Don’t forget: disasters and crises bring out the best in people

Disasters and crises bring out the best in us. This simple fact is confirmed by more solid evidence than almost any other scientific insight, but we often forget. Now more than ever, in the middle of a pandemic, it’s crucial to remember this.

Sure, our news feeds are flooded with cynical stories and comments. A report on armed men stealing rolls of toilet paper in or a passing comment about the Australian women who got into a fistfight in a In moments like these, it’s tempting to conclude that most people are selfish and egotistical.

But nothing could be further from the truth. For every antisocial jerk out there, there are thousands of doctors, cleaners and nurses working around the clock on our behalf. For every panicky hoarder shoving entire supermarket shelves into their cart, there are 10,000 people doing their best to prevent the virus from spreading further. In actual fact, we’re now seeing reports from China and Italy about how the crisis is bringing people closer together.

“We’ve learned how to accept help from others,” writes a woman living in Wuhan. Millions of Chinese people are encouraging each other to stand strong, using the Cantonese expression “jiayou” (“don’t give up”). YouTube videos show people in Wuhan singing from the windows of their homes, joined by numerous neighbours nearby, their voices rising in chorus and echoing amongst the soaring towers of In Siena and Naples, both on complete lockdown, people are singing together 

Children in Italy are writing “andrà tutto bene” (“everything will be all right”) on streets and walls, while countless neighbours are On Thursday, an Italian journalist told the Guardian about what he had witnessed with his own eyes: “After a moment of panic in the population, there is now a new solidarity. In my community the drugstores bring groceries to people’s homes, and there is a group of volunteers that A tour guide from Venice notes: “It’s human to be scared, but I don’t see panicking, nor acts of selfishness.”

The words “andrà tutto bene” – everything will be all right – were first used by a few mothers from the province of Puglia, who posted the slogan on Facebook. From there, it spread across the country, going viral almost as fast as the pandemic. The coronavirus isn’t the only contagion – kindness, hope and charity are spreading too.

Disaster causes a surge in solidarity 

The surge in solidarity that we’re seeing will come as no surprise to most sociologists. The current situation has obvious similarities to the human response to natural disasters, which has been researched extensively for decades.

News reports following a natural disaster are almost always dominated by stories of looting and violence, but in many cases such stories turn out to be unfounded speculations based on rumour. Since 1963, the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center has conducted nearly 700 field studies on floods and earthquakes, and on-site research reveals the same results every time: the vast majority of people stay calm and help each other. “Whatever the extent of the looting,” one sociologist notes, “it always pales in significance to the widespread altruism that leads to free and massive giving and 

Yes, panic can happen, and some people may start hoarding. But a British social psychologist notes that “we’re much more likely to see prosocial behaviours across multiple types of disasters and That truth echoes back across the ages. According to an eyewitness account, when the Titanic went down, there was When the Twin Towers burned on 11 September 2001, thousands of people patiently trudged down all those flights of stairs.

“And people would actually [say]: ‘No, no, you first’,” one of the survivors reminisced later. “I couldn’t believe it, that at this point people would actually say, ‘No, no, please take my place.’ 

Overhauling our assumptions of human nature

Believing these eyewitness accounts can be difficult, but that’s due mostly because of the cynical portrayal of human nature that’s taken centre stage in recent decades. For years and years, the worst aspects of humanity have dominated the discourse. “The point is, ladies and gentleman,” said Gordon Gekko, the main character “that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. […] Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

Year after year, politicians have drafted huge piles of legislation on the assumption that most people are not good. And we know the consequences of that policy: inequality, loneliness and mistrust.

Despite all that, something extraordinary has happened in the last 20 years. Scientists all over the world, working in many different fields, have adopted a more hopeful view of human nature. “Too many economists and politicians model society on the constant struggle that they believe reigns supreme in nature, but that belief is based solely on projection,” writes prominent Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal. “Our assumptions about human nature are in dire need of a complete overhaul.”

Distancing ourselves to embrace each other more warmly

Nothing is certain, but this crisis may well help us in that process. We may see a dawning awareness of dependencecommunity and solidarity. “I don’t know what you’re seeing,” a Dutch psychiatrist and mother tweeted, “but I’m seeing people wanting to help all over the place. By following official recommendations, or something practical like 

My German book editor told me about a note that had been posted in an 

“Dear neighbours. If you’re over 65 and your immune system is weak, I’d like to help you. Since I’m not in the risk group, I can help you in the coming weeks by doing chores or running errands. If you need help, leave a message by the door with your phone number. Together, we can make it through anything. You’re not alone!”

As a species of animal that evolved to make connections and work together, it feels strange to suppress our desire for contact. People enjoy touching each other, and find joy in seeing each other in person – but now we have to keep our physical distance.

Still, I believe we can grow closer in the end, finding each other in this crisis. As Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, said this week: 

Does the economy need a helicopter rescue to escape COVID-19 disaster?: Don Pittis

A controversial way of giving spending power to ordinary people is getting serious attention during crisis

Police officers in a helicopter patrol Copacabana Beach during the COVID-19 outbreak in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last weekend. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

As the Canadian government and the U.S. central bank say they will do whatever it takes to get their economies back on track, some experts are recommending a long-discussed weapon.

Known as helicopter money, the concept was proposed as a thought experiment by Nobel Prize-winning American economist Milton Friedman as an alternative to governments borrowing and spending to stimulate the economy.

With growing fears of a wider economic meltdown caused by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, economists are suddenly considering the helicopter option, though the subject remains controversial.

One of the many controversies is over the definition of exactly what helicopter money is and what it is not.

No actual helicopters needed

While no actual helicopters are used in the process, the one thing most economists agree on is that it involves the distribution of money into the economy in a way that boosts the spending power of ordinary citizens.

“Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community,” Friedman famously proposed.

U.S. President George W. Bush, centre, talks to Rose Friedman, right, as her husband, economist Milton Friedman, left, addresses dignitaries gathered at an event held in his honour at the Eisenhower Executive Building in Washington, May 9, 2002. Friedman, a 1976 Nobel Prize winner for excellence in economics, was one of the strongest advocates of economic freedoms and free enterprise. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Friedman, who died in 2006, was one of the founders of the Chicago school of economics that tended to oppose government involvement in the workings of the economy.

Usually described as a monetarist because of his belief in monetary policy as a means of adjusting or fine-tuning the economy, Friedman was part of the small government movement that began to mature following his influential paper in 1969. In general, Friedman objected to the fiscal spending championed by Keynesians, who believe that governments should borrow money and spend it on anything from roads to schools to reignite economic growth.

Deflation fighter

In the helicopter theory’s original form, Friedman saw this distribution of cash in the economy as something to be used when interest rates had gone as low as they could go and the economy was refusing to respond to other kinds of monetary stimulus. He saw it as a one-time measure to return inflation to a healthy level.

As described by Friedman, helicopter money was exclusively a monetary tool used by the central banks, which can create the money out of thin air, just as they do with the money used to buy bonds in quantitative easing. Often called “printing money,” it is the process of creating new currency units, as the Fed promised to do yesterday, and using them to buy existing bonds, thus injecting cash into the economy.

“When the economics community talks about helicopter money, what they really mean is, at the end of the day, the Bank of Canada could print money and simply send it to Canadians,” Craig Alexander, Deloitte Canada’s chief economist, said in an interview last week.

But he says now is not the time for that inflationary boost.

“You might start to entertain distributing money from the central bank to households if there was deflation, but that isn’t where we are in terms of risks yet,” he said.

In the slippery world of economic theory, the definition of helicopter money as solely a tool for generating inflation has expanded beyond what Friedman proposed.

No doubt he turns over in his grave every time someone uses the term modern monetary theory, or MMT, the idea that helicopter money could be used in place of fiscal spending to redistribute wealth and even pay for policies like the proposed Green New Deal in the U.S.

While many economists would object to the wider use of the term, sources as credible as the Financial Times and the Bank of Canada suggest it has become more inclusive.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, answer questions during the administration’s daily coronavirus briefing at the White House last Tuesday. Mnuchin said the administration was looking to send money directly to Americans to help them cope with the COVID-19 crisis. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The FT story with headline, White House warms to showering U.S. with ‘helicopter money,’ points out the Trump administration is seriously considering a cash handout to every American that would expand the national debt.

“We are looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now — and I mean now, in the next two weeks.”

You are the guinea pig

Economists at the Bank of Canada bridge the monetarist and Keynesian perspectives with a fresh report out last month titled: The Power of Helicopter Money Revisited: A New Keynesian Perspective.

A quick glance at the Bank of Canada paper, besides demonstrating that economics is a very different language than most of us use, reveals how much the results of cash injections of this kind remain theoretical.

As University of Ottawa professor Jacqueline Best told me last week, only half in jest, it’s all a big experiment. But, she says, no matter how it is done, there may be a qualitative difference between handing money out to ordinary people or dumping it into bond markets with quantitative easing, where only large corporations can make use of it.

But among those who would entertain the idea of helicopter money, there is one consideration that both central bank theorists and practical politicians must now be thinking about.

While most agree it is crucial to turn on the spending taps immediately to fight COVID-19, and to tide people over with the essentials and to keep the economy from collapsing, the real need for helicopter money may come later.

With so much of the economy shut down and so many people laid off and feeling insecure, until everyone is able to get out of their homes and resume normal lives, a new flood of money might not have the desired effect of sparking a new round of stimulative discretionary spending. SOURCE

Coronavirus: Racism and the long-term impacts of emergency measures in Canada

Asylum seekers cross the border from New York into Canada on March 18 at Hemmingford, Que., two days before Canada said it would now send those seeking asylum back to the U.S. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The dangers to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic are terrifying, so it’s not surprising governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures to curb its spread, including closing borders to non-nationals.

Canada has become one of many countries to either partially or completely close their borders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also announced that Canada will no longer consider asylum claims.

We are living through an exceptional situation and governments are taking extreme steps as a result. At the same time, we know extraordinary measures can have enduring and profoundly damaging effects.

In Canada, the War Measures Act, the predecessor to the Emergencies Act (the legislation that Trudeau has considered invoking as part of the government’s response to the pandemic), was used on three occasions: during the First World War, the Second World War and the 1970 FLQ Crisis in Québec. On each of these occasions, there was broad support for its enactment and then subsequent concern about the scope of its application.

Thousands interned during WWI

During the First World War, 8,579 “enemy aliens” were interned  — the term referred to citizens of countries that were at war with Canada who resided in Canada — as well as hundreds of conscientious objectors.

In this photo from Dec. 9, 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Canadian Navy officer questions Japanese Canadian fishermen while confiscating their boat in Esquimault, B.C. National Archives of Canada/THE CANADIAN PRESS 

Almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians were interned during the Second World War following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war against Imperial Japan. About 75 per cent of those interned were Canadian citizens, including 13,000 people who were Canadian-born. Under the sweeping powers of the War Measures Act, the federal government confiscated their property — including land, fishing boats and businesses — and sold it at a discount, using some of the funds to pay for the costs of internment.

During the FLQ crisis following the kidnappings of British diplomat James Cross and Québec cabinet minister and deputy premier Pierre Laporte, the military and police conducted 3,000 searches, detained 497 people, including Québec nationalists and labour activists, in the pursuit of suspected accomplices. Only 62 people were ever criminally charged.

The fallout from all of these excesses was tangible: Ukrainian Canadians, who made up the bulk of the “enemy aliens” in the First World War, fought for decades to be recognized as full citizens; Japanese Canadians sought and received redress more than four decades after their internment; René Levesque and the Parti Québecois roared to power just six years after the FLQ crisis and very nearly achieved the separatist dream of an independent Québec in 1980.

And so with great power, comes great responsibility.

This old adage is all the more relevant if one considers the way many of the travel bans have been instituted along national lines: allowing citizens to move but restricting the movement of others.

Citizenship can be exclusionary

In efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, lines of responsibility and accountability are being forcefully drawn around the lines of citizenship. This is troubling if one considers that citizenship can be exclusionary, especially when it creates hierarchies of priority and, seemingly, of human value.

It means, for instance, refugees and unaccompanied minors have been “effectively abandoned,” according to NGO workers in Europe.

Canada has won international praise over the last few years for its commitment to refugee resettlement in particular, as evidenced by the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees in a few short months.

But Trudeau has announced that due to these “exceptional times,” a new agreement has been signed with the United States that would see asylum-seekers crossing the border on foot returned to the U.S. This exceptional reaction goes against Canada’s commitments under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and a 1985 Supreme Court ruling that says refugee claimants have a right to a fair hearing (the Singh decision).

The implicit and explicit nationalism apparent in many state responses to COVID-19, including in the Canadian context, is not necessarily “contrary to our values” as some have argued.

Rather, some of Canada’s earliest restrictions on migration and mobility related to people who were “physically defective,” “feeble-minded” or “afflicted with any loathsome disease” to use the language of the 1910 Immigration Act. This same act effectively prohibited Black migration to Canada from the United States and the Caribbean on the basis of that they were “unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada.”

A ban on Chinese immigration

Prior to that, the federal government used immigration laws in the forms of punitive taxes to exclude Chinese migrants who were considered undesirable, in part because of commonly held stereotypes that people from China were immoral, dishonest, unclean, disease-prone and would never assimilate. These perceived differences and the ineffectiveness of the original head tax led to a near total ban on Chinese migration from 1923 to 1947.

Structurally, Canada’s immigration system — and its subsequent and related border controls — was designed to exclude as much as to include. This remains the case today.

As we navigate our current public health issues, it bears contemplation not only about immediate challenges but also what will come after.

During the pandemic, there have been many disturbing stories of Asian Canadians being targeted and harassed because of racist perceptions about who they are and where they come from — a situation compounded by U.S. President Donald Trump’s deliberate, nationalistic and racist insistence to give the coronavirus an ethnic and geographic association.


It took Canada almost 80 years to officially apologize for refusing a ship carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees to land in 1939.
 

It is notable that this violence has been directed at people of Asian descent, even though the disease has been spread by travellers of many different ethnicities. This difference reflects the easy associations of otherness of the kind that shaped foundational exclusionary immigration laws and regulations and, apparently, continue to resonate in the present.

This is an easy moment to draw lines between us and them, to talk about “our neighbours” and “foreign travellers” as though they are not one and the same. But the long-term damage could be very great, particularly for racialized and vulnerable communities that have experienced the impact of exclusionary migration measures historically.

The decision to close the border to refugees is bitterly ironic in light of Trudeau’s 2018 official apology for the Canadian government’s exclusion in 1939 of Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis.

The past and the future should be part of our thinking in the present. And to be clear, now is no time for nationalism. SOURCE

Corporate attacks on the public sector and public employees inflict just as much harm on the private sector

Image: Heather Quinn/Twitter

In the early 1960s, while I was working for the Canadian Labour Congress in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, the paper mill unions won a five per cent pay raise for the mill’s workers — much to the dismay of the town’s business owners. When I next shopped at our neighbourhood grocery store, the manager complained to me about “overpaid” workers.

“Now I’m being pressured to raise the pay of my own staff,” he grumbled. “There should be some limit put on the pay increases the unions can obtain.”

I looked around the store. There were a dozen other shoppers in the aisles, most of them members of mill workers’ families.

“Take a closer look at your customers,” I advised him. “The money they’re spending in your store comes from the wages they earn at the mill. This was the first raise they’ve had in three years. Did it never occur to you that, the lower their pay, the less they’d have to spend in your store?”

His jaw dropped. Obviously he had never made the obvious connection between the mill workers’ wages and the extent to which he could profit from their purchases at his store.

That was more than 60 years ago, but the same purblindness still afflicts business owners and managers across Canada. They are especially enraged that the wages and salaries of public employees are substantially higher than the amount they pay their own employees.

Organizations such as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Association (CTA), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), and the National Citizens’ Coalition (NCC) incessantly rant against this disparity, charging that public employees don’t deserve higher compensation and should have it cut back to match the private sector’s lower rates.

A report by the CFIB calculated that the millions of public employees in Canada, on average, were being paid 13 per cent more than their private sector counterparts. With the higher public sector benefits and pensions factored in, the gap more than doubled for federal workers to 33 per cent.

Of course, the main reason for these pay and benefit differentials is because public employees are unionized, while most private employees are not. The higher salaries and benefits in the public sector are negotiated by the public sector unions. Workers in private industrial and retail service jobs, lacking unions to represent them, have to take the inferior wages their employers decide unilaterally to pay them.

So the reality is not that public employees are overpaid, but that private sector employees are underpaid. A much better case can be made for raising inadequate private sector pay rates than for lowering those in the public sector.

One of the main benefits of being unionized has been the achievement of pay parity for female public employees, who now receive the same compensation as their male co-workers. In the private sector, however, unfair lower pay rates for women are still widely prevalent.

Anti-government governments

It’s not just business organizations that are campaigning against what they misperceive to be “too large, too wasteful, and too tax-imposing” government. Governments run by neoliberal conservative parties have also been committed to smaller government, lower taxes, anti-unionism, fewer public employees, deregulation, privatization and leaner public services.

A CCPA study released during the Harper reign, “Scapegoating Canada’s public sector,” found that “public services and the legislation that governs them have been seriously weakened by the Harper government, compromising our ability to help the unemployed, provide services to indigenous communities and veterans, curb climate change, and protect the environment … The ranks of the public service have been decimated, while revenue has been slashed by tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.”

The study also pointed out that the public services for which Harper cut funding were worth about $41,000 a year for the average Canadian household, or 63 per cent of the median family income. As the study’s author, Hugh Mackenzie, noted, “Public services reduce inequality, provide stability, and promote social and environmental security. They are demonstrably more efficient, less expensive, of higher quality, and more accountable than privatized services. They constitute the best deal we’re ever going to get.

“If privatized and unregulated market forces were really superior to public services, as neoliberals contend,” argued Mackenzie, “why was it the public sector that was called upon to deal with and manage every major economic crisis of the last 100 years, from the Great Depression to Second World War mobilization to post-war reconstruction to the ‘stimulus’ measures implemented to cushion the effects of the 2008 financial meltdown?”

The “small government” madness

It’s not just the public sector’s more generous pay and benefit packages that infuriate big business leaders, investors and lobbyists. They are also determined to reduce the size and spending of the federal and provincial governments. “The smaller the government, the better,” they claim. And over the last few decades they have succeeded in slashing governments’ abilities to improve or even maintain the proper levels of essential public services.

Privatization and deregulation have been rampant. Health care, education, the environment, public housing, gender equality, child care, tax fairness, trade and even democracy have all been dealt punishing blows by the oligarchs of corporate and political neoliberalism. Their jihad against “big government” has been relentless. They seem oblivious to the fact that the more they shrink and cripple the public sector, the more they damage the private sector. They don’t seem to realize that the two sectors are intertwined and interdependent.

The private sector, for example, would collapse if not for the billions of dollars it derives from the public sector. The federal government alone spends about $35 billion a year on the purchase of private goods and services — everything from paper clips to aircraft, from computers to scientific research. Add the amounts spent in the private sector by provincial and municipal governments, and such vast expenditures are probably more than doubled.

And then there are the purchases of private sector goods and services by the five million public employees in Canada. I haven’t been able to get an estimate of this huge sum, but it must run well into the billions annually. And for every public sector worker who is laid off because of anti-government business pressure, down incrementally go private business sales and profits. But the corporate moguls remain just as unaware and unconcerned about this crucial correlation today as was that grocery store manager in Corner Brook 60 years ago.

Unbreakable public-private link

Private sector attacks on the public sector harm both sectors. Public expenditures often create private construction projects. Many industries could not get started or keep going without government services and infrastructure. Public funds spent on making workers healthier and better educated provide the private sector with a more efficient work force. Public funds spent on roads, airports and other utilities are essential to the operation of private industry.

That’s the absurdity of the big business assault on the public sector. Somehow more private industrial development is supposed to flow from less public education and research. More private X-ray machines, MRIs and other medical hardware is supposed to be made for fewer public hospitals. More private cars and trucks are supposed to be driven on fewer public highways.

You would think that, by this time, our political leaders would realize just how illogical, inequitable and impracticable this self-defeating business dogma really is. Instead, they submissively continue to aid, abet and subsidize the corporate kingpins in their deranged attacks on the public sector and public employees.

As long as this ignorance of public and private sector interdependence prevails, so will the cancers of inequality, poverty, deregulation, privatization, crumbling infrastructure and environmental degradation.

Alberta’s anti-protestor bill suppresses democracy and violates treaties, say critics

Canada’s laws have long been used against Indigenous Peoples

Critics are warning that a bill introduced by the Alberta government to impose large fines and prison time on people participating in blockades or protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” suppresses democracy and violates treaties.

Austin Mihkwâw, a Samson Cree activist from Treaty 6 territory, says many of the industrial megaprojects that have and would be targets for civil disobedience are already violations of legally binding treaties, which did not entail surrender of the land and only allowed for its use “to the depth of a plow,” for example.

Indigenous sovereignty and title underlie the recent surge in blockades and protests.

The bill, introduced by Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party on Tuesday, stipulates that no one shall “enter on” or “interfere” with critical infrastructure “without lawful right, justification, or excuse.”

“What do you define as justification?” asks Mihkwâw. “Protecting the water? Protecting the children? Protecting the future?”

While actions like railway blockades are already illegal under federal law, the Alberta bill allows for arrest without warrant. It also adds additional penalties, such as fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 for a first offence, and up to $25,000 for each subsequent offence. On top of fines, individuals may face six months in jail.

Bill follows weeks of solidarity actions

The new legislation comes after weeks of solidarity actions with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the presence of pipeline company Coastal GasLink and the RCMP on their territory in northwestern B.C. People across the country have blockaded rail lines, ports, highways, and government buildings.

Premier Kenney blamed the recent decision of Teck Resources Ltd. to withdraw its application for the $20-billion Frontier oil sands mine on what he called a “general atmosphere of lawlessness” created by acts of civil disobedience — actions he also said are keeping Indigenous communities from moving from poverty to prosperity through resource development.

But Mihkwâw says the premier’s concern for Indigenous communities is not genuine.

“Jason Kenney has no right to act like he cares about the bands or Indigenous people,” he says.

The infringement on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and Indigenous title are all reasons the proposed law could be found unconstitutional.

Provincial and federal governments are only interested in Indigenous communities when they find it serves their purposes, and “the only time Indigenous sovereignty is acknowledged is through the colonial states they created,” he says, referring to the elected band council system imposed on First Nations through the Indian Act.

Indigenous sovereignty and title underlie the recent surge in blockades and protests. In the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw v. British Columbia decision, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the existing right of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to the “exclusive use and occupation” of their traditional lands, a right the hereditary chiefs are demanding be upheld through the removal of the RCMP and Coastal GasLink from their territories.

“You see these levels of civil disobedience because that’s a necessary way for them to advocate for their rights and themselves as well,” Mihkwâw says, adding that communities often fail to find justice through the Canadian legal system.

“The side of the law has never been on the side of Indigenous people,” he says, and throughout Canadian history are examples of profoundly unjust but legal measures such as the Indian Act and the residential school program.

Constitutional issues

The Alberta bill defines essential infrastructure broadly to include refineries, pipelines, mines, railways, highways, dams, waterways, communications systems, electric utilities, farms, and any land used in connection with said infrastructure. In addition to this extensive list, the bill allows for the provincial government to designate “buildings, structures, devices or other things as being essential infrastructure.”

This conflates public and private property, an important distinction when talking about Charter rights such as the freedom to peaceful assembly. Further, the bill could be used to clamp down on dissent by having the site of a protest declared to be “critical infrastructure.”

Though Kenney’s assertion that “urban green left militants” were responsible for Teck’s withdrawal doesn’t appear to be credible — the company cited regulatory uncertainty and economic concerns as the principal reasons — his rhetoric was no doubt successful in stirring up further animosity towards Alberta’s growing social and climate justice movements.

His government is relying on this divisive and antagonistic narrative that protesters are responsible for lost jobs to justify the need for sweeping penalties.

“Bills like this are deliberately designed to suppress democratic participation in our communities, and I think it’s truly abhorrent that the government is passing laws like this,” says Robert Miller of Extinction Rebellion Edmonton.

The infringement on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and Indigenous title are all reasons the proposed law could be found unconstitutional. The constitutional merit of the law, however, likely cannot be challenged until someone is arrested and charged under it — a condition Miller says many people would be happy to bring about.

“I think that there is going to be an appetite in our community, and even myself personally, to try and embarrass the government by getting willfully arrested, just to be able to have the standing to challenge them in court and demonstrate from a legal backing that it is unconstitutional.”

How the Virus Has Hit the Climate Movement: Bill McKibben

The Tyee talks to the prominent activist and author about fighting on two fronts.

McKibben wrote a book about climate change in 1989: ‘I’m watching people start to understand that systems have to change in very big ways when physical reality intrudes.

A few weeks ago, this was looking like a big year for Canada’s climate movement.

After years of grassroots opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline in B.C., an eruption of rail blockades across the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en natural gas fight and Teck Resources shelving a major new oil sands mine for economic reasons, all the conditions seemed there to push for economy-transforming policies on the scale of the Green New Deal.

Then the coronavirus hit.

At a time when climate leaders in Canada, the U.S. and Europe imagined millions of people on the streets pressuring financial institutions to ditch fossil fuels and forcing political leaders to enact bold legislation, people are now fearful and physically alone, stuck in their homes to prevent a public health catastrophe as outside ecosystems veer towards collapse.

To help Tyee readers make sense of this new reality, we reached out to author and activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate group 350 and a global authority on what must be done to fight the climate emergency. It was McKibben who wrote the book The End of Nature about climate change in 1989 that put the threat firmly on the public radar.

In a conversation that has been edited for length and clarity, he urges Canadians to pressure politicians to keep the climate emergency front and centre as we navigate this crisis, while using these terrifying and inexplicable times as a chance to reflect on the fairer and more sustainable world we must build after the crisis is over.

On the impact of coronavirus on the climate movement:

McKibben: Our family is gathered at our house in the woods and we’re all isolating together. I think the biggest effect of coronavirus has been that it kind of enforces a pause in some of the activism that’s been most of my work for the last decade or so…It’s incredibly frustrating because the climate movement was building to a new crest.

The other weird thing with coronavirus, is that the human instinct in the case of a natural disaster of any kind is to come together and exhibit solidarity and take care of each other and this is a very strange and particularly frustrating moment because the biggest thing we can do to help each other is stay apart. Which is very odd and it’s one of the reasons why it feels sad that we can’t be doing the work we should be doing around climate change.

On how this emergency is causing people to rethink society:

But there’s also an enormous amount of new thinking going on in all kinds of people’s heads and hearts and some of that new thinking is just about the fact that when the world actually demands it you have to make actual change. I’ve been saying for a very long time that you don’t get to negotiate with chemistry and physics…Coronavirus is demonstrating to a fault that you don’t get to negotiate with biology.

I’m watching people start to understand that systems have to change in very big ways when physical reality intrudes…The really stark fear of what could happen with coronavirus means people are taking that idea really seriously immediately…Most people seem to be responding with the knowledge that we’d better reorganize how we do things in a big way to deal with this illness and I think that will carry over into people’s willingness to reorganize our society to deal with other crises. It seems hard to imagine that the same power balances will still be there in quite the same way when this is over.

On the similarities between coronavirus and climate change:

There’s a sense in which something like coronavirus is like climate change except encapsulated in a few months instead of a few decades…The biggest difference is that there’s no enormous industry that gets rich off of coronavirus, so there’s not like a built-in opposition to doing what needs to be done and that’s always been one of the problems with climate change.

One thing that’s happening I think is that last year will mark the peak of fossil fuel demand. I don’t think fossil fuels will be able to recover to the point they were at before. I can’t imagine anyone deciding that what they’re going to invest their money now in is another tar sands mine. I find it hard to imagine that even the Canadian government is going to want to spend $12 billion to build its pipeline out to Burnaby. I think we’re going to be reminded that there are other more important things to spend money on.

It seems to me that probably some of the landscape of oil and gas is getting rewritten even as we watch. That is a direct testament to the power of protest and organization over this last decade and to the incredible work of people, especially Indigenous organizers, pushing this case for a very long time. And it’s gotten through. Earlier this winter, the decision of investors that they weren’t going to throw more money into the Teck Frontier mine was a kind of bell ringing and those echoes will reverberate for a long time.

More First Nations lock down borders, declare their own states of emergency to keep COVID-19 out

Chiefs are pleading for members to stay home to prevent spread of novel coronavirus

Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation Chief Lance Roulette says five key entry points into and out of the community will be “heavily monitored” to control traffic during the local state of emergency. (CBC)

More First Nations in Manitoba are locking down entry points to their communities and declaring their own states of emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates.

Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation leadership announced Saturday it is declaring a state of emergency and will patrol entry to the First Nation.

Chief Lance Roulette said staff will be “heavily monitoring” the five main access points to control the flow of traffic. The temporary rules went into effect on Saturday at 7 p.m.

He said leaders made the decision that day upon noticing an alarmingly high volume of vehicles going in and out of the reserve.

“For now, please, we want our membership to continue to stay home,” Roulette pleaded. He is asking people to consume the household supplies and food already in their possession.

Visitors from outside the community are not allowed in homes and public places, except for delivery trucks carrying important supplies.

Residents are being advised not to leave the First Nation, about 130 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, with the exception of staff reporting to work, getting items for essential needs and important medical appointments.

The strict measures were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sandy Bay has no confirmed cases at this time, although “this can change if people continue to congregate in large numbers,” Roulette said.

Sandy Bay is a community of about 3,650 people living on reserve.

“When it does hit the First Nations communities, and a lot of the chiefs are really taking those proactive measures as well to ensure that we can, you know, when our communities are hit, that we’re prepared for it,” he said.

“It’s very very clear that our members who do have chronic illnesses are also very vulnerable and are at high risk. We want to protect our children and our elderly.”

On Tuesday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called for a state of emergency in 62 First Nations. Its executive council of chiefs called on all First Nations that fall under its jurisdiction to close their borders to all non-essential travel, while ensuring food and supplies are still being delivered.

Individual First Nations have been following suit on their own terms. MORE

Managed wind-down of BC’s fossil fuel industries good for climate, jobs and communities, new report

VANCOUVER — If BC is to meet its emissions targets and not perpetuate the climate crisis, it must phase out its fossil fuel industries by mid-century, says a report released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Winding Down BC’s Fossil Fuel Industries: Planning for Climate Justice in a Zero-Carbon Economy, by Marc Lee and Seth Klein, proposes a four-point plan to phase out BC’s fossil fuel industries over the next 20 to 30 years and fully decarbonize the economy by 2050, including a fair transition for workers and resource-dependent communities.

“Betting on a liquified natural gas industry and fracking to power BC’s economy is risky given low gas prices, a global glut of LNG and the likelihood that importers will cut their consumption of fossil fuels over the coming decades to meet their emissions targets,” says Lee. “And BC’s own climate action plans focus only on emissions within the province’s borders, side-stepping our role as a major fossil fuel exporter. This report aims to strengthen both our economic and climate plans.”

To date, government and industry in BC have focused on extracting and exporting as much fossil fuels as possible, worsening global over-supply problems rather than addressing the climate crisis, says Klein, a former director of CCPA-BC who is writing a book on mobilizing Canada for the climate emergency.

“Instead we need long-term strategic planning so that good green jobs are created as part of the transition away from fossil fuels. Otherwise we risk change being imposed on the province from outside. Decisions by governments in Asia on climate action could lead to BC’s fossil fuel exports drying up and workers being laid off,” he explained, adding that a fair transition for workers and communities that depend on fossil fuel industries is essential.

The authors note that the key elements of a wind-down must be planned with First Nations, recognizing that fossil fuel resources are often on lands that are unceded by First Nations or subject to treaties that may be violated by the cumulative damages of fossil fuel extraction.

This report is being published at a time of extreme polarization in BC and Canada over ‘energy politics’—jobs versus the environment versus Indigenous rights—and the authors hope their research will launch a conversation they believe is desperately needed, and one that governments and political parties have not been willing to engage in to date.

“We must have an honest conversation in BC about what would be needed to get to net-zero emissions by mid-century,” says Lee. “To promote a strong and equitable economy, the provincial government must commit to invest in green infrastructure, skills and training and to develop an industrial strategy around decarbonization.”

Job losses in fossil fuel industries can be addressed by creating new green jobs like remediating old fossil fuel sites, and building green infrastructure and renewable energy projects in affected areas, Lee says.

“When it comes to jobs the best defense is a good offence,” says Lee.  “We know that a lot of work will be required to make the shift off fossil fuels and BC should embrace the challenge as a collective province-building project.”

The report recommends that BC invest two per cent of the province’s GDP annually in the transition (about $6 billion in 2019). Such investments would support approximately 42,000 direct and indirect jobs in a range of green economic activity.

“The good news is that we now have real examples of transition packages for coal workers in places such as Alberta and Spain that model how this should be done. The Columbia Basin Trust is a home-grown initiative that could be applied to regions heavily impacted by a fossil fuel wind-down,” he added.

The report calls for a moratorium on new fossil fuel leases, the end of fossil fuel subsidies and higher royalties on production during the phase-out period.

“Transition is going to happen whether we like it or not. If we start planning now we can ensure that no one is left behind,” Lee says. SOURCE

Canada’s forests remain under threat — and the clock is ticking for governments to step up

If forests are our future, then the future is fragmented, overrun and on the brink of collapse

A clearcut area of the boreal forest in Ontario. Photo: River Jordan / NRDC

When the United Nations created the International Day of Forests, they did so for good reason: forests are essential to our future, but they continue to be degraded and destroyed at a mind boggling scale.

Canada has a disproportionate role to play in forest protection, because it is home to almost a third of all the world’s forests, including the largest intact forest on Earth — the boreal — and the towering old-growth rainforests in British Columbia, which are among the planet’s most carbon-rich.

But federal and provincial governments in Canada are not taking our role seriously. About a million acres of boreal forest are logged each year, for everything from building material to toilet paper. The long-term impacts of clearcutting have created a carbon debt in Canada, as large tracts of forest are unable to recover.

While old-growth forest continues to be clearcut in B.C., a fundamental lack of adequate monitoring and oversight means that even the government is unlikely to know exactly what is being trucked off the land. Species that signal the broader health of forest ecosystems, like woodland caribou, continue to disappear.

If forests are our future, then the future is fragmented, overrun and on the brink of collapse.

Our communities depend on forests locally and globally: we look to woodland ecosystems for everything from jobs and recreation to clean water and air.

Forests are being used to fuel crises when they can be a key part of the solution to global problems. As toilet paper makes headlines this week, top brands like Charmin continue to source fibre from endangered caribou habitat and carbon-rich forests.

And Canada is making forests a new battleground in the global rush to curb our addiction to coal. Wood pellets are being exported from Canada to countries like the U.K. and Japan, where they’re burned in coal-converted power plants under the guise of renewable energy. But in reality, biomass energy creates more carbon emissions at the stack than coal.

A logging truck enters Pacific BioEnergy’s pellet plant in Prince George. Photo: Dominick DellaSala

We’re heading into an uncertain time. Where I’m sitting, on the banks of the Kootenay River, the region is at a heightened risk of flooding. A large snowpack, changing weather patterns and massive clearcuts in watersheds are contributing to a dangerous situation for communities in B.C.

Elsewhere, extreme flooding is already a reality. Just this week, Indigenous people in the Amazon have lost homes, schools, and other vital infrastructure to severe flooding along the Bobonaza River. Resources to address this disaster in the middle of a pandemic are limited.

Indigenous Nations in the Amazon have been battling forest destruction and climate change, two drivers of these massive floods, for years. Indigenous territories in Ecuador and Peru are being targeted for massive expansion of oil drilling in the Amazon Sacred Headwaters, which is home to 75 million acres of the most biodiverse forest on the planet. If expansion plans move ahead, an area about the size of Texas will be opened to drilling.

From the boreal to the Amazon, the work to defend forests and forest communities is linked. On this International Day of Forests, we’re contending with the disasters that we have been warned about for decades: fires, floods and economic crisis.

Good forest policy can make these problems less severe. Intact, old forests can mitigate floods and fires and protect access to clean water. Well-managed forests can provide access to timber and recreation across generations.

So far, governments in Canada have failed to act in the ecological and long-term interests of forest communities. With old forests on the brink, we only have a handful of years to reverse this trend. The policy choices that we’re making now will resonate for a long time.

In April, the B.C. government will receive a report from an independent old-growth panel, recommending action for the future of our oldest remaining forests. British Columbians will not see these findings for another six months, and concrete action could take even longer. Our forests and communities simply cannot afford that delay.

In their responses to COVID-19, governments and policy-makers have shown the scale of action they are prepared to take to address an emergency. But more importantly, our communities have shown their true value, as neighbours step up to protect each other and ensure our collective wellbeing.

That’s the key lesson that forests share with us: roots don’t grow deep, they spread wide. We need to chart a more hopeful path for forests, one that builds a resilient, community-oriented and abundant future. SOURCE

RELATED:

Canada’s forgotten rainforest

Report documents political will on key climate actions

Pembina Institute highlights potential for collaboration in Winning on Climate: Action plan for a decarbonized Canadian economy

Photo: Roberta Franchuk, Pembina Institute

OTTAWA — Key actions to successfully decarbonize Canada’s economy, and the political will across all parties on each, are documented in the Pembina Institute’s newest report, Winning on Climate: Action plan for a decarbonized Canadian economy.

Issue areas include: carbon pricing, targets and accountability, just transition, transportation, buildings, electricity, renewables in remote communities, oil and gas, and decision making around energy infrastructure projects.

To ensure Canada meets its Paris Agreement commitment, and moves forward on a path to build a 21st-century decarbonized economy , the report calls for an increase to Canada’s 2030 target, paired with legislated accountability measures, as well as:

  • adoption of renewable and smart grid technologies (that let consumers actively manage demand and contribute electricity to the grid), and electrification of our buildings, transportation and industry
    • non-emitting transportation systems and land-use decisions that reduce dependence on cars
    • support for the deep energy retrofit market to deliver energy efficient, more comfortable homes and drive job creation in this sector
    • a just transition plan that gives fossil fuel workers the tools they need to succeed in a decarbonized economy
    • a lower-carbon oil and gas supply, and a clearly defined role for gas in a decarbonized global economy
    • ensuring Canada’s energy and infrastructure decisions are compatible with our climate objectives and are financially viable in a decarbonized world
    • principles of reconciliation (including a commitment to adhere to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) guiding the clean energy transition in remote communities.

While political parties have different ideas on how to implement climate action, there is general agreement on most of the high-level goals needed to limit Canada’s contribution to catastrophic climate change. It’s time for Pan-Canadian Framework 2.0.

Quote

“As the pace of climate change accelerates, we simply can’t afford to accept the tacit denialism embedded in delaying or weakening climate action. Canadians know this. They voted for action on climate change. And on the key areas where we need climate action, Canada’s federal parties are more aligned than Canadians may realize. That’s encouraging considering how big and complex this problem is, and the degree of co-operation we need to solve it. 

“We have to pull every lever we have available to us. It’s time to build on the national climate plan, and this report shows us where — based on their promises — we should expect parties to collaborate. The environment, and our economy, depend on it.” — Isabelle Turcotte, federal policy director, Pembina Institute

Quick facts

  • According to the OECD, long term growth statistics place Canada at the top of the G7 over the last decade.
  • Canada is among the top 10 biggest emitters in the world.
  • Per capita, Canadians are the highest emitters among all G20 countries, producing on average 22 tonnes per person per year, while the G20 average is eight tonnes per person per year.
  • Canada’s current climate target is to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • Canada’s highest emitting sector is oil and gas, responsible for 27 per cent of Canada’s emissions. Transportation is close behind at 24 per cent, with buildings at 12 per cent. Electricity, agriculture, and heavy industry follow at 10 per cent each.

Visit pembina.org to download a copy of Winning on Climate: Action plan for a decarbonized Canadian economy.