Green rift opens over federal party’s stance on Alberta’s oilsands

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May makes her way from Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 18, 2019. The federal Green’s platform calls on continued use - in Canada - of oil and gas from domestic sources and has drawn fire from some of the party’s provincial counterparts.

OTTAWA—The federal Green Party’s openness to continued activity in Alberta’s oilsands has created a rift with some supporters — including party leaders in two provinces — who want to rapidly shut down the industry that employs tens of thousands of people and is responsible for a large portion of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec, is spearheading the dissent and calling on the federal Greens to change their environmental platform ahead of the national election on Oct. 21. In an interview Wednesday, Tyrrell accused federal Green Leader Elizabeth May of being too soft on the oilsands because her party’s platform would allow the industry to continue operating for decades to come.

Tyrrell said he agrees with “90 per cent” of the proposals in the plan, but that he’s troubled by this aspect of the Green platform that he argued is out of sync with the more ardent side of the environmental movement and will discourage some voters from supporting the federal party.

Two weeks ago, he launched a website calling on May to change the platform and support the “rapid shut down” of the oilsands within the first mandate of a Green government, while investing heavily to support the estimated 140,000 people who work in the industry. The site includes a list of Green members supporting his call, including Saskatchewan Green Leader Shawn Setyo and several current and former Green election candidates.

He said almost 500 people have signed a petition urging the federal party to take a harder stance against the oilsands, and also strengthen the federal carbon price designed by the current Liberal government.

Speaking by phone from a community tour in Orillia, Ont., May defended her party’s plan as a “hugely ambitious” blueprint for political action to slash emissions in accordance with what the international community of climate scientists has called for. The plan seeks all-party co-operation to tackle the crisis of climate change and rapidly reduce emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — double the government’s current target — and then to net zero by 2050.

The plan would also halt all new development of fossil fuels in Canada — including multi-billion dollar natural gas export projects — and stop all oil and gas imports from other countries. In their place, May proposes that Canada use energy that’s already produced here for domestic needs while the country shifts to 100 per cent renewable energy. By 2050, the Greens would ensure all bitumen produced in Canada would be used only for the petrochemical industry, but May said the country will need to stop burning fossil fuels “well before” that. MORE

As BC Housing Starts to Blow Past Forecasts, NDP’s Critics Fall Silent

Not long ago BC Libs and friends warned of ‘plummeting’ into ‘economic winter.’ Now, crickets.

BC Finance Minister Carole James. Construction forecasts are surging to record levels. The opposition isn’t cheering. Photo source: BC Government Flickr.

Another day, another discussion of housing by B.C.’s legislators. Except this one, on June 10, was measurably different. B.C. Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier Carole James unveiled to the legislative budget committee some show-stopping statistics about housing starts in the province.

Namely, that residential-home construction “has significantly increased over the past three years.” In fact, given April’s statistics, the province was on track to see 51,093 housing starts in 2019. “Which,” said James, “is a very strong number.”

That last sentence may be the understatement of the year.

If B.C. does surpass 51,000 housing starts this year that not only would be a “very strong number,” it would be astonishing and extraordinary. MORE


Budget surplus means B.C. on track to provide universal child care, but ICBC still losing money
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EPA will not ban use of controversial pesticide linked to children’s health problems

The agency says the widely used chemical chlorpyrifos is an important tool for the nation’s farmers.

A foreman watches workers pick fruit in a California orchard in 2004. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a petition by environmental and public health groups Thursday to ban a widely used pesticide that has been linked to neurological damage in children, even though a federal court said last year there was “no justification” for such a decision.

In a notice to the Federal Register on Thursday, the agency wrote that “critical questions remained regarding the significance of the data” that suggests that chlorpyrifos causes neurological damage in young children. The agency said that the Obama administration’s decision to ban the product — used on more than 50 crops, including grapes, broccoli and strawberries — was based on epidemiological studies rather than direct tests on animals, which have historically been used by the EPA to determine a pesticide’s safety.

The EPA’s decision, which represented a win for industry, drew swift condemnation from groups that have pushed for years to remove the pesticide from the market.

“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children’s brains,” Patti Goldman, an attorney for the environmental law organization Earthjustice, said in a statement. “It is a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children’s health.” MORE


Canada to ban most chlorpyrifos uses



This map shows how hot you’re going to get without climate action

If we continue business as usual, by the middle of the century the average number of days that feel hotter than 100 degrees will more than double.

[Photo: Mike C. Valdivia/Unsplash]

If you grew up in New York City in the 1990s, you might have experienced a couple of days each year when the heat index—the combination of heat and humidity that explains how a temperature feels—climbed above 100 degrees. By the end of the century, it could feel that way as many as 42 days a year. In Atlanta, the number of days with a 100-degree-plus heat index could jump from 6 to 82; in Miami, it could go from 16 to 153.

new report and a peer-reviewed study mapped out how extreme heat could increase across the country if global emissions continue on their current trajectory. “We know that extreme heat events are becoming more extreme and more frequent,” says Erika Spanger-Siegfried, lead climate analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the nonprofit that worked on the study. “We wanted people to be able to see . . . what’s next, and to be able to take action to steer us in a different direction.”

[Image: Union of Concerned Scientists]

By the middle of the century, under a business-as-usual scenario, the average number of days that feel hotter than 100 degrees would more than double. The average number of days that feel hotter than 105 would more than quadruple by midcentury, and by the end of the century, there would be eight times more than there have been historically. An interactive map shows the impacts in detail across the country, and a search tool shows the details for specific cities.

Extreme heat will hit the South hardest, where some areas could experience the equivalent of three months a year that feel hotter than 105 degrees. But the heat will impact almost everyone. By the middle of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue, around 400 cities will feel hotter than 90 degrees more than 30 days a year. Two hundred and fifty of those cities will feel hotter than 100 degrees for the equivalent of a month or more. Many areas will experience days so hot they’re “off the charts,” or hotter than the National Weather Service’s heat index, which currently tops out around 127 (depending on the combination of temperature and humidity).

“The kind of heat we’re talking about is not just an inconvenience, it’s dangerous,” says Spanger-Siegfried. Extreme heat kills more people in the United States than any other type of weather disaster. Even in areas where people are accustomed to heat, people may not be able to work outside. Children may not be able to play outside. In areas that have historically been cooler, air-conditioning may not be common.


What is ‘ecocide’ and why did Extinction Rebellion park their boat outside the law courts?

Oxford Circus boat
Protesters occupied Oxford Circus as part of Extinction Rebellion demonstrations. Getty Images

Earlier this week Extinction Rebellion parked a blue boat outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and occupied the busy London street with a sit-down protest, causing traffic jams and commuter chaos. It came at the start of a week of protest events around the country.

This is not the first time the non-violent environmental protest group have caused disruption in London. In April this year, they occupied Oxford Circus (where they parked a pink boat) and brought traffic on Waterloo Bridge to a standstill with 11 days of protests that the group described as the ‘biggest act of civil disobedience in recent British history’.

But while some protesters have been arrested for public order offences, the demonstration outside the High Court was not related to any of those cases. Instead, it was in memory of an environmental lawyer called Polly Higgins who died earlier this year, and (among other demands) to promote her proposal for a new international law criminalising ‘ecocide’.

What is ‘ecocide’?

According to the Stop Ecocide campaign, ‘Ecocide is serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems including climate and cultural damage.  We believe ecocide should be recognised as an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court – alongside Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.’

A more legalistic definition of ecocide states that it involves ‘loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies), such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.’ (‘Peaceful enjoyment’ in this context means ‘peace, health and cultural integrity’.)

That definition comes from the website Ecocide Law which further explains that ‘Despite the existence of many international agreements – codes of conduct, UN Resolutions, Treaties, Conventions, Protocols etc – the harm is escalating. Not one of these international agreements prohibits ecocide. The power of ecocide crime is that it creates a legal duty of care that holds persons of “superior responsibility” to account in a criminal court of law.’

They argue that if ecocide is established as an international crime, prosecutions could be brought by nations who are signatories to the Rome Statute, under which the International Criminal Court operates.

A model law

model law has been drafted that would amend the Rome Statute to create a specific offence of ecocide. It would create ‘an international and transboundary duty of care’ both on governments or relevant ministers and businesses who exercise rights over a given territory to ‘ensure ecocide does not occur’.

The statute currently recognises four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and (since 2010) the crime of aggression. The ICC can only investigate and prosecute those crimes in situations where states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

Any signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court can propose an amendment, but such an amendment requires the support of a two-thirds majority of the states parties, and will not enter into force until it has been ratified by seven-eighths of the states parties. This process is likely to take some time, even if a state party takes the first step of proposing the necessary amendment. However, it has been done before, by the addition of the crime of aggression in 2010. So it is certainly not impossible.

Can it work?

Although it may sound unfamiliar, the concept of ecocide is not new. Use of the term goes back half a century, to the early 1970s when the use of chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War were condemned by environmentalists as a form of ecocide. It appears to have been included in the early versions of the Draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (as the Rome Statute was initially known), but was dropped by the time it had been formalised and signed as the Rome Statute of the International Court in 1998.

Polly Higgins proposed adding it back in to the Statute at the United Nations in 2010 and continued to campaign for such an amendment, most recently at the Hague Talks to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 2018. But it is clear that such amendment could be a long and drawn out process and, even if successful, it could be many years before any prosecutions were concluded.

How effective would such a remedy be as a deterrent to environmental destruction which, by its nature, needs both urgent and concerted international action. Is transnational criminal law really the best instrument to use? MORE

How a wealth tax could help Canadians

Jagmeet Singh reaches out to delegates as he leaves an NDP convention stage with Gurkiran Kaur on Feb. 17, 2018 in Ottawa. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Canada’s NDP has proposed a one per cent tax on wealth over $20 million as part of its election platform. The party doesn’t include much detail yet but estimates it could generate several billion dollars a year.

Pundits have been quick to pounce on a wealth tax as too extreme, difficult or costly. A National Post column last month asked: “What is the problem to which creating a wealth tax is a solution?”

Growing inequality is the problem.

The richest families in Canada are now more than 4,400 times wealthier than the average family, according to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

This widening gap has gone hand-in-hand with declining social and economic mobility. The CCPA found that family dynasties are more likely to keep their money in the family than they were two decades ago thanks to light taxes and loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthy, while Statistics Canada recently reported that family income mobility has declined since the 1980s.

The idea of a wealth tax sparked more interest earlier this year after Democratic leadership contender and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a two per cent tax on those with more than US$50 million in assets, with the rate rising to three per cent for fortunes over US$1 billion.

“The Ultra-Millionaire Tax” would target all assets, from closely held businesses to residences outside the country. Warren estimates it would bring in US$2.7 trillion over a decade ⁠— revenue she would use to reverse staggering inequality in the country through measures such as universal child care and free tuition at public colleges.

Rising disparity is a global problem, and it’s not just progressive politicians who are pointing out the need for increased taxes on wealth.

Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — hardly left-wing organizations — have highlighted growing inequality of wealth as a problem and suggested that countries increase taxes on wealth and capital.

Some argue that wealth taxes would lead to a mass exodus of wealthy entrepreneurs, hurting Canadian investment. Yet, an OECD study found that wealth taxes led to little in the way of real declines in investment and aren’t necessarily bad for the economy. MORE


Canadian dynasties richer than ever as wealth gap continues to widen: study

Update on the campaign to promote Ecocide Law

The Polly Higgins: Sailing into British national news

Polly's funeral procession

This week, 5 cities in the UK had Extinction Rebellion boats blocking the roads to bring awareness to climate and ecological emergency.  The London boat was blue, parked in front of the Royal Courts of Justice – and was named Polly Higgins!    Extinction Rebellion hoisted a flag saying “MAKE ECOCIDE LAW”.

Jojo Mehta (above) was invited to speak about Polly and the campaign, and was interviewed by a number of journalists, even ending up on the national evening news (Channel 4).   

You can see Real Media’s excellent piece about the event below (approx 12 mins).

Extinction Rebellion has been spreading the word about us on social media for a while now, and has explicitly endorsed the campaign, see HERE.

As Jojo noted in her speech, major freedoms won in the past – from the banning of slavery to the suffragettes, from conscientious objectors to civil rights – have always had two key components: a strong grassroots movement and legal changes.

So there is a strong complementarity here… and while not every Earth Protector may want to blockade the streets, we think everyone blockading the streets will want to be an Earth Protector and help bring about ecocide law.

Ecocide TV panel show

The last month has been all about raising the profile of ecocide law, especially in the UK.  The above video is a TV panel show called RoundTable – this episode first aired on Sky at the end of June and is now available on YouTube.  Jojo Mehta took part alongside lawyers and academics to discuss Polly Higgins’ work and the potential of ecocide law.