Toronto court to hear case on whether asylum agreement with U.S. violates charter

Concerns with the Safe Third Country Agreement come as the U.S. tightens its asylum rules and regulations


A girl originally from Congo and her family who had been living in Portland, Maine, approach an unofficial border crossing with Canada, heading down Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y., on Aug. 7, 2017. A long-awaited legal look into whether the U.S. remains a safe country for refugees begins Monday in Federal Court in Toronto. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

A long-awaited legal look into whether the U.S. remains a safe country for refugees begins today at a Federal Court in Toronto.

At issue is the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits people from entering Canada from the U.S. — and vice versa — at official border crossings and asking for asylum. It was signed by the two countries 17 years ago on the grounds both are safe places, so those seeking sanctuary should apply in the first country where they arrive.

But as the U.S. has tightened its asylum rules and regulations in recent years, the deal has come under scrutiny over concerns that actions taken by the Trump administration no longer make the U.S. a safe harbour for asylum seekers.

In turn, when Canada rejects people at the border, their charter rights are being violated, advocacy groups and the individual litigant in the case will argue this week as the Federal Court finally hears the challenge begun in 2017.

“Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely, in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection,” reads one of the memos submitted to the court.

The legal challenge to the agreement was filed after a Salvadoran woman tried to enter Canada at an official border crossing to seek asylum, arguing she was being brutally targeted by gangs at home. She was told she was inadmissible because of the deal.

Her attempt to enter Canada came as then newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump was unveiling a series of changes to the immigration system, including an attempt to ban immigrants from Muslim countries and lifting stays on deportations to Central American nations.

The measures set off shock waves not just in the U.S., but also in Canada, even among those who don’t work in the immigration field, said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, one of the groups challenging the agreement in court.

“Many Canadians . . . instinctively felt it didn’t make sense for Canada to be hitching its wagon to the United States in this way and be sending people back to the U.S. when they could see there was such a lack of attention to the basic rights.”

Ottawa wants case dismissed

While political pressure began building for changes to the deal, the CCR and others also decided to test it in court and worked to find an asylum seeker who had been turned away.

Since the case was launched, restrictions on asylum have tightened even further, including a decision in 2018 by the U.S. attorney general to deny asylum claims based on domestic violence. One of the arguments in the case is that decision effectively leads to discrimination towards refugee applicants on the basis of their gender, which would violate the charter.

But the federal government argues that position, and others taken by the applicants, relate to developments in the U.S. refugee system that don’t apply in the case at hand. The U.S. system still functions, they argue, and the government wants the case dismissed.

“Claimants are returned to a highly developed asylum system that grants protection to large numbers of persons every year, and is subject to both administrative and judicial checks and balances,” lawyers for the Immigration and Public Safety ministries wrote in their submission to the Federal Court.

“Many of the concerns raised by the applicants have been limited by American courts or are still undergoing legal challenges, have no application to [Safe Third Country Agreement] returnees, and/or do not preclude access to protection.”

The applicants hope the court either suspends the deal or forces it to be amended in such a way that allows those seeking asylum to ask for it. MORE

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Why climate change appears to be increasing the frequency of food-borne illnesses

‘I expect that we’re going to see more outbreaks,’ says Lawrence Goodridge, food safety prof in Guelph, Ont.


From warming weather that makes it easier for harmful bacteria to grow on food to more powerful and frequent storms that spreads contaminants on crops, climate change appears to be making food-borne illnesses even more common. (Shutterstock)

Climate change appears to be fuelling a rise in people getting sick from food-borne illnesses in Canada and around the world, says a Canadian food safety expert.

The disparate causes include increased flooding that is washing contaminants like salmonella, Listeria and E. coli onto crops, and rising ocean temperatures that allow bacteria to flourish in shellfish.

“As the planet becomes warmer and the air temperature becomes warmer, I expect that we’re going to see more outbreaks,” said Lawrence Goodridge, a professor of food safety at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

While precise numbers linking climate change to food-borne illness aren’t available, Goodridge has tracked a growing number of examples of the link between the two.

Last year in North Carolina, Hurricane Florence caused widespread flooding.

Floodwaters led to lagoons of hog waste at farms overflowing and contaminating crops, said Goodridge. The contaminants in those floodwaters forced the state to ban crops in flooded areas from being used for human consumption.


Aerial view of a hog farm after the passing of Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina on Sept. 17, 2018. The pinkish water to the right of the buildings is a hog lagoon that contains the animal’s feces. (Rodrigo Gutierrez/Reuters)

Destructive weather events like hurricanes can also cause a spike in food-borne illnesses because of the widespread power outages they often create.

“If we can’t refrigerate our food anymore, you know, as the temperature increases in the refrigerator or freezer, the temperature of the food increases and the bacteria grow,” said Goodridge.

There were enormous stretches of farmland flooded by Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina last year. This photo was taken Sept. 17, 2018. (Rodrigo Gutierrez/Reuters)

But climate change also has more subtle ways of harming the food supply. Over the years, small temperature increases in the ocean have been connected to hundreds of people getting sick in British Columbia, said Eleni Galanis, a physician epidemiologist with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control.

As the sea warms, it’s easier for vibrio bacteria to grow and accumulate in greater numbers in shellfish like mussels and oysters. That’s led to an increase in the number of people in B.C. getting sick after eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus, the most common form of the bacteria found in B.C. waters, causes diarrhea in humans that can last for up to a week and lead to dehydration. MORE

 

Retraining oil and gas workers sounds like an easy solution, but the reality is incredibly complex

Renewables and cleantech aren’t growing at a pace to absorb the hundreds of jobs the oilpatch sheds monthly. And then there’s the question of skill sets

It was on Monday, Oct. 21 — Election Day — that Jeff (not his real name) got his layoff notice from Husky Energy Inc., the Calgary-based oil and gas company. The coincidence of the timing wasn’t lost on him.

“I had voted Conservative literally hours before I was informed I would lose my job … because I knew a Conservative government would help our oil and gas sector and get that damn pipeline built,” he said.

The election results — a minority victory for a Liberal Party that has long been viewed by many in the West as not supportive of the oil and gas industry — only added to Jeff’s feeling of hopelessness that day. He is in his late 40s and had worked at Husky in their head office for a little more than 20 years, primarily in an administrative role, although he said he gained significant technical know-how about the sector over the years.

“I kind of knew this was coming, because everyone around us has been losing jobs over the past five years,” he said. “I just didn’t think it would be me, right on that very day.”

Canada’s oilpatch has been struggling since oil prices bottomed out in late 2014, so its troubles are not exactly a new development. Roughly 50,000 jobs have been lost over the past five years, and an estimated 7,600 positions are at risk of being lost in 2019, according to Petroleum Labour Market Information, a division of Energy Safety Canada. The unemployment rate among young men in Alberta is now at a whopping 19.9 per cent, up almost four percentage points from a month ago.

Policymakers have been scrambling to keep up with the traditional energy industry’s downturn and quell a brewing sense of resentment and hopelessness in the Western provinces. On the election trail, the rhetoric of “retraining oil and gas workers” to transition to jobs in renewable energy or cleantech was frequently touted as a solution, but the reality of that transition is incredibly complex, and involves far more than just retraining.

For starters, renewables and cleantech are not growing at a pace that can absorb the hundreds of jobs that the oilpatch is shedding monthly. There is also the question of skill sets, since working as a reservoir engineer does not exactly qualify someone to scoop up a job on a solar farm, simply because of how technically different those industries are. Salaries in the oilpatch — even in an administrative position like Jeff’s — are also comparably high, a disincentive for many to seek work outside the industry.

“The jobs are not returning,” said Cheryl Knight, the former chief executive of PetroLMI who is now an independent consultant researching labour trends in the Canadian energy sector. “So the answer to the question of how to help underemployed and unemployed oil and gas workers is individual in some ways. It depends on how motivated the person is, how much training is required, and how much time it takes to get there. It is not as simple as saying, ‘We’ll just retrain people.’”

The jobs are not returning

Cheryl Knight

Knight has spent nearly three years researching what kinds of jobs are being lost in the oilpatch and what sectors could potentially absorb the newly unemployed. They include, but are not confined to, petrochemical manufacturing, cleantech and power generation from both renewable and non-renewable sources such as wind and solar energy.

Rooftop solar programs created roughly 4,300 private-sector jobs, contributing $850 million to provincial GDP, between April 2017 and March 2019, according to data from the provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta.

Over time, the solar industry could have the capacity to create up to 10,000 jobs, said David Kelly, chief executive of SkyFire Energy Inc., one of the largest solar providers to residential and commercial buildings in Alberta.

“I just hired six people over the last three weeks,” Kelly said. “There are many ongoing jobs in electrical and maintenance work. Just about every electrician I have hired has done work in oil and gas.”

Such news might seem promising, but resource economist Sven Anders, a professor at the University of Alberta, cautions it is unlikely that the renewable energy sector alone will be able to generate the number of jobs needed to absorb job losses in the long run.

It is unlikely that the renewable energy sector alone will be able to generate the number of jobs needed to absorb job losses in the long run, experts say. MATT CARDY/GETTY IMAGES FILES

“Take wind, for instance,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of employment for the period in which the wind farm is being built. But once that construction has been completed, you basically just need a handful of engineers for maintenance.”

Knight’s research shows that tradesmen coming from oil and gas have highly transferable skills and employment opportunities in wind and solar, but project managers and design engineers are more likely to require renewable energy experience.

Kelly said that perhaps 30 per cent of his workforce comes from oil and gas, but most of them are electricians because they have the most transferable set of skills between both industries.

Adam Yereniuk, director of operations at Kuby Renewable Energy Ltd., another solar company in Alberta, said it has been difficult to find the right employees, especially those who have the technical know-how to work in solar.

“We try to hire out of NAIT and SAIT, because we know those graduates have specific knowledge,” he said, referring to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, two popular polytechnics that offer specific programs tailored toward retraining oil and gas workers.

But complicating the hiring process is that wages in the solar and wind sectors are simply not as high as in oil and gas.

“We don’t really hire directly from oil and gas, because we just cannot compete with the wages that sector pays. I can’t pay as much as Suncor,” Yereniuk said.

Oksana Treacy, project manager at SkyFire Energy in Calgary. MIKE DREW/POSTMEDIA

Case in point, Oksana Treacy, a project manager at SkyFire who formerly worked at Encana Corp., had to invest in pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable energy at the University of Calgary, in addition to taking a pay cut, before she could enter the solar industry.

“I was laid off right at the beginning of 2015, and I looked for a job unsuccessfully for about a year,” she said. “I leveraged all my contacts in oil and gas, but not a single person was hiring.”

Treacy said she felt her oil and gas experience was not taken seriously when she tried to apply to renewable companies.

“There was just so much competition,” she said. “I was lucky that I had been making good money and I could afford to retrain myself.”

Bruce Wilson, a former engineer at Royal Dutch Shell PLC., who currently works as a consultant for Iron and Earth, a B.C.-based organization that helps transition oil and gas workers into the renewable energy sector, believes that the potential of renewables is being severely understated.

For one thing, he said, clean energy costs are continuing to fall. He points to a research study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute that shows how wind, solar and energy technologies have improved and dropped “precipitously” in price, so much so that clean-energy portfolios comprised of these technologies are currently cost-competitive with new natural gas power plants, and provide the same reliable service.

“If we make a conscious decision to power our world, our industry and our homes with renewable energy sources, we could create that demand for jobs,” Wilson said.

But in the meantime, that leaves thousands of people without jobs. PetroLMI data show the bulk of the job losses in the oil and gas sector over the past five years have come from those involved in exploration and production, and oil and gas services. In other words, the engineers, geologists and business and project management staff that help find new oilfields.

There was a sharp increase in jobs related to pipeline services in late 2017 and early 2018, because of the number of pipeline projects ramping up back then. The former NDP government in Alberta forecast that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline could bring the region an additional 15,000 jobs.

But Knight notes that these jobs will be unsustainable in the long run if they don’t directly involve the de-carbonization of the oil and gas sector.

The re-elected Liberal federal government has pledged to turn Canada into a carbon-neutral nation by 2050, in line with international climate goals. Whether or not that will materialize, most climate experts agree that meeting even part of that goal will require a monumental shift in Canada’s fossil fuel industry that sees it either transitioning into renewables or making massive investments in emissions-reduction technology such as carbon storage.

Energy companies in Alberta and Saskatchewan have started focusing heavily on investing in clean technology innovations such as carbon offsets, methane emissions reductions and environmental regulation compliance, all potential sources of new employment for those already in the sector.

The new Liberal minority government is a disappointment to energy workers in Alberta who feel a Conservative government would have had their backs and “get that damn pipeline built.” STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS

Clean technology ventures related to the oil and gas sector accounted for $615 million in GDP and generated more than 4,500 jobs in 2018, according to Calgary Economic Development.

“Many of the services and occupations required to implement cleantech already work in oil and gas, and they pay well,” Knight said.

For example, chemical, mechanical or environmental engineers, as well as welders and electricians should be able to seek direct employment in any kind of venture related to reducing methane-emissions.

But these jobs are focused on innovations designed to reduce emissions, not eliminate them altogether, and are ultimately still in the oil and gas industry.

Bruce Wilson, who used to work for Royal Dutch Shell, works as a consultant for Iron and Earth, a B.C.-based organization that helps transition oil and gas workers into the renewable energy sector. MIKE DREW/POSTMEDIA

“We can’t have it both ways,” Wilson said. “You can fix the problem of jobs with five bucks now or 10 bucks later. We will ultimately need to transition out of the oil and gas industry altogether.”

To be sure, there are also startups sprouting up in Calgary dedicated to non-oil and gas cleantech solutions, such as using hydrogen as a low carbon fuel, particularly for heating, transporting energy and lower-emission vehicles. But in the short term, these startups do not generate nearly enough jobs to compensate for those lost in the oilpatch.

“Cleantech employers are small employers and they operate completely differently in terms of how they hire and who they hire,” Knight said. “There are a lot of word-of-mouth introductions that happen and those who don’t have existing networks in cleantech do not do well in that ecosystem.”

That leaves people such as Jeff, the Husky Energy employee who was laid off on Election Day, feeling “lost” as to what to do next with his career. Granted, he worked in an administrative role at Husky, so transferring his skills might perhaps be easier for him, but he is reluctant to leave the oil and gas sector.

My uncle, my brothers, we all work in oil and gas. We’ve done this forever

Jeff, former Husky Energy employee

“The idea that the sector is shutting down — because that’s what I hear people saying — is just very difficult for me to process,” he said. “My uncle, my brothers, we all work in oil and gas. We’ve done this forever.”

Understanding the West’s pride in their homegrown industry is something that Anders at the University of Alberta believes is severely lacking from any of the political decisions or announcements focused on the oil sector. For example, the Liberals in their most recent budget pledged a multitude of tax credits under the banner of “The Canada Training Benefit” program with the aim of helping transitioning workers from one sector to another.

“These people, their livelihoods and cultures are built around this industry,” Anders said. “Ultimately, the people of Western Canada need to be told that ‘Yes, we value you for what you are doing, but we would like to help you make that next step’, without giving them the impression that we don’t care about how proud they are of their fossil fuels.” SOURCE

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Rapid adoption of electric vehicles could drop Canadian oil demand by 250,000 barrels per day: EY

A new study by EY that contrasts the impact of different scenarios for electric vehicles in Canada says the most rapid adoption — with EVs representing 30% of Canada’s vehicle stock in 2030, compared to less than 3% today — would reduce domestic oil demand by approximately 252,000 barrels per day (bbls/d).

Canada currently produces about 4.7 million bbls/d, according to the Canadian Energy Regulator. In 2018, approximately 1.6 million bbls/d was consumed by domestic refineries.

Already, Canada is the 10th fastest adopter of EVs in the world, with sales growing 165% year-over-year in 2018, EY said.

“Electric vehicles have the potential to profoundly reshape everything from local transit to global commerce, and Canada’s energy players are not going to be immune from this impact,” EY Canada oil and gas leader Lance Mortlock said in a statement.

Rapid EV adoption could trigger convergence of oil and gas and power and utilities companies in the marketplace, EY said.

“Diversifying portfolios will be crucial for oil and gas companies in a rapid-adoption future,” Mortlock said. “To stay relevant and ensure profitable revenue streams, they’ll need to invest more in clean energy, petrochemical products and access to tidewater to enter new markets.”

EY found that rapid adoption could also cause an 11% spike in Canadian electricity demand, requiring utilities to make significant investments in existing grid infrastructure to allow consumers to charge cars at home and in public spaces. Distribution network upgrades would also be required to improve power transmission across the country, including to rural areas.

“A dramatic increase in electricity demand would likely result in new power and utilities players coming to market,” said Daniela Carcasole, EY Canada power and utilities leader.

“This could open up a number of collaboration opportunities for existing companies — either through M&A or joint ventures with hotels, restaurants, technology companies and retail stores to offer easy and convenient vehicle charging to consumers.”

Availability of charging infrastructure, price premiums, battery performance, subsidies and time to complete the charge remain key barriers deterring Canadians from purchasing an EV. But even a moderate adoption scenario — with 6.5 million EVs on Canadian roads by 2030 — would require a 5.5% increase in electricity demand, EY said

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Riding an E-Bike Is Not Cheating

A growing body of research shows that electric-assist bikes may have profoundly positive health impacts—and not just for the people who ride them but for society

E-bike biking in mountains

-bikes have been around for over a decade, first as urban utility machines and, increasingly, as performance models for enthusiast recreational riders. But there’s a persistent criticism that using a bike with electric assist is cheating compared with conventional, purely human-powered machines. (This isn’t the only reason people hate e-bikes, but it’s a common one.)

What might surprise you is that this criticism isn’t just leveled at fitness riders. Even urban riders hear it. And in a twist, some of the most vehement e-bike hate comes from other cyclists.

So it’s fair to ask: How, exactly, are e-bike users cheating? Sure, if you enter an organized, nonmotorized bike race on an e-assist model, that’s cheating. You owe it to your peers to compete on equal terms. But if you ride a traditional, solely human-powered bike, and you’re upset that you got beat to the top of the climb by someone on an e-bike, or if you grimace when a rider on a midtail cargo bike speeds by on the bike path in town, consider that someone else’s choices don’t have anything to do with you. It’s not as if you’re getting less of a workout.

Of course, there’s the argument that e-bike riders are somehow cheating themselves out of the proper physical benefits of riding a bike, a criticism that seems thoroughly rooted in our puritanical drive to equate hard work with virtuosity. But a growing body of research suggests that even that argument fails. According to many studies, e-bike users ride at moderate to vigorous intensity levels (admittedly, they ride faster, too). Studies also show that they often cover longer distances than people on pedal-only bikes. Plus, in many cases, e-bike trips are replacing car trips.

As a caveat, a number of these studies either feature small sample sizes or are surveys, in which it’s harder to prove true causation. But the general conclusions are consistent: riding an e-bike offers genuine health and fitness benefits. This is true whether you’re an urban commuter or an enthusiast getting after it.

No, the Motor’s Not Doing All the Work

Electric assist definitely reduces the human effort necessary to go a given speed, but by how much? A small 2017 study (only eight participants) in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity compared exercise intensity for e-bike commuters with pedal-only bike commuters and found that, in terms of intensity, e-bike commuters were still engaging in moderate physical activity, similar to brisk walking.

Brisk walking might not be what you’d call a hard workout. But consider that public-health officials identify physical inactivity as one of the most significant problems in public health in the U.S. The foundational government recommendation for baseline physical activity is at least 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as… a brisk walk.

A 2018 study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine recruited 32 overweight, sedentary participants to compare the cardiorespiratory fitness benefits of commuting on an e-bike versus commuting on a conventional bike. At the end of a four-week trial, where subjects rode at least three days a week, researchers found that peak oxygen uptake, a measure of aerobic fitness, actually increased more in the e-bike group than the group on conventional bikes.

Initial research suggests that the fitness benefits aren’t only relevant to sedentary individuals. A brand-new study out of Brigham Young University, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, compared measured and perceived exercise intensity in a group of 33 amateur cyclists who hammered a short loop on both conventional and electric mountain bikes. The study found that the average heart rate for riders covering the loop on an e-bike was 93.6 percent of their heart rate while riding the same loop on a conventional mountain bike. (Rider speeds on the e-bikes were also four miles per hour faster on average.) Surprisingly, however, participants’ perceived exertion for the e-bike loop was much lower than for the conventional bike loop. That is: they didn’t see riding e-bikes as physically taxing, though they were, in fact, exercising at the same physical intensity.

Collectively, this research hints that riding e-bikes offers physical benefits, even though it doesn’t seem like exercise.

People Who Use E-bikes Ride More Than People on Conventional Bikes

Back in 2016, the European Journal of Applied Physiology published results from a small University of Colorado Boulder study that quantified usage patterns over four weeks of real-world e-bike commuting. Twenty sedentary subjects were recruited to ride at least two hours a week at whatever pace they chose. Participants saw significant improvements in objective health measures like blood pressure and glucose tolerance. They also voluntarily rode twice as much as required: four hours a week on average and almost 200 miles per participant over the four-week study.

Yes, we should be cautious of inferring conclusions from studies with small sample sizes. But the general pattern in the University of Colorado Boulder study is backed up by other research. A 2018 survey from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities at Portland State University canvassed almost 1,800 North American riders, mostly commuters, who had recently purchased e-bikes. Some 25 percent of respondents had used their conventional bikes daily, but that number almost doubled when they converted to e-assist rides. Notably, 6.6 percent of survey respondents didn’t even own a conventional bike before buying an electric-assist model, and some 93.5 percent of those participants rode their e-bike at least once a week.

When asked why they hadn’t previously ridden as often, participants had three common responses: hills were too difficult, destinations were too far, and they didn’t like to arrive sweaty. Those are all things that e-bikes can help with.

Finally, in June, a massive survey published in the peer-reviewed journal Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives found that physical-activity levels were similar between e-bike riders and conventional cyclists, in part because e-bike riders had “significantly longer trip distances.” The more striking comparison was between e-bikers and non-cyclists. Authors reported “substantial increases in physical activity” in people who switched from cars to e-bike commuting. (The survey had over 10,000 initial respondents in seven European cities and over 1,000 participants still responding to biweekly questionnaires after a year.)

E-Bikes Aren’t Just Replacing Conventional Bikes. They’re Replacing Cars.

The accusation that e-bikes are cheating completely falls apart if the alternative is hopping in a car. A 2017 research paper in Transportation Research offers some insight. First, the authors examined 14 older studies showing that access to e-bikes reduced car trips substantially, with the bikes replacing cars for between 35 and 76 percent of trips. Then the authors set up an original study in which 80 residents of Brighton, England, were loaned e-bikes to use; here they found a more modest effect, with a roughly 20 percent reduction in car miles traveled.

The authors noted that Brighton in general has lower rates of car use and higher rates of walking than other parts of the UK, so impacts on driving might be lower than the same experiment conducted in other parts of the country. But the June Transportation Research survey broadly corroborates the findings: e-bike use led to 23 percent fewer trips by conventional, pedal-only bikes and 25 percent fewer car trips (rates varied city to city).

E-bikes, it seems, are so seductive that they replace car trips even when people don’t intend to use them that way. A different 2017 study in Transportation Research found that e-bike buyers in the Netherlands were using e-assist models to replace conventional bikes, not cars, but that car trips went down as a result. People were more willing to commute on e-bikes than on conventional ones.

So is using an e-bike cheating? Research shows that the physical benefits of e-bikes and conventional bikes are more similar than critics make them out to be. Even if you account for the assist, e-bike users seem to ride their bikes more frequently and for longer periods, which makes the physical-fitness contest a draw, at worst. If we look at cargo bikes, which riders use to haul heavy loads, I suspect any differences nearly disappear. And for urban use, at least, they’re replacing sedentary travel modes at equal rates to replacing conventional bike use. This means the comparison isn’t always e-bike to bike—it’s e-bike to sitting on your rear in a 180-horsepower, 4,000-pound sarcophagus.

The point isn’t what you’re riding, it’s that you got out at all. Maybe the next time you grab your car keys, ask yourself: Why do I need to use the car for this trip? What are the obstacles to doing it by bike, and would an e-bike help solve those issues? Maybe the real cheating is that alluring, lazy excuse we all give ourselves: it’s easier to go by car.  SOURCE

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California is on track to miss its climate targets—by a century

And it’s likely to get harder, not easier, for the state to achieve ever deeper cuts in emissions

Photograph of smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.
AP / NOAH BERGER

California has established itself as a global model on climate issues, with Teslas filling its roads and solar farms stretching across its sun-baked Central Valley.

The state set up the nation’s first economy-wide cap-and-trade program, put in place aggressive vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and passed a series of ever stricter climate pollution rules. That includes the landmark 2018 law requiring all of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by the end of 2045.

But for all its regulatory achievements, California also offers a case study in just how hard it is to make progress on the only thing that really matters: reducing emissions.

The state’s climate pollution declined by just 1.15% in 2017, according to the latest California Green Innovation Index. At that rate, California won’t reach its 2030 decarbonization goals (cutting emissions to 40% below 1990 levels) until 2061—and wouldn’t hit its 2050 targets (80% below 1990 levels) until 2157.

If a state that’s actively trying to slash emissions is on pace to miss its targets by a century, that bodes poorly for progress in the many other parts of the world that are barely bothering. Crucially, the UN’s climate panel says the world as a whole needs to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050 to halt warming at 1.5 ˚C, or by 2070 to stay below 2˚ C.

What went wrong?

Transportation emissions, the state’s largest source, have steadily risen since 2013, as the improving economy put more cars on the road and planes in the sky. Emissions from waste dumped into landfills have also been ticking up since the recovery took hold. Meanwhile, highly potent greenhouse gases from the aerosols, foams, and solvents used in refrigeration and air conditioning are rising sharply.

These increases have offset the highly touted declines in emissions from the electricity sector as a growing share of the state’s power comes from renewable sources like wind and solar. Emissions from in-state generation are down 35% since 2000.

The new math means California will now need to boost its annual emissions cuts to 4.51% per year to pull off its 2030 targets—or 5.34% annually to achieve its 2050 goals, the report found. And of course, every year the state comes in below those rates will only push those numbers even higher.

The problem is it’s likely to get harder, not easier, for California to achieve ever deeper cuts in emissions. To understand why, consider three areas:

Slowing progress for renewables

Electricity is actually the easy part of decarbonization, because we have relatively cheap and reliable wind, solar, geothermal, and other carbon-free sources. But new renewables projects commissioned by the state’s investor-owned utilities, like PG&E and SDG&E, have been nearly flat for the last three years.

The report says that’s mainly because utilities had already achieved the state’s 2020 renewables targets years early—indeed, they’re way ahead.

But energy observers stress that deeper, systemic problems are building: the state’s utilities are losing loads of customers to community choice aggregators. These programs allow local communities, like Marin and Berkeley, to buy electricity from in-state or out-of-state sources on behalf of their residents and businesses, but still lean on the utility’s transmission and distribution infrastructure.

That’s left utilities with more power plants than they need, and thus no reason to enter into additional deals with developers to build renewables facilities. In fact, they could go deep into the next decade without adding contracts for new solar or wind farms and remain in compliance with the state’s tightening renewables standards, says Matthew Freedman, staff attorney with the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group, and a lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

Bottom line: It could take years before the state starts to see a real uptick in new renewables projects again. Recognizing the growing challenges presented by this fragmentation of the state’s energy system, some California legislators have proposed tasking a state agency with ensuring the necessary levels of clean electricity development.

Hard-to-solve sectors

Achieving deeper cuts in other areas is even harder.

The glimmer of good news for transportation is that electric vehicles do represent a growing share of new vehicle sales, at just under 8% in the state last year. But they still make up only 1.5% of registered vehicles in the state, with hybrids accounting for 3.4%, the report notes.

At the same time, overall car ownership rates are rising, public-transit use is falling, and consumers are still shifting toward gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. And the 92% of vehicles sold last year that weren’t EVs will, on average, still be on the roads more than a decade from now.

Accelerating the shift to cleaner vehicles is likely to require far stricter policies, far more generous subsidies, cheaper EVs, and a massive build-out of charging infrastructure. And even California’s efforts to boost the average fuel efficiency of cars sold in the state have been complicated by the Trump administration’s legal challenges.

California has created some novel programs to help cut emissions in other areas, including agriculture. But there simply aren’t available technologies yet to fully decarbonize some of the state’s emission sources, including aviation.

Wildfires

Finally, California’s worsening wildfires are also complicating its efforts to cut emissions. Burning forests pump out massive amounts of greenhouse gases stored in plants and trees. And rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns have already extended the fire season by 75 days across the state’s sprawling Sierra Nevada range.

The raging wildfires in 2018 produced about 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nine times more than the amount by which the state cut emissions the previous year. SOURCE

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Flood of Oil Is Coming, Complicating Efforts to Fight Global Warming

A Norwegian oil platform in the North Sea. Norway’s production has declined for two decades, but its development of the Johan Sverdrup deepwater field should reverse the trend.
Credit…Nerijus Adomaitis/Reuters

HOUSTON — A surge of oil production is coming, whether the world needs it or not.

The flood of crude will arrive even as concerns about climate change are growing and worldwide oil demand is slowing. And it is not coming from the usual producers, but from Brazil, Canada, Norway and Guyana — countries that are either not known for oil or whose production has been lackluster in recent years.

This looming new supply may be a key reason Saudi Arabia’s giant oil producer, Aramco, pushed ahead on Sunday with plans for what could be the world’s largest initial stock offering ever.

Together, the four countries stand to add nearly a million barrels a day to the market in 2020 and nearly a million more in 2021, on top of the current world crude output of 80 million barrels a day. That boost in production, along with global efforts to lower emissions, will almost certainly push oil prices down.

Lower prices could prove damaging for Aramco and many other oil companies, reducing profits and limiting new exploration and drilling, while also reshaping the politics of the nations that rely on oil income.

The new rise in production is likely to bring economic relief to consumers at the gas pump and to importing nations like China, India and Japan. But cheaper oil may complicate efforts to combat global warming and wean consumers and industries off their dependence on fossil fuels, because lower gasoline prices could, for example, slow the adoption of electric vehicles.
Canada, Norway, Brazil and Guyana are all relatively stable at a time of turbulence for traditional producers like Venezuela and Libya and tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their oil riches should undercut efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia to support prices with cuts in production and give American and other Western policymakers an added cushion in case there are renewed attacks on oil tankers or processing facilities in the Persian Gulf.

Driving New Production

Daniel Yergin, the energy historian who wrote “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Power and Money,” compared the impact of the new production to the advent of the shale oil boom in Texas and North Dakota a decade ago.

“Since all four of these countries are largely insulated from traditional geopolitical turmoil, they will add to global energy security,” Mr. Yergin said. But he also predicted that as with shale, the incremental supply gain, combined with a sluggish world economy, could drive prices lower.

There is already a glut on the world market, even with exports from Venezuela and Iran sharply curtailed by American sanctions. Should their production come back, that glut would only expand.

Years of moderate gasoline prices have already increased the popularity of bigger cars and sports utility vehicles in the United States, and the probability of more oil on the market is bound to weigh on prices at the pump over the next few years.

The oil-supply outlook is a sharp departure from the early 2000s, when prices soared as producers strained to keep up with ballooning demand in China and some analysts warned that the world was running out of oil.  MORE