We are full of bright ideas to solve ecological problems. So let’s act on them

There is hope in the face of environmental crises. But we must all – farmers, citizens, politicians – embrace change


 ‘Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree at Knepp in West Sussex have turned a failing farm into a rewilded, ecological haven with loads of biodiversity.’ Photograph: Anthony Cullen/The Guardian

A new UN report is set to reveal that up to 1m species face extinction because of human actions. The loss of pollinating insects and other ecological disasters – from the destruction of flood-saving mangroves to air pollution – poses no less of a threat than climate change, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

We are triggering a mass extinction event, and critically we cannot separate one environmental crisis from another. Biodiversity loss cannot be partitioned from climate change, or from human population growth or pollution or plastics in our oceans. These challenges are all interconnected. We face an ecology of environmental concerns, and if we continue to consider these problems in partitioned isolation, solutions will continue to emerge far too slowly.

The IPBES report reveals that 3.2 billion people are suffering from degraded soils. We cannot feed our planet’s growing population by destroying its soil. And soil erosion is also fuelling climate change because that earth contains three times more carbon than is in the atmosphere. Soil-destroying chemical farming means there are no insects or skylarks above our fields – and so we’re experiencing this tragic loss of biodiversity.

The connections between these crises make solutions seem all too dauntingly difficult. But in fact, a solution to one problem will inevitably make a positive impact on many others too. More than 28,000 people are dying because of polluted air each year in Britain and air pollution is linked to psychotic experiences and a reduction in educational achievement. It’s not rocket science: improving air quality in our cities by cutting polluting vehicles will bring a vast range of benefits to human health, and help tackle climate change too. That’s a simple binary example of the ecology of crisis.

George Monbiot advocates taking land out of meat production and rewilding it. This will boost biodiversity enormously but will also tackle global warming because those rewilded, rewetted lands will capture significantly more carbon. If these lands are also opened up for us to enjoy, our physical and mental health will flourish. Thus we repair the ecology of destruction.

It can be difficult to know what we can do as individuals – but at least we all possess an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how farming, consumption and energy-use impacts upon the planet, hence the growth of the vegan movement. Lifestyle changes are always worth doing, but seldom as simple as they seem. As I found during Veganuary, it wasn’t too difficult to go vegan but that didn’t automatically mean I was eating ethically or in an environmentally friendly way: some of my vegan food was over-packaged and filled with palm oil.


 ‘The Extinction Rebellion protests made a difference to environmental debates in the House of Commons.’ Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

If I make a change, it’s me. If both of us do, it’s we. That’s how things grow. The youth climate strikes have been an incredible act of self-empowerment for that generation. I hope their confidence will grow and grow. At the moment they are campaigning about the climate; I hope that next they’ll be campaigning about how they can’t hear any birds singing. MORE

Mount Polley Mine is Still Pumping Waste Into Quesnel Lake

Pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day


Hazeltine Creek after the Mount Polley disaster. © Bonnie Glambeck

August 4 will mark the day, five years ago, when the tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine breached, dumping the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of copper and gold mining wastewater into nearby Quesnel Lake.

The remote, glacially fed lake – the deepest in BC and claimed to be the ninth deepest in the world – sits nearly centred and slightly east of a line drawn between Prince George and Kamloops. The lake is an important nursery for Pacific salmon and home to trophy-size rainbow trout, lake trout and Dolly Varden.

“Approximately four million salmon annually move through the Fraser River watershed, and 30% of those come from Quesnel Lake,” said Judith Pringle of the group Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, in a webinar presentation in May.

Imperial Metals, the owner of Mount Polley mine, has faced no fines, no penalties, and no charges in connection with the disaster. On the contrary, Imperial Metals was granted a permit to forego a tailings dam altogether.

“In 2017 the Ministry of Environment (MOE) very quietly gave the mine a permit to build a pipeline from [their] treatment plant, taking all of their mine waste water directly into Quesnel Lake,” Pringle said.

The treatment plant feeding the pipeline removes sediment, nitrates, and phosphates. Not removed from the wastewater are possible contaminants such as copper, selenium, aluminum, iron, and lead, said Pringle.

Twin two-foot diameter pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day.

“Other mines can remove copper and various other metals,” said Pringle. “It’s not a difficult process, it is not expensive, but the Ministry of Environment continues to treat Polley as a special case.” MORE

First Nations push for massive conservation area in northern British Columbia

First Nations in northern B.C. are calling for a 40,000-square-kilometre conservation area to protect major watersheds and sensitive species.


The Horse Ranch area of Kaska Dena traditional territories in northern British Columbia is shown in this undated handout photo. First Nations in northern British Columbia are calling on the provincial government to endorse an ambitious proposal for a 40,000-square-kilometre conservation area to protect major watersheds and sensitive species. MAUREEN GARRITY / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The proposal would cover the ancestral areas of three Kaska Dena First Nations and would be larger than Vancouver Island, taking up a massive section of north-central B.C.

Premier John Horgan’s government hasn’t said whether it supports or opposes the idea after seven months of phone calls, letters and meetings with officials from various ministries, say the project’s proponents.

“They’ve never said No, but they’ve never said Yes, and they’ve never said they would sit down and negotiate what it would look like. That’s all we’re asking at this point,” said David Crampton of the Dena Kayeh Institute, which is spearheading the project.

“We’re not sure why. We have no idea really what’s going on in the background of all this.”

The First Nations have applied for $4 million in federal government funding for the project, known as the Kaska Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, and now fear it won’t receive funding because B.C. hasn’t signed on.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has been supportive, said Crampton.

“But she’s drawing her reins in a little bit because of the complacency of the provincial government, at this point, to make any kind of move at all,” he said.

The provincial and federal governments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The plan has been more than two decades in the making. Horgan was a staff member in B.C.’s New Democrat government in the 1990s, which worked with the Kaska to create what was then one of the largest protected areas in the world, the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area.

The proposed new conservation area includes part of the Muskwa-Kechika.

The new area covers a vast, roadless area stretching to the Yukon border in the north, the slopes of the Rockies in the east, the Cassiar Mountains on the west, and to the Rocky Mountain Trench — between the Rockies and the Cassiar — in the south.

Crampton said the proposal was carefully designed to avoid forestry and other resource extraction areas. It lies between natural gas deposits and the Site C dam project in the east, and mining and other resource projects in the west. MORE

No business case for TMX, says former Liberal environment minister

‘No credible evidence’ to suggest Asia will be a reliable market for bitumen, David Anderson says


The federal cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline by Tuesday. (John Gibson/CBC)

A former Liberal environment minister is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet to reject the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, arguing there is no economic basis for the project.

David Anderson, who served 10 years in the cabinets of prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, sent letters to six members of Trudeau’s cabinet this week asking them to dismiss the pipeline proposal.

“There is no credible evidence to suggest that Asia is likely to be a reliable or a significant market for Alberta bitumen,” Anderson wrote in the letter dated June 11.

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday. Given Trudeau’s government bought the pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion, it’s widely anticipated to give it the green light.

Anderson holds a law degree and served eight of his 10 years in cabinet as the senior federal minister for British Columbia. While he was environment minister in 2002, Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. He is now an honorary director of West Coast Environmental Law and has previously spoken out against the Trans Mountain project.

His letter doesn’t focus on the climate and environmental impacts of the expansion. Instead, he took aim at the economic argument for the project, which he described as the “perceived need for a pipeline connection with tidewater in order to sell Alberta bitumen in Asian markets, where, so it is claimed, it would find new purchasers.”

Building a new pipeline will not change the market.– David Anderson, former federal environment minister


David Anderson is pictured behind then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien in the House of Commons on Nov. 6, 2003. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

“With respect, you and other government ministers have yet to provide evidence in support of that hope,” he wrote.

Anderson wrote that Asian refineries have better supply options than Alberta. Compared with conventional light and medium crude oil from Nigeria and the Middle East, Alberta bitumen is expensive to produce, hard to handle and provides no security of supply advantages, he said.

Further, he said despite access to tidewater through unused pipeline capacity in the existing system and through American Gulf of Mexico ports, Alberta’s bitumen has not found or developed any significant offshore market in Asia or anywhere else. MORE

What’s the Big Deal With a Few Degrees?

Katharine Anne Scott Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center

Katherine Hayhoe is a superb teacher. In this video, she explains why a 2 degree temperature rise is a very big deal and why it is critical that we try to avoid it.

Every Tuesday from Jun 18 thru Sept 3, the @NOAA weekly webinars will feature National Climate Assessment authors talking about how climate change is impacting sectors from transportation to health. These fantastic webinars are open to the public.


 

New energy efficient buildings aren’t enough, experts say — we have to retrofit the old ones, too

Canada Green Building Council says building sector has tremendous opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint


Vancouver’s The Exchange hotel was formerly the Vancouver Stock Exchange. It’s now waiting on its LEED plantinum certification. (The Exchange)

The Canada Green Building Conference is taking place in Vancouver this week, and a major portion of the program will be pushing the need to retrofit older buildings to reduce their carbon footprint.

Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council, says buildings contribute about 30 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions — mostly because of their heating, lighting, and cooling systems.

Cities like Vancouver have taken the lead in constructing low-emission buildings. But Mueller says new buildings alone won’t be enough for Canada to reach its targets to reduce greenhouse gases.

“We can’t build our way out of it,” Mueller said in a phone interview ahead of the conference.

Green development advocates like Mueller say the building sector may be one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, but it also has “tremendous opportunity” to affect change.

“It’s the only sector in our economy where we actually have a financial benefit by doing the right thing,” he said.

Retrofitting options

There are about 250,000 large buildings in Canada, Mueller says.

To reduce their carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, up to 60,000 of the existing buildings over 25,000 square feet would need to become 20 to 40 per cent more efficient.

Older buildings can be made more efficient through improvements like installing double-glazed windows, more efficient furnaces and LED lights. MORE

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