards who are equipped and educated with the tools to be able to understand the risks that exist.” 

Panelist Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham) – Gidimt’en Checkpoint Spokesperson on Wet’suwet’en Territory, British Columbia, said, “Our resistance creates huge instability and risk to investors. We know that [KKR’s] Coastal Gas Link project has been delayed for at least one year and many seasons due to direct action and the requirement of added infrastructure throughout the pipeline route. 

“We will never stand down and will continue to resist this project and others like it that do not gain consent from our people. It is a bad investment that will never see the returns that pensioners deserve.”

Participants discussed how labor unions, pension fund trustees, and Indigenous rights and grassroots organizations are working to encourage climate-safe investment practices and explore avenues for further collaboration. 

Finch said, “What we found is that if people don’t have the tools to properly measure what’s happening in the markets, then they’re not able to make informed decisions in the best interest of their members or their beneficiaries. Across the board, the risks associated with these [fossil fuel] investments are not being properly analyzed or understood. Since divesting [from fossil fuels] our union has approximately earned, net of fees, 12.5 percent on the market, on average, every year.”

Even as the US has rejoined the Paris Agreement, and the Biden Administration is advocating for greater investment in clean energy infrastructure, and as publicly traded companies begin to commit to net-zero emissions, private equity firms – such as the Blackstone Group, KKR & Co., and the Carlyle Group – continue to acquire fossil fuel assets, contributing to the climate disaster we are experiencing. 

Earlier this week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a groundbreaking report that stated that in order to achieve a net zero energy system by 2050, from today, there should be “no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants.”

Private Equity Stakeholder Project Climate Director Alyssa Giachino told forum attendees, “There is a universe of economic actors outside of the public markets – like private equity — that are finding buying opportunities in assets shed by publicly traded companies. Absent pressure and real accountability, private funds managers will continue to invest institutional investors’ capital in oil and gas despite the risks. The public needs real information to hold private equity accountable to the impacts they have already had on the environment and marginalized communities.”

Mitch Vogel, Trustee of the Illinois State Universities Retirement System and Eileen Moran, member of the Environmental Justice Working Group of the Professional Staff Congress – CUNY also participated on the panel.

You can watch the recording of the forum here.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2021 at 8:52 am

Book Review: “Finding Our Niche”

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Okeover Arm Provincial Park
Okeover Arm Provincial Park, Lund, BC
my picture on Flickr
First Nations have been gathering oysters here for ages
They are delicious

There is a great deal of bad news around. In fact that is probably always true since conflict, drama, threats and warnings are what sell newspapers, or these days get clicks on links. And actually this review can include links to the author and his ideas, so I can refer you to those rather than rely on quotations from his text.

Right now most of the world is facing a pandemic. And one of the reasons that we are not coping with it well so far is that the people who make the decisions in our society are trying to keep the economy going no matter what impact that has on human mortality. Humans are naturally gregarious. Work is normally arranged around everyone being in the same place and communicating face to face. Yet at the same time the more we gather indoors, the less care we exercise on the distance we keep, the more we share the pleasures of eating, drinking and talking to each other, the more successful the virus becomes: spreading, mutating, infecting. Economy and human health are in conflict.

This has to some extent replaced coverage of the other great threat, not just to humanity but all life on earth. Global warming. In our province (BC) we have produced plans to reduce the use of fossil fuels, but we are actually trying to increase our production of them for export. We know we need the forests to store carbon from the atmosphere yet we are cutting them down faster than ever, especially the old growth forests which store the most carbon. Canada has declared a climate emergency but has just approved three more offshore drilling sites. We bought a pipeline, one that was clearly a future financial liability – otherwise it would not have been looking for a buyer. It is based on the least likely scenario, that more countries will want to buy diluted bitumen, when renewable energy producers like wind and solar are now cheaper than fossil fuels. Saving the planet conflicts with the economy too.

Clearly what we have been doing is not working. Add to that the near collapse of democracy in the country to the south of us, and it is no wonder we are pessimistic. So books that look at better ways of dealing with the place where we live should have a ready market.

The problem is that we have bought into a whole load of ideas which are either outright lies or at least wildly misleading. The Tragedy of the Commons, for instance is based on the misrepresentation of history. The commons were not over exploited by the overall greed of society in general, but rather the greed of the already wealthy and powerful. There were regulatory measures in place, managed by the community, to protect the commons for use by all, but a few had the ability to overturn that for their own benefit. Yes there are some very greedy, dangerous people, but we are not all like that nor do we behave like that whenever we get the chance. Terra Nullius was a lie too. America wasn’t fenced but that did not mean it was not owned by anybody. Just like Australia, or New Zealand, or the South Pacific Islands. There were lots of people there before “us” – Europeans. We didn’t actually discover anything (other than our own ignorance of their existence) and the people there were not savages.

In fact the societies that existed in those places were remarkably successful even if they did not adhere to our current preference for measuring GDP or possession of precious metals as measures of success. Philip Loring is an anthropoligst and ecologist. He is an academic at the University of Guelph, Ontario and this is his first book. It is based around the knowledge that people who have thrived in places for millennia have obviously understood their environment better than the people who have not learned the lessons that the industrial revolution ought to have taught us. We are also still in thrall to people like Thomas Hobbes, who coined the phrase “nasty, brutish and short” for life when it was in a state of nature. And Adam Smith who may hold the record as the most widely misunderstood economist of all time.

The ideas that Loring discusses are common to all indigenous peoples – all of whom have learned over very long periods of time what works in their places to make life better for everyone. We now know, thanks to academic research and archaeological evidence that the places Europeans colonised had been occupied by humans for thousands of years by people who were not just hunter gatherers, but who managed their resources carefully and adapted themselves and the places they occupied to be more productive. Many developed advanced civilisations, and there is also much to be learned in why they collapsed. But the people were still there after these collapses, and their lives were a great deal less stressful.

Indigenous knowledge is inextricable from place. And therefore is not only complex and interwoven with that place but also guarded by those people carefully. Actually the greatest loss of human knowledge might not be the loss of the library at Alexandria but the burning of all but ten of the books written by the ancient Maya. What Loring does is distill some of this knowledge into a remarkably small number of general principles. In fact his chapter headings are all single words. Keystone, Engineers, Pristine, Novel. There is very little of the usual verbosity of American academia. It is much more about storytelling. And he has some great stories. Some familiar – the clam terraces of the Salish Sea – and some new to me. The reasons the Hindus revere cows, for instance. And how life is possible in North Western Mexico even though the Americans have used up most of the water in the Colorado River.

I will also confess that I have a couple of difficulties which are not dealt with in the book. For a start, who gets to be regarded as an aboriginal? Obviously not me. I come from East London, England and my ancestors come from all over the place. Secondly the thing I learned about some of my ancestors is that they were fabulists. Great storytellers too, but the “histories” they told were far from the truth, though as all great myths and legends are, based on true events. So people who rely on oral histories, in my experience, have not been a reliable source – even though I am sure they were trying to pass on wisdom. Then there is the problem of how stories are guarded. There is one story that Loring says “is not mine to tell” – but then he does produce a precis of it.

Here is a story of mine. I was part of an environmental assessment of a proposed development on Vancouver Island. The development was opposed by the local First Nation, who hired a woman of European extraction to assist them in presenting their concerns. At one meeting she started to explain the use that the FN applied to part of the site, at which moment the head of that group objected. “That’s not your story to tell!” he said to her, angily and the meeting promptly broke up. It is difficult enough for me, with my background, to trust oral histories. It is even more difficult, I think, for aboriginal knowledge and wisdom to be passed along to people who need it, if the owners of those stories are not willing to share.

There are also three anecdotes in the book which illustrate the same point. He was trying to do something and someone else seemed to block him but without giving a reason. A bit like a teacher I heard of who told his student “You’ll figure it out” rather than actually explaining what he was talking about in a way that the student could understand.

But even so I recommend this book to you as it is thought provoking and it does carry a message that is hopeful and may help you feel a bit more optimistic. You can read more about the book here, and more about the author here.

Finding Our Niche: Toward a Restorative Human Ecology

by Phil Loring, Arrell Chair in Food, Policy, Society and Associate Professor of Geography at the Department of Geography and Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph.

Publisher: Fernwood Publishing

ISBN-10: 1773632876

ISBN-13: 978-1773632872

Available from wherever books are sold

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2021 at 4:40 am

Book Review: “Words Whispered in Water”

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Just over a week ago I got an email from a PR flack that was headed “An activists’ deep dive into the destruction of Katrina, the culprits behind it, and what we can learn from it.” What really bugged me about the email was that it was malformatted. I couldn’t actually read it on my screen as the text didn’t fit – and I had to scroll sideways just to find out the most basic information. However, I was both intrigued and somewhat connected since I have actually been to New Orleans, twice. And, of course, in 2005 everybody had heard about Katrina. And the very curious way that the federal government seemed to have adopted to their responsibility. Not as as bad as the way they have – and are – treating Puerto Rico. But bad enough. I must admit in 2005 I was facing my own issues so my attention to Katrina and its aftermath faded – and during our visits I do not recall seeing or hearing much about it or the aftermath.

I have also had to work with engineers in my career, and have had cause to observe the way that engineering companies and individuals have to work in the intricate overlapping worlds of the consultants and the government agencies that employ them. The penalties for those who do not obey the largely unwritten rules and conventions that govern this relationship mean that those who offend can be cast into the outer darkness and be denied future employment, often on no more than a whim of an official or a rumor – the least reliable sources.

The decisions that were made by the American Army Corps of Engineers, charged with building the flood defences of New Orleans were quite remarkably difficult to determine – deliberately so – and there was extensive collusion between the very people who we rely on to look after all of us to try and create a narrative that shifted attention away to the local government officials. They were branded as inept or even corrupt when that was not the case, but the mainstream media and in particular the leading local newspaper, The Times-Picayune preferred to ignore what should have been fairly obvious. The Corps were responsible for building the levees. When the levees broke it was due to fundamental flaws in design. But the corps did not want to admit that and looked for scapegoats who would have a hard time explaining that it was the Corps and not the local Levee Board. As the author herself puts it, when a building collapses you look at the architects and the builder not the janitor. But a story had been created to shift the blame to – of all people – environmental activists and local politicians.

Sandy Rosenthal was directly impacted by the disaster and she didn’t buy the story that the Corps, and the media, were peddling. Apart from anything else there are these permanent plaques on the levees, put up by the Corps, recording their appreciation of the work done by those charged with maintenance of the levees and the associated equipment over many years. But she was initially on her own. She created a website Levees.org with the aid of her son and WordPress – the people who provide the same service for this blog. The more she uncovered, the more questions she asked, the more she gathered supporters. But also the trolls who bedevil online activities of all sorts. And, it turns out, the PR company hired by the Corps – and some employees of the Corps itself – joined in by pretending to be concerned local private citizens – textbook astroturfing. There were also the inevitable opportunists who never let any crisis go to waste and who were busy grinding out their own preferred solutions – which would pay them generously.

We now know why the levees broke. And, thanks to the cover of the pressure for answers when everything in New Orleans was in chaos from people who did not have enough time or resources, an eventual revelation of the decisions and why they were so badly wrong. The book itself is 300 pages but a very quick read. There are 503 endnotes for those who want to dig deeper. Sadly there is no index. And for people who do not have detailed knowledge of the complex geography and local nomenclature maps would have been very welcome but there are none. Even so I heartily recommend it.

And if you think that somehow this is just a problem for a distant community with little in common with yours, understand that more than half the population live in places that depend on levees. And we all live on a planet where the climate is becoming much more hostile, and hurricanes much more common and far stronger than before.

PS  The word levee means “an embankment built to prevent the overflow of a river”. In other posts in this blog about risk of flooding I have used the term dike “an embankment for controlling or holding back the waters of the sea or a river”. Yesterday we went for a walk along the west dike in Richmond – the one that faces onto the Salish Sea. It has not been raised at all despite the recent King Tides, and the very evident international refusal to reduce ghg emissions that are essential to slow the rising sea levels.

There is also this recent article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/24/england-vital-flood-defences-almost-useless

Seen on my Twitter feed December 6, 2020

 

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2020 at 8:13 pm

Alberta might have one last oil boom.

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The marker which shows where the well was

Western Canada’s First Oil Well: Waterton Lakes, Alberta

 

The headline comes from The Globe and Mail.

The cause:

Analysts predict global oil demand could peak as soon as 2022. Even some big oil companies see peak demand by the 2030s.

But between then and now, in the mid-2020s, oil companies such as France’s Total forecast higher prices on a combination of steady demand and tighter supply.

This scenario, if it plays out, won’t mean $100 for a barrel of crude. But it would mean a profitable oil industry – and potentially quite profitable. Given that Alberta is among the biggest producers of oil in the world, this outlook could be very good news for the provincial treasury.

This annoyed me so much I found that I was writing a reply in my Plague Diary. Which will not be seen by anyone – at least not for a very long time. Perhaps they will have fun comparing the prediction with reality.

I cannot imagine that the provincial treasury will see all that much. Mostly because politicians do not have a long term focus. And this seems to apply in spades to Conservatives and Albertans. The early paragraphs of the editorial lists what happened in previous oil booms. My prediction is that while the mistakes may have some differences, the political instinct will be to devote any windfall to spending that will bring enough popularity to improve the chance of winning the next election. That is all the party in power thinks of. Yes, there are lots of good causes, and plenty of lobbyists. The ones that promise significant donations to party funds and other help to win elections will get the most favorable hearing. And the oil and gas lobby is still the biggest and most generous. While the statistics show Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, at 16.12% of GDP, CAPP continues to claim “30% of all economic activity in the province” which is obviously not the case.  But most Albertans and nearly all of the politicians probably don’t see it that way.

What has been happening is that the oil and gas sector has been largely bought up by foreign investors. Large multinationals, most of whose profits get squirrelled away in places where there are no taxes. There is a huge overhang of environmental damage, most of which will remain for the public purse to repair long after the end of the age of oil and gas. I doubt that much will be spent on this in the short term unless there is some major catastrophe to concentrate minds. Some inspiring folk are converting abandoned well sites to  solar capture. But the amount of space that occupies compared to the huge swathes of wrecked boreal forest is tiny. And the first thing that a conservative thinks of when there is a “surplus” is tax cuts. Actually it is the only thing no matter what the state of the balance of revenues to spending – unless it is spending cuts to hurt those least capable of withstanding them.

Of course we all know what works and what doesn’t. Conservatives are not persuaded by evidence, they like stories, and they love the old stories. They keep on doing what they have always done even though the outcome is always the same too.

If oil prices rise so too will oil and gas production. Right now there is a glut and the places to store the surplus are at capacity. Note too that the higher prices are predicted by an oil company. Not exactly an unbiased source.

But we also know that Canada has not a hope of meeting its commitments to reduce ghg emissions – mostly because the Canadian government spends far more on propping up a dying industry instead of promoting the green alternative. “As part of its COVID-19 response, Canada’s government is spending $1.7 billion to clean up “orphan” and inactive oil and gas wells in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.  Industry should be footing the bill…” (source: Suzuki ibid

Many other governments are doing far more than Canada to promote sensible investments in renewables – and they are seeing good rates of return on those investments as well as moving in the right direction. I do not see a Jason Kenney government following that path – but maybe that will not survive long enough to see the predicted boom times.

More likely the predicted boom is unjustified optimism. Or downright lies – which is what I think that CAPP claim is.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 3, 2020 at 2:08 pm

Borrowed Landscape

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Last night we watched the second episode of Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens on Knowledge TV. These programs can be streamed free for the next month if you live in BC.

I learned a new expression “borrowed landscape“. The gardens tend to be fairly small – but by artful trimming of the trees around the garden the natural landscape beyond it becomes incorporated into the view of the garden. This makes the garden seem larger and more impressive. Many formal Japanese gardens are designed carefully to be most impressive from particular viewpoints which can be found by stone markers placed along the foot path – in fact these are known as “stroll gardens“. This concept is actually quite well understood here by landscape gardeners and is something that I sometimes feel is a bit overdone. If you want to get somewhere you will try to walk in a straight line to your desired destination, and the cunningly curved paths are actually frustrating. Indeed desire lines off the paved paths are a real issue to the maintenance of perfect lawns.

I am much more likely, however, to be strolling with no particular purpose these days. I like to indulge myself by being a flaneur. So stroll gardens would actually be an improvement in some locations such as Trafalgar park which has no paths at all and just relies on the street sidewalks. It is also very much a playing field rather than a garden.

But living in Arbutus Village Park, my greatest desire is that we ought to be making more of the location, and borrowing the view of the North Shore mountains should be part of the park’s design. Of course, this would be of no value at all to people walking through the park. The beneficiaries would be the residents of the buildings – at least the taller ones, on the north side of the building. Like us.

The view from our window

Apparently in BC topping trees is regarded as a bad practice by arborists. Elsewhere in the world they have a different perspective. And our love for trees doesn’t seem to extend to the real giants in the old growth which are coming down at an increasing rate.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

“Miracle in the Desert”

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Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south
from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
File:SaltonSeaArielFromSouth.jpg
Created: 31 January 2012

I get offered all sorts of things by email. This time I was offered a “Press Screener” – access to a video on line that will become available soon. I get to write about it in the hopes that people will spread the word about the upcoming release.

This is an excerpt from the email which lead me to ask for access to the video

“…documentary release of filmmaker Greg Bassenian (“CSI: Miami”) eye-opening award-winning documentary Miracle in the Desert: The Rise and Fall of the Salton Sea,” which lays bare the startling environmental disaster that is the Salton Sea in California’s coveted Coachella valley.  Charting the Salton Sea’s creation in 1905 to the current devastating environmental crisis that it faces today, this harrowing journey takes the viewer into the toxic dust. As the largest lake in California begins to dry, millions of lives are in danger as clouds of toxic dust threaten the health of millions of Californians. … Bassenian’s  new documentary carefully plots the course of economic growth that sprouted a shimmering desert riviera laden with costly construction challenges developing into the perfect storm – creating an unstable ecosystem that now lays to waste the health of the Coachella Valley’s community as both local and federal governments look to pass the cost of fixing things onto someone other than themselves. This riveting investigative documentary will be released by Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company across North America on all VOD/Digital & Blu-Ray/DVD platforms beginning on September 22nd, 2020.”

I was aware that the water from the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea. What I did not know was that this was the result of some turn of the century real estate speculation based on the idea of making the desert bloom. It actually went badly wrong from the start. Both due to the unpredictable nature of severe weather events but also due to some remarkable ignorance on the way that rivers work. The idea to build a canal to tap into the massive waterflow of the Colorado just south of the Mexican border and send it back north to a desert a couple hundred feet below sea level seem an attractive proposition. But the notion that the canal would have to deal with a massive quantity of silt didn’t seem to occur to the promoters. Or the need for the diversion to be able to cope with flash floods when the river level rose.

Map of the Salton Sea drainage area
source: wikipedia

Far too much water turns out to be as big a problem as not nearly enough. And in Southern California where the major cities have been growing rapidly and the people there demanding more water as a result seems to have run counter to any idea that having created California’s largest lake, there could be dire consequences from not looking after it properly. Or at all.

Much of the movie is about the failure of the California state government doing anything effective. They have made many plans. There have been plenty of surveys. There has been no real action of any kind – other than trying to persuade farmers who were encouraged to move to the Coachella and Imperial valleys with the promise of irrigation to give up farming all together.

The big, immediate issue is the health of the population. Obviously the impacts are currently greatest locally but the potential problem is going to cover a much wider area, including those large new populations mentioned above. Indeed drying up of lake beds producing air quality problems with widespread health impacts is not new in California. On the other hand while politicians need to be seen to be concerned about public health, as we currently see with COVID, that doesn’t mean that they feel they have to do very much about it. Most Americans are still on their own, or at the mercy of insurance companies, when it comes to healthcare costs.

When I watched the video I was actually quite pleased that there was no mention of the current crises. I don’t think the words COVID or Trump occurred once. The feds do get the odd nod here and there but overwhelmingly the blame is being directed at Sacramento, the state capital. No individual politicians at State level are mentioned, though some local ones are very compelling in their on screen remarks. No political party is mentioned either. In fact the real surprise is how positive so many of the locals are that there are solutions that will work and will cost far less than doing nothing.

I highly recommend looking out for this video on your preferred streaming media source, and I hope that if you are in Southern California – or know people there – that this documentary will encourage you to consider what actions you can take to influence how the decision makers can be made to actually do their jobs for a change. Because a miracle is certainly needed

The featured image for this blog post also comes from Wikipedia
Samboy – I took a picture from the window of an airplane I was on”

Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south

  • CC BY-SA 4.0
  • File:SaltonSeaArielFromSouth.jpg
  • Created: 31 January 2012

Written by Stephen Rees

August 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with , ,

An Expected Disappointment

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Today I signed two petitions. One to divest the Canada Pension Plan from fossil fuels, the other a letter to the Environment Minister to require an environmental assessment of a massive coal mine expansion proposed for Alberta.

Then a news release arrived which I am copying in full below from Environmental Defence Canada which deplores the latest shortfall in the Trudeau government’s lacklustre efforts to meet the challenges of climate change and recovery from the Covid shut down. There has already been a reckoning of how little has been done for a Green New Deal type recovery here and how much thrown at the fossil fuel corporations, (“Canada has funnelled at least $11.86 BILLION to fossils in recent months, while directing only $222.78 million to clean energy”) so this latest failure to perform comes as no surprise. But it still makes me angry.

Environment and Climate Change Canada released their much-anticipated Strategic Assessment of Climate Change today. Copied below (and linked here) is our press release with our reaction. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for further clarification or questions. 


For Immediate Release: July 16, 2020

NEWS RELEASE: Federal government fails to deliver on promise to align infrastructure reviews with climate commitments

Just months after surprising withdrawal of Teck’s tar sands mine application, government wastes best chance to reconcile project decisions with commitment to become net-zero by 2050

Ottawa, Ont. – Today, the government missed the opportunity to implement a critical tool to achieving our climate targets: a climate test on new infrastructure. Public policy experts had hoped that with the introduction of the new Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69), which requires that project reviews consider whether the impacts help or hinder Canada in achieving its climate commitments, Canada could get on track to doing its part to ensure a climate-safe future. The policy announced today falls short of ensuring this will happen

“The government has just made it harder for Canada to get on the right pathway to reach our target of becoming net-neutral by 2050,” said Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “It is inconsistent to commit to a green recovery and serious climate action while simultaneously failing to put into place a mechanism to ensure that only projects that are consistent with those goals are built. When it comes to addressing the climate emergency – especially when we’re not on track to meet our targets – we need to be using every tool in the toolbox.”

Environmental assessments in Canada have long failed to ensure that project approvals are consistent with a climate-safe future. Global fossil fuel companies are planning to produce about 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with keeping warming to less than 1.5 degree Celsius – and 85% of that expansion is slated to come from the United States and Canada. The announced policy, known formally as the  , won’t curtail this emissions growth.

“The point of conducting thorough environmental assessments is to ensure we have the best information available to make decisions that are good for people in Canada,” said Levin. “Instead, the government has created a policy full of loopholes that polluters can exploit. How can we make responsible decisions as a country if we’re not even willing to ensure we have all the right information?”

As advanced by Environmental Defence and allies, a strong climate test would:

  • ensure that Canada’s new infrastructure be compatible with a low carbon future;
  • discourage investment in projects that would become stranded assets as world markets increasingly move away from oil and gas;
  • provide a clear and accountable set of climate guidelines for companies, communities, review panels and the public;
  • account for the significant downstream emissions from oil, natural gas and coal that is mined in Canada but exported to other countries, thereby recognizing the global nature of climate change and Canada’s contribution to it. Research shows that the total amount of greenhouse emissions from Canada’s exports of fossil fuels is greater than all emissions that occur within Canada

Though an improvement from the draft version of the policy – now project proponents will need to submit net-zero emission plans for projects that go beyond 2050 – the policy released today does not ensure any of the above goals. It punts requirements for emissions reductions well into the future rather than ensuring Canada is on the right path to do its fair share over the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.

As a result, Canadians should not expect that future assessments will do a better job of ensuring new projects are consistent with international climate commitments. Projects currently being considered include a proposed LNG pipeline in Quebec (Gazoduq) – which in conjunction with the Énergie Saguenay LNG plant would produce 7.8 million tons of greenhouse gas annually – and the huge expansion of a tar sands mine by Suncor Energy which would produce another 3 million tons of carbon pollution each year.

“Just a few months ago, Teck Resources made the surprising decision to withdraw their own application for a new tar sands mine. Their reason? A lack of a framework that reconciles oil and gas development decisions with climate action,” added Levin. “And yet the government seems not to have learned its lesson and has declined to show bold leadership. Canadians needed this policy to guide industry towards projects that are compatible with a safe and healthy future. Instead, communities will be forced to continue fighting to ensure that life cycle greenhouse gas emissions are adequately included in the impact reviews of new projects.”

Canada continues to lag behind on real climate leadership. The plan unveiled in the United States by the Biden-Bernie Sanders Unity Task Force includes a commitment to implementing a climate test.

Julia Levin 

Climate & Energy Program Manager 

Pronouns: she/her

Written by Stephen Rees

July 16, 2020 at 5:03 pm

The Notebook

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A while ago now, I used to teach adults about energy efficiency. One such venture was concerned with buildings. The students were learning to qualify for a national program, based in the United States, and I travelled to Bellingham as a guest speaker. Nearly everyone else they heard would have been talking about building issues – insulation and so on. Hardware mostly, but also management. I talked about the bigger picture. How a building’s use and location was actually much more significant in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint than the energy used by its HVAC system.

The consulting company that ran the course gave me a nice little memento. The notebook, which was part of the kit given to the students. It is a monument to the principles that were being taught. The cover is made from recycled tyres. The paper, of course, was recycled too – every page has a pale grey logo printed on it.

The pages are all punched and the binding is by four small openable rings. Towards the end of the book there is page printed with the contact information of the maker. So that users can order a refill. Today I contacted them by email as, when I went to their web page, I could not find a refill that would fit this format.

Their reply. “Yes, this is a long discontinued item and we do not carry these refills anymore.
I am sorry about it.”

I won’t embarrass them by publishing their name. It is just a sad reality that business is business, and clearly this product, designed to be reusable for much longer than any one pad of paper might be, was not a commercial success. Which says more about us than them.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 1, 2020 at 11:52 am

Posted in Recycling

THE ECOLOGICAL DISASTER OF PALM OIL

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A guest post from Jim Richards

Jim Richards is the CEO of a company. His thoughts were offered free on my email. Since I have never tried his products – indeed he is a total stranger – I am being cautious lest I seem to be promoting him or his company. But he seems to have the palm oil business bracketed. There were no images accompanying his press release


Quantum mechanics proposes that ours is only one of an infinite number of parallel worlds, all of which exist in the same space and time as our own.  Within the infinite possibilities of this theory is an upside-down version of our world, an opposite one, and yet another where everything is identical except the elephants are purple.  Any and every possibility can, and indeed the theory insists, must exist.  Apparently, a version of each of us likely exists in all or most of them also, that bit boggles the mind almost as much as it tickles the ego.  After-all multiple worlds without multiple versions of us could only indicate the bright minds that build quantum mechanics theories veer off into wacky land at times.

Keeping updated on the emerging data of our climate crises and the actions taken to alleviate its impact, permits a similar idea to bud.  Within our own planet, there also exists worlds in parallel, upside-down and opposite worlds. In one the need for immediate and decisive action on the climate crisis is obvious, while another parallel world prefers its citizens just keep calm and carry on.  In one world we are invited to take up the yoke of responsibility and the other world prefers we just leave things and let the-as-yet-unborn deal with it all.  In one, the doctrines and processes of governments and politics employ cemented static mindsets even as the climate proves a tumultuous cascade of dynamic processes potentially propelling us to who knows what.  Parallel but opposite worlds.

Between the extremes is yet another world, the one we common folk commonly inhabit.  It is our neighborhood, where we live and work, our town, our city.  A place mostly comforting and familiar because over time it has been sculpted and shaped by the actions, motives and cares of local people to fit local needs.  This is our sphere of influence and the world we want to preserve.

We care about orangutans, koalas and polar bears, we really do, but the sheer breadth, scale, and complexity of the problems overwhelm. The many eco-urgencies progressively lose impact as they increase in scale and are located far beyond our reach.  Most of us have skill and geographical constraints on our ability to positively impact big issues like rising sea levels, melting glaciers and bleaching corrals.   We are best placed, and frankly most incentivized, to start where we are and work from the bottom up. Where we can be busy is in saving those things near us that we love, and then enlarging the space of our influence as we go.

Of course, we understand ecosystems are not respecters of town boundaries nor do they care about the depth of our attachment to local amenities like river-walks, and parklands.  We know our homes and towns cannot be insulated from the causal network in which everything is bound together.  Yet that same causal network allows that we can remain local and still have global influence if we choose our actions wisely.

Transportation of all forms is the cause of about 15% of the human-generated carbon, and incredibly palm oil production is the cause of about the same amount of carbon going into the sky!

Our use of transport is not always a choice, it is hard to imagine life without some form of transport.  However, our use of palm oil is always a choice furthermore it’s easy to imagine life without it, after-all humans thrived until the 1960s with most not knowing palm oil even existed.  Not only is palm oil a choice, ultimately and critically, but it’s also our choice.

One important reason we need to actively save that which we love is, the actions of one person always influences the information base of another and on and on the impact grows.  Starting one thing will encourage and engage others and collectively we can improve the long-term destiny of our world with our own self-generated cascade of dynamic processes.

Palm oil is an unnecessary and offensive ecological disaster, the production of this one item is causing as much climatic damage as every single motorcycle, car, truck, train, boat, and airplane on earth.  Further tropical forests have been and are being burned recklessly and extensively to make way for ever-more palm oil monoculture.  The palm oil industry is boasting that our demand for palm oil is set to quadruple, vast and beautiful tropical Peat forests will be burnt to meet that demand, our demand, but only if we allow it.  All this mindless destruction is they say just the law of supply and demand in action.

Obviously, we are not consciously demanding millions of acres of tropical forests be burned on our behalf each year – if we could make the rules, we would, in fact, demand the very opposite.   But we do inadvertently incentivize and fund the destruction through our purchase of items made with palm oil – and we purchase lots of them.

Palm oil is in so many products it is really quite hard to avoid.  Manufacturers love to use palm oil because it is quite versatile and very cheap. But of course, Palm oil actually has, a hidden, but extraordinarily high eco-price, it is costing us the earth.

Palm oil is likely an ingredient in most of your favorite brands.  But if we commit to doing this thing, this one hard-ish thing, that will complicate shopping a bit and require persistence on our part – if we switch to palm oil-free products – we, together, will compel a positive and pertinent eco-impact that is equal to shutting down all transportation globally. Without leaving home we collectively can send a crystal-clear message to manufacturers. They respond to dips in their sales and market share with an alacrity and intensity we wish they reserved for measuring and reducing the eco-impact of their ingredients.

We, the people, can create new laws of supply and demand – any company that supplies products containing palm oil will see demand diminish, and their bright cheerful logo can come to symbolize the dark badge of corporate greed.   It is only our patronage and goodwill that gives power to brands, and it is our purchases that gift fortune to the companies behind them – they prosper only as they serve our needs and wants.  Change those wants and we change a great deal besides.

Watch out for claims of sustainable palm oil.  The truth is there is no such thing as sustainable tropical forest destruction.  Call BS on that sort of virtue signaling nonsense.

Not buying palm oil products will demonstrate even the biggest global issues are not beyond our reach or influence.  As we get strategic about palm oil, corals, glaciers, sea levels and even Borneo’s (oxymoron named) pigmy elephants will directly benefit.  Those koalas, polar bears and orangutans we care about will get to breathe easier also, as will we all.

We may have our backs against the climatic wall (so to speak) but neither the scope of the ecological problems, nor our ineffective leaders loitering in their parallel world, should cause us to ignore the problems that we, and possibly only we, can effectively attend.  We may not be able to address everything – but believe me, we can address this one big thing.

Historically the extraordinary courage of ordinary people manifests clearest in crises when we are rising to defend neighbors, neighborhoods, and homes – like now.  The intensity of stubborn determination and ingenuity we common folk can collectively bring to this fight is one of humanity’s super-powers.

Besides, we have to make our infinite number of parallel selves feel good about us, even that fortunate us living in the world populated by cute purple pygmy elephants.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 15, 2020 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Environment