The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like

In the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy.

Supporters of a Green New Deal gathered late last year in Washington.CreditCreditJim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock

Everyone is lining up to endorse the Green New Deal — or to mock it. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have all endorsed the resolution sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Conservative critics predictably call it “a shocking document” and “a call for enviro-socialism in America,” but liberal condescension has cut deeper. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, essentially dismissed it as branding, saying, “The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?” Others have criticized it for leaving out any mention of a carbon tax, a cornerstone of mainstream climate-policy proposals, while embracing a left-populist agenda that includes universal health care, stronger labor rights and a jobs guarantee.

What do these goals have to do with stabilizing atmospheric carbon levels before climate change makes large parts of the world uninhabitable? What has taken liberal critics aback is that the Green New Deal strays so far from the traditional environmental emphasis on controlling pollution, which the carbon tax aims to do, and tries to solve the problems of economic inequality, poverty and even corporate concentration (there’s an antimonopoly clause).

But this everything-and-the-carbon-sink strategy is actually a feature of the approach, not a bug, and not only for reasons of ideological branding. MORE

How infrastructure could build Canada’s clean economy

Over the next decade, $180 billion is earmarked for roads, bridges and other public projects. It’s a massive opportunity to cut emissions.

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Photo: Shutterstock/by Randy Hergenrether

Public infrastructure – airports, bridges, transmission lines, wastewater systems – is everywhere, which makes it an obvious target for cutting emissions. The sheer amount of ground it covers means we could make a real dent in Canada’s carbon footprint by changing the way governments make infrastructure spending decisions. And yet it’s an opportunity seldom discussed.

The Government of Canada plans to invest $180 billion in public infrastructure over the next decade. It’s a key opportunity to get our public infrastructure spending right. If we don’t, we risk being locked in to the wrong path for decades – with expensive retrofits being our only option to later cut pollution and ensure our buildings and bridges can stand up to increasingly severe weather events.

The advantages of smart infrastructure spending are detailed in a new report from Clean Energy Canada, which draws on expertise from professionals and stakeholders.

Here is why we should target public infrastructure in our climate-change efforts, and push governments to spend dollars differently:

The Government of Canada has prioritized increasing infrastructure investment and cutting pollution across the country. The 2016 federal budget saw the launch of the Investing in Canada Plan, the federal government’s long-term infrastructure strategy. This plan marks a historic new investment of $180 billion over the next 12 years in five key priority areas: public transit, green and social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and rural and remote communities.

This policy primer will make the case for why we should look to public infrastructure to build the clean growth economy. It will also provide advice to government on how to do that. MORE

How to feed the world by 2050? Recent breakthrough boosts plant growth by 40 percent

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“Plants have to do three key things to produce the food we eat: capture sunlight, use that energy to manufacture plant biomass, and divert as much of the biomass as possible into yields like corn kernels or starchy potatoes,” Ort said. “In the last century, crop breeders maximized the first and third of these, leaving us with the challenge to improve the process where sunlight and carbon dioxide are fixed — called photosynthesis — to boost crop growth to meet the demands of the 21st Century.”

This landmark work is part of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is engineering crops to photosynthesize more efficiently to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

“Land plants evolved with a biochemical glitch whereby a photosynthetic enzyme frequently captures oxygen instead of carbon dioxide, necessitating a convoluted and energy-expensive process called photorespiration to mitigate this glitch,” said Ort, who is also the deputy director of the RIPE project. “Crops like soybean and wheat waste more than 30 percent of the energy they generate from photosynthesis dealing with this glitch, but modeling suggested that photorespiratory shortcuts could be engineered to help the plant conserve its energy and reinvest it into growth. MORE

Plastic threatens our health from before production to long after it’s thrown away: Report

“Every stage of the plastic lifecycle poses significant risks to human health, and the majority of people worldwide are exposed to plastic at multiple stages of this lifecycle.”

Image result for EHN: Plastic threatens our health from before production to long after it’s thrown away: ReportCredit: Bo Eide/flickr

Plastic pollution is a “threat to human life and human rights” and, in order to stem this problem, we have to overhaul how we produce, use and dispose of it, according to an international report released today.

The report, the result of a collaboration between seven environmental organizations, finds most attempts to examine the impact of plastic on people and the planet focus on one aspect—such as manufacturing, the testing of products, or how plastic is disposed. However, the authors of today’s report say we need to look at the entire lifecycle of plastic because “each of those stages interacts with others, and all of them interact with the human environment and the human body in multiple, often intersecting, ways.”

Plastic pollution has been recognized as pervasive across the planet and research increasingly finds it is infiltrating wildlife, our food and us—bringing fresh concerns about how our plastic addiction may be impacting our health.

“Health problems associated with plastics throughout the lifecycle includes numerous forms of cancers, diabetes, several organ malfunctions, impact on eyes, skin and other sensory organs, birth defects” and many other impacts, said David Azoulay, a report author and managing attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, in an email to EHN. “And those are only the human health costs, they do not mention impacts on climate, impacts on fisheries or farmland productivity,” he added. MORE

Soil ecologist challenges mainstream thinking on climate change

Image result for Soil ecologist challenges mainstream thinking on climate changeMixed plant species, like this field of cover crops planted by Mike Neff in northwest Kansas, right, stimulate the soil to sequester more carbon, which improves fertility, productivity and overalll environmental health. Photos by Candace Krebs.

How cropland and pastures are managed is the most effective way to remedy climate change, an approach that isn’t getting the attention it deserves, according to a leading soil ecologist from Australia who speaks around the world on soil health.

“Water that sits on top of the ground will evaporate. Water vapor, caused by water that evaporates because it hasn’t infiltrated, is the greenhouse gas that has increased to the greatest extent since the Industrial Revolution,” said Christine Jones, while speaking at the No Till on the Plains Conference in Wichita in late January.

“It’s a scientific fact that water vapor accounts for 95 percent of the greenhouse effect, whereas at most 3 percent of the carbon dioxide is a result of burning fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide only makes up .04 percent of the atmosphere anyway,” she continued. “So how can a trace gas be changing the global climate?”

That’s a crucial detail the mainstream media and much of the general public have largely missed, in her view. MORE

What Should a Climate Change “Plan” Look Like?

NASA

Anyone with a 3-digit IQ can do a bit of googling and come up with a set of policies to reduce carbon emissions. But a plan—now that’s a different thing. A plan has to be an actual course of action with both a goal and a chance of success. We should be able to line up your plan with all the others and extract two numbers about each one: (1) emission levels in 2050 if the plan works, and (b) consensus probability that the plan will work.

I don’t have such a plan in mind, of course, but I do have a few guidelines that I think could help someone win this game:

Arctic Bogs Hold Another Global Warming Risk That Could Spiral Out of Control

As warming brings earlier spring rains in the Arctic, more permafrost thaws, releasing more methane in a difficult-to-stop feedback loop, research shows.

Alaska wetlands. Credit: S Hillebrand/USFWS

A doubling of the rate of methane released in the Arctic could have consequences that climate change projections don’t currently take into account. Credit: S Hillebrand/USFWS

Increasing spring rains in the Arctic could double the increase in methane emissions from the region by hastening the rate of thawing in permafrost, new research suggests.

The findings are cause for concern because spring rains are anticipated to occur more frequently as the region warms. The release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, could induce further warming in a vicious cycle that would be difficult if not impossible to stop.

“Our results emphasize that these permafrost regions are sensitive to the thermal effects of rain, and because we’re anticipating that these environments are going to get wetter in the future, we could be seeing increases in methane emissions that we weren’t expecting,” said the study’s lead author, Rebecca Neumann, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Washington. The study appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. MORE

‘Making this up’: Study says oilsands assessments marred by weak science

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EDMONTON — Dozens of oilsands environmental impact studies are marred by inconsistent science that’s rarely subjected to independent checks, says a university study.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” says University of British Columbia biology professor Adam Ford, who published his findings in the journal Environmental Reviews.

“You would have to go out of your way to make it this bad”

“You would have to go out of your way to make it this bad. It’s just a symptom of the state of the industry and it’s definitely a signal that we can do better.”

In 30 different assessments filed between 2004 and 2017, Ford found each study considered different factors in different ways. Few independently checked their conclusions. And those who did were notably less confident about the industry’s ability to restore what it had disturbed.

Treaties provide means to peacefully share wealth


An audience looks on at the Robinson-Huron Treaty post-decision panel at the University of Sudbury on Feb. 11.JOHN LAPPA/SUDBURY STAR FILE PHOTO

“For many years, the rights of the Indians to their Aboriginal lands – certainly as legal rights – were virtually ignored.”— Former Chief Justice of Canada Brian Dickson and Justice Gerard La Forest, Sparrow Decision, 1990.

In the landmark Sparrow decision, the Supreme Court of Canada judges made reference to the following statement by Professor Noel Lyon: “Section 35 calls for a just settlement for aboriginal peoples. It renounces the old rules of the game under which the Crown established courts of law and denied those courts the authority to question sovereign claims made by the Crown.”

Reconciliation will almost invariably involve a rigorous debate between the guardians of the status quo, who see treaties between Indigenous peoples and the Crown as being one-time historic transactions, destined to condemn First Nation peoples to a lifetime of poverty, and those who are seeking fundamental change through the application of judicially mandated treaty interpretation principles required to realize the true meaning and legal effect of these treaties. MORE

Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigns amid SNC-Lavalin furor

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to Gerald Butts as he arrives to speak at the Royal York Hotel in 2015. Butts, Trudeau’s top policy aide and closest confidant since their university days at McGill University, stepped down Monday.  (STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

OTTAWA — Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary and long-time friend, has resigned amid allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office interfered to prevent a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

In a statement, Butts unequivocally denies the accusation that he or anyone else in the office improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help the Montreal engineering giant avoid a criminal case on corruption and bribery charges related to government contracts in Libya.

Nevertheless, Butts says the allegation is distracting from the “vital work” Trudeau is doing so it’s in the best interests of the Prime Minister’s Office for him to step aside.

Butts has confirmed that Wilson-Raybould briefly raised the matter of SNC-Lavalin during a meeting in December; he advised her to speak with the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick. MORE

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