Tolkien was right: giant trees have towering role in protecting forests

Study highlights importance of biodiversity as part of strategy to stop planet overheating

The primeval Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a World Heritage Site, in Uganda. Photograph: John Dambik/Alamy

Scientists have shown to be true what JRR Tolkien only imagined in the Lord of the Rings: giant, slow-reproducing trees play an outsized role in the growth and health of old forests.

In the 1930s, the writer gave his towering trees the name Ents. Today, a paper in the journal Science says these “long-lived pioneers” contribute more than previously believed to carbon sequestration and biomass increase.

The authors said their study highlights the importance of forest protection and biodiversity as a strategy to ease global heating. They say it should also encourage global climate modellers to shift away from representing all the trees in a forest as essentially the same.

“This analysis shows that that is not good enough for tropical forests and provides a way forward,” said Caroline Farrior, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. “We show that the variation in tropical forest species’ growth, survival and reproduction is important for predicting forest carbon storage.”

Long-lived pioneers – a term that has been around for decades – include species such as mahogany, Brazil nut trees and Ceiba pentandra, which are visible far above the rest of the canopy because they grow fast (at up to twice the speed of plants lower in the canopy) for hundreds of years.

Researchers believe this is the result of a trade-off between stature and reproduction: they are able to put more energy into putting on biomass than into producing offspring.

The study is based on more than 30 years of data collected from old growth and secondary rainforest on Barro Colorado, an island in the middle of the Panama Canal.

The scientists grouped the 282 different species of tree into five categories determined by growth, reproduction and longevity. This showed the relative roles of “fast” species that grow and die quickly, “slow” species that grow slowly and reach an old age, “infertile giants” that live long and reproduce over a long time, and “fertile dwarfs” and small shrubs and low treelets that grow slowly, die young, but produce a large number of offspring.

The trunk and part of the canopy of the Brazil nut tree, one of the most dominant tree species in the Amazon. Photograph: Hans ter Steege/PA

 

By simulating different combinations of these groups, the scientists were able to build a model that reproduced the dynamics of the recovery of nearby young forests.

Coronavirus collides with climate action – our chance to build a better world for all

As COVID-19 exposes the cracks in our systems, now is the time to reset institutions and economies on a path to decarbonisation

The decision by the UN, the UK and Italy to postpone the COP26 climate summit was inevitable given the grip of coronavirus across the world. At Tufts University, having moved teaching on-line for our global student population, we are turning the campus into housing for first responders and convalescent housing for non-critical patients. We are also using the skills of our military fellows to help strengthen decision-making and communications between authorities, universities and hospitals in the fight against the virus.

But, with the climate talks postponed, we must zoom out. In the teeth of the COVID-19 crisis, individual governments are struggling to keep up with relief packages. The global economic decision-making apparatus of the Gs (7 and 20) is under the tepid leadership of the US and Saudi Arabia. Communiques exhort responses commensurate to the impacts of the global economic slowdown, but even dire warnings from the UN, IMF and the World Bank have so far failed to galvanize urgent action at scale.

The virus provokes, instinctively, cooperation at the community level, but not it seems at the international level. Name calling has silenced the UN Security Council. There are strains within Europe, with Dutch bluntness pouring salt in the wounds of southern Europe and Prime Minister Orban using the virus as cover for a putsch on European ideals.

In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has refused to act in face of the virus’ spread. And in the US, states collaborate despite the slow and inconsistent actions of the federal government – just as they have done for the past three years on climate action. China, slow to let the world understand the characteristics of the virus, now becomes aid provider for rich and poor nations alike.

Inauspicious times for the kind of collective action that the climate crisis demands? Maybe, but in this moment of extreme economic shock as a result of a predicted pandemic, we do have a chance to rouse ourselves to respond to our next known threat. This not the moment to plaster over the now all-too-visible cracks in our public health systems and social safety nets, or to bail out polluters and corporate greed. We have a chance to reset and use recovery to build economies that protect all of us and nature. We are only as strong as the weakest among us.

Decarbonising and building greater equity into our economy is possible, but we must align short, medium and long-term recovery towards the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Stimulus efforts can be job-rich, supportive of individuals and companies and, at the same time, build strength and depth in the sectors we need for a climate-safe future – public health, renewable energy, refurbished buildings, clean transportation, and land and soils restoration.

‘CATHEDRAL THINKING’

But it’s also a moment to think on even a grander scale. A year ago to the month, in an electrifying speech to the European Parliament, as Extinction Rebels controlled the bridges of London, Greta Thunberg called for “cathedral thinking” – that we would have the courage to build something that would be for today’s young and future generations.

The UK and Italy can ensure cathedral thinking – their rich histories have shown they are capable of greatness. Uniquely, they are co-hosts of the climate talks this year and next year the hosts of the G7 and G20 respectively. If a postponed COP26 is sequenced correctly with those two summits, these two powers have the opportunity to align the mechanisms for global economic governance and leadership with those of climate action.

Fusing global economic management and the push for ambitious climate action this decade with deep decarbonisation before mid-century means asking countries to make their COVID-19  recovery plans build resilience to climate impacts and shift their economies onto a path that lowers emissions.

Alternatively, countries’ new, more ambitious nationally determined climate action plans could serve as their strategies for recovery. 2020 is the year to prepare them. The G7 and the G20 must then lead the way in ensuring that the broken multilateral system swings its full weight of capital and technical expertise behind them and that low-income countries receive technical support and budget relief to move forward.

Cathedral thinking means envisaging a new Bretton Woods. We need new ways to measure success – more wellbeing budgets and an end to GDP, a blunt instrument that neither gauges human welfare nor the health of the planet. We will need a new San Francisco to re-envisage the United Nations. In its 75th year, at the very least, we know the  Security Council can no longer be entrusted with our security. Beyond better and mandatory reporting of environmental and social risk management, how do we imagine a financial sector harnessed to the needs of society?

This moment may not come again. The UK and Italy can use the process of COVID-19 relief, recovery and resilience to reset our institutions and our economic governance for the benefit of us all and nature. SOURCE

 

 

Are physical distancing measures giving bikes a new lease on life?

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

To slow the spread of coronavirus, we’ve had to physically distance ourselves from others, which has meant a lot of lifestyle changes, including the way we get around.

Getting into an enclosed bus or train with other passengers — or even a taxi or ride-hailing service with a driver — is no longer a recommended option. To make matters worse, many transit agencies are cutting back service. Yet many people still have to get to work and medical appointments.

Meanwhile, we’re being told to stay home as much as possible, but also to get fresh air and exercise (while gyms are closed). An influx of park visitors — many of whom weren’t physically distant enough from each other — has caused governments to close parking lots at national, provincial and local parks.

The solution to this conundrum? In many cases, it’s getting on a bike.

New Yorkers have already done this in droves, with bike shops reporting double the sales they normally get at this time of year. Meanwhile, bike repair shops in the U.K. also say business is booming.

In Canada, so many people are cycling in cities like Winnipeg and Calgary that the municipalities are closing some lanes and roads to vehicles to give cyclists (and pedestrians) more space. Meanwhile, bike shops remain open as many provincial governments have recognized them as an essential service.

Brian Pincott, executive director of Vélo Canada Bikes, a group that promotes cycling and advocates for infrastructure to make the activity safer, said that kind of government support is welcome.

He noted that many urban, lower-income people don’t have other good transportation options right now.

“So it is also a matter of equity to be able to have the appropriate infrastructure in place for people to actually go about their day-to-day [lives],” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently improved cycling conditions by taking a lot of automobiles off the road. Pincott said the car-centric design of our cities often discourages people from taking a two-wheeler.

“Now that there are a lot fewer cars on the road, more and more people are seeing that cycling is a viable choice,” he said. “It’s a great family activity.”

But will the boost in cycling last after the pandemic is over and physical distancing measures are lifted?

Pincott thinks it depends on whether governments continue to make it safer and easier for people to ride their bikes. He thinks this is a great opportunity for cities to create space for it.

In the meantime, he hopes as the weather gets warmer, people will take advantage of the “perfect time” to get on their bikes.

“It’s impossible not to be happy when you’re getting around on your bike,” he said. “And God knows we need a little bit of happiness.” SOURCE

Coronavirus Holds Key Lessons on How to Fight Climate Change

When the COVID-19 pandemic is past, societies may adopt some important measures that would lower emissions, from more teleconferencing to shortening global supply chains. But the most lasting lesson may be what the coronavirus teaches us about the urgency of taking swift action.

A woman wears a mask on a street in Naples, Italy this month. The country has been hit hard by the coronavirus. SALVATORE LAPORTA / KONTROLAB / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

frightening new threat cascades around the world, upending familiar routines, disrupting the global economy, and endangering lives. Scientists long warned this might happen, but political leaders mostly ignored them, so now must scramble to respond to a crisis they could have prevented, or at least eased, had they acted sooner.

The coronavirus pandemic and the slower-moving dangers of climate change parallel one another in important ways, and experts say the aggressive, if belated, response to the outbreak could hold lessons for those urging climate action. And while the dip in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the sharp drop in travel and other economic activity is likely to rebound once the pandemic passes, some carbon footprint-shrinking changes that the spread of COVID-19 is prompting could prove more lasting.

Both the pandemic and the climate crisis are problems of exponential growth against a limited capacity to cope, said Elizabeth Sawin, co-director of Climate Interactive, a think tank. In the case of the virus, the danger is the number of infected people overwhelming health care systems; with climate change, it is that emissions growth will overwhelm our ability to manage consequences such as droughts, floods, wildfires, and other extreme events, she said.

With entire nations all but shutting down in hopes of slowing the viral spread, “the public is coming to understand that in that kind of situation you have to act in a way that looks disproportionate to what the current reality is, because you have to react to where that exponential growth will take you,” she said. “You look out the window and it doesn’t look like a pandemic, it looks like a nice spring day. But you have to close down all the restaurants, the schools.”

The virus has shown that if you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it.

While the disease is playing out more quickly than the effects of global warming, the principle is the same, she said: If you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it.

“COVID-19 is climate on warp speed,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University and co-author of Climate Shock. “Everything with climate is decades; here it’s days. Climate is centuries; here it’s weeks.”

Governments’ responses have morphed almost as fast as the threat. French President Emmanuel Macron ordered all non-essential businesses to close barely a week after spending an evening at the theater with his wife. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made similarly abrupt shifts, and President Trump pivoted from downplaying the virus’s dangers to backing measures that had seemed unimaginable shortly before.

“We are watching our political leaders learn these lessons live on TV, within days,“ Wagner said. “That’s a learning curve we have never seen with anything, at least not in my lifetime.”

Now, he said, politicians who have grasped the terrifying power of compounding growth must apply that new understanding to the climate.

A man walks past closed Air France counters at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on March 12. KENA BETANCUR / AFP

And as with the coronavirus, said Wagner, climate policies must push everyone to take heed of the costs their actions — whether disease exposure or carbon emissions — impose on others. “It’s all about somebody else stepping in and forcing us to internalize the externality, which means don’t rely on parents to take their kids out of school, close the school,” he said. “Don’t rely on companies or workers to stay home or tell their people to stay home, force them to do so or pay them to do so, but make sure it happens. And of course that’s the role of government.”

Stimulus measures aimed at easing COVID-19’s economic shock could aim to drive emissions reductions too, by funding low-carbon infrastructure or offering online training for green-economy jobs to newly unemployed workers stuck at home, Sawin said. Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, last week similarly urged governments and international financial institutions to incorporate climate action into their stimulus efforts by funding investment in clean power, battery storage, and carbon capture technology.

In Sawin’s view, the pandemic’s multi-layered impact supports an argument U.S. Green New Deal backers have been making: Tackling our biggest problems in tandem may be more effective than taking them on one at a time. Just as those without sick leave may spread the virus because they must work while infected, unaffordable child care and an employer-based health insurance system can rob people of the flexibility to relocate for jobs in growing industries like clean power, she said. “People are starting to understand that to have a whole society shift behavior really quickly, you need to support everyone,” Sawin said. “A social safety net reduces the friction of change.”

Another parallel between the two crises is that we could have headed them off, said Michele Wucker, author of The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore. The book’s title is the metaphor Wucker uses for a high-probability, high-impact event, a counterpoint to the popular idea of a black swan, the term writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined for a very unlikely but highly damaging event that is by its nature hard to foresee.

Voters reward politicians for fixing problems, but rarely for preventing them.

Both viral spread and climate change are gray rhinos, Wucker said — “the 2-ton thing that’s coming at you, and most of the time we downplay it or neglect it. We kind of miss the obvious.”

The Trump administration, which has aggressively rolled back measures meant to reduce carbon emissions, also axed the National Security Council’s global health security office and sought to cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, like many other countries, the United States did little to ramp up coronavirus preparations even as the disease ravaged China.

Wucker said there were political, structural, and psychological reasons for such inaction. “Heading off a risk is risky in and of itself,” she said. “People are afraid of doing the wrong thing,” more than they are of doing nothing. Voters reward politicians for fixing problems, but rarely for preventing them, giving leaders incentive to kick knotty issues down the road.

And powerful interests are vested in maintaining the status quo, she pointed out. That dynamic has been central to the global failure to act on climate, with the fossil fuel industry funding a decades-long effort to cast doubt on climate science, and lobbying to thwart changes that would threaten its profits.

In the case of COVID-19, while some have sought to deny the seriousness of the coronavirus, people and governments have mostly been far quicker to appreciate its danger. That may in part be because we are instinctually more frightened of disease than of climate threats that many people struggle to envision, Sawin said.

 

More importantly, though, “one of the richest industries in human history [fossil fuels] isn’t trying to prevent people from understanding” the coronavirus, she said.

The global response to COVID-19 — a near halt in international aviation, factories closing in China and elsewhere, a panicked scramble to enable remote work — will almost certainly bring a downward blip in carbon emissions.

But such changes are likely to be temporary, with emissions from driving, for example, expected to bounce back as soon as people return to workplaces. If many grow fearful of public transportation, commuting’s carbon footprint might even rise further, experts say.

But some new behaviors could outlast the pandemic, including carbon-cutting shifts climate activists have sought for years. The changes most likely to stick in such a crisis are those that were already underway before it hit, said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The question is what trends were out there that could now happen faster,” she said. At the top of the list, Jaffe believes, is a fall in business travel, as big companies realize video meetings can often accomplish as much as in-person ones.

Similarly, she said, the pandemic may hasten a flattening, or even reversal, in the growth of international trade, which began to slow in 2019 because of tensions over tariffs. “Now, of course, it’s really crashing,” Jaffe said. If virus-induced shutdowns or border closings create shortages of drugs, medical equipment, or other essential items, many nations and companies may be anxious to reduce their vulnerability to highly globalized supply networks. “If we shrink supply chains, if countries are going to produce more of their own goods, I think that is structurally going to reduce oil demand” and shrink shipping’s carbon footprint, she said.

A shift toward remote working may also be here to stay, with some companies abandoning offices altogether.

A shift toward remote working may also be here to stay, said Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. And it doesn’t just mean workers logging on from home in the same city as their company. It offers the freedom to work from anywhere — in a small town with a lower cost of living, for example, or wherever a spouse’s job is, he said. Some companies and organizations have gone completely virtual, abandoning offices altogether.

“There’s a lot of latent demand” among workers for such arrangements, and companies may welcome the change as they realize they can save money by maintaining smaller offices, or none at all, Choudhury said.

Those workplace changes may bring real emission reductions, but Sawin said the pandemic’s most important climate impact could come from people applying the lessons the coronavirus teaches about the urgency of swift action.

When the outbreak finally ends, “if we can tell that story of what we just went through and help people understand that this is an accelerated version of another story we’re going through that has the same plot structure but a different timeline, that could be transformative,” she said.

No one could celebrate a disease spreading so much fear and suffering, Sawin emphasized, but with the losses inflicted by the coronavirus sure to mount, “maybe there’s a kind of honoring of that, to at least take what we learn and put it to good use.” SOURCE

 

Critics question gender composition of new Alberta economic recovery council

Appointees include union official who made sexist comment about federal minister

Bob Blakely was appointed in March to the 12-member Alberta Economic Recovery Council. (Blakely + Dushensky)

Critics are questioning why only two of the 12 members of Alberta’s Economic Recovery Council are women, when half the province’s population is female who critics say are being disproportionately affected by job losses.

The same critics also question why Premier Jason Kenney appointed union official Bob Blakely to the council after he made sexist comments about the former federal labour minister’s backside at a news conference last year to announce funding for women in the trades.

“Surely you could have found even a mediocre woman who could have done this work as opposed to somebody who has got such a blatantly sexist blight on their record,” University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas said, referring to Blakely.

University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas. (Submitted by Melanee Thomas)

 

Blakely’s appointment, and the male-skewed composition of the council, “just shows that there is absolutely no care [about gendered policy issues]. There is no concern. It is just something that this government chooses not to see as relevant to its operations,” Thomas said.

Kenney announced Alberta’s Economic Recovery Council in March. It is to provide advice to guide the province through the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy price crash.

A government release said the council is made up of policy and industry experts who “will also focus on strategies for long-term recovery from the crisis, including efforts to accelerate diversification of the Alberta economy.”

The council members include economist and Imperial Oil board member Jack Mintz, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper and several prominent Alberta businessmen. The two women members are Nancy Southern, chair and CEO of ATCO, and Zainul Mawji, who is president of Telus Home Solutions.

Disproportionate job losses for women

Thomas, University of Alberta political scientist Linda Trimble and University of Alberta women’s and gender studies professor Lise Gotell all observed that the job losses resulting first from government fiscal restraint, and then from the pandemic, disproportionately affect women who work in government, health care, education, social services and the restaurant and retail trades.

The academics wondered if the composition of this panel will recognize and address that fact.

“It is a very homogenous group,” Gotell said of the council.

“I think it is likely to produce a group think that will support the government’s economic agenda, which is really myopically focused on sectors of the economy like oil and gas and construction as economic drivers.”

Gotell said those fields are dominated by men.

Thomas noted that the Kenney government has focused its messaging and economic policy on job losses in the oil industry.

“I have always thought that this government has privileged masculinity and very particular kinds of masculinity right out of the gate,” she said.

I have always thought that this government has privileged masculinity and very particular kinds of masculinity right out of the gate.– University of Alberta women’s and gender studies professor Lise Gotell

“This is the [attitude that] oil and gas workers are our number one workers and other jobs just don’t count, particularly in the public sector. Those tend to be more feminized, more likely to have women doing them.”

Thomas said if she was being “super cynical” she might conclude that the UCP government addresses gender in economic policy “just enough to head off critiques that they are being deliberately exclusionary.”

Appointee made sexist comments

The academics saved their sharpest criticism for the appointment of Edmonton union official Bob Blakely.

“You have got to question the wisdom of Premier [Jason] Kenney appointing someone who engaged in really crude sexist locker room talk at a federal event announcing investment in women in trade,” Gotell said.

“At the very least I think it suggests that the government doesn’t really see sexism as being an important issue.”

Blakely was the Canadian operating officer for Canada’s Building Trades Union on Feb. 21, 2019 and was introducing Hajdu at a federal funding announcement in Winnipeg to promote women in the building trades.

As CBC News reported, with TV cameras rolling, Blakely recalled that when he was a boy, his father told him, “Your real friends are the ones who tell you the truth — the ones who know the right answer to, ‘Do I look fat in these pants?'”

Hajdu, he said, was “from plain-spoken Thunder Bay, where people actually tell you, ‘Yes, you look fat in those pants,'” he said.

Hajdu then stood and said, “Well, do I look fat in these pants, or what?”

Blakely took a step backward, peered down at Hajdu’s backside and said, “I’m going to get in trouble for this, but no.”

A senior Canadian union official joked about the appearance of federal cabinet minister Patty Hajdu’s buttocks during a press conference on Thursday. 1:22

Blakely later returned to the podium to apologize, saying he and Hajdu knew each other and shared the “same weird sense of humour.

“I did something that could be offensive to somebody else and if I offended anybody, I’m sorry.”

But following his apology, Blakely ended the news conference by stating he got to hug three beautiful women, including Hajdu and two other speakers.

At the time, Hajdu expressed no concern with Blakely’s comments and instead focused on the funding for women in the trades.

“The success of women in the workplace depends on all of us to work together and support each other to change long-standing norms,” Hajdu said in a statement after the news conference.

Blakely retired from the building trades union, where he had worked for 20 years, on March 1, 2019, eight days after the news conference.

Appointment sends wrong message: critics

Trimble said the appointment of Blakely “sends the message that respect for women is not high on the list of priorities when it comes to determining the meritoriousness of the appointee.”

Thomas said Blakely’s appointment “sends a very clear message that this particular government does not think very carefully about the role of gender in public policy and the advice that it gets.”

All three academics noted that Blakely, in his apology, did not acknowledge his statements were overtly sexist.

University of Alberta political scientist Linda Trimble. (University of Alberta)

 

“He made a mistake. People are allowed to make mistakes,” Trimble said, but she said Blakely’s “so-called apology” shows “he simply didn’t get it.”

“He didn’t understand what was wrong with what he did,” Trimble said.

“And so not recognizing one’s sexism indicates that he is not going to be able to grasp the kind of sexism that women experience in the workplace and in the business world in particular.”

Blakely on Wednesday declined an interview request. He said he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the building trades union.

In an emailed statement, Christine Myatt, a press secretary for Kenney, said, “We’re not re-hashing some story from over a year ago.”

Blakely, she said, “is a long-time leader in the Canadian organized labour movement. The perspective of the trades is obviously important for the work of the economic recovery council.”

Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said Blakely would not have been his choice for the council.  SOURCE

Ottawa is handing out $2,000 cheques to out-of-work Canadians. Could a basic income be next?

Peter Martin is a lawyer who left practising over a decade ago due to PTSD associated with childhood abuse. He lives on Ontario Disability Support Program payments of $1,169 month.

Peter Martin doesn’t get it.

Workers who have suddenly lost their livelihoods due to the COVID-19 crisis will soon be receiving $2,000 a month from Ottawa to keep them afloat.

And yet Martin, 59, a former constitutional lawyer who lost everything about a decade ago after a mental breakdown, struggles to survive on just $1,169 a month from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), the province’s welfare program for the disabled.

“It’s a very frustrating situation,” he said this week from his Junction-area apartment where he is self-isolating with his black cat.

“They are getting $2,000 when they have a house to live in and supports and sometimes savings — as opposed to people like us who live cheque to cheque,” he said.

Martin and other Canadians on social assistance live between 40 and 60 per cent below the poverty line and are forced to rely on community supports such as drop-in meal programs and food banks to survive.

As physical-distancing orders push many of those programs to close, Ontario is pumping $200 million into social service agencies to fill the gap.

But Martin wonders why there is a federal plan for workers that pays $2,000

“They are giving money to agencies to provide food to people who come out of isolation to get it,” he said. “Why not just give the money to us so we can buy our own groceries?”

It is a question supporters of a basic income were asking long before the coronavirus struck China earlier this year and exploded into a global health crisis. And it is a demand they have since amplified through an online petition signed by more than 30,000 calling for an emergency basic income to help Canadians weather the storm.

Ottawa responded March 26 with the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), a monthly payment of $2,000 for four months that will go to any worker who earned at least $5,000 in the past 12 months and has lost their job as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s not the unconditional basic income that Canadians across the country asked for when they signed our petition,” acknowledged Toronto businessman Floyd Marinescu, founder of UBI Works Canada, which launched the petition March 16. “But it’s a signal that our leaders recognize the value of a basic income as an economic recovery measure.

“This emergency basic income will open the door for our government to learn about the benefits of a UBI as an economic stimulus that will benefit all Canadians — and act to make it reality,” he said in a statement on the campaign’s Facebook page.

The reason unemployed workers are being treated so much better in this crisis than people on social assistance is that middle-income voters swing elections and society’s most vulnerable often don’t vote, Marinescu said in an interview.

And that is why this is a historic opportunity.

“As many as four million Canadians are going to be applying for the CERB and will see just how precarious their own situation is. With that real, lived experience, we can rally the centre to implement a basic income for everyone,” he said.

Businesses automate to survive when times are tough, and this global crisis will see even more jobs lost to automation, Marinescu added.

He predicts more than two million Canadians who will receive a temporary basic income through the CERB may not have jobs to come back to when it runs out.

“Now is the time to push for a UBI so this next recession can be shorter and we can all come out better off,” he said.

Former Tory senator Hugh Segal couldn’t agree more.

He helped design Ontario’s ill-fated basic income pilot project, introduced in 2017 by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government in 2017 and scrapped by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives when they swept to power in June 2018.

Because the experiment ended prematurely, the province — and researchers watching around the world — were not able to determine if sending unconditional cash payments to low-income residents improved their health, education, housing and employment prospects.

But informal surveys of those who participated showed promise. A majority who had low-wage jobs before the trial remained in the workforce. Many went back to school, and mental health improved dramatically.

Segal’s model was similar to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors that kicks in when incomes drop below a certain level.

It brought incomes for working-age adults up to about 75 per cent of the provincial poverty line, or about $1,400 a month. Individuals with disabilities got a monthly top-up of $500. It was a stark difference compared to Ontario’s current monthly social assistance benefits of $733 for people deemed able to work and $1,169 for those with disabilities.

And unlike social assistance, Segal argues his basic income model encouraged people to work because those with annual incomes of up to $34,000 — or about $12,000 above the poverty line — would still receive some support.

On social assistance, onerous monthly reporting requirements allow people to keep just $200 in earnings a month before clawbacks. It means someone on Ontario Works (OW) deemed employable can earn only $1,666 a month — or just under $20,000 a year — before they get kicked off.

Compared to the $100-billion-plus COVID-19 federal relief package, the Parliamentary Budget Office in 2018 estimated it would cost Ottawa just $43 billion in new funding to provide a national, guaranteed minimum income, similar to the one Ontario was testing. And it would support about 7.5 million working-age Canadians.

Segal, the Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University, says the global pandemic highlights the vulnerability of precarious workers and people with disabilities struggling to survive on social assistance.

“Once the pandemic is under control and people can relax a bit, the public and policy-makers will be taking a hard took at what went wrong and what we could do better,” he said in an interview.

“And one area for reform is the lack of agility our existing social cash-transfer systems have with respect to getting money to low-income people quickly when necessary,” he said.

Polling shows close to 70 per cent of Canadians support basic income, Segal noted.

“We already have a basic income for children through the Canada Child Benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and a tiny bit of help for low-income people through the GST tax credit,” he said.

“It’s not really the world’s largest construction job to put those things together and find a way to do this through a basic income guarantee for all … It’s just a question of political will.”

Public sector unions and those who worry about the collapse of social programs will oppose it, he predicted, as will those who argue paying people to do nothing will cause them to abandon the labour force.

But basic income is about more efficient cash transfers to people, not about cutting services, Segal said. And 70 per cent of people living in poverty have a job, he noted. Often more than one. A basic income could supplement that low-wage work and lift them out of poverty, he said.

The other roadblock will be government finance officials who would see such a large, annual expenditure as a limit on their ability to design and craft new initiatives, Segal said. SOURCE

Biodiversity loss and wildlife trade are making pandemics like COVID-19 more likely, experts say

ENERGIZING THE GREEN ECONOMY: THE GROWTH OF CLEAN ENERGY JOBS

Around the world and across the US, clean energy jobs not only put millions to work, but provide sustainable, affordable power to communities of all sizes.

This isn’t looking ahead to the future – these jobs exist here and now, and they’re already making a positive impact!

So, just how good are green energy jobs and how can they help us in the fight to solve the climate crisis? Here’s a few interesting pieces of trivia about the power of green jobs!

1. In 2018, the renewable energy sector put approximately 11 million people to work worldwide.

As technologies improve and costs go down, jobs in the renewable energy sector will continue growing, giving communities access to clean energy and creating more opportunity for off-grid communities. If that incredible stat isn’t enough, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that America’s two fastest-growing jobs through 20286 will be solar installers (projected to grow by 10563 percent) and wind technicians (projected to grow by 9657 percent)!

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2. More Americans work in clean energy than as school teachers.

Shocking, right? Not only are there more Americans in clean energy jobs than teachers, but surprisingly, more Americans work in energy efficiency (2.3 million) than there are waiters and waitresses in America’s bars and restaurants (2.25 million)! All of those positions are incredibly important to our planet’s future and economy and as the renewable energy sector continues to grow, so will the jobs and supply chain.

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3. These green jobs are all across the country: 99.7 percent of counties across the United States have energy efficiency jobs. 

No matter how red or blue the county you may live in, it’s almost a guarantee that there are energy efficiency jobs nearby. So, what exactly does “energy efficiency” jobs mean? This title is used to describe positions where the employee is working to reduce energy use — from improving energy use in existing structures, making new buildings as efficient as possible, or incorporating renewable energy technologies when possible.

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4. The growth of electric vehicles could add, on average, up to 108,000 net jobs per year through 2040.

Clean energy jobs are not just about solar panels and wind turbines – electric vehicles (EVs) are making an impact on the global economy and job market as well! Over the last 10 years, use of electric vehicles has increased rapidly with the global stock of electric passenger cars passing 5 million in 2018 – up 63 percent from the previous year. With various jobs like chemists, electrical engineers, and mechanics needed to build these vehicles, the EV job market will continue growing as charging stations and vehicle prices become even more accessible.

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5. Clean, renewable energy like solar makes electricity accessible to off-grid communities around the world. Off-grid solar employment in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia has reached up to 372,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Notably, 56 percent of these jobs are located in rural areas and 27 percent are filled by women.

Clean energy careers aren’t only making positive impacts on the worldwide job market – they’re also creating opportunities for communities around the world. By increasing off-grid solar access, communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are now unlocking new livelihood opportunities and providing improved energy access with “pay-as-you-go” (PAYG) business models.

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6. In the US, workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable pay when compared to all workers nationally – with mean hourly wages exceeding the national average by 8–19 percent.

Jobs in the renewable energy industry benefit both the planet and workers. Clean energy jobs also tend to have fewer requirements for entry, making them more accessible to a wide range of workers. Some occupations in the industry include positions like electricians, carpenters, and plumbers. Around 50 percent of clean energy workers come to their jobs with a high-school diploma yet earn higher wages than peers with similar education levels in other industries.

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7. The benefits are more than just pocket change. Jobs created by renewables, energy efficiency, and other investments could boost the global economy by nearly $100 trillion by 2050.

The bottom line for our bottom line is this: investing in energy transition is great for the planet and great for the global economy. To put that into numbers, for every $1 (USD) spent transitioning to clean, renewable energy, there would be a payoff of between $3 and $7 or cumulatively, a payoff of between $65 trillion and $160 trillion by 2050.

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So what’s the takeaway? Green jobs open the door to well-paying careers and a better future for a wide range of workers all around the planet. Just as important, they’re a critical part of the just transition to clean energy we need to solve the climate crisis and create an equitable and healthy future for all.  SOURCE

Should you use a reusable shopping bag? Government, stores have different answers

There are concerns around just how clean those bags are

A sign posted in the Atlantic Superstore on Barrington Street in Halifax on March 31 says the store is only using plastic bags. (Carsten Knox/CBC)

As Canadians struggle with changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the issues being discussed is whether it’s safe to use reusable bags for grocery and other shopping.

It has caused some, like Robyn Warren of Belle Isle, N.S., to call on the provincial government to temporarily ban the use of reusable plastic bags to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“To me it’s a no-brainer that you would even think of bringing something like that into a grocery store,” Warren said, noting he’s seen people with dirty, unwashed reusable bags.

‘Manage hygiene. Think where you’ve been’

“Grocery bags have people upset,” Dr. Lynora Saxsinger, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Alberta, commented on CBC’s The National recently.

“I think part of it is because there was a study suggesting that the virus is still viable on plastic after about 72 hours,” she said.

That study was published March 17 by the New England Journal of Medicine. Saxsinger did not offer an opinion on the use of reusable bags, but she said they should be washed frequently.

“People should pay attention to what they’re doing with their belongings and where they’ve been before assuming things carry risk,” she said.

“Anything you carry that might have virus contamination, you can get rid of your risk by washing your hands thoroughly after you touch things,” Saxsinger said.

Government views vary

In the U.S., some states have temporarily banned the use of reusable bags while others have delayed a ban on single-use plastic bags because of concern over spreading the virus.

In B.C. last week, the Ministry of Health issued “‘guidance” to grocery and other food stores in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

“Provide clean carry-out bags for purchased food and grocery products,” the document said.

Loblaw Atlantic, which owns the Atlantic Superstore chain, has temporarily waived the fee for paper and plastic bags. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

 

It said customers should not use their own reusable bags and signs should be posted at each checkout indicating no customer packaging is to be used or placed on checkout counters.

In Nova Scotia, the province’s chief medical officer of health addressed the question on March 27.

“I don’t see that there’s any substantive risk from reusable bags. I think that’s very low down on the possibility, especially if everybody is adhering to good hand-washing [and] cleaning in homes,” said Dr. Robert Strang.

“I don’t think this is a major issue we need to be concerned about.”

Retailers, too, are trying to figure it out

“Some of our stores are asking our customers to refrain from bringing their own reusable bags, while others require customers to pack bags brought from home,” said Mark Boudreau, spokesperson for Loblaw Atlantic which operates the region’s chain of Superstores.

He said it’s not possible to guarantee that every customer’s personal bags have been properly sanitized, which could pose a risk to employees and customers. So the company has made a corporate decision to temporarily waive the fee for paper or plastic bags.

Sobeys banned single-use bags in its 255 stores across the country as of January 31. The company says if Health Canada were to say reusable bags should no longer be used, Sobeys would offer paper bags to customers. (Ken Linton/CBC)

 

Sobeys banned single-use plastic bags in its 255 stores across the country as of January 31 and continues to allow customers to use reusable bags.

“We’re in constant contact with local health authorities for guidance and to date we have not received direction to stop using reusable bags. If their direction changes, so will ours,” said Jacqueline Weatherbee, spokesperson for Sobeys.

Weatherbee said Sobeys is asking customers who shop with reusable bags to pack their own groceries. The company suggests keeping reusable bags clean by washing them frequently, drying them completely, cleaning where you place the bag, and storing them in a cool space.

The Retail Council of Canada, which represents 45,000 businesses, said it prefers members have a choice in determining what type of bag is best for their business.

“Fact is there are a lot of competing scientific studies that are out there. Some are funded by those that have an agenda and then there are studies that are more reliable so we’ll leave it to our members to make those determinations as to what their comfort level is,” said Jim Cormier, the Council’s Atlantic director.

Last year, the P.E.I. government banned single-use plastic bags and imposed a 15-cent fee on each paper bag. Cormier said the province has agreed to waive the collection of that fee because of concerns from customers about the cleanliness of other shoppers’ reusable bags.

SOURCE

Coronavirus: Saskatoon lab now has the ability to disinfect N95 masks for re-use

A Saskatoon lab has partnered with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to decontaminate and reuse N95 respiratory masks that are normally thrown out after each use.This week, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) at the University of Saskatchewan tested a decontamination procedure on several dozen N95 masks for the SHA.

VIDO-InterVac is using vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilization to decontaminate the masks, which the lab says will “provide an emergency N95 back-up supply for hospitals if the need arises during the pandemic.”

READ MORE: Makers of 1st coronavirus vaccine in Saskatchewan get $28M in federal, provincial funding

The same method has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration after Duke University published a study showing its effectiveness.

The SHA says the use of disinfected masks serve as a good contingency plan.

“The SHA and USask’s VIDO-InterVac have come up with a potential solution for the safe and effective sterilization and re-use of PPE that could potentially save lives,” said USask neurosurgery professor and SHA surgeon Dr. Michael Kelly, who co-leads the SHA task force on PPE, in a statement.

“This is an excellent contingency plan and shows the ability of Saskatchewan organizations to come together to solve critical problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Worn by health-care workers and paramedics, N95 respirators are form-fitting masks designed to filter out pathogens.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. All international travellers returning to Saskatchewan are required to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.  SOURCE