The widespread benefit of having Alberta refine its bitumen at home

Developing the province’s capacity to produce more benign and valuable petroleum products like diesel fuel would be good for all of Canada.

Image result for policy options: The widespread benefit of having Alberta refine its bitumen at homePhoto: Shutterstock, by Russ Heinl.

Our recent federal election has confirmed the growing tide of western alienation in Canada. Such discontent in Alberta has not been felt since the 1980s, when Pierre Trudeau’s government tried to impose the National Energy Program (NEP).

The 2019 election also delivered a solid mandate to build and operate the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) pipeline project. Justin Trudeau’s government bought the existing Trans Mountain pipeline in 2018 and promised TMX completion. This is a credibility crucible for the new Liberal minority government, especially in the West. TMX completion over the next two years will assuage some of the feelings of alienation, but more will be required. An ensuing and complementary initiative that would further promote national unity is refining raw bitumen from the oil sands into much more valuable and environmentally benign petroleum products like diesel fuel.

Visionary political leadership seeking common ground

Back in the 1980s, Alberta’s premier, Peter Lougheed, pushed back hard on the NEP, achieving an agreement with the federal government that recognized Alberta’s constitutional jurisdiction over the oil sands and attendant rights to royalty and tax revenues. He also established the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund to save and invest oil and gas revenues, strengthen and diversify the provincial economy and improve the quality of life for Albertans. Such visionary policy produced real results. Development of the internationally renowned Kananaskis Country tourism destination and provincial park in southwest Alberta is an enduring example. Successive provincial governments later squandered opportunities to build up the fund and make wise investments. Out of office, Lougheed remained a remarkable Canadian and proud Albertan. Many years later, he commented on the shipment of raw bitumen from the oil sands to US heavy oil refineries, saying, “I just find it completely unacceptable that our resource involves shipping jobs down the pipeline with bitumen to the United States.” He held the view that the resource should be refined where it is mined, right in Alberta.

Strong leadership and vision are not very evident at the moment in Alberta amid the fed-bashing and blame being heaped on another Prime Minister Trudeau for all the province’s woes with oil prices, job losses, carbon taxes and trying to get pipelines built. Many people can’t seem to forget or forgive the Trudeau name, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has fanned the flames. Certainly, the federal government should be held to full account to develop the TMX pipeline. Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the oil sands industry all need to find common ground centred on the importance of delivering and selling oil sands product at a fair price in international and domestic markets, sustaining jobs, economic benefits and our environment over the long transition to a low-carbon future. The International Energy Agency and leading energy experts agree that fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the energy mix late into this century as renewables like solar and wind are developed on the large scale required to meet global energy demands.

The TMX pipeline and refining diluted bitumen

Refining bitumen into diesel and light petroleum products to ship to tidewater and Asian markets would end the deep price discount currently resulting from limited pipeline capacity, dependence on the US market and more costly railcar delivery. Furthermore, refined bitumen would better meet Canadian domestic energy needs. But bitumen refining is an expensive proposition.

The new Sturgeon Refinery at Redwater, Alberta, near Edmonton, will start refining up to 80,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diluted bitumen into diesel and other light petroleum products in 2020.

The project has been developed through a partnership between North West Refining Inc. (Alberta) and Canadian Natural Resources Limited. The Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission will supply most of the bitumen feedstock. This project has been fraught with repeated delays and cost overruns as new technologies like carbon capture and storage were incorporated. Project costs have skyrocketed to $9.7 billion. The good news is that this partnership of two Canadian companies and the Alberta government has developed an innovative, prototype refinery that will produce higher-value diesel from diluted bitumen while capturing and storing CO2 to reduce GHG emissions.

Academics and business economists have questioned the financial feasibility of refining bitumen in Alberta because of the large capital outlays required and projected rates of return on investment. The existing Trans Mountain pipeline delivers about 300,000 bpd of diluted bitumen and lighter petroleum products in batches to Vancouver. The TMX pipeline has a planned capacity of 890,000 bpd. A refinery that could process such quantities of bitumen would take at least five years to plan, build and make operational, at a cost that could easily reach $20 billion. However, if Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan were to commit public financing alongside industry and Indigenous investment partners, such a collaborative project could prove very viable for the remainder of this century. The cost would be comparable to large-scale hydroelectric power plants and liquid natural gas production.

The oil sands represent 97 percent of Canada’s total oil reserves — the third largest proven reserves in the world, after those in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. They are a vital part of our economy and will remain so even as Canada aggressively pursues our Paris Agreement commitments. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated that every $1 billion of oil sands investment can generate nearly 4,000 person-years of employment from direct investments. Significant regional and national supply chain effects also benefit the oilfield and professional services, manufacturing, wholesale trade, financial and transportation sectors. The oil sands contribute importantly to the national prosperity required to aggressively invest and innovate in renewables like solar and wind, which will help Canada meet or exceed our GHG emissions reduction commitments.

Furthermore, financial feasibility studies have paid scant attention to the downstream environmental risks and costs of shipping large volumes of diluted bitumen in pipelines, rail tanker cars and tanker ships. Diluted bitumen can pose serious threats to freshwater and marine ecosystems should accidental spills occur. Diluted bitumen is a viscous, heavy substance that sinks in water as the diluent evaporates and is extremely difficult to clean up. An Enbridge pipeline from Canada spilled 24,000 barrels of diluted bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010. This spill required several years and over $1 billion to clean up. Diesel fuel does not sink in water, evaporates quickly and would have been much less consequential in an accidental spill like this.

The TMX pipeline will transport diluted bitumen through Jasper National Park (part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site) and along the banks of three rivers — the Athabasca, Thompson and Fraser — to the Pacific coast at Vancouver. At risk are ecosystems that include river and riparian habitats, salmon runs and spawning areas, marine areas and vulnerable species like killer whales. The values they represent are nationally significant, with particular importance for the cultural traditions of Indigenous communities. If diluted bitumen volumes can be steadily replaced over time in pipeline operations by higher volumes of diesel and refined light petroleum products in batch delivery, the environmental risks could be substantially reduced. Refining bitumen will not only add significant value to oil sands products but will also ensure much better risk management and environmental protection in pipeline operations and ocean tanker shipments. Moreover, refining in Alberta would be consistent with article 6 of the Paris Agreement, offsetting the need to refine bitumen in Asian destination markets.

Developing and operating large-scale refining capacity in Alberta would be exceptionally complementary to the TMX pipeline. Such a project could further reduce western alienation and promote a sense of unified purpose, with real economic and environmental protection benefits for the West and Canada as a whole. Visionary, collaborative political leadership is a prerequisite and would have to replace the partisan sniping we are experiencing now.

Climate crisis looms large in Canada’s top weather stories of 2019

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks with media in a partially flooded area of Constance Bay, northwest of Ottawa, on April 26, 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

For 24 years, Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips has been pulling together an annual list of Canada’s most devastating, frustrating and thrilling weather stories.

But as the effects of the climate crisis set in, this year felt different, he said. The stories Phillips had to choose from ⁠in 2019 — tales of historic floods, wayward hurricanes and tornadoes in the Arctic ⁠— have become more extreme and variable than ever.

“It’s like normal weather doesn’t exist anymore,” said Phillips, a legendary weather-trend expert who also happens to be the most-quoted public servant in Canada.

“We base everything on normal weather. We build houses, we build schools, we plant crops and seeds and trees and go on vacation based on normal weather.”

Phillips’ top weather event of the year was last spring’s record-setting flood on the Ottawa River. The same river flooded in 2017 ⁠— an event experts said was the flood of the century ⁠— but the 2019 one was even worse. And with enormous floods also reported in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick, rising waters were a theme this year, Phillips said.

The climate crisis doesn’t cause floods that otherwise wouldn’t have happened ⁠— the Ottawa River has always flooded from time to time. But it does mean devastating, once-in-a-lifetime floods will likely happen more often, Phillips said.

“We’re seeing the same weather, it just has a different personality and character to it,” Phillips said. “Storms are more stormy, or they’re more intense. They’re out of season, out of place.”

One out-of-place storm was hurricane Dorian, which made landfall in Atlantic Canada in September as a post-tropical storm. It caused power outages ⁠— another theme in 2019’s extreme weather, Phillips said ⁠— and uprooted trees, pounding the area with heavy rains and high waves. And early in the summer, remnants of hurricane Barry caused flooding in Toronto.

Those events may have been influenced by warmer ocean waters, which fuel hurricanes, Phillips said. Climate change is also making hurricanes slower, allowing potentially destructive storms to linger. Over time, we can see patterns, but it’s hard to attribute any one event to climate change even when they appear linked, Phillips said.

“It’s like feeding a home-run hitter steroids,” he added. “Well, I mean, he’s going to get more home runs, and he’s going to hit them farther… Climate change is like the weather on steroids.”

The North and farmers hit hardest

The climate crisis is hitting the Arctic hardest, and it showed in 2019. After a warm spell in September, Arctic sea ice froze the latest on record since 1979. Summer temperatures in the High Arctic were between 2.5 and 5.4 C above normal, Phillips said — the warmest such season in 72 years.

“Climate change is like the weather on steroids,” said Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips.

This heat had consequences. Ice roads across the North closed early, for one. And in June, eyewitnesses spotted a tornado in the Northwest Territories, only the fourth tornado ever reported at that latitude in Canada.

“How many different ways can you say, ‘Well, the big heat leads to the big melt?’” Phillips asked. “I mean, we’ve been saying that for decades.”

Farmers and ranchers also took some climate-related blows.

In the first half of the year, weather was worryingly cold and dry. Though much-needed moisture finally arrived in the mid-summer and fall, it was too much ⁠— crops drowned in the Prairies. Phillips said one Ontario farmer told him he needed both drought and flood insurance for the same growing season.

“How are they supposed to handle that?” Phillips said.

All is not lost

Though the climate crisis seemed to be on everyone’s mind this year, Phillips said, people were also thinking about a path forward.

“Some of the events seem to have a policy implication,” he said. “People began to say, ‘Well, you know, maybe we shouldn’t let people build in the floodplain… Governments are beginning to think of that and talk about that.”

That shone through during the federal election campaign, when the climate was a top issue. And Phillips said he’s now taking calls from kids who want to become climatologists to help change public attitudes.

We can’t necessarily end the climate crisis, Phillips said ⁠— the world will continue to warm for a while even if humans cut emissions to zero tomorrow ⁠— but we can adapt. And though the top 10 weather stories of the year list is subjective, it does become a sort of historical document that allows us to see how extreme our extremes have become, Phillips added.

“I think the top 10 weather stories give us a chance to go back and think about it, to put things in perspective,” Phillips said.

“When we look back in 20 years, we’ll say, ‘You know what? It was stinging us in the face and we didn’t see it. We didn’t do enough to say we were giving it lip service.

“You know, we just thought it was the same old weather. But it was different.”

David Phillips’ top 10 weather events of the year

  1. Ottawa River floods
  2. A wild hurricane season
  3. Autumn snow in the West
  4. A nearly countrywide polar vortex
  5. Record heat in the Arctic
  6. Drought and deluge in the Prairies
  7. Halloween windstorm in Quebec and Atlantic Canada
  8. Cold spring in the East
  9. More floods on the Saint John River
  10. A quiet wildfire season for everyone except Alberta

Doug Ford faces a delicate dance with climate policy

Clockwise from top left: Ontario Premier Doug Ford visits a flooded area, Ford addresses crowds after his election victory, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek at Queen’s Park and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford at a pro-pipeline rally in Calgary

Ontario Premier Doug Ford rose to power with folksy charm and strident rejection of serious climate policy.

His popularity has plummeted in the 19 months since then, as he ripped up the province’s existing plan and failed to meaningfully replace it. Meanwhile, climate credibility grows more and more crucial to Canadian political success.

As the new year begins, the Ford government now faces a serious choice: double down and put its chance of re-election in 2022 in jeopardy, or pivot and risk alienating a shrinking base that cheers inaction.

“Clearly, (he’ll) have to have an articulated (climate) policy in order to win the next election,” said John Wright, a former Ipsos pollster who is now a partner at Dart Insight and Communications.

What Ford has in hand right now is not that, but 2020 will offer several chances for a climate reset.

Ford’s policy replacement for cap and trade is an evolving draft, his environment minister said last month, after it was slapped down by the province’s auditor general for lack of “sound evidence.” The “Made-in-Ontario” plan makes a big deal about cleaning up litter and proposes little to reduce the pollution causing global warming.

Make no mistake, the Tories are not about to launch a climate plan Greta Thunberg would applaud. Anything they do will underwhelm the most fervently climate-focused voters. Those folks are likely looking to cast their votes for the opposition New Democrats, the regrouping Liberals or Mike Schreiner’s Greens anyway.

But the fact is this: a growing majority of voters actively seek out a government that takes climate action seriously.

Less than one-third of voters are indifferent to climate action (both in Canada in general and in Ontario specifically), and they already typically support conservative parties. A green turn would be one way to bridge the gap between that core and the remaining votes Ford needs to chase down, strategists and pollsters say.

“He has a lot of people — younger conservatives, millennial conservatives — who would be inclined to support him and support the federal party if there was more of a real recognition that climate change was something that needed to be addressed,” said Tim Powers, vice-chairman at Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data.

“Climate is starting to matter to all conservative politicians,” says strategist @powerstim. “They recognize that the one-trick pony that was the carbon tax has gone to the glue factory and you can’t ride that thing anymore.”

“Climate is starting to matter to all conservative politicians,” he said. “They recognize that the one-trick pony that was the carbon tax has gone to the glue factory and you can’t ride that thing anymore.”

That creates some tricky electoral arithmetic for Ford and his Progressive Conservative strategists to consider.

The gap

Ford needs at least 38 per cent of the provincial electorate on his side to win a majority of seats at Queen’s Park next time around (he won with 40.6 per cent of the vote in 2018).

He is polling as low as 22 per cent recently, and almost a quarter of those who voted for Ford now have a negative impression of him, according to Abacus Data polling of 570 Ontarians conducted in mid-December.

Abacus Data polling from mid-December shows almost a quarter of voters who backed Ontario Premier Doug Ford now have a negative impression of him.

“I would imagine that Doug Ford and his government will have to come up with something a little more plausible if they want to cover this exposed flank in the next election, because they’re not lined up with the mainstream on this,” said pollster Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates.

“They’re lined up with their core constituency, but that may not be enough for them to find power next time.”

Retired firefighter Rick Browning is the type of voter Ford’s government will be looking to win back by 2022.

“I really got screwed, and I screwed myself by voting for the guy,” the 61-year-old resident of Napanee said. “I didn’t really understand at the time what cap and trade was, and I voted for him to cancel that.”

Skeptical of all politicians, Browning backed Ford because he remained angry at the Liberals for the gas-plant scandal, in which the cost to cancel two proposed natural gas projects near Toronto ended up costing taxpayers almost $1 billion. He thought the province needed a change of government and was willing to give Ford a chance.

But he soon regretted his decision, after discovering new windows he had ordered would not be eligible for an energy-efficiency rebate, meaning he’d have to eat the full cost. The consumer incentives to greener behaviour had been funded by revenue from the cap-and-trade scheme, which capped greenhouse gas emissions while allowing polluters to buy and trade exemptions. When it went, so did they.

Ford also killed incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, cut funding for flood management and called off some 700 renewable-energy projects (including two wind farms that were already being built). His government has also passed legislation reducing protections for endangered species and encouraging urban sprawl.

Browning, a Young PC organizer in his youth who voted to re-elect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, said he was “in the woods right now,” provincially — undecided on where he might place his vote next time around.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford addresses the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa on Aug. 20, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Not much needed

Even critics of Ford’s lack of climate policies acknowledge it wouldn’t take much to reach those just outside the party’s orbit.

Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart said just getting behind rather than opposing federal climate plans would help them claim significant progress toward the province’s reduction targets.

“If Ford were to get behind Ottawa’s spending initiatives instead of fighting the plans, they could probably close a bunch of that gap,” he said.

“I could see that as a viable path forward, where it’s basically the municipality doing the brunt of the work and Ottawa and Queens Park showing up with cheques.”

Ford could also champion a green industrial strategy that boosts the province’s flagging manufacturing sector, Stewart said.

“I can imagine Ford on a shop floor with a bunch of auto workers saying we’re going to build stuff,” he said, noting a group of workers from the shuttered GM plant in Oshawa are pushing for it to reopen to build electric buses.

He said a long-shot scenario could see them pursue fossil fuel companies for damages related to climate change, similar to ongoing cases against tobacco companies and, more recently, pharmaceutical companies.

Conservative voters are less insistent than other Canadian voters that a climate plan include specific components. Source: Abacus Data

Shifting rhetoric, policy awaited

Ford has struck a conciliatory note since the October election, in which federal conservative counterpart Andrew Scheer and his equally limited green policy failed to oust Trudeau, in part thanks to seats the Liberals won in Ford’s Ontario.

“This is not the same government it was a year ago, putting stickers on pumps and screaming about the carbon tax and attacking the federal government,” said Wright, who likened the current rapprochement to the 1914 Christmas truce at the Battle of the Somme, where the warring sides put down their weapons to kick a football.

“There’s no rhetoric, there’s no incoming shells — everybody has toned it all down,” he said. “I think the stage will be set for the new year for some decisions to be made around the environment.”

If tone is to turn into constructive policy, money to pay for it could be expected to show up in the government’s next budget, slated for April.

“Infrastructure is where I would look for money to go. Climate infrastructure. That’s a nice bridging-the-gap measure,” Powers said.

One of the most pivotal climate events for Ford this year will be the pending Supreme Court ruling on Ontario’s challenge of the federal price on carbon, which Ford once called the worst tax ever.

If the country’s top court agrees with lower courts and says it has no problem with Ottawa imposing carbon pricing on provinces that don’t reach a certain standard, Ford can choose to inflame anti-Ottawa passions or shrug, say he tried his best and move on.

Or he could use the ruling as justification to introduce a provincial version, which he could then use to fund a tax cut, said Peter Graefe, associate professor of political science at McMaster University.

But even if Ford’s government fills in the details on climate policy, it may face an uphill battle convincing voters it means anything.

“Even if he proposed a plan, would people accept it? Or would they see it as simply the next stage of delay?” Graefe said. SOURCE

What is the climate necessity defense? 

Image result for climate change protest cartoon

The climate necessity defense is an argument made by a criminal defendant to justify action taken on behalf of the planet. It’s offered by activists who have been arrested for protesting fossil fuel extraction and government inaction on climate policy.

The climate necessity defense is associated with the tradition of civil disobedience — the deliberate violation of the law to confront a moral problem. People who commit civil disobedience believe that they are obeying a higher moral law or code. Sometimes the existing criminal law doesn’t align with this higher morality, and so disobedience is required in order to live morally. Climate necessity defendants argue that their actions were not really illegal: they were acting in the public interest, which the law protects.Instead of seeking a plea agreement or trying to win an acquittal, defendants offering the climate necessity defense admit their criminal conduct but argue that it was necessary to avoid a greater harm. The basic idea behind the defense — also known as a “choice of evils,” “competing harms,” or “justification” defense — is that the impacts of climate change are so serious that breaking the law is necessary to avert them.

By admitting their conduct and asking a judge or jury to find them not guilty by reason of necessity, activists draw attention to injustice and the failure of the law to protect the planet.

Because the climate necessity defense asks people to make judgments about individual responsibility, legal obligation, and the good of society, it is essentially a moral argument couched in the language of criminal law.

How does it work?

The rules governing the use of the necessity defense vary by state and by court. Always check with a lawyer to figure out which jurisdiction your case would fall under and what sorts of special requirements apply for attempting the defense.

In general, this is what the process looks like:

  1. Arrest
  2. Not guilty plea
  3. Offer necessity defense to judge
  4. Present defense to jury
  5. Conviction or acquittal

1. Arrest: You’re arrested while committing your act of civil disobedience. This is part of the process — you want to both prevent continued climate change and have a chance to use the legal system to further your views.

2. Not guilty plea: Within a short time after your arrest, you will face an arraignment or preliminary hearing to learn about the charges that the state is bringing against you — for example, trespassing at a private facility. Activists preparing for a climate necessity defense will plea not guilty to the charges.

3. Offer necessity defense to judge: After arraignment, the prosecution and the defense will start to prepare for trial. There will likely be a series of pre-trial hearings where lawyers will hash out various technical matters, like what sorts of evidence they want to present. During this stage, you and your attorney will tell the judge that you plan to present a climate necessity defense: this is called the offer, proffer, or notice of intent to present a defense.

The judge will probably hold a hearing on whether to allow your defense. You will present arguments about why the defense is acceptable and should go to a jury, and the prosecution will try to show that your defense of justification is unacceptable. This is a crucial stage: the judge gets to decide whether or not you have the right to argue that your crime was justified. Before your case ever gets to the jury, your argument may be dismissed “as a matter of law”: in other words, because the judge doesn’t think your defense is appropriate. On the next page we explain the factors that play into this decision.

4. Present defense to jury: If the judge allows your defense to go forward, you’ll be all set to go to trial. You’ll finally have a chance to tell your side of the story and to present evidence about the dangers of climate change, the reasons behind your action, and why civil disobedience was required. Activists often bring in experts such as climate scientists to testify about the harms of global warming. Remember: you’ll be admitting that you technically broke the law, but you’ll be asking to be found not guilty because your actions were justified. This is your opportunity to educate the jury and to discuss the moral reasons behind your action.

5. Conviction or acquittal: Once you’ve finished your defense, the jury (or, in the case of a bench trial, the judge) will take time to deliberate. They’ll consider the evidence you’ve presented and the strength of your arguments for justification. Then you’ll find out whether you’ve been found not guilty by reason of necessity.MORE

Resistance in the Anthropocene

Should we turn to civil disobedience to avert looming ecological disaster?

Extinction Rebellion on the streets of London. Credit: Shutterstock.

People in the UK just experienced a weird, time-shifted summer — in the final two weeks of February.

In west London the temperature peaked at 21.2C. That’s the hottest February day ever recorded in the UK, and the first time a temperature above 20C has been seen in winter.

The February summer wasn’t limited to Britain. Amsterdam also recorded its hottest ever February day, with a peak temperature of 18.4C.

The sudden shift in temperatures was so extreme that climate scientists struggled to analyse it. Dutch scientist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh said that according to current models the probability of a 21C February day in London was close to zero:

‘This is an incredible jump in record temperatures. If you asked me a few months ago, I would have said it is ridiculous…It’s at least a one-in 200-year event, but it could be more because my statistical tools break down.’

Extinction Rebellion was founded in London in 2018. It is an international movement for direct, non-violent action to avert ecological collapse.

The movement was launched by a letter signed by a host of leading academics. It’s worth quoting from at length:

‘Humans cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or of science with impunity. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak…When a government wilfully abrogates its responsibility to protect its citizens from harm… it has failed in its most essential duty of stewardship. The ‘social contract’ has been broken, and it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.’

Among the movement’s demands are ‘legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025’ and the establishment of a new national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee climate action.

Extinction Rebellion activists. Credit: Shutterstock

The movement held a Rebellion Day in London in November; more than 6,000 people turned out to block the five main bridges over the River Thames, causing disruption for several hours. There were over 70 arrests; many members of Extinction Rebellion say they are prepared to go to prison as a result of their action. Similar days of resistance are planned.

The movement is leading a new wave of direct action on the environment. Schools 4 Climate Action has seen tens of thousands of pupils in Germany, Sweden, Australia and the UK absent themselves from classrooms and march for action on climate change. Meanwhile, nascent group BirthStrike represents people who say they won’t have children in the face of what they believe is likely and imminent environmental and social breakdown.

When is rebellion against your own government justified? That question haunted the thinkers at the foundation of modern political philosophy.

In the dark masterpiece that is The Leviathan, published in 1651, Thomas Hobbes infamously told readers that direct action against the state can never be right. John Locke replied with Two Treatises of Government, which argued that citizens have a right to overthrow a government that fails to protect their life and liberty. It’s from Locke that people in the west indirectly take much of their understanding of how citizens stand in relation to the state.

The shadow that haunted Locke and his contemporaries was one familiar to any reader in the 17th-century. That is, tyranny: the frightening possibility of an unjust king who abuses his subjects.

Today, we live under a different shadow. The shadow of looming and self-inflicted ecological catastrophe. We are having to adjust ourselves to the weirding of the global climate. Unseasonable or downright freakish weather — and the otherworldly feeling it creates — is a part of our lives now. And there is no serious disagreement on the causes.

And yet we can’t stop. Burning petrol in our cars. Taking flights. Eating huge quantities of meat. And all the rest of it.

In the second decade of the 21st-century, citizens of the industrialised world are trapped inside a broken logic that makes two contradictory demands of us. We know we can’t go on with the carbon-fuelled lifestyles that are destroying the environment. Meanwhile, we know we have to go on with those lifestyles. Not because we want to wreck the planet. But because we want to be able get to work in the morning. To light our homes at night. To visit our sick aunt on the other side of town. To have a social life. To just exist.

Thomas Hobbes — The Leviathan

‘I can’t go on like this; I must go on like this’. That is an impossible predicament, and increasingly there’s a kind of psychic strain associated with it. People can live a contradiction for so long. But at some point it has to break.

For the rising numbers of people — still a tiny minority overall — committing to direct action on the climate, that breaking point has surely come. They’re motivated by a sense of urgency. And also by a growing fear that our democracies are not able properly to cognize or take action on looming ecological breakdown.

Underlying that fear is another: that for most people the contradiction that is ‘I can’t go on like this; I must go on like this’ will prove tolerable for decades to come. After all, modern living has abstracted people so far from the natural world that for long swathes of day-to-day life, this contradiction can be experienced as a kind of far-distant hum. One that’s possible, with hardly any effort at all, to push to the margins of your awareness.

What action do you take if you authentically believe the people around you are sleepwalking towards a disaster that will encompass them and you? What action is legitimate? Is it okay to block roads? To occupy government buildings? Is it okay to make people poorer? Is it okay to use violence?

Today, we urgently need new theories of legitimate direct action and resistance, centred on looming environmental catastrophe.

Indeed, we need a broader restatement of the relationship between government and its citizens. One that allows us to imagine new forms of government. Forms that are shaped not around the problems of the 17th-century but around those of the 21st: climate change, runaway technologies, porous borders and more.

For the last three decades, triumphant neoliberalism persuaded many that we could transcend the messy business of politics. Instead, all we had to do was let markets work. Politics, or even worse, ideology, would only hold us back. That idea helped shape Silicon Valley tech-utopianism, which saw questions of human collective life and organization as engineering problems to be solved. It’s even visible today in the absurd idea that there is no need for political action on climate change, and instead we should simply let techno-capitalism advance at maximum speed because it will inevitably find a solution soon.

In 2019, neoliberal, globalised capitalism is facing some challenges. Tech-utopianism isn’t in such great health, either. Those developments, along with ever-more visible climate weirding, have exposed the idea that we can transcend politics and shown it for what it really is. That is, an ideology in its own right, and one that fundamentally mistakes the nature of human collective life. In reality, there can be no escape from the political. From questions of how to live together, and how to parse between different accounts of ultimate values.

Ranglen, Shutterstock

The system we inhabit is now stuck. Its internal logic is one of perpetual, carbon-fuelled growth and rising affluence — a logic that demands we keep turning the wheels of techno-capitalism ever faster. Meanwhile, the external reality is one of a finite environment that makes perpetual growth impossible, and looming ecological breakdown that demands that we stop turning those wheels. Pulled in two different directions at once, our system is frozen, motionless, in danger of being ripped apart.

That stasis can’t hold for ever. Extinction Rebellion and other movements like it are the first, faint signals that change is coming. The consequences of their action— blocked roads, lost productivity — are more than just an inconvenient but necessary reminder of the damage we’re doing to the planet. They are a reflection of the deep contradiction that currently has our system locked in a death spiral. In them we can see the first glimmerings of something new — the beginnings of a search for a new vision of our collective life.

That is a journey we can no longer postpone, whatever the inconvenience. Indeed, inconvenience is going to have be part of the point.

The structural changes we need to make are vast. But we can’t hide from the truth any longer. The resistance is justified. SOURCE




Canada’s top 100 CEOs have already earned more than average Canadian will all year

Highest paid chief executives’ salaries on average 227 times that of average worker

Donald Walker, chief executive officer of Magna International Inc., is among Canada’s highest paid CEOs. A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that by 10:09 a.m. on January 2 Canada’s top paid CEOs earned more than the average Canadian will all year. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

By 10:09 a.m. on January 2nd, Canada’s highest paid CEOs had made as much money as the average Canadian will earn all year, according to a new report.

In its annual report on CEO compensation, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found the gap between CEO compensation and average worker salary “growing larger and more difficult to rationalize.” The 100 highest paid chief executives earned an average of 227 times more than the average worker in 2018, the most recent time period for which data is available.

The average individual income in Canada was $52,061 in 2018, but each of the top 100 CEOs on the S&P/TSX Composite Index earned an average of $11.8 million. That beat the previous record for top executive salary, which averaged $10.4 million in 2016.

“Just a decade ago you’d have to wait until after lunch [on Jan. 2] before they’d made your salary,” said David Macdonald, senior economist with the CCPA, a non-profit think-tank that focuses on issues including social justice and economic equality.

“The trend is pretty clear that there is no stopping CEO pay increases, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication also on the other side that worker pay is going to start going up somehow much more rapidly than inflation.”

CEO compensation continues to grow exponentially faster than average pay. While the average Canadian worker saw their pay rise 2.6 per cent between 2017 and 2018, keeping just ahead of inflation, top CEOs received an 18 per cent pay boost in that same time period.

Over the course of a decade, the report found that average-income workers saw their pay grow 24 per cent between 2008 and 2018. But during that same 10 years, Canada’s top 100 CEOs got a 61 per cent raise.

Are sky-high salaries needed to retain CEOs?

Those in favour of CEO pay increases often say the big pay bumps are required to keep CEOs from fleeing to greener pastures.

But the CCPA found there doesn’t seem to be much poaching happening in C-suites here. The report said 76 per cent of the top 100 CEOs were promoted internally, not recruited into their roles. They’ve spent an average of 18 years with their current company, said Macdonald.

“They don’t flit about from company to company…. They understand the companies they work for, the industry, their competitors, the products that they sell, and that’s what makes them suitable for the CEO chair. It’s not just because they happened to have been a CEO someplace else.”

It’s actually quite difficult even for shareholders within companies to restrict CEO pay.– David Macdonald, senior economist, CCPA

If that’s the case, who is signing off on these big pay bumps?

A small circle near the top, said Macdonald.

“It’s actually quite difficult even for shareholders within companies to restrict CEO pay,” he said. “Oftentimes there’s quite a tight relationship between the CEO, the board of directors for the company, the consultant that comes in to recommend what the CEO should make. These folks all know each other.”

Possible policy changes

Some of the biggest bucks in CEO compensation come in the form of stocks and stock options.

Macdonald said this means that astronomical executive pay is subsidized through the tax system, which taxes these earnings at a much lower rate. That’s because both stock options and the stocks themselves are subject to tax loopholes that average workers can’t access, he said.

Although changes to tax law have been promised since 2015, Macdonald said he’s optimistic there will be changes to loopholes in 2020. Federal Liberals made a 2019 election campaign promise to curb or close these loopholes, and based on information shared in the fall fiscal update, seem poised to make good in the spring budget, said Macdonald.

“It’s booked into the fiscal framework now, so it is something they will either have to go through with or pretty explicitly back down from.” SOURCE


Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide

As record fires rage, the country’s leaders seem intent on sending it to its doom.

An out-of-control fire in Hillville, New South Wales, on Nov. 12.

Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

BRUNY ISLAND, Tasmania — Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.

The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness — half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.

The fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia, more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 fires in California and six times the size of the 2019 fires in Amazonia. Canberra’s air on New Year’s Day was the most polluted in the world partly because of a plume of fire smoke as wide as Europe.

Scientists estimate that close to half a billion native animals have been killed and fear that some species of animals and plants may have been wiped out completely. Surviving animals are abandoning their young in what is described as mass “starvation events.” At least 18 people are dead and grave fears are held about many more.

All this, and peak fire season is only just beginning.

As I write, a state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales and a state of disaster in Victoria, mass evacuations are taking place, a humanitarian catastrophe is feared, and towns up and down the east coast are surrounded by fires, all transport and most communication links cut, their fate unknown.

An email that the retired engineer Ian Mitchell sent to friends on New Year’s Day from the small north Victoria community of Gipsy Point speaks for countless Australians at this moment of catastrophe:

“All we and most of Gipsy Point houses still here as of now. We have 16 people in Gipsy pt.

No power, no phone no chance of anyone arriving for 4 days as all roads blocked. Only satellite email is working We have 2 bigger boats and might be able to get supplies ‘esp fuel at Coota.

We need more able people to defend the town as we are in for bad heat from Friday again. Tucks area will be a problem from today, but trees down on all tracks, and no one to fight it.

We are tired, but ok.

But we are here in 2020!

Love Us”

The bookstore in the fire-ravaged village of Cobargo, New South Wales, has a new sign outside: “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs.

And yet, incredibly, the response of Australia’s leaders to this unprecedented national crisis has been not to defend their country but to defend the coal industry, a big donor to both major parties — as if they were willing the country to its doom. While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mines expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports. The prime minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation

Since 1996 successive conservative Australian governments have successfully fought to subvert international agreements on climate change in defense of the country’s fossil fuel industries. Today, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of both coal and gas. It recently was ranked 57th out of 57 countries on climate-change action.
In no small part Mr. Morrison owes his narrow election victory earlier this year to the coal-mining oligarch Clive Palmer, who formed a puppet party to keep the Labor Party — which had been committed to limited but real climate-change action — out of government. Mr. Palmer’s advertising budget for the campaign was more than double that of the two major parties combined. Mr. Palmer subsequently announced plans to build the biggest coal mine in Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.
Credit…Joel Carrett/EPA, via Shutterstock 

Since Mr. Morrison, an ex-marketing man, was forced to return from his vacation and publicly apologize, he has chosen to spend his time creating feel-good images of himself, posing with cricketers or his family. He is seen far less often at the fires’ front lines, visiting ravaged communities or with survivors. Mr. Morrison has tried to present the fires as catastrophe-as-usual, nothing out of the ordinary.

This posture seems to be a chilling political calculation: With no effective opposition from a Labor Party reeling from its election loss and with media dominated by Rupert Murdoch — 58 percent of daily newspaper circulation — firmly behind his climate denialism, Mr. Morrison appears to hope that he will prevail as long as he doesn’t acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster engulfing Australia.

Mr. Morrison made his name as immigration minister, perfecting the cruelty of a policy that interns refugees in hellish Pacific-island camps, and seems indifferent to human suffering. Now his government has taken a disturbing authoritarian turn, cracking down on unions, civic organizations and journalists. Under legislation pending in Tasmania, and expected to be copied across Australia, environmental protesters now face up to 21 years in jail for demonstrating.

“Australia is a burning nation led by cowards,” wrote the leading broadcaster Hugh Riminton, speaking for many. He might have added “idiots,” after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure.

Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.
A man drags away plastic garbage bins from a property engulfed in flames in Lake Conjola, New South Wales, Australia.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times 

More than one-third of Australians are estimated to be affected by the fires. By a significant and increasing majority, Australians want action on climate change, and they are now asking questions of the growing gap between the Morrison government’s ideological fantasies and the reality of a dried-out, rapidly heating, burning Australia.

The situation is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the ruling apparatchik were all-powerful but losing the fundamental, moral legitimacy to govern. In Australia today, a political establishment, grown sclerotic and demented on its own fantasies, is facing a monstrous reality which it has neither the ability nor the will to confront.

Mr. Morrison may have a massive propaganda machine in the Murdoch press and no opposition, but his moral authority is bleeding away by the hour. On Thursday, after walking away from a woman asking for help, he was forced to flee the angry, heckling residents of a burned-out town. A local conservative politician described his own leader’s humiliation as “the welcome he probably deserved.”

As Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, once observed, the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In the wake of that catastrophe, “the system as we knew it became untenable,” he wrote in 2006. Could it be that the immense, still-unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis? SOURCE


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