As the Arctic warms, light pollution may pose a new threat to marine life

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A research vessel pilots a team of Arctic research scientists through ice north of Svalbard, Norway. Working in the middle of polar night, little light is visible. The team wears survival suits in case the boat capsizes, and they carry rifles in the event they stumble upon a polar bear.

THE ARCTIC CIRCLE in the middle of winter is so dark it’s hard to see. Because of the way the top of the Earth tilts away from the sun, the star never appears to rise above the horizon, and dark skies drench the Arctic in what’s known as polar night.

“It kind of feels like you’re working the night shift all the time,” says Finlo Cottier, an oceanographer at the Scottish Association for Marine Life.


Two years ago, Cottier and a team of scientist traveled to the Arctic in the middle of winter to study how light affects the marine critters living in far northern waters. Like us, marine organisms rely on light to guide their daily functions. Light indicates behavior like when to migrate through the water column to find food, when to mate, and where to hunt.

“In June and July, there is this explosion of growth and activity,” says Cottier. “How do we get to that point? What happens in the polar night that sets things up for this spring bloom? We’re trying to understand the complete cycle.”

Understanding that complete cycle will be critical as the Arctic grapples with climate change. Thinner ice means more light will be able to penetrate dark ocean waters. It will also mean more ships will pass, bringing light with it. And warming waters around the world are pushing certain fish species to higher latitudes, disrupting the food web.

Morgan Bender uses a syringe to sample blood from two polar cod. She has to work with only a faint red light so as not to disturb the ongoing light pollution experiments. PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL O. SNYDER

What it all means for marine life is yet unclear, but new research published today in the journal Nature Communications Biology indicates that light pollution could significantly alter how they live even as scientists are still trying to understand their full life cycles.

Testing light in the polar night

“As we go straight north, the hours of daylight diminish very fast,” says Gier Johnsen, a study author and biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “At each latitude north we get darker. Then at around 80 degrees [north], there’s no difference between noon and midnight.”

To learn how increasing ship traffic affects marine organisms, the researchers conducted experiments at three different stations north of Norway ranging from 70 degrees North to just below and above 77 degrees North.

At each station—labelled A, B, and C—experiments were conducted in complete darkness when marine organisms might not otherwise be exposed to light. Turning the ship’s lights on and off, the team then used echo sounders to sonically detect the presence of organisms in the water.

While station C showed only a slight decrease in the number of organisms in the water, the other two showed drastic changes in the presence of marine creatures. At station A, situation the farthest north, the number of organisms detected decreased by half when the ship’s lights came on. At station B, they found the opposite; when the ship’s lights came on, the number of organisms increased by half.

Not only did the light significantly alter behavior, but acoustic imaging showed it changed behavior as deep as 656 feet (200 meters).

“The implication is that it’s impossible to say what the implication is,” says Jørgen Berge, the lead study author and a biologist with the Arctic University of Norway.

For one, he says, scientific assessments may not be accurate if they don’t take the light conditions in which they study the organisms into account.

Knowing exactly how many fish are in the water has commercial implications, too.

“We know that as the Arctic warms up, species are moving northward. To be able to manage fisheries in a sustainable way, we need to know how many of a species there are,” he says.

Studies have predicted that warming temperatures will allow for trans-Arctic shipping by 2050. Researchers are only just beginning to monitor vessel traffic through the region so they can see how it increases over time. In a study published last September, researchers tracked everything from cargo to cruise ships and found that 5,000 vessels made a total of 132,828 trips over the course of two years. MORE


50 simple ways to make your life greener

Expert tips on how to be kinder to the planet – from cooking and cleaning to fashion and finance

 Photographer: Aaron Tilley. Set design: Rhea Thierstein, assisted by Isabelle Dodd

Love your leftovers
Look at what basics you’re binning. “Chefs talk about what to do with carrot tops or whey from cheese, but that’s not where we need to make changes,” says Feast food writer Anna Jones. “It’s the milk poured down the sink and stale bread – the items we don’t put as much value on.” Jones tears up bread to freeze for instant croutons, or whizzes it into breadcrumbs for adding to croustades, pastas and salads. If oats have already been made into porridge, follow Claire Thomson, chef and author of The Art Of The Larder (Quadrille, £25), and substitute for some of the flour and water in bread dough.

Treat “food waste” as ingredients, says Ollie Hunter, chef and author of 30 Easy Ways To Join The Food Revolution (Pavilion, £14.99). “It’s easy to turn it into something else; aquafaba (chickpea water) can be made into a vegan mayonnaise; fry squash seeds in oil and sprinkle with salt for a snack; cut courgette stalks into penne shapes and cook like pasta. You need to find creative ways to use everything up; wasting food is down to a lack of imagination.”

Use tech for good
Apps are taking the fight to food waste. Olio connects neighbours and local retailers so surplus food can be shared; Too Good To Go enables cafes and restaurants to sell uneaten meals at reduced rates; while Farmdrop connects you with sustainable local farmers. To recycle kitchen scraps, find neighbours with a compost bin (or chickens) at

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Shop little and often
A lot of waste comes from doing big shops, putting two-for-one “bargains” in the trolley and buying on repeat rather than planning meals. “I’m always clear about what we will eat at home and when,” says Skye Gyngell, chef and founder of Spring in London, which runs a “scratch menu” using waste. She shops little and often, supported by a store cupboard of wholegrains, olive oil, vinegars and mustards to bolster meals. “Working out what kind of cook you are is also useful,” says Jones, “then reverse engineer how you shop. There is no point doing a weekly shop if you like to decide what you’re going to make for dinner at 6pm, like me. I shop in small increments, and I find I waste less this way, too.”

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Buy half your food locally
The shorter the food chain, the less waste created before it reaches your kitchen. Hunter subscribes to buying 50% of food grown within 30 miles of where you live. “It’s an achievable figure,” he says, especially when producers, such as Hodmedod’s in Suffolk, are reviving homegrown pulses including British lentils, quinoa, carlin peas and fava beans (which Hunter ferments to turn into miso and soy sauce). The nutritional value of fruit and veg lasts for only a short time, adds Gyngell, so how far your food has travelled matters.

Pick your own
“Foraging solves many problems,” Hunter says. “You’re getting into the countryside, engaging with nature and the community, and finding food that has a different flavour.” Start with herbs, grasses, berries, wild garlic and, a favourite of Hunter’s, nettles (“They’re so underrated”). Use to garnish pies, in risottos and soups; wear gloves to avoid stings and wash thoroughly in salted water. Ensure foraged ingredients are identifiable before eating – check or

Switch your flours
Crops can’t be grown every year in the same soil without replacing nutrients taken by the plants, and switching the flour you use can help. “Spelt or wheat is often grown in rotation with rye and clover to replace lost nitrogen,” says Hunter. “Eating rye supports the farmers’ rotation; I use spelt and emmer flour as an alternative to wheat because they have similar baking properties, while being beneficial to the soil.”

Befriend a butcher
“There is no way around it, eating meat sustainably requires a little more effort on our part,” says Fergus Henderson, chef and godfather of nose-to-tail eating. His first rule is to “hug” your butcher: “Support them and ask questions – they are your way in to a positive supply chain. They will also give you access to the insides and extremities, such as kidneys, shanks, feet and glands, which offer so much more possibility and flavour than the fillet.” Whole-animal eating is not about blood and guts, but “respecting the animal enough to realise that, if it has died for you, the least you can do is make use of every part”.

Compost on the go
Compost isn’t just for the garden – think about reducing your food waste when you’re on the go, too, says Lindsay Miles, whose book Less Waste, No Fuss Kitchen: Simple Steps To Shop, Cook And Eat Sustainably (Hardie Grant, £12.99) is out in June. “A reusable coffee cup makes a great impromptu container for your lunch scraps – take apple cores or bread crusts home to compost.”

Plan ahead
Make the most of seasonal gluts and preserve vegetables in oils, vinegars, chutneys, ketchup and marinades, or freeze them. “Blitz and freeze tomatoes in containers for passata all year round; make kimchi from cauliflower stalks and leaves; use beetroot in jams, vinegars and oil, then chop stalks and leaves to top pastas, pizzas, curries and dal,” says Hunter.

Minimise packaging
Look for loose fruit and vegetables, and take your own containers to shops and markets. “If you are buying packaged food,” says Miles, “look at where the product comes from and try to choose the more local option – oat milk from Scotland will have a lower carbon footprint than almond milk from California, even if they have the same packaging.” The most recyclable plastics are PET, found in drinks bottles and fruit punnets, and HDPE, in milk bottles and cereal box liners; so if you can’t avoid it, go for these, then reuse or recycle what you can.

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Reduce your washing
Erin Rhoads’ Waste Not Everyday (Hardie Grant Books, £10) points out that “the majority of the environmental burden caused by fashion happens after we take the clothing home: 82% of the energy a garment will use is in the washing and drying we do each week”. Rhoads suggests spot-cleaning, and neutralising smells with a spritz of diluted vodka or lemon juice.

Clean with castile
By making cleaning products (from polish to detergent) you can reduce the amount of plastic entering your home and the level of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds), such as formaldehyde, that are released. “Of all the green cleaning ingredients I use, liquid castile soap is by far my favourite,” writes Jen Chillingsworth in Clean Green (Quadrille, £7.55). “Originating from Spain, castile soap was traditionally made with pure olive oil, but is now more commonly produced by mixing vegetable oils such as hemp, avocado, jojoba and coconut.” For a simple, multipurpose kitchen spray, add 50ml of castile soap to 800ml tap water in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of essential oils (tea tree is antibacterial). Spray and wipe with a clean cloth.

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Go for plastic-free personal care
There is a world of waste-free sanitary protection to explore, and Chillingsworth suggests buying a reusable tampon applicator. “The reusable version fits every size of tampon, is antimicrobial and easy to insert. After use, give it a wipe, rinse and return to the storage box that fits in your handbag. Sterilise in hot water between periods.”

Recycle as much as you can
“Most major supermarkets provide plastic recycling collection points in store for stretchy plastic (such as frozen food bags, carrier bags and bread bags) which normally can’t be recycled from home,” says Helen Bird, plastics expert at government waste advisory body Wrap.

TerraCycle rescues hard-to-recycle waste that is not processed by councils. It has free national recycling programmes and also sells zero-waste boxes, which you can fill with most non-hazardous, non-recyclable and non-organic waste, and return for recycling. Search its website for a scheme near you, or set one up.

Look after your electrical appliances
The Restart Project is a social enterprise that aims to fix our relationship with electricals and electronics. Cofounder Janet Gunter says the first step in keeping household appliances for longer is regular cleaning. “By simply cleaning and maintaining your white goods, laptop or mobile, you will prolong its life.” Restart runs a nationwide network of skill-sharing workshops as well as promoting a directory of commercial repair options in London. (See also for events in your area.) “If we don’t have access to spare parts,” says Gunter, “these appliances will be thrown away, which has a huge carbon impact.”

If your electrical appliance really is beyond repair, Rhoads suggests you “call the manufacturer or company of purchase to see if they will take back items or packaging for reuse or recycling”. Not all charity shops accept electrical items, but the homelessness charity Emmaus accepts working items. These are tested before being resold, which makes it a good place to purchase secondhand electrical goods, too.

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Create clean air
“You can never have enough house plants,” says Oliver Heath, who runs a sustainable architecture practice. Certain plants are best for certain rooms: “Mother-in-law’s tongue gives off oxygen at night, which makes it best suited to the bedroom.” According to Chillingsworth, peace lilies and boston ferns thrive in rooms with high humidity and can reduce the mould spores in the air, making them ideal for bathrooms; weeping figs have been found to be the best plant for removing formaldehyde released from carpets and furniture, making them good for living areas.

Change your shower head
“Investing in an aerated shower head will make a significant difference to energy and water consumption,” says Brian Horne at the Energy Saving Trust (EST). They inject air into the water stream, limiting water usage. “A water-efficient shower head could save a four-person household £70 a year on gas for water heating, and a further £115 on water bills if they have a meter,” says Horne.

Opt for green energy suppliers
There are “shades of green” when it comes to choosing an energy supplier, says Horne. The EST identified four suppliers who clearly listed the renewable sources of their energy on their websites last year: Green Energy UK, Good Energy, Ecotricity and Octopus Energy. “But just because you’re on a green tariff, it doesn’t mean you should stop worrying about how much energy you use,” says Horne.

Practise eco-driving
Research by the RAC Foundation has found that eco-driving leads to safer, cleaner and more affordable journeys. Regular vehicle maintenance improves fuel efficiency by as much as 10%. Before a long journey, check tyre pressures (tyres underinflated by a quarter can cause a 2% increase in fuel consumption), remove unused roof racks and boxes, and don’t overload the car (every additional 45kg reduces fuel economy by 2%). At less than 40mph, it’s more fuel-efficient to open a window than use air conditioning. Turn off engines for waits of more than one minute (5-8% of fuel is consumed while idling), and avoid sharp acceleration and heavy braking: aggressive driving can significantly raise fuel consumption.

Draught-proof your home
One of the cheapest, most effective ways to save energy and money at home is to draught-proof windows, doors, letterbox, fireplaces and loft hatches, says Dr Sarah Price, head of building physics at Enhabit, a consultancy specialising in low-energy design. Done professionally, it costs about £200, or do it yourself with products such as Gap Seal.

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Buy vintage furniture
“Reusing furniture is the best thing to do, and so much more fun than buying new,” says Nicola Harding, founder of interior design studio Harding and Read. “Secondhand items come with interesting stories and force you to think creatively, and give you have something far more unique.” To keep mileage down, start at your local auction houses and charity shops (the British Heart Foundation has dedicated home stores and a free collection service), followed by a targeted trawl through Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace.

Optimise your white goods
According to independent energy comparison service U Switch, the cost of running your fridge and freezer equates to about 7% of your total energy bill (they are one of the few household energy devices that are on all the time). U Switch recommends replacing your fridge and/or freezer if it is over 10 years old. Even if it’s working, the cost of a new model will be made up for in energy savings over the years. Keep your fridge at 5C or less (most are kept at about 7C, which means food will go off sooner) and ensure there is a 10cm gap behind your fridge to let heat flow away easily. Make sure the seal is strong – if it can’t hold a piece of paper when shut, it could be letting in warm air, making it work harder.

Illustration of a plant in pot, made up of plastic bottles, old clothes, etc
 Photographer: Aaron Tilley. Set design: Rhea Thierstein, assisted by Isabelle Dodd
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Buy local flowers – or grow your own
About 90% of the flowers sold through UK florists, supermarkets and wholesalers are imported, mainly from the Netherlands, but they are also flown in from countries as far away as Ecuador, Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Reduce your floral air miles and find a local supplier through, a co-operative of small independent flower growers.

Alternatively, grow your own flowers to bring indoors. Gardener Sarah Raven suggests going for “annuals which are cut and come again: pick above a pair of leaves and the plant will spring back and produce more flowers – and keep on doing so as long as you keep picking”. Sow cosmos, snapdragons, zinnias and rudbeckias on a sunny window ledge in March, pot on and plant out after the last frosts.

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Encourage bees
Honeybees visit only one type of flower in any one foraging trip, says Sarah Wyndham Lewis, author of Planting For Honeybees: The Grower’s Guide To Creating A Buzz. “This is called ‘flower fidelity’ and is what makes them such effective pollinators. So plant large clumps or ‘drifts’ of single species and optimise each of the bees’ trips.” Think swathes of catmint, field scabious and hyssop. “March to September are the key months for honeybees – they will fly whenever the temperature is above 10C, even in winter, so early- and late-flowering plants are especially valuable,” she says.

Spend less, propagate more

Your own plot is the best garden centre there is: collect seed, learn to take cuttings and divide plants to stock your own backup nursery. Gaps can then be filled with home‑propagated stock plants. Increase what does well in your garden to build a healthy community of plants. If you do go shopping, research a plant’s natural habitat to reduce failures.

Lock up carbon
In The Garden Jungle, Or Gardening To Save The Planet (out in paperback 2 April, Vintage, £9.99), Dave Goulson explains that although many gardeners don’t have room for large trees, “The basic rule is that the more vegetation you have, the more carbon you are storing.” So the fuller the planting in your garden, the better, even if it verges on overgrown. Don’t be too tidy, either. “Log piles also lock up carbon for as long as it takes them to decay, which can be many years.”

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Let the grass grow

Letting your grass grow longer between cuts not only saves petrol or electricity, and therefore reduces carbon dioxide emissions, but also encourages more wildlife into your garden. Longer grass is more drought-resistant, too. Try cutting every three or four weeks and let dandelions, daisies and violets bloom in spring, followed by buttercups, clovers and selfheal in summer.

Encourage hedgehogs

Hedgehogs have a voracious appetite for pests such as caterpillars, slugs and snails. They need easy access in and out of gardens, say Helen Bostock and Sophie Collins, authors of How Can I Help Hedgehogs? (Octopus, £14.99). They recommend that neighbours get together to arrange hedgehog holes between gardens. “This is simply a hole cut into the bottom of a fence – it should be around 13cm high and at least as wide, preferably in a sheltered corner.”

Set a bar
If a year without buying anything new seems too big a challenge, try a month, or buy only secondhand. Livia Firth, founder of sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, follows the “30 wears rule”: ask, “Will I wear it at least 30 times?” before buying.

Find a secondhand that works for you
Opting for vintage or secondhand is one of the easiest ways to shop sustainably, but while some fans will extol the virtues of rifling through giant warehouses, this approach is not for everyone. Thankfully, there are other ways. Smaller stores with a curated selection may not offer quite the same bargains as a car boot sale, but they can be less intimidating. Many, such as Paper Dress Vintage or Cow, also have websites.

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Shop in person – and alone

That said, shopping in person – especially if you walk there – is usually greener than online. Clothes shipped across the world have a significant carbon footprint, and often come packaged in plastic. You are also less likely to return things you have tried on.

It can help to ditch your friends. “When you ask a friend if you should buy something, you already know the answer will be yes,” writes Lauren Bravo in How To Break Up With Fast Fashion (Headline, £12.99). “It’s an unwritten rule of sisterhood.” Think of it as the new version of not going supermarket shopping when you’re hungry.

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Choose materials wisely

Some fabrics age better than others; the Guardian’s styling editor, Melanie Wilkinson, recommends looking for leather when shopping secondhand. Leather jackets, shoes and belts last for years and often look and feel better once they have been worn in. The environmental impact of denim – another durable fabric – means jeans are also best bought secondhand.

Unsubscribe and unfollow

“If someone wants to quit fast fashion, I recommend unsubscribing from all the emails,” says writer and fashion consultant Aja Barber. “A brand that is constantly introducing new products might be sustainable in name only. Sending emails and pressuring consumers to buy, buy, buy is not sustainability – that’s fast fashion.” The same goes for influencers and brands on social platforms such as Instagram. Deleting fast-fashion shopping apps can help, too.

Get swishing

Clothes swaps – known as swishing – are one of the greenest ways to refresh your wardrobe. They offer credits based on the value of the items you bring, which can be swapped for items brought by others. Avoid trends and hunt for quality pieces you’ll wear for years. Find one near you at

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Make your clothes fit

Layla Sargent, founder of The Seam, a website to connect you with local tailors, seamstresses and embroidery artists, says: “If it doesn’t fit well, you’re never going to wear it. Even by making trousers just the right length, or altering a waistband slightly, we will be inclined to wear them more.” The service is currently only in the London area, but coming to Manchester and Birmingham this year. Meanwhile, start with your local dry cleaner.

Learn how to sew on a button

How many shirts and jackets do you keep unworn at the back of your wardrobe because they are missing a button? Sewing on a button is a simple skill that everyone should have. There are lots of online tutorials; try one by the environmental activist Wilson Oryema for Fashion Revolution.

Make your own apron from a pair of old jeans

Turn a pair of old jeans into a denim work apron by unpicking the inside leg seams and stitching them together. This is one of many hacks from The Great British Sewing Bee’s book on Sustainable Style (Quadrille, £27, published on 26 March).

Darn your socks

“Once a life skill, darning has skipped a generation (or two),” says Emma Mathews of Socko (, which makes socks from repurposed yarn. “But we can learn a lot from the way things were done in the past.” Sew small running stitches up and down the area around the hole and then turn the repair around and stitch perpendicular to them, weaving the thread together until you have covered the hole. Highly therapeutic.

Primp your trainers

This is a growing service industry. Gråel in Liverpool is a small business that specialises in cleaning “coveted footwear”, offering laces cleaning (£3), a deep clean (£15) and the meticulous premium package from undersole to insole (£35). Meanwhile, Jason Markk offers premium shoe care from branches in LA and Carnaby Street in London, where your trainers will be brought back to life by the brand’s sneaker-care technicians.

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Recycle in there

While 90% of us recycle our kitchen waste, we recycle only 50% of our beauty packaging – probably because our recycling bins are in the kitchen. Joseph Joseph makes an attractive split-waste bathroom bin for £20. You can reduce what ends up inside further by switching to bar soaps and shampoos (I love social enterprise Beco, from £2.50 at Co-op, Boots and supermarkets) and plastic-free handwash such as Soap Co (£19, 300ml, or £110 for a whopping 5l biodegradable container that should last a year).

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Lose the disposables

A staggering 20,000 litres of water are needed to create only 1kg of cotton – that’s enough to make just one T-shirt and a pair of jeans, so any cotton you buy should count. Replacing cotton wool is a good start. Remove the initial bulk of makeup with a reusable disc, such as Face Halo (£7), soaked in plain water. These do an astoundingly good job, even on waterproof mascara. Follow with a cleanser and a wet terry-cotton flannel; both flannel and disc should last for hundreds of washing machine cycles. For toners, exfoliants and nail polish remover, use washable bamboo pads. A pack of 18, plus washbag, costs about £10.

Pick the right package

There’s no justifiable excuse for packaging short-use, everyday beauty products in virgin plastic. There are now a large number of brands packaging in post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR), from the luxury (AvedaRENBiolage) to the mid-range (Soaper Duper, Lush), to the mass (all Simple and Dove bottles are now 100% PCR in Europe; L’Oréal Elvive, the world’s bestselling haircare brand, is rolling out 100% PCR bottles this summer – the caps are recyclable but not made from PCR – saving 7,000 tonnes of plastic globally a year). Alternatively, you could opt for products packaged in glass that haven’t travelled too far. Neal’s Yard mostly uses glass where safe, and distributes from Dorset.

Don’t be tempted by minis

Those pick’n’mix bars of travel-sized beauty products are so alluring, but cause a huge amount of waste for no reason and very little product. Instead, make a one-off investment in refillable travel bottles and pots from Muji (from 95p) or any high street chemist, and decant your favourite full sizes – or, even better, wash out and reuse any mini bottles you already have. Remember that active skincare such as vitamin C or retinol serums are best left in their original packaging to safeguard their stability, but anything else can be decanted for travel. And if you have so many minis left over from flights and hotel stays that you won’t use them all, take them to your nearest homeless shelter, where their clients need them.

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Embrace baths

Baths have long been seen as more wasteful and less responsible than showering, but some research shows that modern, pumped power showers can use more, not less, water than bathing. It is possible to enjoy a luxurious, but environmentally considerate, bath. Use sulphate-free oils, salts or foams and relax (I’ve even been known to wash posh, delicate bras while I soak). You can save more water by washing hair over the bath before climbing in, allowing the water to fill the tub – the shampoo will create bubbles, too.

Save water and lower your bills

Consider switching to a water meter, so you pay for only the water you use. Invest the money you save into water-saving devices and plumbing, such as rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling systems. Get free water-saving products from If you live in England and Wales, you can get a water meter fitted for free, but you may need to pay £300 if you live in Scotland. A number of investment funds have clean water and sanitation as their dominant theme, says Becky O’Connor of Royal London. For example, Parvest Aqua and RobecoSam Sustainable Water are recommended by ethical financial website

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Get a loan to improve your home’s energy efficiency

Some lenders provide cheap green mortgages and loans for energy-efficient improvements. Ecology Building Society offers discounts to customers borrowing for this. Nationwide says it will start offering low-interest loans of up to £25,000 to homeowners who want to retrofit existing properties with energy-efficiency measures.

Choose an environmentally friendly current account

Nearly £150bn has been invested in fossil fuels by UK banks since the Paris climate agreement was adopted in 2016. Ethical bank Triodos, which has the backing of Friends of the Earth, invests only in projects that create positive cultural, social and environmental outcomes. To review your bank’s track record, see lobbying organisation BankTrack, which reports on the activities that banks finance worldwide.

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Invest wisely

“Look at funds with sustainability in mind,” says Alice Evans, co-head of the BMO Global Investment’s responsible investment team. “Invest in funds that are described as ‘responsible’, ‘SRI’ (socially responsible investment), ‘ethical’ or ‘dark green’. These have the strictest criteria and avoid investing in any company that may have a poor record on environmental, human rights or other ethical grounds.”

Evaluate your pension

“For many people, their workplace pension will be their largest investment,” says Rich Mayor of research and analysis company Fundscape. You have the right to know where your money is being invested. “Ask your HR department or pension provider what funds you’re invested in and whether there is a sustainable or ethical option,” says Jon Dean, head of retirement strategy for financial services consultancy Altus.

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Get a green financial adviser

Last year, a new financial advice firm called The Path was set up to invest only in portfolios that have a positive impact on the planet. “You don’t need to be a millionaire to invest your money wisely,” says founder David MacDonald. “With very little effort you can make a significant difference, moving from harming the planet with your money to sustaining it.” Some research suggests that making sure your investments are sustainable has 27 times more impact than all the other things you could do to reduce your carbon footprint added together. “If you put the maximum annual ISA contribution of £20,000 into a positive-impact fund, it would be the carbon equivalent of taking one car off the road,” MacDonald says. SOURCE

Joint Declaration between the Anishinabek Nation and the Iroquois Caucus on the transport and abandonment of radioactive waste

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee voicing concerns regarding radioactive waste transport and abandonment in Chalk River at the Chiefs of Ontario – Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa, ON. From left to right: Chief Isadore Day, Ontario Regional Chief; Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee; Chief Clinton Phillips, Kahnawake; Chief R. Donald Maracle, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte; Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict; and Councillor Carl Hill, Six Nations of the Grand River. Photo courtesy of: Bryan Hendry, Chiefs of Ontario.

LAC LEAMY, QC (May 2, 2017)—The Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus have unified and strongly oppose the transportation of highly radioactive liquid material from Chalk River to South Carolina and the abandonment of nuclear waste from Chalk River in a giant mound situated beside the Ottawa River. Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee and Chief Clinton Phillips (on behalf of the Iroquois Caucus and Kahnawà:ke Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton) jointly declare opposition and voice the serious concerns on radioactive waste at the Chiefs of Ontario – Special Chiefs Assembly.

“We, the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus, have jurisdiction over the Great Lake and St. Lawrence River Basins as a result of Aboriginal titles, and the treaties that have been entered into by First Nations and the Crown,” stated Grand Chief Madahbee.

The transportation and abandonment of nuclear waste within the territories has the potential to adversely affect these rights, areas, and activities.  The potential for long-lived contamination to the environment and to all living entities is too great.

“Many projects are being proposed, decided upon, and initiated in our territories without consulting our First Nation communities,” stated Chief Clinton Phillips. “A joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sent on April 21, 2017, advising Canada of our concerns on these matters and we expect a prompt reply.”

“We are continuing to build consensus with our Nations.  The Treaties are evidence of our inherent rights and authorities,” stated Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.  “The joint declaration states we must consider the future generations.  As the leaders of today, it is our duty to preserve and protect Mother Earth.  We cannot risk the long-term, irreversible destruction of our lands and waters, which are life-giving for all beings.”

The Assembly of the First Nation of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) and Bawating Water Protectors are youth and grassroots First Nation citizens who stand united with the Iroquois Caucus and the Anishinabek Nation in the opposition of the transportation and abandonment of radioactive waste in their territories.

For the long-term management of radioactive wastes, the five (5) principles that were all agreed upon are:

    1. No Abandonment: Radioactive waste materials are damaging to living things. Many of these materials remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years or even longer.  They must be kept out of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land we live on for many generations to come.  The forces of Mother Earth are powerful and unpredictable and no human-made structures can be counted on to resist those forces forever.  Such dangerous materials cannot be abandoned and forgotten.
    2. Monitored and Retrievable Storage: Continuous guardianship of nuclear waste material is needed. This means long-term monitoring and retrievable storage.  Information and resources must be passed on from one generation to the next so that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to detect any signs of leakage of radioactive waste materials and protect themselves. They need to know how to fix such leaks as soon as they happen.
    3. Better Containment, More Packaging: Cost and profit must never be the basis for long-term radioactive waste management.  Paying a higher price for better containment today will help prevent much greater costs in the future when containment fails.  Such failure will include irreparable environmental damage and radiation-induced diseases. The right kinds of packaging should be designed to make it easier to monitor, retrieve, and repackage insecure portions of the waste inventory as needed, for centuries to come.
    4. Away from Major Water Bodies: Rivers and lakes are the blood and the lungs of Mother Earth.  When we contaminate our waterways, we are poisoning life itself.  That is why radioactive waste must not be stored beside major water bodies for the long-term. Yet this is exactly what is being planned at five locations in Canada: Kincardine on Lake Huron, Port Hope near Lake Ontario, Pinawa beside the Winnipeg River, and Chalk River and Rolphton beside the Ottawa River.
    5. No Imports or Exports: The import and export of nuclear wastes over public roads and bridges should be forbidden except in truly exceptional cases after full consultation with all whose lands and waters are being put at risk.  In particular, the planned shipment of highly radioactive liquid from Chalk River to South Carolina should not be allowed because it can be down-blended and solidified on site at Chalk River. Transport of nuclear waste should be strictly limited and decided on a case-by-case basis with full consultation with all those affected. SOURCE

What If We’d Gone Hard for Treaties Instead of Fossil Fuels?

Our politics likely would be more stable, our economy more diversified.

Woodfibre LNG plan

An artist’s rendition of the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant near Squamish, one of 20 such projects once floated, but either cancelled or yet to be built.

Weeks of national rail blockades, Indigenous relations in tatters, and an emergency agreement between Ottawa and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. So what has been resolved?

Not much apparently. The B.C. government made it clear that it intends to push ahead with the contentious natural gas pipeline and the same route opposed by Wet’suwet’en Hereditary leadership.

How did we get in this mess and how do we get out?

As car wrecks go, this was as slow-motion as they come, political failures decades in the making. The same basic choices presented themselves to one political leader after another. Repeatedly they chose wrong or dithered.

Had they not, today’s government could enjoy stable and just relations with First Nations, partnering in a 21st-century economy that’s more clean and diversified. Instead we are mired in the consequences come home to roost.

The needless debacle of a RCMP intrusion onto Wet’suwet’en Traditional Territory is a result of successive governments failing to resolve outstanding title claims, which in the case of the Wet’suwet’en predate their 1985 court challenge to the B.C. government. This case eventually resulted in the landmark Delgamuukw decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997 articulating the nascent principle in Canadian law of Aboriginal title.

What should have happened then was the hard and necessary work on the part of elected governments to negotiate settlements with individual First Nations, consistent with direction provided by the courts.

Twenty-three years later, pitiful progress has been made. The province has treaties with only three B.C. First Nations. Fifty-seven others that signed up with the B.C. Treaty Commission process are either still laboring at the table or “not currently negotiating” — including the Wet’suwet’en. There is no free lunch as the free-marketers say and the consequences of failing to resolve title issues were on obvious display at railway crossings across the country.

The foolish bet on LNG

True, to have wagered serious provincial resources on resolving complex treaty deals would have meant a bold roll of the dice 20 years ago. But it’s not as if B.C.’s government hasn’t instead bet huge on a play that today shows little prospect of ever paying off.

Seven years ago then-premier Christy Clark won election while misleading voters about the supposed riches liquefied natural gas would bring B.C. Even as she promised that by 2017 at least three LNG plants would be generating a $100-billion savings fund, erasing all debt and employing tens of thousands of people, experts declared that to be a fantasy.

By three years ago, methane prices had collapsed 75 per cent due to a worldwide glut and Australia’s LNG industry was bleeding losses.

Today, bizarrely, B.C.’s government continues to aggressively scale up natural gas extraction on unceded lands at the very moment in history such contentious pipeline projects make the least economic sense.

Natural gas prices around the world are tanking. Natural gas royalties in B.C. have shrunk to a minuscule portion of provincial government revenue while gas production — and emissions — have ballooned.

582px version of ChristyClarkJohnHorganHands.jpg
Christy Clark and her successor BC Premier John Horgan. Both bet huge tax money and political capital in the LNG dream. Photos: BC Broadcast Consortium.

In the last ten years provincial gas production has increased 45 per cent while public revenues collapsed by over 90 per cent. With more than $380 million in provincial subsidies, the net return to taxpayers from gas production last year was only $153 million — less than 0.25 percent of Crown revenues. This supposed boom sector now provides the B.C. treasury one quarter as much money as taxing cigarettes.

According to B.C. government figures, the oil and gas sector directly and indirectly employed 12,600 people in 2019, or 0.49 percent of the provincial workforce — about the same number of people employed as couriers. Meanwhile reported emissions from well sites and pipelines now exceed that of all personal vehicles on the road in the province.

If we also include eventual emissions from burning the 52 billion cubic metres of natural gas produced in B.C. in 2017, the atmospheric burden amounts to more than 170 per cent of the entire B.C. economy.

Methane is over 20 times more powerful than CO2 in heating the atmosphere so limiting leaks over the vast and remote network of fracking facilities and pipelines is critical for fighting the climate emergency. However, peer reviewed research based on the first and only independent field sampling of well sites in northern B.C. found official estimates of fugitive methane from this supposed “green” energy are two-and-a-half times higher than reported by industry and the B.C. government.

Lead or get out of the way

The two most pressing issues facing the Canadian resource sector are honourably resolving issues of Aboriginal Title, and providing credible and predictable policies to address the climate crisis. However, various provincial governments seem to be still pretending that these imperatives do not exist.

Apart from an abysmal economic case, the CEO of Teck Resources made it clear that the absence of consistent public policy on climate change made their $20.6 billion Frontier bitumen mine project untenable. While Alberta Premier Jason Kenney sees political advantage in endless fights with Ottawa, industry instead seeks certainty. Most major fossil fuel companies have in fact been calling for predictable carbon pricing for years.

And finally now, after the Teck withdrawal and amidst the blockade crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has decided, “What I think we need to do now is have a very urgent, very serious conversation between the federal government, the provincial government, the oil sector and indeed, the whole country….”

Here in B.C., the supposed imperative of natural gas extraction is blowing both our climate goals and efforts towards Indigenous reconciliation out of the water. It is long overdue to begin an honest conversation with the B.C. public about this planet-killing sunset sector.

The $10.7 billion Site C dam was approved largely in service of a long-hyped LNG boom that so far has only resulted in one single project under construction that is years from completion.

world awash in cheap natural gas and the U.S. fracking industry will keep North American prices close to historic lows for the foreseeable future.

Much of our provincial production, meanwhile, is sold in Alberta to extract bitumen — itself a dying industry. LNG exports from Kitimat to mythically lucrative Asian markets are at least five years away — likely too late to secure global market share.

Vast amounts of monetary and political capital have been squandered on this boondoggle. When will we have the political courage to cut our losses and move on? Apparently not yet.

Likewise, there seems no likelihood of Jason Kenney’s government having an honest conversation about the future of the fossil fuel sector with Alberta’s voters. Even as private capital flees the sinking sector, he plans to throw scarce public money and pension funds at a doomed industry.

Why? Because it easier than admitting that years of overheated rhetoric to the contrary was simply untrue. Ripping up carbon pricing and picking fights with rating agencies only drives away what little investment might be interested in Alberta’s oil patch, but apparently the show must go on.

First Nations and their supporters have again reminded provincial and federal governments that resource extraction without respecting Indigenous rights is no longer acceptable. Markets have made it clear that the days of easy money thrown at fossil fuel megaprojects have also gone by the wayside, especially in the absence of credible carbon pricing.

It is the job of elected governments to provide leadership and certainty on the pressing issues of the day. Judging by the smoldering situation with First Nations in Canada and the jittery mood of investors in the resource sector, our leaders need to do better. Much better.  [Tyee] SOURCE


How BC’s LNG Fiasco Went So Wrong

To understand B.C.’s push for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, think fracking, LNG Canada and the Site C dam

The pipeline at the centre of the Wet’suwet’en conflict is also central to the province’s long-running effort to attract multinational corporations and build up a liquefied natural gas export empire — all with infusions of public money. Here’s what you need to know

Cabin gas plant B.C.

If you had mentioned the Coastal GasLink project two months ago at a dinner party you likely would have been met with blank stares and a quick segue to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Vancouver Island hidey-hole.

Since early February, when the RCMP arrested Wet’suwet’en matriarchs, hereditary chiefs and their supporters — setting off nation-wide blockades of rail lines and ports and igniting a national debate about Indigenous rights and title, large resource projects and the global climate emergency — Coastal GasLink has risen from obscurity to infamy.

Most reports describe the project as “a natural gas pipeline.” But the reality is far more complex.

The Narwhal zooms out to focus on the bigger picture, which includes two other industrial projects in the works, one foreign-funded (LNG Canada) and the other publicly funded (the Site C dam).

Spoiler alert: the big picture includes billions in subsidies for industry, tens of thousands of idle and orphan fracking wells, a multi-billion dollar clean-up bill and massive climate impacts.

What is the Coastal GasLink pipeline?

 The Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry fracked gas from gas plays on B.C.’s northeast to Kitimat on B.C.’s northwest for export to Asian markets.

The pipeline is owned by TC Energy Corporation, a Calgary-based company more commonly recognized by its former name TransCanada and for another fiercely opposed pipeline project, the Keystone XL.

TC Energy has partnered with some of the world’s most profitable oil and gas corporations to build the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline, which will cut through old-growth forests, wetlands, rivers, streams and habitat for critically endangered species such as southern mountain caribou.

Want to know how much money TC Energy president and CEO Russell Girling makes? Girling made $11.4 million in 2018, according to company documents.

Coastal GasLink Pipeline Map

Map of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

What does the Coastal GasLink pipeline have to do with the LNG Canada project?

The short answer: one would not exist without the other.

The longer answer?

LNG Canada project will take fracked gas from the Coastal GasLink pipeline and cool it in massive compressors — at a new Kitimat facility — to minus 162 degrees Celsius, the point at which gas turns into liquid. The liquefied gas will then be transported to Asia in ocean tankers as long as six football fields.

Natural gas prices recently fell to their lowest level in four years, due to a persistent glut. The United States, traditionally the main user of Canadian gas, is poised to become self-sufficient in the fuel due to new extraction technologies.

Cue the multinationals and the dream of LNG.

Demand for LNG has been growing, particularly in Asia, and B.C. wants in. (Although demand has recently stalled due to milder winters and the novel coronavirus outbreak, threatening to make LNG plants around the world unprofitable.)

LNG Canada is a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi and Korean Gas.

Royal Dutch Shell, the globe’s fourth largest oil and gas company, is a public British-Dutch owned corporation headquartered in the Netherlands. It owns 40 per cent of LNG Canada.

A second partner, Petronas, is owned by the Malaysian government and has a 25 per cent share in the project.

The Chinese government-owned PetroChina Company Ltd., the world’s third-largest oil and gas company, owns 15 per cent, as does Japanese multinational Mitsubishi.

Korean Gas Corp., which completes the multinational quintet, is owned by the South Korean government and is the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). It has a five per cent share.

LNG Canada project, Kitimat B.C. 2017

The site of the LNG Canada project in Kitimat in 2017. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

Government press materials tout LNG Canada as a $40 billion project, calling it “the largest private-sector investment in B.C.’s history.”

But LNG Canada estimates a $25 to $40 billion investment for a two-phase project. Only phase one of the project has received approval.

For phase one, LNG Canada has only committed to spending between $2.5 and $4.1 billion in B.C. and acknowledges that between $7 and $11.1 billion for phase one will be spent on foreign soil. This includes the cost of construction of the export facility, which will be manufactured abroad and shipped in pieces to Kitimat.

LNG Canada will be one of the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitters

If you followed the recent debate about Teck Resources’ Frontier oilsands mine, noted for its environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions, hold onto your hat.

LNG Canada will be one of the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitters — and that’s before fugitive methane emissions from fracking are factored into the carbon equation.

According to the B.C. government, the LNG Canada project will emit four megatonnes of carbon emissions each year during its first phase — the equivalent of adding 856,531 cars to the road.

Teck’s Frontier oilsands mine would have emitted 4.1 megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year, putting the two projects almost on par with each other for carbon pollution during LNG Canada’s first phase.

If the project’s second phase goes ahead, LNG Canada will emit more than double the carbon of the cancelled Frontier oilsands mine project — 8.6 megatonnes per year in 2030, rising to 9.6 megatonnes in 2050.

That’s roughly the equivalent of putting 1.7 million new cars on the road each year.

The B.C. government’s emissions estimate includes only the first phase of the project.

Emissions from both LNG Canada project phases would represent close to three-quarters of B.C.’s legislated target for greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, set at about 13 megatonnes a year.

Isn’t natural gas a clean, environmentally friendly fuel?

Industry has successfully marketed gas as ‘natural’ because, like other fossil fuels, it comes from the earth. The term “natural gas” is now widely used.

The majority of gas shipped through the Coastal GasLink pipeline will come from northeast B.C., where the predominant form of extraction is a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. B.C. is the fastest-growing natural gas producer in Canada, thanks in large part to the advent of fracking.

Fracking is a technique that involves blasting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand deep into the earth to break apart rock formations and release previously inaccessible oil or natural gas deposits.

Fracking uses vast amounts of fresh water. Recent frack jobs in northeast B.C. have used more than 22 million litres of water per well — enough to fill about nine Olympic-sized swimming pools. The water becomes contaminated after the fracking process and must be disposed of in tailings ponds or by being injected deep underground.

The industry’s pressing need for fresh water has resulted in the construction of at least 90 unlicensed dams in northeast B.C.

Fracking releases significant carbon emissions through fugitive leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. New research published in the journal Nature suggests natural gas is a much dirtier fossil fuel than previously thought, with emissions that put it on par with coal.

There is also increasing evidence of human health issues linked to fracking. One study found mothers who live close to a fracking well are more likely to give birth to a less healthy child with a low birth weight.

Human health issues related to fracking were recently flagged by Dawson Creek doctors as a potential cause for concern after they saw patients with symptoms they could not explain, including nosebleeds, respiratory illnesses and rare cancers, as well as a surprising number of glioblastomas, a malignant brain cancer.

An independent scientific review commissioned by the B.C. government found that fracking entails numerous unknown risks to human health and the environment.

The review did not include a thorough examination of the public health implications of fracking, in keeping with the government’s quiet assurance to the industry lobby group Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that the hot button issue would not be part of the panel’s mandate.

Even before a fracking boom gets underway for the LNG Canada project, there are more than 11,000 inactive fracking wells in B.C. that need to be decommissioned and the land restored to its previous condition.

In an audit last year, B.C.’s former Auditor General Carol Bellringer found the oil and gas commission had not secured enough money from companies to cover an estimated $3 billion in cleanup costs.

Bankrupt fracking companies have also left the commission — and, ultimately, taxpayers — responsible for cleaning up a burgeoning number of orphan wells, including contaminated sites and wastewater pits.

The number of orphan wells is poised to double to between 646 and 746 this year, after a 769 per cent increase over the past four years. Last year, the commission reclaimed just four orphan well sites. It plans to reclaim 15 sites this year, leading many to wonder if the province will ever catch up.

What does this all have to do with the Site C dam, anyway?

The publicly funded Site C dam, currently under construction on B.C.’s Peace River, will provide subsidized electricity for the LNG Canada project.

The Site C dam was rejected in the 1980s and 1990s — the first time by the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission after two years of hearings, and the second by BC Hydro’s own board of directors, who said the project was too costly and its environmental and social impacts were too great.

B.C.’s former Liberal government approved the project in 2014 after changing the law to strip the utilities commission of its responsibility to determine if the project was in the public interest.

The dam will flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting an area the equivalent distance of driving from Vancouver to Whistler under water up to 50 metres deep.

Site C construction. Peace River. B.C.

Site C dam construction on the Peace River. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

B.C.’s NDP government had an opportunity to cancel the project after it came to power in 2017 but chose to continue construction, approving another $2 billion for the dam’s escalating tab, which now stands at $10.7 billion.

The Site C dam will flood traditional Treaty 8 territory, including First Nations burial grounds, trapping and hunting grounds and cultural and spiritual sites. It will eradicate some of Canada’s richest farmland, inundate protected heritage and archeological sites, destroy habitat for more than 100 species vulnerable to extinction and flood 800 hectares of carbon-storing wetlands.

You can read all about the project and its impacts on the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (formerly the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) website. Be warned: it’s about 15,000 pages.

A UBC study found the Site C project will have more significant adverse environmental effects than any project ever examined in the history of Canada’s environmental assessment act, including oilsands projects, mining projects and the Northern Gateway project, which was cancelled by the Trudeau government on the grounds that impacts on First Nations and the environment were unacceptable.

The global human rights group Amnesty International says the Site C dam project violates human rights and does not meet international standards for forced evictions. Two Treaty 8 First Nations have filed civil claims alleging that the Site C dam and two previous dams on the Peace River constitute an unjustifiable infringement of their treaty rights.

Lawyers warn that a settlement in favour of the nations could add $1 billion to the Site C dam price tag.

How did governments push to advance the LNG Canada project?

To attract the corporations behind LNG Canada, B.C.’s NDP government offered a smorgasbord of direct subsidies worth an initial $5.35 billion, in the form of tax reprieves, tax exemptions and discounted electricity rates.

Without government handouts the LNG Canada project, set to begin operation by 2025, would not be economical for the companies involved.

The B.C. government justified the subsidies on the grounds that LNG Canada will provide 10,000 construction jobs (that’s including construction jobs on the Coastal GasLink pipeline) and $24 billion in provincial revenue over the next 40 years.

The list of subsidies is long but it’s your money so you might want to know how it’s spent. Grab some popcorn and settle in. Ready? Here we go.

While British Columbians have to pay provincial sales taxes on, for example, an electric car, LNG Canada’s PST exemption means the company will not have to pay this tax during its construction period. That gives the consortium what is essentially an interest-free loan for two decades, for an annual savings of about $19 million to $21 million, according to economist Marc Lee, who has called the LNG Canada project a “carbon bomb.”

The NDP government has also eliminated the LNG income tax (a tax the B.C. NDP supported while in opposition), while a natural gas tax credit gives LNG Canada an additional three per cent corporate income tax cut.

While touting its Clean BC plan, the provincial government has at the same time exempted LNG Canada from increases in the B.C. carbon tax above $30 per tonne.

The consortium will get a rebate that economist Lee pegs at about $62 million a year (once the carbon tax, now at $40 per tonne, rises to $50 per tonne next year).

And, even as BC Hydro customers face rate hikes totalling eight per cent from 2019 to 2024, the publicly funded Site C dam will provide subsidized electricity for LNG Canada.

According to Lee, the new power supplied from Site C will cost about double what LNG Canada will pay for it — amounting to a subsidy valued at between $32 million and $59 million per year. That leaves ratepayers to make up the difference.

“The LNG Canada agreement locks in these tax and subsidy provisions for 20 years against future changes by governments that might be concerned about, say, climate change,” Lee notes in the Georgia Straight. “A decade from now — amid growing climate chaos — a newly elected B.C. premier would have their hands tied by having to pay financial compensation for any changes to the four measures that affect LNG Canada’s bottom line.”

Provincial ratepayers and federal taxpayers will also foot the bill for new transmission lines for the LNG Canada project.

Through its “Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan,” the federal government will contribute $83.6 million to the cost of building a new transmission line to supply B.C.’s natural gas industry with power from the Site C dam. BC Hydro, a publicly owned utility, will provide $205.4 million. If you’re a BC Hydro customer, that’s your money.

In August 2019, the B.C. and federal governments also announced a $680 million fund to support the further electrification of LNG in B.C. Details about what each level of government will pay, and when spending will occur, have not yet been announced.

Additionally, the federal government has granted a $1 billion tariff exemption for the importation of steel modules for the LNG Canada and Woodfibre LNG projects.

The B.C. government also provides LNG Canada with indirect subsidies. B.C.’s royalty regime offers the gas industry a range of credits that substantially reduce the actual royalties paid. Royalties are what companies pay to governments for developing a publicly owned resource.

The B.C. budget released last month shows that natural gas royalties would have been $534 million this year. But after royalty credits are deducted the number drops to $153 million — a far cry, Lee points out, from gas royalties in the $1 billion to $2 billion range the province collected in the early 2000s.

Deep well credits are yet another form of subsidy for the gas industry, with the B.C. government providing $1.2 billion to fracking companies over a recent two-year period.

Canada provides more government support for oil and gas companies than any other G7 nation and is among the least transparent about fossil fuel subsidies, according to a report from a coalition of NGOs.

But won’t the Site C dam produce clean energy?

Large hydro dams are a hugely expensive and destructive way to generate renewable energy. They are not “green,” or environmentally friendly.

The Site C dam and its reservoir will eliminate ancient wetlands called tufa seeps, old-growth boreal forests and a living laboratory for scientists to study how species adapt to climate change. It will also poison bull trout, a species vulnerable to extinction, and other fish with methylmercury.

The Peace River Valley, which would be inundated by the dam, is a flyway for migratory birds and part of the boreal bird nursery. It hosts three-quarters of all B.C.’s bird species. As many as 30,000 songbirds and woodpeckers nest in the dam’s future flood zone, which stretches the equivalent distance of driving from Vancouver to Whistler when flooded Peace River tributaries are included.

One study by U.S. scientists shows hydro reservoirs produce considerably more carbon emissions than previously thought. About 80 per cent of the emissions are in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

A UBC-led report debunked the unsubstantiated claim by the B.C. and federal governments that the Site C dam’s ecological impacts are justified on the grounds that the project will deliver electricity with lower greenhouse gas emissions than other sources.

The report also found that alternatives to the Site C project would create significantly more jobs, produce electricity at a lower cost with fewer risks and have a significantly lower environmental impact.

What’s next?

After three days and nights of negotiations between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments, a tentative agreement on land rights and title was reached on March 1. Details of the agreement, which will be shown to all Wet’suwet’en members, have not been released.

Horgan recently said he has no intention of altering the province’s position on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“I firmly believe, after many decades involved in public policymaking and observing events, that we are absolutely on the right course,” the Premier said, “and I’m going to carry on.” SOURCE


Massive green hydrogen plant headed to Netherlands via Shell and Gasunie

The companies announced their intentions to work together with the goal of reducing emissions.

Massive green hydrogen plant headed to Netherlands via Shell and Gasunie

A huge green hydrogen plant will be constructed in the northern Netherlands as a part of a Royal Dutch Shell partnership with Dutch gas company Gasunie.

The companies will construct the facility over the next ten years to focus on renewable energy.

The green hydrogen plant will be powered by a new offshore wind farm near Groningen province. By 2040, the facility will be able to produce an estimated 800,000 tonnes of hydrogen, said the companies. This will lead to a 7 megaton CO2 emissions reduction for the Netherlands by that same year.

Shell and Gasunie will launch a feasibility study before the end of 2020. At the same time, they will be pursuing other energy and industrial partners.

“In order to realize this project, we will need several new partners,” said Marjan van Loon, director of Shell Netherlands. “Together we will have to pioneer and innovate to bring together all the available knowledge and skills.”

The new green hydrogen plant would use a water electrolysis unit for sustainable H2 production.

A water electrolysis would use sustainable electricity for conversion into hydrogen fuel. From there, the plant would store the H2 for later use. Applications would include the reconversion into power or to be used directly for industrial purposes.

The plant’s capacity would be approximately the same as the amount of hydrogen currently produced through natural gas use by the country’s industrial factories. A capacity of this size could, therefore, make a meaningful difference in moving the Netherlands toward their 49 percent CO2 emissions reduction goal (from the level measured in 1990) by 2030.

The Netherlands may be small, but it is densely populated. The latest emissions estimates show that it continues to have the fifth largest CO2 emissions per capita level in the European Union. Only 7 percent of the country’s energy is produced by renewable sources, said a recent Reuters report.

Green hydrogen plant - Netherlands FlagThe new green hydrogen plant could completely change that situation. That said, Shell and Gasunie remain in the early planning stages. Its progress remains dependent on new wind farm location GIFassignments in the North Sea, government permits, new energy partners and green energy subsidy availability from the Netherlands and the European Union. SOURCE

The draft deal between the Wet’suwet’en and the government explained

RCMP officers raid Unist’ot’en Camp in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia on Feb. 10, 2020. Photo from Unist’ot’en Camp on Twitter

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation struck a proposed deal with British Columbia and federal officials over the weekend in a land title dispute that inspired nationwide rail blockades.

But the tentative agreement, announced Sunday after three days of talks between the hereditary chiefs and officials from the federal and provincial governments, doesn’t address the pipeline at the centre of the controversy. That means the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades are unlikely to stop, for now.

“We’re not standing down, and we’re not asking anybody else to stand down either,” said Molly Wickham, also known as Sleydo, a spokesperson for Gidimt’en, a Wet’suwet’en clan.

Several Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are fighting to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a planned natural gas project that’s slated to run through the nation’s unceded traditional territory in northern B.C. The solidarity blockades were sparked last month after the RCMP raided Wet’suwet’en camps to clear pipeline opponents out of the project’s path.

Here’s what you need to know about the draft agreement, and how it impacts Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades.

The tentative deal, explained

Graphic by Elias Campbell at Soulfood Productions ​​​​​​


The proposed agreement does not address Coastal GasLink directly, focusing instead on the deeper issue of Wet’suwet’en governance and the nation’s right to its traditional territory. The draft agreement essentially sets ground rules for more discussions over what to do about the controversial pipeline.

A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, has previously affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en have the right to their land. But the court didn’t resolve several key questions, leaving the nation to either negotiate with the B.C. government or go back for a costly second trial, neither of which happened.

Now, 23 years later, the proposed arrangement attempts to pick up where the Delgamuukw decision left off.

The hereditary chiefs, federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart Scott Fraser announced the broad intent of the draft deal Sunday, but didn’t divulge details. Before the proposed agreement is shared publicly, the nation will review it in the feast hall ⁠— where Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders typically make major decisions ⁠— in accordance with Anuk nu’at’en, or Wet’suwet’en law, in the next few weeks.

On Sunday, Hereditary Chief Woos said the proposed agreement is a milestone, but the “degree of satisfaction is not what we expected.”

The tentative agreement doesn’t address the Coastal GasLink pipeline directly, nor does it mean Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades will end anytime soon.

Traditionally, the Wet’suwet’en Nation is governed by hereditary chiefs from five clans and 13 family subgroups. The hereditary chiefs of each clan have jurisdiction over that clan’s territory.

Canada’s colonial Indian Act also created elected band councils with jurisdiction over reserve lands. Some elected councils have supported the project, though the reserve lands aren’t adjacent to the pipeline.

What does this mean for Coastal GasLink?

Coastal GasLink@CoastalGasLink

Coastal GasLink Statement on the Conclusion of Discussions Between Hereditary Chiefs and Government…

Following the conclusion of discussions between the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and representatives of the federal and provincial governments, Coastal GasLink President David Pfeiffer has issued…

British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser has said the agreement wouldn’t be retroactive, meaning it wouldn’t affect the government’s previous approval of the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the hereditary chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink have said they are unwilling to allow the pipeline to proceed.

It isn’t clear when pipeline construction could begin. Last month, B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) rejected a key report from Coastal GasLink Ltd., a subsidiary of TC Energy (formerly known as TransCanada), which will construct and operate the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The report must be approved before the company can begin building an 18-kilometre portion of the pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory, near the Morice River (also known as Wedzin Kwah). The company now has 30 days to go back and do more consultation with the Wet’suwet’en.

Aside from area affected by the EAO’s rejection of the report, Coastal GasLink’s backers are free to do construction work on Wet’suwet’en territory. In the area where it’s not allowed to do construction work, the company can still complete other do pre-construction tasks like surveying, the B.C. Ministry of Environment confirmed to National Observer Monday.

Last week, work stopped on Wet’suwet’en territory to allow for talks between the Wet’suwet’en and the Canadian governments.

After the tentative deal was announced, the company said it would resume “construction activities” Monday. The company didn’t specify what that entailled, and didn’t immediately respond to a request for clarification from National Observer Monday.

Why aren’t the blockades coming down?

The blockades have led to outcry from several industries that have struggled to move goods, upping pressure on political leaders to resolve the situation.

More Indigenous-led demonstrations have sprung up even as authorities attempt to shut them down with arrests and court injunctions. The pipeline opponents organizing the blockades have said they won’t stop until the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ demands are met.

That hasn’t worked out so far. The chiefs have asked for Coastal GasLink to be halted ⁠— something the B.C. government has said it’s unwilling to do.

They’ve also asked the RCMP to leave Wet’suwet’en territory. The Mounties temporarily stopped patrolling the area to allow for talks between the chiefs and the Canadian governments, but it’s not clear whether officers will return now that initial discussions have ended.

Two of the most prominent blockades, Mohawk-led demonstrations in Belleville, Ont., and Kahnawake, Que., remain in place. A separate one outside of Montreal temporarily blocked VIA Rail service Monday.

Racist backlash has erupted against Indigenous pipeline opponents


Gidimt’en Checkpoint@Gidimten

Dini’ze Woos: The Hereditary Chiefs are opposed to any pipeline going through their territory (1/3)

Embedded video

Gidimt’en Checkpoint@Gidimten

Tsake’za Sleydo’: We’re not resting, we’re not giving up, we’re not standing down, we’re not asking other people to stand down. (2/3)

Embedded video

Last week, a bomb threat was reported against the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, who have organized the rail blockade near Belleville. A similar threat was made against Unist’ot’en, a Wet’suwet’en house group.

Some threats have included calls for vigilante violence against protestors, the online media outlet Ricochet reported.

What happens next?

Gidimt’en Checkpoint@Gidimten

Dini’ze Woos: The Hereditary Chiefs are opposed to any pipeline going through their territory (1/3)

Embedded video

If the clans approve, federal and provincial officials will return to sign the deal. If not, it’s unclear what will happen.

More discussions will be required either way to sort out what to do about Coastal GasLink.

For now, pipeline opponents have planned solidarity actions in various cities through the first week of March. SOURCE

Plant-based? Compostable? What you need to know about bioplastics

What they are, how they’re greener than traditional plastics and why they’re not a perfect solution

This cup is made from PLA, a compostable, plant-based bioplastic. But not all bioplastics are biobased and not all of them are biodegradable. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Plastics are an integral part of our lives, but they also pose some big environmental problems.

They generate a lot of wastemost of which isn’t recycled. A recent study from Environment and Climate Change Canada found that even in our country, only nine per cent of plastics are recycled — the rest is either incinerated, landfilled or ends up in the environment, where it can harm wildlife such as whales, turtles or seabirds. Those are some of the reasons the federal government plans to ban many single-use plastics by 2021.

But the plastic problem is global. As of 2015, humankind had produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, one study estimated, of which 70 per cent had already become waste.

Plastic production and its disposal by incineration also generates greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. A 2019 study from the Center for International Environmental Law estimates that if plastics production grows at its current rate, emissions from plastics could reach 1.2 gigatonnes per year, equivalent to the emissions of 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.

“Bioplastics” aim to curb both those environmental impacts.

They’re one of the solutions touted by Canadian supermarkets who say they’ve taken steps to reduce the massive amounts of plastic waste they generate, after a CBC Marketplace report found they’ve been slow to act. Marketplace will share their update on plastic waste in supermarkets Friday.

In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about bioplastics.

‘Bioplastic’ can mean 3 different things.

Plastics are moldable materials that are typically made from long chains of smaller molecules joined together, which is why their names often start with the prefix “poly” — for example polystyrene or polyethylene.

Traditionally, they’ve been made from fossil fuels and take a very long time to break down in the environment — sometimes hundreds of years.

Bioplastics are plastics that can be:

  • Biobased; that is, derived from biological sources such as cornpotatoeswoodfood waste or lobster shells.
  • Biodegradable, meaning they can be broken down by microbes into natural substances such as water, carbon dioxide and compost under certain conditions.
  • Both biobased and biodegradable (some examples in the first bullet point fall into this category).

Toronto-based Genecis uses bacteria to convert food waste into pellets of a compostable bioplastic called PHA. Bio-based bioplastics can be made from a variety of other biological materials, including wood, sugar cane and lobster shells. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Many bioplastics aren’t biodegradable. And some are chemically identical to regular plastics.

The only difference between biopolyethylene or bio-PET (used in Coke’s “PlantBottle”) and regular polyethylene or PET is they use a raw ingredient from plants (ethanol) instead of fossil fuels to make the same material.

Those kinds of plastics are known as “drop-in” plastics because they can be dropped in as direct replacements for traditional plastics and mixed with them in any quantity (the PlantBottle originally included 30 per cent plant-based ingredients and 70 per cent regular PET that still represents 7 per cent of the company’s bottles sold around the world. Coca-Cola has since also made a 100 per cent bio-PET version).

Because they’re identical, they take just as long as traditional plastics to break down.

Plastics made mostly or entirely from fossil fuels can be called ‘biobased’ and ‘bioplastics’, respectively.

To be labelled a “biobased” product in the U.S. under Department of Agriculture rules (Canada has no equivalent rules), it only need contain a minimum of 25 per cent carbon from biological as opposed to fossil sources — that is, up to 75 per cent of the carbon can come from fossil fuel sources.

In fact, a plastic that is made 100 per cent from fossil fuels can still be considered a bioplastic if it’s biodegradable.

For example, a plastic called PBAT (polybutylene adipate terephthalate), sold by chemical company BASF under the name “ecoflex,” is a completely fossil fuel-derived plastic that’s certified compostable and biodegradable — and is therefore considered a bioplastic.

Coca-Cola’s original PlantBottle, unveiled for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, contained 30 per cent bio-PET. The company has since made a version that is 100 per cent bio-PET. It’s chemically identical to regular plastic bottles. (The Coca-Cola Company)

Bioplastics can help reduce carbon emissions. But not always a lot.

Bio-based bioplastics typically generate fewer carbon emissions over their life cycle compared to traditional plastics. That’s because growing plants suck in and store carbon, which is released later if the bioplastics are burned or decomposed.

“You’re not adding extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” said Amar Mohanty, distinguished research chair in sustainable biomaterials at the University of Guelph, who has been developing and researching bioplastic and biobased materials for more than 30 years.

In practice, things are more complicated than that because energy is used to grow crops and for transportation, manufacturing, processing and distribution — and that may generate emissions.

How big the difference in emissions is between the two can vary a lot depending on the types of biobased ingredients used, how they were grown, how locally the bioplastic was manufactured, what happened to it at the end of its useful life and exactly what plastics are being compared.

For example, one study found the bioplastic PHA, made from corn leaves, stalks and husks, generates 80 per cent fewer emissions per kilogram over its lifetime, compared to fossil-derived PET or polystyrene.

Farmer Tom Brus, left, and Russell Mier from New Ventures Ag Tech Initiative, kneel in Brus’s recently harvested corn field near Walcott, Iowa, with a hand full of corn stover. Stover can be used to make ethanol, which can be turned into bioplastic. ( John Schultz/Quad-City Times/Associated Press)


But a 2018 study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found that in Europe there would be no real difference in lifetime emissions between traditional PET bottles and those made from bioplastics. That’s largely because regular PET is manufactured in Europe, while bio-PET is mostly manufactured in the U.S. and lots of emissions would be generated during transport.

As mentioned, some bio-based plastics are not biodegradable and can remain for hundreds of years. Some researchers have argued burying such plastics at their end of life is one way to store carbon captured by plants and keep it from getting into the atmosphere.

Compostable plastics often end their life in places where they don’t break down.

A benefit of degradable or compostable plastics is that they can theoretically reduce harm to wildlife and ecosystems caused by traditional plastics and reduce the need for landfill space, which is a problem in some countries. That’s because they can be broken down completely into carbon dioxide, water and compost under certain conditions without leaving behind microplastics. Mohanty describes it as “natural recycling.”

That said, even popular compostable plastics such as PLA (polylactic acid), which is used to make drinking cups, clamshell containers and plastic cutlery, are not accepted by most municipal and commercial composting programs in Canada and are typically sent to landfill, where one study estimated they would take more than a century to break down and another found they would release the potent greenhouse gas methane during decomposition.

Nor do they necessarily break down in a timely fashion in places like the ocean (where they pose the biggest threat to wildlife) or the soil. Ecoflex, PLA, and two other kinds of biodegradable plastics all survived a year in either seawater or freshwater without breaking down, a 2017 University of Bayreuth study showed. A 2019 University of Plymouth study found that “compostable” bags buried in soil were still there after 27 months, and “biodegradable” bags could still hold groceries after three months in the ocean.

This cutlery is made from the compostable and recyclable plastic PLA. However, most municipal organics programs will not accept compostable plastics and most recycling programs won’t accept them either, so they typically end up in the landfill. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Bioplastics are often recyclable, but often aren’t recycled.

As might be expected, bio-based versions of recyclable plastics such as bio-PET are recyclable with the regular, fossil-fuel based versions of the same plastic.

PLA is also theoretically recyclable. It’s not currently accepted by most recycling programs, but that may change in the future.

Bioplastics could potentially have environmental drawbacks.

A number of studies have calculated that huge net emissions are generated if rainforests, peatlands, savannahs or grasslands are converted to agriculture in order to grow crops to produce bioplastics.

But bioplastics are only a tiny fraction of plastic in the world today.

In 2019, land used to grow crops for bioplastics represented just 0.016 per cent of farmland, according to an estimate by European Bioplastics, which represents the bioplastics industry in Europe.

They’re just one per cent of the 359 million tonnes of plastic produced around the world each year, estimates European Bioplastics.



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Canada faces a domestic violence crisis. CBC examines the problem

Every year, thousands of Canadians are harassed, assaulted or murdered by their intimate partners

Across Canada, there are 100,000 victims of domestic violence each year, and about 90 people die annually at the hands of their abuser. (Shutterstock)

This week we launch an in-depth series about the painful and pressing problem of domestic violence — and how as a society we might be able to change outcomes for victims.

Our motivation comes from stories like that of Sandra and Terry Finn, originally of Pigeon Lake, Ont. During their fifty-year marriage, Terry had become increasingly abusive and erratic according to friends and family. Sandra sought counselling at a local women’s shelter. Several times she resolved to leave her husband but always came back, praying the abuse would end.

On Aug. 22, 2018, Sandra was sitting in her car at a Home Depot parking lot  when her husband calmly approached, aimed a .38-calibre Colt revolver at her head and pulled the trigger – then stood nearby and smoked a cigarette. She died later that day. In January, Terry Finn was convicted of first-degree murder and is now serving a life sentence.

Every story of intimate partner violence and murder is different, but there are many commonalities. Consider that six in ten spousal homicides in Canada are preceded by a history of family violence, according to Statistics Canada. That means there were possible moments of intervention where victims, overwhelmingly women, could have been helped, perhaps saved.

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. deems intimate partner violence to be preventable. That idea has increasing traction here in Canada as well. It’s obvious urgent action is needed: there are 100,000 victims of domestic violence each year, and about 90 people die annually at the hands of their abuser.

So, what steps would change the national conversation to one about preventing harm rather than regretting failure to protect?

Over the next week, we’re looking to answer that on CBC/Radio-Canada.

Together, the English and French networks undertook ground-breaking research and assigned teams in 20 cities across Canada. You will see and hear reports from local journalists on your local programs, as well as on The NationalThe Current and Front BurnerRadio-Canada’s in-depth coverage begins with a two-hour network special Thursday night.

Our project explores the laws that apply to domestic violence, the police who enforce them, the shelters that try to accommodate those fleeing abuse. And we look at programs that are making a difference in the U.S., U.K. and here in Canada. Throughout, our approach is to examine ideas that can change thinking around domestic abuse.

Many of these stories are difficult to read. Some may have an unsettling effect on individuals who have experienced personal trauma. If so, we encourage you to connect with agencies in your area who are ready to help.

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area click here.


Women, children turned away from shelters in Canada almost 19,000 times a month

When abuse victims try to leave, there’s often nowhere to go, CBC investigation finds

Michelle, pictured here in Langley, B.C., had to call shelters in B.C.’s Fraser Valley multiple times before she was admitted because there was no space. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One cold night in Montreal last December, Hamidah decided she’d had enough.

Her husband had become enraged while they were talking. He kicked her in the chest, knocking her down, and then punched her in the face several times while she was on the ground.

It wasn’t the first time he had hit her. It usually happened when she refused to have sex with him.

“Why are you beating me? Why are you doing this to me?” she recalls saying through her tears.

“And he said, ‘You don’t listen to me, you should do whatever I want … you should obey me. You don’t have any right to say no to me.'”

All the while, the couple’s four-year-old son was within earshot.

When it was over, Hamidah, who is 26, was left with a black eye and bruises all over her face.

She told her husband she needed some air. She took her son, went outside and called 911.

The two waited outside their home, in subzero temperatures, for over an hour.

When police arrived, they called five or six women’s shelters in Montreal. None had any room for Hamidah and her son.

She asked the police where she could go. An officer told her to keep calling shelters.

Holding her son’s hand as the snow fell around them, Hamidah started to cry.

Hundreds turned away

Hamidah is not her real name, and the CBC has agreed to protect her identity out of concern for her safety.

Her situation is not unique.

A sign on the wall at a transition house in Langley, B.C. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)


A CBC News analysis reveals that in November 2019, an average of 620 women and children a day were turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada. That’s nearly 19,000 times a month, if November was typical.

The true number is likely much higher.  Shelter workers in several locations told CBC that in fact numbers are lower in November, because women are reluctant to leave their families as the holiday season nears.

CBC’s data is also incomplete. CBC reporters heard back from just over half the 527 shelters we identified, meaning this figure does not include the people turned away from about 220 shelters.

In more than 80 per cent of cases, people were turned away because the shelter was full.

Not only is the number of people turned away each day in the hundreds, it is also growing. Statistics Canada figures show the number increased 69 per cent from 539 in 2014 to 911 in 2018, based on data from all of the shelters in the country.

Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, says a nationally coordinated approach is needed to help women and children fleeing domestic violence. ( Mathieu Theriault/CBC)


Calling a shelter for help is a big decision, and having to turn away women and children who are in danger has serious consequences, said Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada.

It may mean someone with nowhere else to go is forced to live with their abuser longer.

Hamidah and her son went back home that night. They had nowhere else to go.

She called shelters the next day, too, but there was still no room for them. Some said they would call her if a space opened up, but none ever did.

‘It’s OK that he beats you’

She called her family in Afghanistan and told them she wanted to separate from her husband, hoping they would offer support.

“They told me no, it’s OK that he beats you,” she said. They told her she wouldn’t be able to make it on her own in Canada, as a woman, without her husband.

“I have no hope from shelters, no hope from my parents, no hope from my husband. I’m alone with all that stress and with my son … I was totally in a dark place.”

Hamidah decided she would end her own life.

Happening across Canada

Shelters serving women in Montreal are almost always full, said Manon Monastesse, executive director of the Quebec Federation of Women’s Shelters.

Women’s shelters in Quebec serve not only those fleeing domestic violence, but also victims of sex trafficking, forced marriage and some homeless women, Monastesse explained. The population is growing, and there have been very few women’s shelters built in the past decade.

Manon Monastesse, the executive director of the Quebec Federation of Women’s Shelters, says the number of women and children turned away from shelters in the Montreal area is a growing problem. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)


But the problem is not limited to Quebec.

CBC’s analysis found domestic violence shelters are forced to turn women and children away in significant numbers in all of Canada’s major cities.

Nationally, the biggest contributing factor is a lack of affordable housing, said Martin, the director of Women’s Shelters Canada.

Younger women speaking up

This puts rents out of reach for many of the women who use the shelters and keeps some living with their abusers.

Another factor is greater awareness of intimate partner violence. Both Martin and Monastesse said shelter clients are increasingly younger women who are less willing to put up with abuse and are leaving relationships earlier than was the case in the past.

Even when women are able to get into emergency shelters, their stay is often limited to between one and three months. The lack of affordable housing makes it difficult to find somewhere to go after that and some women return to their abusers.

Michelle, whose last name CBC is not reporting, fled to a transition house in B.C.’s Fraser Valley after months of psychological and sometimes physical abuse.

But she had just 30 days to find another place to live and couldn’t find anything she could afford. Faced with what she was told would be a two-year wait for subsidized housing, she returned to her former partner, who said he had changed.

Michelle, pictured here at a Langley, B.C. women’s shelter, returned to her abusive partner when she couldn’t find affordable housing. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)


Within months, the abuse started again and quickly escalated. Michelle began to fear for her safety. She called several women’s shelters, but they were all full.

“I have to survive again until I can … find a way into a transition house,” she recalled thinking. “What am I supposed to do? I was really scared.”

Last month, Michelle called a shelter just when a spot opened up and was told she had hours to take the available bed. She is now desperately searching for a permanent place to call home.

‘I have nothing’

On a cold December morning not long before Christmas, Hamidah woke up without hope.

She fed her son breakfast and dressed him. She asked her husband to take him to daycare.

When they were gone, Hamidah wrote a note, explaining she was ending her life “because no one understands me. I have no hope.”

She sent her husband a text message telling him she was about to commit suicide and asking him to take care of their son.

And then the world went dark.

Traumatic for shelter staff

Workers on the front lines who must tell women in need there is no room at the shelter say the experience is traumatic.

Chandra Evanson, who works at Dixon House in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, said staff turn away about half the requests for shelter they receive because there is no space. Sometimes this means refusing several people per day.

Chandra Evanson, who works at Dixon House in Burnaby, B.C., says having to tell women in need there is no room at the shelter takes a personal toll. (Submitted by Chandra Evanson)


“To say no to somebody who I know has children who may be returning to an unsafe situation is just extremely upsetting for me,” she said. “I don’t even know how to put it into words to know that a mom is struggling to protect her children and may not be able to do that.”

Evanson refers them elsewhere, but knows other shelters in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland are often at or near capacity as well.

National plan needed

What’s needed, Martin said, is a nationally co-ordinated plan to ensure women and children in danger have a safe place to go.

The federal government has the funds through the national housing strategy to build more shelters, she explained, but it’s provincial governments that are responsible for staffing and running them.

Provinces also fund programs such as counselling that are needed by abuse survivors, and crucially, subsidized housing.

The federal minister responsible for women and gender equality, Maryam Monsef, said in an interview with CBC News that the government has started work on a co-ordinated national plan to address gender-based and intimate partner violence, but she would not commit to a timeline.

Maryam Monsef, the federal minister of Women and Gender Equality, says the federal government is developing a national strategy on intimate partner violence. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)


Part of that is support for subsidized housing through the national housing strategy, Monsef said, adding that she has heard the call from women’s advocacy groups to use some of that money to specifically help women and children fleeing domestic violence.

‘I am safe’

Hamidah could hear her husband speaking, but wasn’t able to move or talk.

Paramedics arrived and placed an oxygen mask over her mouth. They took her to the hospital.

“I told the doctor that I’m in a relationship that didn’t work for me and I want to go in a place where I cannot see my husband … if I go back to home, I will do the same thing, I will … end my life.”

A social worker met with Hamidah while she was in hospital and arranged a place in a shelter.

When Hamidah was discharged, the hospital called a taxi. But in the 10 minutes it took the taxi to get there, Hamidah’s husband and son arrived.

Her son was delighted to see her, yelling and smiling and hugging his mother. Hamidah couldn’t bear to leave him.

So she went home with her husband.

But in her hand was a tiny piece of paper, which she hid as soon as she got home: the address of the shelter.

Two days later, she went to a convenience store late at night, while her husband was at work. She called the shelter and asked if they still had a place for her. They did.

The shelter called a taxi, and Hamidah left with her son.

When she woke up in the morning, in a safe place with her son by her side, Hamidah said she felt something in her had changed.

“I have no stress. I am safe, I have hope, and my husband is not here.”

“It’s paradise for me.”

The two will be able to stay in the shelter until a subsidized apartment opens up.

In the meantime, Hamidah works as a cook and hopes to finish high school.

Sharing her story with others at the shelter and hearing their stories gave Hamidah courage to go forward, she said.

“We are strong and we are going to be strong.”

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area click here.


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