Fossil fuel promoters turn logic on its head

Aerial view of Alberta oil sands

(Photo: Kris Krug via Flickr)

We live in strange times. All evidence shows we’re driving ourselves to a climate breakdown that threatens our survival, and what do governments do? Do they employ the many available solutions and work to educate the public and resolve the crisis? A few are trying, while some outright deny the evidence, some attack citizens who speak out about the emergency and others claim to care while planning ways to sell enough fossil fuels to cook the planet.

I just witnessed the poor outcome of the Madrid climate conference, where some countries — those most responsible for the climate emergency among them — continued to elevate the fossil fuel industry’s interests above humanity’s. When governments fail to lead, it’s up to the people, which is why climate strikes, lawsuitsconstructive conversations and pressuring governments are crucial.

Canada played a positive role in Madrid, but we need to accept an important reality: We can’t burn all the bitumen in Alberta without putting our health, well-being, economy and likely survival at risk. Alberta and Canada needed a sensible plan to reduce fossil fuel reliance decades ago, including helping displaced workers. Now we’ve stalled for so long that the province and country need to lead on a global, all-out mobilization to avert catastrophe.

Instead, some Albertans — including in government — complain when schools use critical thinking exercises that illustrate varying perspectives on the oilsands. Alberta’s government launched a “war room,” ostensibly to provide a “fact-based narrative about Canadian energy” that “will reject what is false and promote what is true.” Its website offers this upside down “truth”: “expanding access to Canada’s vast fossil fuel resources will significantly lower global greenhouse gas emissions.” To add to the absurdity, the war room is partly funded by the province’s carbon tax revenue and structured so it’s not subject to freedom of information regulations!

There’s a concerted effort to silence or punish those who speak up about the impact fossil fuel development and use, including oilsands bitumen, are having on air, water, land, animals, plants and climate.

Those who promote coal, oil and gas fear criticism of the industry. They know science is not on their side. They know a necessary change is coming, quickly. Banks are dumping Alberta bonds because of Alberta and Canada’s poor climate record and high per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Investors are divesting from fossil fuels. Financial services company Moody’s has downgraded Alberta’s credit rating in part because of the province’s dependence on fossil fuels. Tech companies are choosing to locate in provinces that don’t prioritize fossil fuels over all else. And people in most of Canada voted for federal parties with real climate plans.

Maybe industry leaders believe they can stall for a while to facilitate more of the massive profits they’ve enjoyed while the planet was heating — and with help from media and politicians, they could be right. But that would be to all our detriment.
The federal government’s decision on whether or not to green-light Teck’s proposed Frontier Mine will be a good indicator of how seriously it takes the global climate emergency.
The federal government’s decision on whether or not to green-light Teck’s proposed Frontier Mine will be a good indicator of how seriously it takes the global climate emergency. Industry and government justify the project — a 292-square-kilometre open-pit bitumen mine that will produce 260,000 barrels a day until 2066 (with full shutdown and reclamation in 2081) — by claiming the sector could remain below the 100-megatonne cap on greenhouse gas emissions imposed by the previous provincial government. But they don’t account for emissions from burning the product in countries where it will end up.

The mine will also destroy 3,000 hectares of old growth forest and 14,000 hectares of wetlands (both important carbon sinks), threaten wildlife including bison, lynx and caribou, and comes with uncertainty around cleanup. It’s also based on an unrealistic sale-price estimate of US$95 a barrel.

The federal government has until the end of February to decide whether it will proceed.

With global heating and its impacts accelerating faster than scientists predicted — including the Greenland ice sheet melting at a rate seven times faster than in the 1990s and Arctic warming releasing carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost — we absolutely must shift rapidly to a less-wasteful society that uses renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

With every year that passes, scientists’ warnings get more urgent. We must resolve to act decisively in the coming year. SOURCE

Five things you can do to minimize your post-holiday waste

No one needs a reminder that the holidays are just around the corner. But with everyone so focused on getting everything done ahead of the festive season, it can be easy to forget about making plans for once it’s all over. This is especially true in relation to the excessive post-holiday waste that comes with the season’s shopping, wrapping, eating, and decorating.

Thankfully, there are lots of ideas on Metro Vancouver’s  website to help people consume more thoughtfully over the holidays. And even after the festivities are over, there are a number of ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle, so that you minimize your post-holiday waste.

Jack Froese, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Committee Chair hopes that the campaign, now in its ninth year, will encourage residents to make at least one change this Christmas, so that they can create memories, not garbage.

Below is a list of some of the best approaches to ensure your pre- and post-holiday season is joyful, not wasteful.

Package away waste

More shopping means more packaging, which means more trash. But with a little bit of forethought you can still get through your gift list sustainably.

“I think part of the post-season garbage is created by so many people shopping online now,” Froese says. “Ordering your gifts means you’re getting cardboard boxes, foam peanuts, or bubble wrap and people might not realize what they can do with that.”

But the good news is that almost all packing material can be repurposed. Or if you’re looking to recycle, visit  or contact your municipality for further information about which items can be collected curbside and which are accepted at your nearest depot.

Tree-cycle

After the Christmas tree has relegated its star as the centerpiece of your décor, don’t throw it in the trash. After you’ve removed all the ornaments, visit  for recycling locations.

“Your municipality will also talk about tree-chipping events where you can bring in your Christmas tree and for a small donation, then they will cut it up for you,” Froese adds.

But he warns that a real tree with flocking, the artificial snow, on it cannot be composted.

“You might think that you’re being environmentally friendly because you’re getting a real tree, but if you cover it in fake snow then you can’t compost it and it’s garbage,” he says.

If you opt for an artificial tree, try to get one secondhand and store it properly so it can be used year after year. While they can be reused, you would have to use one for 20 years before it’s “greener” than a real tree.

Out with the old and in with the new

It can be tempting to start the New Year with a clear-out since you now have a pile of new items to replace the old ones. But that doesn’t mean you should be adding to your post-holiday waste.

Trashing old electronics can be dangerous for the environment, so think about donating or selling them. There are also depots, where they can be safely recycled.

When it comes to unwanted gifts, consider hosting a swap party. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, after all. If you receive something that you know a friend will love, then re-gift it. Anything else can be donated or sold through online sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.

There’s always next year

Remember that Christmas comes around every year, so there are lots of items that can be reused again and again.

Small changes such as limiting your use of single-use wrapping paper by choosing eco-friendly options like newspaper or reusable bags can make a big difference long term. When possible, save any large pieces of wrapping paper for use the following year.

Keep any greeting card you receive for future crafts or use them as gift tags next Christmas. Most paper cards you use can be recycled, but watch out for glitter or plastic adornments, which can’t be added to your paper recycling.

When it comes to decorations, do yourself a favour and take the time to put them away properly. No one wants to open the box come December to find a ball of tangled lights and broken baubles. Make use of some of the surplus packaging you’ve received to protect your decorations. And wrap lights and tinsel around paper towel tubes or bottles so that they don’t get damaged and are easy to unravel next season. You’ll thank yourself later and so will Mother Nature.

New Year, no waste

If you’re hosting a New Year’s eve party, send e-invites instead of paper ones, which is not only more eco-friendly but will also ensure your card doesn’t get lost in the Christmas post.

Avoid the temptation of single-use decorations, dinnerware, and napkins and opt for reusable versions, which can be pulled out at parties for years to come.

Instead of cramming your fridge with Tupperware of full of food that will inevitably end up in the garbage, send your guests home with a plate and avoid the unnecessary trash.

Kick off the New Year as you mean to go on by making it your resolution to make the most of the holiday season—and beyond—without the waste. SOURCE

Why ‘Mom and Pop’ green energy producers can’t sell their clean power in B.C. anymore

Family-run green power projects — that for decades have supplied electricity to remote communities and the provincial grid — now face bankruptcy as BC Hydro favours big dams and big producers

Jeff Ankenman and Sue McMurtrie of Homestead Hydro Systems

Jeff Ankenman and Sue McMurtrie, owners of Homestead Hydro Systems located just outside New Denver, B.C., stand near the dam they built by hand in the mid-1990s. After selling power to BC Hydro since 1997 they turned the plant’s turbines off earlier this year when their contract expired and they were unable to reach a new agreement. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Williams, a small woodlot operator who lives near William’s Lake, remembers the day vividly: it was April 4, 1990, and he had driven down to attend the two-day conference sponsored by BC Hydro to promote independent power production.

From then on, Davis told Williams and 400 other delegates, “BC Hydro will canvass the private sector for power that can be generated below Hydro’s avoided cost.”

The contract gave Williams the security he needed to invest $320,000 to build a run of river project on a creek named Morehead, making use of a dam left by a gold mining operation a century earlier.

“It was just a small little spot where one could build a water turbine to generate electricity, just on a really, really small scale,” Williams tells The Narwhal.

Ron Williams Morehead Valley Hydro

Ron Williams, owner of Morehead Valley Hydro Inc., stands near the spillway of a small-scale hydro facility on the west end of Morehead Lake near Likely, B.C. Williams was dropped as an independent power producer by BC Hydro earlier this year and now faces the prospect of selling his plant for scrap metal prices after investing an estimated $320,000 on the system he built by hand in the late 1980s. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Williams built two small powerhouses and strung up five kilometres of power lines. He used some of the energy to power his home and sold the bulk — enough to power 40 to 50 homes annually and 100 homes at peak production — to BC Hydro.

But last December, after almost 30 years in business, Williams’ investment and dreams came crashing down. He says BC Hydro staff phoned him to say his energy purchase agreement (EPA) had been terminated.

“They never wanted to put anything in writing,” he explained. “They always wanted to just talk on the phone. And they told me over the phone that they had been instructed by their political masters that there would be no new contract.”

“Now I have this small renewable energy project and assets in a creek that are worthless.”

Williams is one of the long-time hydro producers The Narwhal spoke to during an investigation into small, green power projects, all of them family-run, that have recently been cut off from supplying energy to the BC Hydro grid.

Our investigation found these “mom and pop” producers were earning considerably less for their power than the average $100-per-megawatt-hour cited by Energy Minister Michelle Mungall last February as a justification for not renewing contracts with independent power producers (IPPs).

Even before Mungall’s announcement, however, owners of small, green hydro projects say they were caught up in changing rules at BC Hydro that made it increasingly financially onerous for the “little guy” producers once encouraged by the public utility to continue operating.

The end result is that installed clean and green energy in the province is now going to waste — the same power the B.C. government and BC Hydro courted in the 1980s and 1990s, supported for decades and publicly praised. MORE

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

It’s underwater—and the consequences are unimaginable.

In Namibian waters off the west coast of Southern Africa, enormous mining vessels suck diamonds from the seabed.

Regulations for ocean mining have never been formally established

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. Five years later, another ship found similar nuggets at the bottom of the Atlantic, and two years after that, it discovered a field of the same objects in the Pacific. For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up.

Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. On the west coast of Africa, the De Beers Group is using a fleet of specialized ships to drag machinery across the seabed in search of diamonds. In 2018, those ships extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia; in 2019, De Beers commissioned a new ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company, Nautilus Minerals, is working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals, while Japan and South Korea have embarked on national projects to exploit their own offshore deposits. But the biggest prize for mining companies will be access to international waters, which cover more than half of the global seafloor and contain more valuable minerals than all the continents combined.
 

Regulations for ocean mining have never been formally established. The United Nations has given that task to an obscure organization known as the International Seabed Authority, which is housed in a pair of drab gray office buildings at the edge of Kingston Harbour, in Jamaica. Unlike most UN bodies, the ISA receives little oversight. It is classified as “autonomous” and falls under the direction of its own secretary general, who convenes his own general assembly once a year, at the ISA headquarters. For about a week, delegates from 168 member states pour into Kingston from around the world, gathering at a broad semicircle of desks in the auditorium of the Jamaica Conference Centre. Their assignment is not to prevent mining on the seafloor but to mitigate its damage—selecting locations where extraction will be permitted, issuing licenses to mining companies, and drafting the technical and environmental standards of an underwater Mining Code. MORE

Round 2: Trans Mountain vs. First Nations

West Coast Environmental Law, December 19, 2019

From December 16-18, 2019 the Federal Court of Appeal panel of judges, composed of Chief Justice Marc Noël with Justices Denis Pelletier and John B. Laskin, heard oral arguments on the latest round of appeals of the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project (TMX). The case has the potential to quash the federal approvals and halt construction, as we saw in the 2018 decision Tsleil-Waututh vs Canada.

The Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) courtroom was packed for most of the hearing. In addition to an overflow room with a closed-circuit feed, the hearing was also livestreamed on the FCA website – a useful step for enhancing the open court principle.

I observed the entirety of the hearings in person, in the overflow room and on the livestream. Below are some highlights of the oral hearings. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of what happened during the hearing.

At the close of the hearing, Chief Justice Marc Noël thanked the lawyers for their submissions and summarized the feeling in the room with this quote of the day:

“It feels like an acrimonious divorce. Obviously there’s a lot of tension here.

Background

This case is the second round of judicial review in relation to Trans Mountain, following a successful appeal by six First Nations in 2018. Since that decision, the federal government ordered the National Energy Board to consider the impacts of marine shipping, which it had excluded in the first round. The federal government also conducted an additional round of constitutionally required Indigenous consultation, after the FCA found that previous efforts “fell well below the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

After federal Cabinet re-approved the project on June 18, 2019, a number of parties sought leave (or permission) to appeal the re-approval. On September 4th, 2019 the FCA issued a written decision granting leave to six First Nations, but limited the grounds of appeal to the adequacy of Indigenous consultation.

The leave decision itself represented a departure from the court’s usual practice of deciding on leave without written decisions, as has been noted by legal scholars. The leave decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada by three excluded environmental groups, and two First Nations (Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish) whose grounds of appeal were limited in the current FCA case.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on these leaves to appeal, and the FCA case on consultation continued to move forward at a break-neck pace (for courts at least).

If the Supreme Court of Canada does grant leave, and the previously-excluded applicants are successful, the FCA could hold an additional hearing on the issues excluded from the consultation case, namely whether federal cabinet complied with statutory requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, and the Species at Risk Act. MORE

 

Top scientists warn of an Amazon ‘tipping point’

WATCH THE VIDEO

As the Amazon burns, it seems like everyone is in search of someone to blame. Nearly 100,000 fires have been detected, but who or what is to blame? (Sarah Cahlan, Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Deforestation and other fast-moving changes in the Amazon threaten to turn parts of the rainforest into savanna, devastate wildlife and release billions of tons carbon into the atmosphere, two renowned experts warned Friday.

“The precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we,” Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University and Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, both of whom have studied the world’s largest rainforest for decades, wrote in an editorial in the journal Science Advances. “Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.”

Combined with recent news that the thawing Arctic permafrost may be beginning to fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at an accelerating pace, it’s the latest hint that important parts of the climate system may be moving toward irreversible changes at a pace that defies earlier predictions.

The speed of the transformation in some key systems, such as Greenland’s ice and the Arctic’s permafrost, has “indeed been underestimated by climate science,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, the head of Earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “And that’s partly because we cannot really capture them well in our models.”

A burned area of the Amazon rainforest is seen in Prainha, Para state, Brazil, on Nov. 23, 2019. (Leo Correa/AP)

In interviews, Lovejoy and Nobre said they decided to sound a dire alarm about the Amazon after witnessing the acceleration of troubling trends. The combination of rising temperatures, crippling wildfires and ongoing land clearing for cattle ranching and crops has extended dry seasons, killed off water-sensitive vegetation and created conditions for more fire.

The Amazon is 17 percent deforested, but for the large portion of it inside Brazil, the figure is closer to 20 percent. The fear is that soon there will be so little forest that the trees, which not only soak up enormous quantities of rainwater but also give off mist that aids agriculture and sustains innumerable species, won’t be able to recycle enough rainfall.

At that point, much of the rainforest could decline into a drier savanna ecosystem. Rainfall patterns would change across much of South America. Several hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide could wind up in the atmosphere, worsening climate change. And such a feedback loop would be tough to reverse.

That point of no return, commonly referred to by scientists as a tipping point, “is much closer than we anticipated,” Nobre said in an interview. MORE

We Need a Massive Climate War Effort—Now

Only major spending on clean energy R&D can save us.

Image result for mother jones: We Need a Massive Climate War Effort—Now

I’ll take a wild guess that you don’t need any convincing about the need for action on climate change. You know that since the start of the Industrial Revolution we’ve dumped more than 500 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere and we’re adding about 10 billion more each year. You know that global temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius over the past century and we’re on track for 2 degrees within another few decades.

And you know what this means. It means more extreme weather. More hurricanes. More droughts. More flooding. More wildfires. More heat-related deaths. There will be more infectious disease as insects move ever farther north. The Northwest Passage will be open for much of the year. Sea levels will rise by several feet as the ice shelves of Greenland and the Antarctic melt, producing bigger storm swells and more intense flooding in low-lying areas around the world.

Some of this is already baked into our future, but to avoid the worst of it, climate experts widely agree that we need to get to net-zero carbon emissions entirely by 2050 at the latest. This is the goal of the Paris Agreement, and it’s one that every Democratic candidate for president has committed to. But how to get there?

Let’s start with the good news. About three-quarters of carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels for power, and we already have the technology to make a big dent in that. Solar power is now price-competitive with the most efficient natural gas plants and is likely to get even cheaper in the near future. In 2019, Los Angeles signed a deal to provide 400 megawatts of solar power at a price under 4 cents per kilowatt-hour—including battery storage to keep that power available day and night. That’s just a start—it will provide only about 7 percent of electricity needed in Los Angeles—but for the first time it’s fully competitive with the current wholesale price of fossil fuel electricity in Southern California.

We devoted 30 percent of our economy to fight WWII—1,000 times what we spend on green tech.

Wind power—especially offshore wind—is equally promising. This means that a broad-based effort to build solar and wind infrastructure, along with a commitment to replace much of the world’s fossil fuel use with electricity, would go pretty far toward reducing global carbon emissions.

How far? Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that by 2050, wind and solar can satisfy 80 percent of electricity demand in most advanced countries. But due to inadequate infrastructure in some cases and lack of wind and sun in others, not all countries can meet this goal, which means that even with favorable government policies and big commitments to clean energy, the growth of wind and solar will probably provide only about half of the world’s demand for electricity by midcentury. “Importantly,” the Bloomberg analysts caution, “major progress in de-carbonization will also be required in other segments of the world’s economy to address climate change.” MORE

‘Monstrous’: Docs Show Canadian Mounties Wanted Snipers Ready to Shoot Indigenous Land Defenders Blockading Pipeline

In response to the exclusive Guardian report, critics called the actions of Canadian authorities “abhorrent and unconscionable.”

Royal Canadian Mounted Polic

Royal Canadian Mounted Police parade following the Last Post ceremony in front of the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing on April 6, 2017 in Ypres, Belgium. (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

In an exclusive report Friday that outraged human rights advocates worldwide, The Guardian revealed that Canadian police wanted snipers on standby for a January 2019 crackdown on Indigenous land defenders who were blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.

The Guardian reported on official records—documents as well as audio and video content—reviewed by the newspaper related to the police “invasion” that led to 14 arrests:

Notes from a strategy session for a militarized raid on ancestral lands of the Wet’suwet’en nation show that commanders of Canada’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), argued that “lethal overwatch is req’d”—a term for deploying snipers.

The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” ahead of the operation to remove a roadblock which had been erected by Wet’suwet’en people to control access to their territories and stop construction of the proposed 670km (416-mile Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL).

Indigenous land defenders established the Gidimt’en checkpoint—where the police operation took place—as part of a broader battle against pipeline builder TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada. The RCMP action was an attempt to enforce a court injunction that came in response to the Unist’ot’en camp established on Wet’suwet’en territory in opposition to the pipeline.

Some critics highlighted how police conduct contrasted with the Canadian government’s truth and reconciliation efforts launched under Conservative former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and continued under the country’s current Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau.

Frances Moore, operations and national outreach manager at the Indigenous youth-led Canadian nonprofit group We Matter, wrote on Twitter that she is “saddened that it’s taking leaked documents from the RCMP for Canadians to believe” that police were prepared to show force against land defenders.

Specifically, according to The Guardian

The documents show that ahead of the raid, the RCMP deployed an array of surveillance, including heavily armed police patrols, a jet boat, helicopter, drone technology, heat-sensing cameras, and close monitoring of key land defenders’ movements and social media postings.

Police established a “media exclusion zone,” blocking reporters from accessing the area. They took care to hide their carbine rifles on the approach to the roadblock because the “optics” of the weapons were “not good,” according to one of the documents.

The documents also show close collaboration between the RCMP and TC Energy: police officers attended company planning sessions and daily “tailgate” meetings, and were privy to CGL’s legal strategy.

The RCMP were prepared to arrest children and grandparents: “No exception, everyone will be arrested in the injunction area,” a document reads. Another makes reference to possible child apprehension by social services—a troubling disclosure given the violent history of residential schooling in Canada and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children currently in the child welfare system.

Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson (Howilhkat) connected the RCMP’s militarized approach to the early 2019 operation to a lengthy record of colonial violence.

“In our experience, since first contact, RCMP have been created by the federal government to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands,” Huson told The Guardian. “They have proven [that] through their harassment of my people to support Coastal GasLink in invading our territories.”

Although an RCMP spokesperson declined to comment on the specific content of the records reviewed by The Guardian, they told the newspaper that while planning the raid, police took into account the remote location and “the unpredictable nature of what we could face.”

The Guardian noted that its report came as the Wet’suwet’en camps are preparing for a court ruling on an injunction sought by TC Energy that would permanently restrict the Indigenous land protectors from blockading pipeline sites. SOURCE