Big Oil is using the coronavirus pandemic to push through the Keystone XL pipeline

The oil industry saw its opening and moved with breathtaking speed to take advantage of this moment

 TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline facility. Photograph: Jeff McIntosh/AP

I’m going to tell you the single worst story I’ve heard in these past few horrid months, a story that combines naked greed, political influence peddling, a willingness to endanger innocent human beings, utter blindness to one of the greatest calamities in human history and a complete disregard for the next crisis aiming for our planet. I’m going to try to stay calm enough to tell it properly, but I confess it’s hard.

The background: a decade ago, beginning with indigenous activists in Canada and farmers and ranchers in the American west and midwest, opposition began to something called the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry filthy tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. It quickly became a flashpoint for the fast-growing climate movement, especially after Nasa scientist James Hansen explained that draining those tar sands deposits would be “game over” for the climate system. And so thousands went to jail and millions rallied and eventually Barack Obama bent to that pressure and blocked the pipeline. Donald Trump, days after taking office, reversed that decision, but the pipeline has never been built, both because its builder, TC Energy, has had trouble arranging the financing and permits, and because 30,000 people have trained to do nonviolent civil disobedience to block construction. It’s been widely assumed that, should a Democrat win the White House in November, the project would finally be gone for good.

And then came the coronavirus epidemic – and the oil industry saw its opening. It moved with breathtaking speed to take advantage of the moment.

In Alberta, premier Jason Kenney, a pliant servant of the oil companies who had already set up a “war room” to fight environmentalists, invested $1.1bn of taxpayers’ money to TC Energy to fund construction through the year, and set aside another $6bn in a loan guarantee.

Meanwhile, on the southern side of the border, a series of states quickly adopted laws making it a felony to protest “critical infrastructure” like pipelines. (Last week South Dakota, a crucial link on the KXL route, made it a felony even to “incite” such protest.) And the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum exempting pipeline construction from stay-at-home orders because such work was “critical” – that is, the department is asserting it is essential to build oil pipelines at the precise moment that the world is swimming in oil and that the Trump administration is boasting about getting Saudi and Russian autocrats to cut supply.

On Tuesday, TC Energy announced it was moving workers from across America into place in states along the pipeline route – although local reporters in Montana discovered they’d actually begun arriving 48 hours earlier, narrowly beating the state imposition of a quarantine.

On Thursday, JP Morgan Chase announced that it was leading a $1.25bn bond issue for TC Energy.

So here’s how it shakes out:

1) The oil industry is flying in workers from across America to rural states with already strained health care systems, at a moment when all Americans have been asked to shelter in place, and pretending that they are “essential” employees in order to build a pipeline that would carry oil no one wants or needs, and which would go a long way toward wrecking the planet’s climate system.

2) The work is being done on the edges of many Indian reservations – endangering a group of people who, over the centuries, have endured 90% population losses from introduced epidemics, and who are suffering horrible losses already from this one. As Faith Spotted Eagle of the Yankton Sioux put it on Wednesday, “this causes eerie memories for us [of] the infected smallpox blankets that were distributed to tribes intentionally”.

3) It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the oil industry is acting decisively now because it knows this is the one moment when protesters can’t make themselves heard. Those 30,000 trained volunteers represent one of the great nonviolent armies in American history, willing to suffer to protect the planet – but they are moral human beings who will not risk taking microbes into prisons with them, and endanger prisoners crowded together in impossible conditions.

There are plenty of targets for anger – timid Democrats like Montana governor Steve Bullock, who could delay the construction, or like Joe Biden, who could have made it clear that the pipeline would be shut if he won, but who instead issued a statement to NPR which should be eligible for the mealy-mouthed hall of fame:

“Vice-president Biden supports establishing a process requiring that for any significant infrastructure project – including all pipelines – there must be a full review and accounting of the impact on climate, local environmental health and climate justice before any project can proceed. Vice-president Biden believes that the approach Secretary Kerry applied in analyzing the costs and benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline and other cross-border pipelines – including to national security and diplomacy – is a model to build from in establishing this process.”

But let’s be clear: the villains here are the oil industry and the big banks. And let’s further be clear: their villainy is not new. The oil industry knew about and lied about climate change for 30 years: they’ve prevented us from flattening the carbon curve, and set up a tragedy far greater even than coronavirus and one which will play out for decades to come. And the banks are their invaluable allies: Chase Bank has lent $268bn to the industry since the Paris climate accords – what’s another billion to build a useless pipeline and perhaps spread a fatal disease?

Literally nothing matters to these people except money. Even in a moment when the rest of us are changing our every habit to try and protect each other, they are willing to sacrifice nothing. No – let’s be clear again. In this moment they are using the cover of the pandemic to make yet more money, to do things they could not get away with at any other time. These aren’t penny-ante price gougers trying to corner the local market in hand sanitizer so they can make a buck – these are cold-blooded and calculating members of the one percent. It’s so over-the-top evil that it’s like the comic book version of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, written in blood.

I am a Methodist, sometimes a Sunday School teacher. I don’t actually believe in hell – I think God is capable of forgiving people for the worst things. But I don’t think I am.

Though the hour is late, there may still be ways to fight this blitzkrieg. The coalitions that have battled it for a decade are, even forced apart by the microbe, now coming together to try. We will do it with real and unabating rage in our hearts.

How could anyone be this low? SOURCE


  • Bill McKibben is an author and Schumann distinguished scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College, Vermont. His most recent book is Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Climate change: For big emissions reductions, we need to think small

“Big new infrastructure costing billions is not the best way to accelerate decarbonization”

Small-scale clean energy and low carbon technologies—such as solar panels, smart appliances and electric bicycles—are more likely to push society toward meeting climate goals than large-scale technologies, according to a new study from a team of international researchers.

The findings, published today in Science, suggest governments and investors around the world should prioritize small-scale, low carbon technologies in policy design and research development in order to reduce emissions responsible for climate change in a more efficient and just way.

For years, scientists have issued stark warnings that, without drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, we will further warm the planet and increasingly experience “substantial” consequences—wildfires, droughts, flooding, coral reef die-offs, food shortages. A groundbreaking 2018 study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the planet is on a trajectory to warm by as much as 2.7-degrees Fahrenheit (compared to pre-industrial temperatures) by 2040.

The message from climate scientists has been clear and consistent—we have to act fast.

In the new study, researchers examined how to best attack the problem with available technologies. They collected information on a wide assortment of energy technologies and examined their viability to help push countries toward meeting international climate change goals, defined in the study as needing to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half within the next decade and to net-zero by 2050.

They tested how well each technology performed in cost, innovation, accessibility, social return, equality of access, investment risk and other characteristics.

The team divided technologies into two categories: “lumpy” technologies such as nuclear power, carbon capture, high speed transit, whole building retrofits; and “granular” technologies such as solar panels, electricity storage batteries, heat pumps, smart thermostats, electric bikes, and shared taxis.

They found the granular options “can help drive faster and fairer progress towards climate targets,” said lead author Charlie Wilson, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, in a statement.

“Big new infrastructure costing billions is not the best way to accelerate decarbonization,” Wilson said. “Governments, firms, investors, and citizens should instead prioritize smaller-scale solutions, which deploy faster. This means directing funding, policies, incentives, and opportunities for experimentation away from the few big and towards the many small.”

Wilson and colleagues wrote the granular tech was “associated with faster diffusion, lower investment risk, faster learning, more opportunities to escape lock-in, more equitable access, more job creation, and higher social returns on innovation investment.”

They cautioned that small-scale technology is not always the answer—for example, there are no alternatives for planes or industrial plants.

“Smaller scale innovations are not a panacea,” said co-author Nuno Bento, a researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon, in a statement.

However, these smaller technologies are, in general, quicker to get to market and less complex. This accessibility means more jobs—which makes them an easier sell for policymakers crafting climate change plans.

“Large ‘silver bullet’ technologies like nuclear power or carbon capture storage are politically seductive,” said co-author Arnulf Brubler, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, in a statement.

“But larger scale technologies and infrastructures absorb large shares of available public resources without delivering the rapid decarbonization we need.”

See the full study here.

Smarty plants: are our vegetable cousins more intelligent than we realise?

Plants can learn, memorise information and communicate. Perhaps we humans are not as special as we would like to think

‘You need to imagine a plant as a huge brain’ … the plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso. Photograph: Alessandro Moggi

Ihad hoped to interview the plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso at his laboratory at the University of Florence. I picture it as a botanical utopia: a place where flora is respected for its awareness and intelligence; where sensitive mimosa plants can demonstrate their long memories; and where humans are invited to learn how to be a better species by observing the behaviour of our verdant fellow organisms.

But because we are both on lockdown, we Skype from our homes. Instead of meeting his clever plants, I make do with admiring a pile of cannonball-like pods from an aquatic species, on the bookshelves behind him. “They’re used for propagation,” he says. “I am always collecting seeds.”

Before Mancuso’s lab started work in 2005, plant neurobiology was largely seen as a laughable concept. “We were interested in problems that were, until that moment, just related to animals, like intelligence and even behaviour,” he says. At the time, it was “almost forbidden” to talk about behaviour in plants. But “we study how plants are able to solve problems, how they memorise, how they communicate, how they have their social life and things like that”.

Flower power … Mancuso’s team has shown that Mimosa pudica can retain learned information for weeks. Photograph: Alamy

Mancuso and his colleagues have become experts in training plants, just like neuroscientists train lab rats. If you let a drop of water fall on a Mimosa pudica, its kneejerk response is to recoil its leaves, but, if you continue doing so, the plant will quickly cotton on that the water is harmless and stop reacting. The plants can hold on to this knowledge for weeks, even when their living conditions, such as lighting, are changed. “That was unexpected because we were thinking about very short memories, in the range of one or two days – the average memory of insects,” says Mancuso. “To find that plants were able to memorise for two months was a surprise.” Not least because they don’t have brains.

In a plant, a single brain would be a fatal flaw because they have evolved to be lunch. “Plants use a very different strategy,” says Mancuso. “They are very good at diffusing the same function all over the body.” You can remove 90% of a plant without killing it. “You need to imagine a plant as a huge brain. Maybe not as efficient as in the case of animals, but diffused everywhere.”

One of the most controversial aspects of Mancuso’s work is the idea of plant consciousness. As we learn more about animal and plant intelligence, not to mention human intelligence, the always-contentious term consciousness has become the subject of ever more heated scientific and philosophical debate. “Let’s use another term,” Mancuso suggests. “Consciousness is a little bit tricky in both our languages. Let’s talk about awareness. Plants are perfectly aware of themselves.” A simple example is when one plant overshadows another – the shaded plant will grow faster to reach the light. But when you look into the crown of a tree, all the shoots are heavily shaded. They do not grow fast because they know that they are shaded by part of themselves. “So they have a perfect image of themselves and of the outside,” says Mancuso. 

Science struggles to view plants as active and motivated because its outlook is so humancentric, he argues. One test for self-awareness in animals is whether they can look in a mirror and understand that they are looking at themselves. “Very few animals are able to do this,” says Mancuso. “Humans, dolphins, a few apes and probably elephants. This has been taken in recent years as a kind of evidence that just these few groups of animals have self-awareness.” Mancuso believes this is wrong. “My personal opinion is that there is no life that is not aware of itself. For me, it’s impossible to imagine any form of life that is not able to be intelligent, to solve problems.”

Another misconception is that plants are the definition of a vegetative state – incommunicative and insensitive to what is around them. But Mancuso says plants are far more sensitive than animals. “And this is not an opinion. This is based on thousands of pieces of evidence. We know that a single root apex is able to detect at least 20 different chemical and physical parameters, many of which we are blind to.” There could be a tonne of cobalt or nickel under our feet, and we would have no idea, whereas “plants can sense a few milligrams in a huge amount of soil”, he says.

Far from being silent and passive, plants are social and communicative, above ground and beneath, through their roots and fungal networks. They are adept at detecting subtle electromagnetic fields generated by other life forms. They use chemicals and scents to warn each other of danger, deter predators and attract pollinating insects. When corn is nibbled by caterpillars, for example, the plant emits a chemical distress signal that lures parasitic wasps to exterminate the caterpillars.

A slower pace of life … Old Tjikko in Sweden is almost 10,000 years old. Photograph: Lars Johansson/Getty Images/iStockphoto  Facebook Pinterest

Plants respond to sound, too, “feeling” vibrations all over. “Plants are extremely good at detecting specific kinds of sounds, for example at 200hz or 300hz … because they are seeking the sound of running water.” If you put a source of 200hz sound close to the roots of a plant, he says, they will follow it. There is no evidence that the human voice benefits plants, although talking to plants may soothe the humans doing it.

Another reason we overlook plants’ intelligence is their vastly slower pace of life. In Mancuso’s new book, The Incredible Journey of Plants, we meet the world’s oldest plant – Old Tjikko – a red fir tree whose roots have writhed in the Swedish earth for about 9,560 years. We are also introduced to the ingenious seeds of crimson fountain grass, which choose not to germinate until the conditions are perfect – and can survive for six years while waiting.

The main thrust of the book is that plants were the original pioneers and have been forever exploring the planet. Mancuso eschews the notion of “native species” and prizes so-called invasive species above all else. “The more invasive they are, the more I like them, because they are the most brilliant example of the ability to solve problems,” he says. “Invasive species are the most beautiful plants that I can imagine.” For Mancuso, “migration is one of the most important forces of nature. All living organisms migrate. We are the only species that is not allowed to, and this is completely unnatural.”

Although new generations of botanists are increasingly embracing plant neurobiology, Mancuso still has his detractors. Last summer, a group of eight plant scientists wrote in the journal Trends in Plant Science that Mancuso and his colleagues “have consistently glossed over the unique and remarkable degree of structural, organisational and functional complexity that the animal brain had to evolve before consciousness could emerge”. Mancuso says that almost all of these botanists are retired. “It’s an older generation of plant scientists that is completely against any notion of a plant as intelligent or behaving. For them, plants are kind of a semi-living organic machine.” 

The notion that humans are the apex of life on Earth is one of the most dangerous ideas around, says Mancuso: “When you feel yourself better than all the other humans or other living organisms, you start to use them. This is exactly what we’ve been doing. We felt ourselves as outside nature.” The average lifespan of a species on Earth is between 2m and 5m years. “Homo sapiens have lived just 300,000 years,” he says – and already “we have been able to almost destroy our environment. From this point of view, how can we say that we are better organisms?”

Perhaps we should try – ahem – taking a leaf out of the plant kingdom’s book. Human societies and organisations are structured like our bodies – with a brain, or a top-level control centre, and various different organs governing specific functions. “We use this in our universities, our companies, even our class divisions,” says Mancuso. This structure enables us to move fast, physically and organisationally, but it also leaves us vulnerable. If a major organ fails, it could scupper everything, and top-down leadership rarely serves the whole.

Plants, by contrast, “are kind of horizontal, diffusive, decentralised organisations that are much more in line with modernity”. Take the internet, the ultimate decentralised root system. “Look at the ability of Wikipedia to produce a wonderful amount of good-quality information by using a decentralised, diffused organisation. I’m claiming that, by studying plant networks, we can find wonderful solutions for us,” Or take the ethos of cooperation. Plants, say Mancuso, “are masters of starting symbiotic relationships with other organisms: bacteria, mushrooms, insects, even us. Just look at the way they use us to be transported all around the world.” We may think we have the upper hand, but plants may beg to differ. SOURCE


The Incredible Journey of Plants by Stefano Mancuso is published by Penguin Random House USA

Victoria Assigns Parks Staff To Start Growing Food For Residents

Canada’s “City of Gardens” is living up to its name in an unprecedented time.

A photo of an orca-themed horticulture display taken in good weather in Victoria, B.C. CITY OF VICTORIA

OTTAWA — Growing season is on the horizon and Canada’s “City of Gardens” is planning for more plants to increase local food security amid the coronavirus pandemic.

City councillors in Victoria, B.C. passed a motion Thursday to expand an urban food production program by temporarily reassigning some parks department staff to grow 50,000 to 75,000 seedlings to give to residents in May and June.

“These are extraordinary times and they do call for extraordinary measures,” said Mayor Lisa Helps in the council meeting. She referenced city measures taken in the Great Depression when potatoes were grown in Beacon Hill Park for the orphanage and seniors’ homes.

“This is a little bit different in the 21st century, but I think it’s a small thing staff can do and the residents can do, working together,” Helps said.

Ornamental gardening, such for the city’s orca floral display, will continue. But the city will see a 20 per cent reduction in the number of decorative hanging baskets. Those resources being redirected to the food security project.

Screen grab of Victoria City Council proceedings on April 2, 2020.  CITY OF VICTORIA

 

Coun. Jeremy Loveday, one of two city councillors behind the motion, told HuffPost Canada that food security is a more top-of-mind in Victoria “because we are on an island and we have limited amounts of food stock and limited amounts of food that is grown locally.”

Loveday said the provincial government has reassured residents that supply chains are intact amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the severity of the situation has compelled him and some neighbours to be more proactive about gardening this year, he said.

“I do think this crisis has brought this into people’s minds a little bit more and that they want to have a little more of a hand in growing their own food.”

In the 1950s, Vancouver Island farmers were responsible for 85 per cent of the region’s food supply, according to the Capital Region Food and Agricultural Initiatives Roundtable. But by the early aughts, food imports had increased to 85 per cent.

City staff are currently in discussions with farmers and seed libraries to come up with a shortlist of easy-to-grow edible plants that would be ideal for home gardening. Loveday suggested kale and chard as examples of leafy greens that thrive in Victoria’s climate.

Watch: Garden centers seeing more people interested in vegetable gardens. Story continues below video.


Coun. Geoff Young opposed the motion, citing concerns repurposing city staff to be temporary farmers wouldn’t bring a “significant contribution” to the city’s food supply.

The seedlings are expected to grow in municipal nurseries and greenhouses until they’re ready for distribution. Residents will get some leaf mulch, compost, or wood chips along with some soil with their free plants. Educational resources, including instructions for novice gardeners, will also be provided.

With the province’s K-12 classes suspended in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, city staff are also looking into livestreaming greenhouses tutorials to teach children, teens, and adults at home about gardening.

‘Huge’ support for motion

Lush boulevards, some with floral blooms and the occasional burst of edible greens, aren’t a strange sight in the West Coast city. That’s because the city’s bylaws were amended a few years ago to allow boulevard gardening on public land.

“We’ve been laying the groundwork for several years,” Coun. Ben Isitt said in an interview. The food-growing season in Canada is obviously short, he said, but the season is slightly longer on Vancouver Island because of its temperate climate.

Isitt worked with Loveday on the motion to increase “community resilience and food security.” He said the last time the city ramped up food production was the Second World War when supply was a concern coming out of the Great Depression.

“This will be the first time in about three-quarters of a century that the city gets directly involved in growing food,” Isitt said.

He said the current COVID-19 situation has prompted residents to take a renewed interest in how to build resilience in their communities in the face of a public health and economic crisis.

Medical staff prepare for assessing people for novel coronavirus disease at the public Victoria Health Unit in Victoria, B.C. on March 17, 2020.  KEVIN LIGHT / REUTERS

 

Mid-March panic buying saw flour, rice, pasta, and some canned goods cleared from grocery store shelves, Isitt said. “In the more wealthy neighbourhoods it seemed like produce was in short supply and that would be restocked but would be rapidly depleted.”

Because grassroots organizations have already been growing around community gardening, he said interest was already there and the motion received “huge” support from the public.

“I would encourage all communities to look at what they can do to make their communities more sustainable and more resilient for whatever challenges lie in the future.” SOURCE

 

Kelowna farmers have first market of the year despite COVID-19 concerns

 Despite coronavirus concerns, the Kelowna Farmers Market went ahead on Saturday.

It wasn’t the typical season opener for the Kelowna Farmer and Crafter’s Market.

Markings along the ground showed proper physical distancing separation and officials would only allow 30 shoppers inside the market at a time.

“We started our first outdoor market,” said Frances Callaghan, Kelowna Farmer and Crafter’s Market’s coordinator.

“Food and farmers only, today.”

Only food vendors were allowed to sell their goods, as crafters have not been deemed as essential workers.

Market organizers said they consulted with the Interior Health Authority and were given the go-ahead as long as they followed proper health protocols for COVID-19.

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“We have sanitizing stations and vendors are all taking the necessary safety precautions,” said Dave Price, Kelowna Farmer and Crafter’s Society’s president.

Twelve food vendors were in attendance to sell their goods.

“We’re taking extraordinary measures,” said Rachelle Zelaney, Zelaney’s Farm’s owner.

“Everyone is wearing gloves, sanitizing, hand washing and social distancing.”

Organizers and farmers both agreed, the market is needed not only for farmers to sell their goods, but for Okanagan residents to purchase healthy and nutritious foods.

The market is scheduled for next Saturday, barring any setbacks or changes from IHA or the City of Kelowna.

Okanagan residents struggle with physical distancing

Feds torn between moving toward cleaner energy or bailing out oil and gas sector

Canada’s oil producers could only sit and watch as the price of their product plummeted last month to less than what it costs to buy a litre of soda, hit by the double whammy of a COVID-19-induced drop in global demand and a production war between Russia and Saudi Arabia that flooded the market with more oil it didn’t need.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday his government is looking for a way to help. But it is also clear any aid package is being influenced by the push-pull the Liberals have long felt between one of Canada’s most influential economic sectors and an environment movement which sees this as Canada’s opportunity to move away from fossil fuels once and for all.

READ MORE: Ottawa using simple eligibility rules to speed up coronavirus aid: Morneau

Trudeau’s promise came nine days after Finance Minister Bill Morneau said an aid package for the oil sector was “hours, potentially days” away. Morneau’s office would not say Friday how many hours Morneau actually meant.

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Keith Stewart, an energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said a delay in the package is a good thing, because it would be a lot easier and faster to pump out a bailout of loans and aid to companies than it would be to find innovative ways to fund workers through a transition to greener pastures.

Greenpeace is among a number of national environment organizations demanding no cash be spent to help oil companies.

“Doing it right is more complicated than doing it fast,” he said.

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He is hopeful any direct aid to companies will be tied to their willingness to show business plans in line with Canada’s climate targets. Anything else should help workers who need to know they can pay their mortgages and put food on the table while they retrain for new jobs in clean energy or environmental remediation.

Federal government releases wage subsidy details

 

Federal government releases wage subsidy details

An investment to clean up Alberta’s orphan wells was promised by Morneau on March 18, and was expected in the federal budget which has now been delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said it is “frustrating” that Ottawa reached out to talk as soon as the demand drop and the Russia-Saudi Arabia spat began to hurt. But right now it’s all still just talk.

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“I think it is unparalleled in history to see demand drop like this,” he said.

“The urgency is apparent. We’re seeing the damage being done to our economy.”

McMillan said regardless of global markets, there is no doubt oil and gas is an essential service, producing petroleum-based chemicals used in plastics for health care equipment and natural gas that is keeping the heat on and keeping electricity plants pumping out power.

Global oil demand fell by one-third in March, as worldwide air travel all but stopped, manufacturing plants went on hiatus and workers around the globe heeded requests — and often orders — to stay at home. At the same time Russia and Saudi Arabia could not agree on cuts to oil production, flooding markets with oil and further depressing prices.

In Western Canada, prices fell below US$4 a barrel at one point last week.

The International Energy Agency predicted Friday the oil market collapse could cost 50 million jobs internationally. In Canada, companies are already laying off workers and cutting production because there is no profit to be made pumping out a barrel of oil that costs less than an expensive coffee.

Prices jumped a bit Friday, with news that an online meeting of oil producing countries is set for Monday in a bid to overcome the production war. It does not appear that Canada will be part of that meeting. Trudeau was asked directly Friday if Canada would be participating and dodged the question.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says help for low-income Canadians ‘coming sooner’ than expected

 

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says help for low-income Canadians ‘coming sooner’ than expected

 

Conservative energy critic Shannon Stubbs said she too wants to see the investments focus on people, but in a way that bridges them and their companies to get back to producing oil. Stubbs said every day constituents in her Alberta riding are calling terrified for their future. Jobs are disappearing and the spinoff impact across her riding’s economy is profound.

She is worried that the delay is caused by a disagreement similar to the one around the Liberal cabinet table earlier this year about whether to approve a massive new oilsands mine in Alberta. The Frontier mine was ultimately shelved by the company before a decision was made, but there were open disagreements among Liberals about whether to approve it.

Trudeau would not tip his hand on any timing or content of the aid package in the works, though he said it was part of the conversation he had with premiers Thursday during a first ministers’ teleconference call. Trudeau said some of the already announced COVID-19 aid is open to oil companies and workers too. SOURCE

Shockproofing Canada: Why the Keystone pipeline is just the start of making us energy self-sufficient

‘This is our hedge that we get at least one major project built. That will ensure the flexibility for the future’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney

The problem with the Canadian oil sector, experts say, is there are no redundancies or fail-safes built into Canada’s energy system, nor is there a strategic petroleum reserve like the U.S. has.Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Two weeks before TC Energy Corp. and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the $7.5-billion deal to begin construction on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, crews were entering quarantine at work camps along the Canada/United States border to ensure everyone was healthy in preparation for a get-to-work order.

Building a pipeline during the coronavirus pandemic will not be an easy task, but TC Energy spokesperson Terry Cunha said the company is taking pandemic-related precautions such as checking workers for fevers and illness, increasing social distancing on construction sites and enhancing cleaning protocols in vehicles and at camps.

In a somewhat unfortunate turn for the pipeline, which has become a symbol of the frustrations of energy-rich Alberta, after 10 years of planning, innumerable delays and legal battles on both sides of the border, shovels at long last went into the ground on Wednesday amidst one of the worst environments for oil in decades.

But Keystone and the other pipeline projects that Alberta is still banking on — the Trans Mountain expansion and Enbridge Line 3 — are less about combatting the current energy crisis than they are about setting up the province and the rest of the country to weather the next one.

“We’re not prepared to bet a huge part of our economic future on one project,” Kenney said in an interview with the Financial Post this week. “This is our hedge that we get at least one major project built. That will ensure the flexibility for our shippers and the future for the Canadian energy sector.”

A mothballed Keystone XL — which was a real possibility last summer when the company told the province it was having trouble raising the money needed to complete the project — was not a risk Kenney was willing to take. As a result, the province ponied up $1.5 billion in preferred equity financing, representing 80 per cent of project spending for 2020.

As Kenney is using Alberta’s balance sheet in an attempt to protect the export supply chains out of his province, there are growing calls for the federal government to take similar steps on a national level.

Oil and gas remain the country’s top export and the current coronavirus pandemic has exposed glaring vulnerabilities in Canada’s ability to cope with the type of market shocks currently battering the economy, including the combination of an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and a complete collapse in oil demand as commuters stay home.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is now at odds with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Juan Mabromata /AFP/Getty Images

The problem, experts say, is there are no redundancies or fail-safes built into Canada’s energy system. Analysts also bemoan the fact that Canada does not have a strategic petroleum reserve like the U.S. has, and that the country is completely tied to its southern neighbour, which makes it nearly impossible to avoid a recession as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on North American health-care systems.

The current collapse in oil prices has also exposed weaknesses in Canada’s export pipeline network relative to competing countries. This week, spot prices for Western Canada Select plunged below US$5 per barrel, while the price of a comparable barrel of Maya heavy crude from Mexico traded for US$19 per barrel, just US$5 less than the West Texas Intermediate benchmark price.

One reason domestic oil prices have tumbled so sharply is that there are fewer options for storing oil in Canada than there are in the U.S.

“The U.S. has its Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We don’t, to my knowledge, have anything like that. As a country, we’re going to pay a big price for not having that kind of option around,” said Richard Masson, executive fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy and former head of the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission.

As a country, we’re going to pay a big price for not having (a strategic reserve)

Richard Masson, University of Calgary

Right now, major U.S. refineries are gearing down as commuters there stay home and flights are grounded around the world. Oil producers in both the U.S. and Canada have been scrambling to put their barrels into storage, waiting for a time when the market for their product will rebound.

Canada’s largest storage terminals — in Edmonton and Hardisty, Alta.; Kerrobert, Sask.; and Sarnia, Ont. — are almost full, while President Donald Trump is allowing oil companies in the U.S. to rent storage from the federal government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Moreover, U.S. producers and other oil-producing countries also have access to floating storage. For example, Saudi Arabia and other member countries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are renting oil supertankers to store oil.

Masson said Canada does not have that option, because of its inability to build pipeline infrastructure to the country’s coasts. If pipelines such as Northern Gateway or Energy East had been built, “we would have the option of doing that,” he said. “Right now, we really don’t.”

Canadian oil can’t get to the coasts to be loaded onto tankers, either for storage or to be shipped to market. Eddie Seal/Bloomberg files

Instead, the options available for Canadian oilfields in both Alberta and Saskatchewan is less desirable. “There’s been talk of people filling rail cars and then just parking them,” Masson said.

The coronavirus pandemic and Saudi/Russia oil price war may be highlighting Canada’s lack of energy self-sufficiency, but its deficiencies were also exposed earlier this year when rail blockades cut off Quebec and Eastern Canada’s propane supplies for heating in the middle of winter.

“Those are longer-term problems that we’ve known about for a long time,” said Marla Orenstein, director of the Natural Resources Centre at the Canada West Foundation.

“One of the things being shown by this crisis is we don’t have clarity on what our national objectives are for energy. We don’t have a clear objective of what we want for our energy future. This crisis has shown, in high relief, the importance of getting this right.”

We don’t have a clear objective of what we want for our energy future. This crisis has shown, in high relief, the importance of getting this right

Marla Orenstein, director, National Resources Centre, Canada West Foundation

Orenstein said she believes there’s a role for all forms of energy in Canada, but the country needs to drive toward a broader strategic goal, which the federal and provincial governments have yet to fully define. Last year, the premiers agreed that building new LNG plants was of strategic importance, but a fully formed strategy was never put in place.

She said there may now be more support for energy projects — which can employ a lot of people — in the near term, given the country faces an economic crisis in the middle of a health crisis.

Orenstein expects continued opposition to major natural resource projects after the coronavirus crisis ends, but public support for that opposition may wane as governments post large deficits and huge numbers of unemployed people look for work.

“When I look at Maslow’s hierarchy of what people are going to need, the economic effects of this COVID-19 pandemic are going to be enormous,” she said. “The economic need and the need for jobs is going to be absolutely huge.”

Former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall: “We need a very bold short-, medium- and long-term plan.” TROY FLEECE

Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, who is now with Osler, Harcourt & Hoskins LLP, said governments across Canada have had their hands full in these “extraordinary times” with helping people who have lost their jobs.

Nevertheless, he said governments should begin forming panels to plan what an economic recovery will look like, and how to prepare various sectors to exit the current crisis in the strongest possible shape.

“This is not the time for ideology, but for prompt action,” Wall said. “We need a very bold short-, medium- and long-term plan.”

In the short term in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, the country’s two largest oil-producing regions, the former premier said companies need liquidity to survive the current collapse in oil prices. In the long term, he said, the Keystone XL pipeline project and other ways to support more infrastructure builds will be necessary.

In that regard, it sometimes pays to look at what has worked in the past, said Adam Waterous, chief executive of the Waterous Energy Fund LP, a private-equity firm that recently bought Pengrowth Energy Corp. though privately held Cona Resources Ltd.

“What we’re going to be experiencing is a severe recession,” he said. “When you think about a severe recession, we do have to think about what has worked in the past as a guide point.”

The Hoover Dam, one of the large make-work infrastructure projects created during the Depression by the U.S. government.

Waterous said governments in Canada should look to what former U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1930s when the Public Works Administration built new tourism infrastructure such as the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, transportation infrastructure like New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and energy infrastructure including the Hoover Dam in Nevada.

“To address the shock to the economy from COVID-19, the Canadian federal government should create a new sustainable deal for Canada that would focus on infrastructure that is both economically and environmentally sustainable,” Waterous said.

In the same way that Roosevelt prioritized projects for the Public Works Administration, he said Canada should include a focus on tourism, building out commuter rail networks across the country and, importantly for the energy sector, liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects.

“If you could do one thing in the world, if you were king of the world and you wanted to fight climate change and reduce GHGs, you would replace the Chinese coal-fired power plants with natural gas,” Waterous said.

This week, Conservative MPs Pierre Polievre and Shannon Stubs wrote in the National Post that $20 billion in private-sector stimulus is awaiting approval — which they argued should be immediately granted — for multiple natural gas projects, including LNG export projects in Quebec and British Columbia.

However, many analysts see a clear pattern that has emerged when governments are forced to step in to support pipelines that have been saddled with huge political risk. In May 2018, the federal government spent $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project with the expressed intention of building the expansion and then de-risking it to the point where it could sell it back to the private sector.

“I do think the government supporting them is the only way they can move forward. It’s difficult to get the capital because of the level of risk,” Jackie Forrest, senior director of the ARC Energy Research Institute, said of the Trans Mountain expansion and Keystone XL projects.

Forrest cited other recent examples of large strategic investors being “slapped in the face” by unexpected risks, including Alberta Investment Management Corp. and KKR & Co. Inc., which invested in the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project through northern B.C.

Opposition to that project sparked a series of country-wide rail blockades earlier this year and delayed work on the pipeline to connect Alberta to an LNG project under construction in B.C.

Protesters block the CN rail line in Edmonton in February, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. David Bloom/Postmedia

Following those rail blockades, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., founded by billionaire countercyclical investor Warren Buffett, pulled out of a planned investment in a major liquefied natural gas project in Saguenay, Que.

In Kenney’s office, there’s an awareness that continued opposition to Keystone XL and further attempts to derail it are likely, including court injunctions and further litigation.

However, the government also believes it’s more difficult to stop a project that’s employing 10,000 people during a time of record-setting unemployment.

Keystone XL is expected to create 1,400 direct and 5,400 indirect jobs in Alberta and contribute $30 billion in provincial revenues over the life of the project. The province also expects it will be able to recover the $1.5 billion in preferred equity and $6 billion in loan guarantees it has made once the project is built in 2023 and TC Energy is able to refinance a completed project.

Talks between TC Energy and the province began last June, but developed into full-scale negotiations in November, culminating in a term sheet that both sides signed at the end of January, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. Throughout the negotiations, the Alberta government was adamant that construction should begin on Keystone XL, first proposed in 2008, this year.

“Most importantly for me, it’s a real, concrete vote of confidence in the future of the Canadian energy sector. We’re in a crisis environment with a crash in prices, but the pandemic will end and global demand will return,” Kenney said. “When we reach that point, we absolutely must have a major pipeline in commission. That’s what this is about.” SOURCE

In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans

A Morton Williams market in New York City this month. The state is one of many places nationwide moving to restrict plastic bags.

Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

They are “petri dishes for bacteria and carriers of harmful pathogens,” read one warning from a plastics industry group. They are “virus-laden.”

The group’s target? The reusable shopping bags that countless of Americans increasingly use instead of disposable plastic bags.

The plastic bag industry, battered by a wave of bans nationwide, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws prohibiting single-use plastic. “We simply don’t want millions of Americans bringing germ-filled reusable bags into retail establishments putting the public and workers at risk,” an industry campaign that goes by the name Bag the Ban warned on Tuesday, quoting a Boston Herald column outlining some of the group’s talking points.

The Plastics Industry Association is also lobbying to quash plastic bag bans. Last week, it sent a letter to the United States Department of Health and Human Services requesting that the department publicly declare that banning single-use plastics during a pandemic is a health threat.

“We ask that the department speak out against bans on these products as a public safety risk,” the industry group wrote. It said the agency should “help stop the rush to ban these products by environmentalists and elected officials that puts consumers and workers at risk.”

The science around reusable bags and their potential to spread disease is contentious. An oft-cited study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that reusable plastic bags can contain bacteria, and that users don’t wash reusable bags very often. The study was funded, however, by the American Chemistry Council, which represents major plastics and chemicals manufacturers. The study recommends that shoppers simply wash their reusable bags, not replace them.

Ecocide law – a powerful offering

At moments like this, the previously politically impossible can become possible. As political writer Naomi Klein and other health and environmental experts  highlight, that can cut both ways: towards increased control of citizens and deregulation of industry, or towards greater responsibility and support for people and planet.

Ecocide law is thus a powerful offering right now – an essential part of the discussion on how NOT to return to destructive business-as-usual.

Watch and share this now!

Image: Can you imagine

The short video is a simple piece to clearly communicate what we’re up to – for NGOs, funders, lawyers, journalists, bloggers… and everyone else who deeply cares about life on Earth.  Please watch now.

There are many ways you can share it:

Email this newsletter to 5 of your friends

Post a link on social media:

·      Link for YouTube video HERE

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You can also share directly from Facebook or Instagram from Monday 6th.

Help us expand this conversation.


New Books: Dare To Be Great By Polly Higgins

Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions

Two health-care workers arrive at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montréal on March 23, 2020. Unionized nurses are among those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. THE CANADIAN

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout pose serious challenges for Canada’s workers.

Naomi Klein’s 2007 bestseller, The Shock Doctrinedocumented how political and economic elites have exploited crises to advance an agenda of privatization and austerity.

In such moments, elites often take advantage of the public’s fear and uncertainty to push through changes that would normally be met with fierce opposition. With picket lines and large demonstrations out of the question in this time of social distancing and self-isolation, unions are especially vulnerable.

Some Canadian employers have already used this moment of crisis to turn the screws on union members.

In Québec, Premier Francois Legault used the pretext of COVID-19 to unilaterally suspend key provisions in collective agreements with the province’s teachers’ unions.

In Saskatchewan, a bitter and prolonged lockout over pension contributions was extended after the Co-op Refinery pointed to COVID-19 as cause for rejecting the terms of settlement proposed by a widely respected independent mediator.


Unifor 594 members walk the picket line at the Co-op Refinery in Regina in January 2020. Refinery owner Federated Co-operatives Ltd. locked out about 700 unionized workers in early December after they took a strike vote.
 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

 

In Ontario, after weeks of rotating strikes were cut short by the pandemic, some teachers’ unions have quietly reached tentative settlements with the province, presumably in an effort to avoid deeper cuts in the future.

Gains will likely be rolled back

Fortunately, some employers, like select grocery chains, have temporarily increased wages in response to COVID-19. Over the long term, however, businesses are likely to use the economic fallout from the pandemic as a pretext for rolling back those gains and demanding unprecedented concessions from their employees.


A plexiglass barrier aims to protect a cashier at a grocery store in North Vancouver, B.C., on March 22, 2020.
 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

 

Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making.

Public sector workers will also become targets. After governments bailed out select corporations during the 2008 financial crisis, they turned to taxpayers to foot the bill and demanded that health care, education and social service workers did more with less. We can expect a similar dynamic in the years to come.

We should expect some employers and governments to take advantage of the pandemic and its economic fallout by casting unions as selfish for trying to defend the interests of their members. Unions, however, have an unprecedented opportunity to turn that well-worn narrative on its head.

Unions can and must become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net. This approach will demonstrate that unions are fighting for the common good rather than simply for the welfare of their members.

Oppose bailouts unless workers benefit

Unions should also call on their members to oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run.

In this way, unions can demonstrate the important role they play in ensuring that governments prioritize everyday people over corporate executives.

Finally, unions must continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services. Why? Because the COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of why Canada needs a strong and expanded public health-care system.


Health-care workers see a patient in their vehicle at a COVID-19 drive-thru assessment centre at a hospital in Mississauga, Ont., on March 30, 2020.
 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

We can expect some politicians and business leaders to dismiss collective bargaining as a distraction in a time when we should be focused solely on “flattening the curve.”

 

But it’s worth remembering that the strength of our collective response to COVID-19 is in part shaped by the strength and resiliency of union members who labour every day to help us overcome the pandemic. Nurses, cleaners, grocery store clerks and other unionized workers have been on the front lines of this fight. They should emerge from it with a greater level of respect.

Unions, in their continued defence of decent jobs and expanded services, play a key role in promoting the public good. They play this role by acting as a critical counterweight to the power of economic elites who have always prioritized profits over people.

While some elites will no doubt try to use this crisis as a pretext to push for privatization and austerity, unions must be a strong voice in defence of public services and social investments. SOURCE