Swedish company is building wind turbine towers out of timber

Building a wind turbine out of wood

It seems that you can build just about anything out of wood.

While researching the carbon footprint of steel production for a lecture recently, I came across the line “it takes 200 tons of steel to make a wind turbine” – a justification for steel being green. It reminded me of a trope going around a few years ago where Thomas Homer-Dixon was misquoted as saying:

“A two-megawatt windmill contains 260 tonnes of steel requiring 170 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. A windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.”

TreeHugger Mike demonstrated this wasn’t true, and Homer-Dixon wasn’t too happy about it either, but the steel industry is still pushing the idea that they are essential to a green future. To which Swedish company Modvion says, Oh yeah? We can build a wind turbine tower out of wood!

There are actually many advantages to this. Not only does it avoid the carbon footprint of making all that steel, but because it is transported in sections rather than as complete tubes, it is not limited in diameter for transport like steel tubes are.

Final transportation in sections© Final transportation in sections/ Modvion

As wind towers rise above 100 meters in height, transportation poses considerable problems given that base diameters for 100+ meter towers exceed 4.3 meters, the limit for transport width in most parts of the USA and the EU.

Because wood is lighter than steel, they can lift bigger sections. “Conventional steel tower constructions get dramatically more expensive with height due to the increasing need for thicker walls.”

LVL section of tower© LVL section/ Modvion

In Wind Power Monthly, Chief Technical Officer Erik Dölerud explains how they used Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) to get the strength they needed. “LVL is a loadbearing plywood structure created through laminating many very thin wood-veneer layers, making the Modvion towers 250% stronger than CLT-based equivalents.” (Learn more about the different types of mass timber here.)

CEO Otto Lundman explains how it differs from steel towers.

“Our calculations indicate that the 150-metre tower will reduce mass by about 30% and cut manufacturing costs by roughly 40% compared with an equivalent tubular steel tower with a 6-7-metre base diameter. And wood is a natural product that can often be sourced locally, creating local jobs and other added benefits.”

View inside tube© Modvion

And don’t forget about that carbon footprint!

The wooden towers also offer additional environmental benefits compared with steel towers thanks to the lower-carbon manufacturing process. Lundman estimates a saving of 2,000-tonnes of CO2-emission per tower up until deployment. Plus, carbon sequestration in the wood offers the potential to make a wind-power plant carbon neutral.

Sketch version of assembly© Modvion

This is all still at the prototype state, and we probably won’t see steel being replaced by wood soon. But it does put paid to the steel industry argument that you absolutely need steel if you are going to go renewable.

Buildng in factory© Modvion

And it demonstrates that you can build just about anything out of wood these days. SOURCE

Lying Politicians Are Killing Our Democracies

Weak watchdogs and lax social media bred a pandemic of dishonesty. We need new laws.

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Liar inspo. Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0.

If anything takes us out before climate change, it will be the triumph of lying in government.

Having spent a lifetime digging out facts to reveal the truth, I have to acknowledge it — the compulsive liars running countries are winning the communications war.

The only issue now is whether the liars can be stopped. If Canada wants to side with truth, it should start by regulating political advertisements. We know Facebook won’t do it. And that the nation to our south has become a laboratory for mad scientists of propaganda.

But if a Canadian finds a straight-up whopper in a political ad from a politician or party, there is nobody to file a complaint with. Politicians here can lie with immunity and impunity.

Which makes us part of a global pandemic. Official government lying from the top has gone viral. It kills democracy as surely as the Spanish flu, which in 1918 claimed 50 million lives and afflicted 10 times that number. False, weaponized and dysfunctional information will wreak even more havoc, literally affecting everyone on the planet.

This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, freshly indicted on criminal counts of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, accused police and prosecutors of staging a “coup” against him. U.S. President Donald Trump used the same word to describe his confrontation with the constitution and the law. Like Trump, Netanyahu is accusing his accusers — without evidence — and whipping his followers into a frenzy against the justice system. The key prosecutors on the case now have bodyguards.

Though the phenomenon is global, Trump is ground zero for the contagion of official mendacity. He tells booming lies out of the presidential bully pulpit.

Everyone knows Trump’s pants have been on fire since the day he lied about his “landslide” victory in the electoral college after the 2016 election. He boasted on Twitter that it was the “biggest since Reagan.”

Actually, it was the biggest since Barack Obama. Obama won 332 electoral college votes in his last presidential win in 2012 — 28 more than Trump ultimately received in 2016. According to the New York Times, 45 of 57 winners in previous presidential elections got more electoral college votes than Trump.

Since that inauspicious day when the new commander-in-chief ushered in the Bullshit Presidency with a lie, Trump has told thousands of them.

How many thousands depends on which gatekeeper you cite. Daniel Dale, formerly of the Toronto Star and now with CNN, put the number at 5,276 this summer; Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post says the lies and misleading statements stand at 13,435; and the New York Times reports that there are 1,700 tweets using “conspiratorial language” on Trump’s Twitter feed.

Trump has lied about everything — people, countries, events, institutions and issues.

The people have included Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, Adam Schiff, Joe Biden, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Scott Pruitt, Justin Trudeau, Meghan Markle, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. (Despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Bin Salman had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump said the prince was doing “a really spectacular job.”)

Trump has lied about Ukraine, Iran, Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia, Singapore, China, Germany, Venezuela, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. He’s lied about events like the Charlottesville racist protests, Hurricane Maria, climate change, the California wildfires, the presidential election and Russian intervention in the 2016 election, and institutions like the Supreme Court, Congress, NAFTA, NATO and the NFL. Not to mention issues like immigration, infrastructure and the size of his own inaugural crowd on day one of his presidency.

Trump claims that the towering concrete wall he promised on the border with Mexico is underway and progressing quickly, a lie he has repeated 146 times. In reality, repairs are being made to existing barriers — it’s definitely not the “big beautiful wall” that Trump has harped on since he first called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers when trolling the shoals of American bigotry for votes.

Taking political lies global

Trump has inspired an international Liars Club of world leaders that has already had a profound effect on humanity. All arrived roughly on the same schedule — Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time in 2014, and then again in 2018; the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016; the Brexit liars, including Boris Johnson, a month after that, and Trump himself in November 2016.

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Boris Johnson, one of the biggest Brexit liars. Photo via Shutterstock.

Back to Boris Johnson. Brexit succeeded because of the Leave Campaign’s outrageous lies. Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who now says he regrets not standing up to all the disinformation, adds that Johnson was one of the biggest of the Brexit liars.

Johnson’s most infamous whopper was that the U.K. would have an extra 350 million pounds a week to spend after leaving the EU, money that would have gone to Brussels. That windfall would have been great news for the U.K.’s beleaguered National Health Service — had it been true. But the real number was at least 100 million pounds a week lower, according to the UK Statistics Authority. Others put the savings at less than half the amount Johnson claimed.

Johnson lied. He left out money the U.K. received back from the European Union, and his claim was grossly deceitful and grossly calculating. It was also effective, just like other lies told by Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage that Turkey was about to join the EU and Britain would soon be overrun with Muslims.

Duterte has deconstructed democracy in the Philippines by putting out a steady diet of disinformation and persecuting the media and anyone else who questions his lie-driven policies. No wonder his nickname, according to National Public Radio in the U.S., is “Duterte Harry,” after the iconic Clint Eastwood character. At one point, Duterte even boasted about tossing a Chinese drug dealer out of a helicopter, a claim he later said was a “joke.”

What is not a joke is Duterte’s policy of empowering police to shoot suspected drug dealers without arrest or trial. It has been reported that 7,000 people died under that policy in a six-month period.

Yet Trump still made Duterte one of the first world leaders he invited to the White House, and then said he was in favour of the death penalty for drug dealers.

And who does Trump bring to the White House on the day the impeachment inquiry into his presidency begins? None other than Turkish tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan is the man who ordered his army into Syria against the Kurds after Trump obligingly withdrew U.S. forces. At home, he jailed political opponents and members of the media; assumed extraordinary powers more suited to a sultan than a secular democratic leader; detained 50,000 people after an attempted coup; and declared that women in his country would be defined by “motherhood” — feminism be damned.

And he’s the same man that Trump said has “a great relationship with the Kurds,” the very people his invading forces have been killing in Syria.

How did we get here?

Public life hasn’t always been a liars’ paradise. In fact, lying used to be a short-cut to political Boot Hill. Now it is a turnpike to power. There are a lot of good reasons the Oxford English Dictionary made “post-truth” 2016’s word of the year.

One reason political leaders lie with impunity is that there is no longer even a reputational penalty for doing it, let alone a real sanction.

There is something bizarre about that. If a witness lies in a courtroom, he is guilty of perjury. If a person like Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn lies to the FBI, that is a crime. If a company runs a false ad, it faces consequences under truth-in-advertising laws. Hell, if kids lie to their parents, they at least get a timeout.

But when a politician lies, and lies big, there is a minor skirmish between his detractors and supporters, the media bloviates about whose tactic will impress voters, the dust settles, and nothing happens until the process repeats itself with the next lie. Post-truthiness, yes?

Fortunately, this didn’t happen in the Nixon era, though Tricky Dick gave it his best shot. “When the president does it,” he famously said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Nixon’s brazen misdeeds were punished in large part because all three television networks and print outlets followed the same code back then: journalists were the gatekeepers, the ones who held politicians accountable when they strayed from the facts or uttered intentional lies.

People like Jennings, Brokaw, Donaldson, Woodward and Bernstein spoke truth to power — and to their audiences. In those days, Walter Cronkite was the Buddha of News. He signed off every newscast by saying “And that’s the way it is” — and America believed him. Now Sean Hannity tells Fox viewers the way it isn’t, and millions tune in for his alternate universe.

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A sign at 2010’s ‘Rally to Restore Sanity.’ Photo via Shutterstock.

Fox News didn’t exist in Nixon’s time. It repeats Trump’s lies as true, attacks his critics as partisan assassins and even offers Trump conspiracy theories which he uses to distract his critics. It operates as the de facto press office of the White House.

But Fox News isn’t alone in creating the fog of lies that is slowly choking democracy. Study after study shows that readers and viewers have been abandoning mainstream news and shedding their respect for the journalists who produce it. Consumers have become their own fact-checkers, getting more and more of their information from social media and internet websites.

Nothing blows smoke like the internet. And as Republican political guru Arthur Finkelstein once observed, it is very difficult to tell what is true and what is false in social media.

Pushing back against the lies

The spread of misinformation and lies has inspired some resistance. The Pro-Truth Pledge movement is gaining traction in the U.S. This group of behavioural scientists and ordinary citizens is trying to fight political lying in two ways.

It asks participants to fact-check any article before sharing it with their social networks. The hope is that when someone receives a verified post, they’ll be encouraged to take the same steps.

And it encourages people who sign the pledge to challenge others who share false news, urging them publicly to take it down.

But their task is daunting.

Thanks to social media platforms with billions of users, lies travel as far and wide as truths. In the final months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, the top 20 false stories snagged more Facebook shares, reactions and comments than the top 20 factual articles, according to Scientific American. Facebook is the new Trojan Horse that 2.5 billion people have dragged into their lives at their peril.

It’s hard to tell if a political ad on Facebook is true or false, because the corporation has confused lying with free speech.

Mark Zuckerberg decided to run all political ads from candidates without determining the accuracy of their content, making him the patron saint of political unicorn hucksters around the world. By comparison, Twitter has banned all political advertising to avoid enabling the mass deception of voters.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, ‘the patron saint of political unicorn hucksters around the world.’ Photo via Wikimedia.
Attacks on the media and sleeping watchdogs

The Liars Club gets help from another direction — the steady, increasingly vicious attack on traditional reporters.

Thanks to leaders like Trump, these fact-checkers of record have been demonized as dirtbags of dishonesty, even enemies of the people.

And David Mitchell added another factor that helps the Liars Club, writing in the Guardian about “the financial degradation of the old-media investigative institutions that used to provide the truth… and the incalculable long-term effects of social media, bristling with virtue-signalling, selfies and revenge porn, on all our brains.”

To be fair to Zuckerberg and Facebook, they are not the only ones who have used an appeal to free speech to hand a digital megaphone to the Liars Club. There is an equally powerful offender — the courts.

Twenty-seven U.S. states have run into problems when they tried to mandate truthfulness in political advertising. The bottom line? A dissenting judge put it best after his colleagues ruled that one such state law was unconstitutional. He noted that the First Amendment now offers protection for “calculated lies.”

A case from Ohio makes the point.

Stephen Dinah reported in the Washington Times that the state passed legislation making it illegal to publish or broadcast a false statement about the voting record of a candidate. In a dispute, it was up to the state’s Election Commission to decide the facts.

But the law was struck down by federal district court Judge Timothy S. Black, who ruled that he didn’t want to have the government decide what was politically true and what was false. That, he concluded, was up to the voters.

There is a gigantic flaw in Black’s reasoning. How can voters determine whether a politician is telling the truth or lying if all they receive is a steady diet of lies from their leaders, endlessly repeated on social media, and backed up by false advertising?

Lest anyone imagine things are better on this side of the border, they are not. Canada’s Ad Standards has a code for truth in advertising, but it exempts political ads. The Competition Act also prohibits false advertising, but it too exempts political ads. As for the Canada Elections Act, it registers political ads online, but does not regulate their content.

Here is what that means. As I noted at the top, if a Canadian finds an outright lie in a political ad from a politician or party, there is no authority to file a complaint with. Politicians can get away with just about any bullshit.

The threat to democracy

You can’t lie in court without being charged with perjury. You can’t say a product will melt away fat if it doesn’t, as four U.S. companies peddling weight-loss products learned after the Federal Trade Commission fined them US$26.5 million.

So why should we expect to have a democracy, which needs truth to function, when unbridled lying from political leaders is viewed as less harmful than dubious claims about a diet product?

It is past time to regulate truth in political advertising and what comes out of leaders’ mouths. Assuming, of course, that we actually care about democracy.  SOURCE

The October election was dominated by two themes: affordability and climate change.

Justin Trudeau acknowledged these concerns in his first press conference after the election. And then he promised a $6 billion tax cut.

Diverting $6 billion to a tax cut means taking $6 billion away from projects that could actually have a huge impact on people’s lives and their budgets. $6 billion could cancel interest on student loans, expand affordable child care, help fund mental health services, or our transition to a zero-carbon economy. There are so many ways to put that money to work for Canada that would have far reaching positive outcomes from coast to coast to coast.

We need to reach every newly elected MP to let them know that this tax cut is the wrong move for Canada. We need everyone in the House to know that Canada needs more than this cut can offer. Will you help us get this message out?

SOURCE

RELATED:

Complete list of Members of Parliament emails

Conservation, landowners groups file opening brief in legal challenge to Keystone XL pipeline

Illegal pipeline approval violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act


Credit…Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press, via Associated Press


GREAT FALLS, MONT. –
 Conservation and landowners groups filed their opening brief today in their federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s illegal approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The groups are suing the Army Corps of Engineers over its failure to adequately analyze the project’s effects on local waterways, lands, wildlife, and communities along its 1,200-mile route.

The filing comes in the wake of yet another massive pipeline spill from the Keystone pipeline system TC Energy is hoping to expand with Keystone XL. Reports this week reveal that this latest spill, which leaked more than 380,000 gallons of tar sands into a North Dakota wetland, affected almost 10 times as much land as originally reported.

Late last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled that the Trump administration violated bedrock environmental laws by issuing a permit for Keystone XL without adequately evaluating critical information on the pipeline’s environmental impacts, including tar sands oil spills and climate change. Today’s brief makes the case that the Army Corps’ streamlined permitting process for oil pipelines – called “Nationwide Permit 12” – and its use of that process for the Keystone XL pipeline suffers from similar flaws, allowing Keystone XL to be constructed through hundreds of rivers, streams, and wetlands without proper evaluation of the project’s impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.

“This latest spill from the Keystone pipeline highlights yet again the recklessness of giving TC Energy free rein to run dirty tar sands through hundreds of waterways,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Doug Hayes. “The Army Corps’ refusal to consider the risks this pipeline poses to wildlife and clean water isn’t just irresponsible – it’s illegal.”

“Pipeline spills are clearly inevitable, yet the Corps has fast-tracked pipeline construction and failed to ensure that Keystone XL and other pipelines won’t devastate waters that people and species rely on,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Keystone XL is an environmental nightmare waiting to happen, and we must continue to fight Trump’s attempt to ram this dirty fossil fuel project down America’s throat.”

“Trump’s push to streamline permits for the dangerous Keystone XL pipeline is both outrageous and unlawful,” said Hallie Templeton, interim legal director at Friends of the Earth. “As evidenced by the pipeline’s recent spill in North Dakota, this is a major project that will devastate frontline communities, our environment, and protected species. Ensuring comprehensive environmental reviews prior to permitting the pipeline – as required by law – will check Trump’s ongoing corruption.”

“Given all the risks of tar sands spills in our waterways, our nation must uphold the laws and processes in place to protect our natural resources. The courts are our last line of defense as laws are ignored by the Trump administration,” said Jane Kleeb, Bold Alliance founder.

“The Keystone XL pipeline is a clear threat to healthy land and clean water for farming, ranching, rural, and tribal communities in Montana and beyond, as witnessed by the recent spill suffered by our neighbors in North Dakota,” said Dena Hoff, Northern Plains member and Glendive, Montana farmer. “Given how irresponsible Canadian pipeline owner TC Energy has been with existing legs of Keystone, all Americans should be concerned by these illegal efforts to ram through permits for an even larger pipeline without proper risk analysis.”

“The latest Keystone debacle in North Dakota underscores a grim truth: pipelines spill. And when they inevitably do, our land, water and health are put at risk,” said Cecilia Segal, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why we’re calling on the courts to stop the proposed Keystone XL tar sand pipeline once and for all.” SOURCE

How a resurgence in Indigenous governance is leading to better conservation

Far from the old mentality of ‘fortress conservation’ that deemed only empty landscapes as adequately protected, a new era of Indigenous-led conservation is not only better at protecting wild places but embraces the communities and cultures that have stewarded these lands since time immemorial

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Jordan Wilson, a Heiltsuk Coastal Guardian Watchman, shows The Narwhal around his traditional territory in Bella Bella, B.C. Photo: Louise Whitehouse / The Narwhal

Even when governments have good intentions — like promoting conservation — they don’t necessarily move forward with plans for Indigenous territories in a productive or helpful way, according to Kelly Brown, director of the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Integrated Resource Management Department.

“A lot of work that takes place around management planning with the province or the federal government — they get all the work done, and then they come to us,” Brown told The Narwhal.

“They don’t realize that, in the community here, we’re already working towards putting our own plans together.”

Brown is a co-author of a recent academic paper that demonstrates how a resurgence in Indigenous governance can lead to more effective conservation.

The paper, “Supporting resurgent Indigenous-led governance: A nascent mechanism for just and effective conservation,” concludes that, worldwide, “increases in conservation in some of the most globally significant areas of conservation interest will increasingly not only be unjust, but also impossible without Indigenous consent and leadership.” MORE

 

‘We are in the warmest five-year period ever’

According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2015-19 has recorded a 0.2°C increase over 2011-15

Photo: Getty ImagesPhoto: Getty Images

As the world descends on Madrid, Spain, for the 25th Conference of Parties (CoP 25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they have a climate emergency to deal with. But the planet is yet to get a proportionate reaction from countries.

By 2019, countries should have been on track to meet the first round of their emission reduction targets declared under the 2015 Paris Agreement. But only six of the world’s top 20 polluting nations have succeeded so far.

There is mounting evidence to show that global warming is at its highest level ever. According to Global Climate in 2015–2019, a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the five-year period of 2015-19 has been the worst in terms of global warming and resultant climate change impacts.

“The five-year period 2015–2019 is likely to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record globally, with a 1.1°C global temperature increase since the pre-industrial period and a 0.2°C increase compared to the previous five-year period” 

The report already forecasts that 2019 would be one of the warmest years on record. The last four years (2015 to 2018) were the four warmest years on record, according to WMO.

“Although only six months of data are currently available, (2019) will likely join them as one of the five warmest years — most likely second or third warmest — if temperature anomalies continue at the current high levels to the end of the year,” the WMO assessment said.

Last week, WMO, in another report, said that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere had breached all records in 2018. It is the highest-ever in the last three million years.

The rise in temperature coincides with the proportionate increase in the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The five-year assessment shows that the emission of GHGs like CO2 and methane has increased faster in 2015-19 than in the preceding 2011-2015 period. The growth rate is close to 20 per cent higher, according to this report.

The current year, already on path to be declared one of the warmest years on record, witnessed severe heat wave and wildfires from the United States, Australia and the Arctic. The new WMO assessment shows that the 2015-2019 period saw heatwaves impacting all the continents.

“Heatwaves were the deadliest meteorological hazard in the 2015–2019 period,” the WMO report said. Wildfires were reported in unusual geographies like the Arctic, including Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. The fires in the Arctic alone this year emitted 50 Mt of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is more than such fires did in 11 years ending 2018. SOURCE

RELATED:

GHGs Show No Slowdown, No Decline: #GlobalHeating Shoots Up

Kids facing effects of climate change are taking their governments to court

Besides protesting, youth are also increasingly in the courts, suing governments for their failure to preserve a healthy environment for future generations of children

A child holding a placard against climate change. Photo: Getty Images
 A child holding a placard against climate change. Photo: Getty Images

In November, more than 11,000 scientists declared that the climate emergency has arrived and drastic action is required. Frustrated by government failure to respond adequately, citizens are taking to the courts.

The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law reports at least 1,390 legal challenges to governments and fossil fuel corporations in more than 25 countries since 1990. These cases are forging a new legal discipline: climate change law.

At the head of the pack is the landmark case Urgenda vs. The Netherlands. In 2015, the district court of The Hague decided the government has a legal duty to strengthen its emissions reduction target for 2020.

The court of appeal reaffirmed the decision in October 2018. Although the case is on appeal to the Dutch Supreme Court with a final ruling due on Dec. 20, the case has already changed government policy.

In the past year, millions of children and teenagers around the world have crowded the streets to protest government inaction on the climate crisis. But youth are also increasingly in the courts, suing governments for their failure to preserve a healthy environment for current and future generations of children.

Youth challenges

In United States, the most prominent case, Juliana vs. United States, was filed in 2015. In it, 21 young people assert that the U.S. government, by aggravating climate change, has violated constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.

Plaintiffs Kelsey Juliana, right, and Vic Barrett, left, gather with other youth plaintiffs in the Juliana vs. United States climate change lawsuit in a federal courthouse for a hearing in June 2019. Robin Loznak/Pool Photo via AP

 

In Canada, two cases bring these issues home. A Québec case brought by ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU) invoked the Constitution on behalf of all Québec residents aged 35 and under to hold the federal government accountable for environmental degradation.

The Québec Superior Court threw out the challenge by denying class-action status, stating that the group or “class” ENJEU sought to represent was arbitrary and inappropriate.

However, the court also found that the issues raised by the challenge were justiciable. This means that the claims of constitutional rights infringement are legally appropriate for courts to decide. This is an important judicial conclusion because courts will consider only questions that are proper in this manner for adjudication. Whether a question is “justiciable,” or subject to resolution in a court of law, is always a significant hurdle for litigation that raises complex, costly and political questions.

In October 2019, a second Canadian challenge was launched: La Rose vs. Her Majesty the Queen, filed in Federal Court. La Rose has 15 individual plaintiffs, which avoids the difficulties in the Québec case of certifying a diverse class.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a climate strike march in Montréal on Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes 

The differences among the young plaintiffs are legal strengths, demonstrating the range and scale of the impact that the climate crisis is having on on young people. The general claim, however, is the same as ENJEU: the federal government’s actions — and inactions — have fuelled climate change, putting Canadian children in peril and breaking the law.

The legal case of La Rose

The La Rose challenge rests on two legal bases: first, government obligations under Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, second, the government’s common law and constitutional responsibility to preserve common resources and lands.

Charter rights

Case law on the Charter rights is complex. Courts have turned the sparse language of constitutional text into lengthy, elaborate doctrine. But what counts in this case, with respect to the first legal basis, is simple.

Section 7 states:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

The plaintiffs argue, in various ways, that climate change threatens their physical and psychological well-being and development and impedes their ability to make key personal decisions, thus compromising their life, liberty and security of person.

And the existential — or extreme — character of this threat is incompatible with any notion of fundamental justice. Or, in simpler language, furthering climate change’s threat to the survival of the human species is incompatible with the key commitments of our legal and political system.

Section 15 reads:

“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

All the plaintiffs, by virtue of their youth, have pre-existing, distinct and intense vulnerability exacerbated by the government’s failure to address climate change. They argue that this amounts to discrimination on the basis of age.

The Indigenous plaintiffs, in addition, assert that they face race-based discrimination. So this challenge links climate change to Indigenous rights and colonialism. The details of the effect on Indigenous youth signal the central ways in which the health and culture of Indigenous Peoples and communities erode as ecosystems are destroyed and species vanish.

Permafrost thaw can cause large disruptions. (A. Cassidy,UBC Geography/flickr)CC BY 

None of these rights infringements can be, the plaintiffs argue, justified under Section 1 (the limitation clause) of the Charter. The plaintiffs also point out how Canada’s international human rights commitments oblige this expansion of Charter rights.

Public trust doctrine

The second legal basis rests on the claim that the public and common resources of Canada’s land, waters and air are the government’s responsibility, a duty imposed in common law and by the Constitution.

This trust-like relationship — captured by the public trust doctrine — requires Canadian governments to respond in a dynamic way to the changing threats of the climate crisis in order to protect and preserve these resources for all Canadians now and into the future.

According to this challenge, the government has breached this duty by failing to act appropriately as climate change threatens “public trust resources,” including the water, air and permafrost that are destroyed by a warming planet.

La Rose sets out novel claims in the Canadian legal system, but these are claims increasingly common internationally. And the Canadian Supreme Court has stated that novel claims are how our Constitution stays relevant as Canadian society and the world evolve.

Whether this case succeeds or not — courts sometimes follow rather than lead — the persuasive message and public profile of this legal challenge strengthen a burgeoning political movement, promising significant enrichment to mainstream political debate. We are getting used to the idea that a healthy environment is a human right.

As the world gears up for the United Nations Climate Conference in Madrid, Spain this December, Canadian lawyers and the youth they represent are busy trying to ensure that the Canadian government walks its international climate action talk back home. SOURCE