The Indian Act: What to do with it

Created more than 150 years ago, the Indian Act has structured relations between the federal government and Indigenous people for generations. And in the eyes of many, its purpose was and still is, to assimilate, control, and even destroy the people and communities that come under its jurisdiction. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to scrap it. That hasn’t happened. The Agenda discusses what should be done about the archaic legislation. SOURCE

Why You Need to Know About Regenerative Agriculture

Why companies as diverse as Patagonia and General Mills are suddenly focused on getting dirty


Maybe it’s the year-end double punch of consumerism and self-reflection—what holiday meals are we making, what are we buying for people, what have I even done with my life—but December triggers a cavalcade of questions about how a person who wears things and eats things and likes to go outside (this is me, but, hey, it could be you, too) is tied into the whole dang system of consumption.

And in that blitz, an unlikely subject has come up. Not reproductive choices, not carbon offsets, not even Greta Thunberg. No, it’s regenerative agriculture, a soil-focused farming practice. Whole Foods says it’s the number-one food trend of next year. Patagonia has made it a centerpiece of its activism and will be rolling out products made using the practice early next year. General Mills announced this spring that it will employ regenerative agriculture on one million acres—about a quarter of the land it uses in North America. And this spring will see the creation of a new Renewable Organic Agriculture certification pilot program.

That’s a huge deal, environmentally, because the agriculture sector is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse emissions. Ag creates food and fiber and jobs. And when it’s done right, it can act as a carbon sink. Healthy soil, with intact root systems, can hold huge amounts of carbon. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, agriculture is unique in its ability to both reduce emissions, through sustainable farming practices, and capture them, through carbon sequestration.

That’s where regenerative agriculture comes in. There are 7.5 billion living organisms in a teaspoon of soil—more than there are people living on earth—and regenerative ag supports those organisms, helping them hold nutrients, fighting erosion, and negating the need for chemicals. Estimates from Ohio State’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center say carbon sequestration through regenerative practices could offset fossil fuel emission by up to 15 percent. Loftier assumptions from the United Nations say it could offset total global emissions by 10 percent.

The term was coined in the 1980s at the Rodale Institute, the Pennsylvania-based organic farming think tank founded by J.J. Rodale. In practice, it means that farmers rotate and diversify crops and animals, don’t poison lands and water, and minimize tilling and soil disruption. Over time, those practices have been shown to make land more resilient and more productive—and able to hold more carbon and water.

The Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA), a nonprofit coalition of organic companies like Dr. Bronner’s, Patagonia, and Horizon Organic, has built a certification for regenerative producers around three connected pillars: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. This ROA certification emcompasses not just organic practices, but also long-term soil health and economic benefits for farmers.

As an apparel company, Patagonia may seem an odd bedfellow in this mission. But since 2012, when it first offered wild salmon jerky, the company has moved into the sustainable food space, launching Patagonia Provisions in 2014 and working to secure responsible farming, ranching, and aquaculture partners. The more they learned, says Patagonia Provisions managing director Birgit Cameron, the more they realized that food was one of the biggest levers the company could push to help the planet.

Starting in February, Patagonia will offer clothes grown with cotton farmed to the new Renewable Organic Agriculture standard, and soon afterwards, ROA-certified food. The company already sells a beer called Long Root Ale, which is brewed with a perennial grain called Kernza grown using ROA practices. “You do start to see higher yield, and the soil draws down a significant amount of carbon, which is a planetary game changer,” Cameron says. “We couldn’t stay away from that.”

It’s worth remembering, however, that agriculture is just part of the climate pie. Elizabeth Whitlow, executive director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, warns against assuming that sequestering carbon in soil will cancel out growing emissions. But she and Cameron are realistically hopeful, and talking with them helped turn my grinchy heart and brain. We need to start making decisions through the lens of urgency, Cameron reminded me, and good consumer choices can indeed move the needle on agriculture practices—and climate change.

So this spring, as the first green shoots push through the soil, look for the ROA certification. Talk to your local farmers about where your food is coming from and how it’s produced. The idea of voting with your dollars may be trite, but food is a place where personal action can impact the system. As Whitlow says, “What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves.” SOURCE

Poll shows Canadians favour national response to climate change despite Alberta’s carbon tax objections

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in front of the Trans Mountain Edmonton Terminal in Edmonton, Alberta on March 22, 2019. Albertans will pay the tax on gasoline and home heating fuels starting New Year’s Day. CANDACE ELLIOTT/REUTERS

The Alberta government is ramping up its opposition to the federal carbon tax, which kicks in on Wednesday, as a new poll suggests a greater number of Canadians want Ottawa to make the environment, rather than the economy, its top priority.

Albertans will pay the tax on gasoline and home heating fuels starting New Year’s Day, as the federal government imposes its own tax to replace the one repealed by Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government last spring.

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer held a photo-op at a truck-stop gas station in Calgary on Tuesday as he vowed to continue doing everything in the province’s power to oppose the tax. That fight has largely focused on a series of continuing court challenges.

“We have the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; it’s within our provincial scope,” he said in an interview. “The federal government right now is effectively trying to expand their mandate within our Constitution.”

Appeal courts in Ontario and Saskatchewan have already upheld the federal carbon pricing system with split rulings. Alberta argued its case at the province’s Court of Appeal in mid-December and is awaiting the decision, and all three are expected to end up at the Supreme Court of Canada in March.

The federal government has argued that establishing national minimum standards for carbon pricing is essential to tackling the existential threat of climate change. It has also said carbon tax rebates will leave most Canadians with more money than they pay through the levy.

A report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and research from several economists have backed up the federal government’s position on the rebates, although Mr. Schweitzer rejected the claim that most Albertans will be better off under the federal carbon tax.

“It is the broader economic impact,” he said. “I don’t think a carbon tax is going to be the way for us to get job creation going in Alberta.”

The Justice Minister cited a report released by his government in the fall that found the previous provincial government’s carbon tax would result in roughly 10,000 fewer jobs by 2030.

The same report concluded that both the previous provincial tax and the federal tax would have a substantial impact on emissions with only a slight drag to the province’s economy. For example, the report concluded the federal carbon plan would cut GPD growth by 0.055 per cent a year, while also heading off $2.2-billion in economic damage related to climate change.

A Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail suggests growing support for a national response to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The poll found 35 per cent of respondents identified the environment as their top issue for the federal government, compared with 25 per cent who said it is the economy. The environment was a higher priority in every region except for the Prairies, where 31 per cent of respondents said the economy should be the No. 1 issue for Ottawa compared with 18 per cent who said the environment.

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents said it would be unacceptable for a province to opt out of the national climate change plan. In the Prairies, that number was 50 per cent.

“It’s pretty clear that the environment is not just a top-of-mind issue, but people want action on this,” pollster Nik Nanos said.

“Setting aside some of the naysayers, specifically in Alberta and Saskatchewan, who are looking to diminish that particular issue, the fact of the matter is there’s no fatigue right now in engaging on the environment. Canadians want to see action on that.”

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the Alberta government’s claims around rebates are simply not true. He said the province should tone down the rhetoric and instead work with the federal government to put a price on emissions.

“We need to have a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to addressing climate change,” Mr. Wilkinson said in an interview.

“If the government of Alberta is saying that somehow this is an affordability issue, then they need to go back and look at the way in which the price on pollution works.”

The federal government recently announced it would accept Alberta’s industrial carbon tax and not impose the federal system on industrial emitters. The Alberta government is using some of the revenue from the tax to fund research into emissions-reducing technology.

The Nanos survey was conducted from Dec. 22 to Dec. 29 and questioned 1,010 respondents, giving the poll a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20. SOURCE


Canada’s brutal decade of homelessness

Two men sit on a grate in front of Old City Hall in Toronto as passers-by make their way along Queen Street.

It’s been a brutal decade for homeless people in Canada.

In Toronto alone, approximately 3,000 more people are homeless than 10 years ago.

Shelters are full across the country. There are waiting lists for family shelters. Municipalities rely on motels for homeless families. Tent encampments are no longer just found in parks in major cities, like Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park. Encampments can now be seen in London, Kingston and Peterborough.

In Toronto, tent encampments are no longer confined to the Don Valley Ravine or the Rosedale Valley. Encampments dot major thoroughfares. Tents and tarps are now high on the wish lists of outreach and shelter workers — and these supplies must be distributed surreptitiously so agencies do not lose their city funding.

In Windsor, Christine Wilson-Furlonger, a long-time outreach worker with a local outreach organization called Street Help, reports that homeless people are forced to hide in wooded areas. The city does not tolerate tent encampments. The organization’s outreach workers frequently help house families with young children when a family’s motel or shelter is cancelled.

Moncton has taken a zero tolerance policy toward tenting. The city removed an encampment this spring, displacing approximately 80 people who dispersed and are now living outside, less protected from violence or injury. Similar reports are common across the Maritimes.

Shelters face overcrowding and the new norm is a second tier of shelters with lower standards. In Toronto, these second tier sites are called 24-hour respite sites; some are in Sprung bubble dome structures that shelter people in conditions that resemble post-disaster scenarios. Deadly new disease outbreaks, such as Group A strep, have emerged in shelters. Meanwhile, bedbugs and lice have re-emerged with a vengeance.

New efforts to protect lives, like a teepee in Winnipeg and an army tent on church property in London, have been met with backlash from neighbours.

Pastor Dan Morand and his Urban Haven Project have erected two heated tents in the backyard of Beth Emanuel Church where they planned to run a winter shelter for homeless men. Complaints fpllowed. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

The number of communities without warming centres — notably Winnipeg, despite the efforts of activist Nancy Chippendale — is shocking, especially given new research that shows the impact of hypothermia and death at more moderate winter temperatures.

Ottawa cleared an encampment this year, despite the encampment receiving support from Leilani Farha, the United Nations rapporteur on the right to housing, and Alex Neve of Amnesty International. That eviction, ironically, took place a day after Ms. Farha left Ottawa for a Toronto speaking engagement.

The year ended in Toronto with 995 names on the Toronto Homeless Memorial. At the annual memorial on January 14, the list will hold more than 1,000 names.

Is there any hope on the political or advocacy front?

In December, Ottawa Councillor Catherine McKenney started a petition to declare an affordable housing and homelessness emergency, which she plans to present to council in early 2020.

In November, the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, a network of activists in Toronto, launched a petition letter to Mayor John Tory, demanding the mayor declare the city’s homelessness crisis an emergency. It has surpassed 20,000 signatures and is still growing. Toronto city council responded to this advocacy effort with a three-page motion, using the word “emergency” but failing to take action: “City Council recognize that homelessness in Toronto is an ongoing critical and emergency issue requiring the Provincial and Federal Governments to commit on an expedited basis to build on the initiatives the city has taken to date.”

Toronto has still yet to take any real action on homelessness. The city has not opened more warming centres, nor have city leaders put an end to the removal of outdoor encampments or invited the Red Cross to assist with warming centre operations.

In the absence of a fully funded national housing program, recovery-oriented models have failed. In 2020, community members and activist groups will need to push Canada’s municipalities to declare an emergency and take real action. SOURCE

A New Year’s Climate Diet

How many tons of emissions can we trim in the new year?

Adam McCauley

Most diets fail. They fail mostly because after a period of bingeing (for example, New Year’s Eve) we set unrealistic goals for reforming our bad ways. In time, self-control breaks down and we hunger to throw open the cupboards and binge again.

The same is true of the American carbon diet. After a period of bingeing (say, the last century), the United States is per capita the most prodigious emitter of carbon dioxide among the world’s top 10 economies. The average American generated around 15 metric tons of carbon per year in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency, using what it says is the most recent data available. Svelte France, by comparison, weighed in at 4.5 tons per capita, while Indians put out just 1.6 tons each.

To bring the planet to climate equilibrium would require a global per capita goal that falls halfway between France’s and India’s outputs, three metric tons, by 2050, according to a United Nations report from 2011. All of this may make the conscientious American want to drive the family S.U.V. into the nearest body of water and subsist on locally grown radishes. But I am fairly certain that as with food regimens, an extreme carbon diet will falter, and practitioners will soon retrieve their S.U.V.s and cheat so often with hamburgers that those local radishes will molder in the vegetable crisper.

But some diets do work. They tend to be modest in their goals, incorporating minor changes over long periods. That we need to transform the roots of our economy is unquestionable and something that must be fought for with intense social and political commitment.

Yet inertia abounds. Not every well-meaning American will engage in a protracted political struggle. Fortunately, there are smaller maintainable changes that would allow carbon couch potatoes to go from carbon obese to just carbon overweight.

Here then is something of a grocery list for the politically inert, things that can be done without a whole lot of effort that will lead to a carbon-slimmer 2020:

Have the chicken. Much has been made about the climate benefits of going vegan. If we switched to a vegan diet, we could cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 0.3 to 1.6 metric tons per person per year. I have made this change, but I doubt I could persuade a large portion of the country to choose pea protein over pot roast even when packaged as Beyond or Impossible meat.

For the legume-averse, chicken is relatively low impact. According to a study published by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, beef can require more than 27 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of meat eaten (much, much more if you compare foods based on protein content per unit of weight). A kilo of chicken, however, costs the planet about 6.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide. True, it’s not tofu (2.0) or lentils (0.9), but most red-blooded Americans know how to cook it.

Or the fish. Fish and shellfish can make for surprisingly carbon-dioxide-light meals, though not everything from the sea shrinks one’s emissions waistline. America’s favorite seafood, shrimp, can far exceed chicken and even rival pork. At the same time, a kilogram of most American-caught finfish, like the Alaska pollock, used for McDonald’s fish sandwich, comes in at a tofu-besting 1.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. And depending on how you adjust for nutrient content, some varieties of farmed mussels can cost us just 0.6 kilograms of carbon per kilogram of mussel meat. Take that, lentil!

Do nothing better. Busy Americans fret about actually having to do something to address the climate crisis in their already hectic lives. But doing nothing better can add up to something. A 2018 study in the journal Nature notes that tourism accounts for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Just one long-haul flight emits around a half-ton of carbon per person or a full ton of greenhouse effect if one considers other gases a jet puts into the upper atmosphere. Business and first-class air travel generates three to four tons of carbon per long-haul flight because of the extra space those fancier seats take up.

So doing nothing at home for your next vacation is an easy choice. Other better nothings include turning off your car rather than letting the engine idle, which accounts for about 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States a year.

Change the way other things in your life do nothing. Similarly when your appliances do nothing, they are often still burning fossil fuels. Standby power accounts for 4.6 percent of residential carbon emissions. Address this by turning off your internet router at night, shutting down your computer, unplugging your cellphone when it’s fully charged and choosing appliances that have low standby power requirements. To go beyond saving standby power, Karl Coplan, the author of “Live Sustainably Now,” suggests “depriving fossil fuel companies of their sales revenues by switching to a renewable-electricity contract and upgrading to an electric car the next chance you get.”

Be really lazy and drink from the tap. What could be lazier than shuffling to your own sink and pouring yourself a glass of water? And yet nowadays we often replace this most low-effort of American habits with driving to a store and buying a plastic bottle of water. This can end up costing us significantly more in carbon dioxide emissions than drinking water from the tap, according to one 2009 Italian scientific analysis.

Ditch the car one day a week. Collectively Americans drive more than three trillion miles annually. (Over 10 years that would take us all the way to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth.) That comes out to about 4.6 tons of carbon per vehicle a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Transportation is the largest single contributor to American carbon emissions, the agency says. So skipping a day of driving each week would significantly decrease an individual’s contribution to emissions.

Upgrade a forest instead of your phone. A smartphone does not carry a huge carbon burden. Apple reports that a single iPhone 11 results in the emission of about 70 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions over its life cycle. But if you donated the several hundred dollars you typically spent on a phone upgrade to a program managing a carbon-sequestering ecosystem, you could shave a much greater portion of carbon from your budget. For the best possible carbon sequester, consider the mangrove. Mangrove forests are one of the world’s most powerful carbon sinks; those in the Amazon store twice as much carbon per acre as the region’s rain forests.

Divest from fossil fuels. All of us are implicated in the carbon economy through our daily financial transactions. The headline of a recent New Yorker essay by the climate activist Bill McKibben read, “Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warning Burns.” How to address this? “Switching to a fossil-free index fund is a no-brainer: Among other things they’re outperforming the market,” Mr. McKibben wrote me recently.

For those who don’t invest but do own a credit card and a bank account, Mr. McKibben suggested going a step further. “As we approach Earth Day at 50, cut up your Chase card or move your money to a new bank — JPMorgan Chase has become by far the largest funder of the fossil fuel industry.”

Here lies the truly profound global effect of the carbon-obese American economy, according to data compiled in a recently released “fossil fuel finance report card” by a group of environmental organizations. Four of the world’s five largest institutional investors in fossil fuels are banks headquartered here in the U.S.A.