Trudeau’s climate policy a disaster as UN climate summit kicks off

Protesters at COP21 in Paris. Image: John Englart/Flickr

Image: John Englart/Flickr

The United Nations COP25 climate summit began this week, and is set to run through December 13 in Madrid, Spain. Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s new environment minister, will be in attendance. What will his message to the world be, given the Trudeau government’s dismal record on carbon emissions?

An annual report on emissions from the UN now says that Canada’s emissions are projected to be 592 megatonnes in 2030. That’s the figure that was projected by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) this past June.

That may be an optimistic calculation. In March 2017, Environment Canada projected that Canada would emit between 697 and 790 megatonnes in 2030.

Even if we work with the lowest public figure, the Trudeau government is still falling short of its own promise and the imperative to do more. The House of Commons will reconvene on December 5, just a few days after COP25 starts.

In order to avert further climate breakdown, Canada must take emergency action to dramatically reduce emissions. Key measures would include cancelling two tar sands pipelines, committing to keep the oil in the ground, and eliminating billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies to transnational oil and gas corporations.

As COP25 kicks off, and the House of Commons resumes this week, here are the numbers Trudeau government’s climate policy failures.

592 megatonnes, not 512 (Paris Agreement)

Under the Paris Agreement, the Trudeau government pledged to reduce Canada’s emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Given Canada’s emissions were 731 megatonnes in 2005, a 30 per cent reduction would mean a 2030 target of 512 megatonnes. This number has also been reported as 513 megatonnes.

592 megatonnes, not 381 (UNIPCC)

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said carbon emissions must be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 to keep global warming from rising about the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius mark. Given Canada’s carbon emissions were 692 megatonnes in 2010, that would set a 2030 target of 381 megatonnes.

592 megatonnes, not 450 (NDP) nor 292 (Green Party)

The Green Party of Canada has called for emissions to be cut by 60 per cent below the 2005 amount by 2030, meaning about 292 megatonnes cut. The NDP calculated that their plans would cut emissions to 450 megatonnes by 2030.

592 megatonnes, not zero

Extinction Rebellion has called for net zero emissions by 2025, environmental groups have called for net-zero emissions by 2040, and the IPCC says emissions must be eliminated by 2050. Canada is still far from zero emissions.

Keep it in the ground

Back in January 2015, British researchers stated in a report published in the journal Nature that three-quarters of its oil reserves and 85 per cent of the tar sands would need to say in the ground in order to stay below the then two-degree Celsius target. Now, 1.5 degrees C is viewed as the preferred target.

The Trudeau government’s approval of both the Line 3 and Trans Mountain pipelines in 2016 signals the federal government is not committed to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Line 3 adds 19 to 26-plus megatonnes

On December 1, the Line 3 pipeline from Alberta to Manitoba became operational. The American portion of the pipeline is expected to begin service in 2020. When that portion is completed, the pipeline will have an export capacity of 760,000 barrels per day.

The Line 3 pipeline is expected to result in 19-26 megatonnes of upstream carbon pollution per year and a larger number of downstream carbon emissions.

Trans Mountain adds 92.4 to 97.4 megatonnes

Furthermore, the federally-owned Trans Mountain pipeline, once expanded, will move 890,000 barrels per day. The expanded pipeline should be in service by mid-2022 and is expected to emit between 21 and 26 megatonnes of emissions each year and 71.4 megatonnes of downstream carbon equivalents.

SOURCE

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Defusing BC’s big, bad carbon bomb

Over the past 20 years, BC forests were so heavily logged that net carbon emissions are now twice as large as Alberta’s oil sands.

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Forest loss (yellow) on Vancouver Island and the south coast mainland between 2000 and 2018 Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA

AT THE HEIGHT OF LAST SUMMER’S ECONOMIC MELTDOWN in the BC interior’s forest industry, Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, based in Kamloops, told the Canadian Press: “Something needs to change immediately or these small communities that don’t have other employers are going to wither and die.” Gibbons concluded that “the largest driving factor is the Province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees.”

The average stumpage rate in BC—the price the Province charges forestry companies for harvesting a cubic metre of tree on Crown land—was around $23 for both the interior and the coast in 2019 (1). But the average stumpage paid for timber harvested from Crown land by major raw log exporters like TimberWest and Western Forest Products in the Campbell River Natural Resource District was much lower, ranging between $8 and $11 per cubic metre. Smaller companies paid even less—as little as $5 per cubic metre. Yet raw logs for export were selling at an average price of $128 per cubic metre through 2019 (2).

Raw logs worth $4.146 billion were exported from BC to other countries for processing over the past five years (3). This huge overcut—unnecessary to meet domestic and international demand for BC’s finished wood products—has averaged 6.5 million cubic metres per year over those five years, equal to 41 percent of the total cut on Crown and private land on the coast (4). So claims that high stumpage rates in BC are the problem that needs to be solved seem out of touch with reality.

But Gibbons is still right: something “needs to change immediately.” The required change, however, might be more than what he’s thinking. The interior’s forest industry has been destabilized by two climate-change-related phenomena—devastating wildfire and explosive mountain pine beetle infestation—that have been amplified by the immense extent of BC’s clearcut logging. Gibbons wants to knock a few bucks off the forest companies’ costs so they can run more shifts at the mills. What’s really needed, though, is a much deeper kind of change, one that would quickly transform BC’s forest industry. To start, we need to end the export of raw logs and shift that same volume to a new class of forest: protected forest-carbon reserves.

There’s an urgent need to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reduce emissions at the same time. The only way to remove carbon on a large scale and then store it safely for a long time is to not harvest healthy, mature forests of long-lived species.

The next 10 years need to be full of bold ideas as we look for and find solutions to the climate crisis. Initiatives like the Carbon Tax in Canada are necessary to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels, but planet Earth isn’t going to give us time to tax our emissions into submission. We need some quick shifts that will cut 10 megatonnes with a few strokes of the Premier’s pen. In BC, protecting the forest instead of destroying it is our only realistic option. If we don’t do this, we’ll run the risk that the rest of the world will start counting the emissions we are releasing from our forests and begin to think of us—and our manufactured wood products industry—as the Brazil of the North.

Perhaps what’s required most at this critical moment is recognition by the BC government that an international market for sequestered forest-carbon is coming soon, and that forest companies need to start switching from destroying publicly-owned forests to protecting them. Not just old-growth forests, but mature second-growth stands of long-lived species, too.

 

735022386_ForestlossonVancouverIsland2000-2018(yellow).thumb.jpg.517ca882779884e0edbb652a6ee631cf.jpg

Forest loss (yellow) on Vancouver Island and the south coast mainland between 2000 and 2018 Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA

Our government leaders don’t seem to be thinking straight yet. Instead, deforestation on the BC coast is accelerating. Over the past six years, the area of coastal Crown land that was clearcut increased 16 percent over the previous six-year period. Our provincial forest’s capacity to serve as a carbon sink has vanished. Its catastrophic collapse is recorded in a 20-year segment of the Province’s annual inventory of provincial greenhouse gas emissions. In 1997, BC forests could sequester the equivalent of 103 megatonnes of CO2 annually. By 2017 that had fallen to 19.6 megatonnes (5). From 2020 on, our forests will be a net source of emissions—even without including those from wildfires. The image above shows—in yellow—the physical area of Vancouver Island, and the adjacent mainland coast, that was clearcut between 2000 and 2018. Vancouver Island has become an ecological war zone. But a different economic role for the forest is emerging, one that doesn’t destroy it.

That new purpose is highlighted by a gaping hole in Canada’s plan to meet its emissions reduction commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Canada’s 2018 progress report to the UN admits there’s a nearly 100-megatonne gap in the plan to 2030 (and this assumes the rest of the plan will actually work). How will Canada live up to its promise over the next 10 years? The progress report puts it this way: “Potential increases in stored carbon (carbon sequestration) in forests, soils and wetlands will also contribute to reductions which, for a country such as Canada, could also play an important role in achieving the 2030 target.”

The report offers no other possibility for filling that gap.

Canada, then, will likely depend on using the carbon sequestration capacity of its forests to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

Article 5 of the Paris Agreement encourages all countries to “…promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.”

Depending on how Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is eventually detailed (its development was stymied at the Madrid COP), it’s possible that an international market mechanism for forest carbon is coming, and it can’t come soon enough.

The over-exploitation of BC’s forests has added to an explosion in net carbon emissions, delivered to the atmosphere each year by the forest industry’s endless road building and progressive clearcuts. Below, I’ll show why this now amounts to over 190 megatonnes every year (and possibly much more), a far more powerful carbon bomb than is being dropped by Canada’s oil sands industry (6). It’s long past time for us to understand the inner workings of the bomb and to defuse it.

There are two separate parts to BC’s bomb, and I will take you through each of these in some detail below.

First, when a mature or old forest stand is logged, assuming it’s healthy, the living biomass that’s killed and cut up into small pieces begins a premature process of decay, often hundreds of years before that decay would occur naturally.

Secondly, when that mature or old, healthy stand is clearcut, its potential to sequester carbon in the future is lost and it could then take anywhere from 60 years to several hundred years before a new replacement forest could sequester as much carbon as was being stored in the previous stand.

Let me take you through the inner workings of each of these parts of BC’s carbon bomb. First, let’s consider the magnitude of the carbon emissions released when wood prematurely decays.

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Biomass left behind after clearcut logging on Crown land on Quadra Island (Photo by David Broadland)

WHEN AN AREA OF FOREST IS CLEARCUT, three decay processes are initiated that result in emissions of carbon to the atmosphere.

First, the removal of the trees allows the sun to warm the forest soil to a higher temperature than was possible when it was shaded by trees. That additional warmth speeds up decay processes and the release of greenhouse gases, a process somewhat akin to the melting of permafrost in the Arctic. Soil scientists tell us that forest soil contains even more carbon than all the trees and other biomass that grow in it. Recent studies have reported that as much as 20 percent of the carbon in the layer of soil at the forest floor is released to the atmosphere after an area of forest has been clearcut. This release is a wild card in our emerging understanding of the impact of clearcut logging on carbon emissions. For now it remains unquantified, but it’s definitely not zero.

The second decay process begins after an area of forest is clearcut and the unused parts of trees left on the forest floor begin to decay. In his 2019 report Forestry and Carbon in BC (document at end of story), BC forest ecologist Jim Pojar estimated that 40 to 60 percent of the biomass of a forest is left in a clearcut. That includes the branches, stumps, roots, pieces of the stems that shattered when felled, the unutilizable tops of the trees, and unmerchantable trees that are killed in the mayhem of clearcut logging.

For our purpose, we will use the mid-point of Pojar’s 40 to 60 percent estimate: half of the biomass is removed, and half remains on the forest floor. The Ministry of Forests’ log scaling system tells us what volume of wood is removed from the forest as merchantable logs. We then assume that an equal volume of wood is left in the clearcut.

In 2018, the total volume of wood removed from BC’s forests, as reported in the ministry’s Harvest Billing System, was 54.1 million cubic metres. As per above, we are using the same number for the volume of wood that was left in clearcuts all over the province. So the total volume of wood in play is 108.2 million cubic metres. Both pools of wood—the wood left behind and the wood trucked away—begin to decay after a relatively short period of time following harvest. Each cubic metre of wood will eventually produce about 0.82 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions (7). So the wood left behind will produce 44 megatonnes and the wood trucked away will also produce 44 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions—eventually.

The average 6.5-million-cubic-metre cut for raw log exports accounts for 11 megatonnes of that 88-megatonne carbon bomb.

You might have heard that the carbon in the logs that are harvested and turned into finished wood products will be safely stored in those products indefinitely. But the Ministry of Forests’ own research shows that after 28 years, half of the carbon in the wood products is no longer being safely stored; at 100 years, only 33 percent of the wood is still in safe storage (graph below). The rest will have returned to the atmosphere or is headed in that direction.

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This BC Ministry of Forests graph shows how the carbon stored in wood products declines over time. After 28 years, half of the carbon stored has been lost to the atmosphere. At 100 years, 33 percent remains.

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The Glimmer of a Climate New World Order

The Amazon fires provoked a promising response at the G-7. Photo: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

I didn’t know politics could move this fast. It has been barely a week since the world woke up to reports of fires tearing through the Amazon rainforest, and already a new sort of global red line has been established — the first of its kind to be drawn around climate behavior. Led by grandstanding French president Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of the G-7 have essentially told Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that the burning of the Amazon simply cannot stand.

Bolsonaro is himself a showboat, of course, usually excited by the opportunity to troll the community of globalists and liberal cosmopolitans almost literally embodied in the leaders of the G-7 — and particularly in forums bringing those leaders together as though they are puppet-mastering the rest of the world over a continental breakfast. And yet, over the last few days, Bolsonaro has performed a dramatic about-face, moving from shrugging his shoulders at the fires and blaming them on leftist NGOs, to acknowledging they are a problem and deploying his military to put them out. Presumably, this is not just the result of Macron’s rhetoric — “our house is on fire,” the French leader tweeted late last week — but what followed: a promise to spike a major European trade deal with Brazil if Bolsonaro did not take the fires seriously. In other words, a threat to apply the same tools of leverage and sanction and shame to crimes of climate as have been applied, in the past, to violations of human rights and territorial sovereignty.

This is, of course, unprecedented—and much more significant than the paltry $20 million the nations of the G7 pledged to send to Brazil to help fight the fires. It was also, in a way, inevitable. If climate change does transform life on this planet at anything like the scale and speed scientists promise it will, our politics will change with it — and probably quite dramatically. One question this raises is: In what ways? Another is: Will we like what warming does to us? The answers to both are very much open, and we’ve barely begun to develop a political science around climate change that might help us think through the possibilities.

On Friday, I wrote about the fact that, on the very same day that the Brazilian fires became news in America, the U.S. lost its one candidate for president, Jay Inslee, who was committed to taking climate change as seriously as the world’s scientists insist we all must — and I suggested that action on climate may well require an entirely different kind of politics than one that consigns principled crusaders like Inslee to the bin of also-rans. Less than 24 hours after Inslee dropped out, Bernie Sanders dropped his own climate plan — one much grander than anything even Inslee proposed. If Sanders’s gambit represents one new kind of climate politics, this G-7 climate shaming surely counts as another. But what kind is it?

Saturday at the Atlantic, Franklin Foer proposed that meaningful action to combat warming may require that the bedrock principle of national sovereignty be retired, such that leaders like Bolsonaro (or, for that matter, Trump) won’t be able to operate with impunity on climate issues which, despite playing out within those nations’ borders, impact the rest of the world as well (often more so, since impacts are distributed unequally). “If there were a functioning global community, it would be wrestling with how to more aggressively save the Amazon, and acknowledging that the battle against climate change demands not only new international cooperation but, perhaps, the weakening of traditional concepts of the nation-state,” he wrote. “The case for territorial incursion in the Amazon is far stronger than the justifications for most war.”

Foer was writing before Bolsonaro “capitulated,” but the prospect of climate wars seems even more pressing now. The G-7 shame campaign was only a modest step in that direction — individual nation-states acting in concert, not to undermine the sovereignty of a bad actor but to remind him how dependent his country is on the support of other nations, and to threaten to withdraw that support. But it nevertheless allows you to imagine a possible world, probably at least a few years away, in which a similar group of nations — or a similarly concerned single superpower — does take the next step and threatens military action. That is, of course, what often does follow from a sequence of sanctions, and it is more or less how in the aftermath of World War II the nations of the west “consecrated” the principle of human rights. (That is, by fighting wars in its name, if often for other material reasons). If the 21st century is conducted in the shadow of warming as the second half of the 20th was in the shadow of the Holocaust, that sort of succession — from human rights to climate change as the universal touchstone of geopolitics and speakable expression of great-power rivalry — seems not just possible but inevitable.

So — is that where we are headed? Honestly, I don’t know, and don’t know anyone who does. As with everything else when it comes to climate, we are headed into a brave new world with nothing resembling a playbook. But in their brilliant book Climate Leviathan, the political scientists Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright plot a matrix of possible future political responses to climate. The two axes are the relationship to the nation state (i.e., does the world recognize national sovereignty in the face of climate change?); and the relationship to capitalism (i.e., does the world respond to the crisis by doubling down on the importance of capital, or does it retreat from it?). They name the resulting quadrants: Climate Mao (anti-capitalist and nationalist); Climate Behemoth (capitalist and nationalist), Climate Leviathan (capitalist and globalist) and Climate X (anti-capitalist and globalist, basically ecosocialism, which they’re rooting for). But they also acknowledge that each category is too neat — a conceptual framework, not a map of our future. My own guess is that they’re right: that we won’t have any one new paradigm for climate politics, that no one prediction will come to pass in any total way, but that we will evolve those new politics along many different ideological axes.

What would that mean? That there won’t just be ecofascism of the kind that’s been talked about a lot over the last month — right-wing governments throwing up border walls and defining the needs of their own people, in a resource-scarce world, as infinitely more important than the needs of anyone else. There could also be ecofascism of the environmentalist stripe, governments running roughshod over the rights of their citizens to impose deeply disruptive responses to warming and all its impacts — eminent domain on environmental-panic steroids, decarbonization on a military footing. There will likely be more moderated forms of both — some rise in nativism that doesn’t totally revolutionize existing political cultures, some expansion of government authority that adds to rather than obliterates status-quo powers. There may be some form of ecosocialism and, elsewhere, some rejection of economic growth and an embrace of what’s been called “de-growth.” But on the left, some modulated versions are probably likelier, too: a more empathic and redistributive politics that stops short of true collectivization, for instance, and some growing awareness among left-wing leaders around the world that growth is merely one measure of progress, and perhaps a misleading or counterproductive one. In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Adern is already pointing the way there.

And probably it won’t be any one of these futures but something more like all of them, all at once, in different places at different times — with different nations responding differently to the challenge, even different parts of single nations, with some regions and some parts of government acting from one set of ideological goals while others move in different directions. That is to say, it is likely to be all quite messy, as politics always is, however much we might wish to imagine a single future, or a single climate “solution” — and however much the neoliberal order of the last political generation promised that all plots moved predictably markets-ward.

In a weird way, the G-7 bullying this past weekend extends the same promise — and makes the awakening of climate conscience among the world’s most powerful nations look somewhat less like a radical political departure than the simple extension of existing (and imperiled) neoliberalism into the realm of climate concern. Still, this is progress. In fact, quite significant progress, I think, since market forces remain quite powerful tools, and since we need all the tools we can get in addressing a crisis of this scale. But, of course, it also has some blindspots.

To begin with, the fires, judged on their own, actually aren’t all that significant a climate event. They are bad, since all fires are bad, climate-wise. But the relatively limited aid the G7 will be sending to fight them is a sign that these fires are neither catastrophic in the short term nor hard to control—$20 million being less than one percent the annual budget of CalFire, the California state fire program. Of course, Bolsonaro’s broader plan to develop and deforest the Amazon would be such an outrageous carbon catastrophe — it could release, over a decade, as much carbon as the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, release in a year — that it would represent the enactment of a sort of great-man theory of climate disaster. But the fires burning this month are, as the New York Times has shown, mostly on land that has already been deforested — farmers clearing their land as part of their annual rhythm, if on land that was once rainforest and perhaps in a coordinated way to make an ugly gesture of solidarity with their president and his plan to open up yet more of the land. There are more fires burning today in Congo and Angola than in Brazil, almost none of which are true wildfires, like those we’ve seen devastate California and Siberia, but are controlled and defeatable with a relatively minimal effort.

This all makes the G-7 campaign an important symbolic gesture, but perhaps only that, and one for which the ultimate test is what happens after the fires are put out: Will Bolsonaro’s deforestation plan continue, or not? Or perhaps that is only the penultimate test, since there is also the question of whether pressure like this can be employed by nations like France and Canada and the UK to punch up and not just punch down — to influence the world’s biggest carbon emitters, namely China and the United States.

And if the gesture is mostly symbolic, what is the symbol obscuring? Canada’s Justin Trudeau was the first leader to echo Macron’s call to action, but he recently approved the TransMountain pipeline; Japan is financing coal plants built abroad that are as much as 40 times more polluting than those they allow within their borders. In fact, every single member nation of the G-7 is hiding some significant climate hypocrisy behind their pressure on Bolsonaro, however laudable that pressure is. But if the sum total of their collective action this year will be effectively dispatching the Brazilian military to fight fires local farmers had mostly under control, it will be a critically insufficient response. If their pressure forces Bolsonaro to abandon his plans for the Amazon, that would be considerably better. And yet there is much more to be done still, in each of their home countries, none of which are meeting the pledges they made under the Paris accords just three years ago. To pretend that Bolsonaro is the world’s only climate villain, or the Amazon the only region in the world currently in climate crisis, is an act of grand self-delusion.

Still, the value of symbolism is not to be discarded. For a very long time, climate scientists and activists lamented the disinterest of the average person in the issue, in part blaming the media for failing to communicate the scale of the crisis and the urgency of action. They were right, in a way: climate change simply wasn’t on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post every day, and almost never made it onto television news. On the newspaper side, that has already changed, with quite remarkable speed: It’s not every day yet, but the country’s major papers do now devote enviable acreage to the story, often several times a week and frequently illustrated with dramatic above-the-fold photography. The progress in television has been slower, but here the Amazon fires may mark a different kind of turning point — and a recognition among producers that, while climate change may have a longstanding reputation as a ratings-killer, natural disasters do not, especially those that produce fire. Perhaps the blockbuster wall-to-wall coverage of the recent burning of Notre Dame was good training on this point, too.

This fire season has been an unusually mild one, so far, for California, and we’ve yet to see the major hurricane events that have whipped through the Caribbean each of the past two summers. But the coverage of the Amazon fires suggests that, when those terrifying impacts happen, producers may finally be ready to showcase them in the way they should. It is horrible for anyone living in their path, of course, that disasters are getting more frequent and more punishing. But judged strictly from the semi-sociopathic perspective of journalistic narrative, the climate change story is getting “better.” Rather than relying on dry-sounding predictions of centuries-long sea-level rise measured in the centimeters or inches, natural disasters and extreme weather are teaching us all how to tell stories that horrify us into action, even of an imperfect kind. SOURCE

#TeamTrees meets, exceeds goal of planting 20 million trees by 2020

In October 2019, the YouTube star Jimmy Donaldson, also known as MrBeast, reached 20 million followers on his channel.

After receiving continued feedback from his followers on how he should commemorate this achievement, Donaldson began the #TeamTrees campaign to raise money for the purpose of planting 20 million trees.

“I personally haven’t always been the most environmentally friendly, and a lot of you might be of the mindset of the old me, which was basically someone else will figure it out,” Donaldson said in his Oct. 25, 2019, YouTube video. “But that’s not how it works. We genuinely need all the help we can get, and honestly, I’ve done everything I can. I’ve literally tried my best to do everything I can, and now it’s your turn.”

Donaldson’s channel is well known for showcasing attention-grabbing stunts and donating thousands of dollars on a whim. To start the campaign off, he himself donated $100,000, and one day later, he donated another $100,002.

With each tree costing only $1, the goal for the campaign was to raise $20 million by Jan. 1, 2020 in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation’s reforestation program.

“We partnered with the largest non-profit tree-planting organization in the world, the Arbor Day (Foundation),” Donaldson said in his Oct. 25, 2019, YouTube video. “For every dollar donated, they will plant a tree. Arbor Day and their partners are the pros. They’ve planted hundreds of millions of trees, they have a high rate of survivability and they genuinely do care.”

On day one of this project, Donaldson posted a video of he and his team planting 300 trees on their own; after posting a call to arms on his Twitter account, volunteers in the area arrived the next day and were able to plant 1,400 more.

Before

“Unfortunately, despite having a large number of people, we came nowhere near close to planting 20 million trees,” Donaldson said in his Oct. 25, 2019, YouTube video. “But I don’t want to let you guys down, so I devised a plan where we can actually plant 20 million trees, but I need your help.”

With the support of more than 600 influencers, the Arbor Day Foundation and others across the internet, the campaign surpassed its goal in under two months.

“#TeamTrees is a prime example of youth leadership – especially the Gen Z ‘Change Generation’ – moving beyond retweet activism and harnessing the power of social media to address key societal issues,” Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, said online. “The 20 million trees planted through this campaign will absorb and store 1.6 million tons of carbon, the equivalent of taking 1.24 million cars off the road for a year.”

trees-planted

After

Influencers across all channels came together to support the cause, which spurred on a little bit of healthy competition amongst the larger donors, but YouTubers weren’t the only ones in on the fun.

According to Business Insider, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donated twice for a grand total of $350,000, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff donated $900,000, Verizon’s Green Team division donated $100,000 and Tesla CEO Elon Musk donated $1 million.

“#TeamTrees, we did it!” TeamTrees posted on Instagram. “20 million trees – in less than two months – is an incredible accomplishment and it belongs to all of us. Whether you donated, created content or simply told your friends about #TeamTrees, this win is yours. Remember this feeling when you have a goal that people tell you isn’t realistic. Remember this when you’re in need of some hope.”

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the trees will be planted all across the globe in forests that are both on public and private lands in areas of great need. The final list of locations for planting is still in progress, but the Arbor Day Foundation says the first round of planting projects will be distributed across Africa, Europe and the United States. All #TeamTrees trees will be planted by December 2021.

“We only have one Earth, and it’s important that we take care of it,” Donaldson said in his Oct. 25, 2019, YouTube video. “This is your chance to make a difference. This is our chance to show the world we care.”

For those still interested in donating to #TeamTrees, click here.

Australia Shows Us the Road to Hell

The political reaction is scarier than the fires.

Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

In a rational world, the burning of Australia would be a historical turning point. After all, it’s exactly the kind of catastrophe climate scientists long warned us to expect if we didn’t take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a 2008 report commissioned by the Australian government predicted that global warming would cause the nation’s fire seasons to begin earlier, end later, and be more intense — starting around 2020.

Furthermore, though it may seem callous to say it, this disaster is unusually photogenic. You don’t need to pore over charts and statistical tables; this is a horror story told by walls of fire and terrified refugees huddled on beaches.

So this should be the moment when governments finally began urgent efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.

But the world isn’t rational. In fact, Australia’s anti-environmentalist government seems utterly unmoved as the nightmares of environmentalists become reality. And the anti-environmentalist media, the Murdoch empire in particular, has gone all-out on disinformation, trying to place the blame on arsonists and “greenies” who won’t let fire services get rid of enough trees.

These political reactions are more terrifying than the fires themselves.
Climate optimists have always hoped for a broad consensus in favor of measures to save the planet. The trouble with getting action on climate, the story went, was that it was hard to get people’s attention: The issue was complex, while the damage was too gradual and too invisible. In addition, the big dangers lay too far in the future. But surely once enough people had been informed about the dangers, once the evidence for global warming became sufficiently overwhelming, climate action would cease to be a partisan issue.

The climate crisis, in other words, would eventually become the moral equivalent of war — an emergency transcending the usual political divides.

But if a nation in flames isn’t enough to produce a consensus for action — if it isn’t even enough to produce some moderation in the anti-environmentalist position — what will? The Australia experience suggests that climate denial will persist come hell or high water — that is, through devastating heat waves and catastrophic storm surges alike.

Buildings on the main street of Mogo, Australia, destroyed by fire.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

You might be tempted to dismiss Australia as a special case, but the same deepening partisan division has long been underway in the United States. As late as the 1990s, Democrats and Republicans were almost equally likely to say that the effects of global warming had already begun. Since then, however, partisan views have diverged, with Democrats increasingly likely to see climate change happening (as indeed it is), while Republicans increasingly see and hear no climate evil.

Does this divergence reflect changing party composition? After all, highly educated voters have been moving toward the Democrats, less-educated voters toward the Republicans. So is it a matter of how well informed each party’s base is?

Probably not. There’s substantial evidence that conservatives who are highly educated and well informed about politics are more likely than other conservatives to say things that aren’t true, probably because they are more likely to know what the conservative political elite wants them to believe. In particular, conservatives with high scientific literacy and numeracy are especially likely to be climate deniers.

But if climate denial and opposition to action are immovable even in the face of obvious catastrophe, what hope is there for avoiding the apocalypse? Let’s be honest with ourselves: Things are looking pretty grim. However, giving up is not an option. What’s the path forward?

The answer, pretty clearly, is that scientific persuasion is running into sharply diminishing returns. Very few of the people still denying the reality of climate change or at least opposing doing anything about it will be moved by further accumulation of evidence, or even by a proliferation of new disasters. Any action that does take place will have to do so in the face of intractable right-wing opposition.

This means, in turn, that climate action will have to offer immediate benefits to large numbers of voters, because policies that seem to require widespread sacrifice — such as policies that rely mainly on carbon taxes — would be viable only with the kind of political consensus we clearly aren’t going to get.

What might an effective political strategy look like? I’ve been rereading a 2014 speech by the eminent political scientist Robert Keohane, who suggested that one way to get past the political impasse on climate might be via “an emphasis on huge infrastructural projects that created jobs” — in other words, a Green New Deal. Such a strategy could give birth to a “large climate-industrial complex,” which would actually be a good thing in terms of political sustainability.

Can such a strategy succeed? I don’t know. But it looks like our only chance given the political reality in Australia, America, and elsewhere — namely, that powerful forces on the right are determined to keep us barreling down the road to hell. SOURCE

 

Why we need a law against ecocide

From claiming lives to threatening the country’s native wildlife population, the Australian bushfires have had an immense impact on the drought-stricken country

Australia is guilty of ecocide.

More than one billion animals have been killed in the multi-state bushfires, and that toll is expected to climb sharply. The scale of the loss of life is unprecedented and beyond comprehension.

However, we humans are so selfish and narrow-minded that animal lives merely form a footnote to our calculations about losses from bushfires and other disasters. We tally the human lives cut short and the property damage, but animal life comes a distant third in our evaluations.

A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires.
A photo from the front page of The Times last week, featuring a kangaroo in front of a burning house. More than a billion animals are feared to have been killed in the recent bushfires. THE TIMES
One billion dead animals are a tragedy for each individual animal: the lives lost and the incomprehensible suffering. Each of those animals felt pain and fear,  exactly as humans do,  and died in terror. The fact that we don’t really care about that, and barely pause to contemplate it, says much about us as a species.

However, although the loss of animal life is shocking, it is neither surprising nor was it unforeseeable.

Australia is a climate-change denier and has failed utterly to act to mitigate the destructive effects of human activity. It has ignored – and continues to ignore – the scientific consensus on what action is required.

It is the world’s second-largest coal exporter and its main political parties support continuing to extract and export coal. Politicians keep focusing on the “cost” of combating climate change, while closing their eyes to the far greater toll that is being paid for failing to act. Australian MP Craig Kelly appeared on British television this week and continued to deny the link between climate change and the Australian bushfires.

Now is the time to change that.

The late British barrister Polly Higgins led a decade-long campaign to make ecocide a crime. In a submission to the United Nations Law Commission in 2010, she explained ecocide as being “the loss, damage or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory … such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”

Ecocide covers the direct damage done to sea, land, flora and fauna, as well as the cascading impact on the world’s climate. The term was first used in the 1970s at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington, and academics and lawyers have in the decades since then argued for the criminalisation of ecocide.

Ecocide would sit alongside the four other international crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression – which are set out in the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.

Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.
NATHAN EDWARDS/GETTY IMAGES
Female koala Anwen recovers in Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from burns suffered in bushfires in November.

Higgins’ website, www.ecocidelaw.com, explains that there is currently no international, legally binding duty of care towards the Earth. This means that companies can destroy environments and communities for profit without fear of prosecution.

The website states that existing laws put shareholders first, meaning that the laws of individual nations are regularly contravened in the pursuit of financial returns – often with the consent of governments that issue permits to pollute.

Higgins’ vision was that a crime of ecocide would act as both a brake on companies by making senior executives personally criminally responsible, and discourage government ministers from facilitating harmful activity and make banks and investors less likely to finance it. Like senior executives, ministers would face the prospect of criminal proceedings.

Ecological Defence Integrity was founded by Higgins and Jojo Mehta in June 2017 to lobby for the creation of a crime of ecocide under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It launched the public campaign Stop Ecocide in November 2017.

Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide.
Barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan says it is time to enact laws against ecocide. Cat MacLennan is a barrister and founder of Animal Agenda Aotearoa
Four elements would comprise the crime of ecocide:

* A perpetrator’s acts or omissions causing ecocide

* The actions severely diminishing peace

* The perpetrator having knowledge of actual or possible outcomes; and

* The perpetrator being a senior official.

Ecocide law would also provide legal backing to the campaigns of indigenous communities in many nations to protect their lands.

Ecocide is already recognised as a crime in 10 nations, including the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Vietnam and Belarus.

Scientists have warned humans about climate change for decades, and we have ignored those warnings. As recently as last month, Australia and the United States worked with other nations at COP25 to block stronger action on climate change.

A crime of ecocide would prohibit harmful activity and force governments, businesses and financiers to prioritise clean generation and production.

New Zealand is included in that imperative. We are watching on in horror at the Australian bushfires, but our own action to combat climate change is woefully inadequate. SOURCE

Hundreds take to the streets for pipeline protest

The project has received opposition from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs (File photo)

ANCOUVER — Hundreds of people marched from BC Supreme Court to Victory Square Saturday to voice their support for opponents of a natural gas pipeline project.

“It’s our territory. It’s not Canadian land. It’s not the Queen’s. It’s not the RCMP’s. It’s Wet’suwet’en land. It’s our land,” said Jerome Pete, who grew up on the traditional territory where Coastal GasLink plans to build its pipeline.

The company posted an injunction order Tuesday, giving people at a protest camp near Houston 72 hours to make way for construction workers.

“I’m here as an indigenous youth standing with Wet’suwet’en Nation in their resistance to Coastal Gaslink pipeline and colonial forces that seek to remove indigenous people from our lands and our futures,” said Ta’Kaiya Blaney as she addressed the crowd at Victory Square.

Vancouver pipeline protest

Hundreds of people marched from BC Supreme Court to Victory Square Saturday to voice their support for opponents of a natural gas pipeline project. (CTV)

Coastal GasLink has agreements with 20 elected First Nation councils along the pipeline’s 670-kilometre route, but not the support of hereditary chiefs.

“It’s really quite simple. Elected band councils have jurisdiction and authority to the reserve land system. Period,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs. “The hereditary chiefs have authority over the territory – the broad territory.”

This week, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged a halt to the project, saying it does not respect the rights of indigenous people. That prompted a response from B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner.

“We have obligations to ensure free, prior, and informed consent exists for all impacted Indigenous groups before projects impact lands,” said Commissioner Kasari Govender in a statement in support of the pipeline’s opponents.

Environmentalist David Suzuki made some remarks at the Saturday rally, but it was young indigenous voices that spoke the loudest.

“Standing with Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters means that I am standing with my future,” said Blaney.

With Coastal GasLink’s 72-hour injunction notice now expired, people at Saturday’s march and rally feared the RCMP would move in to arrest protesters at the camp. SOURCE

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