Time for gas to go

Ontario’s greenhouse gas pollution will rise sharply in the future – due in part to a return to business as usual post-COVID-19, but also because the Ford government plans to ramp up the use of polluting gas plants by more than 400% to replace the Pickering Nuclear Station and to meet future demand.

If we stick with Doug Ford’s plan, Ontario will not reach its 2030 climate target and electricity costs for Ontario consumers will continue to rise as costly nuclear rebuild projects proceed.

Fortunately, our new report, Phasing-Out Ontario’s Gas-Fired Power Plants, outlines a better solution – an integrated combination of clean waterpower imports from Quebec, with strong energy efficiency efforts in Ontario and the development of cost-effective wind power in both provinces. This combination can supply more than enough energy to keep our lights on while also allowing us to phase out the use of gas-fired electricity.

Quebec has the low-cost renewable power Ontario needs and is keen to sell it to us. Building a new 20 km transmission line (along an existing transmission corridor) in Ottawa will cost but a fraction of what Ontario is planning to spend on nuclear rebuilds, saving us billions of dollars. Plus, Quebec can use its extensive waterpower reservoir system to act like a giant battery to turn intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar into firm 24/7 power.

We don’t need to build a giant new fracked gas pipeline through sensitive natural areas in Hamilton to meet our electricity needs – the better answer is to work with Quebec and to restore energy efficiency programs right here in Ontario.

  • Webinar: We’ll explain more in our Zoom webinar on Thursday April 23, 2 p.m. EST – email me (angela@cleanairalliance.org) for the link.
  • Petition: And sign our petition calling for the phase-out of Ontario’s gas-fired power plants.

Thank you and stay healthy! Please pass this onto your friends.

Angela Bischoff, Director
Ontario Clean Air Alliance

Hydrogen Power Plants Get Backing From Two Big German Companies

  • Siemens and Uniper seek to convert conventional power plans

  •  Uniper to adapt natural gas infrastructure to receive hydrogen

Uniper’s green hydrogen facility in Falkenhagen, in Germany.

Uniper’s green hydrogen facility in Falkenhagen, in Germany.  Source: Uniper

Uniper SE and Siemens AG said they will develop a hydrogen business in an effort to slash fossil-fuel pollution from industrial processes.

Uniper’s Chief Executive Officer Andreas Schierenbeck said his utility will seek to gradually replace coal and natural gas with hydrogen at some of its power generation plants. It will also adapt its gas pipelines and storage sites to receive increasing quantities of the fuel that burns without releasing carbon dioxide.

“Siemens is also committed with hydrogen, so it makes perfect sense, this strategic partnership,” Schierenbeck said in a telephone interview. “It’s good timing, as we need to bring the new technology to the table in Germany.”

Traditionally a power generator using gas and coal, Uniper decided to invest 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in the next three years to reduce the emissions of its plants. It set a goal to make its power generation portfolio in Europe climate-neutral by 2035, which is 15 years before the European Union’s target for the region.

Hydrogen has the energy to provide temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius or more needed by steel makers and oil refiners. The fuel is now in the center of Germany’s energy transition strategy and is a possible replacement for fuels like gas and coal that release greenhouse gases. The country is due to announce a plan to support the development of a hydrogen industry this month. MORE



Glasgow lawyer Polly Higgins leaves a strong legacy with new book Dare to be Great

SHE became known as the ‘Earth’s lawyer’ and wanted ecocide to be considered a crime against humanity.

Polly Higgins. Pic: Ruth Davey

One year after the death of Glasgow-born lawyer Polly Higgins, her campaign continues to gather steam.

Polly’s latest book, Dare to be Great, has just been published, with contributions from some of the green movement’s leading campaigners.

“Polly Higgins gave up her job and sold her house in order to found a campaign on behalf of all of us,” writes George Monbiot, journalist and environmentalist.

“She drafted model laws to show what the crime of ecocide would look like, published books on the subject and, often against furious opposition, presented her proposals at international meetings.

“I believe establishing such a law would change everything.”

He added: “It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves: ‘Will I end up in the international criminal court for this?’ It could make the difference between a habitable and an uninhabitable planet.”

Polly grew up in Glasgow, where she attended St Aloysius’ College. She studied law at Glasgow University and moved to London, where she worked with Baroness (Patricia) Scotland, the first black woman ever named Queen’s Counsel. In 2002, she married Ian Lawrie, later to become a judge.

It was in 2010, as she became increasingly passionate about saving the planet, that she launched her campaign to see what she called ecocide considered an international crime against humanity, on the same level as genocide or other war crimes.

Ecocide is defined as “loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies) such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”

Polly believed that anyone responsible for destroying the environment, whether politicians or big business, should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

“There are millions who care so much and feel so powerless about the future, and I would love to see them begin to understand the power of this one, simple law to protect the Earth – to realise it’s possible, even straightforward,” she once said.

“I wish I could live to see a million Earth protectors standing for it – because I believe they will.”

Polly sold her house in England and gave up a high-paying job to continue her fight.

“What is required is an expansion of our collective duty of care to protect the natural living world and all life,” she said. “International ecocide crime is a law to protect the Earth.”

Polly was named one of the World’s Top 10 Visionary Thinkers and was celebrated as The Planet’s Lawyer by the 2010 Change Awards. Her first book, Eradicating Ecocide, won the People’s Book Prize in 2011 and she won a number of awards, too many to mention, for her work

Polly was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in 2019, and passed away on April 21 last year, aged 50. She was passionate that her life’s work would be continued by the incredible team she had built around her: ‘My legal team will continue undeterred,’ she said.

Her advocacy work is continued by Ecological Defence Integrity (EDI), the NGO she co-founded.

The book includes quotes from Caroline Lucas, former Green Party England and Wales leader, and Dr Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion.

Dr Bradbook said Polly had seen “the potential of law to provoke fundamental societal change, both by shining a light on where it fell short and by directly pushing the envelope.”

She added: “In her last months she jokingly acknowledged how XR had helped her own work on ecocide become more visible, saying, ‘I love Extinction Rebellion! They make us look moderate.’

“And if we have brought the possibility of criminalising ecocide closer, we are doing our job.”

Caroline Lucas MP said: “Establishing the Law of Ecocide would signal a major breakthrough in the way we deal with crimes against the natural world.

“Polly Higgins’ groundbreaking proposal to list ecocide as the fifth global crime against peace would go a long way towards deterring and holding to account CEOs, companies and nations.

“Whether it’s oil drilling in the Arctic, deforestation in the Amazon, or over-fishing in the Atlantic, activities which impact severely on global ecosystems would be brought under far closer scrutiny.

“It could also play a significant role in encouraging companies to drop the dirty, polluting industries of old, and invest in the clean technologies and renewable energy solutions of the future.”

Dare to be Great, which includes Polly’s advice interspersed with her personal journey, is available now, published by Flint Books.


Tackling climate change is vital for the strongest economic recovery after coronavirus

The Covid-19 pandemic is a harbinger of climate disasters to come and the resilience we need to build into our systems

 “We are in both a health and economic crisis. In dealing with the former we cannot lose a generation to the latter.” Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

Recovery from coronavirus must reckon with climate change. The current and urgent focus properly needs to be flattening the curve and saving lives.

Yet even as this overriding priority absorbs us, governments now need to be thinking about how to support the strongest possible recovery as we emerge from this crisis.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, underscores we are in both a health and economic crisis. In dealing with the former we cannot lose a generation to the latter.

Focus on recovery must be on maximising economic growth and jobs, and ensuring this includes everyone. This was the guiding star that steered the international response to the global financial crisis.

I was advising the prime minister Kevin Rudd at that time and saw first hand just how much foresight, coordination and effort was required for success. This is much worse, and so will demand so much more.

Reckoning with climate change will support a strongest possible recovery. The threat of climate change that is driving global action against it has not gone away. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic is a harbinger of climate disasters to come and the resilience we need to build into our systems – including health – to deal with what we know will be the adverse impacts of climate change.

Air quality hasn’t been this good in decades. How can we keep it this way?

San Francisco clear skies

© Clear skies over San Francisco/ Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

All over the world, people are shocked at the clear skies. From Vancouver, you can see mountains around Seattle. In China and India, you can see across the street. Pollution levels haven’t been so low in decades. That includes levels of fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, or PM2.5; a human hair is about 50 microns.

PM2.5 was barely regulated until recently; the USA didn’t even have a standard until 1997 and last revised it in 2012, lowering it to an average annual limit of 12 micrograms per cubic metre (12 μg/m3) with a 24 hour standard of 35μg/m3. The EPA says there is little to no risk under 12μg/m3 and that between 12 and 35, “unusually sensitive individuals may experience respiratory symptoms.” But it turns out that’s not true, especially after COVID-19.

Pittsburgh smokersPittsburgh City Photographer Collection/Public Domain

Nobody used to pay much attention to PM2.5 when we were swimming in pollution of all kinds, like these two smokers in Pittsburgh in 1940. As Damian Carrington of the Guardian wrote, “Dirty air has been with us for centuries – previously, we simply lived with it – and no one has yet had air pollution as a cause of death on their death certificate.” But as smoking levels dropped and the air got cleaner, the thinking about PM2.5 evolved.

It’s now recognized that PM2.5 goes right through the lungs and into other organs. Prof Dean Schraufnagel tells Carrington that there is so much damage from it because it causes systemic inflammation.

“Immune cells think a [pollution particle] is a bacteria, go after it and try to kill it by releasing enzymes and acids. Those inflammatory proteins spread into the body, affecting the brain, the kidneys, the pancreas and so forth. In evolutionary terms, the body has evolved to defend itself against infections, not pollution.”

It turns out that there is really no safe level of pollution, and that it has a significant effect on how patients with COVID-19 react to the disease. A Harvard University study found that “an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.”

Conclusions: A small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in COVID-19 death rate, with the magnitude of increase 20 times that observed for PM2.5 and all-cause mortality. The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Blue sky over Milan© Blue sky over Milan/ MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images


Another study from the University of Siena looked at the deaths in Italy and concluded that there was a correlation between the death rate and the pollution levels.

We provide evidence that people living in an area with high levels of pollutant are more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions and suitable to any infective agent. Moreover, a prolonged exposure to air pollution leads to a chronic inflammatory stimulus, even in young and healthy subjects. We conclude that the high level of pollution in Northern Italy should be considered an additional co-factor of the high level of lethality recorded in that area.

Blue skies in London© Blue skies in London/Justin Setterfield/Getty Images


Of course, we all know what we have to do to reduce pollution; you just have to look out the window. Take away the gasoline and diesel-powered cars and trucks, shut down fossil fuel-burning industries, and the pollution levels drop like a stone. Akshat Rathi of Bloomberg Green writes:

The good news is that policymakers know what needs to be done: improving access to public transport, electrifying the transport fleet, raising regulations or pricing emissions on power plants and factories, and developing new technology alternatives to polluting industries, such as steel and cement. All of these measures lead to cleaner air (and lower carbon emissions).

It’s easy!

Dalston Lane under construction© Waugh Thistleton


It’s what we have been saying for years! Ban cars, build everything out of wood, build more transit, get a bike, electrify everything. And, since we know there is no safe level of particulate pollution, lower the levels allowed.

Except that’s not going to happen in the USA. The EPA just announced that it was not changing the standard. According to Gina McCarthy of the NRDC,

This administration is passing up an opportunity to make the air cleaner for millions of Americans—choosing instead to do nothing. That’s indefensible—especially amid a health crisis that is hitting people who live in communities with high levels of air pollution the hardest….This reckless decision is made even more egregious coming on the heels of two big pushes to make our air even dirtier just last week—rolling back vehicle emissions standards and giving industry a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for air pollution during the pandemic. Now more than ever, our leaders should be protecting the American people, not the polluters who are making them sick.

Meanwhile, in China, Bloomberg excitedly titles a post Car Boom in Wuhan Holds Out Hope for Post-Lockdown Recovery.

If the stream of visitors to auto dealerships in Wuhan is any guide, the recovery of the car business in China and perhaps the world could be rapid. Companies in the city of 11 million, the original center of the coronavirus and the first to be sealed off, have been gradually opening their doors; officially, the lockdown there was lifted Wednesday. The strength of pent-up demand took some car dealers by surprise, with daily sales now running at levels seen before the economic freeze. “I was pretty shocked,” said Zhang Jiaqi, a sales representative at an Audi AG dealer in the Wuchang district of Wuhan, which is now recording purchases matching year-earlier levels. “It’s like a boom after a two-month dormancy. I thought sales would be frozen.”

One would hope that there would be a lesson or two to be learned from this worldwide lockdown, that not having all that pollution is really nice. That we don’t have to accept the old TINA (There Is No Alternative) line.


We have seen the data, showing 9 million people dying each year from PM2.5 pollution. Another study calculates that there were 103.1 million lost years of healthy life, and other studies showing a huge reduction in intelligence. “For the worst affected category, older men, the damage is equivalent to having spent a few less years in education, possibly due to inflammation of the brain. The average damage across men and women of all ages was one lost year of learning.”

In the US, they are having a debate about ‘how fast can people get back to work?’ vs. ‘how many people dying is an acceptable number?’ According to Jeff Stein in the Washington Post, Conservatives are saying, “We need to open our economy TODAY to prevent a great depression.” They want business as usual.

Blue skies over Los Angeles© Blue skies over Los Angeles/ FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Nobody would be willing to go back to Pittsburgh in 1940. People in China don’t want to go back to Beijing in 2019, with some complaining, “We should apply same amount of effort we put in containing the virus into things like promoting environmentally friendly cars, sorting garbage and planting more trees.” People have learned that healthy food and clean industries are the most important things, “not money.”

I am hoping that people will look out their windows and say they don’t want business as usual. That they have seen clear skies and breathed clean air, and will get behind actions that keep it that way. SOURCE


Why is Canada fighting over a gas pipeline to nowhere?

The world is awash in LNG that’s a lot closer to the ocean and a lot cheaper to move.

Many of Canada’s rail lines are shut down by protests in support of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in what is now British Columbia, who are objecting to a big four-foot diameter gas pipeline. The Coastal GasLink pipeline is going to feed gas to a new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plant at Kitimat, which will then be shipped to China.

The Premier of Alberta says that “anyone demonstrating because of the pipeline’s climate impact is hypocritical, because the line would enable countries such as China to burn liquefied natural gas from Canada instead of dirtier coal.”

But is LNG, which is basically methane, really any better for the environment than burning coal? While it is true that burning methane produces 24 percent less CO2 than burning coal for a given amount of energy, getting it out of the ground (and getting it from Dawson Creek to China) has its own footprint. And Premier Kenney is ignoring the methane that leaks out before it is burned, which is 80 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

A new study published in Nature has found that a lot more methane is leaking from fossil fuel operations into the atmosphere than previously thought. The study was the first that could differentiate methane emitted from fossil fuels from the background levels emitted by natural sources, using carbon-14 measurements of methane in ice cores. According to the study, “This result indicates that anthropogenic fossil CH4 emissions are underestimated by about 38 to 58 teragrams CH4 per year, or about 25 to 40 per cent of recent estimates.”

leaking methane from sources imageThe Conversation/CC BY-ND 1.0


Then there is the issue of losses at the LNG plant, liquifying the methane. According to a Bloomberg article provocatively titled Gas Exports Have a Dirty Secret: A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s, a lot of it is lost in the process.

As long as natural gas stays in the pipeline, emissions remain relatively low. But the sprawling terminals that export the fuel use ozone-depleting refrigerants to supercool it into liquid form, called LNG. They also belch toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and release excess methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately destructive to the atmosphere than CO₂.

We have noted previously that just making the LNG eats up 10 percent of it.

Enbridge Gas© Enbridge gas

Then there are the compressor stations which keep the gas moving through the pipeline. The Coastal GasLink pipeline will ultimately have eight of them. These all burn gas; one study indicated that, on average, a reciprocating compressor burned “45 000 GJ of natural gas during the reporting year and the flare burned 2400 m3 of processed natural gas.” That’s 42 million cubic feet of gas per year, a fraction of the 2.1 billion cubic feet per day that the pipeline carries per day, but equivalent to the consumption of 684 average American houses. A small matter, but just pointing out that every step of the way, from start to finish, there are leaks, flares, boil-offs, pumps and compressors eating up the gas. What percentage of it actually gets to China? I can’t figure it out.

gas prices keep dropping© S&P via Bloomberg


And who is going to pay for it? Gas prices have never been so low, it’s a Gasmaggedon. Pushing gas through a $6.6 billion pipeline isn’t free, nor is shipping it across the Pacific. Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg,

New export projects from Australia to the U.S. have flooded the market with new supplies at the moment that warmer weather and the coronavirus in China curbed demand. The result is brimming storage tanks in Europe and prices for the commodity testing record lows.

The Coronavirus may go away, but warmer weather and cheaper supplies closer to China probably won’t. Meanwhile, Canada is being torn apart over a pipeline nobody needs, moving gas that should be left in the ground. How stupid is this. SOURCE

Simple Ways To Incorporate Eco-Friendly Habits Into Your Day

They require little effort but go a long way to protecting the planet.

Composting your food waste is an easy way to be kind to the environment. SVETIKD VIA GETTY IMAGES

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us adopted environmentally friendly behaviours, like using reusable coffee mugs and metal straws. Now that we’re homebound, we can also modify our day-to-day #stayhome existence to make eco-friendly choices.

If you feel like investigating even one small switch, we’ve got several simple ideas for you to choose from. A lot of eco-conscious habits are also more economical in the long run, so you’ll be saving yourself some cash while you look out for the collective health of our planet.

Hang to dry

Hanging laundry to dry instead of using a dryer is easier said than done in some of our smaller urban spaces, but even a condo can house a small foldaway drying rack.

Nicer weather and private outdoor spaces are great opportunities to hang to dry outside (be sure to give clothing and linens a good shake before bringing them in).

Reducing your electricity consumption is better for the environment (it reduces power plant emissions and your carbon footprint), not to mention your utility bill, and your clothes will last longer because of it — win, win, win.

Hot tip: Turkish towels and blankets tend to dry faster than conventional cotton, so stock your bathroom and kitchen with them (if you have the means, and the inclination) and hang to dry by a sunny window.

Freeze your produce for smoothies

Spoiled food not only wastes your money, but it also wastes resources like the efforts put into growing the food and delivering it to you.

As discarded food rots in a landfill it releases methane gas into the air, which has a negative impact on the environment. Portioning some of your weekly produce into a useable amount and freezing the rest means you can enjoy fresh goodies without worrying about the unused portion spoiling.

Leftover frozen fruit can be turned into delicious smoothies.

Leftover frozen fruit can be turned into delicious smoothies.

Not all produce fares well in the freezer, but we’ve had particular success with baby spinach, bananas, berries, and other fruits — all of which are the perfect ingredients for our daily smoothie.

Wash, dry, and prep food first (peel and chop bananas, wash and dry spinach, etc.) and then store in airtight containers, ready to pop in the blender for your next smoothie fix.

Compost your food waste and separate your coffee grinds

Even the most diligent among us are still going to have food waste, but separating our refuse into city-sanctioned bins means compost should end up where it’s supposed to and break down safely.

Keep a ceramic jar with a lid on your counter for coffee grinds, and a bin with a lid under your sink or a bowl or container in your fridge for compostable food scraps.

We’ve found coffee grounds to be efficient at scrubbing pots and pans — simply add a spoonful or two to a reusable cloth and scrub the pot surface before washing!

Use refillable glass containers and buy cleaning products in bulk where possible

Using refillable containers cuts down on unnecessary packaging and is a sustainable way to keep your household running as eco-friendly as possible.

Even now during a pandemic we have found brands delivering refill sizes of detergents and soaps, as well as refills sent out in reusable glass jars. Turn a simple mason jar into a dispenser with the addition of a pump and consider shopping for refills in the future.

Check with your local grocer to see if they deliver refillable soaps and detergents.

Check with your local grocer to see if they deliver refillable soaps and detergents.


As some local farmers markets and businesses are adapting to offer curbside pick-up of weekly groceries, consider ordering your goods in bulk (when it’s safe to do so) or paper packaging and re-store them at home in airtight jars.

Eliminate odours naturally

While we aren’t against freshening the air in your home, we would suggest avoiding some more conventional products that release unhealthy toxins into the air and the environment.

A bowl of the aforementioned coffee grounds in the fridge will work overnight to absorb odours (don’t forget to toss grinds into the compost in the morning), while diffusing essential oils is a non-toxic way to enjoy some aromatherapy. We love some relaxing lavender essential oil to wind down before bed.

Air purifying plants like sansevieria (snake plants) are also beneficial — they release oxygen into the air at night, which makes them the perfect bedside companion.

Buy only what you need

Having a well-stocked pantry or bathroom cabinet makes sense and offers peace of mind, but impulse buying things that go to waste doesn’t benefit you or the environment.

Take stock of your weekly grocery haul and make note of what is getting consumed and what is going to waste and adjust your next grocery list accordingly.

When making a grocery list, check what you did and didn't eat in the past week or so, so as to cut down on foods that could potentially go to waste.

When making a grocery list, check what you did and didn’t eat in the past week or so, so as to cut down on foods that could potentially go to waste.


Try organizing your fridge so that immediately perishable items are in plain sight — use clear containers and store things in the same spot each week so you can notice when supplies are running low.

When it comes to cleaning supplies, consider using washable cloths instead of — or as well as — disposable paper towel; upcycle old T-shirts to use as rags for scrubbing bathtubs and sinks. Just remember to sanitize thoroughly before the next use. SOURCE


Canadian Cities Open Roads To Pedestrians During Coronavirus Pandemic

Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg have banned cars in areas, but not every city thinks it’s a good idea.

A sign is pictured on the road to Stanley Park to prohibit vehicles in order to maintain social distancing in Vancouver on April 7, 2020.  LIBAODONG/XINHUA VIA ZUMA WIRE

VANCOUVER — The popular seawall path along English Bay in Vancouver got a whole lot wider this week as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

As temperatures climbed past 15 C, cyclists, rollerbladers, walkers and runners hit Vancouver’s beachfront paths over the Easter long weekend to take in some fresh air  — albeit, at least two metres apart.

That distance was made possible thanks to the city, which partly closed the adjacent Beach Avenue to vehicle traffic, as well as roads within nearby Stanley Park. Opening up more space for pedestrians and cyclists who live in the area allowed them to, well, keep their space.

“The goal of this partial closure is not to encourage large gatherings, but to give nearby residents more room to move while also being able to practise physical distancing,” said a statement from the city. “This is a responsive measure and not intended as an invitation to gather.”

Vancouver Park Board @ParkBoard

REMINDER: Please ride safely on roads.

🚴‍♂️Single file riding only
🚴‍♂️Slower cyclists keep right (pass on the left)
🚴‍♂️Cycling is one way around the park (counter clockwise)
🚴‍♂️Watch for service vehicles

Thank you for supporting physical distancing.

View image on Twitter
Similar closures are making their way across North American cities, as urbanists and municipal politicians push to make social distancing on their streets more  convenient. As municipalities close parks and large gathering spaces, could the solution actually be creating more space to spread out?

The case is compelling.

Six feet apart

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends people keep a distance of at least two metres (six feet) apart to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Part of that “social distancing” we’ve all become familiar with in recent months, it limits contact and the possibility of transmitting the virus between people.

But in most cities, regular sidewalks don’t allow for such a space. Most city sidewalks are 1.8 metres at their very widest — not nearly enough space for two people to pass each other while maintaining physical distancing without stepping into the street.

Toronto artist Daniel Rotsztain demonstrated the issue with his city’s sidewalks through his “social distance machine,” which visualized a six-foot radius around the wearer.

Daniel Rotsztain@theurbangeog

Made a Social Distance machine to show why @cityoftoronto needs to close major streets like Yonge during COVID-19. Our sidewalks are too narrow to keep a safe distance.
Tell @JohnTory and your local councillors: !https://youtu.be/aXxfKX4tRdw 

Embedded video

“The only safe space is the middle of the street,” Rotsztain noted over footage of him walking through the narrow sidewalks of Kensington Market.

Multiple groups, including Toronto Public Space Committee and Bells on Bloor are calling on Toronto Mayor John Tory to close or partially close streets in the city’s core to allow for better physical distancing between residents and essential workers.

Organizers have even gone so far as to crowdsource some suggestions.

Toronto Public Space@TOpublicspace

What streets/lanes need to be closed to prioritize safe + accessible pedestrian movement in ? https://twitter.com/BellsOnBloor/status/1248968959166222337 

Bells On Bloor@BellsOnBloor

Berlin, Philadelphia, Calgary, Vancouver, Denver, Mexico City, Minneapolis, Bogota … WHY NOT TORONTO? @johntory #biketo https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/world-cities-turn-their-streets-over-to-walkers-and-cyclists?CMP=share_btn_tw 

Bells On Bloor@BellsOnBloor

Start with Yonge St. from Ramsden Park to Lake. Add an east west street in most densely populated areas ie Front St. and/or Bremner. Include access/egress for cars for limited, specified hours during morning + evening.

Like many campaigns, there’s even a hashtag — #streets4peopleTO. And people are using it to get fired up about urban planning.

Physically Distancing Serra@gimblerocket

It’s high time that @JohnTory starts repurposing some car lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. Sidewalks aren’t wide enough to physically distance. I’ve been cycling instead and some drivers have been going at highway speeds and passing me way too close.

Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said streets would provide “essential space” for pedestrians.

“Streets are essential *pedestrian* infrastructure for maintaining a safe physical distance as essential workers walk to work, we get groceries and walk for sanity in the dense parts of our cities,” she wrote on Twitter. “Easy policy fix: designate some lanes currently wasted for driving, for walking.”

On Monday, the city pledged its commitment to enforcing social distancing measures through ticketing and fines, but did not mention possible street closures.

Wide open spaces

While Toronto isn’t on board yet, other Canadian cities are jumping on the idea of closing their streets to make room. The City of Calgary, the city tested partial road closures on the weekend to make space for pedestrians who are out and about. In Winnipeg, specific streets have been deemed “active transportation” routes during designated hours.

Of course, the idea of pedestrian and cyclist-focused infrastructure has been circulating long before  the pandemic.

In a recent blog post, former Vancouver city planner Sandy James wrote about the city’s greenways — a network of wide pedestrian-focused streets — as a model for the ideal social distancing urban space.

These roads, often designated as cycling priority routes, are equipped with pedestrian accessible washrooms and tend to connect major transit hubs.

“These streets lend themselves well to closure for all but local traffic and emergency vehicles. That was the intent when they were first conceived, that they could be closed for pedestrian and biking use,” James wrote. “And as the city develops, these streets may be permanently closed in the future, forming new linear parks in a densifying city fifty years in the future.”

So, the whole “streets as park space” thing has some legs. But it’s all the more prescient now.

The idea of mass-closing streets in response to the pandemic has gained notable traction in cities like Oakland, Calif. Around 10 per cent of the American city’s streets — 119 kilometres of roadway — will be closed to cars and opened up to pedestrians in the coming weeks.

“In this unprecedented moment we must do everything we can to ensure the safety and well-being of all families across our city,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement Friday. “Closing roads means opening up our city. It gives our residents the opportunity to get outside and walk, bicycle, or run through their neighbourhoods and get around in a safer way.”

Olivia Allen-Price@oallenprice

Oakland is closing 74 miles of streets so people can roam in more socially distant ways.

I hope this works well! I understand why other leaders are choosing to close parks, but the idea to simply MAKE MORE PARK is smart.

But some experts warn such public openings could be an invitation for people to gather in public — the exact opposite of what such moves are trying to encourage.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that, while his city is doing rolling road closures to make more space, he doesn’t that misinterprted as a signal to gather.

“We’re really doing it much more on a reactive basis,” he told reporters. “It’s going to be much more along the lines of just making sure that if we need to use roadway space so that people have room, we will do so.”

Earlier this month, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told reporters his city wasn’t planning on closing any streets, and encouraged people to just pick less busy routes for their time outdoors.

“You don’t go to the busiest street in a particular neighbourhood if you want to maintain a safe distance,” he said. SOURCE

Economics should reflect what really matters

Image: Greg Tsai/Flickr

When you pause to reflect on what’s truly essential and meaningful for you to thrive, what comes to mind?

Is it about having more? Or having better? Is it about all the buying or the genuine caring? Is it about over-consuming or connecting and sharing? Is it about loving stuff and status or simply loving? As we experience disruption on a scale not seen since the Second World War, people in Canada are taking note of what’s really important to them. That can lay the foundation for new ways of thinking about a better economy for tomorrow.

We often confound “economy” and “economics.” Words matter. In this time of crisis, we’re hearing rhetoric aimed at convincing us that caring for our personal health and that of our loved ones is locked in an antagonistic tension with protecting the economy’s “health.” Yet the word “economy” refers to all the interconnected social actions every person does daily. It’s about the way you live your life and the way everyone around you lives theirs. It includes the stories we tell, the knowledge we share, the making, exchanging and trading. It describes how we experience and govern our collective lives on a shared planet.

“Economics,” on the other hand, is about how we think about the economy and what its purpose should or could be. As we’re witnessing at this extraordinary moment in history, often what we feel matters most in our times of need is not aligned with the purpose we gave our economy before this crisis.

It’s also interesting that the words “economy” and “ecology” both come from the Greek “oikos,” meaning “domain” or “household.” Ecologists seek the principles, rules and laws that enable species to flourish sustainably. Economists are meant to “manage” our activity within the biosphere, our domain — ideally within the rules and strictures ecologists find.

Before the pandemic, we thought of our economy as an engine, the main purpose of which was to burn through natural resources quickly to produce as much money as possible using the cheapest, most abstract notion of labour. That equation omits human beings with all our complexities and the “pale blue dot” on which we all depend. It wasn’t exactly intentional.

This equation was agreed to at the end of a war, under the assumption that more trade between nations would ensure global peace and prosperity. In 1944, representatives from 44 countries met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to create a more efficient foreign exchange system and to promote economic growth. Out of crisis, a new way of managing our economics emerged. Although the system was changed in the 1970s, it maintained its earlier purpose.

Now, many politicians are ascribing war language to the pandemic response. But what will we do when this “war” is over? Will we allow an old equation to continue to guide us, or could we choose to come together to define a new purpose?

People everywhere are in distress. Our health and livelihoods are threatened. The social fabric of togetherness is impeded by a need to stay physically distant from each other. The old systems haven’t been able to respond to our needs in meaningful ways, so governments have had to use unusual interventions to ensure the collective good. The old way of thinking about the economy, the established economics, has been exposed as inadequate and flawed.

But through this distress and disruption, we’re seeing glimmers of transformative potential. Over a few weeks, incredible acts of kindness and collective caring have become normal. People are applying novel means of digital creativity to support each other. Some businesses are pivoting from short-term, profit-first motives to purpose-driven actions in response to real needs.

We’re witnessing the surfacing of tangible inspirations for the re-imaging of a Canadian economy — one explicitly designed to deliver the well-being and resilience people need to flourish — and that nature can provide today and for generations to come.

At the end of the Second World War, it took just three weeks for a small group of men to design what would become a new purpose driving the postwar global economy. As this crisis comes to an end, will we embrace the opportunity to do better?

Together, we can design an economics for what matters.


David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada director general Yannick Beaudoin.Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

‘It’s positively alpine!’: Disbelief in big cities as air pollution falls

Delhi is one of many capitals enjoying improved air quality since restrictions were introduced due to the coronavirus

The screenshots began to circulate on Delhi WhatsApp groups last week, captioned with varying expressions of disbelief. Having checked the air quality index, something of a sadistic morning ritual among residents of India’s capital, most could not believe their eyes.

Gone was the familiar menacing red banner, indicating how each intake of breath is really just a toxic blast on the lungs, replaced instead by a healthy, cheerful green. Could it really be that Delhi’s pollution levels now fell into the category of … “good”? “It’s positively alpine!” exclaimed one message.

A nationwide lockdown imposed across India on 24 March to stop the spread of the coronavirus – the largest lockdown of its kind attempted anywhere – has led to widespread chaos and suffering, especially among the country’s 300 million poor. Yet in Delhi, the world’s most polluted city, it has also resulted in some of the freshest air the capital has seen in decades.

New Delhi pollution then and now

It is a lockdown silver lining being repeated across the world, as toxic megacities such as Bangkok, Beijing, São Paulo and Bogotá, where varying coronavirus restrictions have been imposed, all reported an unprecedented decline in pollution. Yet it is countered with one cruel irony: with most residents of these cities strictly confined to their homes, few have any way to appreciate this newly fresh air, except through an open window or a during speedy trip to the supermarket.

Delhi air pollution now

It is a lockdown silver lining being repeated across the world, as toxic megacities such as Bangkok, Beijing, São Paulo and Bogotá, where varying coronavirus restrictions have been imposed, all reported an unprecedented decline in pollution. Yet it is countered with one cruel irony: with most residents of these cities strictly confined to their homes, few have any way to appreciate this newly fresh air, except through an open window or a during speedy trip to the supermarket.

In Delhi, air quality index (AQI) levels are usually a severe 200 on a good day (anything above 25 is deemed unsafe by World Health Organization). During peak pollution periods last year they soared well into a life-threatening 900 and sometimes off the measurable scale. But as Delhi’s 11m registered cars were taken off the roads and factories and construction were ground to a halt, AQI levels have regularly fallen below 20. The skies are suddenly a rare, piercing blue. Even the birdsong seems louder.

Dr Shashi Tharoor, a politician and author who has been vocal on environmental issues, said he hoped that it was a wake-up call. “The blissful sight of blue skies and the joy of breathing clean air provides just the contrast to illustrate what we are doing to ourselves the rest of the time,” said Tharoor. “Today the typical Delhi AQI hovers around 30 and one blissful afternoon, after a spurt of rain, it dropped to 7.”

“Seven,” Tharoor exclaimed again in disbelief. “In Delhi! Pure joy!”.

Tharoor’s sister Smita, who was visiting from the UK when the lockdown was imposed and found herself stuck in Delhi, was equally effusive. As someone with asthma, she said the city’s air, normally thick with pollution, was usually a health nightmare. But now: “The air is clear, the skies are blue. I see the evening stars with clarity and hear the chirruping of excited birds at this unexpected bonus they have received.”

While India’s powerful car lobby has long disputed that cars are a major cause of Delhi’s pollution, Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, said the lockdown and resulting rapid drop in pollution showed once and for all just what a polluting role vehicles had in the city.

Narain also stressed that while she wished Delhi was like this “all the time”, adding: “I don’t want people to say ‘Oh, environmentalists are celebrating this lockdown:’ we are not. This is not the solution. But whatever the new normal is post-Covid-19, we have to make sure we take this breath of fresh air and think about the serious efforts we need to deal with pollution in Delhi.”

It is not just Delhi experiencing the clearest skies in years. As pollution dropped to its lowest level in three decades this week this week, residents of Jalandhar in Punjab woke up to an incredible sight in the distance: the Dhauladhar mountain range in Himachal Pradesh. The peaks, which are over 120 miles away, had not been sighted on the Punjab horizon for almost 30 years.

It is the absence of cars on some of the world’s most congested roads that seems to be making the most crucial differences. Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, which only last month had closed schools because the pollution got so bad, has experienced a similar transformation in the air since partial lockdown, mainly due to the fall in road traffic. “We can see quite a big gap between the air quality standard that we have [compared with this time last year],” says Tara Buakamsri, Thailand director for Greenpeace.

But residents of Bangkok lamented how the places to enjoy the fresh air were swiftly disappearing. Playgrounds, sporting grounds and even parks, a rare source of solace in the bustling, intensely urban environs of Bangkok, have all now been shut. “I feel sad for the old people who use the park to hang out and meet friends. I think they will be so sad at home,” said Nantawan Wangudomsuk, 31, a producer who used to run in the parks.

Across South America’s most populous city of São Paulo, ground zero of Brazil’s brewing coronavirus crisis, notorious traffic queues and smoggy horizons are also giving way to calm streets and clearer skies.

An aerial view of empty street on the first day of lockdown in São Paulo, Brazil. Photograph: Reuters

During weekday rush-hour, downtown São Paulo’s João Goulart elevated highway – nicknamed Minhocão, the Big Worm – normally heaves with traffic as thousands of cars cram four narrow lanes and beeping motorbikes weave through daringly small spaces. But with the city’s coronavirus lockdown, Minhocão now resembles a small-town avenue instead of a major road in a metropolis of 12 million people.

“The air is certainly better,” said Daniel Guth,an urban mobility consultant. “I’ve felt the improvement in air quality both as a cyclist and as a quarantined citizen,” he laughed. “We should use this as a moment to reflect on what transport methods we should prioritise when this crisis is over.

….Despite being under lockdown, many Paulistas, as the city’s residents are known, are still finding ways to enjoy the cleaner air, taking to windows and apartment balconies for nightly pot-banging protests against Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus as just “a little flu”.

 Empty roads in Bogota on 21 March, after quarantine was imposed on the city. Photograph: Raúl Arboleda/AFP via Getty


Bogotá, the sprawling mountaintop capital of Colombia, is also usually choking with traffic so bad that officials occasionally ban cars for entire days. But since the nationwide coronavirus quarantine took hold on 24 March, exhaust fumes have fallen as the city ground to a halt. Yet the newly fresh air has been taunting Bogotá’s residents, who are allowed to leave home only for food and medicines, not even a daily dose of outdoor exercise. “Without a doubt this pandemic is helping us improve air quality,” said Carolina Urrutia, Bogotá’s district environment secretary. “With the city shut down, we are able to focus our efforts on other environmental factors.”

 An avenue in Cali, Colombia, on 1 April. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images Pinterest


Cali, Colombia’s third city and usually a smokey, congested metropolis, has also been spared from the usual forest fires, allowing residents to breathe fresher air. “The thick cloud that usually hangs over us has been lifted,” said Christian Camilo Villa, an air quality activist and Cali resident. “The concern is that it will return when the quarantine ends.”

Indeed, the fear among environmentalists and residents is that, rather than attempting to maintain the low levels of pollution in the world’s biggest capitals, when industry and cars kick back into action post-lockdown, the situation will go back to square one, and perhaps even worsen, as people and industry attempt to make up for the lost months.

The signs from China, which is coming out of the other side of the coronavirus outbreak and where lockdowns are loosening up, are not positive. For the first four weeks after the Chinese new year holiday in late January, when the coronavirus outbreak was at its worst, pollution levels fell 25% across the country. But since early March, levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution have begun to inch back up as the country gets back to work with factories, businesses and power plants re-opening and traffic returning.

Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said: “The big question is whether government stimulus measures lead to pollution levels rebounding above the levels before the crisis, like happened after the 2008 financial crisis.”


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