What you need to know about the new climate change report

Some questions from our readers are answered

In June 2013, a massive storm dumped record amounts of rain on southern Alberta, leading to devastating flooding in Calgary and nearby communities. According to a new report, Canada will see an increase in precipitation across the country though summer rainfall may decrease. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

On Monday, a report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada called Canada’s Changing Climate Report said that, on average, Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

Among some of the other findings were:

      • Northern Canada is warming at more than three times the global average.
      • Precipitation is expected to increase across the country though summer rainfall may decrease.
      • Oceans around the country have warmed, becoming more acidic.
      • The warming climate will make extreme hot temperatures more frequent and more intense.

But readers had some lingering questions.

Why did they only use data from 1948?

It might seem strange that the report only referenced data from 1948, since we know that cities have data that go further back. It’s not some way of manipulating the data, but rather it is the time at which national records were kept on a consistent basis.

“It’s a question of the availability of datasets, and Environment Canada’s datasets are quite poor,” said Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario. “What they look for is continuous record-keeping in the same place over a long period of time, and we don’t have a lot of that.”

Is Canada changing the Arctic?

The effects seen across the Arctic, including shrinking sea ice and and less snow cover, are having a dire effect on global temperatures. Sea ice and snow cover are used to reflect the sun’s radiation back into space, but with more of the dark waters of the ocean exposed, that radiation is absorbed and causes heating and creates what is called a “positive feedback loop.”

Saxe, whose office was shut down by the Ontario government on Monday, said that there are two things to consider when considering what is causing the rapidly melting ice.

An increase of carbon dioxide may be the biggest problem, she says, but it’s the short-term climate forces that need attention.

“The use of diesel in the North in snowy areas has an extraordinary effect at melting snow because it lets out these little soot particles that absorb heat into the air and darkens the snow.”

Saxe says that some solutions would be including filters on vehicles that use diesel and changing out wood stoves.

“The greenhouse gas is the biggest problem, but the short-term climate forces are faster, and we could actually fix them easily.”

How did the report acquire the data?

The report gathered data from existing peer-reviewed studies. It also used model projections that may have not been peer-reviewed. However, all chapters of the report itself were peer-reviewed.

The report also acknowledged that Indigenous observations and knowledge play an important role in understanding climate change and “the ability of human and natural systems to adapt.”

The Arctic ice is melting. Does that mean Antarctic ice is growing?

The Arctic and Antarctic are two different beasts. While the Arctic exists as mostly sea ice, the Antarctic is a landmass that includes sea ice as well as glaciers. The ocean processes that drive them are different as well, and Antarctica has glaciers, an ice sheet and sea ice in the mix.

The signal is loud and clear in the Arctic: sea ice is not only melting, but it’s thinning, which in turn makes it more susceptible to further melt.

In Antarctica, the signal isn’t so clear. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet — which sits atop the Antarctic landmass — is fairly stable. And while West Antarctica is colder, the warming is much higher in the region, which in turn is causing warmer ocean water to thin the ice.

This data image illustrates warming across Antarctica. Red represents areas where temperatures, measured in degrees Celsius per decade, have increased the most during the last 50 years, while dark blue represents areas with a lesser degree of warming. West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, the craggy finger of land jutting out from the continent on the left, have experienced the most warming. (NASA/GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio)

 

A new study published in January suggested that Antarctic ice is melting six times faster than it did in the 1980s.

So while the Arctic is seeing the most dramatic effect of climate change, the Antarctic is also seeing its own effects, though at a somewhat slower pace. And that’s good news since if the entire Antarctic ice sheet melted, it would raise sea level by 57 metres.

Is this new?

“No,” said Saxe. “I didn’t see anything new in this report. However, I’m glad this is getting people’s attention.”

Saxe notes that when you look at the climate data available for Toronto, which goes back to 1841, it shows the city has warmed to almost three times the global average. This is data that was already available.

As well, it was already understood that humans are the main drivers of climate change, though there are natural forces at work. However, the natural forces cannot account for the rapid change we are observing.

Normal can’t come back. We’ve locked in a huge amount of change that is still going to come our way.– Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario

While people may want a return to normal, Saxe said, that’s not going to happen.

“Normal can’t come back,” she said. “We’ve locked in a huge amount of change that is still going to come our way.” SOURCE


 

Nicole Mortillaro, Senior Reporter, Science
Nicole has an avid interest in all things science. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books.

Pandemic and politics: centring the grassroots May 5 @ 7:30 p.m. EST

“We need fearless pundits like Karl who don’t soft-peddle. In this not-so-brave new corporate media world, we need activist political reporting and alternative voices on the Hill.” ~Antonia Zerbisias, journalist & writer

rabble.ca’s politics webinars share stories and insights of interest to progressive communities. And we’d like to invite you to join our next one.

On May 5 at 7:30 p.m. EST, our next discussion will continue to take on the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting the issues in the food chain and food security as well as how the pandemic affects racialized and Indigenous communities in a disproportionate way. We also received so many of your insightful questions and perspectives during our last event, and we will do our best to address some of these in this coming webinar.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Eating in the time of COVID: ditch the canned ravioli for fresh, local food

The Ontario Greenbelt is the source for a significant amount of our fresh fruit and vegetables.

Eating nutritious food can be a challenge at the best of times.

Now, between lineups outside stores, items missing from our pickup orders and advice that we only shop for groceries every other week to improve social distancing, it’s tempting to chuck it all and live on canned ravioli and instant noodles. Especially if you’re an essential worker and/or struggling with home-schooling responsibilities on top of it all.

Still, it’s impossible not to rethink our relationship with food right now, given that “convenience food” is a concept that belongs to the before times. So, for those of us who have the luxury of a little extra time and the physical space to cook, maybe now we should consider changing our long-term relationship to food — both in terms of what we do with it and how we get it.

“When we started hearing about panic shopping, I immediately started wondering whether people were buying bags of dried beans and lentils, or if they were buying packaged things that could be reheated,” says Joshna Maharaj, chef, activist and author of the forthcoming book “Take Back the Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools and Other Institutions.”

“I think the flurry of Instagram cooking posts that we’ve seen since the beginning of this says that it’s probably both.”

Maharaj has been trying to get more fresh, local and nutritious food on people’s plates for most of her career. An important piece of her puzzle has been trying to get people to connect with Ontario’s Greenbelt, where a significant portion of the province’s food comes from. Those who have established relationships, she says, are weathering the storm better.

“The big national grocery stores are the ones with the barren shelves, but Fiesta Farms did not have that same problem,” she points out, referring to the independent grocery store on Christie Street just north of Bloor. “The smaller, family-run businesses did not have as disastrous shortages or lineups that we saw everywhere, which shows how our grassroots, farm-related local infrastructure was able to come up with a solution to meet our needs.”

Maharaj thinks Fiesta Farms is a great model for us to look to in the future since it’s always had close ties to both the community it serves and Ontario producers. Not all neighbourhoods have a grocery store quite as central to its neighbourhood as Fiesta, but most areas in Toronto are served by independent alternatives.

Lineups are also reportedly limited most times of the week at both Chinatown shops and the St. Lawrence Market, so thinking outside the big box stores is a good first step in the journey to accessing more fresh food.

Shoppers at St. Lawrence Market, which has been marked off with caution tape to discourage patrons from sitting.

Smaller boxes, on the other hand, such as ones full of organic local produce delivered to your door, are a great idea. Healthy eating isn’t complicated, in fact. We need to cut out ultra-processed foods, reduce sugar and refined carbs, up our fibre and eat more leafy greens. Luckily for us, the Greenbelt grows over a third of Ontario’s spinach, Chinese cabbage and nearly half of our cauliflower, making it easy to eat better.

Sure, delivery services such as Fresh City Farms and Plan B Organic Farms are currently wait-listing new customers (pandemic-related increased demand) but, if you think about it, you’re going to want to eat better in a post-COVID world, so may as well get on the list.

Plus the wait list might move quickly, given that the vast majority of Ontario producers are trying to step up their direct-to-consumer model. As well, new virtual farmers’ markets like Kendal Hills Farm and 100KM Farms are starting to pop up, along with delivery services connecting consumers with farmers, such as Real Food for Real Kids.

“You know, this is a rapidly evolving situation, so it’s a bit hard to keep tabs on what everyone’s doing, but certainly people are moving toward creative offerings and being able to connect with consumers,” says Ed McDonnell, chief executive officer of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and Greenbelt Fund. “For years we’ve seen that farmers and food producers in Ontario have this incredible creativity and they’re deploying that in this challenging circumstance.”

Even though the Greenbelt enjoys pretty solid support from the public as a rule, the role it plays in feeding cities has become even more clear in this public health crisis: “It’s certainly shining a light on the whole issue of food security and emphasizes the importance of where food is coming from,” he says.

I asked McDonnell if there’s anything we can do as consumers, aside from dropping the big box stores, getting on wait lists and seeking out virtual farmers’ markets. His answer is pretty close to the one Maharaj gave me: buy local.

“Whether it’s purchasing local flowers, or the grape growers and local wine options, it’s important to support local to the extent where people are economically able,” he says. “They are very challenged right now, so think about who your local producers are and try to find ways to support them if you can.”

After that, all we have to do is learn to cook. Maharaj talks about a revolution to reform the way we grow, shop and eat, and hopes that one positive to come out of this crisis will be more nutritious food.

Eaters of the world unite and shop local — you have only your canned ravioli to lose. SOURCE

As cities fight COVID-19, could climate action take a back seat?

As a result of COVID-19-related lockdowns, many cities right now look like a shadow of their former selves, with shuttered storefronts, fewer cars and just less bustle in general.

Reduced economic activity has led to decreases in carbon emissions and air pollution, but urban planners worry that as some regions of the world slowly begin to ease restrictions, some of the measures used to maintain physical distance in the short and long term could actually set back climate action.

“What we have to be particularly vigilant about is that we not think we’re making ourselves more safe from pandemics by making ourselves more vulnerable to climate change,” said Brent Toderian, a former city planner for Vancouver who now runs an urban design consultancy. “And it’s entirely possible that that will happen.”

To take one example, urban planners and environmentalists have long touted public transit as the most efficient and sustainable way to move people through cities. But across the globe, transit use has been down — the result of more people working from home as well as an aversion to crowds during a pandemic.

There is evidence that people are opting for the relative safety of automobiles, a major source of carbon emissions. In Wuhan, China, the starting point of the novel coronavirus outbreak, car sales have surged since the country eased lockdown restrictions. In fact, to help its struggling auto industry, the Chinese government is considering easing emissions standards and giving citizens cash incentives to buy new vehicles.

“Cars may be safer in terms of viral spread, but they are not safer in terms of accidents and the other health consequences of car use and car dependency related to pollution,” said Toderian, who noted that climate change has been a factor in amplifying the spread of infectious diseases.

“If we think we’re making ourselves safer by driving more, the opposite is true, and we’re heading down a dark path … because we may be putting our foot on the gas towards more and worse pandemics.”

Rachel MacCleery, senior vice-president at the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute, said that as scientists try to better understand the transmission of the novel coronavirus, “there will be an understandable desire for people to socially distance in their cars.”

There are signs amid the pandemic that some cities are trying to keep car use in check. Milan, Italy, for example, recently announced a plan to transform 35 kilometres of streets to expand cycling and walking space.

But MacCleery worries that given the economic pain of the shutdowns, municipalities might shy away from investments in public transit, which is vital to the concept of “smart density” — that is, the idea of maximizing land use (from transportation to housing) in a sustainable way.

This is obviously a challenge at a time of physical distancing. Faced with the prospect of close interactions in transit terminals and condominiums, for example, some people might opt for suburban areas, said Ahsan Habib, director of the school of planning at Dalhousie University.

This could encourage more sprawl. “There might be some tendency for people to live in a more scattered fashion, which [urban planners] have been discouraging for a long time,” he said.

MacCleery said that although the pandemic “is an immediate threat,” climate change “is an ever-present threat on the horizon, and we have to make sure our response to the pandemic doesn’t work against efforts to fight climate change.” SOURCE


Andre Mayer

Gardening guru explains how to regrow veggies from scraps

Green onions, carrots, lettuce, celery and herbs can all be regrown indoors at home

Barbara Gregory, who lives in Breton, Alta., learned how to regrow romaine lettuce from her daughter. (Barbara Gregory)

Thinking of picking up gardening during the COVID-19 pandemic, but don’t want to make a trip to the greenhouse?

With a little water and kitchen scraps, you can regrow many of your favourite vegetables at home.

Horticulturist and former greenhouse owner Jim Hole explained how to do it on CBC’s Radio Active on Friday.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are the easiest vegetables to regrow?

A: Green onions are pretty easy to regrow. You can also do bulb onions, of course, but there’s lettuce, like romaine lettuce, beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and even to a certain extent, cabbage. I think we kind of forget that when we buy many of these plants in the grocery store, they’re still alive. They’re not dead! They’ve been harvested from a field or from maybe a greenhouse and, given the right conditions, they can start to grow again.

Green onions grow quickly after being placed in a container of water. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

 

Q: Is there anything that we can’t grow this way?

A: String beans and some peas. They contain seeds but they’re not going to reproduce. Tomatoes: the same idea. You can collect the seed and grow it. The key thing is the growing points on the plant — and what I mean by that is, inside the tissue of many of these common vegetables are growing points, or little tiny cells that are ready to send out shoots and leaves.

A good example is your lawn: What happens to your lawn after you cut it? It regrows because the growing point is down below, just above the soil. The same kind of principle applies to many of these vegetables you can grow from bits. As long as you have those growing points, you can generate a new plant.

Q: It’s still too early to get in the garden, so how do we best do this inside our homes?

A: What’s kind of exciting is to put these pieces with growing points into some water. Stick them into a container with regular tap water. You don’t want to just drop the entire bit into the water. You want to have the base that can draw the water up through the vascular tissue and to the bud on the plant and then quite quickly, you’re going to see some little sprouts and shoots coming up and then leaves developing.

They grow more quickly the warmer the temperature, but it really doesn’t take that long before you see some development and then you could transfer it into some potting soil later on. The plants are going to be more successful there. But again, you can start them in the water. It’s kind of cool just to watch these things popping out.

Tina Daniel’s first attempt regrowing celery at home is succeeding. (Tina Daniel)

 

Q: How much light do these need?

A: Let’s face it, the plants need light. As the leafy tissue develops, you don’t want to stick it in blazing hot sunlight because the plants are going to burn. You do want to get it into bright conditions. If you don’t do that, you can still get some development, but you get this long, stretchy and weak tissue.

Q: How can you regrow a carrot?

A: Simple. Look at the top or the crown of the plant. The crown is a transition between that tapered root and the foliage. The crown contains the growing points that I talked about. If you simply cut the maybe a half a centimetre off the top of the carrot and put that into the water, that water will move up to the vascular tissue of the little crown and a little bit of that tap root system and it will start to hydrate the growing point. Then you’ll start to see the development of the foliage.

Now keep in mind, you’re not going to get a tapered root from this, but you are going to develop the foliage, which actually is really nice to use in a variety of dishes.

Barbara Gregory regrows potatoes in her home in central Alberta. (Barbara Gregory)

 

The same thing applies to other plants. You could do the same using similar technique with, say, celery, or some other plants, even the crown of beets.

If you look at something like celery, the growing points are just above where that cut end is in the tissue. You’ll see that growth being generated nicely.

Q: What about potatoes?

A: If you want to have a little bit of fun, cut out a little chunk of the tissue, with the eye, and start it the same way.

One caution is that if you do get the potatoes from a store, sometimes they’re treated with a sprout inhibitor to prevent the sprouts from coming out. If you store potatoes and you are baking the potatoes, just try cutting an eye and starting a potato that way.

Keep in mind, if you ever do have a potato down in your basement that you’ve stored over the winter and it’s got those little white shoots coming up, you don’t want to eat those. Those are poisonous. Don’t do that!

Inspired by a greenhouse in the International Space Station, Jay Bigam started his own indoors, with lettuce and kale. (Jay Bigam)

 

Q: What about herbs?

A: Well now you’re kind of into a different realm. You do have the growing points on the plant; they’re on the stem tissue. Really what you’re doing is taking a cutting. This is something that growers in greenhouses or people at home do. You take a cutting off the plant. Stick it into some water and you’ll see roots generating at the base of that cutting. Then you transplant it to a potting mixture and boom — you’ve got a plant starting out.

Just a word of caution: typically with the herbs, you want to have more of a tender cutting. If it’s really woody, it just takes a long time to develop and sometimes you have failure with that. When the tissue’s a bit softer, typically it roots much better.

With all of this stuff, you don’t have to have 100 per cent success. If you get half of them making it, great! If you put 20 in and you get five, great! You’ve got five new plants you can get going again. SOURCE

Will the new North American trade agreement be enforced?

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and a N95 respirator mask made by 3M. The company is facing increased demand for the popular masks from countries around the world. GETTY IMAGES

Toronto – April 28, 2020 – Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump asked 3M to stop shipping N95 masks to Canada and other countries out of fear that the United States might experience a shortfall in the personal protective equipment. The company pushed back, and an agreement was reached to continue exports of the masks. But Trump’s request caused many Canadians to question whether his administration is willing to uphold the basic principles and agreements that sustain our trade relationship with the U.S.

The day after Trump made the N95 request, the Government of Canada notified the U.S. and Mexico that it had completed its domestic ratification process for the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) – the trade agreement that will replace NAFTA. Mexico has also sent notification, but it is now the U.S. that is delaying its domestic ratification process.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, we have seen that rules and agreements are often viewed as irritants that get in the way of him moving on his agenda, which raises serious questions about whether CUSMA will be effective and legally enforced as long as Trump is president.

There were already many concerns with the trade agreement from the Canadian perspective. Two examples are drug costs and the protection of our dairy industry. In both cases, the federal government made concessions. Longer protection periods for biological drug patents against generics and longer copyright periods will increase drug costs at a time when Canada is seriously considering a national pharmacare program.

Following in the footsteps of other trade agreement negotiations, Canada also caved on protections for the Canadian dairy industry. And like other trade agreements, investor dispute mechanisms remain intact, allowing corporations and governments to sue other governments that pass legislation in the public interest. Worryingly, CUSMA also puts restrictions on Canada’s ability to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries.

The federal government has lauded CUSMA’s side chapters on the environment and labour rights as instruments to strengthen the trade deal, but we have to wonder whether the U.S. – under President Trump – will abide by these provisions. Recent events suggest it will not. The labour chapter promotes ‘the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining,’ but the Trump-dominated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has advanced an anti-worker agenda that has undermined Americans’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover, the NLRB announced new rules on April 3 that make unionizing nearly impossible and decertifying easier.

Meanwhile, the agreement on environmental cooperation sounds good on paper, but what good will it do when the Trump administration has already rolled back Obama-era emissions standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indefinitely suspended environmental enforcement, and Trump continues to promote the use of coal?

The actions of U.S. President Donald Trump raise an important question for Canadians: will the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) actually be enforced? Because when it comes to trade, it appears the Trump administration does whatever it wants, whenever it pleases. SOURCE

Ecocide and the Coronavirus: How the Capitalist Mode of Production Makes Pandemics Inevitable

The capitalist mode of production has proven itself fatal for nature and humanity. The most recent manifestation of this is the global spread of the coronavirus. As socialists, how can we confront these problems in a way that will be both sustainable for the environment and for human life?

Image: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

 

Since its earliest days, the capitalist mode of production has been fundamentally incompatible with a sustainable relationship to nature. In recent decades, however, it has become all too apparent that capitalism’s war on nature threatens not just nature itself but much of humankind. There now exist two potential catastrophic scenarios for humanity. The first, global warming, began to be widely accepted by scientists in the 1980s. Less than three decades later we began to witness extreme weather events produced by climate change — hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, flooding — that threaten the lives of millions each year. We can now add a second existential threat created by capitalist ecocide: worldwide pandemic.

Infectious diseases and even plagues have existed throughout all of human history, of course. But the extension of the capitalist mode of production around the globe has created the conditions for the most deadly pathogens to reach every corner of the world in a matter of weeks. The first deaths caused by a new coronavirus in Wuhan, China, were reported in mid-January. By mid-February, Covid-19 deaths had occurred in the United States, Iran, and Italy. More precisely, as historian Kim Moody notes, “this virus has moved through the circuits of capital and the humans that labor in them, and not solely by random ‘community’ transmission…Chinese makers of N95 masks connect with New York City nurses, Amazon fulfillment workers in Will County, Illinois, and with UPS drivers in Chicago.”

The same system of commodity production has also brought about widespread ecological crises. In the accounting of the capitalist system, nature is considered a resource to be freely appropriated by capital — both for the extraction of raw materials and as a dumping ground for the system’s waste products. For capital, nature’s only importance is its potential to be converted through labor into commodities. Capital accumulation necessitates the plundering of the earth. The result has not only been global warming but also the contamination of the air and water, deforestation, habitat loss, and species extinction. Each of these outcomes, serious enough on its own, contributes in turn to the spread of pathogens.

In their book Biology Under the Influence, dialectical biologists Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins argue that upheavals in society have historically corresponded with major outbreaks of disease:

In periods of major change in society the epidemiological pattern also changes. The pandemics of plague occurred in Europe during the decline of Roman society under Justinian and again during the weakening of feudalism in the fourteenth century. The European invasion of the Americas brought with it diseases new to the continent and the decimation of the indigenous population. The decline of the Soviet Union was manifested early in a general decline in life expectancy, and its final collapse saw outbreaks of diphtheria and other infections.

In our era, the upheaval was neoliberalism. The neoliberal period that began in the 1980s meant, on the one hand, privatizations across the healthcare industry, the closures and mergers of hospitals, and cuts to affordable housing; on the other hand, it meant an assault on nature with rising greenhouse gas emissions, contamination, and forest loss. The shocks were felt across not just society but the entire biosphere.

Deforestation and the Rise in Zoonoses

As the Marxist evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace pointed out in his seminal work Big Farms Make Big Flu, rapid deforestation has pushed industry and farms into areas previously out of human reach. The natural firebreaks provided by forests are destroyed, allowing viruses to jump easily from wild species to humans. This is true not only for the novel coronavirus — originating in bats — but for several deadly outbreaks that preceded it. The avian flu is believed to have reached humans through the encroachment of poultry farms onto the natural habitats of wild fowl. Destructive industries like logging, mining, and factory farming, together with rapid urbanization, have all played a major role in easing the transmission of disease from wildlife to humans. The spread of deadly pathogens is a cost incurred by capitalist industry but externalized to the whole of human society.

“Any emerging disease in the last 30 or 40 years has come about as a result of encroachment into wild lands and changes in demography,” says disease ecologist Peter Daszak. In the last 50 years, emerging diseases have quadrupled, largely owing to human encroachment on habitats. While in the past, sylvatic pathogens would die out because there were too few hosts, smaller habitats cause these pathogens to spread more rapidly.

This is true not only of China but also of nations like Brazil, where the deliberate burning and clearing of the Amazon has already contributed to the rapid spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. Mosquitos exist nearly everywhere, of course, but mosquito species that can spread disease are most prevalent around deforested lands. In 2015, Brazil experienced an outbreak of Zika, resulting in thousands of cases of microcephaly among children. Though it is primarily carried by mosquitoes, the virus can be also transmitted sexually and passed from pregnant mothers to their children. Within months, Zika had spread to Colombia, Panama, and islands throughout the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. The virus should have sounded an alarm about the dangers of pandemic. Instead, research institutions continued to largely ignore infectious diseases up until the coronavirus outbreak of 2019–20.

Brazil not only registered 200,000 cases of Zika in 2016 but also 1.4 million probable cases of dengue, and nearly 278,000 cases of chikungunya in the same year. Each of these diseases can be traced in large part to the clearing of Brazilian forests to make way for cattle and soy farming. But the blame does not lie with Brazilian firms alone. Brazilian beef and soy are part of global supply chains and contribute directly to the profits of transnational corporations. In direct service of foreign capital, the government of president Jair Bolsonaro has attacked indigenous communities, encouraged wildfires, and slashed environmental restrictions — all in an effort to clear the Amazon as quickly as possible. These actions, apart from their ecological and social costs, will almost certainly provoke new outbreaks.

The capitalist interests backing the development of the Amazon and other forests around the globe are the hidden catalysts behind the emergence of new diseases in the “underdeveloped” countries. While there are efforts that pin responsibility for outbreaks of novel diseases on local or indigenous populations and their supposedly “dirty” cultural practices, such as wet markets, it is the multinational corporations that are driving today’s scourge of pandemics.

Wet markets, where fresh meat and produce are sold, are considered integral to the informal food trade and are important sources of nutrition for low-income urban areas. Industrial farming and fishing has not only had a devastating impact on biodiversity and habitats but has also produced major food shortages for communities in the Global South as crops and meat are destined for export and fish stocks are depleted. These communities, in turn, have been forced to supplement their diets with wild game, which can carry pathogens that humans have no immunity against. Wildlife is not simply used for traditional medicine, as is often reported, but as a key food source. This phenomenon can be seen not only in the markets of China but those around the world. In The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, Mike Davis writes that as a result of factory fishing in Africa:

Fsh biomass has fallen by at least half since 1977, and fish has become scarcer and more expensive in local markets. Increasingly bushmeat (the generic name for the flesh of some 400 different species of terrestrial vertebrates) has been substituted for fish — yearly some 400,000 tons of wild game now end up on West African dinner plates.

Prior to the new coronavirus, Ebola was perhaps the most troubling epidemic this century. It is widely believed that the butchering and processing of so-called bushmeat was a key factor in the outbreak of Ebola in Africa in 2014. Ebola infected close to 30,000 people in five countries, killing more than 11,000.

Urbanization and Contamination Spread the Virus

We are already witnessing the fatal health outcomes from the combination of infectious disease and contamination, but these outcomes inevitably affect certain populations to a greater extent. Poor, urban working-class populations face a quadruple burden of infectious and chronic diseases, exacerbated by lack of clean water, unsatisfactory sanitation, overcrowding, air pollution, and the inaccessibility of health services. Poor sanitary conditions, both in the peripheral countries and in working-class neighborhoods in the United States, lead the virus to spread more widely. Social distancing is currently the main and most important recommendation to stem the spread of the coronavirus. This is unfeasible where population density is extremely high. Rapid urbanization in formerly rural regions as a direct result of deforestation and mining has forced these areas to be converted into “in-between cities” that function like urban slums. Most urban centers across the Global South experience unplanned and uncontrolled urban growth where land is developed to serve the political and capital interests of elites. Urban planning deliberately excludes the poor and working class. As a result, this leads to deficits in public health and environmental sanitation. Conditions like these inevitably become breeding grounds for the rapid proliferation of viruses like malaria and dengue. Although the coronavirus has not yet spread throughout much of the Global South, with the exception of Brazil, Ecuador and Iran, once coronavirus reaches these regions, the results will undoubtedly be devastating.

Health agencies like the WHO and CDC also recommend frequent hand washing. With contaminated water and a glaring failure to address inadequate infrastructure, washing becomes impossible. Even in developed countries like the United States, access to water in working-class, predominantly Black and Brown areas, has been denied. For example, Flint, Michigan, became infamous in 2014 when the city switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, despite being extremely contaminated by lead, in a cost-saving move. To this day, Flint does not have clean water. Further, as recently as March, Michigan continued the widely condemned practice of water shutoffs in Detroit as part of a debt-collection program. In the last 20 years there has been as much as a 400 percent increase in the price of water, and working-class families are struggling to keep up with the exorbitant costs. Although the city finally announced a moratorium on water shutoffs on March 9, the city says it doesn’t have the capacity to turn the water back on quickly enough for the thousands of homes currently without water.

Studies show a significantly increased Covid-19 mortality rate among those exposed to air pollution. According to one study, an increase of only 11μg/m3 (11 micrograms per cubic meter) air pollution is associated with a 15 percent increase in the Covid-19 death rate. Another study shows that 80 percent of deaths in four countries were in the most polluted regions. Contamination is not distributed equally either. Working-class and low-income neighborhoods — and especially in the United States, Black and Brown neighborhoods — face the highest concentrations of air pollution. The capitalist class views these populations as expendable, and they often end up being the dumping ground for capitalist production: air pollution from cars (resulting from increased exposure to highways), power plants, construction activity, factories, and other industrial hubs produce high concentrations of pollutants in the predominantly working-class neighborhoods where they are situated. As a result, these communities suffer from high rates of asthma, leaving them more susceptible to respiratory viruses. In New York City, the South Bronx has the highest rate of asthma in the city and nearly 45 percent of the population is below the national poverty level. In comparison to the rest of New York City, the Bronx also has the highest mortality rate from Covid-19.

Amid the pandemic, the EPA has announced the suspension of enforcement on virtually all environmental regulations. The new guidelines allow corporations to contaminate at will, provided they can prove it is in direct result of coronavirus. Despite this announcement, however, there is no system in place wherein the EPA can ensure that the reason behind noncompliance has to do with coronavirus. Although the suspension is deemed temporary, the EPA has set no end date. This announcement comes amid pressure from big oil industries, like the API, to suspend regulations. It is clear that this will prove most devastating for the low-income and working-class populations that will inevitably face the burden of this shift.

Capitalism Leads to Catastrophe. Socialism Offers a Way Out.

The anarchical capitalist mode of production has shown itself wholly incapable of addressing crises like the outbreak of the coronavirus. And in fact, it is capitalism that has led to global pandemics. Capitalism is inherently short-term focused — creating the biggest profits in the shortest amount of time. The current setup of production is designed, whether purposefully or not, to propagate pathogens. For example, “Decreasing the age of slaughter — to six weeks in chickens — is likely to select for pathogens able to survive more robust immune systems” and “antibiotic use in hog factories (a cheaper alternative to sewer systems or humane environments) was causing the rise of resistant Staph infections” among the animals. Further, capitalist states have defunded non-lucrative medical research. Despite long-standing evidence of the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, research into a vaccine was not pursued because it wasn’t considered to be a profitable endeavor.

To better equip ourselves to fight pandemics and their underlying causes, we must immediately nationalize large-scale industries under workers’ control. The pharmaceutical companies, which will inevitably charge enormous amounts for the coronavirus vaccine, should be controlled by scientists and popular organizations to focus on life-saving research and development. A public works program, paid for by the capitalists who caused this crisis in the first place, must be put in place to develop safe and affordable housing for all. Companies must be required to publicize information about their pollution levels and committees of workers and community members should be in charge of nationalized production in an effort to reduce pollutants, especially in working-class and poor neighborhoods.

In an era of ecocide and pandemic, the urgent need for socialism is clearer more than ever. Socialism can allow us to focus on long-term health outcomes and seriously consider the impacts of how we use, develop, and interact with nature. Today we have the potential to develop vaccines, carry out breakthrough health research, and mass-produce medical equipment in a sustainable way. But the capitalist mode of production has become a fetter on these endeavors. It was Engels who said that “we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and…all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” We must learn to apply nature’s laws correctly in a way that protects human life and our biosphere. Only socialism offers that possibility. SOURCE

Greta Thunberg – EU Green Deal is Surrender

Greta Thunberg trademarks "Skolstrejk för klimatet"

Greta Thunberg has submitted a request to trademark her slogan “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (School strike for the climate in Swedish) and her English version “Fridays for Future.” © Belga

 

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish climate activist. She became known because of her Friday school strikes outside the Riksdag in Stockholm, Sweden under the slogan Skolstrejk för klimatet (School Strike for the climate). This Swedish 17-year-old has been named one of the world’s most influential teenagers by America’s Time Magazine. She has mobilised a worldwide movement of climate activists, called FridaysForFuture that brought 7.5 million young people to the streets in September 2019 to protest against political inaction on climate change.

Greta Thunberg was asked to address EU leaders at the European Union Parliament on Wednesday 4 March 2020 before the vote on the European Green Deal planned to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. WATCH THIS VIDEO of her address to the EU politicians.

This is an honest, urgent and informed delivery of the truth based on science. It is a reminder that we need to fundamentally rethink what it means to be human on this Earth. We need to review our priorities, health trumps the economy. There is no human wellbeing without healthy and thriving ecosystems, wildlife and wild habitats. If  we continue not to treat this ongoing ecocide like the global crisis it is, it will become a life or death situation for humans, like a dangerous virus epidemic, and it will be too late.

The following is a transcript of Greta Thunberg’s speech to EU leaders

“My name is Greta Thunberg, I am a climate activist and a part of the Fridays for Future movement.

For over one and a half years we have been sacrificing our education to protest against your inaction. And in September over seven and a half million people all around the world took to the streets demanding you to unit behind the science in order to give us a safe future.

Then in November 2019 the European Parliament declared a climate and environment emergency. You said that the EU would lead against the existential threat of the climate crisis. This is wonderful news. When your children set off the fire alarm you went outside took a look and smelt the air. You stated that, yes, the house is actually burning. This was no false alarm. But, then you went back inside finished your dinner and watched your movie and went to bed without even calling the fire department. I’m sorry but this makes no sense at all. When your house is on fire you don’t wait a few more years to start putting it out. And yet this is what the commission are proposing today.

When the EU presents this climate law and net zero by 2050, you indirectly admit surrender, that you are giving up, giving up on the Paris agreement, giving up on your promises and giving up on doing everything you possibly can to ensure a safe future for your own children. Because this law is based on insufficient CO2 budgets that in reality gives us much, much less than a 50% chance of limiting average global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And any climate law or policy that is not based on the current best available science and does not include the global equity, nor the annual emissions reductions needed starting now, will be completely insufficient of course.

Such law sends a strong signal that real sufficient action is taking place when in fact it is not. The hard truth is that neither the awareness nor the politics needed are anywhere in sight. We are still in a crisis that has never once been treated as a crisis. We do have lots of brilliant solutions. We have unprecedented wealth and financial assets. We have a lot of goodwill and countless people ready to do everything they can to help. What we do not have is awareness, leadership and, above all, time.

Our rapidly disappearing carbon budgets are the bottom line that sums up the current best available climate science, no matter how insufficient they may be as they do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, equity nor additional warming hidden by air pollution, they are still the most reliable roadmap we have to safeguard the future living conditions for humankind. But the contents of these budgets have never been taken into account in today’s politics. It has never been communicated in mainstream media. And yet here you are trying to create laws and policies once again ignoring it.

…..pretending that your plan or policy, disregarding the united science, will somehow solve the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced; pretending that a law that no one has to follow is a law; and pretending that you can be a climate leader and still go on building and subsidising new fossil fuel infrastructure; pretending that leaving out the global aspect of climate justice and equity will not risk breaking up the entire Paris agreement; pretending that empty words will make this emergency go away… this must come to an end.

No policy, plan or deal will be nearly enough as long as you continue to ignore CO2 budgets which apply for today. We don’t just need goals for 2030 or 2050, we above all need them for 2020 and for every following year to come. We need to start cutting our emission drastically at the source now. Your distant targets will mean nothing if high emissions continue like today’s business as usual, even for just a few more years, because that will use up our remaining carbon budget before you even have the chance to deliver on your 2030 or 2050 goals.

And since these negative emission technologies that this law fully relies on don’t exist today at a scale and perhaps never will, we simply need to change our behaviour, change our society and this is the uncomfortable truth that you cannot escape no matter how badly you want to or how hard you try. And the longer you keep running away from that truth the bigger your betrayal towards your own children.

The EU must lead the way. You have the moral obligation to do so and you have a unique economic and political opportunity to become a real climate leader. You yourself declared that we are in a climate and environment emergency. You said this was an existential threat, now you must prove that you mean it.

We will not be satisfied with anything less than a science based pathway which gives the best possible chance to safeguard the future living conditions for humanity and life on Earth as we know it. Anything else is surrender. This climate law is surrender…because Nature doesn’t bargain, and you cannot make deals with physics.

And we will not allow you to surrender on our future.

Thank you”  SOURCE

Tackling Methane Leakage from Oil and Gas

Tackling Methane Leakage from Oil and Gas - Rocky Mountain Institute

Having lived the last seven years in the United States, I am still Dutch and European at heart. During the past few months, I have watched with growing excitement as Europe has been gathering momentum around the European Green Deal. Europe’s progressive politics, buffeted by mass social movements across the continent, are leading to a host of well-conceived and equitable solutions for combatting a diversity of environmental ills. This is the best opportunity we have had to swiftly and decisively take action on building a better, greener economy in Europe.

However, conspicuously absent from the broader European Green Deal agenda are provisions to tackle methane leakage, a potent climate pollutant with rising emissions.

What is Methane and Why Does It Matter?

Methane is a greenhouse gas with a short-term climate impact 84 times more potent than CO2. It is also the primary component of natural gas. Our ability to meet Paris targets and avoid exceeding 1.5°C of warming depends on the global oil and gas industry’s willingness to reduce methane emissions, both intentional and accidental, from the gas value chain. Methane escaping across oil and gas production, processing, transmission, and distribution totals over 6.7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent each year, equal to 16 percent of all human-made CO2 emissions.

Fortunately, experts consider this sector to be the “low-hanging fruit” of methane abatement, because technical solutions to fix these leaks largely already exist and many are cost-effective. However, in absence of a clear signal to act, much of the oil and gas industry has failed to address these emissions with the urgency and at the scale needed during the climate emergency.

The European Green Deal presents an unprecedented opportunity for Europe to lead in tackling methane emissions with an outsized global impact. As the world’s largest net importer of natural gas, Europe’s unique market position gives it disproportionate sway in the global gas market, influencing major gas suppliers including Russia, Algeria, Qatar, and the United States.

Forward-thinking European oil and gas companies have recognized the need to act, and have made public methane reduction commitments: as part of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, the CEOs from several of Europe’s leading majors—including BP, Equinor, ENI, Shell, and Total—have committed to a “near-zero methane” future, with an ambition to reach 0.20 percent methane intensity (methane emissions divided by gas production) by 2025. Some of these companies have also signed on to the Methane Guiding Principles, committing to continued methane reductions and transparency across their operations.

Ambitious Regulation is Essential

It is clear that voluntary commitments, championed primarily by the leading players, cannot be the full solution to the methane challenge. Ambitious regulation is essential to make these commitments—including methane intensity targets—enforceable requirements and to extend these requirements to operators, including national oil companies, that are currently turning a blind eye to the methane threat.

The European Green Deal must be used as a vehicle to set the bar for methane emissions performance for operators within the EU, and also for companies importing gas into European markets. Such a performance standard, backed up with consistent, verifiable emissions monitoring and reporting, can catalyze widespread methane emissions abatement in the global oil and gas industry.

Large-Scale Mobilization is Necessary and Possible

Critics point out that methane performance standards will be difficult to enforce without robust, preexisting measurement and reporting standards. However, market mechanisms designed to certify gas produced with lower methane emissions, coupled with voluntary reporting programs including that established by UN Environment’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, can pave the way by increasing reporting and transparency across gas value chains.

Focusing only on CO2’s contribution to climate change, and ignoring methane, is like focusing on curing a chronic illness while ignoring a severed artery. Jules Kortenhorst

Perfect cannot be the enemy of good. The climate will not wait for the promise of magical technology that will measure and capture methane; we must act now, with the tools that we have on hand. COVID-19 has provided important lessons on the need to take bold steps in the face of a collective, urgent threat.

Think about it this way: focusing only on CO2’s contribution to climate change, and ignoring methane, is like focusing on curing a chronic illness while ignoring a severed artery. In other words, it is essential that we tackle methane emissions as part our climate change mitigation strategy. As other world leaders abdicate their responsibility on climate action, Europe can, and must, lead the way. Including ambitious methane performance standards for the oil and gas industry in the European Green Deal is the right step, at the right time. SOURCE

OPG doubles down on climate damaging gas-fired generation

Pickering nuclear units among the most expensive, least reliable ...

Pickering nuclear units among the most expensive, least reliable in the world

Ontario Power Generation — 100% owned by the Government of Ontario — has just spent billions of dollars buying climate destabilizing gas plants from a giant fossil energy company. This move demonstrates not just lack of insight into our climate crisis, it also is a risky financial bet as the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

OPG has signed a cheque for $2.8 billion to buy three polluting gas plants. At a time when the Ontario government has cancelled more than 750 contracts for renewable energy projects, ordered windmills torn down, and refused the offer of low cost renewable power from Quebec, its major utility is doubling down on a fossil technology that has to go if we are to meet our climate commitments.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) projects that under the Ford government’s electricity plan, emissions from gas-fired power plants will rise by more than 400%. This is essentially throwing away one-third of the climate pollution reductions Ontario achieved by phasing out coal-fired power.

There are far better ways to help our climate, lower costs for electricity consumers and keep our lights on, starting with maximizing our energy efficiency efforts, making a deal with Quebec for low-cost water power and developing cost-effective renewable energy projects right here in Ontario.

These actions will not only allow Ontario to phase out polluting gas-fired power, they will also create a strong foundation for a green economic recovery from our current crisis. Instead of enriching fossil fuel companies, Ontario should be embracing the opportunity to develop a 100% renewable electricity system.

We recently looked at this better approach in a Zoom webinar you can watch, or view the powerpoint slides here. We have also spelled out how Ontario can phase out its gas plants in a new report.

If you think we have better ways to spend $2.8 billion than buying polluting gas plants, send a letter to Doug Ford and the leaders of the opposition parties here: OntarioClimateAction.ca.

Thank you for making the time. Please share this message:

Angela Bischoff, Director, Ontario Clean Air Alliance