Financial fallout from coronavirus could devastate the fracking and plastics industries

“The likelihood of them being able to meet financial targets after this is quite small,” says one financial analyst.

PITTSBURGH—As the U.S. braces for the social and financial impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some financial analysts predict that two markets will be among those hit hardest: Fracking and plastics manufacturing.

Ethane, a byproduct of fracking, is used to manufacture plastics.

The fracking industry has already seen a massive downturn in recent years: The 30 biggest fracking companies lost a combined $50 billion between 2012 and 2017—a period when oil prices were much higher than they are now, before anyone had heard of coronavirus.

The process of extracting oil and natural gas from the Earth by drilling deep wells and injecting liquid at high pressure is expensive; many fracking companies go into a tremendous amount of debt. Due to oversupply and consistently low prices for natural gas over the last 10 years, many have yet to pay those debts back and become profitable.

“The industry had already been seeing negative cash flows and a huge debt overhang for quite a while, and we certainly don’t see that changing after this current downturn in the market,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) told EHN.

(Credit: Kate Ausburn/Flickr)

The global rate of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to more than 197,000 on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has erased the gains it had made since 2017, global oil prices have fallen by half since the start of the year, and some analysts predict that oil prices could drop below $20 a barrel in the coming weeks.

Natural gas prices rose slightly last week, but have since dipped back down. All of this is likely to have a ripple effect on the fracking industry, which is inextricably linked to the plastics manufacturing industry.

In an attempt to salvage the industry (prior to the arrival of coronavirus), companies like Shell, Appalachian Resins, Braskem America, Aither Chemicals, and PTT Global have initiated plans to open plastics manufacturing plants that would create new demand for ethane.

At least five new, massive plastics manufacturing facilities have been proposed throughout Appalachia along the Ohio River Basin in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Each site is estimated to create demand for ethane from 1,000 new fracked wells each year.

The facility closest to completion is the Shell ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, 33 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. President Trump visited it for a campaign rally in the summer 2019, touting his record of oil- and gas-friendly policies.

The site has been in the news recently for refusing to shut down construction during the coronavirus pandemic, keeping some 6,000 workers coming in every day and requiring them to gather in close quarters for daily meetings—a practice Shell agreed to halt only after whistleblowers contacted local media outlets to report “unsanitary conditions.”

Construction continues at the facility, but Sanzillo believes prospects for the plant and the local community look much different now than when the project launched in 2012. [UPDATE: Shell has since suspended construction at the site.]

At that particular plant and any of the other proposed sites, I think it’s very likely that when they do open for commercial operation, they’ll be entering a distressed market,” he said. “That means they’ll probably have difficulty meeting their financial targets—even with the low price of natural gas—because the market for plastics is similarly problematic.”

Seven or eight years ago when this project first got underway, Sanzillo explained, the price for the kind of plastics these facilities will produce was about $1 per pound. “Now they’re about 40 cents or 60 cents per pound, so the likelihood of them being able to meet financial targets after this is quite small.”

“Far less economic benefit to the community than initially predicted”

Environmental and community health advocates across Appalachia have fought development of the petrochemical facilities, citing their contribution to the global plastics crisis and impacts on human health and fears that the plants’ toxic emissions will speed up climate change and could turn the region into another “Cancer Alley” like the petrochemical corridor in Louisiana, which has some of the highest cancer rates in the nation.

Opponents have also pointed out that fracking is linked to numerous human health impacts, many of which are already being felt in communities in the Marcellus Shale Play, the heavily fracked region spanning Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York.

The battle around the Shell Ethane Cracker in Beaver County has been especially arduous—Pittsburgh’s mayor even joined the fray—in part because the Pittsburgh region already has some of the worst air pollution and highest risk of cancer caused by air pollution in the country.

Meanwhile, proponents cite the region’s desperate need for jobs and economic investment, spurring ongoing battles over whether the industry is deserving of additional tax breaks from the state of Pennsylvania.

While much of the plastics manufacturing industry, like the fracking industry, was already facing an uphill battle to meet investment goals, Sanzillo said the damage to the market caused by coronavirus will make that even harder for the Pennsylvania Shell Ethane Cracker. Not meeting those goals probably wouldn’t lead to an immediate closure of the plant, he added, but could change long-term prospects for the industry in the region.

Plastic “nurdles” used to create plastic products. (Credit: gentlemanrook/Flickr)

“Will the facility be a cash engine for Shell?” he asked. “Probably not. Will they eke out a profit? Depends.”

“We’re now seeing a much, much, much more modest scenario than they’ve hoped for.”

This shift will likely have a substantial impact on the local economy, said Kathy Hipple, a financial analyst at IEEFA. Hipple has spent years closely monitoring the oil and gas sector with a focus on the financial performance of natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale Play.

“It’s likely there will be far less economic benefit to the community than initially predicted,” Hipple told EHN. “There will likely be fewer longterm jobs than initially predicted, and the idea of ‘spinoff businesses’ popping up around the hub of the plant that was also predicted is now unlikely to happen.”

While some 6,000 workers are involved in construction of the plant, just 600 permanent jobs are expected to be created at the plant, and residents have previously expressed concern that many of those jobs might not go to locals.

More efficiency, more loss

Site of the Shell Ethane Cracker/Credit: Kristina Marusic for EHN

Some analysts have recently speculated that if companies drilling in places like Texas and North Dakota stop drilling for oil due to the current glut, their natural gas output will fall, too, which could actually increase demand from the Marcellus. Sanzillo and Hipple said that scenario isn’t impossible, but is unlikely to make much of a difference in the long run.

“It will be worth watching, but it’s way too early to be speculating about that,” Hipple said. “And regardless, the business case for fracking has never actually been proven. The industry has never been more efficient than they are right now at extracting natural gas, but the more efficient they’ve become, the more money they’ve lost. Cash flows have been negative for a decade, and we see no sign of that changing after this.”

Asked how many jobs this crisis could impact, Hipple said they didn’t have specific numbers, but that there could be additional large-scale layoffs and closures, which the industry was already seeing before the current price drop. But she also noted that the jobs attributed to the industry in Pennsylvania and other states heavily reliant on the industry “often turn out to be exaggerated once you actually parse the numbers.”

As much as this is a bad time for the fracking and plastics industries and could imperil people’s jobs, Hipple and Sanzillo both emphasized that there are much bigger things at stake.

“We look at markets and market fundamentals,” Sanzillo said, “but the biggest problem of the coronavirus is people being sick and dying. If you can’t solve a public health problem that has become an economic problem, you’ve got a lot more to worry about than just plastics.” SOURCE

How a new generation of climate activists is reviving fossil fuel divestment and gaining victories

By tapping into existing networks and old campaigns, a new wave of student activism is making the fossil fuel divestment movement bigger, bolder and more creative.

Image result for How a new generation of climate activists is reviving fossil fuel divestment and gaining victories

Student climate activists at the 2019 Harvard-Yale football game. (Facebook/Divest Ed)

A wave of student-led actions swept across the campuses of around 60 U.S. and Canadian schools last month, as students turned to sit-ins, walkouts and banner drops to pressure universities into divesting their endowments from fossil fuel companies. Called “Divestment Day” by activists, the Feb. 13 series of actions was just the latest escalation for a movement that’s been undergoing a serious revival.

In fact, even just one year ago, something like the events of Divestment Day would have been unimaginable, as the movement was just coming out of a protracted lull. Since then, however, existing and newly formed divestment-focused groups have begun working together, old campaigns have adopted new tactics and the next generation of youth climate organizers has risen to the forefront.

As a result, this revitalized divestment movement is now bigger, bolder and more creative than ever before. While that’s certainly a testament to scale of the climate crisis we face — and the fact that young people are running out of patience with institutions that consistently refuse to take action — there is also a deeper story about the stabilizing role movement organizations play during periods of inaction.

Origins of the divestment movement

The nationwide fossil fuel divestment movement first took off at Swarthmore College, when students there were inspired to launch a fossil fuel divestment campaign after a 2010 visit to Appalachian communities affected by mountaintop removal mining. Previously, a scattering of student campaigns had experimented with pressuring schools to end investments in fossil fuel industries. However, while these early efforts gave climate activists valuable experience navigating the world of school investments, they were largely isolated.

The Swarthmore campaign was different. It started when national climate groups like were looking seriously at divestment as a strategy. By 2012 several other East Coast and Midwest schools — including University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and University of Illinois — had started their own divestment campaigns. Then, later that year, held its Do The Math Tour, a nationwide series of events designed to kick the divestment movement into high gear. Within a few weeks, campaigns spread to more than 100 campuses.

Over the next few years, hundreds of churches, local governments, and philanthropic institutions started divesting from fossil fuels. However, by about 2016, the college and university arm of the movement was losing steam. It was a victim of its own success, as much of the lower-hanging fruit had already been won, with many progressive-leaning, smaller colleges already committed to divest. At other schools, administrations and boards of trustees with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry had proven themselves to be intractable.

“By 2017, a lot of campaigns had already gone through two or three rejections, and some older students were growing cynical,” said Alyssa Lee of Divest Ed, which works with divestment campaigns across the country and coordinated this month’s Divestment Day.

Lee got her start as a divestment activist at University of California Los Angeles in the movement’s early years. As a freshman, she heard visiting speakers from Tuvalu and Vanuatu describe the impact of rising sea levels on their island homelands. These stories from the frontlines inspired Lee to get involved in climate activism. At another event, hosted by the California Student Sustainability Coalition, she learned about divestment. In 2012, as the movement took off nationally, Lee helped launch a divestment campaign at UCLA.

After college Lee took a job with the Better Futures Project supporting student divestment campaigns in New England. At the time she was one of many staff spread across several organizations — including, Responsible Endowments Coalition, and Divestment Student Network — working to provide student divestment campaigns with resources. Gradually, though, most of these other groups either moved on to other priorities or dissolved.

In 2017, Lee realized she was the only staffer left in the country doing fossil fuel divestment work full-time. It seemed like a good moment to ask whether the movement had run its course, or just needed a new injection of energy to bring it fully back to life.

The following year Better Futures began a series of consultations with students and alumni from colleges where divestment campaigns were or had been organizing. “We found there were still lots of campaigns active across the country,” Lee said. “But they were generally not being noticed beyond their schools and had lost the feeling of being part of a national movement.”

Convinced there was lots of life left in the student divestment movement after all, Better Futures launched the Divest Ed project. Bolstered by additional staff and resources, Divest Ed expanded Better Futures’ divestment work to the national level, attempting to fill the void left by other organizations.

As it turned out, the timing could hardly have been better. That coming school year was an especially propitious time to be investing in student climate organizing.

A new wave of student activism

While Divest Ed was starting up in 2018, a group of high school students coordinating over social media were launching a new youth-led climate group called Zero Hour, which debuted with a national day of marches that July. Then, as the school year began in the fall, Zero Hour along with the burgeoning international climate strike movement began inspiring hundreds of young people to become climate activists. Meanwhile, some who had already become active earlier in the year were now starting college.

“We noticed immediately, in fall of 2018, an influx of student energy around climate activism,” Lee said.

One of those students was Ilana Cohen, a New Yorker entering Harvard. Cohen traces her awareness of climate injustice to 2012, when she was 11 years old and Hurricane Sandy battered New York City. She was confused as to why she and other students in more affluent areas returned to school within days, while schools in lower-income neighborhoods remained closed for weeks after the storm. For the first time, she saw firsthand the effects of a social order where already-marginalized people are hit hardest by extreme weather and given fewer resources to cope with it.

In her senior year of high school Cohen got involved in Zero Hour, after reading about the organization online. She and a friend founded a New York chapter that coordinated a march for the first Zero Hour day of action.

On arriving at Harvard, Cohen was quickly drawn to divestment as a way to continue her activism. But the Harvard campaign, which began in 2012, had by then dwindled to only a few active members. A new cohort of activists began working to change that — including Cohen, who participated in an organizing fellowship through Divest Ed. Given that the Harvard campaign had been ongoing for years, they determined it was time to escalate.

Activists with Divest Harvard, Fossil Free Yale and the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition ran onto the field at last year’s Harvard-Yale football game. (Facebook/Divest Harvard)


An opportunity to do so came in November 2019 at a Harvard-Yale football game. During halftime, around 150 activists from Divest Harvard, Fossil Free Yale, and Yale Endowment Justice Coalition began running to the middle of the field. As 30,000 people watched from the stands, the students unfurled banners with messages including the phrase, “Yale and Harvard are complicit in climate injustice.” Unplanned, hundreds more people from the packed stands spontaneously ran to join them until the crowd swelled to around 500.

Cohen believes the wider divestment movement will need to escalate to overcome the grip of fossil fuel interests on schools like Harvard. “Harvard-Yale is only the start of what we’ll be seeing here and at campuses around the country,” she said.

As campaigns prepare for new waves of escalation, some are turning for support not only to Divest Ed, but to a new organization committed to encouraging more direct action in the climate movement: Extinction Rebellion University.

Rebelling for climate justice

Ayisha Siddiqa was about the same age as Ilana Cohen when Hurricane Sandy brought its path of destruction to New York. But for Siddiqa’s family, living in a community of mostly black and brown immigrants on Coney Island, the effects were much longer lasting. Even today, piles of rubble and abandoned buildings attest to the power of the storm.

Siddiqa, who emigrated from Pakistan with her family when she was six, didn’t grow up hearing about the climate crisis in school. Only when she was a freshman at New York’s Hunter College, taking an ecology class, did the topic begin coming up regularly. But somehow, news that something was deeply wrong with the Earth didn’t come as a shock. “I think I was aware of it subconsciously,” Siddiqa said. Perhaps this came partly from living through events like Hurricane Sandy.

Determined to do something about the climate crisis, in May 2019 Siddiqa worked to launch Extinction Rebellion University, a student branch of the direct action movement that first made headlines by using massive crowds to shut down streets in the United Kingdom. Studying the history of social movements had impressed on her the value of nonviolent civil disobedience — but she wasn’t convinced Extinction Rebellion’s tactics in major cities were always strategic. On the other hand, college campuses seemed an ideal place to deploy nonviolent disruption for maximum effect.

“When you block traffic in a city, the only people you’re inconveniencing are those getting to and from home or work,” Siddiqa explained. “But at a university you can more easily be affecting actual decision makers. You can take over a college president’s office or board of trustees meeting.”

Columbia University students hold up Extinction Rebellion banners in October. (Twitter/@xruniversityUS)

Extinction Rebellion University has held direct action trainings at more than 50 mainly Northeastern schools, some of which have already led to disruptive protests. Last fall at Columbia University, where the movement is especially strong, students organized an occupation of the library building and a week-long hunger strike with divestment as one of their demands. “We are changing the culture of civil disobedience at schools,” Siddiqa said.

The fact that such escalation has been necessary is an indicator of the resistance school administrations have presented to divestment campaigns. But while convincing major institutions to divest is almost never easy, the movement has also had recent victories.

Winning campaigns

On Feb. 6, Georgetown University’s administration announced that the Jesuit school would fully divest from all fossil fuels. For the university’s student divestment activists, it was a vindication of their years-long work.

Georgetown’s divestment campaign — Georgetown University Fossil Free, or GUFF — launched in January 2013. Early on, the campaign made use of high-visibility tactics like sit-ins, banner drops, and walking into the university board of directors’ meetings unannounced. Students got the board’s attention, prompting it to refer the fossil fuel divestment question to its Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility.

GUFF members worried the Social Responsibility Committee, which formed in response to the anti-apartheid movement decades ago, might be used to shield divestment conversations away from public view, delaying any action. But in the face of pressure from students, the committee sent a proposal to the full board that passed in 2016, committing to divest from coal. In 2018 the board voted to also divest from tar sands companies. But GUFF’s ultimate goal — full divestment from all fossil fuels — remained elusive.

GUFF members posing on the day of the day of the Youth Climate Strike in September. (Twitter/@GUFossilFree/)


By late 2019, it seemed GUFF’s fears about the committee had been realized. Students pushed a proposal for full divestment, but committee members had largely stopped communicating. “There was radio silence for half a year,” said Sadie Morris, a GUFF member who grew up in California and transferred to GU from UC-Davis. “We got the occasional very short email saying they were looking at our proposal, but they didn’t actually seem to be meeting or moving forward.”

GUFF members realized they needed to make the board feel more accountable to students through higher-visibility tactics. “We decided to go back to our roots and engage the student body in creating public pressure,” she said.

Eventually, Morris and other GUFF members launched a campus-wide student divestment referendum — to build support they tabled, visited classes and organized through the school’s club network. In response the Social Responsibility Committee reached out, apparently alarmed about the publicity. On the same day the student referendum vote was scheduled to take place, GU’s board of directors announced they would divest from all fossil fuels.

Supporting frontline communities

One of the campus divestment movement’s messages is that students and educational institutions must work in solidarity with people on the frontlines of climate change and fossil fuel extraction. This theme was visible on Divestment Day, when many student protests voiced support for the Wet’suwet’en people’s fight against a TransCanada fracked gas pipeline in British Columbia. Wet’suwet’en protesters at a camp in the path of the pipeline have been met with police violence and repression, in an ongoing conflict reminiscent of the fight over indigenous rights at Standing Rock.

“Divestment campaigns are highlighting how their schools are tied to companies that violate indigenous rights,” Lee said. “The key to climate justice is to restore sovereignty to tribes over their land and water.”

Some divestment activists, like Siddiqa, have directly experienced climate change impacts in highly visceral ways. Others feel a responsibility to act from a place of privilege. “We need to mobilize our privilege as Harvard students to work on behalf of a world that is more just, ethical and sustainable,” Cohen said.

The Georgetown University victory is only one of the most recent signs that the new wave of divestment activism is proving effective. Last fall the massive University of California system committed to full divestment. Even at Harvard, where monied fossil fuel interests hold immense influence, there are signs of real momentum. Harvard faculty recently voted 179-20 to urge the school to divest, and Divest Harvard is calling for a commitment by Earth Day 2020.

Other actions are also in the works as Divest Ed and Extinction Rebellion University both plan to support escalations in the spring and fall. Meanwhile, Georgetown students are working through the Catholic Divestment Network to leverage their win by offering it as a model for other Jesuit schools.

Far from dying out, the campus fossil fuel divestment movement now has more momentum than ever, buoyed by the new wave of youth activism that inspired students like Cohen, Siddiqa and Morris to get involved.

“Divestment is just as effective as it always was, but now it’s happening against a new political backdrop,” Lee said. “It’s bringing in people at earlier ages who are already exposed to climate organizing.”

The worsening climate crisis makes the arguments for divestment ever more compelling. “Universities’ missions are to invest in young people’s future,” Cohen said. “It’s really hard to say we’re doing that while pouring money into fossil fuel industries.” SOURCE

Green Jobs Are the Answer to the Coronavirus Recession

The California Conservation Corps cuts fire lines near Big Sur in 2016. (Andrae Aldrete/CCC/AP)

The American economy is headed for a recession. As many as three million people could be out of work by summertime, even with a modest stimulus, the Economic Policy Institute predicted on Thursday. A new poll finds that, already, nearly one in five workers in the United States has faced layoff or a loss of hours because of the coronavirus. Among workers making less than $50,000 a year, that figure jumps to one in four. Jobless claims in Colorado have increased seventeenfold since last Monday. Thanks to the coronavirus and the shutdowns needed to fight it, people across professions now face months of lost wages: bartenders, musicians, bouncers, baristas, blackjack dealers, home health aides, waitstaff, retail workers, and flight attendants, to name just a few. Teachers working in public schools, whose funding depends on local tax bases, will also face harsh cutbacks as unemployment skyrockets. A recovery package could simply—and probably unsuccessfullytry to get the economy back up to where it was before the Covid-19 shutdowns took hold, complete with its decades of wage stagnation, exploding carbon emissions, and staggering inequality. Or, with politicians newly willing to spend, it could build a carbon-neutral, significantly stronger and fairer society—and put millions to work doing it.

In recent days, politicians have floated several commonsense short-term solutions—many of them originating with various social movements: paid leave; direct cash payments of $1,000 or more to American adults, possibly every month while the outbreak lasts; a moratorium on rent and utility payments—or at the very least on evictions and shutoffs. But as what may prove to be a deep and painful recession lasting far beyond the coronavirus sets in, more than quick cash and temporary relief will be needed. A breaking wave of corporate bankruptcies—an event the Fed is now scrambling to contain—could leave hundreds of thousands more unemployed in its wake. Helpfully, the magnitude of the Covid-19 threat has broken open the idea that deficits are more important than meeting pressing public health and economic challenges. Even Mnuchin told reporters on Tuesday, “This is not the time to worry about” the deficit, floating a stimulus that could add up to more than $1 trillion—a size Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, balked at a decade ago.

As the hardly radical New York Times editorial board wrote yesterday, even right now, while many of us are effectively housebound, the government could put to work those rendered wageless or unemployed by the coronavirus shutdowns, in a wartime-style mobilization to blunt its impact:

The government could train America’s newly unemployed to sanitize hospital equipment or to deliver food to the elderly and the immune-compromised. Child care for hospital workers on the front lines is desperately needed. Through a new public works program, corps of people could implement infection control in nursing homes and other high-risk facilities—or teach workers of all kinds how best to protect themselves. There could even be a network of individuals tasked with making phone calls to combat loneliness for people in nursing homes and prisons while they’re unable to receive visitors.

Before the immediate mobilization around World War II, the years leading up to it saw federal jobs programs employ millions in work the private sector simply didn’t see as important enough to create. The Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration paid some 12.5 million people to do everything from planting trees to building bridges to writing plays. Full employment was an animating demand of social movements through much of the postwar era, which led to it being featured in the Democratic Party platform until 1980.

In more recent years, progressive economists and a number of current and former Democratic presidential candidates have backed the idea of a federal job guarantee consistent with a Green New Deal: The U.S. government would permanently become the country’s employer of last resort through a program that’s always in place but kicks into high gear during an economic downturn and then shrinks when people find work elsewhere in the public or private sector. One possible benefit to such a program is that it could provide an alternative to low-paid work bound up in carbon-intensive supply chains like those at McDonald’s and Walmart—currently the only employment on offer in many communities around the country. It could put people to work doing tasks the country urgently needs—including those that actively fight climate change and its impacts, instead of simply spewing carbon into the atmosphere. It’d be popular, too: 70 percent of voters support the idea of a federal job guarantee.

“They must be meaningful jobs,” said Coretta Scott King, a dogged job-guarantee advocate, when asked what government-provisioned work might entail in an interview tweeted out this week by historian David Stein, “in areas where there are human needs and in areas of education, medical care, housing. Those areas where there is a great shortage in terms of meeting people’s needs.”

As in the last recession, there’s a particular benefit to so-called “shovel-ready” projects—ones that can put people to work immediately. While it’s sorely needed, big infrastructure build-outs can now take months or even years to get off the ground, requiring regulatory approvals and bidding processes. Any major new direct-hire program would still take some time and careful planning to set up, but there’s plenty of work that could be done virtually right away. Much of it wouldn’t involve any shovels at all.

Researchers at Bard College’s Levy Institute have proposed that the Department of Labor could, in administering a federal job guarantee, make use of its already-existing American Jobs Centers around the country, which can compile repositories of available work that fulfill the desired set of criteria. “Municipalities, in cooperation with community groups, conduct assessment surveys, cataloging community needs and available resources,” Pavlina Tcherneva, author of the report, wrote in 2018, while the Labor Department itself would make “‘requests for proposals’ indicating that it will fund employment initiatives by community groups, nonprofits, social entrepreneurial ventures, and the unemployed themselves for projects that serve the public purpose,” with an eye toward not displacing existing employment. Much of this work would be green, and—in addition to any sort of bigger public works—could bolster the social infrastructure key to a more resilient and lower-carbon society. And that could start right away.

As The New York Times suggests, direct federal hiring could employ people to make phone calls to the elderly, checking in on people who might go days or even weeks at a time without talking to anyone at all. While for the duration of the pandemic this would have to be over the phone, once it’s safe these conversations could become regular visits, helping to meet the crisis of care head-on alongside federally supported universal childcare.

In cities, the formerly jobless could get to work making coastlines more resilient against future storms and floods. Tending community gardens in dense city areas could help alleviate the urban heat-island effect. And federally hired workers in the South could plant mangrove trees along the water, protecting against erosion as they suck up carbon dioxide, as part of a broader push to plant those Trillion Trees the Trump administration seems so keen on. Workers in the Permian Basin could clean up and reclaim decommissioned rig sites as nature preserves. There’s a multitude of ways we could employ workers to make agriculture more resilient to increasing temperature fluctuations—while simultaneously making it emit less, or even turning it into a carbon sink.

After months of Covid-19-induced isolation, bingeing Netflix and endlessly scrolling through social media, people are likely going to want to go out to be outside and among other people. Leisure was one of the biggest line items of New Deal spending programs, which sponsored everything from trails to hunting lodges and public beaches. Revivals of the WPA’s Federal Theater Project, Federal Writers’ Project, and Federal Art Project could give well-paid and steady jobs to performers who’ve spent months out of work due to coronavirus shutdowns, producing a new generation of plays, books, and even travel guides for all 50 states. Writers could be paid, as Zora Neale Hurston was, to collect oral histories to be archived in the Library of Congress. Direct-hire workers could plan music festivals in public parks around the country, with booths for local small businesses to sell craft beer and finger food sourced from farms in the area.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s also not mutually exclusive with federal support for trade schools and graduate degrees to work in the clean energy sector, or union apprenticeship programs that can train a new generation of workers—including those transitioning out of jobs in the extractive sector—to electrify buildings and make them more energy-efficient. A wide-ranging federal green job guarantee has a number of potential benefits beyond the obvious: For example, by paying workers fairly, such jobs could establish a wage floor at $15 or $20 an hour—against which the private sector would have to compete. It could also institute a four-day workweek, which a growing body of evidence suggests would drastically slash emissions by cutting commutes and reducing the energy load from lighting and heating offices, with myriad benefits for both the climate and the way people live and consume.

Thinking creatively in such a dire crisis—about silver linings and opportunities—can feel inappropriate, even irresponsible. But the American right has already come up with a variety of stimulus ideas to funnel money to its allies. As evidenced by proposals underway to prop up the fossil fuel industry, the choice right now is between crisis responses that double down on the dangerous policies of the past few decades or those that help shift society and the economy in a better direction. How lawmakers respond to Covid-19 and its economic fallout could either protect the next century from the persistent crises threatened by rising temperatures, or make them far worse. SOURCE

Some of our most undervalued workers now among our most valuable as pandemic forces rethink of what jobs are critical

Cashiers face an elevated risk of on-the-job infection because of the number of daily interactions with the public, and yet they are essential during the COVID-19 crisis.

By Jim Stanford

In any public emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic, society naturally turns to tried-and-true public service professionals for advice, protection and care.

First and foremost, we depend on health-care workers risking their own well-being to care for the ill — even in chaotic and overcrowded conditions. Other first responders provide emergency assistance. Utility workers keep the lights on, the water flowing, the mail delivered and the garbage collected.

These jobs are critically important. These workers can’t take leave. They can’t work from home.

Not coincidentally, most of these jobs are in the public sector: underwritten by government to provide essential functions, no matter what. And as public sector workers, they’ve been subject to years of austerity and enmity — derided for their wages, their pensions, even their sick leave. Suddenly we are reminded our lives depend on them.

But COVID-19 is also highlighting how much we depend on a whole constellation of other, more humble occupations. Millions of so-called “low skill” workers are also indispensable to our well-being, possibly even our survival. And unlike those of us who can work from home and make other adjustments to survive the lockdown, these workers can’t. They have to keep working: both to earn income (most wouldn’t even qualify for Employment Insurance), and to serve us.

And even more than essential public service jobs, their jobs have been ruthlessly downgraded for many years. Wages have been cut, hours are uncertain. Many were reconstituted as “independent” entrepreneurs — mostly so employers can evade normal legal and fiscal obligations like minimum wages, vacations and sick pay. As a result, these workers endure an insecure and vulnerable existence. But now the rest of society needs them — desperately.

Indeed, the precarious insecurity of these supposedly “menial” jobs now poses major risks to the rest of society. People who keep working when they should be at home pose a public health menace — but that’s exactly what will happen if insecure workers are denied income support, forced to choose between their own survival and social responsibility.

Here are just some of the most undervalued workers in our economy. They’ve been subjected to endless precarity and poverty wages, but their dedication will be critical to our capacity to get through the weeks ahead.

Cleaners: Doing their work well saves lives. Yet cleaners have been outsourced, underpaid and in many cases nonsensically forced to become independent “businesses.” Scientific research has shown that training, credentials and job stability for cleaners produce safer hospitals, schools and public spaces.

Cashiers: While shoppers duke it out over the last rolls of toilet paper, spare a thought for the poor cashiers. Detailed U.S. job analysis shows cashiers are the largest single occupational grouping with elevated risk of on-the-job infection because of the number of people they face every day. Yet we need them to keep working through the lockdown, because we still need to buy food.

Child-care workers: With schools closing for weeks or months, child care will be critical to allow parents to eventually get back to their own jobs. Safely caring for kids anytime (including during a pandemic) is not “babysitting.” It’s a high-skill profession, and should be valued like one.

Servers: Restaurants and bars now face restrictions or partial closure, but we’ll still buy a lot of takeout. Food service workers actually perform a vital service. Better training, higher health standards, more stable jobs and living wages would allow them to do it more safely. SOURCE

Pembina Institute: The oilsands in a carbon-constrained Canada

The collision course between overall emissions and national climate commitments

The oil and gas industry has made big contributions to Canadian society: providing jobs, technology and research excellence, while warming homes, fuelling cars and powering our electricity grids. Today, the oil and gas sector is facing unprecedented pressures. While dramatic fluctuations in the price of energy commodities are not new, increasing automation, adoption of new disruptive technologies, shifting market demands, and climate commitments are reshaping the future of this sector. Business-as-usual no longer applies — significant changes are necessary.

In a continuing effort to depolarize the conversation, this report seeks to help establish a basic, commonly agreed-upon set of facts about Alberta’s oilsands, their emissions performance and trajectories, and what Canada’s commitment to achieve deep decarbonization will mean for the sector.

Download the full report, or read the Executive Summary below.

Executive summary

Alberta’s oilsands are at a crossroads.

The oil and gas industry has made big contributions to Canadian society: providing jobs, technology and research excellence, while warming homes, fuelling cars and powering our electricity grids. Today, the oil and gas sector is facing unprecedented pressures. While dramatic fluctuations in the price of energy commodities are not new, increasing automation, adoption of new disruptive technologies, shifting market demands, and climate commitments are reshaping the future of this sector. Business-as-usual no longer applies — significant changes are necessary.

In a continuing effort to depolarize the conversation, this report seeks to help establish a basic, commonly agreed-upon set of facts about Alberta’s oilsands, their emissions performance and trajectories, and what Canada’s commitment to achieve deep decarbonization will mean for the sector.

Key points:

  • Carbon emissions from the oilsands sector are the fastest-growing source of emissions in Canada. This continuing upward trajectory not only reduces the country’s ability to meet its 2030 reduction commitments, but is on a clear collision course with Canada’s plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050. (Figure 1.)
Graph: Share of the oilsands emissions in national carbon budget to meet Canada’s 2030 targetFigure 1. Share of the oilsands emissions in national carbon budget to meet Canada’s 2030 target

  • Oilsands products are not homogeneous and there is a wide range in performance when it comes to carbon emissions intensity. As a result of variations in bitumen quality and extraction technologies, the range between the highest and lowest upstream emissions intensity per barrel is nearly threefold.
  • The oilsands industry has worked toward decreasing the emissions intensity of its products in the past decades. Continuous improvements have reduced the carbon intensity of specific oilsands products, ranging from a 4% to 21% reduction since 2009.
  • Despite these improvements in carbon intensity, absolute carbon emissions from the oilsands continue to increase overall, as growth in production outpaces gains from reductions in per-barrel intensity.
  • Studies reviewed for this report consistently find oilsands products to be more carbon intensive than lighter, conventional oil sources. Recognizing limitations of emissions intensity research and the challenge of comparing studies, the best estimate currently available suggests a barrel of oil produced in Canada is associated on average with 70% more GHG emissions than the average crude produced globally.
  • Acknowledging oil demand will not disappear overnight, most outlooks predict demand will plateau or decline within the next decade. Subsequent global shifts toward lower-intensity energy options are likely to put more carbon-intense crudes — such as the bulk of oilsands products — at risk over the next decade.
  • The rapid development and deployment of breakthrough technologies — as opposed to incremental improvements — is needed for the sector to decrease its absolute carbon emissions in line with our climate commitments, and to remain competitive as global energy systems change.

Recognizing the improvements that the oilsands industry has made to date and the commitments leading companies have announced to achieve ambitious targets in the future, there is still a need for the sector to embrace its responsibility to reduce overall carbon emissions in accordance with Canada’s 2030 and 2050 targets.

The Pembina Institute calls for both the Alberta and federal government to recognize the willingness of leading companies to adopt aggressive decarbonization targets, as well as mounting investor pressure to decarbonize the sector, and implement policies that will drive toward carbon-neutral — or even carbon-negative — oilsands production.

It’s time to have a national conversation about how to reconcile oilsands emissions with Canada’s goal to decarbonize its economy by 2050. The intention of this report, carefully and explicitly supported by available evidence and research, is to further fact-based dialogue, as we all embark on this tough, but necessary Canadian conversation.

Recommendations to improve oilsands climate performance

1. Establish strong regulations to decarbonize the industry

Intentional effort is required to encourage a shift toward low- and zero-carbon production, by creating strong incentives for the development and deployment of breakthrough innovation. Recognizing the willingness of leading companies to adopt aggressive decarbonization targets, as well as mounting investor pressure to decarbonize the sector, governments need to implement policies that will drive carbon-neutral — or even carbon-negative — oilsands production.

2. Define and enforce sector emissions targets for 2030 and 2050, with five-year increments

Meeting our 2030 and 2050 climate targets will require all sectors of our economy — and all Canadians — to do their fair share to contribute to the global effort of limiting the average temperature increase to 1.5°C. Decreasing GHG emissions reduction targets need to be set for the oil and gas sector, in five-year increments that would allow Canada to meet its 2030 national objective and its pledge to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050.

3. Support an innovation ecosystem to deliver breakthrough technologies

A robust ecosystem to support innovation, research and development, needs to be funded and fostered so it can deploy solutions aimed at delivering breakthrough reductions — beyond incremental improvements — in emissions of current oilsands projects, as well as non-combustion uses of Alberta’s oil and gas resources.

4. Improve emissions monitoring and reporting

Existing measurement, monitoring and reporting processes for oilsands emissions must be reviewed, strengthened and standardized in order to produce coherent data and enhance the transparency of the sector. As well, further analysis looking at existing and upcoming technology pathways is required to better situate oilsands products’ carbon intensity on the global supply curve.

5. Appoint credible and effective energy regulators

Effective energy regulators are needed both provincially and federally. They must be transparent and independent, with the ability to incorporate robust environmental and climate considerations into their decision-making, while having both the mandate to enforce regulations and the capacity to follow through on that enforcement. SOURCE

Stanford researcher reveals influence of global warming on extreme weather events has been frequently underestimated

Analysis shows global warming is intensifying the occurrence of unprecedented hot spells and downpours faster than predicted by historical trends. New approaches for incorporating global warming into extreme weather analysis could improve global risk management.

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Credit CCO Public Domain

A new Stanford study reveals that a common scientific approach of predicting the likelihood of future extreme weather events by analyzing how frequently they occurred in the past can lead to significant underestimates – with potentially significant consequences for people’s lives.

A new analysis shows global warming is intensifying the occurrence of unprecedented hot spells and downpours faster than predicted by historical trends.

Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh found that predictions that relied only on historical observations underestimated by about half the actual number of extremely hot days in Europe and East Asia, and the number of extremely wet days in the U.S., Europe and East Asia.

The paper, published March 18 in Science Advances, illustrates how even small increases in global warming can cause large upticks in the probability of extreme weather events, particularly heat waves and heavy rainfall. The new results analyzing climate change connections to unprecedented weather events could help to make global risk management more effective.

“We are seeing year after year how the rising incidence of extreme events is causing significant impacts on people and ecosystems,” Diffenbaugh said. “One of the main challenges in becoming more resilient to these extremes is accurately predicting how the global warming that’s already happened has changed the odds of events that fall outside of our historical experience.”

A changing world

For decades, engineers, land-use planners and risk managers have used historical weather observations from thermometers, rain gauges and satellites to calculate the probability of extreme events. Those calculations – meant to inform projects ranging from housing developments to highways – have traditionally relied on the assumption that the risk of extremes could be assessed using only historical observations. However, a warming world has made many extreme weather events more frequent, intense and widespread, a trend that is likely to intensify, according to the U.S. government.

Scientists trying to isolate the influence of human-caused climate change on the probability and/or severity of individual weather events have faced two major obstacles. There are relatively few such events in the historical record, making verification difficult, and global warming is changing the atmosphere and ocean in ways that may have already affected the odds of extreme weather conditions.

Predicted versus observed extreme weather

In the new study, Diffenbaugh, the Kara J Foundation professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, revisited previous extreme event papers he and his colleagues had published in recent years. Diffenbaugh wondered if he could use the frequency of record-setting weather events from 2006 to 2017 to evaluate the predictions his group had made using data from 1961 to 2005. He found in some cases the actual increase in extreme events was much larger than what had been predicted.

“When I first looked at the results, I had this sinking feeling that our method for analyzing these extreme events could be all wrong,” said Diffenbaugh, who is also the Kimmelman Family senior fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “As it turned out, the method actually worked very well for the period that we had originally analyzed – it’s just that global warming has had a really strong effect over the last decade.”

Interestingly, Diffenbaugh also found that climate models were able to more accurately predict the future occurrence of record-setting events. While acknowledging that climate models still contain important uncertainties, Diffenbaugh says the study identifies the potential for new techniques that incorporate both historical observations and climate models to create more accurate, robust risk management tools.

“The good news,” Diffenbaugh said, “is that these new results identify some real potential to help policymakers, engineers and others who manage risk to integrate the effects of global warming into their decisions.” SOURCE

In normal times, universal basic income is a bad idea. But it’s the wisest solution for COVID-19 economic strain

Image result for basic income

What Ken Boessenkool proposes is a crisis basic income, not a universal basic income

Ken Boessenkool is a partner in Kool Topp & Guy Public Affairs.

The government of Canada has responded to the economic crisis facing Canadian families by proposing to spend $27-billion dollars, by making existing programs easier to access (employment insurance); designing a new program (a new Emergency Care Benefit); expanding existing programs for students, seniors and Indigenous peoples among others; and allowing Canadians to defer filing and paying taxes.

The government has decided on a rifle approach – targeted, mostly toward application-based programs and expansions of existing programs.

The first danger of this approach is that it will take time to design and to administer the new and expanded programs. According to the government’s own documents, the new Emergency Care Benefit applications will be available in April. Expanded HST/GST and Child benefits will flow in May.

The second danger is that application-based programs risk increasing human interaction through the various application processes, never mind all the work and time needed by bureaucrats working together to design or redesign multiple programs.

This means well-intentioned programs may not arrive in time and may be held up if isolation requirements get more stringent.

While it pains me as a conservative to suggest this, the government should consider adding another $27-billion dollar expenditure for a Crisis Basic Income as a supplement to what has been announced.

The idea has its roots in the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), which numerous thinkers have proposed as a way of simplifying and streamlining programs for the poor and vulnerable by providing a basic common payment, or universal income, to all citizens, usually through the tax code.

UBI is a bad idea in the long term. It lumps people with different needs and different situations into one bucket, which means we would still need most of the myriad programs we have today for those with differing needs. Then there is the long-term incentive created by a UBI. What is to stop perfectly able-bodied persons from stopping work, collecting the benefit and enjoying some leisure time? UBI ski bums here we come.

Yet what makes a UBI a bad idea in the long term is precisely what makes it a great idea in the current crisis. One of the biggest economic and health challenges we face is the sudden loss of working income, and a Crisis Basic Income can be delivered through the tax system as the vast majority of working Canadians file taxes – and the critical failure we are facing today is the immediate loss of working income.

And what is a bug for the UBI becomes a feature for the Crisis Basic Income. In a COVID-19 world, we want people to bias their decisions against going to work, to stay home if they feel a bit ill and not worry about the consequences. And because the income will only last as long as the crisis lasts, there will be little or no lasting consequences.

This isn’t to say that this won’t cost a lot collectively. 28.5-million Canadians filed income tax forms last year. Sending a cheque to each one of those for $2,000 would cost $57-billion.

For now.

It would be a rather simple matter for the government to add a line to next year’s tax form where, if you paid no tax, you get to to keep all of the money. And if you paid the lowest rate, we progressively tax back the benefit. So at $12,000 of personal income you keep it all, and at $60,000 you pay it all back. We could do this on an individual or a family basis.

My rough math for the individual approach says that the 29 per cent of filers who paid no tax in the 2018 tax year would keep all the money. And let’s assume that the 27 per cent of the population who make above $60,000 would pay it all back. And because that’s unrealistic, let’s assume the entire portion between $12,000 and $60,000 also keep all the money because their taxable income dropped due to the crisis.

This would put the total cost of a $2,000 per filer payment at roughly $27-billion dollars for a month. So a two-income family would get $4,000. A family approach would cost less, as many lower-income second earners would lose their benefits.

Designing a CBI now can bridge the gap to when the programs the government announced yesterday come online and provides a stopgap in case implementation of those programs gets hung up.

Canada can afford this – arguably it can’t afford not to – because Canadian governments of all stripes have been, for the past 30 years, and with some notable exceptions, relatively fiscally prudent.

Sometimes an idea that makes no sense in normal times makes perfect sense in times of crisis. This is one of those times, and a Crisis Basic Income is one of those ideas. SOURCE

Demand a COVID-19 Emergency Basic Income in Canada

Seven key learnings from the MMIWG legal analysis on genocide

A participant in the Greater Than Fear rally and march in Rochester, Minnesota. The red handprint painted is a symbol of condemnation of silence in the face of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirited people. Lorie Shaull/Flickr.

By Lynn Gehl

In June 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) concluded that Canada had committed genocide against Indigenous peoples – one which “especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.” Although many Indigenous scholars and activists have been using the word for decades to describe the impacts of historic and ongoing colonization, many Canadians bristled at the word. Genocide is thought to be something that happens in far-away countries, and a lesson we learned not to repeat after the atrocities of the Holocaust. It’s a word that directly challenges Canadians’ notion of their country as a benevolent peacekeeper and multicultural mosaic. Anticipating the backlash, the National Inquiry released a dense 46-page supplementary legal analysis of genocide appended to the report, wherein they argue their position.

It’s a word that directly challenges Canadians’ notion of their country as a benevolent peacekeeper and multicultural mosaic.

This article represents seven key learnings from the MMIWG Legal Analysis of Genocide. Although I am no jurist or scholar of genocide studies I felt it was my responsibility to read and wrestle with this Legal Analysis because I use the term “genocide” – specifically “cultural genocide” – when talking about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people. While Canada has undoubtedly committed both physical and biological genocide, I always stress cultural genocide because it is ongoing. I often encounter thinkers outside the realm of genocide studies who question and debate my use of “cultural genocide.” Some people think I am implying that Canada is denying us our material culture such as our fringe and feathers. Although Canada has historically criminalized our culture and confiscated our regalia, when I use the term “cultural genocide” I am not talking about Canada’s denial of our material cultural accoutrement. I am talking about culture in a much different and deeper way, as I’ll later explain.

1. On defining genocide

The Legal Analysis begins with a warning that constraining our understanding of genocide to the Holocaust model – “a limited prototype of genocide as time-intensive, mass murder, which is calculated, coordinated within a nation-state, and well-planned by authoritarian leaders espousing ideological worldviews” – allows the collective Canadian consciousness to dismiss Canada’s current form of genocide against Indigenous people.

The term “genocide” was coined by Raphaël Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. In it, Lemkin – a Polish-Jewish lawyer, who had 49 family members killed during the Holocaust – uses the extermination of the Jews during World War II as the basis for formulating the concept of genocide. But in both his earlier and later writing, Lemkin takes a more expansive view of genocide. As I have recently learned from Holocaust scholar Dorota Glowacka’s chapter “‘Never Forget’: Intersecting memories of the Holocaust and the settler colonial genocide in Canada,” Lemkin “regarded colonialism, including Hitler’s territorial ambitions, as an integral part of the world history of genocide. In unpublished essays and notes on the history of genocides, Lemkin wrote extensively about the conquest of the Americas.”

In fact, Lemkin argued that the destruction of culture is inseparable from the destruction of people.

With this in mind, Lemkin first defined genocide as the “destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group” and “the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor” – a broad definition that included many mechanisms of destruction. He identified three types of genocide: physical genocide, the physical destruction of a group; biological genocide, the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity; and cultural genocide, the destruction of structures and practices that allow the group to live distinctively as a group. In fact, Lemkin argued that the destruction of culture is inseparable from the destruction of people – meaning cultural genocide is genocide.

2. Canada worked to exclude “cultural genocide” from the UN Genocide Convention

When the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was approved in 1948, Lemkin’s definition had been narrowed. Article III of the original draft – which codified cultural genocide – was removed. The MMIWG Legal Analysis writes that “Colonial states, including Canada, actively pushed for elements of ‘cultural genocide’ to be excluded from the Convention, knowing that they were, at the very least, perpetrating this type of genocide contemporaneously with the drafting of the Convention.”

Through my education in chemistry, psychology, anthropology and Indigenous studies, I know that it is our cultural knowledges that make us the humans we are. All peoples have cultural knowledge – not just Indigenous people. It is our many and various cultural patterns that both differentiate us from the animal world and distinguish human collectives from one another. For the most part, animals do not have culture; and all that humans are – inclusive of our social, cultural, and political structures – emerges from mythological realities, mores, and teachings our ancestral collectives proved and tested over time and thus gathered, practiced, and retained. The point I am making is the denial of Indigenous culture through the imposition of power – such as denying us our land, waterways, and the economic means needed to survive as distinct cultural and thus political groups – to the point where we are forced to take on the oppressor’s mode of culture, is indeed cultural genocide.

“Colonial states, including Canada, actively pushed for elements of ‘cultural genocide’ to be excluded from the Convention, knowing that they were, at the very least, perpetrating this type of genocide contemporaneously with the drafting of the Convention.”

Today, Article II of the Genocide Convention reads: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

While this UN definition focuses on physical and biological genocide, cultural genocide is inherent in points (c) and (e). What is more, we also need to keep in mind that it is through cultural mechanisms created by humans that the racist and sexist hatred becomes so deeply instilled within us that we are willing to become complicit in the extermination of a people. It is in this way that cultural genocide is inherent in both physical and biological genocide. Said another way, it is through cultural means that physical and biological genocide unfolds.

3. What Canada’s legislation offers

In reading the Legal Analysis it was interesting for me to learn that Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act adds “acts of omissions,” or a failure to act, as a crucial element of genocide. This makes sense to me in that standing around and doing nothing to prevent cultural genocide is no better than an act of genocide. In the work I do I see too many people doing nothing to prevent the cultural genocide I experience today, where other people, such as researchers, journalists, photographers, politicians, lawyers, and judges, gain economically from the cultural genocide. It goes without saying that cultural genocide has spawned its own industry.

Key here is that both the act of genocide as well as the intent of genocide must be present for the crime to have occurred.

The Legal Analysis notes that Canada’s definition of genocide is then divided into two main legal elements: actus reus (conduct) and mens rea (intent). Actus reus is broken down to two parts: the act of genocide; and the perpetration against a protected group. Mens rea, which literally translates to “guilty mind,” refers to the subjective or mental elements of genocide, and it has two parts as well: a general intent; and a specific intent to destroy a protected group in whole or in part. Key here is that both the act of genocide as well as the intent of genocide must be present for the crime to have occurred. Relearning this took me back to my high school law course, but there is more to learn on this as we think through how nation states commit genocide.

4. Understanding genocide as a “composite act”

In line with the International Law Commission, the Legal Analysis states that genocide in Canada is best understood as a “composite act,” meaning the sum of a series of repeated actions and/or omissions against a protected group, which has spanned decades. The Legal Analysis then argues that Canada’s genocide, as perpetrated as a composite act through its policies, is also attributable to Canada under the rules of customary international law. I, though, am not sure what customary international law means.

The Legal Analysis states that genocide in Canada is best understood as a “composite act,” meaning the sum of a series of repeated actions and/or omissions against a protected group, which has spanned decades.

In her three-point commentary on genocide, Indigenous legal thought leader Pamela Palmater explains how genocide is a violation of  customary international law: “it doesn’t have to be written down in a book, it doesn’t have to be written down in a treaty, it doesn’t have to be agreed to by anyone. […] Even without a treaty on genocide, it is still against the law, and a crime, to commit genocide.”

“It’s extremely important to understand that Canada is bound both by customary international law and by this UN convention,” she adds.

I hope I gained this key learning correctly — public learning always comes with risk. I am willing to take this risk.

4. On Canada’s actus reus

The Legal Analysis argues that actus reus exists within colonial policies and practices and includes, but is not limited to: the Indian Act; the Sixties Scoop; residential schools; breaches of human and Indigenous rights; the denial of Indian status and citizenship; the crisis in child welfare; the abuse imposed through state institutions; forced re-locations; chronic underfunding of essential services; coerced sterilizations; and the failure to protect women and girls from death in custody, from exploitation and trafficking, and from known killers. These examples include biological, physical, and cultural genocide, where the latter is imposed through policies and practices.

To this list I will add two more acts of cultural genocide that the Legal Analysis does not mention. First is the land claims and self-government process – what Canada calls the “modern treaty process” – such as the one the Algonquins of Ontario are involved with. In these processes, Indigenous Nations are forced to extinguish their land and resource rights through manipulative and obfuscating euphemisms such as “defining our rights completely” and “the non-assertion model”; as Russell Diabo argues, these processes force Indigenous Nations to live as a fourth level of government under Canada’s provincial and federal laws and policies – not as self-determining Nations, but as Indigenous municipalities. Second is the continued destruction of our sacred places, such as Akikpautik – also known as Creator’s First Sacred Pipe – located just minutes upstream from Canada’s Parliament buildings in the Kitchi Zibi (Ottawa River). For the Anishinaabeg, the Sacred Pipe and associated rituals and ceremonies are the ultimate act of reconciliation. Today, this sacred land and waterway are being further desecrated, instead of being preserved as the late Grandfather William Commanda had hoped. The late Grandfather William Commanda, a respected teacher and spiritual leader, lived in what is called Quebec in the community of Kitigàn-zìbì Anishinàbeg First Nation. He was the teacher of many people.

6. Now to Canada’s mens rea

The Legal Analysis notes that there is some difficulty proving state intent to commit genocide, because the development of jurisprudence has pertained to individual responsibility. Regardless, the Legal Analysis quotes international criminal and human rights law scholar William Schabas, who argues nation states “do not have specific intent. Individuals have specific intent. States have policy. The term specific intent is used to describe the inquiry, but its real subject is State policy” (emphasis mine). Essentially, Schabas has argued bodies such as the International Court of Justice look at state policy to determine a nation state’s intent.

What is important is the overall pattern of cultural genocide inherent in Canada’s policies and practices; through this pattern it becomes clear that Canada’s ultimate goal is to destroy the integrity of Indigenous Nations as distinct entities.

A key learning for me here is that this means Canada’s mens rea (intent) is inherent within Canada’s actus reus (the prohibited conduct). Put another way, what is important is the overall pattern of cultural genocide inherent in Canada’s policies and practices; through this pattern it becomes clear that Canada’s ultimate goal is to destroy the integrity of Indigenous Nations as distinct entities.

In thinking about acts (or acts of omission) of cultural genocide through policy I have often wondered if an actual written policy that explicitly outlines the state’s intent to commit genocide has to exist for the genocidal intent to be proven. I am wondering about whether written evidence of genocidal intent has to exist. In clarifying this for me, the Legal Analysis cites Paola Gaeta who has argued, “Absent direct evidence of the existence of a genocidal policy, it would be necessary only to prove that, because of the overall pattern of violence, the ultimate goal of the policy of the state cannot but be that of destroying the targeted group as such.” That said, as I think about this more I come to think that an act of omission is not likely to be written down in policy.

7. What does it mean to destroy a group “in part”?

Within the UN Genocide Convention, the “destruction of a group” does not mean the complete physical and biological annihilation of the group as a whole, as in the case of the Beothuk people of the island of Newfoundland, who became extinct following European colonization. Destruction of a group “in part” refers to the destruction of the group as a social and cultural unit in such a way that they are unable to reconstitute who they are as a group according to the group’s own socio-cultural political structures. On this matter the Legal Analysis concludes, “Canada has displayed a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units, thereby fulfilling the required specific intent element [of genocide].”

On the contrary, individual silos void of the depth of their cultural knowledge, and First Nation Reserve communities that are forced to live under the oppressor’s national pattern are both evidence of cultural genocide.

I think this is a key learning for many people, because some people who think through physical and biological genocide think the existence of brown people with brown eyes who are phenotypically distinct as Indigenous people indicates that genocide in Canada did not happen and that cultural genocide is not presently happening. Other people are under the impression that the existence of First Nation reserve communities acting as social cultural units – either under the Indian Act or under self-government models – means Canada is not guilty of cultural genocide. On the contrary, individual silos void of the depth of their cultural knowledge, and First Nation Reserve communities that are forced to live under the oppressor’s national pattern are both evidence of cultural genocide.

In conclusion

I have always stood firm on Lemkin’s broader definition of genocide, even before I learned that cultural genocide was deliberately removed from the UN Convention on Genocide. My thinking process was not narrowed by what is stated in the UN Convention. I knew better. Laws do not codify all truth; sometimes a void serves to hide truth.

That said, in reading the MMIWG Legal Analysis I have learned that both international and domestic laws, as well as international jurisprudence, recognizes and defines genocide more broadly than mass murder and forced sterilization and includes acts of cultural genocide through laws, policies, and practices, as well as acts of omission.

What is worse, because it is harder to see, cultural genocide can unfold for generations, while we all sit around and argue about its existence.

While, of course, physical and biological genocide was a part of Canada’s colonial genocidal legacy, cultural genocide continues to this day. It has always been my contention that cultural genocide through legislation, policy, and practice is a far more insidious form of genocide because people have a harder time seeing it, placing their finger on it, and thus rallying against it. What is worse, because it is harder to see, cultural genocide can unfold for generations, while we all sit around and argue about its existence.

The National Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and I are not alone in our position of a Canadian-made cultural genocide. Palmater has argued that Canada’s genocide has relied on, and continues to rely on, several policies of physical, structural, legal, and political erasure. These are all cultural creations and cultural attacks on Indigenous people’s and Indigenous Nations’ ability to live as distinct sovereign Nations. Today, genocide in Canada moves slowly, primarily – though not exclusively – through cultural means, and is thus harder to identify. This is especially true when prime ministers and politicians giigdiyan wezhigeyan (speak with forked tongue), masking it through the use of such terms as “reconciliation” and “nation-to-nation relationship.” SOURCE


Even the $500 million a year in tax revenue Trudeau promises is fabricated

A May 2013 handout photo of Kinder Morgan’s Anchor Loop Project in Jasper, part of the Trans Mountain pipeline. / SunMedia

Canadians know Finance Minister Morneau paid way too much for Trans Mountain’s 67-year old pipeline and the company’s been losing money ever since Ottawa took over. We were also misinformed about the cost to expand it.

Two years ago Ottawa said the expansion came with a $7.4 billion price tag, while Finance always knew the project’s cost would be much higher. After promising for more than two years to come clean on the project’s likely cost, Trans Mountain finally admitted last month the budget has skyrocketed to $13.2 billion.

The press statement said the project budget increased to $12.6 billion, but when you read it, it becomes apparent the crown corporation is being cagey. There’s a $600 million contingency reserve which is part of the cost tally. Finance Minister Morneau knows this. Last month in Calgary, speaking to the Economic Club of Canada he said Trans Mountain’s “new estimate of construction costs (is)…$13.2 billion which includes contingencies and reserves.”

A $13.2 billion project cost might not be a problem if Trans Mountain could pass the increased cost on in the tolls it charges oil companies for capacity on the system. According to Trans Mountain’s contract with oil companies, it could have done just that. The problem is, it didn’t.

Trans Mountain is passing on to oil companies only about 25 percent of the increased project cost. The $4.4 billion cost that isn’t being passed on will be paid by Trans Mountain, which means—well—us. Add that to the $3.4 billion in toll subsidies for the existing line and big oil has been given a $7.8 billion toll subsidy no one in Ottawa wants to talk about.

There are no profits from the existing line, taxpayers are on the hook for a growing share of the spiraling capital cost, but what about the additional corporate tax revenue of over $500 million a year Trudeau promised would be invested in Canada’s ‘clean energy transition? That’s false too.

That $500 million a year figure began propagating last June when Trudeau approved Trans Mountain’s expansion for a second time. Then, last October, the Liberals’ election platform incorporated the $500-million projection, and Morneau re-iterated the figure right after his party won its minority mandate. In Calgary last month Morneau said, “Canada will be using the revenues we get from this project, from additional taxes estimated at about $500 million a year…to fund Canada’s transition to a cleaner economy.”

For months Ottawa refused to explain where it got the number. Morneau finally confirmed the source by letter. He wrote, “The Finance Canada estimate is based on a study referenced by the Conference Board of Canada which estimated the Project will raise oil producer profits revenues by $73 billion over 20 years.”

The study in question was undertaken five years ago by Kinder Morgan’s Texas-based consultant, Neil Earnest of Muse Stancil.

Now that we know where Ottawa got its profit/revenue projection from, it is relatively straightforward to show that the $500-million tax-revenue estimate is nonsense.

First of all, it’s important to see that the figure does not represent additional tax revenue expected from Trans Mountain, as implied by Trudeau’s, the Liberal Platform and Morneau’s public statements. It represents additional tax revenue expected to come from tar sands producers such as Suncor, Cenovus, Husky, and Canadian Natural Resources.

Ottawa concludes that Earnest’s prediction of $73 billion in producer revenue over twenty years will flow through producers’ financial statements as pure profit (and why Morneau says that “the Project will raise oil producer profit revenues”). After deducting royalties, Morneau explains, Finance estimates 15 percent of that profit/revenues will flow to the federal treasury as tax revenue. That’s how the $500 million a year in additional corporate tax revenue figure is derived.

We don’t have to determine if Finance’s transformation of revenues to pure profit is appropriate—which, by the way it isn’t. If Earnest’s producer revenue prediction is without merit, then so too is Finance’s tax revenue estimate based on it. So, let’s review the Earnest study.

In 2015, Earnest projected Alberta’s benchmark heavy crude Western Canadian Select (WCS) would trade at about $63 US a barrel in 2019. As things turned out, the 2019 price averaged $45 US meaning Earnest’s short run price projection error is 40 percent off the mark. What’s more, Earnest has the price for WCS increasing by even more each year, all the way out to 2038.

Another assumption in the study is that it predicts Western Canadian oil supply would expand by three million barrels a day between 2015 and 2038. As Earnest prepared the supply forecast, tar sands producers were busy cancelling the projects that could have provided this increased supply. Market conditions and global warming realities tell us those planned projects are never coming back.

If seriously missing the mark on future price and supply isn’t enough to discredit Earnest’s producer revenue lift, there’s more. The revenue increase to producers is not just because he estimates an increase in price of oil for the 540 thousand barrels a day shipped on the pipeline. The producer revenue increase Earnest postulates is based on a price increase for every barrel supplied in Western Canada. So, for example, Earnest applies the price lift to 4.8 million barrels a day for the first full year of Trans Mountain’s operation, not 540 thousand.

Not only are the supply and price projections in Earnest’s study egregiously overstated, a per barrel price lift because of Trans Mountain’s expansion is applied to every barrel supplied, even if those barrels are used as feedstock in refineries in Alberta, the US mid-west or the Gulf Coast. This is a serious error. Earnest’s study models a market reality that does not exist.

Even if those errors weren’t enough to completely negate the notion of enhanced producer revenues from Trans Mountain’s expansion, Trans Mountain’s mounting capital costs most certainly would be.

Earnest arrived at his producer-revenue projection by first subtracting estimated Trans Mountain toll rates—that is, the fees levied on producers to pay the cost of expanding the pipeline. Earnest’s toll estimate is based on a project cost of $5.4 billion while the expansion’s expected cost is now $13.2 billion. Even considering that only 25 percent of the cost beyond $7.4 billion will be passed on in toll rates, toll rates are at least $2.50 per barrel more than those Earnest used.

What we find is that the toll increase arising from the construction-cost increase is higher than the per barrel price lift Earnest calculated. This means that even if there were a potential for improved producer revenues because of Trans Mountain’s expansion—which there is not—it disappears. Transportation costs eat them up, along with any potential tax revenues. Ottawa’s claim of an additional $500 million a year in corporate tax revenue once Trans Mountain is operational is fabricated.

The likelihood of any financial benefits from Trans Mountain’s purchase and expansion disappeared before COVID-19 hit, stock markets crashed, and the Oil Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) embarked on a price war with Russia.

Recent events mean it is only a matter of time before we hear that one, or more, of the oil producers Trans Mountain is counting on to pay a portion of the project’s cost have gone under, taking their long term contracts with them. As Trans Mountain’s shippers go under, taxpayers will pick up even more of the cost of building the expansion than we are already on the hook for.

Ottawa must stop misleading the public with false promises of financial benefits that have no basis in economic fact or market reality. It’s time to press the pause button on Trans Mountain’s expansion. SOURCE

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