Pipeline, Mine Work Sites Deemed Essential Services Worry Some Canadians

“Are diamonds and gold really essential services right now?”

Delee Alexis Nikal, of the Wet'suwet'en Gidimt'en clan, listens during a news conference in Vancouver...

Delee Alexis Nikal, of the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en clan, listens during a news conference in Vancouver on Feb. 20, 2020. She said she noticed some people she suspects are pipeline workers not adhering to physical distancing rules in northern B.C  DARRYL DYCK/CANADIAN PRESS

People who live in remote and Indigenous communities across Canada are questioning the classification of industrial projects like mines and pipelines as essential services, especially when it appears the “business as usual” approach goes against advice to physical distance as much as possible during the pandemic.

Delee Nikal, a Wet’suwet’en band member of the Gitdumt’en clan from the Witset First Nation, travelled to Houston, B.C. for a grocery run last weekend. It’s in the Bulkley Valley, population 3,600, close to construction for Coastal GasLink’s liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline project.

She noticed a lot of trucks in a hotel parking lot and was appalled at what she saw.

“There were guys all over there. Some were standing outside, shirtless, drinking beer with each other,” Nikal told HuffPost Canada. Their out-of-province licence plates and heavy-duty gear led her to suspect they were pipeline workers. “It’s scary because they have no connection to us locals — they don’t care.”

Her uncle, Chief Dsta’hyl, whose English name is Adam Gagnon and is a wing chief of Sun House of the Laksamshu Wet’suwet’en clan, wants the pipeline work shut down. He disagrees with authorities defining industrial projects as essential services, a designation determined by provincial and territorial governments.

“They’re committing economic treason,” said Gagnon.

Workers walk past the work camp inside the Morice River access point in Wet’suwet’en territory in the fall of 2019.

In Valemount, about 600 kilometres east of Houston, CN is shipping in over 100 workers next month to complete annual maintenance on its railway tracks, according to “John,” a CN maintenance worker. He requested anonymity due to job security concerns. The influx would increase Valemount’s population of 1,000 by 10 per cent.

“I’m trying to follow protocols as much as I can,” he said. “But it’s business as usual for the big industry players. Physical distancing is impossible to impose in certain working conditions here.”

John said that during morning safety meetings, at least 25 workers are tightly packed into a small space and move through a narrow hallway, often touching shoulders while walking. He can’t keep two metres from his main co-worker because they travel in the same vehicle and eat their meals in it.

“[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and health ministers are telling people to stay home and not touch their face — so how does that work? Because this whole industry world isn’t abiding by the same rules.”

A CN train is pictured in North Vancouver, B.C. on Nov. 20, 2019. An influx of CN workers are expected in Valemount for annual maintenance on its railway tracks.

In such rural areas, temporary workers and locals shop in the same stores, or employees live with others in the community, so the risk of transmission cannot be avoided.

On Monday, officials said seven B.C. workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus after returning from an oilsands project in northern Alberta. In High River, Alta., located south of Calgary with a population of 14,000, there are now 358 confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to an outbreak at the local Cargill meat-packing plant.

John said he’s thought of quitting, but it’s a difficult choice between work and health when he has bills to pay. He said he’s not worried for himself as much as others in the region if there was an outbreak, especially those who are elderly or immuno-compromised.

Nancy Taylor, 70, who lives in the nearby town of Dunster, is avoiding shopping in Valemount for that reason.

“I think it’s a double standard for all of us in the valley to be socially isolating and sticking to the rules and they (industry) can just come and go,” said Taylor, who is statistically less likely to survive if she contracts COVID-19 at her age.

However, rail transportation is critical to keeping supply chains going, and shutting work down isn’t possible, even in a pandemic, said CN media relations manager Jonathan Abecassis.

“CN is an essential part of the many supply chains Canadians rely on to get the goods they need. As an essential service in Canada, this includes completing safety critical work to ensure a safe and efficient rail infrastructure,” he said.

CN’s pandemic plan aligns with the World Health Organization, as well as provincial and federal authorities, Abecassis said. It includes procedures for self-isolation if an employee or someone they live with has symptoms of COVID-19.

“Employees have also been instructed to respect the protocols in place to maintain a safe working environment, including physical distancing requirements especially as they work in small communities across our network,” he said in an email to HuffPost.

Adding further pressure on the small community is the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, slated to start construction in the area soon. It plans to bring in 50 employees to begin assembling a work camp south of Valemount, which will have a capacity of between 600 to 900 people.

A work camp inside the Morice River access point in Wet’suwet’en territory is seen in the fall of 2019. DELEE NIKAL


Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton is calling for federal leaders to step in and shut down all industrial projects amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Are diamonds and gold really essential services right now? No,” she said, referring to mining operations still running in Canada’s North.

Industry work camps tend to be in “northern regions, or adjacent or on Indigenous communities that are extremely vulnerable,” said Ashton, who represents the sprawling riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski.

These are ”regions that are completely unprepared to deal with a minimal spread [of COVID-19], let alone a surge. The idea of leaving it up to the provinces, and worst of all, leaving it up to employers whose obviously number one goal here is continued operations for profit …. is in stark contrast to what we need to be prioritizing right now, which is people’s health.”

 At a press conference earlier this month, N.W.T. MLA Katrina Nokleby noted, “Safety is our number one priority, but next to that is ensuring that our economy remains healthy and people feel secure.” She expressed confidence in measures taken by resource companies and called them “strong corporate citizens.”

Public health officials in N.W.T. have ordered mining, oil and gas companies to screen employees entering the territory, and the firms have enhanced cleaning and added physical distancing measures including segregating southern and northern workers, according to Nokleby.

Dominion Diamond Mines suspended operations at its Ekati site in March to “safeguard its employees” during the pandemic, while the Diavik diamond mine, owned by Rio Tinto, remains open with about 500 people on site.

“Our focus is on the health and safety of our employees and communities, and on keeping our operations running safely so we can continue to contribute to the Northwest Territories economy,” said spokesperson Matthew Klar in a statement to HuffPost. Diavik has changed the frequency of shift roster changes from two weeks to four weeks, and employees from 12 isolated northern communities or who have specific risk factors remain off-site.

In B.C.’s Bulkley Valley, Coastal GasLink is followin guidelines for construction sites and industrial work camps set by the provincial health officer, such as setting a maximum of 50 workers in dining and common areas, and increasing the number of hand-washing stations on work sites.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs from left, Rob Alfred, John Ridsdale, centre and Antoinette Austin, who oppose the Costal GasLink pipeline take part in a rally in Smithers B.C. on Jan. 10, 2020. JASON FRANSON/CANADIAN PRESS


But there’s another layer to the concerns over Coastal GasLink’s LNG pipeline project that has faded during the pandemic: hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs continue to oppose the construction running through their traditional territory.

Solidarity protests and blockades that shut down many of Canada’s transportation corridors in February built momentum, leading to an intense, three-day emergency meeting between government officials, hereditary chiefs and Wet’suwet’en elected leadership.

Then, the pandemic hit.

‘They’re out there killing the land’

Nikal and her fellow “land defenders” were forced to isolate on their home reserves to avoid the coronavirus, which First Nations are particularly vulnerable to.

“This is heartbreaking,” Nikal said, of not being able to protect her ancestors’ lands  currently being “dug up” by construction workers.

“Wet’suwet’en lands are at risk, let alone the people’s health from the coronavirus,” said Kate Gunn of First Peoples Law, who represents Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders. “Many First Nations and Indigenous communities have to divert their internal capacity to keep themselves safe in this pandemic. They can’t send resources out to protect the land right now.”

It’s business as usual on the near $7-billion project slated to carry LNG through northern B.C. to export to Asian markets. This week, Coastal GasLink announced it completed a construction milestone for the first part of the pipeline route.

“They’re out there killing the land. The workers and COVID are a huge threat to us now,” said Nikal. SOURCE

Andrew Scheer Mum On Tory MP Derek Sloan’s Attacks On Dr. Theresa Tam

The Conservative leader said he wouldn’t weigh in because Derek Sloan is running for Tory leader.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer won’t discuss a Tory backbencher’s broadsides against Dr. Theresa Tam, which have been blasted as “race-baiting,” because that member of Parliament is a leadership candidate.

Scheer had some chippy exchanges with reporters in Ottawa Thursday when pressed about an email and video released this week from Ontario MP Derek Sloan, one of four candidates left in the Tory leadership race, targeting Canada’s top doctor.

In an email to supporters Tuesday, Sloan called for Tam to be fired over her advice to the government during the COVID-19 pandemic as the country’s chief public health officer. He accused Tam of prioritizing the World Health Organization, which has faced questions over its data and its relationship to China, “over the health of Canadians.” He charged that the United Nations agency covered up the COVID-19 virus “at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer are shown in a composite of images from The Canadian Press.


Sloan accused Tam, who was born in Hong Kong and has served as an international expert on WHO committees, of “dutifully” repeating China’s “propaganda” by not, among other things, supporting travel bans for travellers arriving from virus hotspots months ago.

“Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer needs to work for Canada. Not for the WHO or any other foreign entity,” Sloan said in the email.

He repeated those accusations in a short clip posted online that sparked backlash, but also brought attention to his long-shot leadership bid. “Does she work for Canada or for China?” he asks, at one point.

Derek Sloan

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, has failed Canadians.

Dr. Tam must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions. The UN, the WHO, and Chinese Communist propaganda must never again have a say over Canada’s public health!https://www.facebook.com/104857681107232/videos/250111502808327/ 

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he fully supports Tam and that “this is not the quality of dialogue Canadians expect from our Parliamentarians to keep Canada safe.

But the outgoing Tory leader refused to say Thursday if he agrees or disagrees with Sloan, a rookie MP first elected in the Ontario riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington this fall.

“As a rule, I don’t comment on leadership candidates or on policy announcements or positions leadership candidates have taken,” Scheer said. “I’ll leave it to each leadership candidate to speak for themselves and explain their views. And ultimately it will be up to members to select the next leader of the party.”

The Liberal government needs to be held accountable for its decisions during the pandemic, he said, including its reluctance to close the border until mid-March.

“I don’t believe that we should allow this government to have a scapegoat, to pin the blame on anybody else,” he said. “These were ministers who chose to ignore some advice and chose to listen to other advice.” SOURCE

B.C. wildfire smoke likely to increase coronavirus death rates, experts warn

Wildfires, which are burning hotter and longer due to climate change, decrease air quality and weaken the body’s immune response, increasing the risk of developing pneumonia

marcus-kauffman unsplash wildfire coronavirus

As B.C.’s wildfire season kicks off, experts are concerned about wildfires converging with COVID-19 and decreasing air quality, making people more vulnerable to the virus. Photo: Marcus Kauffman

As B.C. politicians and public health officials were pleading with people to stay home, more than 120 residents were forced to flee their Squamish Valley homes last week as a wildfire quickly closed in on their community.

It was the first evacuation order of the season.

They returned four days later, but households near the fire remain on evacuation alert. The fire reached 200 hectares, about the size of two football fields, before firefighters gained some control.

As B.C.’s wildfire season kicks off, experts are concerned about wildfires converging with COVID-19 and decreasing air quality, making people more vulnerable to the virus.

The worst COVID-19 cases cause pneumonia, and air pollution increases the risk of pneumonia and the likelihood of the infection becoming fatal, said Michael Bauer, an air quality expert and professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.

Wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation and alter immune function. Pollutants can also degrade cells that help filter air in our respiratory tracks, Bauer explained, which can make one more susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia.

“Air pollution doesn’t cause these infections, but it affects your immune response,” he said.

A nation-wide study in the United States found higher levels of air pollution were associated with higher death rates from COVID-19.

Brauer is concerned COVID-19 has made more people vulnerable to poor air quality.

“If we have a smoke event, we know there’s percentage of our population that’s more likely to be affected,” he said, meaning people with heart disease, lung disease or other pre-existing conditions. “Now that level may be higher because of the pandemic. At the same time, we’ve got a health-care system that’s already strained.”

In 2018, B.C.’s worst fire season on record, doctors saw a dramatic surge in patients with lung issues caused by wildfire smoke.

The B.C. Ministry of Health released new COVID-19 modelling on Friday, but it does not examine the potential effects of smoke on COVID-19 cases. A spokesperson told The Narwhal the ministry is “working closely with other ministries and agencies to monitor the effect wildfire smoke may have on the provincial response to COVID-19.”

The province banned open burning on April 14 to reduce the demands on firefighting resources and to reduce the impact of wildfire smoke on air quality and public health during the pandemic. The B.C. Wildfire Service told The Narwhal it’s predicting a normal wildfire season for April and May. But fires are unpredictable. MORE

There will be floods: risk could double for world’s coastal and river communities by 2030

New report uses flood mapping to identify areas in urgent need of protection from climate change and sinking land as population and development grow


By 2030, coastal and river flooding is forecasted to affect 15 million people worldwide, according to a report by World Resources Institute. Photo: Wade Austin Ellis

Without major investments in flood protection, the number of people affected by coastal and river flooding each year could more than double by 2030, according to an analysis released Thursday by World Resources Institute.

By 2030, coastal flooding is forecasted to affect 15 million people worldwide, while sea level rise and coastal storm surges could cause US$177 billion in urban property damage, according to data from the institute’s updated Aqueduct Floods, a tool that measures and maps flood risks around the world. River flooding, meanwhile, is expected to affect 132 million people each year and cause US$535 billion of property damage in urban areas.

This major increase in risk is driven by climate change, population growth, development in flood-plains and sinking land in coastal areas.

Now, as governments around the world consider measures to reignite struggling economies once the immediate threat of COVID-19 has been reduced, World Resources Institute says investments in flood mitigation infrastructure could serve a dual purpose of getting people back to work and preparing cities for damaging floods in the future.

“It could serve as this really incredible opportunity to protect our societies while investing in them as well,” said Samantha Kuzma, a geospatial analyst with World Resources Institute’s water program.

The importance of flood mitigation measures has become more evident as some communities face the prospect of flooding in the midst of the pandemic.

The updated Aqueduct Floods tool now includes data on coastal flood risk to people, urban property and GDP as well as information on existing flood protection levels at the state level around the world.

That’s “a huge improvement because it really is helping us understand what our current mitigation abilities are in different places,” said Kuzma.

Governments, researchers and the public can use Aqueduct Floods to see how drivers, such as climate change, population growth, development and sinking land, affect both coastal and river flood risk in different regions of the world.

Critically, it also allows users to analyze the costs versus benefits of investing in flood protection, whether that’s new dikes and levees or maintaining forested areas and wetlands that can help absorb water.

“Risk is not just the hazard but it’s how we respond to the hazard, and flood protection is a huge part of that,” Kuzma said.

In Indonesia — where tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes when torrential rains caused major flooding in Jakarta earlier this year — every US$1 invested over the next two decades in flood protection measures to guard against a 25-year flood event, a flood that has a four per cent chance of happening in any given year, by 2050 could avoid US$33 in damage over the course of the next 80 years, protecting millions of people and billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure from the danger of a major flood, according to an Aqueduct Floods analysis.

In India, that cost-benefit ratio is even higher, with every US$1 invested in flood protection in the coming decades offering an estimated US$248 in avoided flood damages.

Meanwhile in Canada, every US$1 spent on flood protection to guard against a 100-year flood, a flood that has a one per cent chance of happening in any given year, by 2050 would avoid US$2.28 in damage over the next 80 years.

The institute’s analysis also forecasts that almost 340,000 people in Canada could be affected every year by river flooding alone as of 2030, up from almost 198,000 in 2010. Roughly 39 per cent of that increased risk is driven by climate change, while 61 per cent is driven by projected population growth and development.

In B.C.’s Fraser River Basin, modelling by researchers at the University of Victoria and the University of Northern British Columbia shows flood risk could increase as a result of more extreme rainfall events under a “business-as-usual” emissions scenario.

Each winter atmospheric rivers, which form over the tropics and carry water vapour across the Pacific Ocean, unleash a torrent of rain when they collide with B.C.’s coastal mountains.

“That’s something we’ve dealt with forever,” said Charles Curry, a research associate with the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria and lead author of a 2019 paper about the impact of atmospheric rivers on future flood risk in the Fraser River Basin.

But as the climate changes, B.C. can expect more intense rainfall from atmospheric rivers in the future, he said. The season for these heavy rainstorms is also expected to expand, with more atmospheric rivers striking in the spring and fall as well as the winter come the second half of the century.

Grand Forks flood

A house in South Ruckle, a Grand Forks, B.C., neighbourhood affected by a 2018 spring flood. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

What that means, said Curry, is that there’s a strong possibility that repeated atmospheric river events in the fall could push river levels as high as they get during the spring melt in years with a high snowpack.

Some cities in the Lower Mainland also have sea level rise to contend with — a prospect that has become even riskier with population growth in coastal areas.

“This is a given that the sea level is rising, we have been measuring that now for decades and if anything, it’s accelerating,” said John Clague, Canada Research Chair in natural hazards research at Simon Fraser University.

“We do have time, it’s not like the COVID virus going through us at a warp speed, this is something that plays out slowly, but it is inevitable,” he said. “We’re going to have to spend money, there’s no doubt about it.”

 Investing in needed improvements to flood protection infrastructure now is “one way to get people back to work,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t stop at the diking system.

There are numerous infrastructure upgrades needed across the country, including for storm water and sewage systems.

The challenge is it takes time to plan these types of projects, he said. “But I think we need to start that anyway. We should start now.” SOURCE

B.C. giving millions to transform rainforest into wood pellets for export, new report documents

The rapidly growing wood pellet export industry claims it offers a renewable energy fuel source for aging coal plants overseas, yet a new investigation warns the little-known biofuel poses an overlooked threat to forests, endangered species habitat and the climate


A clearcut overlooking critical habitat for endangered caribou in the Anzac Valley north of Prince George. Waste from logging operations like this is used to make wood pellets for export. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

“Energy really can grow on trees,” says the website of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.

The association touts wood pellets — manufactured from sawdust, slash piles and low-grade timber from forestry harvest sites — as a way to fight climate change by replacing coal as an energy source.

“Think firewood,” the website explains to anyone curious about the elongated pellets that resemble pet rabbit food in texture and appearance.

But a new investigation claims pellets made by B.C.’s two largest wood pellet companies originate from whole trees as well as sawmill residuals and finds that burning pellets releases more greenhouse gas emissions than coal, blaming faulty carbon accounting for the industry’s climate-friendly veneer.

Some trees used for pellets, including mature Western red cedars, likely come from logging operations in the province’s rare inland temperate rainforest which provides critical habitat for endangered caribou and other at-risk species, according to the investigation by Stand.earth, released Thursday.

“The growth of wood pellet exports in B.C. represent a huge threat to our forests,” Stand.earth forest campaigner Tegan Hansen told The Narwhal.

“We’re selling our forests, under the guise of a renewable energy project, overseas.”

B.C.’s wood pellet industry has grown dramatically over the past decade, fueled by tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from the provincial and federal governments and overseas demand. B.C. is Canada’s leading exporter of wood pellets.

Last November, the B.C. government announced more than $27 million in grants “to help increase the use of wood fibre that would otherwise have been burned as slash.” Slash is a general word for waste wood generated at forestry operations.

Two grants totalling more than $1.5 million went to Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. for operations near Burns Lake and Vernon, a company singled out in the Stand.earth investigation.

The Pinnacle grants were announced one month after B.C. Premier John Horgan joined Pinnacle CEO Robert McCurdy and Fumiaki Miyamoto, president and CEO of Mitsui & Co. Canada, as they signed a contract that will see Pinnacle export 100,000 tonnes of industrial wood pellets to Japan for a fledgling biomass power generation plant.

“Pinnacle is creating a new export opportunity that will generate good jobs in B.C. communities, while transforming wood waste into industrial pellets to provide Japan with clean, renewable electricity,” Horgan stated in a news release. “It’s a win-win.”

wood pellets

B.C. is Canada’s leading exporter of wood pellets, which are shipped overseas to markets predominantly in the U.K. and Japan. Photo: Andrew Writer / Flickr

Mature Western red cedars headed for wood pellet facility

Stand.earth used photos and satellite imagery of trucks, rail cars and log piles to conclude Pinnacle is using whole logs to make pellets at its Meadowbank facility in Strathnavor, 75 kilometres south of Prince George.

Pinnacle is upgrading its Strathnavor facility, along with others in B.C., to increase production capacity — including by investing in more chippers that can process whole logs to reduce reliance on sawmill residuals, the investigation found.

The company’s wood fibre collection area includes the inland temperate rainforest east of Prince George, which provides critical habitat for endangered southern mountain caribou, according to Stand.earth.

The group also zeroed in on Pacific BioEnergy Corporation’s Prince George pellet plant, noting the company has shifted away from sawmill residuals, “due to a decrease in availability, with an increase in grinding and forest harvesting.”

Pacific BioEnergy received almost $2.2 million in B.C. government grants in 2017 and 2018 for “fibre utilization.”

Clear cuts in the Anzac River Valley north of Prince George, British Columbia. These logging operations are taking place in the critical habitat of Hart Ranges southern mountain caribou, which are highly endangered. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

Representatives from the two companies were not available to comment, and the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Land, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development was not able to respond to questions by publication.

Pacific BioEnergy’s fibre supply area also overlaps with caribou habitat and the inland temperate rainforest, where one-third of the province’s wood pellet industry is located, the investigation found.

spruce beetle infestation means wood harvest is secured at “massively discounted” rates, Stand.earth said. Last year, The Narwhal reported that the science-based group Conservation North filmed thousands of spruce logs piled along forest service roads in the interior rainforest and spruce snow forests near Prince George. Three-quarters of the logs examined by the group bore no sign of beetle attack.

On February 14, 2020, Conservation North members took photos of a logging truck carrying large old Western red cedar trees entering Pacific BioEnergy’s facility in Prince George.

Pacific BioEnergy holds several forest licences, including one for 25,000 cubic metres of wood in the inland temperate rainforest, according to the investigation.

“What we had heard from folks in government was that it was primarily sawmill residuals going into wood pellets,” Hansen said.

“But in fact — and especially over the last year or two — it seems there’s been a real shift in the industry. The shift has been towards using more round wood, as the industry likes to say, or whole trees, in their pellet production.”

B.C.'s rare inland temperate rainforest

A grove of ancient cedar trees in B.C.’s rare inland temperate rainforest. Some cedars in this globally unique forest are estimated to be more than 1,500 years old. What little remains of the unprotected rainforest is now slated to be clear-cut. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

Industry supported by massive government subsidies

The majority of B.C.’s wood pellets are sold in the United Kingdom, with Japan a distant second. Pellets are also exported to the U.S., Belgium, South Korea and the Netherlands, although in much smaller quantities.

Gary Bull, head of the forest resource management department in UBC’s forestry faculty, said he’s skeptical of claims made by Stand.earth and has seen “virtually no evidence” of a relationship between wood pellet manufacturing and the destruction of endangered species habitat.

 “The vast majority of material used for wood pellets is either coming from manufacturing — that means residues from pulp mills and sawmills, and they get what’s left over. Or, to a lesser extent, they’re getting it from piles of wood that are traditionally burned because it’s a fire hazard.”

Bull said it can sometimes happen in the wood pellet supply chain that a very small percentage of whole logs are used.

“But I think it gets greatly exaggerated,” said Bull, who works both with ecologists on caribou issues and the wood pellet sector, sitting on a standards committee that is developing a new sustainability definition for the industry. He’s also working with the World Resources Institute helping to set up new guidelines for the bioenergy sector.

“I can tell you, no power utility in Europe wants to see old forests, or forests that are valuable for a whole pile of other things, like biodiversity, utilized in terms of energy production. They are very clear about that.”

Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity in Massachusetts, has been tracking the global wood pellet industry since it was in its infancy one decade ago. She said the fast-growing industry is propped up by multi-billion dollar subsidies in Europe intended to help wean countries off coal.

The Drax power station in North Yorkshire, England, for instance, collects subsidies totalling about one billion dollars a year on the grounds that it is facilitating a transition to renewable energy use.

Drax was the focus of a protest on April 22 organized by the group Biofuelwatch which, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, asked supporters to put images and videos of trees online instead of demonstrating in person, according to a BBC report.

“Burning wood emits more CO2 per unit of energy than burning coal or gas or oil,” Booth, an ecosystem scientist, told The Narwhal.

A loophole in international climate agreements classifies biomass energy as carbon neutral, even if wood pellets are made with waste from logging primary forests such as the inland temperate rainforest.

slash pile and incoming storm in the Anzac River Valley

Slash piles of wood waste are a common site near forestry operations in B.C. Slash piles like this can be burned or transformed into wood fibre for pellets. Burning slash piles and wood pellets both emit carbon into the atmosphere. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

Climate agreements assume carbon is counted on the supply side, not at the smoke stack, and coal plants that convert to burning wood pellets or other biomass do not have to count their emissions.

B.C. doesn’t count many emissions from forestry, leaving a global carbon accounting gap.

“Essentially we have a double miscounting,” Hansen said. “We’re not counting emissions at the stack. We’re really not counting emissions on the land. As a result, the integrity of our ability to meet global climate targets is put in serious jeopardy.”

Booth said it’s hard to pretend that burning trees for fuel has no impact on the climate.

“They’re cutting and burning, literally, millions of tonnes of trees,” she said of the global wood pellet industry. “And they’re not instantly re-growing millions of tonnes of trees which is what it would take to instantaneously offset those emissions. So there is a net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere … ”

Bull said any carbon emissions comparison of wood pellets to coal should include a life-cycle analysis, instead of focusing on emissions at the smoke stack.

“It really all depends on the technology in the utility burning the pellets,” he said, pointing to a state-of-the-art plant in Copenhagen he visited that is burning wood pellets as a substitute for coal.

“There’s not even steam coming out of the smokestack it’s so clean. There’s no particulates, there’s virtually nothing. And that’s because the Danes have embraced very, very good technology for the burn.”

Wood pellet exports ‘masquerading as a climate solution’

Stand.earth is calling on the B.C. government to halt subsidies for wood pellet exports and ensure wood pellet companies do not have access to forest licences or use whole trees for production.

The group is also asking for the loophole in international climate agreements that classifies biomass energy as carbon neutral to be closed.

Hansen said the wood pellet export industry would not be tenable without government subsidies and the widespread belief that it is climate-friendly.

“The viability of this industry is really reliant on masquerading as a climate solution,” she said.

Instead of using public funds to support the expansion of the wood pellet industry, including in primary forests, Hansen said the B.C. government should invest in smaller-scale local milling of second-growth forests. Governments should also subsidize low-carbon energy such as wind, solar and geothermal, along with energy efficiencies, she said.

The organization also wants to see the B.C. government protect primary, carbon-rich and other natural forests — along with endangered species habitat — in collaboration with the federal government and local and Indigenous governments.

“Maintaining older, biodiverse forests draws down carbon levels and helps buffer imperiled ecosystems against the impacts of climate change,” the group said in its report, which also noted protection of intact forests makes nearby communities more resilient to climate change impacts such as drought, floods and wildfire.

Indigenous communities are at the forefront of the community-based use of biomass energy for local heat and power needs, Stand.earth noted, pointing to the Teslin Tlingit Council’s biomass initiative in Yukon as a positive example of a project with built-in land management practices.

The group says only small-scale biomass projects should be developed, using verified wood waste and in collaboration with Indigenous governments, to support community-driven projects designed to meet local heat and power needs.

“There’s a lack of understanding of how much impact this industry has on forests. We think it’s really important that we start having these discussions now,” Hansen said.

“Unfortunately this industry, if we’re to meet our global climate goals, really has a limited shelf life.”

Alberta learns its Crown investment corporation just lost $4 billion on a bad bet

Premier Jason Kenney on giving a speech on March 17, 2020. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Albertans reeling from the shock of a week that’s included oil prices so low you have to pay people to haul the stuff away and a mishandled COVID-19 outbreak at a slaughterhouse south of Calgary that sent infection rates soaring were rattled again yesterday by news the province’s Crown-owned money-management corporation had somehow managed to lose $4-billion.

Not that the previous 52 weeks have been much better, but if the first week of Jason Kenney’s second year as premier highlights anything about his United Conservative Party government, it’s that it’s not just remarkably incompetent, it’s remarkably unlucky too!

In a bombshell scoop, The Globe and Mail revealed Tuesday that the Alberta Investment Management Corp., which is supposed to manage $119 billion for the province’s public sector pension funds and about $18 billion that’s left in the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, was out more than $4 billion “on what clients are calling a wrong-way bet against sharp swings in stock prices.”

Most Albertans woke up to the news yesterday. The bad trade wiped out all of the value generated by AIMCo in the previous five years, noted Opposition leader Rachel Notley, who experienced some tough breaks herself during her four years as Alberta’s NDP premier. The loss was the equivalent, as the Globe’s reporters noted, to more than a third of AIMCo’s 2019 investment income.

I won’t belabour the details of the Globe’s story. You can read it yourself. Suffice it to say Kenney’s spinmeisters have half a point when they complain people like Notley shouldn’t be blaming the government for AIMCo’s troubles because the corporation is supposed to operate at arm’s length.

That’s where the bad luck comes in.

Of course, no Crown corporation is ever truly at arm’s length from government, even without a control-freak like Kenney at the helm.

But AIMCo was already in the middle of a nasty controversy owing to the UCP’s determination to make it illegal for reluctant public pension plan boards ever to drop the company as their investment agency, whether they like it or not, and indicators the government might try to dip into AIMCo funds to prop up the province’s languishing fossil fuel sector.

The Globe’s reporters noted that the Local Authorities Pension Plan, Alberta’s largest public sector pension, “has flagged poor performance as a problem for many years, noting in its most recent report that ‘AIMCo has been short of LAPP’s value-added expectations for 46 consecutive quarters, or 11 years and six months.'”

Particularly controversial was the UCP’s recent decision to force the assets of the well-managed Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund into AIMCo’s coffers, a policy many teachers view as tantamount to outright theft of their retirement savings.

Yesterday, the teachers’ union was back at it, pressing the government to repeal the bill that will transfer the ATRF’s funds to AIMCo next year. “Teachers invest their own money into their pension plan,” said Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling.  “Teachers were not consulted on the takeover and this story further validates our concerns. I am calling on the Government of Alberta to finally listen to teachers and stop the takeover by repealing Bill 22.”

But at yesterday’s daily COVID-19 briefing, which Kenney government officials regularly hijack to make unrelated announcements, a crabby Premier Kenney made it clear to reporters’ he has no intention of doing that.

That’s where the incompetence comes in.

This isn’t the end of the story, either. Last night, Progress Alberta, which often acts as a thorn in the UCP government’s side, published a report revealing every publicly traded oil and gas company AIMCo has invested in since it got an invest-local directive in 2015 — “more than $1.1 billion dollars over the past three and half years” — has seen its share price fall.

“AIMCo has been engaging in this bailout of Alberta’s oil and gas industry for several years, losing tens of millions in the process,” said Progress Alberta executive director Duncan Kinney. “The answer is not to keep trying to prop up Alberta’s oil and gas industry with huge sums of money, but to fund a transition so these companies can adapt and function in a low carbon economy.”

As for a $4-billion loss by a money-management company, no matter how well intentioned, that would be a firing offence most places. This is true even if, as AIMCo’s spokesperson insisted to the Globe, no internal or external rules were broken.

One would think that would apply to the chief executive as well as the employee who made the decision. Whether that’s true for chief executive Kevin Uebelein, hired in 2015, or any member of his executive team, remains to be seen. I do note with interest, however, that AIMCo is seeking a new “results focused” market risk analyst.

Ability to validate historical market data and test backfill methodologies where needed are said to be assets. I’m not sure what backfill methodology is, but it sounds like it might be handy about now!

The anniversary of Kenney’s historic election victory was one week ago today. Are you ready for 155 more weeks of this stuff? SOURCE

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

United Nations calls for the protection of frontline climate defenders

The Security Council chamber from the vantage point of the president of the council. Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr

Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr​

This past week, Michel Forst, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, co-authored an article that highlights that “the everyday guardians of our planet” face risks when they “protect lands, forests and water sources” from “corporate or state abuse and unsustainable exploitation.”

He explained, “By protecting such resources for the common good, they find themselves directly in the way of others who want to profit from these natural resources.”

Forst then lamented, “More than three people were murdered each week in 2019 for defending their land and environment. Countless more were attacked or threatened.”

The numbers are staggering. According to a report by Front Line Defenders, 304 human rights defenders were killed in 2019. Overall, 40 per cent of those killed worked on land, Indigenous peoples and environmental rights.

This reality was reflected in an address to the Human Rights Council last year when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated, “We must better protect those who defend the environment.”

Bachelet further commented, “Environmental defenders — including those who defend indigenous peoples’ right to land — engage in great service to their countries, and indeed humanity.”

Just months after Bachelet made that statement, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was “disturbed by forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials against indigenous peoples who peacefully oppose large-scale development projects on their traditional territories.”

That UN committee then called on Canada “to immediately halt the construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en people, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.”

It also said that construction on the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline and the Site C hydroelectric dam should be suspended.

Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution last March that “stresses that human rights defenders … must be ensured a safe and enabling environment … in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement [reached at the COP21 climate summit in December 2015].”

And now, just days ago, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted, “The impact of the coronavirus is both immediate and dreadful. But, there is another deep emergency — the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis. Biodiversity is in steep decline. Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return.”

Guterres then listed “six climate-related actions to shape the recovery and the work ahead” including his recommendation that, “Fossil fuel subsidies must end and polluters must start paying for their pollution.”

Peace Brigades International-Canada is mobilizing people through this urgent action to send emails that echo these demands to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A public statement and tangible action might just help the Trudeau government achieve something it has spent at least $1.5 million on since 2016.

Less than three weeks ago, the Canadian Press reported that Canada’s campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote for the seat that the Trudeau government is seeking will be held in June, most likely via video conference.

Now would be an ideal time for the Canadian government to recognize climate change as a threat to human rights, commit to deeper emission-reduction targets, and support strategies to better protect at-risk human rights defenders both at home and abroad.


Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. 

Emergency Student Benefit gets a failing grade – just make the CERB universal

Student-specific CESB brings bureaucratic headaches, inefficient splintering of support programs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here during his daily press conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on April 19, announced initiatives Wednesday to help support students during what’s expected to be a summer with scarce employment prospects. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new benefit plan Wednesday for students who face summer job precarity given the COVID-19 pandemic. While the gesture is appreciated, this benefit is simply not good enough.

Post-secondary students — who are scheduled to finish term next week — are confronted with few summer employment prospects. Businesses remain closed and jobs in sectors that typically hire summer students, such as the service industry, continue to dwindle.

“For a lot of students, the month of May normally marks the start of a summer job. But right now it might be really tough to find something. You may have been looking for weeks without any success,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

Students who were not yet employed before the pandemic outbreak, and who therefore had not technically lost a job due to COVID-19, did not qualify for the federal government’s previously announced Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) financial support package. This left students across the country anxious about how they’d be able to pay rent and bills over the coming months — let alone the thousands of dollars in tuition that will be due in September.

More than 44,500 students have expressed concern on a Change.org petition. An open letter to Trudeau sent April 15 on behalf of dozens of Canadian student associations called on the federal government to make sure students did not fall between the cracks.

On Wednesday, Trudeau announced a series of responses to attend to this predicament, including changes to student grants and loans. Notably, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) provides $1,250 per month for the next four months to eligible students.

While it addresses some of the concerns, this benefit is not particularly well thought out.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains what jobs will be available for students through the programs he announced today. 0:23

First, the Prime Minister did not justify why students deserve $750 less per month than those who qualify for the CERB.

The cost of living for students does not differ drastically from that of the average population. While some students may receive help from their parents, many live independently and have to pay all the same expenses, such as rent, groceries, and phone bills.

Moreover, students are due to receive their annual tuition invoice — which averages nearly $6,500 — in September. Add to that the costs of things like books, school materials and housing, and the $5,000 the federal government has pledged for the following four months does not measure up for students who won’t be able to find jobs this summer.

Second, while students can be eligible for the CESB even if they earn up to $1,000 per month, the benefit is still insufficient.

The $1,000 monthly CESB earnings cap echoes the new rules Trudeau announced in order for the CERB to support part-time workers, and although this measure is welcome, it is not suitable in the student context. The combined potential maximum of $2,250 per month still barely addresses the expenses that students face, and capping earnings at $1,000 per month can disincentivize people from seeking full-time, higher-earning work.

Accordingly, either the benefit or the earning cap should be raised to $2,000 per month.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough goes over the types of jobs she hopes the government can line up for students this summer. 0:40

However, even fine-tuning student benefit would simply reproduce the same issues we’ve seen with the CERB, namely inefficient splintering, bureaucratic headaches, and, most importantly, the fact that so many people in need remain left behind.

A more principled approach would be to establish a universal basic income (UBI).

Indeed, a $2,000 monthly UBI would not only be the simplest option, but the most equitable. While some Canadians may not be in need of a stimulus cheque, any UBI overpayments could be recovered next tax season. And for those living in poverty, $2,000 a month could be a life-changing amount of money.

The Canada Emergency Student Benefit is a move in the right direction, but the federal government needs to do better. Make the CERB universal. SOURCE

Zoë Christmas, a law student and research assistant at McGill University in Montreal. 



Why Naomi Klein Is Optimistic About America’s Future as It Faces Collapse Due to the Coronavirus

Naomi Klein, who literally wrote the book on transformations that take place under the cover of crisis, explains how the coronavirus is different from past disasters

Author Naomi Klein. Carsten Koall / Getty Images

“This is a moment that’s going to require a huge amount of courage,” says Naomi Klein. According to the American thinker and writer, one of the most influential of the past few decades, “There’s no going back to normal. We have to mistrust anyone playing the role of the strongman, particularly the leaders who left our societies so vulnerable in the first place. They are the last people that should be given added powers in the name of protecting us, because they’ve actually failed us, profoundly and murderously.

“We’re only in the middle of this crisis, but I think this could be a very radicalizing experience. The work required is of reconstruction and reimagination – we can’t go back to where we were before this crisis hit.”

“I’ve spent two decades studying the transformations that take place under the cover of disaster,” Klein wrote recently in The Intercept. “I’ve learned that one thing we can count on is this: During moments of cataclysmic change, the previously unthinkable suddenly becomes reality. In recent decades, that change has mainly been for the worst – but this has not always been the case. And it need not continue to be in the future.”

Klein, one of capitalism’s fiercest critics, will turn 50 next month. A little more than two decades have gone by since the appearance of her first book “No Logo,” which assailed corporate culture and became a cornerstone of the anti-globalization movement. In 2007, she published “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” which further consolidated her status as a social thinker of the first rank. (The New Yorker, for example, declared her at the time to be the left’s most influential woman.)

Klein argues in that book that since the 1970s politicians and profiteers have operated together to exploit periods of crisis, bolster their power and enrich themselves at the expense of the general public. They identified opportunities in natural disasters and in such human actions as wars and coups, in addition to economic crises.

During the course of the book, she presents various examples of the shock doctrine. It’s a long list, which begins with a first appearance of the doctrine in the Chile of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s, continues with its influence on Thatcherism in the United Kingdom and Reaganism in the United States, along with its use during the crisis that faced the economies of the Asian Tigers in the 1990s. During that same decade, it was also employed in response to the crises that faced China, South Africa and Russia – which underwent a process of total privatization, thus creating the class of new oligarchs in the post-Soviet state.

Klein is a Canadian Jew whose hippie parents headed north from the United States in protest, during the Vietnam War. She started out as a journalist, but in time became one of the outstanding theoreticians in her field, although she never finished her B.A. In the middle of a three-year appointment at Rutgers University as a professor of “media, culture and feminist studies,” she lives in New Jersey with her husband, Avi Lewis, a documentary filmmaker and a former presenter on Al Jazeera, and their 7-year-old son, Toma. SOURCE

Snow-white coral of once-vibrant Great Barrier Reef a sign urgent action must be taken

Plan for net-zero emissions combined with a new diplomatic effort is Australia’s best chance at saving reef for future generations

The news is overwhelming and exhausting in a way it has rarely been in most of our lifetimes, but if you have five minutes of energy left this is worth your attention. That it hasn’t been reported in most of Australia’s major news outlets doesn’t make that any less the case.

Across nine days last month, Prof Terry Hughes from James Cook University travelled the length of the Great Barrier Reef in a small plane to survey the health of more than 1,000 individual sites. He was joined by an observer from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, a government agency.

Hughes has been here before. It was his work in 2016 and 2017 that told us there had been back-to-back mass bleaching events that ultimately killed an estimated 49% of shallow water corals.

His technique sounds uncomplicated, but it relies on sharp observational skills honed over decades. Reefs are filmed, assessed and scored. If 60% of coral on a reef has been drained of its colour it is considered severely bleached. Where possible, the assessments are checked and confirmed in the water.

Hughes this week released maps that show 25% of reefs falling into this category, with another 35% having recorded modest bleaching. The marine park authority has confirmed it is the third mass bleaching event to hit the global landmark in just five years. It is the most widespread and second most severe episode of its type on record.

Crucially, areas that previously escaped bleaching at the southern end, particularly those near or below Mackay, have been badly hit. The affected reefs include those around the Keppel group of islands, where Pauline Hanson was filmed diving in 2016 as she denied bleaching was a significant problem. Hughes says the coral there is now “snow white”.

Unprecedented is a word that gets thrown around so often now that it has lost meaning but it is a clear understatement when describing what has happened here.

Look at it this way: when the Australian government last reported to the Unesco world heritage centre on the health of the reef back in 2015 – a moment that led to an extended diplomatic dance by the Coalition government to avoid it being labelled world heritage “in danger” – there had been only two mass bleaching events in observed history, and none since 2002.

Since then, the reef has bleached more years than not. The two most recent events have been in both years when there was no El Niño, the climate cycle in the Pacific that inflates water temperatures.

It suggests the underlying global heating is now at a level that an extended spell of warm weather is enough to leave the reef stricken. Next summer is considered a reasonable chance to bring another El Niño on top of that.

Hughes took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his heartbreak at again seeing the natural monument he has dedicated his life to studying irrevocably hurt, and raise doubts whether he would make the trip again.

Terry Hughes@ProfTerryHughes

I’m not sure I have the fortitude to do this again. It’s heartbreaking to see the decline so fast.

View image on Twitter
But the most striking commentary on the reef came from David Wachenfeld, the marine park authority’s chief scientist. It is rare for public officials to speak their minds in ways that may be uncomfortable for their elected overlords but, in an interview with my colleague Graham Readfearn, Wachenfeld set out the reef’s plight in clear, blunt language.

He described the bleaching as a clear signal the reef was calling for urgent help, warned the resilience of the reef was not limitless and said it would require the “strongest action possible” on climate change to save it given the planet is headed for 3C heating – a level at which science tells us coral reefs can’t be protected.

That science was summarised by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported a majority of tropical coral reefs would disappear if heating was limited to 1.5C, and would be “at very high risk” at just 1.2C. The globe has already warmed about 1C since the industrial revolution.

The government’s language did not match Wachenfeld’s urgency. The environment minister, Sussan Ley, acknowledged mass bleaching was “deeply concerning” and the importance of coordinated global action to cut emissions but said the focus had to be on programs to reduce the pressure on the reef and strengthen its resilience.

It echoed Scott Morrison’s eventual response to the summer bushfires: conceding the role played by rising emissions but quickly emphasising adaptation over Australia doing more to tackle the problem at its source.

There is another potential path, of course. Written down, it couldn’t sound simpler. It is true that Australia cannot address the climate crisis on its own but it is the world’s 14th biggest emitter and, as Morrison pointed out after he joined a G20 video conference to discuss coronavirus, can be influential in global debates.

A growing number of analysts and policy experts, including ClimateWorks Australia and Ross Garnaut, have suggested in detail that the country could set a jobs-friendly and economically sound course to net-zero emissions. The stimulus program that will be needed to recover from the pandemic offers a one-shot opportunity to speed up a clean transition.

This combination of action at home combined with a new diplomatic effort would give Australia the best chance at saving the reef. At a minimum, Australia’s new role as a climate hawk would point to a future in which the country embraced what will be an inevitable shift to a low-emissions world, rather than be dragged to it. And the prime minister, in his new collaborative mode, could have influenced others on the way.

Unlikely, perhaps. Some would say impossible. But these are unlikely, impossible times. SOURCE

Adam Morton is Guardian Australia’s environment editor