The rise of the rights of nature

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A global movement to give nature rights is growing in the face of a mass extinction eventdriven by climate change and human over-use of the natural world.

Recent assessments show one third of freshwater fish species under threat of extinction alongside at least one quarter of local livestock breeds, and large numbers of the bees, bats and birds which pollinate crops. Linked to the decline of species, in the last two decades alone around 20 percent of the land we use to grow food has become less productive. Responding to these and other threats to nature, as well as high-profile campaigns like Extinction Rebellion, initiatives are increasingly taking root from the United States to India, and Ecuador to Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal, that give rights to nature.

They aim to respect and protect the living environment, and change how human society relates to its own supporting biosphere. In February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio, approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, suffering heavy pollution, rights normally associated with a person. But the story which brought this shift to international attention was the tale of a river in New Zealand.

On March 20th, 2017, the New Zealand government passed legislation recognizing the Whanganui River as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. The river – or those acting for it – will now be able to sue for its own protection under the law. This was no overnight innovation; it was the culmination of two centuries of physical and legal struggle by the Whanganui people against colonial control of the river and its water, including eight years of intensive negotiation.

The final settlement is considered one of the best examples of using existing legal structures and concepts to protect nature. It also prescribes an unusually advanced form of collaborative governance that may inspire others and prove useful for rapid transition in the face of climate change. Accepting a non human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world. MORE

How Insane is Global Trade?

Watch and Share our 3-Minute Film:

The way trade works in the global economy can be insane – it wastes resources, worsens climate change, and undermines the livelihoods of millions of small-scale producers worldwide. Yet it is an almost unavoidable consequence of de-regulatory ‘free trade’ agreements and the billions of dollars in supports and subsidies – many of them hidden – that prop up the global economy.

To raise awareness about this issue, we’ve produced a short film and a fully-referenced factsheet that helps to explain how and why ‘insane trade’ happens:

Read our ‘Insane Trade’ Factsheet (PDF)


Nancy Pelosi says new NAFTA not possible without worker rights in Mexico
Tariffs raise ‘serious questions’ about NAFTA ratification, Freeland says


Hanes: Montreal takes small but important step in climate change fight

Mayor Valérie Plante announces city officials will reduce travel and offset their carbon footprint by buying credits.

Mayor Valérie Plante: “We need to invest massively in public transit systems versus investing massively in roads.” PIERRE OBENDRAUF / MONTREAL GAZETTE

When Mayor Valérie Plante jets off to Buenos Aires to attend an international summit of cultural cities, she will offset the 2.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases the trip will generate by purchasing carbon credits.

At city hall on Tuesday, Plante announced that all travel by elected officials, political staff and municipal employees will from now on be evaluated on the basis of necessity and the most ecological way to get there. And all air travel will be compensated by buying credits to the Bourse du carbone Scol’ERE, a program that funds environmental education for schoolchildren.

Plante didn’t offer a target for reducing travel or emissions or even say how much money is budgeted to buy credits. (Bourse du carbone Scol’ERE says one credit, which equals one tonne of carbon dioxide, costs $26.09). But she did say that about 150 trips were taken last year by city representatives and she has already minimized her own travel for environmental as well as family and financial reasons.

This isn’t a move that is going to single-handedly save the planet. And it’s a small gesture given the magnitude of the problem humanity is facing. But at least it’s also a show of leadership in the fight against climate change during a week where it has been sorely lacking. MORE


Why Ed Markey, the Co-Sponsor of the Green New Deal, May Be Hopeful For Its Chances

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U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Jesse Costa/WBUR; Kathy Willens/AP)

Last Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate made a mockery of the Green New Deal by forcing, without discussion, an up-or-down “bluff vote” on the resolution. Referencing a climate deniers’ laugh line about livestock flatulence, in reference to the resolution’s mention of the high levels of methane that farm animals produce, Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, called the proposal an “assault on cars, cows, and combustion.”

Markey replied, “Climate change is not a joke. Mocking it and comparing it to cartoon characters while the Midwest is flooded and people have died because of climate-related extreme weather is shameful.”

On Wednesday, in the House, Ocasio-Cortez delivered an impassioned response to Representative Sean Duffy’s dismissal of the deal as a fantasy for “rich liberals.” The next day, at a rally for President Trump, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the crowd took to chanting a new mantra: “A.O.C. sucks.”

The Green New Deal proposal calls for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era.” The Nuclear Freeze era has relevance, too, as a reminder of what is possible. Even as the pragmatic Democratic leadership shies away from the full-bore ambitions of the Green New Deal—more modestly proposing, for example, to salvage U.S. support for the Paris Climate Accord—the politics of environmental catastrophe have already shifted.

When a wave of public recognition begins to crest, what is mocked, or even condescendingly dismissed as merely aspirational, can yet redefine American purposes. It happened before. MORE

Canada’s environment department didn’t think the Trans Mountain purchase was a fossil fuel subsidy

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna speaks at a news conference in Halifax on Sept. 19, 2018. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Julie Gelfand says she’s never clashed with a federal department over one of her recommendations in the five years she’s been Canada’s environment watchdog.

On Tuesday, when the commissioner of environment and sustainable development tabled her final reports in Parliament before she leaves the position this fall, that streak ended.

Finance Canada rejected her recommendation that, in its hunt for favourable tax measures for the oil and gas industry, the department take into account evidence that integrates economic, social, and environmental sustainability on an equal basis.

“Disagreed,” the department retorted. Some of those considerations, it argued, may be more “relevant” than others.

She also found that the federal Environment Department did not consider the Canadian government’s $4.5 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project in its ongoing assessment of corporate handouts to the oil and gas sector.

The pipeline purchase, completed by the Trudeau government last summer, is among a series of federal investments, including some “that were designed to increase production of fossil fuels and manage waste from oil sands production” that should have been on a list of subsidies, said Gelfand’s audit.

Oil and gas subsidies punish clean technology companies by tilting the market in favour of carbon polluting energy sources that hurt Canada’s chances at tackling climate change. MORE

Ban on plastic bags comes close to reality in a 3rd state

Plastic bags are seen stuck to the branches of a tree in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. Photo by The Associated Press/Mary Altaffer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature have reached a deal to make New York the third state with a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags as they worked to finalize budget agreements, officials said Friday.

The ban would prohibit grocery stores from providing plastic bags for most purchases, something California has been doing since a statewide ban was approved in 2016. Hawaii has an effective statewide ban, with all its counties imposing their own restrictions.

Supporters of such bans say they keep plastic bags from entering the environment and causing damage to ecosystems and waterways.

“With this smart, multi-pronged action New York will be leading the way to protect our natural resources now and for future generations of New Yorkers,” Cuomo, who proposed a ban in his $175 billion budget proposal, said in a statement Friday. MORE

‘He’s toast’: B.C. Indigenous leader slams Trudeau for booting Wilson-Raybould from caucus
WATCH: Wilson-Raybould and Philpott booted from Liberal caucus

A prominent B.C. Indigenous leader is not mincing words when it comes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s expulsion of Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus.

“He’s toast, absolutely toast,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“Once again Mr. Trudeau has demonstrated his arrogance and did absolutely the worst thing he could possibly do. There’s going to be an enormous backlash across the country in terms of Indigenous people,” Phillip said.

“I think it’s pretty much the death knell of reconciliation. I think it’s dead in the water.”

On the west coast, where the Liberals currently hold a historic 18 seats, political scientist David Moscrop said Tuesday’s drama could have an impact come election time, though he said things could still shift with months to go before the election.

Moscrop pointed to approximately 70 ridings across Canada that were won by five per cent or less in 2015, nine of which are in B.C.

“The Liberals were bolstered by a growth in youth turnout and Indigenous turnout that went to work for them. Those are going to be hard to recapture this time around.”  MORE


First Nations leaders condemn Wilson-Raybould’s removal from caucus
‘This situation is only going to deepen’: Wilson-Raybould warned of Indigenous anger if dumped from AG role

Trudeau boots Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from Liberal caucus

Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. File photo by Andrew Meade

Former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott have been kicked out of the Liberal Party of Canada caucus.

“I am here to announce that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are not longer members of the liberal caucus,” Trudeau said to a sombre-looking gathering of his caucus. “The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken.”

Moments before he began speaking, Wilson-Raybould shared the news herself, getting ahead of the prime minister before he began the televised address.

“I have just been informed by the prime minister of Canada that I am removed from the Liberal caucus and as the confirmed Vancouver Granville candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election,” Wilson-Raybould tweeted with Liberal MPs gathered on Parliament Hill to decide her fate.

Wilson-Raybould, who wrote to her fellow Liberals earlier Tuesday in hopes of convincing them to let her stay, stepped down from Trudeau’s cabinet in February after he shuffled her out of the coveted justice portfolio, following a bombshell media report in the Globe and Mail that revealed she had been pressured to intervene in the criminal prosecution of Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin over corruption and fraud charges. MORE

The stifling conformity of party discipline

Seeking information, offering suggestions, arguing, saying no — these are all things that backbenchers should be doing regularly inside caucus.

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burning question for observers of the SNC-Lavalin affair is whether former cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, who publicly opposed actions of their government, will be cut loose from the Liberal caucus. While some, including former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps, urge retribution, others in the party admire these MPs and want them to stay on. Whatever the pair’s political future, my research around party discipline suggests they can expect some rough treatment and career drudgery in the Liberal caucus.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege of interviewing 125 current and former politicians and political staff for a book I am writing about how party discipline has intensified in Canada in recent years. A common theme raised by current and former members of cabinet, party leaders, party whips, private members and political staff is that everyone affiliated with a political party identifies as a member of a team. They form bonds as they go on a journey together to realize common goals. Sparring with adversaries occurs with the confidence that teammates have your back. Members understand they must never be a public distraction for the team leader.

Here are snippets of what some current MPs told me in the months before the SNC-Lavalin story:

In a government caucus, there are those in cabinet, and there are those working hard to join it. Backbenchers know that when they go astray of a certain whipped vote, it doesn’t help their ambitions. We keep saying this is a team sport, but the House of Commons was not set up to be a team sport. — Liberal MP

To rise above the party positions and the leadership’s positions that got you elected is a form of narcissistic conceit. For you to go out against the party line on something, guess what? People aren’t going to vote for you because you’re bucking the party line. It might be once in four years that you can take a different position. — Conservative MP

When I got elected, I naively expected that caucus was the place where MPs could have a free and frank discussion of issues of the day. The biggest single disappointment upon becoming an MP was finding that caucus meetings were structured to begin with the head table sort of providing us with our marching orders. — New Democratic Party MP

Photo: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a standing ovation from caucus members as he speaks at the Liberal national caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Within a political team, there is considerable deference to authority, and individual behaviour conforms to social and institutional norms. Many backbenchers — that is, members who are not part of cabinet — find national caucus meetings to be stifling rather than enlightening. The leadership says they should come to the microphone to share opinions, but there is so much fear that people bottle things up. They loathe the watchful eyes of powerful staff in the leader’s office and who appear to lack respect for the elected.