Australia’s National State of Emergency: The Fire This Time

Long term solutions requires a fundamental debate about the role of uncontrolled growth and hubristic attitudes towards nature.

Morrison views these fiery events through a prism of faith in an extractive capitalism. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

Morrison views these fiery events through a prism of faith in an extractive capitalism. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia is facing an all—encompassing disaster. Or is it? Even as fires circled much of the island Continent and for a time left only two roads out of the country’s largest city, Sydney, the nation’s Prime Minister refused to allocate more funds for volunteer fire fighters or to treat these events as anything more than the usual fires the nation experiences every summer. His refusal, punctuated by a slow return from a Hawaii vacation, was shocking, but it illuminates some lessons we might all learn. Australia could be a preview of not only the more widespread and intense fires we will be forced to endure in the near future but also of the pitfalls in the response to those fires.

As with many aspects of the ongoing planetary emergency a teenage girl shall lead us. As the PM continued to deny any connection between the raging fires and climate “Not even catastrophes like these seem to bring any political action,” said Thunberg. “How is this possible?”

This of course is just the point. Naomi Klein’s classic Shock Doctrine details the ways “natural” disasters often create the grounds for extraordinary political changes, often installation of a whole new class hierarchy. But such disasters don’t come wearing a label on their back. There are some indisputable facts, but many others that are speculative or poorly understood.  Our ideology and ethics help constitute a prism through which we construct the narratives with which we understand events of this magnitude.

Morrison views these fiery events through a prism of faith in an extractive capitalism. Morrison’s single minded faith in extractive capitalism is so strong as to enable him to deny obvious and universally recognized facts. And part of his absolutist convictions is contempt for those who challenge his views. Thus in a speech to parliament two years ago Morrison taunted parliament while brandishing a lump of coal, laughing and goading the opposition during a debate about climate change, saying: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you. It’s coal.”

Environmental justice and other protest groups have demanded that the PM call a national state of emergency. Understandable and defensible as such a step would be, advocates must recognize that the PM will argue that opposition to government policy on coal is subversive. He attacked environmental activists in a November speech, warning of a “new breed of radical activism” that was “apocalyptic in tone” and pledging to outlaw boycott campaigns that he argued could hurt the country’s mining industry.

“We are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians, especially in rural and regional areas,” Morrison said. “New threats to the future of the resources sector have emerged,” he said. “A new breed of radical activism is on the march. Apocalyptic in tone. It brooks no compromise. It’s all or nothing.” These are the words of a leader who can do no more than demonize and seek to divide and conquer those who strive to cope with unprecedented fires that already have killed an estimated 500 million mammals, birds, and reptiles and which threaten to drive many species to extinction.

Thus the most sunny land on the planet seeks its salvation through the conviction that market gains from coal can fund any other resources needed to fight these fires, which ultimately are held to be conquerable.

This faith in an ultimately controllable environment may have encountered some challenges that have not received the emphasis they merit. Reporters and photographers repeatedly cited the size and intensity of the fires, but their unpredictability deserves more attention. As one of the fire fighters put it: “What happens in fires, they create their own winds and they create their own weather patterns. The flames are in the smoke and they’re up in the air. There’s nothing for them to be burning in the air. They’re just up there.”

Consider this piece written in The Guardian:

A southerly change swept through at 5pm, making the fire even more erratic and changing the fire direction. Around this time, NSW[New South Wales] authorities began warning of a bushfire-generated thunderstorm that had formed over Currowan and Tianjara fires in the Shoalhaven area, on the NSW south coast.

The fire service said this would lead to increasingly dangerous fire conditions. Such storms, known as pyroCB, can produce embers hot enough to spark new fires 30km from the main fire Those fires would gain strength from the multiple feedback loops at the heart of the fire.

It is now marching towards the Mount Piper power plant and Springvale coal mine, which would take months to extinguish. The irony of the coal-fired power station being destroyed by a bushfire that was partially the product of a drier climate is summed up… as “the ultimate climate change feedback loop.” In such a context merely waiting for where the fire would next turn was itself a source of grave anxiety.

There is a class dimension to this story as well. Perhaps the most affluent are the ones that are most confident in the manipulability of the natural environment. They can escape the most dangerous and severe consequences. Once again PM Morrison is exemplary.

Reported in Common Dreams:

While his country was on fire, right-wing climate-denying Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on vacation in Hawaii. Morrison returned to Australia on Saturday after two firefighters died fighting one of three huge blazes near Sydney.

Or can the wealthy always escape? I am inclined to think that in addition to the benefits and privileges wealth bestows it also conveys an exaggerated faith in one’s ability to avoid all the dangers faced by ordinary citizens. Common Dreams: “One Twitter user posted a picture showing from above the blazes around Sydney as Morrison was arriving in the city, reportedly after circling for an hour due to runway closures.”

Next time Morrison may not be able to land. These fires are obviously very dangerous and governments must do all in their power to cope with the continuing tragedy. But the long run requires some fundamental debates about the role of uncontrolled growth and hubristic attitudes to nature in starting and fueling these megablazes.






‘It’s Going to Be a Blast Furnace’: Australia Fires Intensify

Calling for evacuations along the southeastern coast, officials said the next few days would be among the worst yet in an already catastrophic fire season.

INVERLOCH, Australia — They fled from looming firestorms that threatened to cut off their escape, only to join a slog alongside the masses of others who crowded the roads. Thousands more waited for rescue by sea.

Across the scorched southeast, frightened Australians — taking a few cherished things, abandoning their homes and vacation rentals, and braving smoke that discolored the skies — struggled Thursday to evacuate as wildfires turned the countryside into charcoal wasteland.

And from government officials came a disheartening warning: This weekend will be one of the worst periods yet in Australia’s catastrophic fire season.

“It’s going to be a blast furnace,” Andrew Constance, the transport minister of New South Wales, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Monitoring a fire on Thursday in East Gippsland, Victoria, where 17 people were missing.
Credit…Darrian Traynor/Getty Images


The blazes have strained the country’s firefighting resources, and the fire season, though still young, already ranks as among the worst in Australia’s recorded history.

The state of New South Wales declared an emergency in its southeastern region on Thursday, calling on residents and vacationers to evacuate. Mr. Constance said the relocation was the largest in the region’s history.

To the south, the state of Victoria declared a disaster on Thursday, allowing it to authorize the evacuation of areas along its eastern coast.

Using any means they could find, the authorities were warning people to evacuate. But with communication in some areas spotty to nonexistent, it was not clear that everyone would get the message.



Leave Zone – Batlow / Wondalga
Dangerous conditions in Batlow, west of Blowering Dam. If you’re in this area, particularly Batlow north to Wondalga & west of Blowering Dam, leave before tomorrow. It is not safe. For road closures go to @LiveTrafficNSW

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In just the past week, at least nine people have died, and many more are unaccounted for. In all, at least 18 people have died in this fire season.

The blazes have consumed more than 1,000 houses, killed countless animals and ravaged a Pacific coast region of farms, bush, eucalyptus forests, mountains, lakes and vacation spots. About 15 million acres have been blackened over the past four months, and more than 100 wildfires are still burning.

With the Southern Hemisphere summer barely underway and the country already reeling from record-breaking heat, no one expects relief any time soon. No rain is in the forecast

Lake Conjola, in New South Wales.
Credit…Robert Oerlemans, via Associated Press 

“We’re still talking four to six weeks at best before we start to see a meaningful reprieve in the weather,” Shane Fitzsimmons, the rural fire commissioner for the state of New South Wales, told reporters.

In Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria state, the Australian Navy on Friday began ferrying to safety some of the 4,000 people trapped there when flames cut off all escape routes on land.

People camped on the beach and slept in small boats, they said, trying to shield themselves from flying embers as the inferno moved toward them. The heavy smoke meant only a few people with medical problems could be evacuated by helicopter.

Among those on the beach was Justin Brady, a musician who just moved from Melbourne to Mallacoota, about 250 miles to the east. He managed to salvage a fiddle, a mandolin and some harmonicas before abandoning the home he built and its contents to the flames.

“It’s been pretty heavy,” he said.

People were evacuated from the coastal town of Mallacoota by the Royal Australian Navy on Friday.
Credit…Royal Australian Navy 

Others nearby were not nearly so measured, venting their anger at the national and state governments, which they said had not taken the crisis seriously enough.

Michael Harkin, who lives in Sydney and was vacationing in Mallacoota, complained of “incompetent governance” that is “not keeping us safe at all.”

“I’m looking forward to getting somewhere that isn’t here,” he said.

The emergency services minister of New South Wales, David Elliott, drew withering criticism on social media after he left the country on Tuesday for a vacation in Britain and France. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he said he would return “if the bushfire situation should demand it.”

Mr. Elliott’s departure came just weeks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was widely ridiculed for taking a vacation in Hawaii during the crisis. He cut his trip short.

The Navy ship that arrived at Mallacoota, the HMAS Choules, delivered food, water and medical supplies, and was expected to leave with hundreds of evacuees. Once it is far enough from shore, the sickest people can be taken away by helicopter.

Inspecting the wreckage of a fire truck that veered off a dirt track near Lake Conjola on Tuesday as a fire approached.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times 

The Choules will return for more people, officials said, but it will be a slow process; the trip to a safe port in the sprawling country is expected to take 17 hours. Many of the people aboard the cramped ship will have to spend most of that time sitting on the open deck.

The evacuation orders have been easier to make than to carry out.

Two-lane roads are carrying highway-level traffic, and some roads have been closed by the fires or blocked by downed trees and power lines. Long lines of cars snake around gas stations, tanks run dry, and drives that would normally take two hours last half a day or more.

The state premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, said 17 people were still missing as fires swept alpine resorts and the normally bucolic Gippsland area.

Thousands of people have gone days without electricity or phone service. With cell towers destroyed but landlines still working, long lines formed at pay phones, creating scenes from another era. Officials advised people to boil water before using it, after power failures knocked out local water treatment facilities.
Cars lined up waiting to leave Manyana in New South Wales on Thursday.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times


Stores have run short of essentials like diapers, baby formula, bread and bottled water. With lodgings full, many people fleeing the fires have been forced to sleep in their cars.

Businesses with generators have continued to operate, but some have run out of fuel, and others are near that point.

Craig Scott, the manager of a supermarket in Ulladulla, a beach town about 100 miles south of Sydney, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he planned to keep the generator there running by siphoning fuel from the tanks of fishing boats. He said the store had just gotten the generator a few months ago, when no one imagined how desperately it would be needed.

So vast and intense are the fires that they can create their own weather, generating winds as they suck in fresh air at ground level, and sparking lightning in the immense ash clouds that rise from them.

Canberra, Australia’s capital, recorded the worst air quality ever measured on Thursday; the largest city, Sydney, has been suffering through intense smoke for weeks; and ash from the blazes has darkened skies and coated glaciers in New Zealand, more than a thousand miles away.

The fires have set off anger at Prime Minister Morrison, in particular. He has played down the role of global warming, opposed measures to combat climate change and, at least initially, rejected additional funding for firefighters.
Dust and smoke from Australia’s bushfires are reaching New Zealand, with its effects visible in snow near Franz Josef Glacier.


On Thursday, Mr. Morrison was heckled as he visited Cobargo, a New South Wales village where fires have killed two men and destroyed the main street. When he extended his hand to one woman, she said she would shake it only if he increased spending on firefighting.

“You won’t be getting any votes down here, buddy,” one man yelled. “You’re out, son.”

As Mr. Morrison left hurriedly, the man taunted him about returning to Kirribilli House, the prime minister’s elegant official residence in Sydney, with spectacular views of the harbor and the city.

“I don’t see Kirribilli burning,” the man yelled.

Mr. Morrison said he understood residents’ frustration.

“I’m not surprised people are feeling very raw at the moment,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “That’s why I came today, to be here, to see it for myself, to offer what comfort I could.”

“I understand the very strong feelings people have — they’ve lost everything,” he said, adding that there were still “some very dangerous days ahead.”
Flames consumed trees along a road near Manyana, where hundreds of tourists were stranded.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times




There Is No Safe Global Warming

Where Is the Green New Deal Headed in 2020?

Details are emerging for what this ‘moon shot’ federal program merging climate, jobs and economic security might look like. It’s a powerful force already.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announce legislation to transform public housing as part of their Green New Deal plan. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced legislation in November to transform public housing. It’s one part of a Green New Deal proposal that, after a year of promotion by activists, is now starting to take shape. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

To appreciate the power of the Green New Dealthe mobilization effort for clean energy and jobs that burst into the national conversation last yearlook at how forcefully the opponents of climate action moved to quash it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky arranged a byzantine floor vote aimed at killing the concept soon after the non-binding Green New Deal resolution was introduced.

Fox News anchors aired more than twice as many prime-time segments on the Green New Deal as rivals MSNBC and CNN combined last spring. And in California, the state’s most powerful blue-collar union (which has a policy alliance with the oil industry) staged anti-Green New Deal protests at the state’s Democratic Party convention last summer.

But the Green New Deal survived the battering to become an animating force in climate politics, with its advocates determined to make it the most important touchstone of the 2020 election.

For Democrats, support for the Green New Deal has become a central tenet. Nearly every major Democratic presidential candidate has endorsed it in some formeven moderates like Joe BidenPete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar who are reluctant to give a fulsome embrace to the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. All Democratic presidential contenders now have goals aligned with the science to bring fossil fuel emissions to net zero by mid-century, far beyond the ambition of the Obama administration.

“Our top priority for [2020] is building the multiracial, cross-class youth movement that we need to elect leaders who will champion the Green New Deal,” Stephen O’Hanlon, spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, said in an email. The youth-led advocacy group helped catapult the Green New Deal into the national discussion on climate with a sit-in outside the office of then-House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi right after the 2018 midterm election.

Public opinion on the Green New Deal has become politically polarized, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor and Republicans opposed. But O’Hanlon said it is significant that polling shows it is popular among swing voters in pivotal states.

“Any candidate for office who wants to win the youth vote in 2020 should back it,” O’Hanlon said.

Easier to Get Excited About than Carbon Taxes

The Green New Deal, at its core, is a marriage of two policy goals: getting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and creating jobs and economic security for all. In a sense, it is an extension of the idea, dating back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, that climate action must be bound up in the drive for poverty reduction and economic justice.

But charismatic leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have helped supercharge the concept for American appealcalling for a 10-year mobilization akin to the moon shot, the industrial buildup for World War II, and of course, FDR’s New Deal.

What has it meant to the climate movement? “In one word, ‘hope,'” said RL Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote. It has allowed the discussion to move beyond “the only solution that had been on the horizon” taxing carbonwhich Miller said has divided climate activists “into ‘Team Have To’ and ‘Team Don’t Want To.'”

“Frankly, nobody has ever been excited about waking up in the morning and thinking, ‘I’m going to be taxed for carbon!’ What the Green New Deal has done is broken through that, with something you can genuinely get excited about,” Miller said.

It’s not just changing Democratic politics at the national level. Democrats in Virginia flipped the state legislature in 2019, with the help of candidates running on Green New Deal pledges. Seattle has begun to lay out an ambitious Green New Deal plan that includes free public transit, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed the idea. And this past November, California’s Democratic Party shook off concern about losing labor support and voted to make the Green New Deal part of its platform.

Conservatives Made the GND a Target

It’s hard to imagine now, but only a year ago, the appeal of the Green New Deal crossed party lines. Support splintered after conservatives, amplified by Fox News, took it on as a bete noire.

In December 2018, soon after the Sunrise sit-in, 81 percent of registered voters, including 64 percent of all Republicans, were in favor of a Green New Deal, according to researchers at the Yale Program on Climate Communication. But by April 2019, support among Republicans had dropped 20 percent. It fell even more among those who identified themselves as conservative.

“Fox News viewing was a significant predictor of both familiarity with the GND and opposition to it, even when controlling for alternative explanations,” the research team wrote in Nature Climate Change.

Conservative and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks, such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the American Action Forum, claimed that the Green New Deal would trigger economic devastation, even though details of the plan have yet to be fleshed out.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) encapsulated Republicans’ critique in the competing nonbinding resolution he introduced. The Green New Deal “is simply a thinly veiled attempt to usher in policies that create a socialist society in America, and is impossible to fully implement,” his resolution said.

Details Are Starting to Surface

Green New Deal advocates have begun putting together the policy nuts and bolts to bring their vision to life.

Ocasio-Cortez and her political mentor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), unveiled a bill in November that would invest $180 billion over 10 years to retrofit the U.S. public housing stock with renewable energy and efficiency upgrades. The Green New Deal is also central to Sanders’ presidential platform, which calls for investing $16.3 trillionmore than any other candidate has proposedin a 10-year program that he says “factors climate change into virtually every area of policy.”

Sanders is just one of the longtime U.S. climate advocates who have shifted from talking about carbon taxes to talking Green New Deal as the path to addressing the climate crisis. That’s not to say that a carbon tax is off the tableindeed, it would be an obvious source of revenue to fund the massive government spending that the Green New Deal envisions, and at the same time send a price signal to consumers and investors to propel the clean energy transition. But Sanders has also talked about wealth taxes to help fund his program, while Ocasio-Cortez has argued against the idea that a dedicated revenue source should be required for a government investment that will pay back dividends.

Charles Komanoff, co-founder of the Carbon Tax Center, who also is making the shift in his advocacy to the Green New Deal, says there’s another reason to do so: a carbon tax is no longer enough. “Now, the situation, in my view, is so exigent, that more than just a carbon taxeven a robustly rising oneis needed.”

Komanoff still thinks that the price signal of a carbon tax would be helpful, but that it should be a secondary goal.

“You can count me and the Carbon Tax Center in as adhering to the Green New Deal paradigmthat we need a massive federally guided shift in investment and infrastructure that will jump-start the project of eliminating fossil fuels,” he said. “And I am quite ready, not with teeth clenched, but in a welcoming way, to have the carbon tax be a subsidiary to the larger project of the Green New Deal.” SOURCE

Praising Indigenous ‘Understanding About Sustainability,’ Bernie Sanders Tells Native Community in Iowa ‘They Will be Part of Discussion’

“Young people all over the world are looking to the Native American community for leadership.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of the Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of the Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa Thursday told members of the Meskwaki Nation that Native Americans are being looked to for influence in addressing the climate crisis by activists around the world and pledged to work with Indigenous communities to deal with the threats and concerns they face.

“Young people all over the world are looking to the Native American community for leadership,” Sanders said of the climate movement. “Once again, we’re going to need your leadership on how we go forward on respecting the environment.”
Sanders made the stop in Meskwaki Settlement, which is just outside of Tama, Iowa, on Thursday as part of the launch of his “Not Me, Us” Iowa bus tour in support of his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The senator emphasized to the crowd that a Sanders administration would prioritize Native American concerns and would seek their counsel.

“For much too long, Native American people have been lied to, treaties have been broken, land has been taken,” said Sanders. “As president of the United States, we will not be informing the Native American population what is going on—they will be part of the discussion.” MORE


Plastic offensive: Several B.C. municipalities eager for bag bans as province conducts review

Plastics industry remains steadfast that bags are being unfairly targeted

Promotional materials for the City of Victoria’s plastic bag bylaw that was approved in 2018, but has since been struck down by the Court of Appeal of British Columbia. (City of Victoria/Lisa Helps/Twitter)

As 2020 begins, at least 20 B.C. municipalities have either put in place a bylaw that prohibits plastic bags at check-outs, or are drafting legislation in consultation with residents about how to come up with one.

In the meantime, the province is reviewing single-use plastics to come up with a potential provincewide ban, while the plastics industry remains steadfast that the bags are being unfairly targeted.

On June 8, 2019 Tofino and Uclulet prohibited businesses from giving out conventional plastic bags and restaurants providing plastic straws. Instead customers can pay a fee for a paper bag or, better yet, bring their own reusable bags.

The bans are meant to reduce the number of bags ending up in landfills or, worse, in the ocean. Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said the ban has been good for her community.

“People want to effect change in the environment and the way we use things,” she said.

By July, several other municipalities joined Tofino and Ucluelet with similarly structured bylaws based on one in Victoria that was passed in 2018. They included Courtenay, Salmon Arm, Qualicum Beach, and Cumberland.

But the movement suffered a blow on July 10 when the Court of Appeal for British Columbia struck down Victoria’s bag bylaw, which struggled to get going due to court challenges

The court ruled that the implementation of a ban was provincial jurisdiction.

Lisa Helps – Victoria Mayor@lisahelps

City to Ask Supreme Court of Canada to Rule on Municipal Power to Regulate Business Use of Plastic Bags 

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They include Chilliwack, Colwood, Port Moody, Richmond, Rossland, Esquimalt, North Vancouver, Saanich, Sooke, Kamloops, and Nanaimo.

Many of the municipalities are looking to the province for leadership on the issue. For two months ending in September it collected feedback about single-use plastics as part of a provincewide review.

Provincial ban coming?

It’s called the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan and it will include several ways to reduce plastic pollution, including bans, said a ministry official. Results from the outreach are expected sometime this winter.

In the meantime, the federal government has committed to banning single-use plastic items as early as 2021.

The plastics industry says the focus on banning plastic bags is misguided and ignores that plastic bags are often reused, can be recycled, and use less energy and water to make than something like a cotton bag.

Craig Foster, speaks for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association from B.C. It represents 300 companies and around 80,000 workers.

He says a Danish study from 2018 and a Quebec one from 2017 show the significant number of times reusable bags would have to be used in order to bring their environmental or climate impacts in line with plastic bags.

‘Not a win’

“We’re not only changing from recyclable to non-recyclable, we’re changing from domestic production to imports,” Foster said about alternatives to plastic bags. “It doesn’t matter how you look at this thing … there is not a win for us here at all.”

As for the New Year, Gibsons appears to be the only municipality in B.C. willing to push through a bag ban. Its chief administrative officer says councillors are still working out the details, but implementation is planned for March.

The City of Vancouver implemented a ban on polystyrene foam containers on Jan. 1, but its plastic bag ban, which it says will withstand legal challenge because it is governed by a different charter than Victoria, won’t come into effect until 2021. SOURCE



First Nation looks ahead after court sides with natural gas company

The British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favour of Coastal GasLink on its $6.6-billion pipeline, to be built through Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks speaks near Houston, B.C., in a Jan. 9, 2019, file photo. Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said he wasn’t surprised that the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an interim injunction against members of the First Nation and others who oppose the pipeline. CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

SMITHERS, B.C.—A hereditary chief with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation says the community is expecting further police action after the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favour of a natural gas company that wants to build a pipeline through its territory.

Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said he wasn’t surprised that the court granted Coastal GasLink an interim injunction against members of the First Nation and others who oppose the pipeline.

The Dec. 31 ruling came just under a year after the RCMP enforced an injunction granted by the same court that drew international attention with the arrest of 14 people on Jan. 7, 2019.

Related: B.C. Supreme Court grants natural gas pipeline company interlocutory injunction

“We do expect the RCMP to bring it to another level. They did it last year, they’ll do it again this year,” he said in a telephone interview.

The RCMP said in a statement that it respects the ruling and the judicial process, but it would not say if or when police would enforce the latest injunction.

“The RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peaceful, lawful and safe protest and we are committed to facilitating a dialogue between all parties. We are impartial in this dispute and it is our hope that this can be resolved peacefully,” Corp. Madonna Saunders said.

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline would transport natural gas across 670 kilometres from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat.

The company has said it signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the path, however five hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suweten First Nation say the project has no authority without their consent.

Na’moks said the First Nation is also exploring options for court action, including an appeal of the decision and a constitutional challenge.

“We have a number of avenues open to us that we’re looking at right now.”

The latest ruling expands the existing interim injunction.

Following police enforcement last year, the hereditary chiefs reached an agreement with RCMP that Na’moks said at the time was to ensure the safety of local members. Under the agreement, the company must give the First Nation 24-hour notice of workers entering the site, he said.

The agreement did not represent consent for the project and Na’moks said members remain firm in their opposition.

“Our stance hasn’t changed,” he said Thursday. “Our people have said no to this, so we’ve said no.”

Over the past year, Coastal GasLink has begun what it calls “pre-construction” work at the site, drawing criticism from members of the First Nation who say that work threatens or destroys historic artifacts, trails and hunting grounds.

The company issued a statement following the court ruling saying its work is approved and permitted.

Coastal GasLink will continue trying “to engage with any affected groups to ensure public safety while (its) field crews continue to progress their critical activities,” it said.

Unist’ot’en spokeswoman Freda Huson, who is named in the injunction, said the court decision fails to recognize the authority of Wet’suwet’en law even though the First Nation has never ceded its territory.

According to the decision, Indigenous laws do not become an “effectual part” of Canadian common law or domestic law until there is a means or process to do so that is already recognized by Canadian law, such as through treaties, Aboriginal title declarations in the courts or statutory provisions.

That has not occurred in the Wet’suwet’en case, it said.

Wet’suwet’en title claims have not been resolved by either litigation or negotiation, the decision said.

The court also said some of the constitutional questions posed by the Wet’suwet’en go beyond the scope of the injunction application. It said those questions would have to be determined in a trial.

Huson has lived on the land in question for a decade and what started as a camp now has several permanent structures, including space that is used as a healing centre, which she said she will keep running.

“We’ll continue to exercise Wet’suwet’en law, it’s what has sustained us,” she said.

“We’re not feeling defeated because we know what we’re doing is right.” SOURCE

Wet'suwet'en Supporter Toolkit 2020

A real national public transit strategy is key to tackling the climate crisis

Investments have to be decoupled from the profit motive and tied to specific goals to transform our transportation systems

Image result for ricochet: A real national public transit strategy is key to tackling the climate crisis

At a hastily convened press conference held outside Montreal’s Beaubien Métro station about a week before the federal election, Liberal candidates Mélanie Joly, Steven Guilbeault, Rachel Bendayan and Geneviève Hinse announced the funding of the Pink Line, a proposed major expansion of Montreal’s primary mass-transit system.

That same week, commuters in Ottawa discovered the new trains of the $2-billion Confederation Line have started breaking down after only a month’s service. Public transit congestion was further aggravated because Ottawa had withdrawn bus service into the city centre, in part to ensure the use of the light-rail system intended to reverse nearly a decade of declining ridership. The Confederation Line, product of a public-private partnership, was delivered two years late and exacerbated the very downtown congestion it was meant to alleviate.

More than cancelling pipeline projects or converting to renewable energy sources, developing mass transit is the most direct route to victory in the war on climate change.

Projects like Ottawa’s Confederation Line and Montreal’s Pink Line are indicative of many of the problems facing public transit these days.

Troubles stemming in part from underlying motivations far more political than ecological have hamstrung public transit development in Canada for decades. That use is declining in major Canadian cities at precisely the moment it ought to be growing — and that this in turn is partly related to the method by which new transit projects are built — demands greater public scrutiny.

It’s a point worth repeating: public transit is without question the single most effective way of immediately cutting into greenhouse gas emissions. More than cancelling pipeline projects or converting to renewable energy sources, developing mass transit is the most direct route to victory in the war on climate change, particularly in car-centric Canadian cities. Roughly half the nation’s total population lives in its ten largest cities.

Despite this, some Canadian municipalities have remarkably little say in terms of public transit. Though cities like Toronto and Montreal originally built their respective subway systems by themselves (i.e., without provincial funding), demographic shifts from city centre to suburb ultimately resulted in greater provincial control over funding and planning public transit. Montreal — with an enviably well-developed public transit system — is in fact prohibited from undertaking any major expansion or new transit construction project by itself.

Compounding this problem is the proclivity of federal and provincial governments towards all manner of innovation. While spending public funds on mass transit is self-justifying in the eyes of most urban planners and environmentalists, the politicians who hold the purse-strings demand high-tech solutions to low-tech problems.

Arguably the simplest, most effective and efficient method of rapid public transit development — and the method that could be adapted to the greatest number of Canadian cities — involves little more than a fleet of fuel-efficient buses and enough road paint to delineate an exclusive right of way. Up until the development of the Confederation and Trillium lines, the backbone of Ottawa’s transit network was bus rapid-transit.

That said, no one is getting elected on a platform of more buses and fewer highway lanes. Canada’s appetite for transit mega-projects seems limited to the new, not the tried, tested and true.

While the Liberals are promising $30 billion in dedicated public transit funding to Canadian cities over the next decade, exactly how this might work in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver is anyone’s guess. Remember, Montreal can’t build without Quebec’s express permission. Perhaps the Liberals are unaware of this peculiar caveat, or maybe they just don’t think working out these kinds of details before making an announcement is necessary.

According to Université de Montréal urban planning professor Gérard Beaudet, Canadian cities’ hands are tied in several ways. Beaudet points to Montreal’s situation to illustrate some of the difficulties.

“The STM (Montreal transit commission) cannot extend the Métro without the authorization of the Quebec government. This is largely due to the fact that the provincial government pays most of the costs of construction, something that Montreal couldn’t do on its own given the cost of these projects.”

With that in mind, how are large metropolitan cities to plan for transit if provinces are ultimately responsible? Beaudet refers to the creation of regional transit planning authorities, which “aimed to give an apolitical dimension to planning for future public transit needs and better respond to present and anticipated needs.” Regional transit planning authorities are common in large North American cities and typically serve to coordinate regional needs, acting as a midpoint between the needs of large municipalities and provincial or state governments.

“Of course, the mandate —similar to that which was offered to Canada’s railways in the 19th century — given to the Caisse de Dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) by the Couillard and Legault administrations with respect to the extension of the REM (Réseau Express Métropolitain) trivializes the role of the ARTM (the regional transit planning body, an agency of the Quebec government).”

Three billion dollars a year for the next decade is a paltry amount given just how much mass- transit infrastructure needs to be developed.

Beaudet points out that both federal and provincial politicians and candidates have given tacit support to this arrangement during recent electoral cycles in Canada and Quebec. Indeed, regardless of party affiliation, most politicians — even local politicians in Montreal — seem loathe to criticize the CDPQ’s particular arrangement with regards to the REM for fear of appearing anti-transit.

“The governance of public transit in the Greater Montreal area remains a political affair … by definition partisan and short-sighted,” concludes Beaudet. “As for the real needs of citizens….”

It would seem these needs take a back seat to political considerations; it’s worthwhile to appear pro-transit, but rather than focusing on the specific needs of the transit-using public, politicians instead seem to favour the proposals of other politicians or for-profit organizations with their own agendas.

Three billion dollars a year for the next decade is a paltry amount given just how much mass- transit infrastructure needs to be developed. In order to drastically and immediately reduce its transportation-related carbon footprint, Canada would need to establish a high-speed rail network between all of its large population centres (to reduce the impact of air travel) and either build or expand mass-transit services in each of its 50 largest cities. And this is just for starters. Going this far would also require the construction of a massive fully renewable electrical power grid and thousands upon thousands of new trains, trams and buses.

This much work, ideally completed on the most expedited timescale imaginable, would conceivably require the temporary nationalization of Canada’s major engineering firms and heavy manufacturing base (i.e., Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin), followed in turn by them exceeding production records set during the Second World War.

It’s more than theoretically possible, but would require leadership coming out of Ottawa we frankly haven’t witnessed since the Pearson administration.

But all of this would be for naught without a precise idea of what this is supposed to produce.

Aside from vague statements about meeting Paris Climate Accord targets, there’s scant evidence to suggest Canada is anywhere close to meeting them, nor much public discussion of why this is important and how it could be achieved. Massive investments in public transit would definitely be a step in the right direction, but it would be far more helpful if these investments were tied to specific goals: Do we halve the number of cars on our roads? The number of planes in our skies? Both? And if yes to all the above, by when?

Simpler still than buying more buses and creating more reserved lanes, abolishing fares outright would be the fastest way to get millions of Canadians to leave their cars at home. If only we could stop ourselves from thinking of transit as an investment, as something where risk was a factor, as something that could be optimized to be profitable if only free market solutions were given a chance to succeed. Public transit is not, and has never been, about profit. Profit is the problem.

Consider for example the REM, the mass transit system Montreal never asked for. Currently being constructed by the infrastructure development arm of Quebec’s institutional investor (the CDPQ), the REM was trumpeted by former premier Philippe Couillard and former mayor Denis Coderre as the largest transit investment in Quebec’s history, a public-public partnership to serve as a model for future infrastructure mega projects.

The fully automated light-rail system will eventually serve far-flung southern, western and northwestern suburbs of Montreal, connecting them to the city centre and its international airport. The REM was proposed as a low-risk public-public partnership and one-size-fits-all solution to several long-promised though never delivered transit development projects.

In a manner somewhat similar to the Confederation Line, the REM is replacing rather than adding to Montreal’s transit mix. In fact, lower-capacity trains are replacing larger-capacity ones, and in so doing are forcing the complete shutdown of the city’s most used commuter rail line for several years. The REM also has a built-in non-compete agreement in place wherein other transit systems will be modified such that they’ll supply it with passengers, rather than aiming for operational redundancy. This is precisely how a delay on Ottawa’s Confederation Line quickly degenerated into total gridlock. Operational redundancy is necessary in public transit, though it’s anathema to a profit-driven business.

The agreement that allowed the REM to move ahead hinged on equal buy-ins from both the federal and provincial governments, and it was one of the first projects to receive a loan from the Infrastructure Bank established early in Justin Trudeau’s first mandate. The CDPQ insisted that two levels of government split about half the $6.3-billion cost to minimize risk, though they were never asked to explain what was risky about adding a 26-station light-rail system in a city with chronically congested streets.

Make no mistake: the climate crisis provides a moral and ethical justification to any transit project, and the ever-increasing cost of automobiles and the gas that powers them will only provide further justification. Electric vehicles are simply too expensive — and will likely remain so — for the foreseeable future.

That said, it’s worth noting that the cost of the REM increased by $800 million over the course of 11 months without any actual construction taking place; the risk, it seems, was only ever to the CDPQ.

The feds have to plan and coordinate with provinces and cities, and potentially even nationalize key industries to provide inexpensive mass-produced trains and other rail vehicles.

What was missing from day one was the participation of the city of Montreal, its transit agency or the regional transit planning authority set up decades ago by the Quebec government. In fact, the REM was a solution in search of a problem, proposed by the CDPQ to help it move into what it viewed as a lucrative new market: transit-oriented residential developments (the CDPQ is a major investor in residential real-estate projects, and has an impressive portfolio of high-rises, office towers and shopping malls throughout Canada). Premier Couillard was all too happy to oblige. It should be noted that the REM failed its environmental assessment as it did winning over Montrealers’ hearts and minds in two rounds of public consultations.

All of these projects (and several others elsewhere in Canada) essentially suffer from the same problem: the public is all too often told their concerns are wrong, environmental assessments are claimed to have exceeded their mandates, transit users are generally ignored and regional transit authorities are cut out of the planning stage.

Montreal wasn’t given $6.3 billion to spend on building mass transit. It was always REM or nothing.

The top-down, politically driven approach to mass-transit development is wholly inappropriate for current and expected needs. While providing a pipeline of federal transit funding directly to municipalities certainly seems like a welcome step, the federal government can’t simply spend its way out of Canada’s transit crisis. The feds have to plan and coordinate with provinces and cities, and potentially even nationalize key industries to provide inexpensive mass-produced trains and other rail vehicles. Success will require a delicate balance of centralized coordination, production and planning on the one hand, along with the on-the-ground experience and institutional knowledge of local partners on the other.

It’s essentially beyond anything Canada’s ever tried before, and it doesn’t appear the party leaders have fully grasped the severity of the situation. Conservatives, it seems, believe chiefly in reducing the deficit, and doing so by cutting back on major infrastructure spending.

Transit has been politically motivated for so long the nation’s general approach to development is wholly uncoordinated and without any schedule, program, goals or clearly articulated targets. Moreover, governments at nearly every level continues seeking “free market solutions” to develop transit systems that are by their very nature not intended to produce a profit.

The conversation (if it can be called that) seems stuck between whether or not to spend money on public transit, and not what’s the best plan to use transit as a primary means to achieve meaningful carbon emissions reduction targets.

Neither Canada nor the world can afford to wait any longer. SOURCE

Dirty, cheap marine fuel ban will affect Canada’s Arctic

Large container ships like this one often run on heavy fuel oil, with a certain degree of dangerous sulphur. As of Jan. 1 Canada is lowing the amount of sulphur allowed in that fuel in the Arctic. B.C. Government Photo

New rules cracking down on pollution from dirty, cheap marine fuel kicked into gear this week, placing stricter requirements on cargo vessels and cruise ships that are plying northern waters thanks to climate change.

As of Jan. 1, Canada is enforcing a new UN-backed cap on the amount of sulphur allowed in heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the waters north of the 60th parallel, federal officials confirmed to National Observer on Thursday.

The cap comes as Transport Canada considers a proposal to ban all HFO for ships operating in the Arctic, to address the environmental risks of oil spills.

HFO, also known as bunker fuel, is a low-grade byproduct of crude oil that is widely used to power the cargo-shipping industry, as well as on cruise ships and other large vessels that guzzle hundreds of tonnes of fuel per day to move their enormous weight.

While inexpensive, burning sulphur-rich fuel such as HFO produces sulfur dioxide, which can damage eyes, lungs and the respiratory tract. When the gas combines with water, it also forms sulfuric acid, the main element in acid rain.

Sulphur pollution from ships has been associated with the deaths of 400,000 people each year from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, and about 14 million childhood asthma cases, according to a study published in 2018 in the journal Nature Communications.

This dirty fuel has been capped at a low level for southern Canadian waters under what’s called an “emission control area.” Since 2013, ships along the B.C. and Atlantic coasts, the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, and extending 200 nautical miles out, cannot use fuel with more than 0.1 per cent sulphur.

But north of 60, this cap has defaulted to a higher level, 3.5 per cent. This week, a long-awaited rule change by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN agency, lowered the global cap to 0.5 per cent.

Since the cap is global, it covers those areas that the emission control area doesn’t cover, including the North. (Although, at 0.5 per cent, the new cap is still less strict than Canada’s 0.1 per cent level in place for southern waters.)

Transport Minister Marc Garneau speaks with a reporter in West Block on Parliament Hill on Dec. 12, 2019. Garneau’s department is considering a ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Different rules for the Arctic

The reason Canada’s low-sulphur cap ends at the 60th parallel is due to the much lower volume of vessel traffic, said Simon Rivet, Transport Canada senior media relations adviser.

As of December, the Canadian Coast Guard said its traffic services centre in Iqaluit provided support for 191 vessels in the North over the season, including cargo ships, cruise ships, research vessels, fishing boats and others. That’s compared to over 3,100 vessels, for instance, at the Port of Vancouver each year.

Assessments by Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada indicated the “greatest benefit” to banning the high-sulphur fuel would be for southern Canadian waters, said Rivet.

“Due to seasonal conditions and limited accessibility during much of the year, vessel traffic in the Arctic is limited with the largest volumes occurring between July and October,” he said.

The climate crisis, however, has led to northern Canada, already a fragile environmental area, warming at three times the global average rate, according to federal government scientists.

That is leading to “longer and more widespread sea ice-free conditions” in the Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic, they said. This, in turn, can attract thrifty shippers and cruise ships carrying thrill-seeking passengers, among others. From 2018 to 2019 there was an increase of 25 vessels tracked by the centre in Iqaluit.

Concerns over the use of HFO in the Arctic have persisted. In November, one industry group — the 30-member Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators — announced it would ban heavy fuel oil entirely on members’ ships.

That self-imposed ban comes as the IMO, and Canada, consider banning HFO altogether in the Arctic, regardless of sulphur levels. Transport Canada held a public consultation on the matter in June 2019.

According to briefing notes to Transport Minister Marc Garneau obtained by National Observer, the department is still considering the ban, but points out the fuel is used by certain vessels that resupply Arctic communities and by others that serve mining projects and some fishing ships.

“A number of Canadian organizations (including some Indigenous communities) have voiced support for the ban,” it said, but it will “result in socio-economic impacts on Arctic communities in Canada through higher shipping costs, as most depend vitally on marine shipping for community resupply.”

Michael Broad, president of the Shipping Federation of Canada, said shippers will spend $250 to $300 more per tonne on low-sulphur fuel than they would be spending on bunker fuel.

The amount that a large container ship spends every year on fuel varies widely, depending on factors like how many days it spends at sea, and how fast it goes.

Consultants Wood Mackenzie said in 2018 that global shipping fuel costs will likely rise by between US$24 billion and $60 billion by this year, as a result of the IMO sulphur rule, on top of an average yearly cost of $100 billion.

It’s common for large ships to burn more than a hundred tonnes of bunker fuel every day, moving at around 22 knots. At hundreds of dollars more per tonne, that’s an increase of millions of dollars per year, per ship.

‘Small steps are always good, and welcome’

In Canada, the new sulphur rule will be enforced by Transport Canada marine-safety inspectors, who will periodically inspect Canadian ships and foreign ships, Rivet said.

He said fines and jail time could be in store for those who don’t comply.

“Depending on the violation under the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations, a number of enforcement measures may be taken in accordance to established enforcement procedures. A vessel operator may be fined up to $1 million or face a jail sentence up to 18 months, or both,” he wrote in an email.

Andrew Dumbrille, a senior specialist working on sustainable shipping for WWF-Canada, said the new rule change is a step in the right direction. But he said it should be followed by further moves toward low-carbon shipping.

“Small steps are always good, and welcome, and useful. Going down to a lower-sulphur fuel oil is positive,” Dumbrille said. “Transitioning away from carbon fossil fuels in the shipping industry is what’s ultimately needed… a lot more needs to be done to decarbonize the industry, and to start to use cleaner fuels.”

Dumbrille also raised concerns about “scrubbers,” a colloquial term for equipment that cleans up the sulphur from a ship’s exhaust before it’s released into the air. The IMO is allowing ships to install these devices to comply with the new rule, instead of switching to cleaner fuel.

“It turns an air-pollution problem into an ocean-pollution problem,” he argued. Particularly, if the device dumps the leftovers — called effluent — into the water, it could be polluting waterways with carcinogens and heavy metals.

Ultimately, what is needed, Dumbrille said, is for shipping operators to invest in renewable options like batteries, solar and wind, and other non-emitting technologies.

‘Our members, they want the policing’

But that’s not exactly simple to do for shipping companies that are already going to be paying millions of dollars more in fuel costs due to the sulphur rule change.

It’s not just the price itself that’s the problem — it’s finding new fuel suppliers, Broad said.

“It’s a little easier for ships that go back and forth from one port to another — let’s say from Europe to Halifax and back — because they can establish relationships with certain suppliers,” Broad said.

“But ships that travel all over the world, you have to make sure you get the right fuel. They have to have the right viscosity and a number of other criteria.”

The difference in cost will likely be passed through to the cargo owners, Broad said, via the freight rate shippers charge them.

But he said his members would be happy to be inspected by Transport Canada for using low-sulphur fuel, because everyone wants a level playing field in the business.

“Our members, they want the policing, because if they’re (paying more for) using the low-sulphur fuel, they don’t want some sort of rogue owner going out there using lower-cost fuel to get an unfair competitive advantage,” Broad said. “Our members want to make sure that everyone is compliant.”

And he said while there are a number of ships that have scrubbers installed, “I would say that is a very low number.” SOURCE

Alberta’s $30-million bonfire

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, announcing the launch of the Canadian Energy Centre in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photograph by The Canadian Press / Greg Fulmes

The Alberta government’s Canadian Energy Centre — its long-promised, much-hyped “rapid-response war room,” a provincial corporation with a $30-million annual budget — finally launched on Dec. 11. It embarked on its noble mission with all appropriate pomp and ceremony, by which I mean there was a website and a sort of self-promotional video.