‘We Must Grow This Movement’: Youth Climate Activists Ramp Up the Pressure

From school strikes to the harder edge of Extinction Rebellion, young climate activists are making their voices heard, and they’re increasingly politically engaged.

Hundreds of youth climate activists and their supporters staged a climate strike protest outside of Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California, in September 2019. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Hundreds of young climate activists and their supporters staged a climate strike outside of Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California, in September calling for the oil company to abandon fossil fuels by 2025. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new wave of climate protests hit cities around the world this week—this time aimed at shocking people with civil disobedience, fake blood on the pavement and bodies lying in the streets under signs that read: “Stop funding climate death.”

The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations have a harder edge than the student-led climate strikes that have brought millions to their feet around the world demanding leaders do more to slow climate change. While the school climate strikes end with students returning to class, these protests have often led to arrests.

But both show how young people are reinvigorating the social movement for climate action on a scale never seen before, and their organizers plan to keep up the pressure until more is done to slow climate change.

That widespread youth activism is also empowering more young people to turn their protests into political action, from pressuring lawmakers and businesses to take action to energizing voters.

The Extinction Rebellion activists and the school strikers are both decentralized coalitions that are giving young people a way to stand up for their future. Between them, the groups have a long list of school strikes, rallies and acts of civil disobedience planned through the rest of the year, including a major youth climate strike planned for Nov. 29, Black Friday, known for holiday shopping in the United States.

Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist from New York who founded Earth Uprising and is an organizer with the school climate strike group Fridays for Future, is emblematic of their determination. She announced last month that she would be taking her school education on the road as she tours the country to continue organizing climate strikes.

“I’ll be traveling and striking in a different city, or maybe even a different country, every Friday,” she wrote on Twitter. “We must grow this movement. We must get real action.”

Building on Social Justice Movements

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who launched the Fridays for Future school walkouts, may have galvanized the global youth climate movement when she started her humble strikes in front of the Swedish Parliament last year, but it has been building for years.

In the U.S., the movement really learned from and built upon past civil rights and social justice movements, where tactics such as marching in the streets and occupying places of commerce or political power were used.

That’s one of the reasons the Green New Deal—the climate policy goals that the young Sunrise Movement activists brought to the halls of Congress—explicitly addresses building economic and political space for the most vulnerable communities affected by climate change as society transitions to a new energy economy, said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, the North America director for the climate activist group 350.org. It’s also why the movement must explicitly connect social justice and climate work moving forward.

For some youth in the climate movement, the idea of addressing socioeconomic and racial disparities in the U.S. is a big part of their involvement.

“Young people of color, like myself, are affected by climate change most,” said Nyiesha Mallett, an 18-year-old climate activist from New York who is part Afro-Caribbean. “I should be one of the people who gets to come up with solutions.”

Ramping Up Local Fights

Climate groups in the U.S. are working to channel that youthful energy toward local policy battles, where they see higher chances of success.

In Washington state, young activists have joined a broad coalition pushing for a clean energy transition in the state, fighting for and, in many cases, winning ambitious policy battles, including the state’s target to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2045, the strongest clean electricity law in the nation.

“It’s not just taking back the White House and the Senate, not just passing federal legislation to address the crisis, but really making sure that we go deep on local … actions,” Toles O’Laughlin said.

That’s one reason 17-year-old Mariana Rodriguez from San Francisco joined the youth climate strikes last month, after seeing how climate change was impacting her state’s forests. “November is known as fire season,” she said. “And with all the fires that’s been happening around here, I can’t ignore something that’s happening right in front of me.”

The global youth climate marches on Sept. 20, 2019, brought millions of people into the streets in cities around the world. Young people in New York City marched through Wall Street. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The global youth climate marches on Sept. 20, 2019, brought millions of people into the streets in cities around the world. Young people in New York City marched through Wall Street. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In other parts of the country where support for climate action is less popular, activists in the climate movement are working to simply get elected officials to formally adopt statewide action plans. MORE

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Scotland restores its peatlands to keep carbon in the ground

Often overlooked as critical carbon sinks, peatlands store at least twice as much carbon as forests. After years of degredation, Scotland has increased its ambition in restoring these important areas.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)

The burning Amazon rainforests, with their jaguars, monkeys and colourful birds, have grabbed global attention in a way the destruction of the world’s mossy peatlands never has.

Yet protecting the world’s peatlands, which store at least twice as much carbon as forests, is critical in the fight against climate change.

Peatlands, also known as bogs, are created when the remains of plants are submerged in waterlogged lands, turning them over time into peat with the plants’ carbon still stored inside. They cover around 3% of the world’s land and are found in 175 countries, mostly in northern Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.

Scotland has a particularly high coverage, with bogs amounting to 20% of it’s of land (roughly 1.7 million hectares) mainly in its lesser-populated north and western islands.

Decades of degradation

However the Scottish governmentestimates that roughly a third of the country’s total —  roughly 600,000 hectares —  have been degraded. Scotland’s peatlands, created mostly in areas left water-logged from the melting of Ice Age glaciers, lay untouched for thousands of years until farmers began to drain the land, building ditches so the water would run downhill into rivers.

While such ditches date back to Roman times in parts of Britain, their building intensified in Scotland in the 1950s with the advent of new machinery and government grants aimed at improving grazing.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)Peatlands in Scotland cover roughly 20% of its land

Without the bogs’ acidic water there to preserve them, the dead plants in the peat start to degrade, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The degradation is sped up by the sun and wind they are exposed to without their water coverage.

Restoration plans

To correct past mistakes, landowners are being offered grants by the Scottish government to block the drainage ditches their predecessors were encouraged to dig. A total of €16.3 million ($18 million) has been madeavailable this year. The hope is that 50,000 hectares will have been restored by the end of 2020, and 250,000 hectares by 2030.

The restoration happens in two ways according to Andrew McBride, who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for handing out grants. It can either involve a ditch being filled in with peat from nearby, or a wooden dam being built inside the ditch to slow down the loss of water and spread it across the bog.

When the ditches are blocked, rainwater increases the water level, erosion stops and within two years, plants such as moss return. Within five to fifteen years, the bogs are back to fully functioning, McBride said.

Speed is key

“We want to do things as quickly as possible,” he told DW, “because obviously there’s a climate emergency.”

McBride says that landowners are often keen for restoration on their property as the farming benefits of drainage were not as great as previously thought. It only really improved the land right next to the bog, he says, adding that the drainage of ditches cause its own problems. On large estates, wandering sheep often fall into the ditches and can’t get out.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)Peatlands can store up to twice as much carbon as forests.

Scotland is also trying to restore bogs by cutting down trees. In the 1980s, the UK government introduced tax incentives encouraging landowners to drain bogs to plant trees. This was a double hit —  first drainage dried the land and then the trees sucked out even more of the moisture.

Although the trees absorbed carbon as they grew, that didn’t cancel out the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the peatlands’ destruction.

Protests from conservationists eventually ended the tax incentives and now even the Scottish government agency Forestry and Land Scotland is aiming to transform2,500 hectares of forest back into peatland over five years.

The restoration happens in two ways according to Andrew McBride, who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for handing out grants. It can either involve a ditch being filled in with peat from nearby, or a wooden dam being built inside the ditch to slow down the loss of water and spread it across the bog.

When the ditches are blocked, rainwater increases the water level, erosion stops and within two years, plants such as moss return. Within five to fifteen years, the bogs are back to fully functioning, McBride said. MORE

Keystone pipeline shutdown raises costs for U.S. Gulf refiners

TC Energy’s Keystone pipeline facility in Hardisty, Alta., on Nov. 6, 2015. The 590,000 barrel-a-day pipeline, which carries crude from Alberta to refineries in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast, ruptured October 29 and caused a spill near the city of Edinburg in North Dakota, leaking thousands of barrels of crude.

The Keystone crude pipeline was shut Wednesday after leaking thousands of barrels of crude in North Dakota, the third spill along the pipeline’s route in less than three years.

TC Energy Corp.’s 590,000 barrel-a-day pipeline that carries crude from Alberta to refineries in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast ruptured October 29 and caused a spill near the city of Edinburg in North Dakota, Brent Nelson, an emergency manager for Walsh County, said by phone. About 9,120 barrels were released, some of which impacted a wetland, according to the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.

TC Energy declared force majeure on the pipeline system after the shutdown, according to people familiar with the matter. An emergency response team has contained the impacted area, and the system is shut from Hardisty, Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and to Wood River/Patoka, Illinois, the company said in a statement. TC Energy also reduced rates on the Marketlink pipeline, an extension of Keystone that runs from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, according to people familiar with the matter.

The shutdown stands to affect U.S. Gulf Coast refiners seeking alternative heavy crude supplies amid sanctions on Venezuela, lagging output from Mexico and OPEC production cuts. At the same time, Alberta’s oil producers are struggling to cope with production limits imposed earlier this year when too much oil encountered too few pipelines, causing prices to collapse.

Heavy Western Canadian Select crude’s discount to West Texas Intermediate futures widened $19 (U.S.) a barrel Thursday, the widest since December, data compiled by Bloomberg show. After the Keystone spill in South Dakota in 2017, the discount widened from about $11 a barrel to more than $25 a barrel. In the Gulf Coast, heavy Canadian crude was about $1.50 a barrel stronger than before the spill, according to market participants.

Gulf Coast refiners could seek medium-grades of sour crude to replace the heavy Canadian barrels, Kevin Birn, IHS Markit’s director of North American crude oil markets, said by telephone. “You could see refiners pivot to alternative sources of supply,” he said. “There will be some flexibility in the system to address this.”

The spill, estimated to be 457 metres in length by 4.5 metres wide, comes as TC Energy seeks to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The company said Keystone was probably the source of a spill in Missouri in February that shut a segment of the line. In 2017, a spill in South Dakota reduced rates on the line for months, causing Canadian oil prices to collapse.

The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline has been on the drawing board for a decade. The 1,900-kilometre pipeline would help carry 830,000 more barrels of crude a day from Alberta’s oilsands to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. The project has been a top target of environmentalists, who argue that the pipeline would contribute to catastrophic climate change. SOURCE
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Toronto Catholic school board will not include protection for discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression

“I was sickened by it, by the hypocrisy, by the homophobia and the fear-mongering,” said board chair Maria Rizzo, the only trustee of the five-member subcommittee to vote against the motion.

A subcommittee of the Toronto Catholic school board, struck to further Catholic values, has passed a motion to update its code of conduct, which governs students and staff, but it will not include protection for discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, marital status and family status.

The motion, passed at the 11th hour of a lengthy meeting Wednesday night, ignores a directive from the Ministry of Education sent in October, 2018, that asked boards to update their codes by Nov. 4, 2019, so that they align with the province’s, which includes the terms.

“I was sickened by it, by the hypocrisy, by the homophobia and the fear-mongering,” said board chair Maria Rizzo, the only trustee of the five-member subcommittee to vote against the motion.

She was completely surprised by the introduction of the pre-written motion.

“We can’t allow words that threaten to stigmatize our LGBTQ students.”

Instead of adding the protections to the code, trustees wrote a seven-paragraph motion that affirms, in part, “that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of respect and dignity.”

This could be voted on at the next full board meeting Dec. 5, said a TCDSB spokesperson.

Rizzo says she’s unsure whether it will be accepted. SOURCE

Plan to roll back Alberta public employees’ pay is no surprise but seems unexpectedly inept

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews speaks about budget 2019. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr
Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

When Alberta’s finance minister announced the Kenney government’s plan to roll back unionized public employees’ pay by 2 to 5 per cent yesterday, he blamed Alberta’s debt and deficit, not the huge hole he’d just blown in the province’s budget with $4.5 billion in tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations.

Well, whatever. It’s not as if this comes as a big surprise.

What was going to happen was predetermined weeks ago and was predicted here and elsewhere repeatedly ever since the government appointed a panel led by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, whose op-ed calling for legislated wage rollbacks for public employees was published two years ago this week, to look into the state of the province’s finances.

When public sector unions’ wage arbitrations are allowed to resume after tomorrow’s Halloween celebrations are over, Toews explained in the government’s press release yesterday, there will be “an updated monetary mandate” that “moves from the previous position of no increase for 2019 to an average 2 per cent reduction for collective agreements that include a 2019 wage reopener.”

Regardless of the recommendations of the MacKinnon panel or the law the UCP passed to suspend arbitrations last spring until the panel reported, there’s a technical term for this sort of thing in labour relations, and it’s not trick or treat. It’s called bargaining in bad faith. It’s illegal.

What’s more, none of the public sector health-care unions affected by this planned rollback are negotiating with the government of Alberta. They’re negotiating with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other health-care employers. AHS is supposedly an arm’s length agency. MORE

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Popular uprisings against neoliberalism are spreading around the world

 

Puerto Rico. Hong Kong. Ecuador. Haiti. Lebanon. Iraq. And now, Chile. People are rising up around the world against austerity and corruption, defying police forces unleashed to suppress them. Many of these mass movements share a fierce critique of capitalism. In Santiago, Chile, more than 1 million people flooded the streets last weekend, and mass protests continue. There, the brutal Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, during which thousands of progressive activists and leaders were tortured, disappeared and murdered, was followed by decades of neoliberal policies, with rampant privatization, union busting, stagnant wages and increased costs for education, health care, transportation and other services. Chile, among the richest countries in South America, is also one of the most unequal. At least 20 people have been killed during recent protests there, further angering and emboldening the crowds.

These global protests also occur at a critical inflection point in history, with as few as 10 years remaining for humanity to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one powered by renewable energy. On Wednesday, Chile’s embattled, billionaire president, Sebastian Pinera, abruptly announced that his country was cancelling plans to host two major international summits, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in mid-November, and the United Nations climate summit, the 25th “Conference of the Parties,” or COP25, in the first two weeks of December.

Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s COP25 president-designate, said, “The citizens have expressed in a strong way their legitimate social demands that require the full attention and all efforts from the government.”

Chile’s cancellation of the COP could be a setback for global action on climate. But climate activists should take heart: this renewed spirit of rebellion around the world signifies a rejection of the status quo, and could portend accelerated, grassroots mobilization to avert irreversible, catastrophic climate change.

“Social injustice and the climate crisis have a common root cause,” the Climate Action Network said in a release not long after Chile’s COP cancellation. “Climate justice and solidarity is fundamentally about the protection of human rights and a better quality of life for all.”

The climate crisis touches everyone, first and most forcefully the world’s poor. The mass uprising in Puerto Rico that forced the resignation of governor Ricardo Rossello was the culmination of decades of frustration with Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the more current exploitation by Wall Street vulture funds. But the discontent was fueled by the utter devastation of the back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria two years ago. “The austerity policies that have been implemented have put the people of Puerto Rico in a position of vulnerability. Social inequality has increased to levels that we have never seen here,” Manuel Natal, a member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, said on the Democracy Now! news hour days before Rossello’s resignation. “We need more democracy, not less democracy. We are on the brink of a political revolution here.” Rossello’s ouster was the first time in U.S. history that a governor was forced from office by popular protest.

Indigenous people are also leading the way, often at the front lines, confronting resource extraction with disciplined, nonviolent resistance. Hundreds of Indigenous and campesino social leaders in Colombia have been murdered in recent years, simply for standing up for justice and environmental protections.

The Paris climate agreement specifically notes the importance of climate justice, and pledges to work “in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” One of the enduring conflicts that has hampered international climate negotiations has been the refusal by wealthy nations, principally the United States, to accept the simple premise that “polluters pay.” The U.S. is the wealthiest nation in human history because, in part, it has polluted its way to the top, using cheap, dirty power: coal-fired power plants, diesel locomotives and now, so-called clean-burning fracked gas.

The Green Climate Fund was supposed to raise billions of dollars to finance renewable projects in poorer countries. The fund’s pledging conference last week fell short of its goal, primarily because the Trump administration reneged on the U.S.’s $2-billion commitment. Australia and Russia followed suit, refusing to make contributions.

A new study by Climate Central, a news and science organization, shows that climate-induced coastal flooding will likely be far worse than previously predicted, forcing between 200 to 600 million people, rich and poor, to flee their homes later in the century. Climate change-fuelled wildfires are now raging across California, with hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes and at least 1 million people without power.

Popular uprisings are also spreading like wildfire, though, against corrupt autocratic leaders, austerity and inequality. People are also flooding the streets, globally, linking the movements against inequality with the fight for a just, sustainable world powered by renewable energy. SOURCE

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Environmentalists unimpressed by Ontario plan to expand fines for polluters


Left to right: Prabmeet Sarkaria, small-business minister; Jeff Yurek, environment minister; Andrea Khanjin, parliamentary assistant; and Jennifer Innis, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority chairwoman, at Tommy Thompson Park on Oct. 31, 2019.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government will expand the use of fines for polluters who break environmental laws, its environment minister said Thursday.

But that claim was immediately questioned by an environmental group, which said the proposal will make it cheaper to pollute in the province.

The proposed changes will introduce, expand or clarify the ministry’s authority to fine companies and individuals under four different laws related to pesticide use and protection of water, according to a statement from the government.

“In essence, the lawbreakers are paying for the environmental improvements in our province,” Jeff Yurek, provincial minister of the environment, conservation and parks, told reporters at a media event.

Fines issued for violations of these laws have risen some $1.6 million since 2010 and that could be expected to increase to between $3 million and $5 million a year, which would then be invested in green projects, Yurek said.

Environmentalists aren’t buying it.

Ontario’s environment minister says the Ford government is going after polluters, proposing to expand the use of fines. An environmental group says the plan will make it easier and cheaper to spoil the air, water and land. @5thEstate reports.

“The proposal in Schedule 9 of Bill 132 to eliminate daily fines and cap total fines will make it easier and cheaper for industry in Ontario to illegally dump sewage in our water, use toxic pesticides and pollute the air,” the environmental group said in a statement. “Under the Water Resources Act, for example, the maximum fine used to be $100,000 per day. In Bill 132, the proposal is for it to be a maximum of $200,000 per contravention.”

In other words, right now, if a company illegally discards pollutants into a water source over a number of days, it could be liable for a $100,000 fine every day it pollutes, whereas under the new rules — if they pass — the company would face a one-time fine of $200,000.

“They’re saying they’re increasing the fines, but they’re not,” said Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence. “These fines used to be maximum daily amounts, and now they’re maximum per contravention.”

The changes are part of the Ford government’s omnibus Bill 132 aimed at reducing regulatory burden across government. They will affect statutes including the Nutrient Management Act, Ontario Water Resources Act, Pesticides Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. MORE