The myth of band councils as First Nations

People raise their hands and drums as they rally in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Costal GasLink Pipeline, in Ottawa, on Monday.

In Canadian lore, the raconteurs of old spoke of La Chasse Galerie (the flying canoe) and among the Mohawk, the Raksothas (grandpas), told scary stories about the Flying Heads that roamed deep in the forests, but one of the most disturbing myths is the one in which Indian Act band councils are labelled as “First Nations.”

They are not.

Band councils were created from the 1876 Indian Act and designed to undermine and replace centuries of traditional governments across Canada. They were, and are extremely limited in their authority and entirely subject to officials in the federal government.

Band councils are not sovereign, do not abide by ancestral law, have no definitive connection with traditional culture and govern nothing outside of their respective reserves. If they do have police services the laws that are imposed and enforced come from federal regulations and provincial statutes.

Under international law a band council has no substance, no meaning, no standing. They cannot enter into treaty or trade compacts with a nation, they cannot abide by a distinct Native justice system, they cannot create their own banking system, they cannot design their own homes, they cannot buck the social service apparatus which has strangled any attempt by Indigenous people to rise above their oppressive circumstances.

No law can be passed, enacted or enforce by the band councils without the express consent of the federal government. They are colonial entities imposed upon native peoples, whose only source of support is the money channelled to them from the provinces and Ottawa.

The band councils have been effective in one instance: they have served the federal government by eclipsing the Indigenous entities that once exercised active jurisdiction across Canada and for generations prior to contact.

Why call them “first nation” at all?   SOURCE

Police removal of Tyendinaga Mohawk is a thumbnail in the violent mosaic of Canadian colonization

Ontario Provincial Police officers make an arrest at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont., on Monday, as they protest in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs attempting to halt construction of a gas pipeline on their traditional territories.

There can’t possibly be a modern image that more viscerally drives a dagger through the heart of reconciliation than the sight of five heavily armed bullet-proof-vested Ontario Provincial Police officers wrestling a Mohawk demonstrator to the ground.

There can’t possibly be words more ironic than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s on Friday saying Canadians are “running out of patience.” That he said this just days after telling opposition leader Andrew Scheer “patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever” highlights the insincerity of his political statements. That he thinks he can lecture Indigenous folks on patience highlights colonial hubris.

There can’t possibly be actions more divergent from words than a police force saying, as the OPP did, that “use of force remains a last resort,” and then scuffling with Mohawk demonstrators within seconds of telling them to back off.

On Monday, the OPP moved to dismantle rail protests by the Mohawk in their own Tyendinaga territory near Belleville, Ont., when they towed away a snow plow parked close to the line (not blocking it), but likely too close to the tracks for trains to run safely. It was Day 19 of the Mohawk demonstration in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who are against a Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline running through their unceded territory.

The Mohawk were also protesting historical grievances. For instance, they didn’t consent to CN Rail laying that rail line through their land nor to Ontario building the 401.

“For those of us who have experienced the Oka crisis, we know what it’s like to be forced off our land,” Kenneth Deer, secretary of the Mohawk nation at Kahnawake (near Montreal) told media on Monday after the arrests in the Tyendinaga territory. The Mohawks soon loaded Quebec highways with slow-moving convoys in protest.

All of this should make decent Canadians pause and think about what ongoing colonialism means. This isn’t about past Europeans who forcibly took the land and handed present-day Canadians a fait accompli to deal with. This is about how Canada continues to dispossess Indigenous folks from lands they never ceded. Those arrested Monday have been charged, though police have yet to specify what the charges are. Thus demonstrators can be criminalized. There are many “rule of law” ways to do wrong.

When Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, a key Trudeau adviser, told reporters Monday, “We’re not in any way compromising our commitment to the reconciliation agenda,” did he think he had any credibility on relationship building with the marginalized? That people would have forgotten his defence, as Toronto police chief, of ‘carding’ — the police practice of stopping, questioning and documenting predominantly Black and brown folks on mere suspicion of wrongdoing?

Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, was heading into a meeting of the prime minister’s incident-response group Monday when he told media: “We’re committed to sitting down and having a dialogue, but the barricades had to come down because of the profound effects it had on the economy.” Does dialogue mean: my way or we don’t speak? What about the profound effect the pipelines have on Wet’suwet’en rights?

The Tyendinaga Mohawk had released a statement early Monday that they would peacefully exit if the RCMP withdrew from Wet’suwet’en lands. They were awaiting confirmation that the RCMP had withdrawn.

Yet, even as they were being arrested, the RCMP entered a Unist’ot’en camp set up to block the pipeline in B.C. Was that to negotiate a withdrawal? If so, why the rush to arrest people in Ontario? As Deer said, if police had waited another 12 hours, it’s likely there would have been a peaceful resolution.

What about the role of the media? The OPP took care of that by keeping them far from the scene, in sight, but out of earshot.

Had it not been for social media; the thoughtful tweets by Indigenous folks and specifically, a Facebook livestream by Real People’s Media from the Mohawk side, Canadians would have continued to be spoon-fed information that the state allowed, with reporters reduced to speculating on the scenes unfolding in front of them.

“You leave,” said one of the land defenders. “Your ancestors came here sick, tired and oppressed. Our ancestors took care of them, taught them how to live, let them live on their land.

“And what did your ancestors do? They violated their treaty, they stole, they killed. They did it when we were sick.”

Seconds later, a few police officers advanced, a scuffle broke out and two more defenders were handcuffed. A total of 10 people were arrested, according to the OPP. What wrong did the land defender say? They just laid down historical facts. In response, the OPP did what armed Canadian forces have always done: react with aggression.

When it comes to reconciliation, we like the pretty words that accompany it, but we don’t have the stomach — the guts really — for the difficult negotiations it entails in reality. When push comes to the gentlest of shoves, Canadians go right back to showing  SOURCE we are: colonials through and through.  SOURCE

Canada loves the rule of law (unless we’re talking Indigenous rights)

For the vast majority of this country’s history, the rules have been flagrantly broken when it comes to Indigenous land and rights

Hundreds gathered at the B.C. legislature on Feb. 11 to show solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their traditional territory. Photo: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

Last October, an international celebration occurred in the verdant coastal community of Bella Bella, B.C. Members of the Heiltsuk Nation finally opened their Gvakva’aus Hailzaqv, their Big House, a red and yellow cedar structure that is the centre of their governance and ceremonial life. Christian missionaries destroyed the last Big House 120 years ago, the Heiltsuk say.

In those years, pivotal elements of Indigenous life and law were declared illegal, including the gift-giving potlatch ceremonies that “were once the primary economic system of Coastal First People.” The potlatch ban is hardly ancient history — that law was not removed from the books until 1951. Nearly six million Canadians who filled out the last census were alive in 1951.

The Heiltsuk People, like the Wet’suwet’en currently at the centre of national attention, not only had to live with odious Canadian laws (that could themselves be seen as violating fundamental concepts of justice), but they also had their land taken outside of the processes promised by the Crown.

Treaty negotiations did not take place in vast tracts of British Columbia — a direct affront to the rule of law. “Under international and British law at the time of colonization, unless Indigenous people were conquered or treaties were made with them, the Indigenous interest in their land was to be respected by the law of the European colonizing nation,” historian and lawyer Bruce McIvor explained last week.

Politicians and pundits have been calling for the rule of law to be respected, given the ongoing protests in B.C. and in southern Ontario in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink project. The protests have stopped CN and Via Rail trains from running in parts of Canada.

But let’s set aside for a moment the question of the legitimacy or illegality of those protests. Where have all these influential voices been on the much larger rule of law question, the one that set the stage for these conflicts in the first place?

For more than 150 years, Indigenous governance structures and legal systems have been dismantled, local knowledge and language deliberately decimated, treaties violated, and Indigenous land settled without a legal leg to stand on. Still, even with all the bad laws, bad faith, and shrugging off the rule of law, we can’t seem to muster as a country a heartbeat of empathy or patience or self awareness.

We also ignore that the courts have acknowledged repeatedly that Indigenous laws and rights are part of the rule of law in Canada.

“Indigenous legal traditions are among Canada’s legal traditions. They form part of the law of the land,” Federal Court Justice Sébastien Grammond wrote in a 2018 decision.

National newspaper columnists have called the Wet’suwet’en system of governance an “oligarchy” and based on a “feudal genealogy,” but the Courts (which help shape the rule of law) haven’t shown that disdain. The Supreme Court has acknowledged the limits of the Indian Act-prescribed structures when considering the holders of Aboriginal title — and dealt specifically with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ authority in the 1997 Delgamuukw decision.

In the Supreme Court of British Columbia Tsilhqot’in decision, Justice David Vickers put it succinctly: “While band level organization may have meaning to a Canadian federal bureaucracy, it is without any meaning in the resolution of Aboriginal title and rights for Tsilhqot’in people.”

Indigenous communities have been trying to revivify their original forms of government that existed prior to colonization, but this is not quick work. Language, legal traditions, and skills were gutted by the Indian Act, the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop, and other assimilationist policies.

Groups such as the Centre for First Nations Governance work with communities to try to help restore lost systems and empower local leadership. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended Canada support this restorative process, but the report languished on the shelf for decades.

Canadian law when it comes to Indigenous communities has been a slippery, oppressive thing throughout the country’s history. Treaties are the law, but they are routinely violated.

Laws were invented to erase Indigenous culture. It took until last year for the federal government to finally remove the legislated gender discrimination from the Indian Act.

In British Columbia, the type of land title negotiations that created the Douglas treaties on Vancouver Island (themselves the subject of contention) were abandoned and unilateral settlement occurred on vast tracts of Indigenous land elsewhere in the province.

The rule of law and the “honour of the Crown” were disregarded. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada advised the Crown  that it had a “moral, if not a legal, duty,” to settle the question of title in order to facilitate “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.”

But today, delving into those fundamental issues around land title and Canada’s fundamental violations of the rule of law seems to exhaust the stamina of many Canadian political and thought leaders. SOURCE

11 things you need to know about the oilsands as Teck abandons plans for Frontier mine

Image result for 11 things you need to know about the oilsands as Teck abandons plans for Frontier mine

As the mining giant walks away from its controversial open-pit project proposal, nearly a decade in the making, some say the news is proof of the oilsands’ end. But the Alberta resource, home of 96 per cent of Canada’s oil reserves, may not be going away any time soon

This was supposed to be the week when the federal government made a decision on a massive new oilsands mine — one that, no matter the outcome, was sure to aggrandize a roiling, existential debate over the future of the oilsands themselves.

There has been no shortage of headlines swirling around Alberta’s oilsands and the fate of the Frontier mine: Some warned that approval would “kill [Canada’s] emissions targets.

Others, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, said a rejection meant Canada is aiming to “phase out” the oilsands.

On Feb. 23, with just a few days until the decision deadline, Teck Resources, one of Canada’s largest mining companies, pulled out.

It was an unexpected move, even though Teck itself had long raised doubts about whether the Frontier project would ever be built, approval or not — particularly as it relied on oil prices that are much higher than current market reality.

In a letter to Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Teck’s CEO Donald Lindsay offered myriad reasons for the decision, including that “global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change.”

Advocates, political leaders and pundits were quick to weigh in.

For Premier Kenney, the surprise pull-out was a result of “federal regulatory uncertainty and the current lawless opposition to resource development.”

For Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, it was “devastating news” and a result of the way “Justin Trudeau’s inaction has emboldened radical activists.”

Alberta’s former NDP Minister of Environment Shannon Phillips said the company pulled out of the proposal because “Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan has been dismantled” by the UCP.

For others, it was a “a signal victory,” a result of “unprecedented public backlash” and “great organizing” — or the logical outcome, because “high-cost, high-carbon projects are no longer economically realistic in [a] world that is taking climate change seriously.”

With so much political spin swirling around this latest development, we thought it was a good time to pull back for just a minute and recap what else is going on in Alberta’s oilsands.

We hear so much about them, both across the country and around the world.

Few of us have seen them for ourselves.

Read on for an overview of just how much oil the oilsands produces, how much carbon pollution it emits, what’s actually happening on (and under) the ground, how the whole thing fits (or not) into Canada’s climate goals — and a little tidbit on another time a massive oilsands project was cancelled at the 11th hour.

1. Does all of Canada’s oil come from the oilsands?

Whether through conventional wells, fracking, or off-shore drilling, Canada’s vast oil reserves can be accessed in a myriad of ways. But 96 per cent of Canada’s proven oil reserves are located in the oilsands, according to Natural Resources Canada.

The oilsands accounted for 64 per cent of Canada’s total oil production in 2018 — that’s 2.9 million barrels per day.

2. So, what does oil production in the oilsands actually look like?

The Alberta oilsands are most well-known for their massive open-pit mines and associated tailings ponds. They are criticized as being “the largest (and most destructive) industrial project in human history” and for looking “like a war zone.”

Open-pit mining in the Alberta oilsands requires digging up boreal forest in order to extract vast quantities of bitumen. The Frontier mine would have covered an area of 292 square kilometres roughly 110 kilometres north of the oilsand’s industrial heart near Fort McMurray. Photo: Louis Bockner / Sierra Club BC

But not all oil from the oilsands comes from the open-pit mines for which the industry is famous — it’s actually just under half of production.

Currently, more than half — 53 per cent — of oil produced from the oilsands is extracted through another method: in-situ technology, which is very different from open-pit mining. In-situ oil development involves drilling two horizontal wells deep below the surface. In steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), the most common in-situ method used in the oilsands, steam is pumped into one well and oil is pumped out the other.

Nexen Long Lake SAGD oilsands

Bitumen from the Alberta oilsands is extracted using steam assisted gravity drainage or SAGD, an in-situ method, at Nexen’s Long Lake facility. Photo: Jason Woodhead / Flickr

In-situ production typically involves a lot less land disturbance (no strip mining), but is responsible for more carbon pollution per barrel produced.

Only 20 per cent of the oil reserves found in the oilsands can be accessed through open-pit mining. The other 80 per cent is too deep below the surface for open pit extraction so it is accessed through in-situ production.

3. What was the Frontier mine project, again?

There are already seven open-pit mining projects in the oilsands. Had it been approved, Teck’s Frontier oilsands mine would have been the eighth.

The Frontier mine was one of the largest, if not the largest, oilsands mines ever proposed in Alberta.

Open-pit mining requires the removal of what’s known in the industry as “overburden.” In northern Alberta, the overburden consists of boreal forest, wetlands, peatland and soil.

The Frontier project would have involved permanently stripping away 14,000 hectares of wetland, 3,000 hectares of peatland and 3,000 hectares of old-growth forest.

Proposed site of Teck's Frontier Mine 30 km south of Wood Buffalo National Park. If built, it would be the largest mine ever constructed in Alberta's oilsands.

A small body of water at the proposed site of Teck Resources’ Frontier Mine, 30 kilometres south of Wood Buffalo National Park. It would have been one of the largest mines ever constructed in Alberta’s oilsands. Photo: Louis Bockner / Sierra Club BC

4. So, the tailings ponds situation. What’s that all about?

Since the oilsands started operations in the 1960s, an estimated 1.5 trillion litres of tailings — a mixture of waste water, clay, sand and petrochemical residues — have accumulated in containment ponds built near oilsands operations.

Tailings ponds, contained behind large dams, are designed to prevent industrial waste water considered highly toxic, including arsenic, benzene, lead and mercury, from contaminating the local environment.

Alberta’s tailings pond are enormous, spanning some 220 square kilometres, nearly a quarter the size of the city of Calgary or twice the size of Vancouver.

One single tailings pond, located at a Syncrude operation, is contained by the largest dam in the world, holding 540,000,000 cubic meters of material.

Tailings ponds in the oilsands are unlined and there have been documented cases of contamination leaking from these pits into the Athabasca River. NAFTA even conducted an investigation into the threat tailings ponds pose to the environment.

There are currently no known methods for cleaning up the tailings ponds, although industry has considered ‘capping’ the unlined pits with fresh water to create ‘end pit lakes,’ a proposal that has been heavily criticized.

The group Environmental Defence advocates against the creation of any new tailings ponds in the oilsands, “until industry successfully demonstrates that it is capable of properly reclaiming them.”

In the last 50 years, Alberta’s oilsands companies have only received reclamation certificates for about 0.1 per cent of the total land disturbed, according to the Pembina Institute. Industry reports it has put reclamation efforts into about seven per cent of land affected by tailings — but it has not yet received final regulatory certification to confirm that.

Alberta’s tailings pond are enormous, spanning some 220 square kilometres, nearly a quarter the size of the city of Calgary or twice the size of Vancouver. Photo: Alex MacLean

5. What impact do the oilsands have on the climate?

Crude oil produced in the oilsands is the most emissions-intensive oil in North America.

The Oil-Climate Index, which ranks various sources of crude oil on the continent, consistently places Canada’s Athabasca sweet synthetic crude oil at the top of its ranking of oil sources arranged by carbon emissions per barrel of oil produced.

According to the government of Alberta, the oilsands are currently responsible for 70 megatonnes of emissions annually.

To put that in the national context, in 2017, Canada’s total carbon pollution was just over 716 megatonnes, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the group representing the oil and gas industry, says on its website that oilsands developments “account for 10 per cent of Canada’s [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

The Canadian Energy Research Institute — funded in part by industry associations — estimates the oilsands will be responsible for 100 megatonnes of emissions by 2026, a substantial increase when the country has committed to a dramatic overall reduction.

But, increasingly, estimates of oilsands carbon pollution provided by the provincial government and industry are being called into question.

6. Are oilsands emissions estimates accurate?

It depends on whom you ask.

There are concerns that the Alberta government and industry are underestimating the total carbon pollution coming from the oilsands.

Recent reports suggest that the federal government disputes Alberta’s estimates of emissions stemming from the oilsands, pegging the total at 87 megatonnes this year, nearly 30 per cent higher than Alberta government estimates.

study published last April in the journal Nature, led by air-quality scientists with the federal government, also found the emissions associated with oilsands production were much higher than industry reported.

Using aircraft to collect on-site data, the researchers found significant “discrepancies” — to the tune of 30 per cent — between what they were measuring and what companies were reporting.

“The overall impact of the differences between measured and reported [greenhouse gas] emissions found here is large,” they wrote.

Canada has set ambitious targets to reduce nationwide carbon pollution — goals which will leave the oilsands behind if rapid changes aren’t made.

Rising steam and smoke at the Syncrude Mildred Lake upgrade refi

Syncrude’s Mildred Lake refinery in the oilsands. Photo: Alex MacLean

7. What are we doing about all this carbon pollution?

Canada’s climate commitments peg our mid-century greenhouse gas emissions target at 80 per cent below 2005 levels, which is the equivalent of a total national greenhouse gas emissions budget of 150 megatonnes by 2050.

This means the oilsands, if changes aren’t made, could account for more than one-half of the country’s entire carbon budget.

A December poll found 76 per cent of Canadians think the country needs to be “doing more” when it comes to climate change, while 64 per cent said “Canada should capitalize on the global need for fossil fuels.”

Climate change was reported to be the number one issue in the most recent federal election.

But climate action is tricky in Canada, where the provinces exercise jurisdiction over natural resource projects and their environmental impacts. Canada has requested Alberta impose provincial restrictions on oilsands emissions but the province has been slow to respond (see #8).

Syncrude's upgrading facility at the company's Mildred Lake oilsands site. Photo: Alex MacLean

Syncrude’s upgrading facility at the company’s Mildred Lake oilsands site. Photo: Alex MacLean

8. Wasn’t there talk of capping the total emissions of the oilsands?

Yes, but there’s a catch.

Alberta’s previous NDP government passed legislation in 2016 introducing a 100-megatonne cap on total emissions from the oilsands.

But no regulations were ever introduced to set that cap in motion. Kenney originally made it clear he intended to scrap the cap, but has since said he’s “prepared to be pragmatic.”

The government of Alberta’s website still says it will “seek the advice of the industry, regulators, environmental organizations and Indigenous and Metis communities on the implementation of the 100 megatonne limit,” although there are still no plans in place for regulations.

Wilkinson recently told CBC, “if you take all of the various projects that have already been approved in the oilsands and you assume all of them get built, you’re talking about 130 megatonnes.” He is pushing for regulations to be developed to ensure this doesn’t happen.

As former Natural Resources Minister Amerjeet Sohi put it, “a cap without regulations is meaningless.”

Just last week, Wilkinson asked his provincial counterpart in Alberta to “follow through and fully implement its legislation to limit emissions to 100 million tonnes from the oilsands.”

But even if emissions from the oilsands were capped at 100 megatonnes, they would still take up two-thirds of Canada’s total emissions budget by 2050.

9. Is the industry getting better at reducing carbon pollution?

You’ve heard it once and you’ll hear it again. The oil and gas industry and its supporters (like the Alberta government) say the emissions intensity of oil produced in the oilsands is decreasing.

That was stated in an open letter signed by the CEOs of three major oil and gas companies last year. “We’ve reduced the emissions intensity in the oilsands by about 30 per cent over the past two decades,” they wrote, adding “a number of oilsands operations are producing oil with a smaller greenhouse gas impact than the global average.”

But the truth is more complicated.

As Macleans magazine put it in a 2019 article about emissions trends in the oilsands: “in the race to tell a better story, oilsands advocates — including the ones elected to political office — will reach for the best-sounding proclamations they can extract from the sludge of data.”

Yes, the oilsands have become more efficient at producing usable crude from the thick sludge that is mined at the oilsands — a process companies have been working on for half a century.

How the carbon pollution from a barrel of oilsands crude compares to crude oil from other parts of the world is a different question, which has been studied more extensively in recent years.

As a 2019 article published in the journal Science put it, “extraction and processing of heavy oils and oilsands with current technologies is very energy and carbon-intensive.” And, the authors noted, “the ability to reduce the intensities is challenging.”

The same paper found oil produced in Canada (remember that the majority of Canadian oil comes from the oilsands) was far more carbon intensive than the global average.

Canada’s oil ranked fourth in the world in terms of emissions intensity, trailing only behind Venezuela, Cameroon and Algeria.

Decisions by investors, from central banks to pensions to global investment funds, to pull out of oilsands projects have revolved around the relative intensity of emissions from oilsands crude.

10. Is producing oil from the oilsands economical?

Producing oil from Alberta’s oilsands is expensive, and some economists have their doubts about how long it will remain profitable.

“One thing that many people fail to realize is just how important the global price of oil is for the level of economic activity in Alberta’s oil and gas sector,” Jennifer Winter, assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary, told The Narwhal last year.

As Jeff Rubin, former chief economist with CIBC World Markets, previously told The Narwhal, it all depends on world oil prices, which are by no means guaranteed.

“Look at the returns you’ve gotten from the oilsands over the last five to six years,” Rubin said. “And consider how viable that resource will be if, in fact, the world does mitigate climate change.”

He noted that global action on climate change in the long-term could further reduce world oil demand, pushing prices lower.

Alberta oil doesn’t do well when prices are low. It’s more expensive to produce than in other jurisdictions, like Saudi Arabia.

Rubin also told The Narwhal that oil in other jurisdictions like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will be economically viable for much longer than Alberta’s high-cost oilsands. “That’s the kind of oil that’d be the most commercially sustainable, if in fact we’re going to mitigate climate change,” he said.

All of this leaves the economic future of Alberta’s oilsands up for debate.

Open-pit mining Alberta oilsands

Heavy haulers in the oilsands mines carry loads of up 400 tons and cost approximately $5-6 million each. Hauler tires, with a lifespan of about on year, cost $50,000 each. Photo: Alex MacLean

11. Isn’t this all kind of … déjà vu?


“The Canadian government … is totally responsible for the failure of the [oilsands project],” wrote a Globe and Mail reader in 1982. At that time, the country was up in arms about the recent cancellation of the Alsands oilsands mine, first proposed in December 1978 and approved in 1979. The company said economic concerns were responsible for the cancellation.

The reader went on: “Almost no one expected the government to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, but kill it they did. Now what? How much longer is the Canadian public going to put up with an interventionist government that has a growing adversary relationship with business?”

The Alsands project had promised thousands of jobs and billions in economic revenue.

Almost forty years later, it’s hard not to see some parallels between that ill-fated project and Teck’s proposal to build the massive Frontier oilsands mine in northern Alberta.

Like Frontier, Alsands was hailed as a cure to economic woes. Its success was seen as a litmus test for the future of huge oil projects. And it failed.

A 1983 article in the Globe and Mail blamed the project’s cancellation, at least in part, on “a deteriorating world oil market.”

Headlines about Alsands project ran in papers across the continent, including the New York Times, which wrote, “Alsands was one of several projects that Canada was counting on to revive its lagging economy.”

And sweeping statements about the future of the oilsands were common, too. The 1982 headline in the Edmonton Journal asked if this meant the “end of megaprojects.”

Here we are again — but this time the project cancellation comes in the midst of a much larger and potentially game-changing debate about how the oilsands fit into Canada’s plans to combat the growing climate crisis. SOURCE

Deadly heatwaves could affect 74 percent of the world’s population

How many deadly days await us? Researchers at the University of Hawaii Manoa studied events such as the 2003 European heatwave (70,000 dead in two weeks) and the 2010 Moscow heatwave (10,000 people dead in two months) to identify when heat and humidity conditions turn lethal.

Their research combined data from deadly heatwaves with climate forecasts for major cities.

By the end of the century, their findings suggest, the world would experience deadly conditions 365 days per year across areas of Australia, India, Africa, and the Amazon.

Two maps of the world comparing days per year with temperatures above deadly threshold


A Small Change in Airplane Altitude Could Reduce Climate Impact of Contrails by 59%

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In a world affected by climate change, every little tweak we make counts. While we’re still sorting out jet fuel, there’s another plane travel impact we could cut back on rather easily, according to a new study.

Getting planes to fly just 2,000 feet (610 metres) lower could cut the climate impact of the contrails they leave behind by a whopping 59 percent.

Even better, only around 2 percent of flights would need to make the adjustment – those flights where contrails are most likely to form, linger around, and contribute to the warming of the planet.

Contrails (condensation trails) come about when the hot exhaust gas from airplanes meets the cold, low-pressure air in the atmosphere. Moisture condenses on the black carbon in the fumes, forming the ice particles we see as white streaks in the sky.

While most contrails vanish in minutes, some can stick around for up to 18 hours, mixing with other contrails and cirrus clouds. This forms ‘contrail cirrus’, which shifts the temperature balance of Earth through what’s known as radiative forcing.

This radiative forcing happens when contrails reflect incoming shortwave radiation back out to space, while trapping longwave infrared radiation on Earth, causing a warming effect.

“According to our study, changing the altitude of a small number of flights could significantly reduce the climate effects of aviation contrails,” says civil engineer Marc Stettler, from Imperial College London in the UK. “This new method could very quickly reduce the overall climate impact of the aviation industry.

“A really small proportion of flights are responsible for the vast majority of contrail climate impact, meaning we can focus our attention on them.”

Studies suggest that contrails and radiative forcing could be heating up the planet as much as CO2 emissions from aircraft fuel, but the impact of contrails is much more short-lived – and potentially easier to tackle.

The researchers analysed data from Japanese airspace over the course of six weeks, running models with planes flying either 2,000 feet higher or 2,000 feet lower than their actual flight paths. With 1.7 percent of flights flying lower, the data showed, a cut in contrail climate forcing of 59 percent could be achieved.

Some extra fuel would be consumed along the way, but this would be offset by reduced contrail formation and the warming it produces, the study shows.

Add the widespread adoption of cleaner jet engine fuel to the altitude adjustments, the researchers say, and the contribution of contrails to climate change could drop by up to 90 percent. However, with so many variables at play, further research on a wider dataset will be required to know for sure.

What’s clear is that the environmental impact of contrails should not be underestimated: the research shows that they can make a significant contribution to global warming (though you don’t have to worry about a government cover-up).

“Contrail models are vital in validating the effectiveness of different mitigation solutions such as the use of alternative fuels, new engine technology, and flight diversion strategies,” the researchers write in their paper. SOURCE

Banks risk being caught off-guard by climate change

Local weather change is creating substantial, unrecognised threat within the monetary system as banks are failing to arrange for inexperienced regulation and carbon taxes that may have an effect on the businesses they lend to.

In line with a latest evaluation by the consultancy Oliver Wyman, oil and gasoline corporations — lots of that are already underneath stress from low gasoline costs — shall be two to a few occasions extra more likely to default on their debt if the international locations signed as much as the Paris local weather accord institute a $50 a tonne carbon tax. If the carbon taxes have been to go to $75 a tonne, because the IMF has advisable, the chance can be even larger.

But the monetary companies business was at risk of being caught flat-footed, Oliver Wyman stated.

Some banks, similar to Natixis and BNP Paribas, have taken steps to make their stability sheets extra inexperienced, however the business nonetheless had loads of work to do, stated Ted Moynihan, world head of monetary companies at Oliver Wyman.

“We now have but to discover a single financial institution that has developed a method to embed the outcomes of climate-risk state of affairs evaluation . . . throughout the mortgage guide,” Oliver Wyman stated in a report revealed on Friday.

In whole, banks supplied about $654bn in financing to fossil gasoline corporations in 2018, in accordance with the newest information out there from the Rainforest Motion Community.

The local weather discussions at this yr’s World Financial Discussion board in Davos have been an “inflection level” for the business, stated Mr Moynihan, however these talks haven’t but translated into motion.

Nonetheless, which will quickly change as lenders start to listen to cries from their shareholders to handle the issue. Barclays, for instance, has confronted stress to cease financing some fossil gasoline corporations.

Moreover, central banks are starting to include local weather change dangers into stress assessments. Mark Carney, the outgoing Financial institution of England governor, stated in December that the UK central financial institution would ask corporations to mannequin their exposures to the Paris local weather settlement’s targets amongst different metrics. SOURCE

A Bill Gates-led fund is pumping millions into “game changer” lithium mining technology

Brine pools waiting to evaporate in the Atacama desert.

It takes an estimated 70,000 liters of water to mine a single ton of lithium, an alkali metal that humanity may come to depend on as it turns to batteries to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Lithium is often found in the world’s driest places, and its production is reportedly wreaking havoc on the water supplies of indigenous communities in Chile’s Atacama desert, which is home to a giant deposit of the sought-after metal.

A $20 million investment led by a Bill Gates-backed fund into a lithium-mining technology firm, called Lilac Solutions, could be a “game changer” in tackling that problem if the technology proves commercially viable, said Nicolas Saldias, a senior researcher at the Wilson Institute think tank’s Lithium Triangle Initiative. Lilac, which announced the investment this week, says its ion exchange technology is twice as efficient as the current mining process and takes a fraction of the time.

Most of the world’s lithium is found in underground pools of briny water. At the moment, mining companies pump more water into the brine, pushing it above ground so it forms into ponds. They wait for the brine to evaporate, and then filter the lithium out of the remaining material. Lilac instead uses what it calls “ion exchange beads,” which the company says can separate the lithium from the other materials in the water. Once the lithium is removed, Lilac says it can reuse the water instead of waiting months for it to evaporate. The process collects 80% of the available lithium, compared to around 40% under current methods, and takes a matter of hours, as opposed to up to two years, Lilac says.

The technology could also unlock the vast potential of Bolivia, which has the world’s largest lithium resources but doesn’t produce any because of tricky weather conditions, Saldias said. “If you have a lot of weather like rain and clouds, it makes it very difficult to extract,” he said. “[But] if you have this technology, which reduces the necessity of the evaporation process, it means it will probably make it much more valuable for a country like Bolivia to see its massive resources being more exploitable.”

Lilac CEO David Snydacker told Bloomberg he eventually hopes to use the technology to pull lithium out of brine that’s produced in other forms of energy production, such as oil mining and geothermal power. Breakthrough Ventures, the lead investor in the fundraising round, is backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Alibaba’s Jack Ma, as well as Gates.

California-based Lilac will use the investment to expand its engineering staff and scale up production of its beads, and to deploy the new technology in projects throughout South America and the US. A pilot run in Argentina is planned for later this year, Snydacker said. SOURCE

Canada: protests go mainstream as support for Wet’suwet’en pipeline fight widens

Protesters have blocked railways and barricaded ports in wave of dissent – and the pressure on Justin Trudeau has increased

People stand in ceremony as police arrive to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction at Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, British Columbia, on Monday. Photograph: Amber Bracken

As armed Canadian police officers advanced through snow towards their camp, the group of Indigenous women was absorbed in a drumming ceremony to honour the spirits of missing and murdered Indigenous women across the country.

Rows of red dresses hung from a fishing line slung across the road, and from pine and spruce trees in the surrounding forest – each one a memorial to the thousands of Indigenous women killed or disappeared in recent years.

A pair of helicopters buzzed overhead, but on the ground, the women’s voices and drums drowned out the officers as they warned them to leave or face arrest.

“We remained in ceremony – even as the tactical officers surrounded us and began pick off individuals,” said one of the women, Dr Karla Tait.

Set amid dense evergreen forests near the bank of the Wedzin Kwah, or Morice River, the remote cabins at Unist’ot’en camp have become a place of healing for Indigenous youth, who take lessons on trapping and traditional medicines.

But the camp in north-western British Columbia is also the last line of defence in the Wet’suwet’en nation’s fight against a controversial natural gas pipeline.

The long-simmering conflict came to a head this week, as Canada’s national police force deployed helicopters, armed officers and dogs to enforce a court injunction and clear Indigenous activists who had been blocking work crews from the route of the C$6.6bn (US$5bn) Coastal GasLink project.

Twenty-eight people were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including three Wet’suwet’en matriarchs – Tait, Freda Huson and Brenda Michell.

“I felt overwhelmed with sadness, and pain over the fact that we were being removed from our territory,” said Tait, remembering the moment she was escorted past the fluttering red dresses towards a police vehicle. She made sure to touch each dress as she left.

But she and the other “land defenders” remain defiant. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who oversee 22,000 sq km of territory, have stubbornly opposed the project and remain locked in a battle with the courts, the pipeline company – and the government of Justin Trudeau.

And in recent days, their fight has been taken up by other groups across the country.

For more than a week, members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk have blocked freight and commuter rail traffic in Ontario, in support of the Wet’suwet’en. Elsewhere, protestors have blocked roads, barricaded access to shipping ports and occupied the offices of elected officials in a wave of dissent.

 Freda Huson wears her blanket, a nighthawk, as she waits for police to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction at Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston. Photograph: Amber Bracken

Late on Thursday, Canadian National Railway, the country’s largest freight operator, said it was shutting down its operations in the east of the country due to the continuing blockade, and warned of temporary layoffs. Soon after, Via Rail, which operates much of Canada’s passenger rail service, said its entire service would be suspended until further notice.

Climate action groups have also taken up the cause of the Wet’suwet’en, seeing their fight as part of a broader one against resource extraction projects in the country.

The demonstrations have piled pressure on Canada’s prime minister, who has vaunted his commitment to diversity and tackling the deep-rooted inequities facing Indigenous peoples.

“Trudeau has gone to the United Nations to shed tears about the history of Canada’s relationship with indigenous people,” said Tait. “And on the other hand, he’s essentially authorizing the use of force against our unarmed people for upholding our rights.”

This week, Trudeau has expressed his support for peaceful protest – but also criticised the rail blockades.

Amid pleas from business leaders for a swift end to the crisis, other politicians have been even more outspoken in their condemnation.

In Alberta – a province whose economy relies on oil and gas – the conservative premier, Jason Kenney, has warned that the current unrest is a “dress rehearsal” for future opposition to fossil-fuel based projects.

“This is not about Indigenous people. It’s not about carbon emissions. It’s about a hard-left ideology that is, frankly, opposed to the entire modern industrial economy,” said Kenney. “It’s about time that our police services demonstrated that this is a country that respects the rule of law.”

And after protesters barricaded the entrance to British Columbia’s legislative assembly, the province’s premier, John Horgan, called the demonstrations a “shift from traditional protest – to something quite different”.

 A man walks dogs across train tracks as members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory block the route servicing Via Rail, as part of a protest against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Tyendinaga, Ontario, on Thursday. Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters  Pinterest
Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Wet’suwet’en who also has the hereditary name Sleydo’, agreed. “Indigenous people see what’s happening to us and see what’s happening to our territory and our pristine waters – and to our people on the ground, having semiautomatic weapons aimed at us,” she said. “People are responding to that in appropriate ways.”

More than just a row over a pipeline, the Wet’suwet’en protests also reflect Canada’s often fraught relationship with First Nations.

“Ever since colonization, the aim has been to dispossess our people from our lands. To impoverish us. To assimilate us. To eliminate us,” said Tait. “We know that our self-determination, our sovereignty, our very identity, is based on us having control over our lands.”

In November, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to pass legislation promising to uphold the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. But such promises seem empty in the wake of recent police actions, said Wickham.

“There were tactical teams walking around with semi-automatic weapons in my territory. Industry was allowed to come and go freely. White settlers were allowed to come and go freely,” she said. “But if you were a Wet’suwet’en person, you are not permitted on your own territory.”


Who are the Wet’suwet’en?

Controversy around the Coastal GasLink project has been compounded by questions over who has the right to speak for the Wet’suwet’en.

Coastal GasLink has signed benefit agreements with the 20 elected First Nations councils along the route, including five of the six elected band councils in the Wet’suwet’en nation. But Wet’suwet’en chiefs say the authority of these groups only applies to reservations – not traditional territory where the pipeline is proposed.

Unlike in much of Canada – where relationships between First Nations and the state are governed by treaties – few aboriginal nations in British Columbiaever signed deals with colonial authorities, meaning the federal government still operates in a vacuum of authority on their lands.

In 1997, the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan nations won a landmark case in which the supreme court ruled that their aboriginal title had not been extinguished when Canada became a country. But the case did not establish the boundaries of that title and the court suggested subsequent cases would be needed to settle the issue.

“Aboriginal title claims of the Wet’suwet’en people have yet to be resolved either by negotiation or litigation,” wrote the justice Marguerite Church in her decision to grant Coastal GasLink the injunction. “While Wet’suwet’en customary laws clearly exist on their own independent footing, they are not recognized as being an effectual part of Canadian law.”

Legal experts believe the Wet’suwet’en would probably have a strong case to establish title to the land in the courts, enabling them to better fight the project. But such cases can take decades to adjudicate and cost millions of dollars, a prospect Tait called “insufficient” given the pipeline’s imminent construction.

For those on the front lines of the fight, the nationwide support is a vindication that the long-simmering frustrations over land claims and a fraught Indigenous relationship with the state are facing a long-overdue reckoning.

“This is far from over,” said Wickham. “We’ve had day after day of invasion and we’re still here. We’re still not giving up.”



Ontario police move on Mohawk blockade, protests flare elsewhere


Canada Oil-Sands Plan Collapses Over Politics and Economics

A developer has abandoned a nine-year effort to extend mining, sparing Justin Trudeau a choice between energy interests and environmental concerns.

A pond collects soil and water residue from oil-sands mining near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The oil sands account for 60 percent of Canada’s oil output.

Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

A major effort to expand development of Canada’s oil sands has collapsed shortly before a deadline for government approval, undone by investor concerns over oil’s future and the political fault lines between economic and environmental priorities.

Nine years in the planning, the project would have increased Canada’s oil production by roughly 5 percent. But it would have also slashed through 24,000 acres of boreal forest and released millions of tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide every year.

Some Canadian oil executives had predicted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet would approve the project by a regulatory deadline this week, though with burdensome conditions. But in a letter released Sunday night, the Vancouver-based developer, Teck Resources, declared that “there is no constructive path forward.”

The unexpected withdrawal relieves Mr. Trudeau of a choice that was sure to anger environmentalists or energy interests, if not both.

Conservatives were quick to blame Mr. Trudeau for the loss of a project that they said would have created thousands of jobs and given an economic lift to the western province of Alberta, the hub of Canada’s energy industry, which has suffered from low oil prices over the last five years. They suggested that the government felt pressure from weeks of protests by Indigenous groups opposing a natural gas pipeline, even though some Indigenous groups supported the Alberta project, known as the Frontier mine.

“It is what happens when governments lack the courage to defend the interests of Canadians in the face of a militant minority,” Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, said in a statement.

The decision to abandon the Frontier mine project in Alberta spared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet a politically fraught decision.
Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters

The chief executive of Teck Resources, Don Lindsay, said in a letter to federal officials that global capital markets, investors and consumers were looking to governments to put “a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest products” — something that he said “does not yet exist here.”

While environmental concerns were part of government and company calculations, there was no guarantee that the Frontier project would have gone forward even if it gained final regulatory approval. Mr. Lindsay had said the company needed a deep-pocketed partner to help pay for the project, and higher oil prices.

Canada supplies nearly six million barrels of oil a day, making it the world’s No. 4 producer and the biggest source of American imports. The oil sands contribute over 60 percent of that output and are vital to the west’s economy. Canadian output continues to grow because of investments made when global supplies were tighter.

The oil sands are a watery mixture of sand and clay soaked with a dense, viscous form of petroleum known as bitumen. But in addition to being a fossil fuel, bitumen is difficult to extract and energy-intensive to process.

And when Teck Resources proposed the Frontier project, the energy world was very different. The American shale-drilling frenzy was in its infancy, and the Keystone XL pipeline was seemingly going to deliver the oil-sands output to the American market.

Now the United States has an abundance of relatively cheap oil, prodigious deposits are being tapped in Brazil, Norway and Guyana, and the Keystone project is still awaiting completion. Delays in pipeline approvals have prompted the Alberta government to mandate production cutbacks over the last two years to drain a glut of oil in storage.

A water-intake pipe for oil-sands operations north of Fort McMurray. A downturn in oil prices has changed the economics of such projects.
Credit…Ian Willms/Getty Images


Kevin Birn, a vice president and oil-sands expert at the consultancy IHS Markit, estimated that for a project like Frontier to break even, the price of West Texas intermediate oil, the North American benchmark, would need to average $65 a barrel over a decade or more of operations. That is roughly $15 above the current price, and other analysts put the break-even figure at $80 to $85.

But until Sunday night, despite a regulatory review that cost it hundreds of millions of dollars, Teck Resources refused to give up. The company argued that its project, at a cost of 20.6 billion Canadian dollars ($15.5 billion), would create 7,000 construction and 2,500 operational jobs and eventually generate more than 70 billion Canadian dollars in local and national government revenue.

Andrew Leach, a professor of energy economics at the University of Alberta, said some might read the project’s demise as a fatal blow to oil-sands development, but he interpreted Teck Resources’ decision as a pragmatic one.

“Teck was clear that it does not want a situation where one project has to answer for all of Canada’s climate policies and climate commitments,” he said. Moreover, he added, “global investors are not prepared to help a company the size of Teck to build a multibillion-dollar project. The global market was not prepared to be part of the political football.”

No new oil-sands mine has opened since 2018, but more than a dozen proposals are awaiting regulatory approval or investment decisions. Mr. Leach said some of those were economically and environmentally more viable than the Frontier project.

But resistance to new pipelines and high production costs have steadily reduced investments in oil-sands fields. There has been an exodus of international oil companies, including ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor of Norway.

At the same time, there are questions about the market outlook. While world demand is roughly 100 million barrels a day, a figure that increases by 1 percent every year, the International Energy Agency projects that growth will begin to slow considerably in 2025. The agency says demand could fall to 67 million barrels a day in 2040, especially if governments increase regulation and electric cars become commonplace.

Reduced demand would focus production on places where it is cheapest, like Saudi Arabia.

A proponent of energy development mixed with environmental activists at a demonstration outside the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton in October.
Credit…Amber Bracken/Reuters


“Companies like Teck are realizing that global capital markets are changing rapidly,” said Simon Dyer, executive director of the Pembina Institute, a leading Canadian environmental research organization. “There was never an economic pathway for this project under global demand scenarios consistent with the Paris climate agreement.”

A federal-provincial panel that reviewed the project, he said, “didn’t properly assess the climate impacts.” The national parks agency also raised concerns about the possible effect on a national park downstream that is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Alberta Energy Regulator wrote in July that “there will be significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities.” Nevertheless, it approved the project after finding it in the public interest.

Two federal officials — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan — issued a joint statement welcoming Teck’s decision. “A strong economy and clean environment must go hand in hand,” they said. SOURCE