Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on How to Build a Green New Deal

The congresswoman on her vision for a post-fossil-fuel future and an economy that works for working people

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Daniel Dorsa for Rolling Stone

There was, essentially, no Green New Deal before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It was just a slogan rolling around the mouths of newspaper columnists and environmental activists until the 30-year-old political phenom put her star power behind it. Just a month after she was sworn in as the youngest congresswoman in history, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey debuted a 14-page resolution outlining the principles she hopes will form the foundation for a slew of climate legislation over the next decade. A jobs program to save the planet shouldn’t be all that controversial, but skeptics along the political spectrum found something to hate. The concept was ridiculed by Republicans even as some attempted to co-opt it (Rep. Matt Gaetz’s Green Real Deal), and deemed too audacious by liberal Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the Green New Deal’s ambition was always the point, and in just one year, it has already dramatically changed the way Washington talks about the climate crisis. This winter, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce released a plan committing to a 100 percent clean-energy economy by 2050 — three times longer than the Green New Deal’s 10-year timeline, but a quantum leap from the toothless regulations that typified past policy conversations.

BILL MCKIBBEN: The Coronavirus and the Climate Movement

Two protestors in masks.

One frustration of the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s interrupting the movement-building that is necessary to beat the fossil-fuel industry.Photograph by Patricia De Melo Moreira / AFP / Getty

y daughter—full grown and accomplished, but still my daughter—asked me the other day, “Do you think we’re going to go on having crises like this my whole life?” Probably not quite like the coronavirus (pandemics are fairly unique among disasters, in that they attack the whole world at the same time), but I’ve long feared that the result of heating the Earth will be an ongoing, accelerating series of disasters, eventually overwhelming our ability to cope. The pace of those events has been increasing in recent years, and our ability to keep them at something like a manageable level depends, above all, on the speed with which we transition off of gas, oil, and coal.

That’s why, for me, one frustration of the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s temporarily interrupting the movement-building that is necessary to beat the fossil-fuel industry. Just as basketball and Broadway have had to take a break, so have some forms of protest. Greta Thunberg asked school-strikers to go digital for a while: “We young people are the least affected by this virus but it’s essential that we act in solidarity with the most vulnerable and that we act in the best interest of our common society,” she told her four million Twitter followers. The Sunrise Movement—the inspiring young people who made the Green New Deal into a cause célèbre—asked organizers “to avoid mass physical gatherings,” saying, “as a generation shaped by the Internet and social media, it’s time to innovate, esp. digitally.”

When not writing this newsletter, I’ve been volunteering as an organizer for Stop the Money Pipeline, which has been trying to persuade banks, insurance companies, and asset managers to cease their funding of the fossil-fuel industry. (My interest grew out of a piece that I wrote for The New Yorker last fall.) Some of us went to jail, in January, to launch the campaign, which was going to crest with a wave of acts of nonviolent civil disobedience with the occupation of hundreds, or thousands, of Chase Bank branches, on April 23rd, the day after Earth Day’s fiftieth anniversary. (JPMorgan Chase is the world’s single biggest funder of fossil fuels.) But now we can’t—as soon as the potential for community spread of covid-19 became clear, so did the cruelty of perhaps introducing it into the correctional system. I’ve spent just enough time in jails to know that they’re usually dirty, overcrowded, and full of people (many of whom do not need to be there) in constant motion between holding cells, prisons, and the courts. It’s going to be hard enough to keep inmates healthy without additional germs making their way inside from unknowing protesters. And people really should not be gathering in numbers now, anyway.

Digital activism is rarely as effective as in-the-flesh nonviolent action, but, for the time being, that is what people can engage in. On Monday, Paul Engler, one of the best strategists of nonviolent action, wrote that “we should draw both on the possibilities of new technology that allow for decentralized action and some time-honored lessons from past social movements.” And when the pandemic passes? Here is how Extinction Rebellion U.K. put it: “Nothing will feel the same and we need to be ready”—ready for resuming civil disobedience “when the time is right.”

Climate School

In case you’re wondering why activists are so enraged at banks, read this report from the California-based N.G.O. Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, about the “dirty five” financial institutions enmeshed in oil drilling in the Amazon rain forest. Someday, people may look back in wonder at a moment when bankers thought it proper to profit from damaging what the report calls “part of the Earth’s natural ‘thermostat’ ” in order to extract hydrocarbons that would wreck the climate system.

paper published last week by the journal Nature Communications found that large ecosystems, including the Amazon, tend to collapse “disproportionately faster” than smaller ones. “The findings imply that shifts in Earth ecosystems occur over ‘human’ timescales of years and decades, meaning the collapse of large vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest and Caribbean coral reefs, may take only a few decades once triggered,” it said. As the lead researcher, John Dearing, of the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom, told reporters, “the messages here are stark.”

Although it was mostly lost amid the news of the escalating pandemic, the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis held an important hearing last week on the risks that global warming poses to financial markets and the energy transition required to avert them. The testimony of Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former member of the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, was particularly powerful, an American version of the warning that Mark Carney—who was, from 2013 until earlier this month, the governor of the Bank of England—has been providing for the past half decade. Raskin said that, while financial-industry exposure to the fossil-fuel industry risks turmoil, a turn away from oil and gas implies “a sweeping reallocation of resources and technological revolution”—a reallocation that “would generate new, creative investment at a pace, by some estimates, of roughly quadruple the present rate.”

Passing the Mic

Tara Houska is Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe, from Minnesota, an attorney who works on indigenous land issues, and the founder of the Giniw Collective, which describes itself as an “indigenous womxn-led frontline resistance to protect our Mother, defend the sacred and live in balance.”

VIDEO FROM THE NEW YORKER

Why an Iowa Farmer Became a Campaign Stop for Candidates

You’ve been engaged in the Line 3 fight for a long time now. Remind us of the basics of that struggle, and why it’s so important to indigenous communities.

Line 3 is a massive tar-sands pipeline proposed from Alberta to the shores of Lake Superior. Just that single line is a ten-per-cent expansion of Canada’s oil production. Expanding tar sands, in the face of the climate crisis—it’s total madness. Minnesotans and tribal nations have been fighting tooth and nail in the system for years, but we’ve reached the point of final permitting by the state. I’ve been living in a pipeline-resistance camp in the forest for nearly two years, keeping tabs on the ground movement and land. The bulldozers are here.

For the Anishinaabe territory that the proposed route passes through, Line 3 could eradicate the heart of our culture: wild rice. Wild rice is of such importance to our people. It is the only grain mentioned in any treaty ever made between Native nations and the United States. Pipeline construction through wetlands—through more than two hundred bodies of water and watersheds into wild-rice beds—irrevocably harms the water quality and ecosystems that wild rice needs. Upstream and downstream, Line 3 is a continuation of violating the rights of indigenous peoples and the rights of future generations to have a world that can sustain human life.

Indigenous leaders have been at the forefront of the climate fight in recent years. What are they bringing to this work that makes their presence so important?

You spend a fair amount of time in the woods, hunting and so on. What role does the natural world play in your life?

Nature helps me figure out what truly matters in the short lifetime I have. Out here, the simple truths of life are tangible, and priorities are clear. Everything is hard work, every being has both purpose and fluidity. Everything has a spirit and must be treated with respect. It is life in the circular.

Scoreboard

Donald Trump has won few plaudits for the speed of his Administration’s response to the coronavirus. But a big fall in the value of oil-company stocks at the start of last week caught his attention, perhaps because some of his biggest contributors lost billions. By the week’s end, he’d instructed the Department of Energy to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve “right up to the top,” in what Oil Change International called an example of putting “the interests of oil and gas executives ahead of the interests of people and communities.”

The effort to figure out the effect of the virus on global warming’s future continues. A big variable is how China might react to the downturn in its economy. After the 2008 financial crisis, China’s recovery depended on huge infrastructure projects (such as airports) that lock in lots of fossil-fuel use, and, according to the South China Morning Post, that strategy is a possibility again. The World Resources Institute suggests that the better option, not just for China but for the world, would be to invest in low-carbon energy.

Warming Up

This feels like a week when real comfort is required—everyone’s nerves are jangled as we try to adjust to new realities. The song that most reliably puts me back on an even keel is “O-o-h Child.” (There’s even a solar-power message.) The original hit, by the Five Stairsteps, is undeniably great, and you should definitely sit down with Kamasi Washington’s wonderful mix. But, for sheer pull-up-your-socks-it’s-going-to-be-O.K. reassurance, it’s Nina Simone’s take all the way. SOURCE

TSX loses another 8% as Canadian oil price falls to lowest level on record

Canadian dollar dips below 70 cents US

A worker at a Royal Dutch Shell facility in Russia is shown. Russia and Saudia Arabia are currently engaged in a price war for oil, pushing the price of crude to its lowest level in years. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

The price of a barrel of Canadian oilsands crude oil fell to its lowest level ever on Wednesday, and the Toronto Stock Exchange sold off heavily as a result.

Western Canadian Select (WCS) was changing hands at one point as low as $7.63 US per barrel, down $4.60 from Tuesday’s level. The U.S. benchmark known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) also fell to below $22 a barrel, a level it has not hit since 2003.

That was bad news for shares in oil companies, many of which trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Selling on the TSX was so heavy that automatic circuit breakers designed to give markets a pause during times of turmoil kicked in. When the decline hit seven per cent, markets were automatically shut down for a breather.

When they reopened the selling continued, with the TSX closing down 963 points or almost eight per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fared almost as bad, closing below the 20,000-point level.

The TSX was mostly dragged down by shares in oil companies, which were themselves responding to a plunge in the price of crude. Oil is being walloped by too much supply in a time of reduced demand because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After more than a year of an uneasy collaboration to limit supply and try to keep prices up, Saudi Arabia and Russia started a price war earlier this month, flooding the market with their cheap oil that kicked off a race to the bottom in terms of oil prices.

Canadian oilsands oil always trades at a discount to lighter blends, such as Brent and WTI, because it is more difficult to transport and process. So the oversupply has hit the price of WCS even more than other types of oil. MORE

Coronavirus: Meanwhile, some good news amid COVID-19 gloom

Amid the pandemic scare, these are the news that instill our hope that though there’s a long way to go, we can fight.

With number of coronavirus cases increasing every hour and countries on lockdown, one can sense fear in the atmosphere. People are panicking due to lack of information or misinformation. But trust experts, there is nothing to panic. One needs to maintain hygiene and social distancing.

So far more than 160 cases have been reported in India, as per Health Ministry website. The condition across the globe is critical but we know–this too shall pass. So amid this situation of crisis, here are some good news to give you a sigh of relief.

Fight Against Coronavirus

  • Zero domestic infection reported in China – In a major milestone against coronavirus pandemic battle, China marked a major milestone in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic as it recorded zero domestic infections for the first time since the outbreak emerged, but a spike in imported cases threatened its progress. The pandemic, it seems is on decline as nations across the world have shut down in a desperate effort to contain the pandemic, with more people now infected and having died abroad than in China. There have been no new cases in Wuhan — the central city where the virus first emerged in December — for the first time since authorities started publishing figures in January, according to the National Health Commission.
  • China has closed down its last coronavirus hospital as there were not enough new cases to support them. 
  • Doctors in India have been successful in treating coronavirus. Combination of drugs that are being used are Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir along with Chlorphenamine. Same medicines are being suggested globally.
  • Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Center claim to have found an antibody against coronavirus.
  • A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has fully recover from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan.
  • Apple reopens all 42 china stores.
  • Cleveland Clinic developed a COVID-19 test that gives results in hours.
  • In South Korea, number of new cases are declining.
  • Italy has been hit hard only because they have the oldest population in Europe, as per experts.
  •  Scientists in Israel might reportedly announce the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
  • 3 Maryland coronavirus patients fully recovered
  •  A team of Canadian scientists are making excellent progress in Covid-19 research.
  • A San Diego biotech company is working towards developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore.
  • Reportedly, plasma from newly recovered patients from Covid -19 can treat others infected by Covid-19.

Amid the pandemic, these news reinstate our faith and give us hope to fight with double the strength. Wash hands, stay away from each other to stay safe. SOURCE

Revolution or steady progress? The Bernie-Biden climate split

Grist / Mario Tama / PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images

Is it better to take on climate change with bold, revolutionary action, or compromise and tinkering?

In practice, it’s usually both. You can organize protests, and support the incremental art-of-the-possible tweaks that city and state officials work to pass. But in the contest to nominate the Democratic candidate for the White House, this question has been an either-or proposition. The race has narrowed to Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who represent opposite sides of this divide (or at least their supporters do). You’re bound to see this populist versus insider split when they face off in debate Sunday.

Sanders promises big, Green New Deal-style changes, counting on a popular uprising to transform political reality. Biden, though also a supporter of the Green New Deal, offers more modest changes within the existing political framework. Which is a better bet?

In the middle of our national flame-throwing fest about how to get things done, we could learn a lot from a little-noticed debate from last year that serves as the perfect proxy for this question. This wasn’t your typical chest-pounding debate, in fact it was sort of the opposite: A disagreement offering so much clarity that, no matter your position, it’s certain to shift your thinking at least a little bit.

It started in March last year, when Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, pleaded in “An Open Letter to Green New Dealers” for a more Biden-esque approach. (Taylor is a former CATO Institute climate-change skeptic who changed his mind as he reviewed the evidence).

Leah Stokes, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara (and a newly minted member of the Grist 50) fired back with an epic thread of tweets, making the Bernie-esque case that elected officials would need a social movement, a push from the people, to get anything done.

The two met in person last September and hashed it out at a conference organized by the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank. You can watch the whole debate yourself.

But if you’re trying to limit your screen time, here are some of the highlights:

Taylor warned Stokes against fighting the impossible fight. He anticipated that a political window would open to pass climate legislation in 2021, which Democrats could miss if they become focused on the Green New Deal. There’s good reason to think something that big would fail: The Democratic Congress couldn’t even pass a resolution to support it in principle.

“In other words, if there was a Republican rapture experience, and they all disappeared and all we had were Democrats in the House, it still wouldn’t pass,” Taylor said.

It turned out that Stokes agreed with this: “A lot of your critiques, Jerry, really speak to the inside Congress game. And I think you are spot on on that.” But she argued that if there’s going to be any hope of passing legislation big enough to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, we should be looking outside of Washington for leadership. “If you look at the Earth Day movement, the founding of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, a lot of the landmark legislation that we still rely on today actually came out of a big public outpouring of people in the streets,” she said.

The problem with Stokes’s line of thinking, Taylor responded, is that climate action is polarized along political lines. Republicans such as climate-change denying Senator James Inhofe are the ones blocking legislation, he said, not the politicians influenced by climate strike-leader Greta Thunberg. “I don’t care how many people Greta puts in New York, it’s not changing James Inhofe’s mind, nor is it changing the votes of most Republicans.”

But the fact that activists, like those from the Sunrise Movement, are banging down the doors of Congress and holding strikes is creating space even for right wingers to offer their own version of policy, Stokes said. “If you are being asked by journalists all the time, like, “What’s your climate plan?” and the Republicans have no answer, they have to come up with something.”

There’s much more to be gleaned from the debate (you really should watch it, these two are so funny and smart) Witness Taylor ripping the GOP (“First of all, you have to speak their language: Russian”) and Stokes self-mockingly professing her passion for energy research (“I just want to spend a lot of money because I love the government, bad habit”).

It’s important to recognize that a lot has changed in the last 4 months. When I recently asked Taylor for an update, he pointed out that the Green New Deal is no longer sucking all the air out of the room, so the door is open for politicians to push for other measures in Congress. Democrats are working on bills like the Clean Future Act which, he said, is less a Green New Deal and more a copy of California’s state climate policy rejiggered for national scale.

Taylor also had words of praise for the activists he had once been so worried about. “What Sunrise has done,” he said, “is to elevate climate change to the near-top of the progressive agenda. And that counts for something. It may count for a lot, actually.”

Which is one of the key points Stokes was making in their debate. Taylor shifted his stance as he realized the facts had changed. As for Stokes, she noted that this primary season is a referendum on whether activists like the Sunrise Movement can lead a surge in new voters to support something like the Green New Deal. That hasn’t happened. “I think we are seeing the limits of that,” she conceded. Both Taylor and Stokes have moved closer to each other.

But Stokes stuck to her guns on one point: She sees a role for a social movement around climate change. “I think that climate change is the unity issue for the Democratic Party. And it’s a huge wedge issue: It has a lot of support among independents and young Republicans.”

A smart candidate would run on a climate-focused surge of spending, promising good union jobs and clean air, Stokes said: “That would be a winner in November.” SOURCE

Forward-thinking Utrecht builds car-free district for 12,000 people

Scheme will enhance city’s reputation as a bicycling capital of Europe

The “cyclist-first” city of Utrecht is constructing the Netherlands’ first high-density, car-free residential district for more than 12,000 people, making it one of the largest of its type in the world.

The 24-hectare site, located between two canals in the middle of the city, is a business park but by 2024 it is hoped the area will enhance Utrecht’s reputation as a bicycling capital of Europe.

The Dutch city built the Netherlands’ first bike lane in 1885 and last year it unveiled the world’s largest multistorey bike park area with space to accommodate 12,500 bicycles of all shapes and sizes.

The new-build Merwede district of 6,000 homes is expected to be serviced by about 20,000 bicycles.

“It should be easier to get a bike than it should be to get a car,” the project’s architect, Marco Broekman, said of the philosophy behind the development.

Construction on the first homes is expected in 2022. Two new primary schools and health centres, a high school, a sports centre and shops and businesses will also be built on the site, which will be accessible to the rest of the city, the fourth largest in the Netherlands, by bike lanes and trams.

Only four dead-end roads of 60 metres in length will protrude into the car-free idyll to allow “logistical” access for petrol-guzzling vehicles into the district’s outer fringes.

Underground garages alongside the “logistical roads“ will offer 1,800 parking spaces for those who cannot quit their addiction to the car, equating to one car for every three households.

The parking spaces will be available for use at a heavy cost and are to remain unassigned to dissuade use. Alongside them will be 300 shared cars for residents’ use. The closest alternative parking will be 3km away.

For shopping deliveries, and for the removal of rubbish from the new car-free streets, it is expected small electric vehicles will be deployed to trundle from the “logistical roads” to the homes and back.

The Merwede district will boast the largest underground heat and cold storage facility in the Netherlands, using water from the Merwedekanaal to cool it. The roofs of the district’s buildings will be filled with greenery or solar panels, which would cover three hectares if put side to side.

Broekman said he and his collaborators had been inspired by smaller-scale projects in Paris and a 600-home development in Amsterdam’s Gemeente Waterleiding district, but that he believed the scale of the project was unique.

He said: “By having this car-free area, we can design spaces without the straitjacket rules of the car, and thus focus on essentials for a high-density area, which is the quality of public space, city on eye level, green, biodiversity, climate adaptation and meeting places for social interaction.”

Kees Diepeveen, the alderman responsible for the city district, known as the Merwedekanaalzone, said Utrecht was rapidly growing and the behaviour of its citizens was changing as quickly.

He said: “We have the highest number of shared cars [per capita] in the Netherlands. It is amazing to see how the average household is changing its habits. This especially counts for the younger generations.”

Merwede, a third of whose land is owned by the municipality with the rest belonging to private entities, follows the example of Vauban in Germany, which is home to more than 5,000 people.

Residents there must confirm once a year that they do not own a car or otherwise purchase a space in a multistorey car park on the edge of the district. A space was initially provided for every two households, but car ownership has fallen over time, and many of spaces now lie empty. SOURCE

On the verge: a quiet roadside revolution is boosting wildflowers

Projects to reduce grass cutting and increase the diversity of plants and wildlife along Britain’s roads are having dramatic results

Main image: Traffic passing pyramidal orchids and other wildflowers along the A354, near Weymouth, Dorset. Photograph: http://www.pqpictures.co.uk/Alamy

n 2014, Giles Nicholson was battling the growing year from hell. A mild winter followed by a warm, wet spring had turbocharged a ferocious mass of cow parsley, nettles and dense grass along the hundreds of miles of road his team maintains for Dorset council. Austerity meant there was barely enough money to pay for repeated cuttings to hold back the matted swards. Complaints poured in about messy roadsides.

“[The machinery] wouldn’t go through it,” says Nicholson, recalling the overspilling verges.

But the chaos of that summer would prove an unlikely turning point for wildflowers and biodiversity in the English county. Vast stretches of roadside have been transformed. Where there were thick clumps of grass, there are low-growing wildflowers such as black medic, birds-foot trefoil and red clover. The verges are cut two or three times a year, not 12, saving the council tens of thousands of pounds. Butterflies and other invertebrates have returned in their droves.

The reasons behind this unlikely mini-revolution for biodiversity are simple. When the worst of the 2014 growing season was over, ecologist Philip Sterling was brought in to oversee the council’s service team. He and Nicholson, Dorset council’s countryside and greenspace manager, set about applying the centuries-old principles of hay making to the management of verges, cul-de-sacs and urban grass patches across the county. It is a practice that has now been adopted by other counties in the UK, including in Lincolnshire.

 

In Sandford, Wareham, wildflowers are part of an initiative to provide an attractive habitat for butterflies and insects, while helping to cut the costs of roadside mowing. Photograph: Eva Worobiec/Alamy

The process is simple: cut infrequently, ideally, just twice a year in spring and then late summer once plants have bloomed and seeded; remove the clippings to gradually reduce the fertility of the soil and prevent a buildup of mulch; repeat, wait, and enjoy the resurgent wildlife and flowers.

“It will not fail,” says Sterling, who, as programme manager for charity Butterfly Conservation’s building sites for butterflies project, has taken his roadside revolution around the country to any local authority that will listen. “As fertility declines in a soil, biodiversity increases. At first that seems a little counterintuitive because you imagine the more you pour into a soil, the more plants that can grow. That’s not how it works in the natural system. In more fertile systems, a few species dominate and they swamp and smother everything else.”

 

Wildflowers on roadsides are a haven for butterflies and insects. Photograph: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Grass cuttings are almost always left where they fall along the thousands of miles of road verges that are maintained by law in the UK. Over time, the resulting mulch increases the fertility of the soil, meaning the grass grows with increasing vigour and needs to be cut more frequently. The cut and collect method breaks the cycle.

The before and after photos of otherwise ordinary roadsides across Dorset show the dramatic effects of Nicholson and Sterling’s maintenance regime, as suffocated seed banks have been allowed to spring back into life. Yarrow and yellow flashes of lady’s bedstraw punctuate roadsides and roundabouts throughout summer. Magenta pyramidal orchids linger outside a branch of Tesco.

The cost savings of managing roadsides this way are equally stunning for the council’s accounting department. The annual budget for highway verge management dropped from nearly £1m to £650k in five years under the cut and collect, low fertility approach. London boroughs, councils from across the country and European governments are paying attention.

“For the last 40 years we’ve been doing entirely the wrong thing,” says Sterling, impatient with the possibilities for roadsides across the UK and beyond.

Wildlife corridors

Wildflower meadows, ancient British ecosystems that are crucial for wildlife, thrived for centuries with the help of traditional farming methods and livestock husbandry, but have largely vanished in the post-war era. Industrialised use of nitrogen fertilisers and poor land management have diminished the crucial wildlife habitat by 97% since the 1930s. But road verges have become an unlikely source of hope.

Last September, the wildlife charity Plantlife produced new guidelines for transforming the management of the UK’s roadsides that incorporate some of Nicholson and Sterling’s practices. Crucially, the plan to turn verges into wildlife corridors is also backed by the country’s highways authorities and construction and services businesses such as Kier and Skanska.

If adopted nationwide, an area the size of Nottinghamshire could see 700 species of wildflowers thriving along the road network in Great Britain, equivalent to around 40% of the government’s land restoration targets for 2040. A petition backing Plantlife’s campaign has more than 85,000 signatures.

Botanical surveyors inspect roadside verges in Lincolnshire. Photograph: Matthew Roberts/Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

“It’s about bringing colour back to the countryside and to our roadsides. If we have that colour there, then we’ll have lots of other wildlife there as well,” says Plantlife botanist Trevor Dines.

“Plants are the powerhouses of our food chains. They are the only things that are collecting energy from the sun and pumping it into the food chain. Without that diversity of plants there, you don’t get the diversity of other wildlife,” he adds.

One 4.5-mile stretch in Dorset shows what is possible: the Weymouth relief road. Opened in 2011 ahead of sailing events at the Olympics, the seven hectares (17 acres) of verges that line one of the busiest roads in the county have become a crucial site for biodiversity.

 

Yellow clusters of kidney vetch, the only wildflower where the small blue, Britain’s smallest butterfly, will lay its eggs, dominate the roadsides in the spring and summer. But the medicinal pea-like flowers, whose seeds can cost more than £2,000 a kilo from commercial providers, are not an extravagant token of the region’s Olympic legacy.

“I harvested the seeds for that myself,” says Sterling, recounting the painstaking task of growing enough kidney vetch at recycling centres and flood bunds since the early 90s. “Now look how much there is.”

Since the road opened, more than half of the species of butterfly known to inhabit Britain have been recorded on the grasslands lining the road, including the Adonis blue and Chalkhill blue. Sterling has 10kg of of kidney vetch seed ready in his office for when the Stonehenge tunnel gets approval .

A Holly blue butterfly rests on a yellow kidney vetch. Photograph: MusicalJoe/Getty Images/iStockphoto

“If you think about the species of butterfly that Weymouth relief road supports on seven hectares, what would it be like on a hundred hectares?” says Nicholson excitedly.

“There’s a huge opportunity here in the UK to change what we’ve currently got,” says Sterling. “We can put back much of what we’ve lost. It’s not impossible to do. We haven’t gone beyond that tipping point where there is so little left that there’s no point.

“If half the species of butterfly in the UK can turn up on a road verge created less than 10 years ago, then we do have the capabilities to do this, don’t we?”

But such enthusiasm for Britain’s wildflowers are not apparent everywhere. Opposite a burger van in a ditch near Ely lies one of England’s rarest plants, the only known native fenland ragwort plant.

The critically endangered wildflower, which is supposedly protected by being on a Site of Special Scientific Interest, is surrounded by faded McDonald’s packaging and beer tins. The plant was only discovered when a French botanist from a nearby Cambridge research centre identified it while relieving himself in a layby in the 1960s, so the story goes.

“It was the first sighting of fen ragwort since the mid to late 19th century, so getting on for 100 years, more or less,” says Tim Pankhurst, Plantlife’s conservation manager for the east of England, as lorries storm pass on the road that links Ely and Newmarket.

“That’s it for fen ragwort. This is the sole native site in Britain. A lonely roadside ditch at the back of a verge near Ely.”

The tall plant is a relic of how the fens, in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk, used to be: a vast expanse of marshland full of native birds and wildlife. Fen ragwort would have been torn up and moved around by flood waters, but since the region was drained in the 18th century, there’s now only one known native site. SOURCE

UN declaration guides reconciliation

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says signing on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will cause ‘confusion and uncertainty’ for Canada.</p>

Democratic horizons in times of corona governance

Gatekeepers of the present order adapt efficiently. But others can open up a plurality of futures.

Drive through COVID19 checkpost in Daegu, one of two virus epicentres in South Korea.

Drive through COVID19 checkpost in Daegu, one of two virus epicentres in South Korea. | Seung-il Ryu/PA. All rights reserved.

Exceptional moments legitimize exceptional policy responses. Declarations of emergency, usually by definition, mean that democratic rights and liberties are diminished. Times like this, however, can also provide opportunities for experiments that expand the limits of the politically possible in ways that enhance democratic imagination.

Changes in what seems politically possible can mean expansion of state regulation. National budgets suddenly become more flexible, providing new policy space for Keynesian-inspired arguments to increase state intervention to mitigate the shock. At the same time, the crisis can also trigger non-state forms of collective organization. Mutual aid, emphasized historically by many anarchists, becomes concrete in many localities.

Industrial action by workers can get new dimensions, such as bus drivers refusing to control tickets for fear of infection. This can create experiments in free public transport simply as an unintended consequence, but it can also open horizons for social movement unionism in which unions include the demands of other social movements. For privileged scholars, staying home can increase available time to reflect on alternative world orders and digitally discuss how to make them concrete.

For privileged scholars, staying home can increase available time to reflect on alternative world orders and digitally discuss how to make them concrete.

Many of these experiences may be brief and reversible. The Covid-19 pandemic spreading at the moment has terrible human consequences. The risks of contagion are not shared equally. Many have duties that make isolation and social distancing difficult. It is important to confront the possibility of dystopian despair it is creating for the most vulnerable in addition to seeking democratic horizons during the crisis. For better or for worse, the crisis opens cracks in the present that can provide signs of the future.

Corona governance

An exogenous shock to the social and political realities attracts what Vivien Schmidt has called discursive entrepreneurs. They “serve as catalysts for change as they draw on and articulate the ideas of discursive communities and coalitions” (Schmidt 2008, 310). A successful intervention of discursive entrepreneurs may lead to the definition of possible ways forward in terms of the paradigm of the entrepreneur. From a different perspective, this can also mean what Naomi Klein (2020) is suggesting: “The future will be determined by whoever is willing to fight harder for the ideas they have lying around”. Klein might be overemphasizing agency here, but different media platforms are now filled with attempts to articulate immediate responses on how to control the pandemic crisis. Combined with responses of states and other institutions, a new field of participatory expertise that we call corona governance has emerged.

Corona governance includes ideological oddities, such as the right opposition asking for the left-leaning government to assume more authoritarian powers in Finland. More globally, many are asking whether the way the crisis has been handled by China provides evidence in favor of, or against, the crisis management possibilities that an explicitly authoritarian state has. In the emerging corona governance talk, South Korea is sometimes mentioned as a possible model.

If the Europeans or North Americans are now looking at Asian experiences as something to learn from, it may have some longer-term consequences. In traditional Eurocentric and colonial approaches, still very alive today, others need to learn from Europe. Learning to learn from others, if attempted by Europeans and other parts of the “global west”, could make the world less Eurocentric and, at least potentially, in some sense more democratic. Using terms coined by Saara Särmä, there is a possibility that the post-coronial world might be slightly more post-colonial. Then again, learning from China can also mean more efficient diffusion of authoritarian control techniques. For democratic futures of various kinds, the corona crisis presents both dangers and opportunities.

Learning to learn from others, if attempted by Europeans and other parts of the “global west”, could make the world… more democratic.

As argued by Naomi Klein (2007) already in The Shock Doctrine, the opportunities of sudden crises are often defined by the capitalist and other elites. Nevertheless, a shock like the Coronavirus can also allow new ideas to enter the public discourse. For example, during the “mad cow disease” outbreak some demands external to the elite discourse managed to temporarily enter the world political arena. These included public health and consumer protection demands (Aaltola 1999). Long-term effects, however, were limited. It is possible, but by no means guaranteed, that the unprecedented global media attention to the present crisis helps make health concerns a higher priority in public policies of the future.

If there is public money and political will to confront the corona crisis, why not also the climate change crisis?

MORE

Canada: LRWC releases legal brief on Canada’s international law obligations to Wet’suwet’en

Canada‘s international human rights law obligations to suspend construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline and stop use of force against the Wet’suwet’en

Full .pdf press release | Full legal brief (.html)  | full  legal brief (.pdf)

Photo from Unist’ot’en Camp press release http://unistoten.camp/feb10/

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada releases international law brief

 IMMEDIATE RELEASE

17 March 2020 – Canada and British Columbia (BC) are in breach of Canada’s international law obligations when they refuse to comply with a 2019 UN decision calling for the immediate suspension of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, said Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) in a legal brief released Tuesday. The use of force against the Wet’suwet’en and other peaceful protestors also violates international law, the report says.

 LRWC’s report summarizes the international law obligations of Canada and BC to comply with the 13 December 2019 Decision of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN Committee) calling on Canada to take measures to fulfill Canada’s binding international law duties under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the Convention).  Canada ratified the Convention in 1970. The report also discusses Canada’s obligations to guarantee the rights to property, equality and non-discrimination for Indigenous Peoples in the Inter-American human rights system.

The report summarizes the Committee’s Decision 1(100), issued under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure, including the Committee’s concern about continuation of large-scale projects without free, prior and informed consent, and alarm at threats of violence against Indigenous Peoples. The Committee was “disturbed by forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials against indigenous peoples who peacefully oppose large-scale development projects on their traditional territories.”

The UN Committee called on Canada to “immediately halt the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en people, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.” The UN Committee also called on Canada “to guarantee that no force will be used against the Wet’suwet’en people.”

“This is not the first time Canada has ignored recommendations of UN bodies,” noted Gail Davidson, LRWC’s Executive Director and report co-author. “Canada and BC have persistently disregarded UN recommendations that Canada comply with its legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“Canada has repeatedly claimed it has complied with its duty to consult,” said Heather Neun, co-author of the report. “Both the UN and Inter-American human rights systems emphasize that consultation requires that the affected Indigenous people is able to significantly influence the State’s decision-making processes and decisions, and have any concerns fully addressed. International law also requires that the State obtains their free, prior and informed consent in cases of large-scale development or extraction projects that would have a major impact within Indigenous Peoples’ territories.”

“LRWC also takes issue with government officials’ misuse of the term ‘rule of law’,” said Davidson. “The rule of law emerged as a safeguard against tyranny and the arbitrary use of power,” added Davidson. “It is incorrect to use the term to justify summary enforcement of laws and decisions that violate or restrict internationally protected rights,” she emphasized.

The UN definition of the rule of law requires that domestic statutes and court orders be interpreted and enforced consistently with Canada’s international human rights law obligations arising from treaties to which Canada is a State Party and from customary international law binding on Canada. The report cites several Supreme Court of Canada decisions emphasizing the importance of international human rights law “as the underpinning of the rule of law.”

LRWC’s report emphasizes that Canada is obligated to respect and comply with the 13 December 2019 Decision of the Committee calling on Canada to:

  • immediately halt the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult;
  • cease the forced eviction of the Wet’suwet’en from their traditional territories;
  • guarantee that no force will be used against Wet’suwet’en; and
  • guarantee that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and associated security and policing services will be withdrawn from their unceded traditional lands.
%d bloggers like this: