Earth Day Week, April 20-25

Earth Day Week, April 20-25

‍Together with Earth Day Network and Exponential Roadmap we present Earth Day Week. We’ll be broadcasting live talks and other daily shows from Washington DC, Stockholm and from almost all continents on Earth.

For the third consecutive year we bring you a public, free, online, no-fly climate conference. The program features the brightest minds to discuss solutions—within five main themes—to the most daring challenge humanity has ever faced: the climate crisis.

The daily program:

A few Canadians are featured in this special Earth Day’s 50th anniversary conference:

Day 1 – “It’s time to Fire Your Fossil Bank” featuring Rolly Montpellier, Co-founder and Editor for Below 2C, Ambassador Canada for We Don’t Have Time and “Switch to a fossil-free bank” with Mohan KumarCampaigner with 350 Ottawa.

Day 2 – Mitchell Beer, Publisher, The Energy Mix — “Asking the right question: Building wider buy-in for climate action, before and during the pandemic”.

Day 5 – Matthew Chapman, Campaign Coordinator, Climate Reality Canada, Co-chair of the Cities Caucus of CAN-Canada.

At the first Earth Day, some 50 million people showed up for the environment. This year, for the Earth Day 50th anniversary, millions will rise again… and this time change is inevitable.

Be part of this global event and register below.

Register – it’s free!

A One-Time Poultry Farmer Invents the Future of Refrigeration

Mechanical cooling revolutionized the global food supply—and accelerated global warming. Peter Dearman’s liquid air engine could change all that.

17%: Portion of global electricity use that goes to refrigeration.ILLUSTRATION: JAN SIEMEN

BACK IN 2001, a middle-aged man made a video of his car and sent it around to a few friends. So far, so predictable—but this video featured a dilapidated Vauxhall Nova whizzing around a junk-strewn yard in a cloud of fog. At the wheel was Peter Dearman, a rumpled-looking autodidact who had spent the better part of four decades imagining a way to build engineering’s ultimate vaporware: a motor powered only by air.

Born in 1951 on an egg farm north of London, Dearman would seem an unlikely candidate to have solved the problem. He left school at age 15 and worked in the family business for a while, then took a job at a local sheet-metal factory. He spent his evenings as many Englishmen do—out in the garage or the garden shed, tinkering. But Dearman’s aptitude and ambition set him apart from other hobbyists. Over the years he filed patents for an improved adjustable wrench, a solar hot-water system, and a portable resuscitator that is still used in ambulances today. His most impressive achievement, however, was the Nova, whose engine he cobbled together from string, a used beer keg, a red plastic trash bin, and a coffee can’s worth of liquid nitrogen.

The idea behind Dearman’s project dated back to at least 1899, when a Danish inventor named Hans Knudsen claimed to have designed an automobile that could run on “clear, bluish” fuel—liquefied air, to be sold at a penny a gallon. Rather than spewing out a toxic mix of pollutants and greenhouse gases, it would leave a harmless trail of condensation in its wake, wafting by at the stately speed of 12 mph. Knudsen received admiring media coverage at the time, but his company went belly-up in a matter of years. Modern cynics suspect he was engaged in a Theranos-style fraud, in part because no one could figure out how he’d done it. For years, a working liquid-air engine seemed about as fanciful as a perpetual motion machine.

Still, the underlying principle was sound. Most engines rely on heat differentials. In the case of, say, a gasoline-powered car, the fuel is mixed with air, crammed into a piston chamber, and set alight, causing it to jump more than 1,000 degrees in temperature. The gas rapidly expands, propelling the piston and, in turn, the wheels. Take the same process, slide it way down the Fahrenheit scale, and you’ve got a liquid air engine. The nitrogen fuel starts out at 320 degrees below zero. When it enters the (much warmer) piston chamber, it boils off into gas. The change in temperature is smaller than with gasoline, so the pistons move with a little less oomph—but it’s enough to get the wheels going. The real problem comes later: All that frigid fuel coursing through the engine quickly freezes it, effectively wiping out the heat differential. The air stops expanding, and the car runs out of puff.

The roadblock was clear, Dearman told me recently. He’d been pondering how to get around it since he was a teen. In a car that runs on heat, you need something to keep it cool—a radiator. In a car that runs on cold, you need the opposite. “I had an idea in my head for how to make it work, but I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere until I had some research to go on,” he said.

The breakthrough came in 1999. Dearman was watching an episode of the BBC’s dearly departed flagship science program, Tomorrow’s World, in which the presenter visited the University of Washington to report on a rather clunky-looking converted mail truck. It had trouble with hills, and its top speed was 22 mph, but it ran on liquid nitrogen (a profligate 5 gallons per mile). Invented by Abe Hertzberg, an eccentric professor who had previously come up with a laser-powered airplane, the truck boasted one major innovation. Before the freezing-cold fuel reached the engine, it ran through a heat exchanger, a series of concentric tubes that circulated outside air around the fuel line. John Williams, who worked on the truck as a graduate student, explained that the exchanger ensured “the whole thing didn’t turn into a giant ball of ice.” But it didn’t tackle the fundamental problem—that the liquid nitrogen still rapidly cooled the engine, throttling its own expansion into a gas. “Our project was a proof of concept,” Williams explained. “We were reconciled to a certain degree of terribleness.”

From his sofa in the historic market town of Bishop’s Stortford, Dearman immediately saw both the logic of Hertzberg’s design and a way of improving on it. The answer to making sure the nitrogen continued expanding? Antifreeze. “It’s obvious, but it’s only obvious once you’ve seen it,” Dearman said. He went out into his garage, grabbed a blue plastic jug from the shelf, and started playing around with his lawn mower, hacking its engine to squirt a mixture of antifreeze and water into the piston chambers on each stroke. This brought ambient heat directly to the place it was needed most—and the engine’s efficiency skyrocketed. The same trick worked on the battered Nova, bought as a guinea pig.

And there things might have ended if Dearman’s brother, a contractor, hadn’t mentioned the Nova to a wealthy client, who put up funding for a patent application. In 2004, the client also introduced Dearman to Toby Peters, a former war photographer turned business strategist who had been working on corporate social-responsibility initiatives. Peters was skeptical, so he took the engine to the University of Leeds for a full workup. The science checked out. The Dearman engine was about as efficient as its gas- and diesel-powered counterparts; roughly a third of the energy in the fuel was actually put to work, and the rest went to waste. But no amount of antifreeze would solve the underlying issue: Gallon for gallon, liquid air contained far less energy than fossil fuels. It would never supply as much torque and horsepower as car buyers demanded.

Then, in 2011, Peters had an epiphany of his own. Thinking of the Dearman engine purely as a source of locomotive power missed its unique selling point. Where a typical engine lets off waste as heat, Dearman’s vented it as cold. And cold, Peters told me, is “immensely valuable.” What the newly formed Dearman Company was trying to sell, in other words, was not so much an engine as a mobile cooling unit. That meant it had plenty of prospective customers waiting behind the wheels of refrigerated trucks.

The sales pitch wrote itself: Rather than relying on diesel-powered units, which warm the world with greenhouse gases and clog pedestrians’ airways with asthma-inducing particulate matter, customers could upgrade to a Dearman, which would emit only nitrogen. What’s more, it would cost the same to operate as a conventional system, while being quieter to run, quicker to refuel, and faster to cool down. Yes, making the liquid nitrogen would consume energy—but even when you factored that in, the Dearman engine would result in an emissions savings of about 40 percent over diesel. If the grid powering the fuel plant was running on renewable energy, the figure rose to 95 percent.

The logic was impeccable, but would winning the argument be enough? History is full of examples of clever new technologies that never found their market, either because the timing was wrong or the branding was bad or a company with deeper pockets flooded the playing field with a rival product. Capitalist economies are generally imagined to operate according to the laws of natural selection: The fittest survive, and the rest go the way of the Betamax. In practice, though, the outcome is rarely so meritocratic. At the dawn of the age of domestic refrigerators, for instance, there were two competing designs—one powered by electricity, the other by gas. Even though gas fridges were quieter and less expensive to operate, electricity won out. Big companies threw their prodigious ad budgets behind it, and consumers did as they were told. If Dearman and Peters were going to remake the cold chain, the temperature-controlled network through which food travels around the globe, they’d need more than a really good idea.

The Pandemic Could Be an Opportunity to Remake Cities

Cities from Bogota to Oakland are closing streets to make room for pedestrians and bikers. Urbanists think we’d be healthier if such changes were permanent.

Aerial view of a nearlyempty intersection during rush hour in LA

One option for making cities more pedestrian-friendly is disabling the buttons that summon a “Walk” sign to cross the street. PHOTOGRAPH: MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

LAST TUESDAY, A Gemballa Mirage GT barrelled into a series of parked cars on a Manhattan street. The driver fled and was arrested. And for a moment, New York seemed almost normal, free of the quiet that has ruled the city for three weeks, since residents were ordered to shelter in place to corral the spread of the novel coronavirus. As traffic has evaporated, car crashes in the city have dropped more than 50 percent compared with the same time last year. So have injuries to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. The air is cleaner, the honking but an echo.

Cities that have seen traffic calmed, however, face a new kind of congestion—not on their streets but their sidewalks. Like urbanites around the world, New Yorkers barred from offices, bars, theaters, and restaurants are crowding into the city’s public spaces, often trampling social distancing rules in the process. Mayor Bill de Blasio said police will begin fining people up to $500 for disobeying the order to stay 6 feet from others, a price that has since doubled. “Anyone who’s not social distancing at this point actually is putting other people in danger,” the mayor said on The Today Show.

De Blasio and many other civic leaders are trying to enforce the 6-foot line by restricting access to places where people get together: dog parks, basketball courts, playgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, and the like. The problem with curtailing the supply of open space, though, is that it doesn’t reduce demand. People still need to go outside, some to work, others to play, all to keep their sanity intact. Now, though, the demand comes chiefly from people on foot, rather than in vehicles.

In that shift, urbanists see a chance to save city dwellers not just from the sweep of a pandemic, but from the auto-centric culture that has dominated urban life for decades. They want to prioritize the movement of people—pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and their ilk—over cars. This isn’t just opportunism, a shot at grabbing street space while most cars are parked. A range of tactics long demanded by urbanists can make life outside more pleasant and practical amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. And depending on how much life goes back to “normal” once the pandemic has passed, the moves could change cities for the better, and for the long term.

One easy, obvious option is disabling the buttons that pedestrians use to summon a “Walk” sign to cross the street. Advocates of pedestrian-friendly roads have long lambasted these “beg buttons” for making driving the default mode of transportation: no push, no walk signal. Now, public health officials see the devices as potential conveyors of the coronavirus. Several cities in Australia and New Zealand have rejiggered traffic signal cycles to include walk signals, no push needed. So has Berkeley, California. “That’s a good example of an easy and sustainable thing cities can do,” says Tabitha Combs, who studies transportation planning and policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By turning them off, cities are tacitly admitting that the buttons aren’t meant to make intersections safer for pedestrians, but to keep cars moving as much as possible. “They’ve let the cat out of the bag that it’s something they can do,” Combs says.

The bigger move is closing streets to vehicles, so people have more room to walk around or exercise. Bogota, Colombia; Calgary, Canada; Denver, Colorado; St Paul, Minnesota; Cologne, Germany and other cities have blocked off stretches of road in recent weeks. Friday, Oakland said it will close 10 percent of its street network—74 miles worth—to vehicle traffic. Others, like Vancouver, have booted cars from roads in parks. Closing streets, though, demands resources, including materials to indicate cars are no longer welcome and people to enforce the new regime.


This is what it will take to get us back outside

How to safely ease social distancing while we wait for a covid-19 drug or vaccine.


At some point covid-19 will be vanquished. By early April some 50 potential vaccines and nearly 100 potential treatment drugs were in development, according to the Milken Institute, and hundreds of clinical trials were already registered with the World Health Organization.

Even with all these efforts, a vaccine is expected to take at least 12 to 18 months to bring to market. A treatment may arrive sooner—one company, Regeneron, says it hopes to have an antibody drug in production by August—but making enough of it to help millions of people could take months more.

It could all be over more quickly if certain existing drugs, already known to be safe for other uses, prove effective in treating covid-19. Trials are now under way; we should know by the summer. On the flip side, it may be that only a vaccine delivers the knockout blow, and even then, we still don’t know how long one will stay effective as the virus mutates.

That means we have to prepare for a world in which there is no cure and no vaccine for a long time. There is a way to live in this world without staying permanently shut indoors. But it won’t be a return to normal; this will be, for Westerners at any rate, a new normal, with new rules of behavior and social organization, some of which will probably persist long after the crisis has ended.

In recent weeks a consensus has started to build among various groups of experts on what this new normal might look like. Some parts of the strategy will reflect the practices of contact tracing and disease monitoring adopted in the countries that have dealt best with the virus so far, such as South Korea and Singapore. Other parts are starting to emerge, such as regularly testing massive numbers of people and relaxing movement restrictions only on those who have recently tested negative or have already recovered from the virus— if indeed those people are immune, which is assumed but still not certain.

This will entail a considerable degree of surveillance and social control, though there are ways to make it less intrusive than it has been in some countries. It will also create or exacerbate divisions between haves and have-nots: those who have work that can be done from home and those who don’t; those who are allowed to move about freely and those who aren’t; and, especially in the US and other countries without universal health coverage, those who have medical care and those who lack it. (Though Americans can now get coronavirus tests for free by law, they may still wind up with hefty bills for related tests and treatment.)

This new social order will seem unthinkable to most people in so-called free countries. But any change can quickly become normal if people accept it. The real abnormality is how uncertain things are. The pandemic has undercut the predictability of normal life, the sheer number of things we always assume we will still be able to do tomorrow. That is why everything feels unmoored, why the economy is collapsing, why everybody is stressed: because we can no longer predict what will be allowed and what will not a week, a month, or three or six or 12 months hence.

Getting to normal, therefore, is not so much about getting back the old normality as it is about getting back the ability to know what is going to happen tomorrow. And it’s becoming increasingly clear what’s needed to achieve that kind of predictability. What we can’t predict, yet, is how long it will take political leaders to do what it takes to get there.

The background

First, let’s look at why simply waiting for a drug or vaccine isn’t a practical option.

One feature of the covid-19 pandemic is the speed with which the unthinkable has become the obvious. In mid-March, the British government was still advocating for letting most people go about more or less their normal daily business, while only the sick and the especially vulnerable isolated themselves. It changed tack rapidly after researchers at Imperial College London published a study showing the policy would lead to as many as 250,000 deaths in the UK.

That study made the case for what almost everyone now agrees is essential: imposing social distancing on as much of the population as possible. This is the only way to “flatten the curve,” or slow the spread of the virus enough to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, as they have been in Italy, Spain, and New York City. The goal is to keep the pandemic ticking along at a manageable level until either enough people have had covid-19 to create “herd immunity”—the point at which the virus is starting to run out of new people to infect—or there’s a vaccine or cure.

Waiting for herd immunity is not an idea most experts take seriously. But no matter what the final outcome, some degree of social distancing has to remain in place until we get there. A strict lockdown can slow new infections to a trickle, as it did in China’s Hubei province, but as soon as measures are relaxed, the infection rate starts to rise again.

In their report on March 16, the researchers at Imperial College proposed a way of alternating between stricter and looser regimes: impose widespread social distancing measures every time admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) start to spike, and relax them each time admissions fall. Here’s how that looks in a graph.

The orange line is ICU admissions. Each time they rise above a threshold—say, 100 per week—the country would close all schools and most universities and adopt social distancing. When they drop below 50, those measures would be lifted, but people with symptoms or whose family members have symptoms would still be confined at home.

What counts as “social distancing”? The researchers define it as “All households reduce contact outside household, school, or workplace by 75%.” That doesn’t mean you should feel free to go out with your friends once a week instead of four times. It means if everyone does everything they can to minimize social contact, then on average, the number of contacts is expected to fall by 75%.

Under this model, the researchers concluded, both social distancing and school closures need to be in force some two-thirds of the time— roughly two months on and one month off—until a vaccine or cure is available. They noted that the results are “qualitatively similar for the US.”

The researchers also modeled various less stringent policies, but all of them came up short. What if you only isolate the sick and the elderly, and let other people move around freely? You’d still get a surge of critically ill people at least eight times bigger than the US or UK healthcare system can handle. What if you lock everybody down for just one extended period of five months or so? No good—as long as a single person is infected, the pandemic will ultimately break out all over again. Or what if you set a higher threshold for the number of ICU admissions that triggers tighter social distancing? It would first mean accepting that many more patients would die, but it also turns out that it makes little difference: even in the least restrictive of the Imperial College scenarios, we’re shut in more than half the time. That means the economic paralysis lasts until there’s a vaccine or cure.

The tools

Those scenarios, however, assumed that being shut in applies equally to everyone. But not everyone is equally at risk, or risky. The key to getting to normal will be to establish systems for discriminating—legally and fairly—between those who can be allowed to move around freely and those who must stay at home.

Assorted proposals now coming out of bodies such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for American Progress, and Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, describe how this might be done. The basic outlines are all similar.

First, keep as many people as possible at home until the rate of infections is well under control. Meanwhile, massively ramp up testing capacity, so that once the country is ready to relax social distancing rules, anybody who asks for a test—and some who don’t—can take one and get the result within hours or, ideally, minutes. This has to include testing both for the virus, in order to detect people who are currently sick even if they don’t have symptoms, and for antibodies, in order to find people who have had the disease and are now immune.

People who test positive for antibodies might be granted “immunity passports,” or certificates to let them move freely; Germany and the UK have already said they plan to issue such documents. People who test negative for the virus would be allowed to move around too, but they would have to get retested regularly and agree to have their cell phone’s location tracked. This way they could be alerted if they come into contact with anyone who has been infected.

This new social order will seem unthinkable to most people in so-called free countries

This sounds Big Brotherish, and it can be: in Israel, such automated monitoring and contact tracing is being done by the domestic intelligence agency, using surveillance tools created for tracking terrorists. But there are less intrusive ways of doing it.

The Safra Center, for example, outlines various schemes for “peer-to-peer tracking,” in which an app on your phone swaps encrypted tokens via Bluetooth with any other phones that spend some minimum period of time nearby. If you test positive for the virus, you put that information into the app. Using the tokens your phone has collected in the past few days, it sends alerts to those people to self-isolate or go get tested. Your actual location doesn’t have to be tracked, only the anonymized identities of the people you’ve been near. Singapore uses a peer-to-peer tracking app called TraceTogether, which sends the infection alerts to the health ministry, but—in principle at least— such a system can be set up with no centralized record-keeping at all.

There also needs to be nationwide data-gathering and analysis to better understand how the virus is spreading and spot high-risk areas that might need more testing or medical resources, or another quarantine. This strategy has to include serological surveys—random testing for antibodies to find out how widely the virus has already spread. Some other ways to gauge its prevalence without spying on people directly might be to crowdsource the information using sites like, infer it from the volume of Google searches for covid-19 symptoms in different places, or even look for the virus in samples of sewage.

It’s also important to make sure people who have tested positive or been exposed are staying in quarantine. This, however, seems hard to do without more direct surveillance. Countries like Singapore and South Korea use various means, such as making people share their location via WhatsApp or download a specialized tracking app. Whether the US or European countries could impose (let alone enforce) that kind of control isn’t clear. Without it, we have to rely on people to be responsible citizens and self-isolate when necessary.

The point is, there are more and less creepy ways of doing all this, and the crisis could catalyze a broader conversation about how to use people’s data for the collective good while protecting the individual.

The hurdles

Regardless of the methods chosen, the goal is the same: after a couple of months of shutdown, to begin selectively easing restrictions on movement for people who can show they’re not a disease risk. With good enough testing capacity, data collection, contact tracing, enforcement of or adherence to quarantines, and coordination between the federal, state, and local governments, local outbreaks might be contained before they spread and force another national shutdown.

Gradually, more and more people would be able to return to some semblance of normality. It would still be a far cry from the packed bars and sports arenas of the past, but it would be a less unbearable way to wait for the discovery of a vaccine or cure. More important, the economy could start ticking back to life.

This depends on a lot of things going right, though. First, the initial shutdown probably needs to be harsher than it currently is in the US. At the time of writing some US states still had no stay-at-home orders, few cities were enforcing those orders, and there were no restrictions on travel between cities or states. In China, by contrast, cities in Hubei province spent some two months in strictly enforced lockdown, with public transport cut off and inter-city movement restricted.

Second, by some estimates, millions of virus tests a day, promptly performed, may be required to properly keep tabs on the pandemic in the US. By April 8 the country was testing around 150,000 people a day, and many results were taking more than a week to come back.

Third, testing for antibodies is still in its infancy, and most of the tests currently in development still return fairly high rates of both false positives and false negatives, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. A plan to order millions of home test kits for the UK ran into trouble after experts found they might work as little as half the time.

Fourth, the US in particular has precious little coordinated national strategy. The chaotic management of the crisis by the Trump administration, the separation of powers between the federal government and the states, and the fragmented nature of privatized health care make it unclear how systems for automated contact tracing, quarantine enforcement, or immune certification will emerge.

That means a reopening of the US in June is optimistic, to say the least, and a reopening by April 30, as President Donald Trump was still hoping for in early April, is a fantasy. But Trump, along with his alter ego, Fox News, has gradually and reluctantly been moving toward a more realistic stance about the pandemic. By the end of March the White House had adopted projections of the death toll in line with those of many experts, even if those projections still assumed stricter social distancing measures than the federal government is currently calling for. As the pandemic spreads further into the country and starts to pummel the more Republican-leaning states, the president’s interests may start to align more closely with those of the country as a whole.

The outcome

This, then, is what passes for optimism in these grim times: the hope that while the days are still warm, and after tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost that could have been saved with quicker action, some of us will be able to start crawling out into the sunlight. We’ll emerge into a world in which people give each other wide berths and suspicious looks, where those public venues still in business allow only the thinnest crowds to congregate, and where a system of legal segregation determines who can enter them. Millions will still be out of work and struggling to get by, and people will watch nervously for signs of a new flare-up near them.

But as you contemplate that future, spare a thought for the billions of people in the world for whom even social distancing and basic hygiene are unaffordable luxuries, let alone testing, treatment, and technologically advanced governments. The pandemic will roar through the slums of the world’s poorest countries like fire through sawdust. In their considerably younger populations, it will probably be less deadly than in the rich world. But an unchecked pandemic there may also oblige other countries to keep their borders closed for longer to protect their own populations.

A miracle may still happen. Perhaps a readily available drug will work. Perhaps testing will show that the virus is far more widespread and less deadly than we thought. It’s worth hoping for these things, but we can’t bank on them. What we can expect is to have an increasingly clear picture, as the days go by, of how this will play out if we take the right steps.

That’s as normal as things are going to get for a while. SOURCE


Open Letter Calling on Province to Identify Community Gardens as Essential Food Service

Sustain Ontario is facilitating an open letter—for any organization in the province to support—that identifies Community Gardens as essential community food services which must be exempt from the recently announced closure of recreational spaces by the Province of Ontario.

Please scroll down to sign the Open Letter

Organizations are further encouraged to share this information in their own communities and send indications of broad community support to their local municipal and provincial representatives.


To Doug Ford and all Members of Provincial Parliament in Ontario:

Everyone is working hard, and we are trusting this is just an oversight, but please immediately remove outdoor community gardens from the list of closures for recreation activities released March 30, 2020, and place them on the list of essential food services in Ontario.

Tens of thousands of families rely on community gardens to produce food for their families each year. There has been a marked increase in demand for this service since the beginning of COVID-19 across Ontario. People throughout the province have already invested in their seeds, and started seedlings, for this growing season. Land is being negotiated to actually strengthen community gardening availability in many communities across Canada, not limit it.

This model of community food production is seen as integral to the COVID-19 response in countries throughout the world, particularly as food prices increase and global food supplies are increasingly uncertain. Food banks also receive literally tonnes of much needed fresh food from local community gardening efforts in communities all around Ontario.

Members of Ontario Community Growing Network (OCGN)—including representatives of public health departments—are working to achieve safety protocols informed by public safety requirements. Community agencies involved in community gardens are partners in communicating critical public health messages to our communities, and we all take safety seriously.

Please take immediate action today to clarify for everyone in Ontario that community gardening is an essential food service.

Thank you very much!

Moe Garahan
Executive Director, Just Food Ottawa
Co-Chair, Ontario Community Growing Network,
A Network of Sustain Ontario

Rhonda Teitel-Payne
Co-Coordinator – Toronto Urban Growers
Co-Chair, Ontario Community Growing Network,
A Network of Sustain Ontario

Time for smokers to butt out is now, or risk ventilator shortage: researcher

Dr. Kelley Lee of SFU says by quitting, smokers can play an important role in preventing further stress on the healthcare system, but governments need to do more to wean people off cigarettes and vaporizers

quit smoking

Photograph By ISTOCK

If there ever was a good time to quit smoking and vaping, now is that time, says public health researcher Dr. Kelley Lee of Simon Fraser University.

Smokers and vapers are not just at a greater risk of having more serious complications from COVID-19; they are less likely to receive a ventilator in short supply.

“Anything that compromises your lung capacity is not wise at this time,” said Lee.

“By quitting smoking you’re probably going to increase your chances of being one of the people who gets a ventilator, for sure. I don’t think we’ve ever been in this situation where we have to make decisions so starkly,” as doctors have been doing in Italy and New York, said Lee.

“There’s going to be choices down the line if we don’t flatten the curve. It comes down to weighing who will fare better,” from receiving help from equipment that is in short supply, said Lee.

Age, health history and other considerations come into play for who gets what care. If someone’s lungs are not at full capacity due to smoking or vaping, they may be passed up in a worse case scenario, said Lee.

There are concerns about the association between COVID-19 and tobacco use. “There is emerging evidence that link those two things,” said Lee, suggesting smokers and vapers will have more severe illness from COVID-19. “They might have compromised lung capacity making it a more serious impact. This means they are less likely to have a mild case of illness.”

The B.C. Lung Association cites studies from China showing Chinese patients, who contracted COVID-19 and who have a history of smoking, were 14 times more likely to have disease progression and/or die. Overall, smokers are more likely to contract bacterial or viral infections, the association states.

Of course, while Canadian provinces, including B.C., license and tax sales of tobacco and vapour products, sales persist during the deadly respiratory illness pandemic.

Lee said while it may seem counterproductive to continue sales of cigarettes and vaporizers, nicotine addiction and withdrawal can be “cruel.”

So, Lee said, banning cigarette and vaporizer sales is not the way to go. Smokers need positive support from society and many will get products on the black market.

“And there’s all sorts of risks to that,” Lee added.

As such, government needs to step up its game in helping people quit inhaling these products during the pandemic, said Lee.

“People currently smoking or vaping should be supported to quit now to give their lungs the best chance of fighting off this coronavirus if infected. If the government wants to be helpful, increasing access to nicotine replacement therapy to help people quit is a far better way to go. This would also contribute towards flattening the curve by reducing the likelihood that smokers and vapers will get seriously ill and need to rely on our overstretched health system,” said Lee.

The B.C. Ministry of Health operates the BC Smoking Cessation Program, which covers 100% of the cost of nicotine replacement therapy products, including specific nicotine gum, lozenges, patches and inhalers, or contributes to the cost of specific smoking cessation prescription drugs.

However, there are program limits. Each calendar year, eligible B.C. residents can only receive a single continuous course of therapy treatment for up to 12 weeks. And only low-income earners qualify for discounted prescription drugs. There is also a burdensome process of visiting a doctor for referral and registering for the program.

“So, for sure expand the cessation support to get that message out there — the link between COVID and smoking and vaping,” said Lee. “There’s kids out there vaping as well and they’re heavily addicted.”

Dr. Kelley Lee – SFU

When asked if the provincial government had intentions to expand the cessation program, Glacier Media did not receive a reply.

Last November, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced new regulations limiting nicotine in vapour pods to 20mg/ml as well as limits on public advertisements of products. It also increased the tobacco and vapour tax rates effective January 1 and a new tax for heated tobacco was planned for April 1.

However, that new tax has been shelved due to concerns businesses would be adversely affected.

“The planned April 1, 2020, effective date for this technical measure [tax] has been delayed because its implementation requires efforts by businesses, including the counting of inventory, during a time when many businesses are feeling the effects of COVID-19,” said a ministry spokesperson.

Community event on youth vaping to be held in Hilton ...

Lee said it’s the wrong decision, stressing the main focus needs to be to help people quit smoking and vaping.

Lee has studied tobacco control for 25 years. The professor’s research focuses on the impacts of globalization on communicable and non-communicable diseases, notably tobacco-related diseases, and the implications for strengthening global governance. She is presently researching worldwide quarantine responses to COVID-19.

“My two worlds are coming together,” she said.

Lee is a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health, Royal College of Physicians and Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, according to her SFU profile. SOURCE

Air pollution linked to far higher Covid-19 death rates, study finds

Dirty air increases risk of respiratory problems that can be fatal for coronavirus patients

Pollution over Milan in northern Italy, which has had higher coronavirus death rates than the rest of the country. Photograph: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/Zuma Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Air pollution is linked to significantly higher rates of death in people with Covid-19, according to analysis.

The work shows that even a tiny, single-unit increase in particle pollution levels in the years before the pandemic is associated with a 15% increase in the death rate. The research, done in the US, calculates that slightly cleaner air in Manhattan in the past could have saved hundreds of lives.

Given the large differences in toxic air levels across countries, the research suggests people in polluted areas are far more likely to die from the coronavirus than those living in cleaner areas. The scientists said dirty air was already known to increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is extremely deadly and a cause of Covid-19-related deaths, as well as other respiratory and heart problems.

A separate report from scientists in Italy notes that the high death rates seen in the north of the country correlate with the highest levels of air pollution.

The scientists said their findings could be used to ensure that areas with high levels of air pollution take extra precautions to slow the spread of the virus and deploy extra resources to deal with the outbreak. Air pollution has already fallen because of widespread lockdowns, but the scientists said ensuring cleaner air in the future would help reduce Covid-19 deaths. MORE

The ecocide of forests must end

The protection of forests is essential to avoid climate breakdown.

Forests burst with life, full of plants and animals found nowhere else. In the tropics, these range from orchids to orang-utans, and make up some of the most diverse, unique habitats on our planet.

Forests are vital stores of carbon, and destroying them will make meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement – already on a knife-edge – simply impossible.

Amazonia alone is also home to one million people, some of whom live in isolated, still uncontacted tribes, and many have been stewards of their ancestral lands for centuries or more.


Yet globally we are responsible for a remorseless wave of deforestation and destruction. After a brief period of hope for the Amazon, deforestation has skyrocketed under the Bolsonaro administration, up 88 percent in June 2019 in comparison to June 2018.

The full force of the logging, mining and agriculture industries has been turned on indigenous communities, as people’s homes and lives are wiped out intentionally to clear the way for industrial mega-farms to feed the global market. The same is happening in forests around the globe, from West Africa to West Papua.

A small handful of commodities  are the reason we are all partly responsible for this: soy, palm oil, paper and most of all cattle for beef and leather occupy more deforested land in Brazil than every other commodity combined. Global responsibility means global action is desperately needed.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 explicitly called for forests to be preserved as a ‘natural solution’ to climate breakdown, taking carbon out of the atmosphere with no action required except to leave them alone, yet few countries include land use and forestry in their plans, and fewer still are acting on them.

This loss is now so critical that some forests have shifted from taking in more carbon than they emit – known as a carbon sink –­ to being a source of emissions, and the Amazon, the biggest on the planet, is on track to be in this position in the next decade. This means that as the eyes of the world turn to Glasgow in November for the make-or-break COP26 climate negotiations, where countries have a final chance to commit to serious attempts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, forests – and those who live in them – must be front and centre of the conversation.


The first and most important reason for upholding the land tenure of indigenous communities is because it is their land. However, legally recognised indigenous and community forests also store more carbon than others, and so affirming and upholding rights to land is also an imperative from a climate perspective.

The fact that natural solutions to the climate crisis have a whole host of additional benefits is yet another reason to keep forests standing – hundreds of thousands of children in the USA alone have been saved from leukemia by chemicals derived from one single rainforest plant, for example. If we burn the book of life before we read it, we cannot know what we might have found.

From the devastating climate impacts to the consistent links to the most appalling human rights abuses – including Brazilian beef giants allegedly linked to a recent massacre of people in the Amazon, the picture can seem overwhelmingly bleak.

But we are not powerless. Decisions you can make every day can help to save forests and forest peoples. You can write to your politicians, demanding that they pressurise their governments to get serious at the upcoming climate talks. You can cut down on beef consumption, perhaps starting by avoiding the blacklist of the worst offenders. You can support the charities and NGOs fighting for the survival of these incredible, essential places.

We cannot give up on our forests – the future depends on it.


Steve Trent is executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation. 


Ontario orders close to one million Spartan Bioscience portable COVID-19 test kits

Spartan Bioscience Inc. CEO Paul Lem holds one of his company’s COVID-19 portable, rapid testing devices in a handout photo. Health Canada greenlit the device on Saturday and Spartan says it will begin shipments “immediately.”

OTTAWA—Rapid COVID-19 testing devices are on the way to remote and Indigenous communities where access and timely results have been hindered by distance and limited resources, officials said Monday after a new test kit was approved over the weekend.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said the hand-held DNA analyzer from Ottawa’s Spartan Bioscience will offer rapid test results for health services in rural and remote areas that otherwise must send their samples to laboratories in larger centres.

Dubbed the Spartan Cube and about the size of a coffee cup, results can be had in less than an hour and do not require the specialized expertise and equipment of a large lab.

Spartan Bioscience said the tests will be rolled out “immediately” but it wasn’t clear how many were ready or where they would first be deployed.

Tam said the number of devices ready for shipment “is constantly being updated.”

“All I can say is we will get everything that this supplier will be able to provide in the coming months,” said Tam.

“The procurement contract itself is: try and secure supply of the devices with 14,000 units per month in the upcoming months, and then see how that progresses in terms of the supply rate. But every day we have to re-evaluate the moving parts on this.”

In addition to the federal government, Ontario has ordered more than 900,000 testing kits, while Alberta’s contract is for 100,000 kits. Quebec said Monday it has ordered 200,000.

Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province has the Cube, but has yet to test its efficacy.

“That work will start tomorrow and once we are convinced that it’s a valid test we will start utilizing that,” Roussin said at a news conference.

Spartan did not immediately respond to a request for more details Monday.

The need for greater testing is widely acknowledged as key to understanding the true scope of COVID-19 infection in Canada, and how best to deploy suppression strategies. Without such control measures, experts warn that health-care systems can be overwhelmed by a surge in cases.

CEO Paul Lem said earlier this month that production was being ramped up in anticipation of Health Canada approval, but he acknowledged that scaling up to full capacity “is going to take some time.”

He expected to begin with weekly shipments in the “thousands,” which would escalate to 10,000.

“Then it ramps up to like 50 (thousand) and then 100,000 per week,” he said.

While remote regions will be prioritized for now, Lem said he could see the day when the test could be deployed at workplaces and individual households.

Lem said he is being inundated with requests for the test to be made available to private businesses, as well as foreign governments.

“Ultimately once devices become widely available enough and tests become affordable … everyone will be testing it,” Lem said of his hopes for the device.

Lem said the test, in which either the nose or throat is swabbed, can be operated by non-laboratory personnel in places such as airports, border crossings, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and clinics.

Caring for Nature is caring for your Health

We are still at home and we must be separated to be together again. In these difficult times that we live in a global health crisis caused by Covid-19, the priority is to stop the spread of the virus and fight with all means to save all possible human lives. From WWF we stand in solidarity with the families who are being victims of the disease and we send them all our support and love.

But this crisis is not accidental. The pandemic we are experiencing is directly linked to the destruction of the planet, as we demonstrated in the recent WWF report “Destruction of Nature and Pandemics”

When nature is altered or destroyed by deforestation, illegal logging or loss of biodiversity, natural ecosystems are weakened and this facilitates the spread of diseases,  thus increasing the risk of contact and transmission to humans.

Deforestation in the forests of Borneo.

Therefore, when we have overcome this health emergency we will have to rethink how to prevent future pandemics globally . And one of the keys is and will be the need to protect nature since the good health of the planet is the best vaccine against future pandemics.

more than 50 years defending biodiversity and protecting the forests, wetlands and oceans of the five continents that are the cradle of life and the richest pharmacy in the world. planet.

Protecting biodiversity means protecting everyone’s future.

The cause of this crisis, covid-19 is a disease originating from the illegal wildlife trade. Consumption and direct contact with remains of wild animals exposes humans to contact with viruses or other pathogens of which those animals may be a host or vector. At WWF, we have been fighting this scourge for decades, which poses the greatest threat to the survival of many species and which has now put humanity’s health at serious risk.

Our health and well-being depend directly on the health of the planet and to avoid future pandemics we must protect nature. We have to stop the extinction of species, the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems.

We must stop climate change and reduce our ecological footprint, changing the current model of production and consumption and continue fighting against the trafficking of species, one of the greatest crimes against nature and one that threatens health for all.

We are still on time and we still have rich and healthy ecosystems that are essential for our health. But we need your help to protect them and continue to defend them before it is too late.

For our health and the future of life on our planet, join the WWF family.

Become a WWF member!