Is there a moral case for meat?

Where are the philosophers arguing that eating meat is moral?

When I started researching this piece, I’d already read a lot of arguments against meat, but I hadn’t seen a serious philosophical defense of carnivores. So I started asking around. I asked academics, meat industry representatives, and farmers: Who was the philosophical counterweight to Peter Singer?

In 1975, Singer wrote Animal Liberation, which launched the modern animal rights movement with its argument that causing animal suffering is immoral. There are plenty of other arguments against eating animals besides Singer’s, going back to the ancient Greeks and Hindus. There are even arguments that Christianity contains a mandate for vegetarianism. Matthew Scully’s Dominion argues against animal suffering; Scully rejects Singer’s utilitarian assertion that humans and animals are equal but says that, since God gave people “dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth,” so we have a responsibility to care for them and show them mercy.

The arguments against eating animals are pretty convincing. But surely, I thought, there were also intellectuals making convincing counterarguments. Right? Nope. Not really.

There is the Cartesian idea that animals are unfeeling machines, incapable of suffering — but I just wasn’t buying that. It’s clear that animals have an aversive response to pain, and careful, well-respected scientists are saying that animals are probably capable of feeling and consciousness. Once we admit even the possibility that animals are sentient, the ethical game is on: It doesn’t matter that an animal is just an animal; if you’re against suffering and you agree animals can feel pain, it’s pretty hard to justify eating them. (Of course, the further you get from humans the harder it is to judge — plants may be sentient in a totally alien way! Singer says we can stop caring somewhere between a shrimp and oyster.)

My enquiries didn’t turn up any sophisticated defense of meat. Certainly there are a few people here and there making arguments around the edges, but nothing that looked to me like a serious challenge to Singer. In fact, the lack of philosophical work to justify meat eating is so extreme that people kept referring me not to scholarly publications, but to an essay contest that the New York Times held back in 2012. Ariel Kaminer organized that contest after noticing the same gaping hole in the philosophical literature that I’d stumbled upon. Vegetarians have claimed the ethical high ground with book after book and, Kaminer wrote:

In response, those who love meat have had surprisingly little to say. They say, of course, that, well, they love meat or that meat is deeply ingrained in our habit or culture or cuisine or that it’s nutritious or that it’s just part of the natural order … But few have tried to answer the fundamental ethical issue: Whether it is right to eat animals in the first place, at least when human survival is not at stake.

The winner of that contest, Jay Bost, didn’t take it much farther than that, basically arguing that “meat is just part of the natural order,” because animals are an integral part of the food web. That’s a start, but I’d want a lot more than a 600-word essay to flesh out the idea and respond to the obvious criticisms — since almost all the animals we eat are far removed from natural food webs, it’s still basically a prescription for veganism. Plus, where do you draw the line on what’s natural?

I found several beginnings of arguments like this — no real philosophical shelter for a meat eater, but a few foundational observations that you might build something upon if you carefully thought through all the implications.

Animal welfare expert Temple Grandin offered one potential plank for building a defense of meat eating. “We’ve gotta give animals a life worth living,” she told me. Later in the interview, she reminded me that most farm animals wouldn’t have a life at all if no one ate meat. Combine these points and you could argue that it’s better to have a life worth living than no life at all — even if it ends with slaughter and consumption.

When I bounced this argument off the ethicist Paul Thompson, he said, “That may be a defensible position, but a philosopher should also be prepared to apply it to humans.”

Right. It’s hard to limit the “a life worth living is better than no life at all” argument to farm animals. Using the same argument we might raise children for the purpose of producing organs: As long as they were well cared for, ignorant of their fate, and painlessly slaughtered, you could say they had a life worth living. The clone gets a (short) life, a dying girl get a new heart, everyone wins! It’s rationally consistent, but certainly doesn’t feel right to me.

Perhaps some brilliant philosopher will develop these points, but, since I am not one of those, I was left with the conclusion that the vegans were right. Oddly, however, that didn’t make me think twice about laying sliced turkey on my sandwich the next day. I was convinced on a rational level, but not in an embodied, visceral way.

Animal Liberation is one of those rare books that demand that you either defend the way you live or change it,” Michael Pollan once wrote. I know what he means — when I first read it, I felt battered and stupefied by the horrors of animal suffering that Singer paraded before me. Nevertheless, despite my inability to muster a defense for my meat eating, I didn’t change my way of life. Pollan didn’t, either: His piece is set up as a stunt — he’s reading Animal Liberation while eating rib-eye in a steakhouse. And, though Pollan finds himself agreeing with Singer, he has no problem finishing his steak.

I tend to think of rational argument as a powerful force, certainly more powerful than the trivial pleasure of eating meat. But it turns out that’s backwards: Rational morality tugs at us with the slenderest of threads, while meat pulls with the thick-twined chords of culture, tradition, pleasure, the flow of the crowd, and physical yearning — and it pulls at us three times a day. Thousands, convinced by Singer and the like, become vegetarians for moral reasons. And then most of those thousands start eating meat again. Vaclav Smil notes: “Prevalence of all forms of ‘vegetarianism’ is no higher than 2–4 percent in any Western society and that long-term (at least a decade) or life-long adherence to solely plant-based diets is less than 1 percent.” As the psychologist Hal Herzog told Grist’s Katie Herzog in this podcast, “It’s the single biggest failure of the animal rights movement.”

How do we deal with this? Some people just shrug and say, “Whatever, animals are different, it’s OK to kill them.” I can’t quite bring myself to do that, because I value rational consistency. And yet, I don’t feel immoral when I eat meat — I actually feel pretty good.

Whenever you have lots of people agreeing in principle to a goal that is impossible for most to achieve in practice, you have something resembling religion. Religions are all about setting standards that most people will never live up to. And Thompson thinks they have something to teach us on this issue.

Thompson’s solution is to treat vegetarianism the way religious traditions treat virtues. Christians strive to love their neighbors, but they don’t say that people who fail to reach Jesus-level self-sacrifice are immoral. Buddhists strive for detachment, but they don’t flagellate themselves when they fail to achieve it.

Thompson suggests that we should strive to do better by animals, but that doesn’t mean we should condemn ourselves for eating meat. There are lots of cases like this, he told me. “Some people are going to take these issues up in a way that other people would find really difficult,” Thompson said. “For instance, we all respect Mother Theresa for taking on amazing burdens, but we don’t say that you are evil for not doing it.”

This makes sense to me. Louis CK can make a pretty solid argument that people who have enough money to buy a nice car (or to spend time reading long essays about meat philosophy) should be donating 90 percent of their income to the poor.

And yet most of us don’t give up our luxuries. By Thompson’s reasoning, that doesn’t make us immoral. In fact, he says, it’s just wrong to condemn people who eat meat. When people rise out of extreme poverty, that is, when they start earning $2.60 a day, they almost invariably spend that newfound money on animal protein: milk, meat, or eggs. Now, you might roll your eyes and say that of course the desperate should be excused from the moral obligation — but wait. As Thompson writes in his book, From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone:

[T]his response misses my point. Excuses apply in extenuating circumstances, but the logic of excuses implies that the action itself is still morally wrong. A poor person might be excused for stealing a loaf of bread. Theft might be excused when a poor person’s situation takes a turn for the worse, but in the case at hand, their situation has taken a turn toward the better. Under modestly improved circumstances, the extremely poor add a little meat, milk, or eggs into their diet. My claim is that there is something curious with a moral system that reclassifies legally and traditionally sanctioned conduct of people at the utter margins of society as something that needs to be excused.

Is it morally wrong for a hungry child in India to eat an egg? This isn’t just a thought experiment — it’s a real controversy. It’s not enough to wave it off by saying it’s easy to provide vegan alternatives, because those alternative just don’t exist for many people. Often, the cheapest high-quality protein available to the poor comes from animals. Thompson’s point is that allowing people to access that protein should be moral, not just an excusable lapse.

If we accept Thompson’s formulation (and I’m inclined to), it lets us stop wringing our hands over our hypocrisy and strive to improve conditions for animals. That’s what Temple Grandin does. She didn’t have much patience for my philosophical questions. Instead, she is focused on the realistic changes that will give animals better lives. And as I talked to her, she served up surprise after surprise. Many of the elements in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that people find most abhorrent, she said, may be fine from the animal’s perspective. For instance, consider egg-laying hens: What’s better for them — an open barn or stacked cages? Small battery cages, with several hens packed inside each, are bad news, according to Grandin, but enriched cages are a really good alternative.

“There are objective ways to measure a hen’s motivation to get something she wants — like a private nest box,” Grandin told me. “How long is she willing to not eat to get it, or how heavy a door will she push to get it? How many times will she push a switch to get it? A private nest box is something she wants, because in the wild she has an instinct to hide in the bushes so that a fox doesn’t get [her eggs]. Give her some pieces of plastic to hang down that she can hide behind. Give her a little piece of astroturf to lay [her eggs] on. Give her a perch, and a piece of plastic to scratch on, and at least enough cage height so she can walk normally. I’m gonna call that apartment living for chickens. Do they need natural elements? Being outside? Science can’t answer that. I mean, there are people in New York that hardly go outside.”

I pressed her: Can’t you use those same objective measurement techniques to see how badly the hens want to go outside and scratch for bugs?

“Well you can,” Grandin said, “and the motivation is pretty weak compared to something like the nest box, which is hardwired. Take dust bathing. For a hen dust bathing is nice to do, but it’s kind of like, yes, it’s nice to have a fancy hotel room, but the EconoLodge will do too.”

And in fact, the free-range system that I would instinctively choose for chickens may be worse than an enriched cage — because the birds get sick and injured a lot more. And laying hens, unlike meat chickens, are pretty nasty about setting up pecking orders. As Thompson observes in his book, “This is well and good in the flocks of 10 to 20 birds, as might be observed among wild jungle fowl, and it is probably tolerable in a flock of 40 to 60 birds that might have been seen on a typical farmstead in 1900 … But a cage-free/ free-range commercial egg barn will have between 150,000 to 500,000 hens occupying the same space. If you are a hen at the bottom end of the pecking order in an environment like that, you are going to get pecked. A lot.”

Even small farms with pastured hens that produce $9-a-dozen eggs often have hundreds of birds, which means the most submissive hens are going to get beat up. I certainly prefer Joel Salatin’s 400-bird Eggmobile on lush grass, because to my human eyes it’s beautiful — and chicken cages look horrible. But I have real doubt as to what’s better from the chicken’s perspective.

There are a lot of counterintuitive things like this when it comes to animal farming (here’s our Q&A in full). So I asked Grandin how we should feel about animal agriculture in the United States as it’s currently practiced: Do these animals really have a life worth living?

It varies greatly, she said, but some CAFOs really are good. “I think cattle done right have a decent life,” she said. I couldn’t get her to give a simple thumbs up or down to chicken or pork CAFOs.

Talking to Grandin didn’t make me want to go stock up on corn-fed beef, but it did significantly soften my (negative) feelings about industrial animal production. And talking to Thompson made me realize that I was willing to compromise the needs of animals for the needs of humans if they come into direct conflict. In that way I’m a speciesist — I have an unshakeable favoritism for humans. Perhaps it’s irrational, but I really want that little girl in India to get her egg, even if it means hens suffer, even if there’s a good vegan alternative for a slightly higher cost.

Perhaps there’s a philosophical argument to be made in defense of killing animals, but no one has spelled that out in a way that I found convincing. Does this mean that we should join the vegans?

I think the answer is yes, but in a very limited way — in the same way that we all should take vows of poverty and stop thinking impure thoughts. Ending deaths and suffering is a worthy moral goal for those of us who have the wealth to make choices. But saying that it’s wrong and immoral to eat meat is just too absolutist. I mean, even the Dalai Lama, who says vegetarianism is preferable, eats meat twice a week.

The binary, good-or-evil view of meat is pragmatically counterproductive — the black and white strategy hasn’t gotten many people to become vegan. Instead, let’s focus on giving farm animals a life worth living. SOURCE

Bike lanes mean business on Bloor

Extending bike lanes on Bloor can help save small independent businesses that are important fixtures of Toronto’s neighbourhoods

Liza Lukashevsky This One.jpgLiza Lukashevsky is a long-time business-owner on Bloor.       

I own a store on Bloor Street, so when a group of researchers from the University of Toronto published a study in August about the positive economic impacts of the Bloor bike lane pilot, I was immediately interested.

My health food store is on a stretch of Bloor that doesn’t yet have a bike lane. But based on this study – and my own observations as a merchant for 10 years – I’m really looking forward to the Bloor lane extension coming to my shop.

This is a difficult time for small businesses like mine. We’re getting squeezed between the Big Box stores and the rise of internet shopping,

However, s are important fixtures of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. We offer customers a sense of community. We offer them something that’s local and human-scale. Many Torontonians aren’t looking for huge parking lots nor even necessarily the lowest price. But they do want to feel that local merchants are their neighbours.

This is where bike lanes come in. They help make travel calmer and more sociable. They bring charm to a neighbourhood. And they make our roads feel less like highways and more like friendly main streets.

Many older cities, such as Barcelona and London, are putting more of an emphasis on pedestrian travel and cycling so that folks can enjoy a more intimate experience. They really get to know merchants and merchants get to know them. Customers learn which storeowners are most knowledgeable about, say, cheeses, and which shops have the best fruits and vegetables. Retailers, in turn, become familiar with buyers’ likes and dislikes.

Cycling facilitates all of this.

Unlike motorists, who sometimes shoot past, cyclists move at a more relaxed pace, one that allows them to notice my business and then stop and visit.

I find bike-riding shoppers to be very loyal. Maybe it’s because they have a bit more time on their hands. They may purchase a little less, but they generally shop more frequently.

I’m also fond of cycling because it improves air quality. All the cars and trucks on Bloor mean lots of pollution. In fact, I often have to keep the door of my shop closed to ensure black soot doesn’t blow in. Over time, increased bike ridership will mean easier breathing.

But to get more folks on bikes, we absolutely need to make cycling safer. Lots of people want to ride but don’t because it feels dangerous. Who can blame them? We need protected bike lanes on Bloor, at least to High Park.

Of course, the lanes need to be appropriately designed. And businesspeople should be part of the discussion on what exactly they should look like. Seniors need to be at the table as well. We have to ensure they can cross the lanes safely.

But none of this should be a problem. By consulting local residents and merchants, city staff will be able to design bike lanes that work for cyclists and non-cyclists.

One of the key takeaways in the U of T study is that bike lanes are a good way to protect our climate and air. They also go hand in hand with a great climate for business.  SOURCE


Trans Mountain received $320M in government subsidies in first half 2019: report

Trans Mountain
Trans Mountain Corp. has advised construction contractors to get ready for the restart of its pipeline expansion project to the west coast. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

VANCOUVER — The Trans Mountain pipeline received $320 million in subsidies from the Canadian and Alberta governments in the first half of 2019, says a new report by an economic institute that analyzes environmental issues.

The money included $135.8 million in direct subsidies and $183.8 million in indirect subsidies that were not clearly disclosed to taxpayers, says the report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“This is a very large subsidy. It really does require more public discussion and public disclosure,” says Tom Sanzillo, the group’s director of finance and a former deputy comptroller of the state of New York.

Sanzillo and the report’s co-author, institute financial analyst Kathy Hipple, analyzed the second-quarter report of the Canada Development Investment Corp., a Crown corporation meant to further the country’s economic development that counts Trans Mountain Corp. among its subsidiaries.

The document is public but presents a consolidated picture of the development corporation’s finances, including revenues from the Canada Hibernia Holding Corp., which operates the Crown’s interest in oil reserves off Newfoundland and Labrador.

This accounting treatment obscures the real financial state of Trans Mountain, Sanzillo says.

“It’s a good form of accounting. I’m not criticizing it. It just shouldn’t be the only mechanism for showing the public how much money is being spent on this,” he says.

The Canadian government gave the development corporation just over $5 billion to finance the acquisition of Trans Mountain, the report says. Trans Mountain Corp. must make regular interest payments to the Canadian government at a rate of 4.7 per cent.

The cash was provided to Trans Mountain in two sections: a $2.8 billion loan and a $2.3 billion equity investment. The interest on the loan must be paid from the pipeline’s business activity, while the interest on the equity investment can be paid from a third-party subsidy, the report says.

The Canada Hibernia Holding Corp. covered the interest on the equity investment for the first half of 2019, representing a direct subsidy of $46.3 million, the report says.

Trans Mountain posted a $10.9 million loss in this reporting period prior to taxes, the report says.

However, the loss is subsidized in the consolidated financial report by the Hibernia corporation’s earnings, amounting to another $10.9-million direct subsidy, the report says.

Sanzillo also says the development corporation uses an “accounting gimmick” to obscure Trans Mountain’s pension liability of $24.4 million. This is one more direct subsidy, he says.

Finally, the Alberta government reduced corporate taxes through a tax credit starting in January 2019. This policy action allowed Trans Mountain to save $54.1 million in taxes, yet another direct subsidy that the development corporation uses to turn the corporation’s pre-tax loss into a post-tax gain, according to the report.

A representative for Trans Mountain referred all questions about the report to the Department of Finance, which says that the government does not consider any part of its investment in the pipeline to be a subsidy.

The department says in a statement late Tuesday that Trans Mountain Corp. is undertaking a major expansion and incurring associated expenses without any related revenues, which is “normal” during the development phase of any big project.

It also says the government extended loans using commercial-level rates and it still considers the expansion project to be economically viable.

“The government expects to realize a positive financial return on its investment,” the statement says.

Sanzillo, however, identifies what he calls an indirect subsidy — the difference between the interest a private company would have charged Trans Mountain versus the rate charged by the Canadian government.

Canada’s 4.7 per cent interest rate stands in contrast with the 12 to 15 per cent rate of return used by its former owner, Kinder Morgan, the report says.

Sanzillo used the lower figure, 12 per cent, to calculate that a private company would have charged Trans Mountain $302.1 million in interest in the first half of 2019. The Canadian government, meanwhile, charged it $118.3 million.

That amounts to an indirect subsidy of $183.8 million for the first six months of the year, according to the report.

The report authors acknowledge that the Canadian government does not have to adhere to commercial standards.

“(The report) is about transparency and not meant to be a legal challenge to the right of the Canadian government to subsidize the pipeline project. It is a matter of dollars at risk that the Canadian taxpayer might absorb,” it says.

When the authors added the $46.3-million interest payment and the $24.4-million pension expense back to Trans Mountain’s financials, they concluded the pipeline corporation had a $67.1-million pre-tax loss and a $12.9 million loss after taxes.

The Canadian government plans to ultimately sell the pipeline. If it does so for a lower price than it paid for the infrastructure, it can legally forgive any debt that is left over, Sanzillo adds. SOURCE

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley thrown out of house in Bill 22 stand-off

NDP Leader Rachel Notley says firing election commissioner a ‘threat to our democratic institutions’


Rachel Notley is removed from the legislature

After refusing an order to apologize in the Alberta Legislature, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley is removed by Speaker Nathan Cooper. 6:33

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley was ordered to leave the legislative assembly Tuesday after she refused to apologize for saying the United Conservative Party house leader was lying about a bill to fire the election commissioner.

She was posing a question about Bill 22, introduced Monday, which would fire Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson in the middle of his investigation into the UCP leadership race, won by Premier Jason Kenney.

Notley objected when UCP House Leader Jason Nixon said “no one is firing anyone” when answering her questions in the house about Gibson’s pending termination. Bill 22 says the person holding the position of election commissioner is terminated when the bill becomes law, though the chief electoral officer could hire them back.

Under house rules, MLAs are not allowed to say another member is lying or misleading the house. Usually, the issue is resolved when an MLA apologizes and withdraws their remarks at the request of the Speaker. But Notley refused to do so.

“The greatest jeopardy posed in this house is posed by Bill 22,” she told Speaker Nathan Cooper. “And at this point we must have a full and honest conversation that does not involve misleading statements by any member over there.

“So I will not apologize until we have fully canvassed the destructive nature of this bill in a historic way to the people of this province and to the members of this house past, current and future.”

Outside the house, Notley defended her conduct.

“Why are we interrupting that conversation, the important conversation, with something as trivial as that when the whole institution, the whole independence, the whole role of the legislature is under attack right now,” Notley told reporters.

“I just knew that we needed to make the case that this is a much bigger issue than parliamentary language. This is about parliamentary existence.”

Appeal to lieutenant-governor

Earlier in the day, Notley asked Alberta’s lieutenant-governor to deny assent of Bill 22 if it is passed by Alberta’s majority UCP government.

Gibson expressed concern his dismissal will compromise “the independence of election administration and the real and perceived integrity of the election process.”

In a written statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Gibson said he was “surprised and disappointed” after learning of his pending job loss through media reports.

Gibson has been focusing on the so-called “kamikaze” leadership bid of Jeff Callaway since he took office last year and has laid more than $200,000 in fines against 15 people involved.

The Callaway and Kenney campaigns are alleged to have conspired to bring down Kenney’s main opponent Brian Jean. Both men deny the collaboration.

“Inadequate enforcement of election rules can allow for inappropriate conduct to occur and that conduct can affect voter participation and election outcomes,” Gibson wrote.

Notley sent a letter on Tuesday to Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell urging her to take action on a bill Notley calls a “misuse of the authority of the legislature” and “a threat to our democratic institutions” — particularly since the government has moved to limit time for debate.

“While I recognize that it is unusual for the lieutenant-governor to exercise this authority, I am convinced that the exceptional nature of this proposed legislation calls for such extraordinary measures,” Notley writes.

Claims of greater efficiency

The proposed legislation would dissolve the independent office of the election commissioner and change the scope of the position so it reports to Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler.

Gibson’s contract, which was in place until 2023, would be terminated upon passage and royal assent of the bill.

The government claims the move achieves greater efficiency and saves $1 million over five years.

Critics say that by removing Gibson, Premier Jason Kenney is thwarting additional investigations into the race.

Finance Minister Travis Toews, the minister responsible for Bill 22, said Resler is free to rehire Gibson if he chooses. Toews said the change will have no effect on ongoing investigations.

The NDP will also seek an emergency debate on the bill Tuesday afternoon. Since the UCP has a majority in the Alberta legislature, the request likely will not be granted.

Notley said on Monday the NDP caucus will also be seeking advice on what legal steps can be taken to stop the government from firing Gibson. SOURCE

Hundreds join walkout for fossil fuel divestment

(Benjamin Joppke / The McGill Tribune)

Gathered around the snowy steps of the McGill Community Square on Nov. 12, over 200 students and faculty took part in a walkout calling for the university to divest from fossil fuels. The protest was co-organized by Divest McGill, Greenpeace McGill, and Climate Justice Action McGill (C-JAM).

Protestors chanted and cheered as speakers called on McGill’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) to support their demand that the university divests from the top 200 largest fossil fuel companies. CAMSR, who was meeting simultaneously in the James Administration Building adjacent to the Square, was finalizing recommendations on divestment to be approved by the Board of Governors on Dec. 5. Divest McGill organizers hoped that the protest would be loud enough to be heard from inside the building.

Speaker Dr. Jen Gobby, PhD ‘16, returned her bachelor’s diploma in disapproval of McGill’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels. She expressed her disappointment with the university’s immutability on the issue.

“It’s 2019 […] and still, this institution is invested, as in financially benefiting, from an industry that is killing people, ravaging ecosystems and threatening the future of its student body,” Gobby said. “McGill, […] by continuing to invest in fossil fuels, is strengthening the resilience of an energy system that needs to die.”

Gobby, who recently finished her PhD at McGill in economics in the Anthropocene program, also highlighted the socio-economic consequences of climate change.

“We know that climate change is exacerbating existing social inequality and injustice,” Gobby said. “That people already marginalized by systemic racism, sexism, poverty, and colonialism are bearing the worst of the impacts, first and hardest.”

Concordia student Emily Carson-Apstein, who spearheaded Concordia’s successful divestment campaign as the external sustainability coordinator for Sustainable Concordia, encouraged protestors to remain resilient and criticized both universities’ administration for their inaction to negotiate greener investments.

“I know that this is not a financial movement, it is a social one,” Carson-Apstein said. “Oil is holding up the capitalist colonial history of Canada. They can talk about percentages, and [socially responsible investing] and long-term goals, and we kept saying ‘sure, but there are kids out there who don’t have clean water’.”

Student organizer Laura Mackay, U4 Environment, stressed that McGill has historical precedents for divestment campaigns. She noted the university’s cessation of business ties with companies in South Africa’s apartheid regime in 1985 and divestment from the tobacco industry in 2007.

“Now, in 2019, we’re demanding that the university follows its own precedent and divests from another injurious industry,” Mackay said.

Professor Gregory Mikkelson, professor of environment and philosophy and president-elect of the McGill Association of University Teachers, has been part of the divestment campaign since it began in 2012. He congratulated protestors on their tenacity, despite the meager progress the campaign has achieved in the past seven years.

“Our bosses failed in their gambit to wait until a few troublemakers graduated,” Mikkelson said. “Those troublemakers passed on their arguments, their stories, their passion and the professors they roused from this ivory cloister.”

Despite the frigid temperature, most participants remained till the end of the protest, enthusiastically relaying cheers. For Katie Ross, U3 Science and member of Greenpeace McGill, the turnout demonstrated students’ eagerness for change.

“I think it sends the message that were a unified force,” Ross said. “[We are] not going to stop […] until we reach divestment from fossil fuels.” SOURCE

If you’re shocked by the firing of Alberta’s election commissioner, you shouldn’t be

 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and cabinet swearing-in ceremony, April 30, 2019. . Image: Ian Jackson/Premier of Alberta/Flickr

If you’re shocked that Jason Kenney’s government has effectively just fired the guy who’s been investigating the sleazy kamikaze campaign that preceded the premier’s selection as leader of the United Conservative Party in 2017, you really haven’t been paying attention.

Alberta’s best-known political commentator is so shocked…

How shocked is he? …

Yesterday Don Braid, the Calgary Herald’s venerable political columnist, called the mechanism to fire Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson buried in Bill 22, which will become the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act as soon as the UCP caucus finishes rushing it through the legislature, “a genuine gasping shocker.”

That it is not. Indeed, the only shock — mild surprise, more like — is that the UCP didn’t do this sooner, like weeks after the April 16 election that brought Kenney and the UCP to power, before Gibson had the opportunity to levy $210,000 in fines on various bad actors involved in the UCP leadership race.

As was said in this space in January 2018, well before the election that brought the UCP to power, “if the government changes after the general election expected very soon, there can be no confidence a new government would not shut down the investigation for fear of what it might find.”

And as I observed in July, Kenney clearly wanted to send Gibson packing as soon as possible, “if only he could think up a decent excuse that didn’t make it look like he was trying to derail an ongoing investigation.”

Is the perceived need to consolidate government offices, then underfund the one that’s left, a good enough excuse? Any old port in a storm! So, no, this is not exactly a gasping shocker.

Most of the folks fined by the office of the election commissioner for various campaign shenanigans seem to have been involved in the effort by Jeff Callaway’s leadership campaign to bring down Kenney’s chief competitor, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, while the future premier kept his paws clean. It’s come to be known as a kamikaze campaign because it was intended to self-destruct the instant it had immolated Jean’s ambitions.

But unless you believe there’s something to guilt by association, Kenney himself has managed to escape suspicion. Still, you can’t be too careful, which is why, of course, the government is now moving ahead on might alternatively be called an Act to Rid Me of That Meddlesome Election Commissioner.

The government says the investigations started by Gibson and his staff after the NDP government set up the office of the election commissioner to enforce its election financing laws will continue. If you believe that, you are probably one of the nice people who are shocked, just shocked that the unit is about to be shut down and its boss given his walking papers.

As for Finance Minister Travis Toews’s risible claim this is only being done to save money, I doubt anybody believes that. Naturally, opponents of the government are offended. Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called it “an historic abuse of power in Alberta, one that is corrupt.” But the government’s supporters simply won’t care. They’ll think, with some historical perspective, that this is the way we’ve always done politics in Alberta.

As for Gibson, he knows the drill. He’s been skidded by Alberta Conservatives before, the last time in 2009 when the Progressive Conservatives declined to renew his contract as chief electoral officer for taking his duties too seriously for their tastes.

Unfortunately for Kenney, early on Gibson or someone on his staff alerted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a parallel investigation by the federal police force of voter fraud during the leadership race is continuing.

There is nothing certain UCP insiders can do about that except cross their fingers, lawyer up, and plot the creation of a provincial police force to replace the RCMP. Not that anyone would dare to suggest that … oh, wait!

Meanwhile, lost in the smoke and mirrors, other bad stuff

Meanwhile, while everyone focused on the preparation of Gibson for the skids, there are other goodies in Bill 22. Among them:

  • It will allow political parties to merge — specifically, the UCP and the old Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties, which the UCP kept around on the books while they figured out how to get the substantial sums of cash held by PC constituency associations into the UCP’s coffers. The question mainstream reporters should be asking is this: will the UCP pay off the PCs’ outstanding debts?
  • Transfer of the investments in the better-performing Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund to the Crown-owned Alberta Investment Management Corp., better known as AIMCo, which could open the door to government fingers dipping into teachers’ retirement savings.
  • Reversing the long-promised and only recently delivered pension independence of such public-sector plans as the Local Authorities Pension Plan and the Public Service Pension Plan, a possible first step toward dismantling defined-benefit pension plans for public employees, a longtime goal of the UCP’s corporate backers.



Kenney government is unquestionably corrupt, says Calgary political scientist

What jobs are affected by AI? Better-paid, better-educated workers face the most exposure

Researchers looked at the text of AI patents, then the text of job descriptions, and quantified the overlap in order to identify the kinds of tasks and occupations likely to be affected. The analysis says that AI will be a significant factor in the future work lives of managers, supervisors, and analysts, shaking up law firms, marketing roles, publishers, and computer programming.

Image result for brookings institution: artificial intelligenceQuarter of U.S. jobs could be jeopardized by AI, research shows


Artificial intelligence (AI) has generated increasing interest in “future of work” discussions in recent years as the technology has achieved superhuman performance in a range of valuable tasks, ranging from manufacturing to radiology to legal contracts. With that said, though, it has been difficult to get a specific read on AI’s implications on the labor market.

In part because the technologies have not yet been widely adopted, previous analyses have had to rely either on case studies or subjective assessments by experts to determine which occupations might be susceptible to a takeover by AI algorithms. What’s more, most research has concentrated on an undifferentiated array of “automation” technologies including robotics, software, and AI all at once. The result has been a lot of discussion—but not a lot of clarity—about AI, with prognostications that range from the utopian to the apocalyptic.

Given that, the analysis presented here demonstrates a new way to identify the kinds of tasks and occupations likely to be affected by AI’s machine learning capabilities, rather than automation’s robotics and software impacts on the economy. By employing a novel technique developed by Stanford University Ph.D. candidate Michael Webb, the new report establishes job exposure levels by analyzing the overlap between AI-related patents and job descriptions. In this way, the following paper homes in on the impacts of AI specifically and does it by studying empirical statistical associations as opposed to expert forecasting.

Ford government spending $231M to cancel renewable energy projects

“Last year, this government insisted that there would be no cost to cancelling renewable energy projects like the White Pines Wind Farm,” NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said in the legislature Tuesday.

For the White Pines Wind Farm project in Prince Edward County, the Ontario government is on the hook for an estimated $141 million. The company had signed a 20-year contract to provide the province with renewable energy.

At the project, located two hours east of Toronto, cranes started arriving last month to tear down 100-metre-tall wind turbines that were just built and ready to be switched on. The project was more than a decade in the making and was expected to produce enough energy to power more than 60,000 homes over the length of its contract.

While planning for many of the 751 cancelled projects was well underway, they had not hit key construction milestones. The White Pines project is unique in that construction began in 2017 and the turbines are ready to go.

Outside the town of Milford, nine wind turbines — four fully constructed and five more partially so —  are coming down. They are a casualty of the White Pines Wind Project Termination Act, a bill that was passed by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government just weeks after coming into office.

The government won’t say how much this decommissioning is costing but based on publicly-available documents showing wind power rates, and the project’s generating capacity, CityNews has calculated the province would owe the provider more than $7 million per year of the contract, or just over $141 million over 20 years.

The total cost of all the cancelled renewable energy projects around the provinces is $231 million in 2018-2019, according to the Public Accounts of Ontario.

CityNews has been investigating the costs of decommissioning the projects for weeks. In that time, the government declined to say how much cancelling the White Pines Wind Project would cost taxpayers.

On Tuesday, associate minister of energy Bill Walker would again not confirm the figure in Question Period. Neither would Energy Minister Greg Rickford when he was asked by CityNews earlier this week.

However, an email obtained by CityNews shows that Rickford’s office did confirm to researchers at Queen’s Park that the $231 million was indeed to wind down wind projects. After Question Period on Tuesday, Walker confirmed the figure.

In a one-on-one interview with Rickford, the minister told CityNews that the government’s plan was on track.

“We’re making sure this is entirely consistent with the plan. Sometimes costs upfront will save us down the road — that’s the way we looked at the risks with the 750 projects in total,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Tabuns likened the cancellations to the Liberal’s cancellation of gas plants in 2010.

“The similarities are striking,” he said. “We saw what the Liberal government did to hydro bills and now Premier Ford is doing the same thing at the same time as he’s letting hydro prices increase.”

Walker responded that White Pines and the other 750 renewable energy projects weren’t necessary.

“Our government has been very clear that it would act to cancel any unnecessary contracts. Ontario has an adequate supply of power right now,” he said.

The government also said the move will eventually save taxpayers money.

“Any of the projects that we cancelled were going to cost our system more money over the long haul than the ratepayer was prepared to pay,” Rickford said. “Extraordinarily high-priced projects, like wind power and solar, were not making us competitive. They needed to be dealt with.”

The government estimates the cancellations will save $790 million in the long term, but couldn’t tell CityNews how much had been spent to date in settling those contracts, despite repeated requests or how much the government was saving by cancelling the White Pines contract.

“Those costs are ongoing, the project is in the process of decommissioning. I don’t see any red flags there,” Rickford told CityNews.

CityNews has confirmed that a negotiated settlement has been reached with WPD Canada, the Mississauga company that owns the White Pines turbines. Company spokesperson Ian McCrae would not disclose details of the settlement between the government and WPD shareholders. In the past, company officials have confirmed that it is upwards of $100 million.

The opposition are also arguing that the PC government — which is currently fighting federal climate legislation in court — has another motivation for cancelling the renewable energy projects.

“The government needs to be honest with people about their politically-motivated campaign of literally ripping turbines out of the ground,”  Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said. “It’s going to cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. […] I don’t think tax payers want their money wasted.”

“I don’t believe that they don’t have the information about how much its going to cost,” Tabuns said. “But this is a government that never cares particularly about cost when it comes to pursuing their anti-climate change agenda.”

Tabuns believes that, like the Liberal gas plant scandal, this cancellation will result in an investigation by the auditor-general, something CityNews has heard from other sources involved in the file.

“It’s contrary to the interests of people’s pocket books, their lungs and the environment,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that the auditor-general won’t follow up.”

“This is heartbreaking.”

When asked about the cost of cancellations, Walker said the White Pines community never wanted the windmills and they were imposed by the previous Liberal government.

“We knew that from Day 1, they knew that from Day 1, and they continued to impose these on unwilling hosts like White Pines was,” he said.

The Milford windmills have been controversial in the community. However, locals whose land the turbines are on are upset to see the project scrapped.

“This is heartbreaking, this has been years and years of building a project that’s being cancelled for absolutely no good reason,” Jennifer Ackerman, who has a turbine on her property, said. “All those years of putting it up to say ‘Oh, its up, and let’s tear it all down.’ The environmental impact of that and nothing gained. Nothing.”

Ackerman is one of several area residents who were heavily lobbying for the turbines, which is located not too far from the shores of Lake Ontario.

“I believe in renewable energy. The science is there, it’s a fact Jack, that we’ve got to get away from fossil fuels and this is the way to do it,” added area resident Anne McIntosh.

Ackerman adds: “The amount hasn’t changed with the turbines being cancelled.”

She’s now getting paid in two lump sums — one when the turbines come down, and another when the decommissioning is fully complete. Removing the concrete, with winter on the horizon, could take upwards of a year.

According to terms reached with the government, the company has three years to fully restore the site. It is anticipated the wind turbines and towers will sit on the ground until next spring.

“I’m not saying I don’t appreciate some money and the revenue was looking great,” Ackerman said. “But given the choice between the money and the wind farm? I want the wind farm.”

A clever new solar solution to one of the trickiest climate problems

Making high-temperature industrial heat from sunlight.

Heliogen’s demonstration tower in Lancaster, California. Heliogen

It’s pretty clear how we can reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from some sectors of the economy. Electricity, transportation, and buildings, three of the biggest emitters, have a pathway to zero. It won’t be easy, and progress is too slow, but we have a handle on what to do.

But there are still big chunks of the economy that don’t have a clear line of sight to zero. They don’t yet have the tools they need at competitive prices. They are still waiting on innovation.

Many of them, including cement and steel, rely on large amounts of continuous high-temperature heat, and as I described in this post, there are very few viable low-carbon sources of such heat. Collectively, these industrial processes represent around 20 percent of global carbon emissions. It is one of the thorniest dilemmas in climate policy.

It’s not often that I write about a carbon policy dilemma only to have a clever new solution arrive in my inbox mere days later, but that’s what happened. A new company called Heliogen, coming out of stealth mode on Tuesday, has developed a brand new, zero-carbon way of generating high-temperature heat. It’s backed by an experienced team, boasts Bill Gates as an investor, and seems to have pulled off the rare trick of creating something new in the cleantech world.

Let’s take a look at how they do it.

Adapting concentrating-solar technology for a new purpose

Heliogen’s technology is based on concentrating solar power (CSP). That’s where hundreds of mirrors in a field are all angled to reflect sunlight onto a tower, inside of which is a steam turbine. The heat from the sunlight turns fluid (usually water) to steam, which runs the turbine, which generates power.

Visually, it’s probably the most striking and beautiful of all power generation technologies. Here’s a CSP plant in Seville, Spain:


CSP is a good idea, and it works well, but it stalled out in the 2010s, for the simple reason that solar photovoltaic (PV) panels won. PV got so cheap, so fast, that it undercut CSP. Now CSP is something of a niche product. (Except in Spain, where it’s big.) Shutterstock

Among the CSP startups that didn’t make it was eSolar, a company founded by entrepreneur Bill Gross and his well-known incubator Idealab. (I wrote about eSolar way back in 2008.) Rather than assembling large, complicated, curved heliostats (mirrors) on site, eSolar used small, flat, prefabricated heliostats of only about a square meter. They were cheaper, faster and easier to set up, more modular, and easier to replace.

Gross’s key insight was that he could replace a lot of the material and labor involved in CSP with computing power. (Or, he could replace stuff with intelligence.) Rather than make bigger, more complicated mirrors, he made small, simple ones and controlled them with software, so they stayed aligned more precisely and produced more power. As Gross realized, material and labor generally get more expensive over time, while computing power is always getting cheaper. Anything that substitutes the latter for the former saves money.

eSolar ultimately couldn’t overcome PV’s price advantage, but Gross’s insight remains useful. And with the launch of his new company Heliogen, it seems the technology could make a comeback.

What Gross and his team of scientists and engineers at Heliogen have developed, in a nutshell, is a way to use even more computing power to keep the mirrors even more precisely aligned, thus generating even more heat.

A rendering of the Heliogen tower on the left; the actual tower, in Lancaster, California, on the right.
A rendering of the Heliogen tower on the left; the actual tower, in Lancaster, California, on the right.  Heliogen 

The team had to figure out how to monitor the mirrors in real time, to keep them all aimed at the exact same spot, Gross told me. It’s not enough to calibrate them once, as most CSP plants do. The ground subsides, the wind blows, the mirrors warp, and things slowly drift out of alignment. It may only be by centimeters, but those centimeters add up.

Obviously, a camera can’t be pointed directly at the mirror from the spot where the light is supposed to hit. The camera would melt.

Heliogen solved this problem by perching four super-powerful cameras around the top of the tower. Rather than directly measuring the intensity of light coming off a given mirror, they focus on four points equidistant around it. If the halo of light coming off the mirror is equally intense in each of the four quadrants, then the mirror is precisely aligned. (I find this delightfully resourceful.)

The four cameras are watching all the mirrors all the time, and the exact proper alignment of each mirror is being calculated all the time. As the image-analysis software calculates, it sends constant signals to the mirrors, which result in constant micromovements as the mirrors keep themselves perfectly focused on a single point, about 50 centimeters across.

It’s a “closed loop” system that monitors and adjusts itself, and it requires enormous computing power — more, Gross says, than was available even five years ago.

The 50cm-diameter receiving plate, surrounded by a white ceramic insulating plate, glows white-hot. Note the lack of leakage or spillover; all the light is focused on the same small area.  Heliogen

What is the point of this precise concentrating of light? Heat!

Conventional CSP towers can only get to about 560 degrees Celsius — enough to boil fluid and run a turbine, but not much else. Heliogen’s towers have reached just over 1,000° C and the company believes with further improvements it can hit 1,500° C. That would be a whole new ball game.

High-temperature heat opens up enormous markets for concentrating solar

There are lots of industrial processes that can use 1,000° C heat, like steam reforming of methane. And as that heat creeps higher, it becomes useful for more and more processes, from cement to steel.

When the temperature hits 1,500° C, it opens up something of a holy grail: direct, thermochemical generation of liquid fuels that can substitute for any hydrocarbon fuel.

Huh? Let me explain, as this is a relatively new engineering development, being perfected by Swedish researchers as we speak. It goes like this: a new, state-of-the-art material called ceria (CeO2) is heated to about 1,500° C, at which point it releases a pure stream of oxygen. Then, at about 1,000° C, water and carbon dioxide are introduced. The ceria wants its oxygen back, so it breaks the water and carbon dioxide up into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and oxygen, and absorbs the oxygen. What’s left is a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, otherwise known as “syngas.”

Basically, you start with H2O + CO2 and you end up with a mix of H + CO. As it happens, every hydrocarbon (fossil) fuel in the world, from kerosene to gasoline, from boat fuel to jet fuel, is built around some combination of H and CO, which means synfuel can be refined into any fuel, for any purpose. If the CO2 that feeds into the process is drawn from the ambient air via direct air capture (DAC), which is still a big if for now, then the resulting fuels can be said to be carbon-neutral, a huge improvement on the carbon-intensive fuels now in use.

Cumulatively, these markets for carbon-free industrial heat — steam reforming of methane, cement, steel, synthetic liquid fuels, and more — are enormous, up to a trillion dollars globally, and represent around a fifth of global GHG emissions. They include almost all the most difficult-to-decarbonize sectors.

Heliogen may or may not succeed, but it has a genuine innovation

Obviously, Heliogen’s technology can’t work with every industrial facility. For one thing, Gross estimates that only about half of them worldwide have the land necessary to build a solar-heat facility on site. Facilities would have to integrate what is effectively an airborne oven into their process flow. And every facility would still need backup sources of heat, since the sun is only out for eight hours a day.

Until the technology is proven in a commercial setting, it’s difficult to say much about the real-world performance and costs, so there’s no way to know whether or how much Heliogen may succeed. Though it is stocked with talent and well-funded — Bill Gates said he is “pleased to be an early backer” of what he called “a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel” — it faces the same difficult hurdles as any startup. Most of them die.

Still, whatever its fate, Heliogen is something fairly rare in the world of technology: a genuine innovation. And it’s a great application of Gross’s insight, for which I have become something of an evangelist, namely that the clean-energy transition is going to proceed in large part by substituting computing power for material and labor, i.e., intelligence for stuff.

The ongoing explosion in computing power — AI, machine learning, ubiquitous real-time sensing, and all the rest of it — is going to enable innovations in energy that we can’t begin to predict. It will make our renewable energy technologies more responsive to real-time variations in sun and wind, more able to continuously adapt. It will make our cars and buildings smarter, more able to exchange energy. It will enable the electricity system to decentralize and maximize local resources. And the computing power we have today will look primitive by 2030.

That’s one reason the clean-energy transition is going to happen faster than energy transitions of the past: It will be aided and accelerated by computing power, an extension of our imaginations and inventive powers that is new in all of history. SOURCE


Secretive energy startup backed by Bill Gates achieves solar breakthrough
Bill Gates-Backed Startup Uses AI to Create Solar Rays Hot Enough to Melt Steel


Canada’s public pension fund denies it’s ‘entangled’ with oil and gas

File photo of diesel fuel storage tanks at an oilsands facility in 2014. Pembina Institute Photo

Canada’s biggest pension fund says it’s “unfathomable” that the fossil fuel sector could wield disproportionate influence over its investment decisions, after a new report claims members of its board of directors and staff are “entangled with the oil and gas industry.”

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), the Crown corporation that manages the country’s $400-billion public retirement fund, rejected new research Tuesday by the Corporate Mapping Project that argued the fund’s relationships with the industry presented a “dangerous” situation that partially explains why it has not yet ditched billions of dollars in fossil fuel-related investments.

The fund signalled in a recent sustainable-investment update how it is more focused than ever on understanding the “risks and opportunities” climate change presents, and that it is pressing large carbon polluters to improve their environmental performance.

But the Corporate Mapping report shows the CPPIB has more than $4 billion invested in top fossil fuel firms around the world, billions more in smaller firms and infrastructure and several staff and board members with “formal relationships” with energy firms.

“In Canada, the fossil fuel sector has been very successful at getting a seat at government decision-making tables, both provincially and federally. The same is true at the CPPIB, where the board of directors and staff are entangled with the oil and gas industry,” it states.

A Corporate Mapping Project map showing links between staff and board members of the CPPIB and energy firms and the financial institutions that are connected with them. Corporate Mapping Project screenshot

While it’s not uncommon for institutional investors to have staff sit on the boards of the companies they invest in, “these relationships deserve more public scrutiny” in the context of climate change, the researchers argue, because holding the planet to an acceptable level of global heating will require the fossil fuel industry to keep unburned reserves in the ground.

“The interests of oil and gas companies are finding their way into the decision-making that the Canada Pension Plan is undertaking,” said James Rowe, a co-investigator with the Corporate Mapping Project and an associate professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies, in an interview on Nov. 19.

“That’s dangerous in terms of the climate emergency, because the interests of those fossil fuel companies are in direct contradiction to the interests of Canadian beneficiaries and basically the rest of us — because their goal is to continue to burn as much carbon as they can… their pursuit of self-interest is a real threat to ours.”

Russian, Chinese energy firms

The report, called “Fossil Futures,” says the pension plan’s holdings include hundreds of millions of dollars in market value in the Russian energy firms Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, Novatek and Tatneft, as well as Chinese energy giants CNOOC, PetroChina and Sinopec, Japan’s Inpex and Canadian Natural Resources. The figures are from CPPIB’s foreign publicly traded equity holdings as of March 31, 2019.

The reserves of these top players linked with CPPIB add up to 281 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or roughly four times the limit for keeping global heating to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), the Crown corporation that manages the country’s $400-billion public retirement fund, rejected new research Tuesday by the Corporate Mapping Project that argued the fund’s relationships with the industry presented a “dangerous” situation that partially explains why it has not yet ditched billions of dollars in fossil fuel-related investments.

The fund signalled in a recent sustainable-investment update how it is more focused than ever on understanding the “risks and opportunities” climate change presents, and that it is pressing large carbon polluters to improve their environmental performance.

But the Corporate Mapping report shows the CPPIB has more than $4 billion invested in top fossil fuel firms around the world, billions more in smaller firms and infrastructure and several staff and board members with “formal relationships” with energy firms.

“In Canada, the fossil fuel sector has been very successful at getting a seat at government decision-making tables, both provincially and federally. The same is true at the CPPIB, where the board of directors and staff are entangled with the oil and gas industry,” it states.

A Corporate Mapping Project map showing links between staff and board members of the CPPIB and energy firms and the financial institutions that are connected with them. Corporate Mapping Project screenshot 

While it’s not uncommon for institutional investors to have staff sit on the boards of the companies they invest in, “these relationships deserve more public scrutiny” in the context of climate change, the researchers argue, because holding the planet to an acceptable level of global heating will require the fossil fuel industry to keep unburned reserves in the ground.

“The interests of oil and gas companies are finding their way into the decision-making that the Canada Pension Plan is undertaking,” said James Rowe, a co-investigator with the Corporate Mapping Project and an associate professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies, in an interview on Nov. 19.

“That’s dangerous in terms of the climate emergency, because the interests of those fossil fuel companies are in direct contradiction to the interests of Canadian beneficiaries and basically the rest of us — because their goal is to continue to burn as much carbon as they can… their pursuit of self-interest is a real threat to ours.”

Russian, Chinese energy firms

The report, called “Fossil Futures,” says the pension plan’s holdings include hundreds of millions of dollars in market value in the Russian energy firms Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, Novatek and Tatneft, as well as Chinese energy giants CNOOC, PetroChina and Sinopec, Japan’s Inpex and Canadian Natural Resources. The figures are from CPPIB’s foreign publicly traded equity holdings as of March 31, 2019.

The reserves of these top players linked with CPPIB add up to 281 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or roughly four times the limit for keeping global heating to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board says it is “unfathomable” that the fossil fuel industry could disproportionately influence such a massive and diversified portfolio as theirs, after Corporate Mapping Project claims otherwise.

The CPPIB also has $2.8 billion invested in top Canadian oil and gas companies, and has made other investments like $1.34 billion in U.S. gas pipelines and $1.4 billion in a gas project off Ireland’s coast, the report states. Overall, Rowe said, the pension-plan board has around $8 billion in equities associated with the fossil fuel industry.

The report also maps out the CPPIB’s ties to the oil and gas industry, specifically singling out several people. These include: board chairwoman Heather Munroe-Blum, who also serves on the board of the Royal Bank of Canada, which has a large oilsands stake; board member Ashleigh Everett, who is president of a company that owns retail gasoline chain Domo Gasoline; and board member Sylvia Chrominska, who is on the board of industrial-products provider Wajax Corp. which is involved in the oilsands. A number of senior staff are included as well.

Rowe said these connections aren’t the “singular and only cause” of the fund’s fossil fuel holdings but “help to explain” why it has been “slower than other major financial institutions in addressing climate risk.​​​​​” The European Investment Bank, for example, promised last Friday to end its own fossil fuel financing by 2022, while Sweden’s central bank said last Wednesday it had sold off oilsands bonds.

“We’re not convinced that most Canadians realize that the Canada Pension Plan is pretty heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, when 60 per cent of Canadians voted for parties with pretty strong climate plans,” he said. “Canadians care about climate change, and so we think they would be interested in this information.” MORE


Opinion: Canada Pension Plan fuels climate-change crisis