Canada’s wisest policy: stealing policies from other countries

Canada has a rich tradition of thievery – and it’s a good thing we do. Much of our success comes from adopting sound policies that have already proven successful elsewhere.

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We implemented employment insurance in 1935, a full 15 years after it was introduced in Britain. We achieved universal health care in the early 1970s, a decade after many European countries. We adopted the GST 25 years ago, following a global trend toward “value-added taxes” that was already mature by the time we came on the scene.

The same is true of carbon pricing. It may be a contentious policy in Canada today, but there is nothing Canadian about carbon pricing; we introduced it here precisely because it works so well in other countries.

It should not be surprising that some Canadian provinces adopted carbon pricing 15 years after the first systems appeared overseas. Not only is putting a price on pollution – any kind of pollution – the most efficient way to clean up the environment, it’s an old, proven idea that prioritizes the power of markets over the power of government.

Compelling evidence comes from two of the planet’s oldest pollution-pricing systems.

Sweden has the world’s highest carbon tax, and introduced it in 1991. It took some tinkering, but the Swedes ultimately got it right. Economists estimate that just five years in, the carbon tax had reduced Sweden’s emissions by 15 per cent relative to business as usual. Since 1995, Sweden’s total emissions are down by 25 per cent, emissions per unit of GDP are down by 65 per cent, and its economy has expanded 12 per cent faster than the EU average. So much for the idea that carbon taxes kill economic growth.

How exactly did Sweden’s carbon tax work to reduce emissions? One significant shift came from how its buildings are heated. Sweden uses district heating, where central units provide heat to entire blocks and neighbourhoods. Carbon taxes made biomass cost competitive with fossil fuels, and its use in heating quadrupled in just five years.

Another successful example of pollution pricing comes from the United States. Prices don’t just work for greenhouse gases; a price on any type of pollution can work, as long as it’s well-designed. Remember acid rain? It didn’t disappear on its own. The United States set up the world’s first cap-and-trade system in the 1990s and eliminated the problem in less than a generation.

Once 3,200 American power plants had to pay for their sulfur-dioxide emissions, they quickly came up with creative ways to reduce their emissions and avoid those costs. They rerouted rail cars to gain access to different types of coal and then experimented with them to produce fewer emissions. They also invested heavily in “scrubbers” that pull sulphur dioxide directly from the exhaust stream.

The U.S. policy was a success by any measure. After 10 years, sulfur-dioxide emissions had declined by 36 per cent, even though coal production had risen by 25 per cent. The program more than paid for itself and saved billions of dollars compared to less flexible and more intrusive regulatory approaches.

Now back to Canada. As we enter the federal election season, Canadians should ask themselves: how best should we reduce GHG emissions to fight climate change? MORE

Ford’s cuts to health care and our rights

Ontario Premier Doug Ford visits Joseph Brant Hospital to celebrate the completion and grand opening of its newly expanded facility. Image: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr
Image: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

Doug Ford’s government in Ontario is making dozens of cuts to health care, but I am especially concerned about those that affect reproductive health care and the LGBTQ+ community. Cuts are rarely the way to an inclusive, fair system.

I understand the monetary rationale behind stopping free prescriptions for children with parents who have private coverage. Yet, this is terrible for young women and transgender people. If a young person wishes to go on the pill but does not want their parents to know (due to fear of punishment), they cannot do that now if their parents have private coverage. While a doctor’s appointment is confidential, a prescription for birth control would be run through the parents’ plan. If a young person must ask their parents to pay for their contraceptive (whether they fear mistreatment or not), they are less likely to get any. Chances are this young person will have had only the rudimentary sex education the Ford government believes necessary, meaning they are likely to misuse other forms of contraception. From a completely monetary standpoint, which Ford clearly prefers, this is ridiculous. A young person unable to exercise contraception, due to misinformation or lack of education, increases health-care costs in the long run. Providing free prescriptions for the pill or IUDs would save the money Ford is so worried about.

Likewise, the dismissal of the improved, highly researched sex-ed curriculum in exchange for the archaic sex-ed I grew up with is troubling. I learned two things from my public school sex-ed:

1. “Abstinence is the only fail-safe method of birth control” and

2. How to label where the vas deferens is on a diagram.

I learned nothing about LGBTQ+ rights and sexualities, gender, consent, or bullying. The Ontario Liberals’ sex-ed would have instilled at least a surface-level acceptance of non-binary, transgender, and non-cis/non-hetero sexualities.

Not by coincidence, Ford has cut mental health by over $330 million a year. This disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ people. When you cut funding from mental health, you are cutting off the lifelines of those who are the most vulnerable to PTSD, suicide, depression, anxiety, and abuse.

Removing most of the LGBTQ+ aspects from sex-ed and cutting mental health is Ford’s way of saying that health rights are only for his people — the ones he chooses to spend time with instead of attending the Pride parade.

Another aspect of reproductive rights is a person’s right to give birth with whom and where they choose. The absolute slaughter of the funding to the Ontario College of Midwives last year struck very close to my heart. In 2017 I had a baby using a midwife. I chose midwifery after a less-than-satisfactory treatment of a miscarriage by an OB-GYN. I elected to have my baby at home. Had I gone to the hospital, the cost to the province would have been $5,000 to $8,000 (even without a C-section). Instead, I saved the health-care system thousands of dollars. Given the fabulous care my midwives provided (including an emergency episiotomy), I was absolutely horrified to hear the government cut the funding that helps keep training up to date. If Ford truly wished to save money, he would encourage people to use midwives, increase their funding, and be supportive of home birth (for those who can safely do it). In truth, Ford couldn’t care less about women’s health, only short-term savings.

Ford has also cut out-of-country health insurance beginning in October.  MORE

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Canadian health care will be front and centre in both Canadian and U.S. elections

CarbonWise: From caring to climate action

Climate Action Powell River

“Climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wakeup call.” ~ Naomi Klein

If there is one thing that distinguishes us as human beings, it is our capacity to care. What makes human caring unique (and morally significant) is that we can develop into beings who care for non-human species, forests and oceans, indeed, for the planet itself.

No doubt you are thinking: “Well, if that is really true, then why have we done so many things that cause such great damage to the earth, and inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering on other animals?”

It is important to grasp here that the capacity to care, like any other human capability, must be nurtured, developed and strengthened through education, mentoring and in practical contexts of action.

When we experience sorrow, pain or loss in our lives and someone gives up their time to be there for us, we begin to grasp what it means to care. At a broader level, when we see others gathering together and engaged in community projects and initiatives that demonstrate love, caring and respect for the biosphere, the land and the water, we are captivated and motivated to act.

In a very real sense we become caring beings when we act in caring ways toward each other and the planet. We communicate the meaning of caring to others by recounting stories of people who embody it in their daily lives.

That we don’t often seem to act in a caring way toward the environment has a lot to do with the fact that since the industrial revolution, we have acquiesced to an economic system, which views our planet as nothing more than a “commodity,” or a means to the end of individual wealth, rather than a precious and fragile Earth that provides the very conditions of possibility for life itself.

What environmental science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made abundantly clear to us in the last year is that we need to care much more about our planet in the present for the sake of the future.

A new 39-minute documentary from the UK called The Race is On: Secrets and Solutions of Climate gives us a clue about what it means to care. It is both a sobering account of why governments avoid taking serious actions to mitigate climate warming, and an inspiring story of how we can rise to the challenge of climate disruption, encourage each other to care more and build a better future. Filmmaker and director of Global Sustainability Solutions Dr. James Dyke talks to leading scientists, economists, activists and entrepreneurs who not only understand what we need to do, but remind us that the solutions are out there; they are only waiting for us to act on them.

This documentary is online, free and available to all.

What we learn from it is that caring for our environment is not merely a feeling but more a way of acting toward the earth that demonstrates respect and love for the precious gift of life itself. SOURCE

The Race is On: Secrets and Solutions of Climate (2019)

Last Stand for the Garden of Eden

Howler Monkey

The riot of roads exploding across our planet—bringing with it tsunamis of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss—at times seems almost unstoppable.

But there are some places so special, such as Manu National Park in Peru, that should remain free of the Pandora’s box of disruption that roads bring.

The most biodiverse place on Earth

To wake at dawn under the forest canopy in Manu National Park is to experience Life.  Every niche, nook, and cranny is filled with it.

The deep chorus of howler monkeys in morning pounds through your chest.  Over 800 species of birds fill the trees.  Alligator-like caiman roar in the oxbow lakes, while endangered giant otters gather in playful gangs.

Jaguars are almost common here—some 6,000 of the giant cats are thought to prowl about the Park—and are one of 13 different cat species in this global biodiversity hotspot that just might be the most profound expression of life on Earth.

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Manu National Park is the glistening gem in Peru’s protected area network.  The 1.7-million-hectare World Heritage site in the Texas-sized province of Madre de Dios (“Mother of God” in Spanish), is the only park in South America that protects the entire watershed of a major Amazonian tributary, from the high Andes to the Amazonian lowlands.

No roads run through it…

Travel within Manu is by boat or by foot. Uncontacted indigenous people still live there despite the depredations a century ago by a wealthy rubber baron, Carlos Fitzcarrald.

With no access to Manu, Fitzcarrald dismantled an entire steamship and had it portaged through 12 kilometers of unchartered rainforest to the Manu watershed—in the process killing hundreds of indigenous people.  The survivors fled and their decedents remain in voluntary isolation today as uncontacted peoples.

Still no road runs through Manu.  But that could soon change.

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Until now

A new road is being built illegally to the mouth of the Manu River.  This will sweep to the notorious, illegal gold mining fields near Boca Colorado—an environmental and social travesty so bad it drew the ire of Pope Francis.  In a 2018 visit to the region, he decried the illegal gold miners and their “devastating assault on life”.

Mining, illegal loggers, and “agro-industrial monocultivation,” the Pope said, all threaten territories where indigenous people live.  These activities follow roads that slice and dice Earth’s ecosystems.

Nothing on Earth rivals road-building as a threat to nature.  Not even climate change.

The road to Manu began encroaching on the region in the 1960s.  It left the adjacent forest in tatters from illegal logging and wildlife poaching—with thousands of giant otters, jaguars, and black caiman killed annually.

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Despite some setbacks, the fatal road’s expansion continues. Politicians with ties to illegal gold mining are pushing it hard.  And the governor of Madre de Dios, himself a former illegal miner, clamors for the road—now a mere 100 kilometers away from the mouth of the Manu River.

By hook or—more likely—by corrupt crook, this road will continue to assault Eden unless the world wakes up and acts decisively. If completed, it is expected to cause the loss of over 43,000 hectares of rainforest—the equivalent of 100,000 football fields.

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The illusion of economic growth

The road is popular with local villagers because of the high cost of boat transport and the allure of quick economic growth.

But just scratching the surface reveals an alternative truth.  Just take the section of the road that has been there for 30 years.  It has led to negligible economic progress.  Any wealth generated by illegal resource extraction has bled to outsiders.

Elsewhere in the world, poorly planned roads in remote regions have to led, not to economic growth, but to increased local poverty as outside encroachers and foreign investors gobble up most of the profits.

This is a knife

As tragic as the Manu Road is, it is a mere scratch compared to the horrendous damage that will be inflicted by the newly approved Iñapari-Puerto Esperanza road on the northern boundary of Manu.

Approved a month before the visit of the Pope, this 277 kilometer-long road will slice straight through one of the greatest untamed rainforest tracts in the world, centered on Alto Purus National Park.

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Using estimates of forest loss from the nearby Inter-Oceanic Highway in Peru (itself an economic and environmental disaster), the Iñapari-Puerto Esperanza road will destroy an incredible 275,000 hectares of primary forest.

Renowned ecologist John Terborgh, a member of ALERT, with 40 years of experience in Madre de Dios, says it might cost 100 times less to buy out the 1,200 or so residents of Puerto Esperanza and set them up with stately homes in the city, than to construct this deadly road.

Why build it?  Beyond its catastrophic environmental impacts, the road will likely destroy some of the last uncontacted tribes in Earth, and will have dubious economic benefits for locals.  MORE

For a Sustainable Climate and Food System, Regenerative Agriculture Is the Key

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that agriculture is responsible for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions. There’s hope—and a solution.

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Agriculture is perfectly poised to play a major role in the solution to the climate crisis. By helping young farmers gain access to land, everyone can help play a role. Illustration by Jon Adams, courtesy of The Perennial Farming Initiative

All of us are familiar with conventional agriculture: the miles upon miles of farmland growing only one crop, the destructive tillage that wafts soil and its stored carbon into the air and into our waterways; the use of hundreds of chemicals including pesticides like chlorpyrifos that have been found to cause brain damage in children; the confined facilities that are both cruel to animals and make their impact on the Earth an assault rather than a gift.

I first started writing about [regenerative agriculture] farmers back in 2011, when there were more amazing anecdotes than studies, but that has changed. Entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren published a study with his former student Claire LaCanne in 2018. The study followed 10 cornfields per farm on 20 farms over two growing seasons, half of which were regenerative and half conventional. The study tracked soil carbon, insect pests, corn yield, and profits.

The results give the imprimatur of science to the successes regenerative farmers have reported for years. Lundgren and LaCanne found that there were more pests in the conventional cornfields that were treated with insecticides and/or used GMO seeds than in the pesticide-free regenerative fields, presumably because the cover crops attracted battalions of predator insects that decimated crop pests—and because there were no insecticides to kill off those beneficials.

And while the regenerative farms used older, lower-yielding corn varieties without fertilizer and had lower yields, their overall profits were 78% higher than the conventional farmers’. Partly, this was because the regenerative farmers’ costs were so much lower, with no cash outlays for costly insecticides and GMO seeds. They also “stacked enterprises” and had two or more sources of income on the same acre—in this case, they grazed their cattle on corn residue after harvest and got a premium price for pastured beef. What was the primary factor correlating with farm profitability? The amount of carbon and organic matter in the farmers’ fields, not their yields.

The venerable soil scientist Rattan Lal was one of the first people to connect the loss of soil carbon caused by destructive farming to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In a 2018 interview with Soil4Climate, Lal said that he and his colleagues estimated that regenerating landscapes—farms, forests, coastlands, and so on—could restore up to 150 gigatons (a gigaton equals 1 billion tons) of carbon to the world’s soil in 80 years. All the extra vegetation grown to put that carbon in the soil would store 150–160 gigatons more, resulting in a terrestrial biosphere holding an additional 330 gigatons of carbon, equal to a drawdown of 150 to 160 parts per million of CO2 from the atmosphere. “We should encourage the policy makers that this process of restoring degraded soils and ecosystems is a win, win, win option,” Lal says. “It’s a bridge to the future.”

Several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls have added agriculture to their climate platforms—most notably Rep. Tim Ryan, who proposes policies to support regenerative agriculture and soil carbon sequestration. Just this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren added to her climate platform a sweeping plan to overhaul agricultural policy, while Sen. Cory Booker announced he would propose the Climate Stewardship Act to the Senate in September; both would pay farmers for conservation practices.

And farmers of the future are ready to take it on.

“Agriculture is perfectly poised to play a major role in the solution to the climate crisis,” says Bilal Sarwari, membership and communications manager of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “By helping young farmers gain access to land, everyone can help play a role.” MORE

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Restoring soil can help address climate change