Teenage activists and an IPCC triumph

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a well-timed blueprint for action. Decision makers must now pay attention — a nascent youth movement is showing them how.

Image result for greta thunberg addresses French parliament
“You can’t ignore science.” Swedish teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg addressed French parliament on 23 July 2019.

 …as September draws to a close, world leaders will assemble in New York City for a climate summit convened by UN secretary-general António Guterres, where the IPCC’s latest findings will also be considered. As the IPCC report points out, the global mean surface temperature increased by about 0.87 °C (with a likely range of 0.75–0.99 °C) between 1850 and 2015. Guterres wants leaders to come to New York with concrete plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to reach net zero by 2050. But whether they are capable of this — or willing to do so — is an open question.

Young people care about climate

As each of the UN conventions faces continuing challenges, the IPCC can at least be assured of support from the next generation. It has garnered a following among the growing international youth climate movement. Members keenly absorb every new report, including participants in the school strike for climate, led by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg makes a point of namechecking the IPCC and quoting paragraph and page numbers in speeches, as she did in an address to the French parliament at the end of last month.

As government delegates get ready for Delhi, Nairobi and New York, they must prepare to answer why, if children can understand the meaning of the IPCC assessments, adults cannot do the same?

The youth climate movement’s members are brave, and they are right. It has been almost three decades since the three UN conventions — on biodiversity, climate and desertification — were agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. And it has been 31 years since the IPCC was created to advise decision makers. Yet environmental promises have not been matched by meaningful action.

Younger generations know, perhaps better than the adults, that the world might not have another three decades to prevent climate impacts that will be even more serious than those we face now. Politicians must act now. SOURCE

The SNC-Lavalin Scandal Is a Sideshow Distracting from the Real Issue: Corporate Control

Conservatives and Liberals can both breathe easier as media fixate on the story as if it was an aberration. It’s not.

ScheerTrudeauLaughing.jpg
Both Conservatives and Liberals benefit from how the SNC-Lavalin scandal is being framed. Photo by Marc Grandmaison, the Canadian Press.

The SNC-Lavalin frenzy is a distraction.

The media fixation on the scandal keeps the election debate within status quo-friendly parameters, which benefits the Canadian elite and their two main parliamentary representatives: the Conservatives and — with important caveats — the Liberals as well.

The mainstream media version of events involves a seductively simple cast of characters: the apolitical justice system and ethics commissioner, a “stubborn and wilful” prime minister who crossed the line, and a noble Antigone-like figure — Jody Wilson-Raybould — who defied state power.

The dominant media narrative puts the spotlight on individual personalities and an arcane bureaucratic dispute — how many people are prepared to study the Shawcross Doctrine governing prosecutorial independence? And it largely ignores the broader social or economic context.

This packaging of the scandal fits the Conservatives’ agenda perfectly. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer likes to maintain an anti-establishment aura. But as a party of big business, the Conservatives can’t be “radical” in any substantive manner.

With the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Conservatives can have their cake and eat it too. They and their media allies get their chance to bash the Liberals as an entitled elite.

“Justin Trudeau,” Scheer said after the release of the ethics commissioner’s report, “is using his office to help a very select group of his very rich and powerful friends.”

And because of the scandal’s narrow focus on legal issues, the Conservatives can fixate on Trudeau’s alleged moral depravity, or make vague (and therefore meaningless) proclamations about a Liberal oligarchy.

This puts the election debate exactly where the Conservatives want it. Obsessing over the SNC-Lavalin affair means more urgent questions about the entirely legal ways that the federal government is at the beck and call of business are ignored.

For example, what about the climate crisis that’s threatening the existence of humanity? Both federal and provincial governments are waging an insane war to preserve the fossil fuel industry and protect corporate interests. (And Scheer has made it clear he would do the same.)

But instead of the climate emergency, the hot election issue at the moment remains whether or not Trudeau stood up for jobs in the SNC-Lavalin affair — a triviality compared to what could be up for discussion.

That’s why, in a somewhat backhanded way, the Liberal party benefits from the SNC-Lavalin shenanigans too (although to be sure, scandals are obviously best avoided).

The idea that the SNC-Lavalin affair represents a scandalous aberration is based on the false premise that the federal government doesn’t always act at the behest of big business.

But let’s be clear: for the past four years, the Liberals have continued the Harper-era consolidation of corporate power, largely without discussion or debate. The Trudeau government uses free trade agreements to lock future governments into free market policies, limits union bargaining rights with back-to-work legislation, purchases the occasional pipeline and keeps the exploitative temporary foreign worker program running.

“Because it’s 2019,” I guess.

By channeling all its outrage towards a few unruly bureaucrats and an engineering firm, the mainstream media has implicitly condoned the federal government’s shrewder and fully legal instances of business favouritism.

The discussion leading up to the election shouldn’t be focused on whether the Trudeau government has transgressed the rules of the game, but rather the game itself. MORE

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Conspiracy theory of ‘foreign-funded’ tar sands opposition reveals ugly truth

The process of dehumanization, whether around the world or closer to home in Postmedia’s conspiracy-pushing columns, splits our species in two

Image result for ricochet: Conspiracy theory of 'foreign-funded' tar sands opposition reveals ugly truth

The attendees of last month’s “Big Guns” Stampede breakfast put on by Calgary’s oil and gas industry were there for the pancakes, sausages, and “frac juice” cocktails, not the speeches. And so, over the happily chattering sea of cowboy hats and plaid, I had to listen hard just to make out parts of the following:

“We have been beaten to death by the eco-alarmists…. We’ve got people, foreign-funded, taking us to task…. To the eco-alarmists: You have touched the bear. You have awoken the giant. We’re pissed and we’re not going to stand for it.”

Vague public heraldings of coming retribution against foreign-funded environmentalists are generally not part of my childhood memories of Stampede breakfasts. But, then, in those days, Albertans weren’t being told they’re the targets of a coordinated plot.

If they were recognized as fully human, we would need to undertake a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to protect their inviolable rights.

Across the country’s media for the past year and a half or so — particularly in outlets owned by Canada’s dominant corporate media empire, Postmedia — one can find piece after piece after piece about long-running machinations by U.S. charities and foundations to interfere with Canadian politics by fomenting tar sands opposition throughout the country.

It culminated and reified at the start of last month with Alberta premier Jason Kenney announcing a $2.5-million government inquiry into “foreign-funded special interests” opposing the tar sands. And it will likely resurface again in the Conservatives’ federal election campaign later this year.

There is no reason to take the actual claims of this (absurd) narrative seriously, as other writers have argued in detail.

Rather, what we ought to be concerned about is the narrative’s popularity, because what it reveals is something ugly at the heart of the climate crisis: the importance of dehumanization.

The uses of unpeople

A grisly sorting is underway. As climate change forces our political and economic systems to contend with the problem of who really matters, it is sieving us into two species: people, whose rights are inalienable and deserve full respect and consideration, and unpeople, whose burdensome rights and humanity get stripped away wherever they interfere with state-capital aims.

Those who can be degenerated into unpeople perform a crucial function for the contemporary order. If they were recognized as fully human, we would need to undertake a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to protect their inviolable rights. Having a humanity that can be conveniently stripped away, however, permits something clearly more important: the prolonging of the period during which the economy can stay wedded to the old energy infrastructure; the ultra rich can horde the wealth we might otherwise marshall towards a renewable energy transition; and political elites can hold power by campaigning as though we need not make a choice between continued fossil fuel dependence and a habitable climate. (Consider how just last month it was determined to be in the public interest to proceed with a tar sands mine, despite adverse effects on Indigenous communities.) MORE

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The Maclean’s / Citytv National Leaders Debate 2019

On Thursday, Sept. 12, Maclean’s and Citytv are hosting the first leaders debate of the election calendar, moderated by Paul Wells
Maclean’s and Citytv are hosting the first National Leaders Debate of the 2019 election calendar, to take place on Thursday, Sept. 12 starting at 8 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. PDT). 

The two-hour debate in English will centre on four major themes: the economy, foreign policy, Indigenous issues and, lastly, energy and the environment. After the main segment of exchanges, each leader will have 90 seconds for a closing statement.

The event will take place in Toronto while airing live on CitytvMacleans.ca and Facebook, as well as on Rogers news radio stations and their websites and CityNews websites. CPAC will carry the debate with a French translation, while OMNI Television will carry it with interpretation into Mandarin and Cantonese (in broadcast) and Punjabi (online).

“We are continuing our tradition of early debates after the 2015 federal leaders’ debate ignited a cross-country conversation and set the agenda for election day,” says Maclean’s editor-in-chief Alison Uncles. “We are looking forward to a civil, spirited discussion of ideas, moderated by the extraordinary Paul Wells.”

The leaders of the Conservative Party, the Green Party and the NDP have confirmed their attendance. The Liberals have not yet confirmed Justin Trudeau’s participation but an invitation remains open and the debate will go forward regardless. MORE

Climate change is making wildfire behaviour stranger than fiction


This infographic depicts the harmful feedback loop between worsening climate change and wildfires. Graphic by Greenpeace

Fact or fiction: earlier this month, scientists from a respected university told us that recent record-breaking wildfires in British Columbia have been used to model the effects of nuclear war on our planet’s climate?

It might be tough to guess, given the rising popularity of speculative “cli-fi” (climate fiction), but it’s a true story.

The 2017 B.C. wildfires emitted the largest-ever observed pyrocumulonimbus cloud (PyroCb) — wildfire-induced thunderstorms characterized by plumes that form when the heat from wildfires sends smoke and soot high up into the atmosphere.

That data is helping to validate the climate models of scientists at Rutgers University who are trying to forecast how smoke from burning cities and industrial zones would act in the event of a nuclear war. (Spoiler alert: the cooling effect of soot that lingers in the stratosphere for months wouldn’t be good for our food security or well-being.)

Think this stranger-than-fiction tale needs more adrenaline? Well, buckle up.

Beating the roughly less than 50-50 odds of getting a chance to actually sample one of these “fire clouds,” NASA just made a rare flight right through one. The reconnaissance mission made meteorologist David Peterson one of the only people on the planet to do so. In the process, he made observations and collected samples to help researchers better understand how PyroCbs affect our climate.

OPINION: “The heebie-jeebies of climate-fueled wildfires being used to model nuclear winter aside, extreme wildfires are also part of a harmful feedback loop impacting climate change.”

Meanwhile, the “Doomsday Clock” measuring humanity’s proximity to destruction has been set at two minutes to midnight (where midnight is game over) for the second year in a row. The time, set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, draws attention to “the devolving state of nuclear and climate security.”

As climate change fuels worsening wildfires, it’s no wonder that scientists are working to unravel some of the mysteries about how PyroCbs behave and how they impact us. The wildfires burning in the Arctic have been named the worst on record. Greenpeace Russia has found that more than five million hectares of Siberian forest remain aflame (imagine a blaze bigger than Vancouver Island). Experts have named climate change as a factor. Canada has so far been spared the worst of it, though smoke from the Siberian fires did reach us. Yet scientists at the University of Victoria have determined that climate change likely made the area burned in B.C.’s 2017 wildfires seven to 11 times larger than expected.

The heebie-jeebies of climate-fuelled wildfires being used to model nuclear winter aside, extreme wildfires are also part of a harmful feedback loop impacting climate change.

Since forests absorb carbon dioxide over time, wildfires can release a large amount of climate pollution in a short amount of time. But carbon dioxide isn’t the only pollutant putting pressure on the Arctic.

Greenpeace experts monitoring via satellite have been studying the effects of black carbon, the heat-absorbing soot produced by wildfires, as have scientists involved in the Rutgers study and the NASA flight. Only a relatively small amount of black carbon is produced, but it has a strong effect on global heating and is a contributor to climate change.

Greenpeace Canada@GreenpeaceCA

Satellite imaging last month captures black carbon emissions from the Siberian wildfires.

Learn more about black carbon >> https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/12/06/black-carbon-how-forest-fires-melt-ice-sheets/ 

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Black carbon can drift thousands of kilometres over days and weeks and settle in the Arctic. Normally, the bright Arctic ice keeps cool by reflecting up to90 per cent of the sun’s energy back into space. But when black carbon settles, the dark colouring causes more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed. This can drive the ice, a critical part of our planet’s natural defences against global heating and climate change, to literally melt away. That’s where we see the feedback loop come full circle, as more intense heating contributes to extreme fire weather. MORE

Why isn’t Facebook taking Yellow Vests Canada seriously?


A screenshot of the Yellow Vests Canada Facebook page.

In January, Facebook started removing some content from the main Yellow Vests Canada page after the company was made aware of comments calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be killed. At the time, a Facebook spokesperson told Global News it was taking action to mitigate any “real-world harm” that may stem from activity on the platform.

“We do not tolerate harassment on Facebook, and it’s our aim to prevent any potential real-world harm that may be related to content on our platform,” the spokesperson said. “That’s why we remove content, disable accounts and use a combination of technology, reports from our community and human review to enforce our policies.”

But recent activity on the Yellow Vests Canada page indicates that these efforts are falling short. And as Canada’s federal election fast approaches ⁠— with all the fierce rhetoric that the campaign is sure to elicit ⁠— real-world consequences, which are already in evidence, could quickly pile up.

In recent weeks and months, yellow vest demonstrations across Canada have frequently attracted far-right extremists and hate groups. In numerous cases, yellow vest members have faced criminal charges for threats they posted on Facebook, while others have been arrested and found to be in possession of weapons and explosives after leaving threatening posts on the social media platform.

Violence continues to be a problem at rallies organized and attended by the yellow vest, thrusting communities like Hamilton onto the “front line” of extremist activity in the region. On any given weekend, white nationalist figures and far-right groups like the Canadian Nationalist Party, Soldiers of Odin and Wolves of Odin, Proud Boys and Northern Guard can be seen marching alongside demonstrators in yellow vests — and in many instances, engaging in acts of hate and violence.

According to activists who monitor the yellow vest movement, none of this would be possible without Facebook.

In the process of building social networks and connections to friends, Facebook has also helped create networks of hate and, potentially, new pathways to extremism in Canada.

“It’s their primary tool for networking and advertising events,” one of the operators of the Twitter account Yellow Vests Exposed, which monitors incidents of hate and violence posted to social media by yellow vest protesters, told National Observer. “Without Facebook there would be no yellow vest movement in Canada.”

Extremism is a feature, not a bug

Members of the yellow vest movement are, in many ways, using Facebook exactly as it was meant to be used. They’ve created anextensive network of local and national chapters under Facebook’s “groups” feature, and created affiliated Facebook pages for many of those groups. They also use Facebook’s “events” feature to organize and advertise events across Canada.

This is what Facebook was designed for — and that’s why it’s so alarming to see what the platform has enabled in the case of Canada’s yellow vest movement. In the process of building social networks and connections to friends, Facebook has also helped create networks of hate and, potentially, new pathways to extremism.

The connection between the yellow vests’ online activity and the mounting real-world consequences couldn’t be clearer. MORE

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