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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 a 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”

 

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

A New Conservative Leader

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source: hugh_dandrade's avatar
Hugh D’Andrade @hugh_dandrade

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The Who

After a shambolic process, Erin O’Toole was declared the new Leader of Canada’s Conservatives.

He is quoted as saying “I want you to know from the start that I am here to fight for you and your family.” I do not know Mr O’Toole – in fact I had not even heard of him until this process started. But I am absolutely certain that when he said that he was lying. Lying deliberately. The last thing he is concerned about “millions of Canadians” and their families. He is from the right wing of his party – the ground occupied by the old Reform Party. Their intention of joining the old Progressive Conservatives – who were after all very nearly indistinguishable from the Liberals in policy terms – was to ensure the continuation of their campaign to “take back Canada”.

Now when I typed that quotation I was thinking of a tweet I had seen this morning – which gave a very neat description of what O’Toole meant when he said that. The tweet stream I uncovered when I did a search is very, very lengthy. This is a tweet from Ann Bibby (who I also don’t know) – which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but is much closer.

“Take back Canada means making it safe to be a homophobe, a racist, a misogynist. It means making sure poor people stay poor, and cronies get pocket public money. It’s the same old conservative corruption it ever was. Nothing new here. O’Toole is just an angrier Kenney.”

Stephen Gordon

“Intelligent, thoughtful conservatives (there are lots of them!) will be forever shut out of power as long as the CPC survives. Shut it down and start over.”

I replied that I had never met one. For a long time people I was working for would tell me that the economics of Hayek were more intellectually sound than Keynes. Somehow I doubted that but my experience since has done nothing to shift my scepticism. Ayn Rand was even more of a dog whistler. The idea that we are all individually responsible for own lives is an attack on humanity. The thing that made us Homo Sapiens was our ability to communicate, learn and co-operate. Right wingers think that it is clever to dismiss ideas as “socialism” – indeed Mrs Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society.” Which is as big a lie as any told more recently by the 45th POTUS.

To understand conservatives, you need only to look at what has transpired in the 21st century. The crash of 2008 was one of their trademarks. And nothing has changed in the way the economy is managed since. So is rapidly accelerating climate change and failing to deal with a new pandemic. It is quite striking how the countries that dealt most effectively with the virus were those who understood the values of science and cooperation. Not the people who actually enjoy punishing others – who think the current death toll in the United States is acceptable. Who think that taking small children from their parents to deter others from seeking asylum is a Good Idea. Who value people who display a willingness to work overly long hours for little pay but refuse to provide them with the basics of a decent life – including healthcare, education and housing – all of which must be priced out of the hands of the poor.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Posted in politics

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

Ending the Gerrymander

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By Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835) (often falsely attributed to Gilbert Stuart)[1] – Originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6030613

I am a regular reader of “This is True”, an email newsletter. Its author, Randy Cassingham also has a podcast. If you read my recent post, you will know that I am not a fan of podcasts, but Cassingham does things differently. He publishes his podcast with a transcript, so you can read it if you prefer and in this case provides lots of links to the original material.

The United States is bedevilled by broken voting systems. One of the oldest is the practice of allowing party politicians to redistrict elections to give their party an unfair advantage. It has long bothered me – and many other people – that since both parties have been doing this for a long time, getting the system reformed seemed highly unlikely. But Colorado has managed that. And you can read about that, or listen to the podcast at https://thisistrue.com/064-line-in-the-sand/ and follow the links there to the original material.

Well done Randy. Well done Colorado. Other states please copy.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2020 at 6:10 pm

In Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en… reconciliation and climate justice?

The following is a Newsletter I just received from the Be The Change Earth Alliance. Comments, pingbacks and trackbacks have been disabled for this post. If you want to do any of those things please use the links below. I regret that the way WordPress now handles a simple cut and paste command wrecks the HTML of the original. Despite the cranky formatting that results I trust this is still readable.

SPECIAL EDITION NEWSLETTER: Our newsletter this month is dedicated to supporting Wet’suwet’en land defenders and protesters, in solidarity with Indigenous rights, title and climate justice. Climate justice is at the heart of our work at Be the Change.

The concept of climate justice highlights how environmental and social justices issues intersect and are often inextricably linked. One such intersection, deeply rooted in the essence of Canada’s Nationhood, relates to reconciliation and the long history of colonial institutions promoting, protecting and expanding large scale resource extraction projects on traditional Indigenous territory. It’s important to recognize that these land intensive projects are consistently upheld by violence toward Indigenous peoples and direct ignorance of Indigenous rights and title to unceded, unsurrendered land sought out by our government and fossil fuel giants for profit.

 Climate justice and reconciliation go hand in hand.

Recently, our Provincial and Federal governments and RCMP forces have been criticized for a string of injunctions and invasions of Wet’suwet’en people and protesters, which are alleged to have broken Wet’suwet’en, Canadian and International Law. Indigenous protesters have been blocking Coastal Gaslink from accessing their territory to construct the single largest private investment in Canadian history- a 6.6 billion dollar fracked gas pipeline that would extend 670-kilometers from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the coastal town of Kitimat, where LNG Canada’s processing plant would be located. 

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Each clan within the Wet’suwet’en Nation has full jurisdiction under their law to control access to their territory. 

Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en 

have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and have not provided free, prior, and informed consent to Coastal Gaslink/ TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands.” (Unist’ot’en

Coastal Gaslink has also yet to receive approval from the province’s Environmental Assessment Office they require to begin work. Outside Wet’suwet’en law, the hereditary chiefs’ land claim is backed by a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision.

Free, prior and informed consent is a human rights requirement under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which ironically, BC recently became the first province to have enshrined it into law. 

Local RCMP have been condemned for a number of actions at the blockade sites.

 Over the last month and a half following an injunction to remove Wet’suwet’en people from their own unceded territory, Police forces have been documented arresting Indigenous Matriarchs in ceremony, dismantling healing structures, including a ceremony for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, sawing through a sign reading “Reconciliation” and were exposed to have been prepared to use lethal force on Indigenous protesters and violating freedom of the press.

Dozens of peaceful land defenders have been arrested locally.The violence in Unist’ot’en sparked National protest, with railway and shipping roadways being blocked in Vancouver, Delta, Hazelton (BC) Toronto, Belleville (Ont), Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, which have shut down rail transport across the country. There have also been a number of rallies and occupations of government offices in BC and other provinces– all in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.

If you are a teacher, you may see that BCTF has also released a letter of support. Protest seems to be working, as the RCMP have begun to leave the area, as Canadian officials feel the economic pressure of halted railway networks and seek talks with hereditary chiefs. The Canadian government has also postponed bringing an UNDRIP motion to the table in response to the crisis.Source: https://www.ubyssey.ca/news/Indigenous-student-groups-to-fundraise-for-legal-fund/

Reconciliation is not a destination, it is a road that we walk.

It means listening openly, learning and owning the responsibility we have to mend the past and build Nation-to-Nation relationships moving forward- even when it feels inconvenient. It means showing up with resources to offer and acting in solidarity against injustices toward indigenous peoples. Wet’suwet’en also offers us the opportunity to see and feel climate injustice, as we watch another indigenous community fight for their inherent rights and title, while fighting to protect land and climate for all of us, as our Canadian governments attempt to push through another fossil fuel megaproject. Climate justice means changing this story.

We invite you to use this as a learning moment on a continued legacy of violent oppression of Indigenous Peoples and on the importance of respecting the varying perspectives and beliefs of First Nations who refuse to align with Canada’s colonial interests not true to their people. Let’s also remember the reason Indigenous rights are being violated- to protect and uphold the production of fossil fuels at a time when we have only 10 years to rapidly cut our global emissions in half.

Indigenous Peoples are leading the environmental movement. Together, we can collectively step into this space and hold it, own it, and change it.   What can you do?There are a number of resources you may use to teach others or take action, including this toolkit produced by the Unist’ot’en resistance (visit for more info and actions). Some actions requested by Unist’ot’en resistance are:DONATE/FUNDRAISE Donate to Gidimt’en Access PointDonate to Unist’ot’en Legal FundHold a fundraiser to help the Unist’ot’en with the prohibitive legal costs designed to be in favour of industry.  Follow the Solidarity Fundraiser Protocols. EDUCATEHost a film screening of the new documentary, Invasion. Create a lesson on reconciliation and its connection to climate justice for students. (BCTF and the BC Curriculum now have resources for teaching Indigneous education)Sign up for the Unist’ot’en Camp Newsletter.Share posts on social media, talk to your community, keep eyes on the Unist’ot’en and Wet’suwet’en!BUILD SOLIDARITYAnswer the Callout for Solidarity Actions in your region!Sign the Pledge to support the Unist’ot’en.Source: https://raventrust.com/2020/01/07/act-now-in-solidarity-with-wetsuweten-tell-coastal-gaslink-to-uphold-indigenous-rights/
Be The Change Earth Alliance
http://www.bethechangeearthalliance.org/Be The Change Earth Alliance · 949 W 49th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5Z2T1, Canada

Written by Stephen Rees

February 28, 2020 at 9:36 am

Posted in pipelines, politics

Canadians sign petition to Trudeau in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation

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Almost 30,000 Canadians across the country have united by signing an online petition – Solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation 2020 – started by Indigenous Solidarity Ottawa.  Canadians signed in support of members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who have been “stewarding and protecting their traditional territories from the destruction of multiple pipelines”, including Coastal GasLink’s (CGL) liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline.

 The petition addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, John Horgan, Premiere of B.C., and Mike Farnworth, B.C. Public Safety Minister asks that the following demands are met:

  • Stop colonial violence: stop using the RCMP or any other force to harass and criminalize Indigenous peoples from protecting their land, water, air and cultures, as well as dispossess Indigenous peoples of their traditional unceded territories;
  • Immediately remove the RCMP from the Wet’suwet’en territory;
  • Respect the sovereignty as well as the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples as stated in the UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples – which Canada has signed and BC has put into provincial law – which includes respecting the refusal of pipelines and other resource-extracting projects that are damaging to the environment and for which the Wet’suwet’en nation have not given free, prior and informed consent to;
  • Stop violently supporting those members of the 1% who are stealing resources and condemning our children to a world rendered uninhabitable by climate change.

The concerns for safety addressed in this petition are widespread. Video footage of an RCMP officer pointing his firearm at Indigenous land defenders was posted to the social media account of the Gidimt’en clan (one of five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation whose hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline). It shows police moving into the clan’s camp on the Morice West Forest Service Road near Houston, B.C. on February 7. The RCMP defended the actions of their officers.

RCMP also arrested 28 land defenders and matriarchs during the enforcement of the interlocatory injunction approved by Justice Church. One person remains in custody. Charges are pending as CGL has requested Crown intervention. The rest of the land defenders are to appear before the Supreme Court in Prince George in late April 2020.

In his address to Parliament on Tuesday, Trudeau described the situation as “a critical moment for our country and for our future.” Trudeau says his government remains open to discussions.  He has said that he will not forcibly remove the blockades, but economic pressure builds.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who joined other First Nations leaders in Ottawa on Tuesday, said “Our people are taking action because they want to see action. When they see positive action by the key players, when they see a commitment to real dialogue to address this difficult situation, people will respond in a positive way.”

 The below quotes are from petition signers across the country:

“RCMP invasion of Indigenous territory is wrong on every level, not to mention embarrassing. The RCMP is helping a foreign fossil fuel consortium build a pipeline to transport the very fuel whose extraction is ruining northern ecology and ultimately, our water supplies. The RCMP is protecting one of the most damaging industries on the planet.” – Carole Tootil, Nanaimo, BC

“Time to abide by the law and find another route, even if it costs more money. A mistake was made by not honouring the original land rights and only going to band councils. Time to fix it and not continue the mistakes of the past.” – Raisa Jari, Toronto, ON

“I am Wet’suwet’en and after 150 years enough is enough! My child and my family use this land for cultural activities and everyone made this decision except us. We can’t even return there anymore. By the time they have left their construction zone in their wake my boy will be a young teen. The rest of his childhood will be displaced from our favourite and most loved places. Not to mention the issues of climate change.” – Carla Lewis, Burns Lake, BC

“I’m in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation and other land protectors. Stop extracting and fracking, stop building pipelines and invest in alternative energy projects, and involve First Nations in that pursuit.” – Dr. Thilo Joerger, Sackville, NB

“I feel the Wet’suwet’en people are protecting land that is rightfully theirs.” – Doreen Mason, Windermere, ON

“There is so much injustice in the provincial government and Coastal gas not considering the Wet’suwet’en proposal for an alternate route and sending in the RCMP to unlawfully occupy their land. They should have the right of all nations to have consent to use their territory as they wish and not suffer violence and externally imposed laws forced upon them.” – Fiona Lee, Vancouver, BC

“Canadians are standing up for what they want. This is not going away. Canada, let all voices be heard.” – Jane Rathbun, Waverley, NS

For more information please see: https://www.change.org/wet-suwet-en

Written by Stephen Rees

February 20, 2020 at 10:43 am

Posted in pipelines, politics

From hyperloops to hailing rides:

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This is just the start of Justin McElroy’s puff piece for the CBC on Railvolution.

I am not going to be dragged off topic by venting on hyperloop or ride hailing. What triggered me was the reference to the lack of affordable housing – as though the lack of it was somehow the fault of transportation planning or unique to Vancouver. Indeed I do not understand why mainstream journalists continue to play around with the issue without placing the blame squarely where it should go.

Canada used to do affordable housing quite well. Though the word “affordable” is rather more recent. Back then it was pretty much accepted in the advanced western countries that the housing market did not work at all well for people on limited incomes and no wealthy background to help out. Housing the poor was regarded as an obligation that had to be accepted by government to avoid the sort of problems described by Dickens and Victor Hugo. Slums were always a feature of industrial landscapes – and for much of the nineteenth century seemed to be regarded as an unfortunate necessity. Until some manufacturers with social consciences – or religious obligations – started building decent homes for their employees. The quakers who ran most of the confectionary companies stand out in my mind – Cadbury and Rowntree. In fact the Rowntree Trust is still in the same business in the UK now.

In Canada the federal government funded public housing – up until the Jean Chretien administration when Paul Martin became Finance Minister and began the change to neoliberal – monetarist policies that cut back public spending on the poor in favour of tax breaks for the rich. This was pretty much the same policy that Thatcher had adopted in the UK – she forced the sale of the best council housing to the tenants in the stated conviction that it would convert them to Conservative voters.

While I am not saying there were no housing issues prior to this point, what is indisputable is that provincial and local governments have had a hard time since federal support for housing was withdrawn. And it is also noticeable that other publicly supported tenures such as co-ops have also been having a hard time.

Of course Vancouver is not alone in “experiencing challenges around affordability”. It has been made worse by the previous BC Liberal government turning a blind eye to money laundering. Vancouver was already a favoured destination for wealthy immigrants – again due to the federal policies that promoted the business class.

“municipalities across the region have faced pressure to keep land around transit-oriented developments affordable for those that need transit most” is really one of the silliest ways of looking at the issue. Municipalities can determine zoning: that is about the extent of it. Arguably, places that continued to stick to single family zoning for much of their territory did a lot to price people out. But then the places that did see development weren’t exactly cheap either.

The region had a strategy to limit sprawl, but that was blown out of the water – once again the BC Liberals decided to invest in highway expansion which far exceeded anything that was spent on transit in the same period. The Olympics were designed not just to attract visitors to a sports festival but to blow a hole in the regional strategies of Greater Vancouver and Squamish-Lillooet and encourage housing development and car commuting along the expanded Sea to Sky Highway. Jack Poole was a developer first and foremost.

So the combination of Hayekian fiscal measures federally and reckless mismanagement provincially is more than enough to explain why decent housing close to jobs has become so hard to find here. What is less acceptable is that having a so called “progressive” governments at both levels in recent years has not seen anything like an adequate response to the need for effective housing policies. It is not as if there is a shortage of resources. When governments find it possible to buy an oil pipeline and building the boondoggle Site C, they have no credibility at all when they plead poverty as a defense of inadequate social policies – where housing ought to have a much higher priority. And during a climate emergency when investing in tar sands and fracking should be anathema.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 8, 2019 at 2:37 pm

The Last Post

I am going to add a link into the next paragraph, which will take you to an essay in Huffington Post. And then once that article opens up – if you decide to click that link, there is another link to “a long form essay “Facing Extinction“” if you prefer that. But the point of this first paragraph is to explain why I am posting this at all. I have been consciously backing off from the position I have been taking here for the last ten to fifteen years. At first it was more about “what do I do with myself in the absence of worthwhile employment?” Then it was about having solved the immediate issues of how I survive without a large salary every month (not that I ever thought I had a large salary) what do I do about the place I find myself. I long ago recognised that I would not be able to save the world. It turned out that it was immensely difficult to even make the small part of it that I occupied reasonably tolerable. It did not help either that some of the thoughts that had occurred to me actually got implemented. Not that I am about to claim credit for them – or anything. Other people think similar thoughts at the same time, is all. I just thought that I could keep on doing the same sort of policy analysis that I used to do for the government for the people who get governed. Until that seemed futile too. And boring and repetitive. I long ago stopped going on protests. I have stopped supporting political parties – and everyday, without fail, I get another confirmation that was a Good Choice.

So as I read this article, I kept finding myself in agreement. It is better than anything I could write – and there isn’t anything I feel the need to cavil about. And I have stopped myself from thinking that this is all too hard to face up to. It is not as if we have any choice at all. Except you – you who have stuck with me this far – you who still show up on the “like” list. You can stop reading this now. That’s ok. Don’t worry about it. You do not have to face extinction right now, if you don’t want to. But for those of you who are wondering why this post was an even an idea in the first place this is the link. I have checked it by sending it by email to someone else and confirmed that it works.

This is not a matter for comment or discussion. I am going to close comments for this post, and won’t be looking for any feedback. Please take the advice of the author of the article.

Good bye. And thanks for all the fish.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 22, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Breaking with the Green Party

with 2 comments

At today’s meeting of Vancouver City Council, all three Green Party councillors voted with the NPA.

Vancouver city council has decided to oppose the additional school tax by the province on homes valued at least $3 million.

Council voted 7-3 to ask the B.C. NDP government to withdraw the tax that will take effect in 2019.

Casting the affirmative votes were Councillors Rebecca Bligh, Melissa De Genova, Sarah Kirby-Yung, and Colleen Hardwick of the Non-Partisan Association; and Adrianne Carr, Pete Fry, and Michael Wiebe of the Green Party of Vancouver.

This is the last straw for me. I will no longer send any money to the Vancouver Greens, nor will I count myself a supporter. I will allow my membership to lapse.

Provincially the Green Party is working with the NDP – and I, like many others, have had to concede that the working arrangement is clearly better than continuing to have a BC Liberal government. But that means not saying what needs to be said about LNG – which earns the province little in the way of revenue, and employs very few people, but depends on fracking which produces far more fugitive methane than the industry admits. Worse than that it also is built on the case of liquefying the gas using hydro power – which is supposed to cut its carbon footprint, but seems to ignore the damage that  building a large scale earth dam on dodgy foundations will do, and the abysmal track record of major hydro projects both environmentally and economically.

Moreover, I have had to put up with the Leader of the Green Party promoting Uber!

Enough.

Elizabeth May, federally, seems to be the best of a bad bunch but even she has been pushing for more oil refineries in Alberta.

We have a very short time to turn the world around in its present track – which has seen ghg increases this year. The IPCC and the US federal government have made it clear. We cannot go on like this.

Since the Green Party at local, provincial and federal levels seems not to understand that human caused climate change is our biggest problem, I can no longer call myself a Green Party member. We have to stop producing oil, gas and coal altogether, and we need to be working hard to replace those energy sources by renewables and by the reductions in consumption that will be possible if we embrace energy efficiency and well understood Transportation Demand Management techniques such as promoting transit expansion over highways!  It is actually easier now to do this as both solar and wind power are cheaper than fossils. We have plenty of capacity in our highway and urban road systems, as long as everybody understands they cannot drive a big SUV or pick up truck for each trip by one person over quite short distances. Cut the parking requirements, build walkable cities, spend money on LRT not freeways. This is not rocket science and we do not need any of Elon Musk’s crazy “innovations”. We know how to do this because we used to do this not so long ago. It is not about more tunnels or atmospheric railways – it is streetcars, buses and bicycles.

Next week the NDP is going to reveal its strategy for the Massey Tunnel “replacement”. If it isn’t a rail based additional tunnel then I will not be cheering for that either!

Written by Stephen Rees

December 12, 2018 at 8:28 pm