Mike Harris: And Now, the Harper Comeback. Just Read the Signs

All the ways he’s campaigned for leader almost as soon as Scheer won.


Laughing and waiting? Former Tory PM Stephen Harper has sent many signals he wants back in the role of Conservative leader. Photo by Adrian Wyld, the Canadian Press.

For months now, sources within the Conservative party have been telling me of an internal faction eager to see Andrew Scheer gone in order to make way for the return of Stephen Harper as party leader.

Nothing we’ve seen in recent weeks, and now today, argues against this. In fact, Scheer’s doomed attempt to hang on to the CPC leadership has been like watching a puppy running around on a six-lane highway. And now he’s roadkill.

So who might be next up? As the Christmas ditty goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Harper, everywhere you go.

As one Senator put it to me on background, “While the avalanche of criticism mounts, no one is talking up a successor. Who is waiting in the wings, ready to go, straight out of the box? Only one person is ready. Stephen Harper, come on down!”

It may not be as glitzy or cut and dried as that. There are certainly other leadership assets within the CPC, including Lisa Raitt, Michael Chong, Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, and Rona Ambrose.

Each of them might be able to move the party closer to millennials, urban voters, and environmentalists — if that is where the CPC decides it needs to go in pursuit of power. A speculation, by the way, that is far from a sure bet.

But each also has their fair share of drawbacks.

Raitt, Chong, and O’Toole were rejected by Conservatives in the 2017 leadership race — and then Raitt went on to lose her seat in parliament in the recent election.

MacKay is blamed by some for betraying the old Progressive-Conservative party when the CPC was created. The PCs were submerged by, rather than merged with, the Canadian Alliance led by Harper.

Although Ambrose got good reviews for her interim leadership, the full-time Big Job is another matter. Nor is it at all certain she wants to leave private life where she seems to be enjoying herself.

There is also something else.

Despite their various talents, none of these potential candidates has anything like the network that Harper maintains to this day within the CPC. That includes a coveted spot on the Conservative Party Fund. Perhaps that’s why Harper himself had this to say to an audience at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in February 2018, less than a year after Scheer became leader:

“I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m the de facto founder of my party.”

Hubris or honesty? Both actually.

A guy named MacKay had a little to do with creating the CPC back in 2003. But Harper’s vaunted opinion of his leadership prospects may be accurate. It gained major traction from a November 2019 Abacus Data poll that asked 3,000 respondents over the age of 18 this question: Andrew Scheer or Who?

Across the country, and in vote-rich Ontario, where the Scheer campaign sputtered, Stephen Harper did very well. But there was one measurement in the poll where the former PM was in a class by himself.

“Our test of potential alternatives to Mr. Scheer finds none, except for Mr. Harper, are preferred over Mr. Scheer among those who voted Conservative in the last election,” wrote David Coletto, one of Abacus’s founding partners.

If a Harper comeback seems impossible, history offers reminders of people who got an unlikely second kick at the can.

There is of course the famous return from the political dead of Richard Nixon. After crushing defeats in 1960 and 1962, Nixon rebounded to become President of the United States.

But there is a better example closer to home, the prime ministerial resurrection of Pierre Trudeau in 1980. After being defeated by Joe Clark in 1979, Trudeau won back his old job in 1980 — and stayed on for another four, improbable years.

Would Harper want to duplicate that? No one knows. But judging from how hard he has worked to keep his name out there, often at Scheer’s expense, it certainly looks like it.

Harper’s self-marketing blitz

Despite being chairman of the International Democratic Union, a secretive group dedicated to helping elect right-wing governments around the world, Harper has sought out the limelight as a retired politician in a way he never did as PM.

He has undergone a transformation. The lone wolf has become a publicity hound. A few examples:

In July 2018, Harper made big news with a visit to the White House, where he met with Donald Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton. He did that without observing the small courtesy of informing Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Embassy, or the Privy Council Office about his trip. It is not everyone who can walk into the West Wing. When they do, it is big news, especially when that person is a former PM.

At around the same time, Harper stuck a competitive and very public elbow in Justin Trudeau’s ribs over the NAFTA talks. The former PM accused the Liberals of dragging their heels on the deal, preferring to score political points in Canada by fighting with the deeply unpopular Donald Trump.

After the deal was struck, Harper went on Fox News to say that Trump had driven the best deal in the new USMCA agreement to replace NAFTA, adding at a later geopolitical summit in India that a smart Canadian leader would get along with Trump. Millions more eyeballs on the former PM, and another major news story that eclipsed anything Scheer was doing.

On a visit to the U.K. at the height of the Brexit chaos in late September 2019, Harper castigated the country’s Supreme Court for ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had illegally shut down Parliament.

When Harper was in office and trashed his own chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, it became a national story. Now he was dumping on the justices of another country’s highest court in the middle of a national crisis, and that became an international story. Once again it featured Stephen Harper, ex PM, playing in the big leagues.

And then there was Harper’s high-profile apology to Tabitha Speer, the widow of the U.S. medic allegedly killed by former child soldier Omar Khadr. Harper’s move came after the Trudeau government paid out $10.5 million to Khadr, and offered an apology for violating his charter rights while he was a prisoner at Guantanamo.

Since Scheer had just become leader, Harper might have advised the new leader to be the one to make that apology. There were political points to be scored, since PM Trudeau didn’t reach out to Speer. And there was a fierce public backlash over the payout. Instead, Harper did it himself, once again copping the headlines and leaving Scheer in the shadows.

Harper yet again won the spotlight while putting his thumb in Trudeau’s eye regarding another item of Canada’s foreign policy. The former prime minister added his name to a full-page ad in the New York Times praising President Trump for walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran. The same man who had apologized to Americans because PM Chretien didn’t follow the U.S. into the Iraq War was doing it again. And getting the media bang for his buck.

The cherry on the sundae of his self-promotion? Harper published a new book in 2018. Coincidentally, the subject of Right Here, Right Now is political leadership, and what it takes to provide it in an age of “disruption.” Harper knows that he is the only Conservative leader in Canada to actually win power since the post Mulroney debacle of 1993, the only one with the right stuff.

It could be argued that the publicity seeking is just part of doing a good job for the International Democratic Union. Fair enough. But what about all those clickbait ads and paid Google polls promoting Harper-the-politician that have run while Scheer has been leader?

In one of them, Harper is pictured in a dark jacket and tie, looking off to his left. The caption reads Miss Me Yet? Viewers get this instruction: “Hit the button if you think Stephen Harper was the best Prime Minister. And sign the thank you card.” That one was put up by Strong and Free.

Harper post
Among those trolling for a Harper comeback is the right-wing group Strong and Free.

In another, there is a split-screen, featuring Harper on one side and Scheer on the other. Both men are holding their hands in the same position, palms upward, emphasizing a point. But the image of Harper is bigger and more forceful, while Scheer looks relatively puny.

Viewers are asked to vote on this question: “Would you vote for Harper as the Conservative leader now? There is an orange “Vote Now” button and the option to share it on Facebook and Twitter. In one screen shot of results, Harper gets 2,077 votes, and Scheer 892, a 70-30 split.

Who’s put Scheer on the plank?

So Harper, with help from others, has self-promoted and kept his image as a strong political leader alive and well all through Scheer’s tenure as Conservative leader. Has anything else happened that would suggest he might be thinking about a political comeback?

There is.

Consider the people who wanted Scheer to walk the plank before the party’s leadership review in April. Almost all of them are one-time acolytes of Harper:

Kory Teneycke, Harper’s former director of communications, who now heads Conservative Victory, a group that was dedicated to dumping Scheer; Jenni Byrne, Harper’s former deputy-campaign manager and long-time loyalist; Sara MacIntyre, Harper’s former press secretary, who is now spokesperson for Conservative Victory; and former member of the Harper administration Jeff Ballingall, the co-founder of the Ontario Proud and Canada Proud websites — the “king of Canadian Conservative Shitposting” according to Canadaland.

Other disses of Scheer’s leadership have been offered by former Harper cabinet ministers. Former trade minister Ed Fast turned down a post in Scheer’s shadow cabinet. Former MP and one-time Harper campaign manager John Reynolds joined Conservative Victory to force out Scheer. And Peter MacKay famously referred to Scheer’s social conservative values as a “stinking albatross” that the Liberals adeptly hung around his neck.

And who was doing the assessment of Scheer’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Trudeau? None other than former Harper cabinet minister John Baird. You may rest assured that Baird’s assessment would have been unflattering, from Scheer’s sneakiness about his dual citizenship to the hiring of Warren Kinsella to “seek and destroy” the People’s Party of Canada led by Maxime Bernier.

The crowning irony of Scheer’s fate resting almost entirely in the hands of Harperites? The very campaign Conservative activists and insiders are now trashing was devised by Hamish Marshall — the former director of strategic planning for PM Stephen Harper.

Place your bets

So will Harper seek a re-match with Trudeau and go for a Rocky moment?

No one knows of course. But it’s already humming on the telegraph wires. Here are the words of columnist Graham Lane appearing in the Winnipeg Sun and the Province newspapers:

“With Scheer providing a gracious timely retreat, Conservatives would be free to find a well-tested winner to step up to the plate. Perhaps Stephen Harper, a well-known skeptic of ham-handed, ever-expanding federal state, could be persuaded to return. With the knowledgeable and effective Harper back in the saddle, Canada could begin healing — economically and politically.”

The only thing that has changed is the takeover date. The Conservatives thought Trudeau would win another majority in 2019, but he was damaged by the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the blackface episodes.

Scheer has now resigned. There are allegations he used Conservative party funds to send his kids to private school. Harper would have been privy to that information.

Harper redux should surprise no one.  SOURCE


B.C. mulls potential promise and pitfalls of UNDRIP

UN declaration could be the path to Indigenous reconciliation – or legal quicksand

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has been formally adopted in B.C.

Whether it will be the key to reconciliation with Indigenous people or a legal labyrinth that ends up conflicting with Canadian constitutional law is a matter of some speculation.

At this point, in B.C. at least, it appears to be more of a mission statement than law, and for the rest of Canada UNDRIP is still something of a riddle – one that has stumped some legal experts, including a former Supreme Court chief judge.

Should the federal government also pass UNDRIP legislation, the first question may be whether B.C.’s own implementation of UNDRIP harmonizes with the federal version.

Bill 41 – which implements UNDRIP in B.C. – was passed in the B.C. legislature two weeks ago. It passed unanimously.

It will still require a cabinet order to put it into effect. And while it is intended to inform policy, it is not a law or international convention or treaty.

“Bill 41 doesn’t give the UN declaration itself the force of law and doesn’t create any new laws and new rights,” Scott Fraser, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said during a lengthy debate at third reading.

Basically, Bill 41 requires that all laws in B.C. are consistent with UNDRIP.

UNDRIP also contains a clause that some have interpreted as a potential veto for First Nations opposed to development in their traditional territories. However, a number of Indigenous leaders and lawyers have taken great pains to explain that the “free, prior and informed consent” discussed in UNDRIP is not a veto any more than the “consent” referenced in a number of Supreme Court of Canada decisions on Indigenous rights and title can be interpreted as a veto.

At least one expert thinks that some First Nations may be under the impression that “consent” does, in fact, mean “veto.”

“It says ‘consent,’” Robin Junger, a lawyer specializing in Indigenous law, said at a recent presentation on Indigenous reconciliation sponsored by McMillan LLP. “And if I was a First Nation negotiating anything related to this, I would believe consent means consent and no means no.”

Despite the concerns that have been raised about Bill 41, Junger suggested that no politician would dare vote against it.

In B.C., that may be because MLAs have been persuaded that UNDRIP, as enacted by Bill 41, will be nothing more than a high-level guidance document for policy-makers.

Even so, it may raise legal questions that ultimately may have to be resolved by the courts – questions such as one posed by Ellis Ross, a Liberal MLA and former chief of the Haisla Nation: “Can somebody tell me what happens when the Crown is at the table with three or four different First Nations, and three First Nations agree but one doesn’t?”

Ross said he never got a satisfactory answer to that question.

The extent to which UNDRIP will inform policy decisions, and to what extent it may conflict with Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution or previous Supreme Court decisions, is the matter of some debate.

“If you know what it means, maybe you can talk to former Supreme Court of Canada Justice John Major and explain it to him, because he doesn’t,” Junger said. “Nor do I.”

Major had raised questions about the federal government’s attempts to enshrine UNDRIP through Bill C-262, which ultimately died in the Senate.

Jody Wilson-Raybould – then Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general – told the Assembly of First Nations in 2016 that UNDRIP was “unworkable” within Canadian law.

Despite the opinion of his former attorney general, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to once again try to implement UNDRIP federally. Asked if he thought that a minority government and “fractured Senate” will be able to pass UNDRIP this time, Junger said he thinks it can.

“I would think that if there is one bill that nobody will dare vote against, it’s this one,” Junger said.

Dwight Newman, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous rights in constitutional and international law at the University of Saskatchewan, told Business in Vancouver that the B.C. government has addressed his main concern about the federal Bill C-262, although he expects Bill 41 will present its own challenges in interpretation.

“Bill 41 is different from Bill C-262 in not having the operative section C-262 had that said UNDRIP immediately ‘has application in Canadian law,’” Newman told BIV .

“Many of the concerns I expressed on C-262 were about that section of the bill, which I thought had the potential to see the courts being immediately asked to apply UNDRIP in unpredictable ways.

“Bill 41 sets up a complex process where different interpretations of parts of UNDRIP will have to be considered as they work their way through adjusting legislation in British Columbia.”

It is worth noting that the BC Chamber of Commerce recommended that UNDRIP be used as a basis to reform B.C. laws with respect to Indigenous relations, with the aim of achieving more certainty for business.

But if Bill 41 merely enshrines UNDRIP as a kind of high-level guidance document, as opposed to creating new laws, and if it does not grant First Nations any kind of veto powers, it begs the question of why so many First Nations leaders feel so strongly about its adoption.

“UNDRIP is vital because it expresses basic human rights norms – including the Universal Declaration [of] Human Rights – in specific context of Indigenous Peoples,” said Douglas White III, who is a lawyer, a Snuneymuxw First Nation band councillor and the author of a recent 92-page analysis of the legal definitions of “consent” within the context of UNDRIP and Canadian law.

“As such, it speaks to norms Canadians have long accepted for all peoples, but have failed to apply to Indigenous Peoples. This is why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said we need to use it as the framework for relations within Canada.”

In his paper, White points out that the Supreme Court of Canada has already defined the concept of “consent” in a number of legal precedents, such as the Tsilhqot’in decision, and yet has made it clear that that does not translate into unconditional veto powers for First Nations.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has not explicitly considered terms such as ‘free,’ ‘prior’ and ‘informed’ in relation to consent,” White writes. “However, Canadian law has evolved through development of the duty to consult and accommodate such that all of these elements can be assumed to be a part of the domestic understanding of consent.”

Although Ross and Mike de Jong raised questions about Bill 41 that Fraser sometimes struggled to answer, both Liberal MLAs ultimately voted in favour of its passage, as did every other member of the legislature.

Ross said his main concern now with Bill 41 and UNDRIP is that it may be invoked by government as a pretext to oppose certain projects.

“Nothing really should change, if we believe what the B.C. government said in the legislature,” Ross said. “But it’s yet to be seen if government will delay decisions or make decisions on politically incorrect projects like fish farms or Trans Mountain expansion and use this bill as their reasons.” SOURCE



Vancouver mayor calls massive First Nation development a ‘gift to the city’

Squamish Nation plans to build 11 housing towers on reserve land in the heart of the city

The 11 towers planned for the Senakw development project will have approximate 6,000 housing units. (Submitted/Revery Architecture)

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he supports a local First Nation’s plan to build a large-scale housing project in the centre of the city that is raising concerns about the pressures it will place on city infrastructure and services.

The Squamish Nation is planning to construct 11 housing towers with 6,000 housing units on 11 acres of property it owns at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge. The Senakw development will be on federal reserve land, meaning the nation does not need permission from the city to forge ahead.

With about 10,000 residents expected to occupy those towers, it has some people asking if the neighbourhood is ready for the influx.

“I’m thinking of it as a golden opportunity, both in terms of reconciliation and in providing much needed rental housing for the city,” said Stewart Thursday on CBC’s The Early Editionadding that while there are no requirements for the nation to adhere to city policies, it is communicating in good faith with the city to make the project as successful and mutually advantageous as possible.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung shares Stewart’s excitement about new rental units but told CBC Tuesday she has concerns about the pressures on transit infrastructure in the area.

Only about 10 per cent of the units will have parking availability, meaning many residents will likely rely on transit. She also noted the expense of connecting to sewage and other services.

Stewart said the city will have to get TransLink on board right away but sees the challenge as “less of an inconvenience and more of an opportunity” to look at options like connecting Senakw to the SkyTrain using light rail.

He said the city has in the past negotiated agreements with the Musqueam First Nation for policing and fire services and can do something similar with the Squamish Nation.

The nation also has the power to collect property tax to pay for those services.

The units will be built as energy-efficient as possible and will feature green roofs, according to current project renderings. (Submitted/Revery Architecture)

‘This is a game changer’

Larry Benge, co-chair of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, is concerned about the density and scale of the project and worries it could overwhelm the aesthetic of the “iconic” Burrard Street Bridge.

“It would be good if all parties involved or affected could discuss what’s going on,” said Benge.

Ginger Gosnell-Myers, Vancouver’s  first Aboriginal relations manager, said she finds it almost funny that people are asking to be consulted about a small sliver of land on traditional Squamish territory.

“This city is essentially built on stolen Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land,” said  Gosnell-Myers Wednesday on The Early Edition“This is a game changer for this city. It’s a game changer for First Nation rights.”

Gosnell-Myers said Senakw will give future Vancouverites the chance to live in the city and it’s up to the city to respond to concerns about infrastructure and capacity.

Stewart say he is up to the challenge, including working with the park board, the school board and the province to ensure community services are available when the neighbourhood’s new residents arrive.

The Vancouver School Board is currently considering a motion to align  its policies and decisions with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“I really think this is a real gift to the city,” said Stewart. “Everything we can do to make this project be successful is at the top of my list.”

‘Unprecedented’ potential for development

Together, the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam nations hold about 65 hectares of developable land in Metro Vancouver under the banner of MST Development. That includes sites in Burnaby, the North Shore and Vancouver.

“There’s no other developer that owns as much land as the three nations here,” Squamish Nation Coun. Khelsilem told CBC.

The goal for the nations is to develop real estate and let the profits flow back to their communities.

Urban planner Gordon Price said the development potential is “unprecedented.”

“It could well be for the next several decades, First Nations will be the biggest real estate developers providing housing for Vancouver, and maybe a good part of the region,” he said.

The Early Edition
Vancouver’s mayor says city is ready for Squamish’s massive Senakw village site

Kennedy Stewart speaks with Stephen Quinn about how the city will handle the infrastructure needed to support an 11-building project. 13:10


Indigenous activists protest proposal of massive Alberta oilsands mine at COP25 in Madrid

One of the protests was held Monday outside the Canadian embassy in Spain’s capital and another took place inside the COP 25 UN Climate negotiations, according to a news release issued by Indigenous Climate Action, which describes itself as “Canada’s premier Indigenous-led climate justice organization.”

Elizabeth May

Action at from Canadian Indigenous peoples opposing the Teck Frontier oil sands project. Canadian Greens agree: Trudeau must reject application for giant new oil sands mine.

View image on Twitter

READ MORE: Public invited to comment on proposed $20B Frontier oilsands mine project in Alberta

A pair of protests were held this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid that saw Indigenous activists speak out in opposition to a colossal oilsands mine proposed for northern Alberta.
 A pair of protests were held this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid that saw Indigenous activists speak out in opposition to a colossal oilsands mine proposed for northern Alberta. Courtesy: Allan Lissner


Earlier this fall, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada invited members of the public to comment on the Frontier project proposal. The window for offering comment closed late last month.

“A report released last week by 17 research and campaigning organizations, used oil and gas industry projections to show that Canada will be one of the worst violators of the Paris Agreement if it expands its oil and gas extraction as planned, second only to the United States,” read the statement issued by Indigenous Climate Action on Tuesday.


“Rejecting the Teck Frontier mine is an important first step the federal government can take to ensure a safe climate future.”

Canada to work towards net-zero economy by 2050: Environment minister Canada to work towards net-zero economy by 2050: Environment minister

Elder Francois Paulette said all 33 First Nations of the Dene Nation, which he represents, are opposed to the proposed Frontier mine as well as expansion of the oilsands in general.

“My First Nation is the Smith Landing First Nation in Alberta [and] we outright opposed the Teck project,” he said.
“It’s 30 kilometres south of Wood Buffalo National Park. This project did not consult with us [and] their report did not include Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.”
A pair of protests were held this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid that saw Indigenous activists speak out in opposition to a colossal oilsands mine proposed for northern Alberta.
 A pair of protests were held this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid that saw Indigenous activists speak out in opposition to a colossal oilsands mine proposed for northern Alberta. Courtesy: Allan Lissner 

Over the summer, a federal-provincial panel ruled that the oilsands project was in the public interest even though it could fundamentally cause harm to both the environment and to Indigenous people. The panel offered recommendations for mitigating harm to wildlife, tracking pollutants and for consulting with nearby First Nations.


Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is now tasked with weighing the findings and recommendations of the panel report with public comment before making an environmental assessment decision on the Frontier mine.

“We must force Canada to reject Teck,” Eriel Deranger, the executive director for Indigenous Climate Action, said in Tuesday’s news release.

“The largest tar sands mine on the planet is being proposed in my peoples territory right now [and] it will impact the woodland buffalo — the last remaining wild whooping cranes on the planet — and many of the animals my people rely on for food,” Deranger said.

“Aside from the detrimental impacts it will have on my people’s food security, treaty rights and water, It will add 6.1-million megatonnes of carbon annually to the atmosphere.”

Teck Resources has said it projects the mine will emit 4.1 megatonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

The Green Party of Canada tweeted a photo on Monday of its leader, Elizabeth May, joining protesters in Madrid to voice concerns about the proposed oilsands mine.

“We need to respect Indigenous rights and end this climate-killing project,” the tweet said. MORE

ICON Unveils the World’s First Village of Affordable 3D-Printed Homes in Mexico

After 18 months of planning, ICON and New Story just unveiled two affordable 3D-printed homes in a groundbreaking development for Tabasco, Mexico.

Image result for dwell: After 18 months of planning, ICON and New Story just unveiled two affordable 3D-printed homes in a groundbreaking development for Tabasco, Mexico.

In Tabasco, Mexico, a family living below the poverty line recently visited their future home: a 3D-printed, 500-square foot structure with two bedrooms, one bath, a wraparound cement patio, and an awning over the front porch. With an off-white exterior complimented by breeze blocks, the dwelling is earthen, compact, and even stylish.

It’s one of two fully furnished homes—printed in about 24 hours and finished by local nonprofit ÉCHALE—that will soon make up a larger community of 50 dwellings with green spaces, parks, amenities, and basic utilities. Tabasco is a seismic zone, so the homes were engineered beyond standard safety requirements—and they’ll endure for generations. MORE

Rethink Bacon, Laundry Baskets and Other Tips from a Couple Who Downsized to 536 Square Feet

Tired of mowing the lawn and scrubbing bathrooms every weekend, Claudia and Garrett Pennington downsized from a 1,500-square-foot house to give the tiny house trend a try.

Claudia and Garrett Pennington lived in a typical suburban home — 1,500 square feet, three bedrooms, two stories and a sprawling lawn — in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. But they never really used the third bedroom. Or their second bathroom. Or even the dining room, for that matter.

They didn’t need all that space — so why were they paying for it? “Initially, the motivation to downsize was purely financial,” says Claudia, who runs a marketing company with her husband. But then the Penningtons considered other benefits. “We realized it would also mean less space, less stuff and less stuff to maintain. It became a psychological decision, as well.” When the mix of potential benefits proved irresistible, they took a huge leap into the unknown: tiny house living.

They knew they’d have to jettison most of their possessions. But there were plenty of surprises after they lost 1,000 square feet of living space. They’ve changed the way they cook and wash clothes, for instance — and they’ve acquired other unexpected skills since moving into their tiny house.

What did they learn along the way? A lot.

To build from scratch or buy prefab

The couple’s first plan had all of the fearless optimism of a trendy, DIYer’s dream: they’d buy a lovely piece of rural property near Lancaster and — using Garrett’s mechanical engineering skills — build a cute little house.

“We started looking in the spring of 2015 and quickly realized that land was ridiculously expensive, coming in at over $100,000 for a decent lot. Plus, when we crunched the numbers and factored in construction costs for a custom-built tiny house, it would have been cheaper for us to stay in our bigger house,” says Claudia. “So that idea quickly went out the window.”

Both in their mid-30s, they also realized their tiny house didn’t need to be their ultimate dream home — just a sweet space for a few years. They began to explore up-and-coming neighborhoods in Lancaster. Instead of wide-open spaces, they sought out the smallest, least expensive plot of land available. Instead of a custom build, or building their own, they found that a manufactured home — as in, factory built — had everything they needed. And the price was right.

Claudia and Garrett Pennington on the porch of their 536-square foot tiny home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

A custom-built home can clock in at anywhere from $100 to $400 per square foot according to Home Advisor; the average prefab home comes in at a more wallet-friendly $50 to $65 per square foot (Price ranges are estimates and vary by region, construction materials and other variables, such as delivery fees and sitework.)

“We had a fairly quick timeline, and with both of us working full-time jobs, a manufactured house seemed to be the solution. The urban neighborhood was a change for us, but we liked it. The millennials were already moving in and microbreweries and coffee shops were opening up,” Claudia says.

Just how tiny is tiny?

The next question Claudia and Garrett had to answer: how much space did they really need? They settled on 536 square feet — about the size of the average studio in New York City, but minuscule compared to the median size of a U.S. single-family home, which measures 2,426 square feet, according to 2017 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Their home — about the size of four average parking spaces — was big enough for an L-shaped living room combined with a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom in the back.

The prefab manufacturing company they selected also allowed them to add a few touches of their own during the design phase, including moving windows to maximize natural light and make the space feel more open. “We were able to do just about anything we wanted, including reversing the floor plan, adding windows, moving windows, ceiling fans, flooring, adding a porch — you name it,” says Claudia.

The almost instant house

Depending on the size of a project, simply pouring a foundation can take several months. Because it was built on site and had to meet local building regulations, the Penningtons budgeted plenty of time for the sitework — digging, pouring concrete, adding rebar, installing electric panel — and getting approval from city inspectors.

Once the city approved their foundation, the process moved quickly. Just three weeks after a flatbed truck pulled up and off-loaded the factory-made house, it was fully installed, hooked up to utilities and move-in ready. On the big day, plenty of neighbors stopped by with welcomes — as well as quizzical looks.

“We gave a few tours,” says Claudia. “It’s so tiny compared to the 1,500-square-foot row houses next door.”

As it turned out, though, the house was just large enough for the couple, their carefully curated belongings and their two cats.

“Our own family’s initial reaction was also, ‘Wow, this is a big transition, you guys are crazy,’” Claudia recalls. “But once they saw the house they were on board. Since then, a few of them have actually said, ‘I do have too much space, I wish I could downsize.’”

Sort, sell, donate, repeat

Because Claudia and Garrett had mused about the prospect of a tiny house for years, they’d already spent some time sorting, selling and giving their belongings away. “We started downsizing our stuff years ago when we first thought we wanted to move. But the move to a smaller home meant we had to downsize way more,” recalls Claudia. The final push to declutter consumed much of the spring and summer before their new home was done.

By the time they moved, Claudia estimates that they had off-loaded 80 percent of their things — and letting go was relatively painless.

“Luckily, we didn’t have any hard-fought battles over stuff, and now neither of us even remembers what we decided to get rid of. Art was the big one for us. We had photos and prints of paintings that we just couldn’t take. The walls would be completely covered if we took everything.”

Their touchstone was communication and time. “We took our time and plenty of breaks between bouts of sorting.”

Hello, financial freedom — goodbye, bacon

For all of the planning and decluttering, there were still surprises — big ones — waiting in their new 536-square-foot reality. It only took a few days to realize how much the answer to “What’s for dinner?” would impact day-to-day living.

“When we cooked or used the oven in the big house, we didn’t notice the heat or the smell,” Claudia says. “If you cook bacon in a small house, the house heats up and smells like bacon for two days — not the end of the world but not ideal.”

Their solution: They try to not use the oven too much in the summer and instead cook outside on a charcoal grill.

Figuring out where to put essential items was a bigger challenge.

“We anticipated the cats’ litter boxes being a problem but didn’t know how to solve it until we got in there,” says Claudia. Once all the furniture was in, they realized the space they’d allocated to their washer and dryer was too small. They discussed buying a stacked set, but there was also a laundromat next door. So they decided to go without a washer and dryer for a while, and just like that, they found space for the litter boxes. The laundry hamper didn’t fit either, but under-the-bed laundry containers solved the problem.

Claudia says the key to keeping their sanity in this awkward transition was not rushing into any purchases or decisions. The couple took their time settling in and figuring out routines before finding solutions.

The unexpected upside of downsizing

After more than three years, Claudia and Garrett say they’re perfectly happy in their tiny house. And they’ve discovered some unexpected pleasures — particularly, the money they’ve saved has allowed them to indulge their love of travel.

“That’s become a bigger priority for us. Since moving, we’ve been to Portland, San Diego and Dallas,” Claudia says. “Next year we’re hoping to do a four-month tour in our teardrop trailer.”

They’ve also gained time, because their home takes so much less work to keep up. Weekends in their old home were all about housework.

“Chores like mowing the lawn — I hated that because it used to take me hours,” Claudia recalls.

Downsizing to a low-maintenance tiny house gave Claudia and Garrett the time and  financial freedom to indulge in their favorite activity: traveling the country by teardrop camper. 

Now, she says, “The free time has been amazing. I spend a lot more time reading now than I did before and started taking ASL (American Sign Language) tutoring in the evenings.”

Tiny isn’t for everyone

Happy as she is, Claudia says not everyone would thrive downsizing so drastically.

“It might not be for you if you’re someone with a big hobby, like you work on cars. You’d need a large garage and space,” she says. “Garrett, being an engineer, likes to work on machines and equipment and all that stuff used to live in our old garage.”

When they moved, they left all that behind. But that, too, has had an unanticipated upside. They’re now members of a local maker space that has all the equipment Garrett needs.

Losing 1,890 square feet wasn’t easy, but the Penningtons say it had an unexpected benefit: by living more “outside” of their home, they’ve reconnected with their community.

“One of the positive, unexpected outcomes is that we’ve gotten more involved in the community,” says Claudia. “It’s been a great way to connect with more like-minded people.” An active social life also helped ease any worries about catching cabin fever in 536 square feet. “Getting more involved is getting us out of the house.”

Custom or Prefab?

A custom-built home ranges from $100-400 per square foot, whereas the average prefab costs around $50-65 per square foot. – Home Advisor  MORE

One thing your city can do: Reduce food waste

Tyler Varsell

When we think about food waste, we usually think about individual households. Example: those sad looking carrots at the bottom of the fridge drawer. Your fault, your loss. Not a broader concern.

But those carrots are part of a systemic problem, one with grave implications for climate change. Project Drawdown ranked reducing food waste as the third most important step out of 80 proposed solutions.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In the United States alone, food waste generates the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That accounts for both the energy used in agriculture to grow unused food, as well as the methane that’s released when the food rots in landfills.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that cities are coming up with solutions. Because most municipalities run their own sanitation systems, said Yvette Cabrera, deputy food waste director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, they’re “uniquely positioned to tackle the problem.”

Here are three main strategies cities are using.

Target waste

Those sanitation systems give cities a lot of control over what happens to discarded food, and some are cracking down on waste.

Seoul, South Korea, for example, charges a fee for food waste. Families pay by weight. At recycling sites, the waste is processed: Part is used for biofuels, while some is turned into fertilizer to help urban farms. The city also has over 6,000 automated bins where residents can weigh their food waste and pay their fees, according to the World Economic Forum.

Seoul now recycles 95 percent of its food waste, up from less than 2 percent in 1995.

A version of that was tried in the United States in 2015, when Seattle introduced an anti-waste program that, among other things, made it illegal to toss out food. A year later, a judge tossed out the measure’s enforcement provision when she ruled it was unconstitutional for trash collectors to snooping in garbage for edible morsels.

The law is still on the books, though, and it appears to have had an effect. For example, the program included an education campaign that focused on waste reduction, smarter shopping and composting. The right kind of food composting system produces lower emissions than a similar volume of food in a landfill, and you get something useful from composting: fertilizer.

Now, nearly 50 percent of food waste gets composted, according to Hans Van Dusen, the city’s solid waste contracts manager. And, waste sent to landfills is at a record low of 0.81 pounds per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are so disconnected from where our food comes from, we don’t think about the resources that take to get it to us,” said Veronica Fincher, a senior waste prevention program manager in Seattle. “We want to help people understand those impacts.”

For an example of what could happen if more cities tackled food waste, look to France. National law there requires large supermarkets to donate, rather than throw away, food that is still edible — a measure that has sharply increased food donations to charities, according to the government.

Businesses are key

Cities tend to have lots of restaurants and grocery stores, and that presents a huge opportunity to reduce food waste.One of the leaders in working with supermarkets and chefs is New York City, which runs the largest composting program in the country. It’s part of a multimillion-dollar program to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by turning food scraps and yard waste into compost and, soon, clean energy. The goal is to get the city to zero waste by 2030.

In addition to the composting program, the city runs a robust online food donation portal, food waste fairs and waste-reduction challenges that recognize successful efforts by restaurants and supermarkets.

As of now, the city wastes four million tons of food a year. Of that, 500,000 tons come from restaurants. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that cutting commercial food waste by 5 percent would save more than 120,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.

“Baby steps so far, but we want to be sure that restaurants have the tools to do well,” said the city’s sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia. “There are some seriously committed chefs out there to ensuring that nothing gets wasted.”

Other cities have also introduced curbside recycling and incrementally expanded their food waste regulation, like Los Angeles, Denver and Baltimore, which are all setting public goals to decrease waste, expand curbside composting and work with chefs and restaurants to raise awareness about food waste reduction.

Redistribute the surplus

So, some cities are saving a lot of food from the landfill. Some goes to the compost bin. Some, though, is still edible. What to do with it?

That’s where food rescue programs come into the picture. Strictly speaking, these are not climate programs. But think of them as an added bonus: Cities can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the needy.

Milan, Italy has been a global leader in the rescue movement since 2015. That year, 15 tons of food was given to homeless people in just a few weeks when the chef Massimo Bottura helped to organize an anti-waste campaign. Since then, the city has written the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, an international food waste protocol for cities, and led a charge that helped to get Italy’s national government to pass food waste legislation.

According to its organizers, the food policy pact has been signed by 207 cities from around the world with a total of around 450 million inhabitants.

It shows how a local initiative can take off, and how cities can have an impact.

“Once you tell people they can’t throw food away, they start making different, creative decisions with it,” said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. SOURCE

‘Planetary Arsonists’: Naomi Klein Points to Behavior of Autocratic Leaders Like Bolsonaro, Trump as Exacerbating Climate Crisis

“The fires of hatred are spreading from one country to the next,” the author warns in new video. 

Author Naomi Klein explains the danger of strongmen leaders in a video from Now This News. (Photo: screenshot/NowThisNews/YouTube)

Author and activist Naomi Klein warns in a video for Now This News that the behavior of strongmen leaders around the world is exacerbating the climate crisis and spreading hate around the world.

Describing the planet as under threat of climate incineration, Klein in the December 5 video takes aim at leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump, Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—critiquing them for their refusal to put out the fires of climate disruption and surging fascism around the world.

“The men rising to the highest office in country after country are not only refusing to douse the flames, they are true planetary arsonists,” says Klein, “determined to torch the planet with glee.”

Klein also singles out Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose support of coal and rejection of policies aimed addressing the climate crisis is in sharp relief as the smoke from unprecedented wildfires choke out the country’s cities, and India’s hard-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Now, the message of all of these strongmen is very clear,” Klein explains. “They have a sharply defined in-group—the people who are, you know, the real citizens of their countries, who they offer protection to.”

But the in-groups need out-groups, and, as Klein continues, the strongmen are only too happy to find examples of those.

The climate crisis combined with the rise of ethno-supremacy, says Klein, is a recipe for disaster.

“We have these two fires, the fires of climate disruption, these very real fires of climate chaos—the storms, the drought, the fires—but also, the political fires,” Klein says.

Klein concludes with asking viewers to support the Green New Deal to address the climate and political crises, citing millions around the world—including teen activist and newly-minted TIME Person of the Year Greta Thunberg—who are mobilizing against the system in a third fire of justice.

“The Green New Deal is a vision that is our best and only chance of putting out those other two fires, the political fires and the climate fires, simultaneously,” says Klein.

Watch the video:

James Hansen: Fire on Planet Earth

“It is not just a climate problem. It is an energy problem. And a human rights problem.” — James Hansen
“Listen to the scientists” — Greta Thunberg

California fires are a minuscule piece of global change that will sweep through our planet this century and beyond, and the role of humans in the fires is debatable. Yet the fires are symbolic, an apt metaphor for consequences of global warming, if we do not alter our planet’s course.

I am concerned that, despite all the recent publicity about climate change, the public and policy-makers are not well-informed about the implications of climate change for energy policy.

I have a reputation for bluntly speaking truth to power, but for the last few years I minimized comments on energy policy, other than advocating a rising carbon fee & dividend. My rational: the only way I can make the basis for my conclusions really clear is to finish Sophie’s Planet.

The book is taking longer than planned, because of the need to do some science and write a science proposal. Now we enter an election year. I tried, but failed, to influence politicians and public opinion in the past. However, in a democracy, it is essential to keep trying.

Today, the potential enormity of the consequences, if we fail to communicate well the policy implications of climate change, demands that we ignore personal and institutional backwash.

Friends advise me that my assessment conflicts with deeply felt beliefs and might be interpreted as being critical of iconic individuals, which will make it difficult to obtain financial support for our group, Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions (CSAS). I hope that is not the case.

Analysis of energy and climate is a many-faceted scientific problem, which demands rigorous use of the scientific method[1] to achieve success. The objectivity of the scientific method is crucial if we are to achieve success. MORE  (PDF)