UFCW says it has not seen copies of Alberta Health Services inspection reports
Cargill announced Wednesday that the plant would reopen with one shift beginning May 4, saying that safety measures like new protective barriers and restrictions on carpooling had been introduced. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
The union representing workers at an Alberta meat-processing plant that is at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak is taking legal action to stop its planned reopening on Monday.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 is seeking a stop-work order from Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and has also filed an unfair labour practice complaint against both the Cargill plant and the Government of Alberta.
“The plant should be able to operate fairly with adequate rules in place and adequate procedures. We’re not confident those procedures are there and workers aren’t confident the procedures are there,” said Thomas Hesse, president of the union.
As of Friday afternoon, 921 employees at the plant — which is south of Calgary, and provides about 40 per cent of the beef processing in Canada — have tested positive for the coronavirus.
In a letter, dated Thursday, to Cargill, OHS and Alberta’s Ministry of Labour and Immigration — the union alleges that its concerns surrounding physical distancing have not been sufficiently addressed.
It also alleges that Cargill has yet to conduct an investigation or produce a report on the “serious incidents” reported in connection with COVID-19, including a worker in her 60s who died.
The union said Dr. Brent Friesen, a medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services (AHS), confirmed seven Cargill employees have been hospitalized and five are in intensive care.
“Despite this, the union notes no Alberta OHS officer has contacted the union or any union representatives [on the committee],” the letter reads.
The complaint also calls for a union representative to be present if the plant reopens and for personal protective equipment to be provided by Cargill, along with daily reports of cases of COVID-19.
‘Engaging in good faith’
In a statement, a spokesperson for Cargill said representatives with AHS and OHS reviewed the safety measures at the facility and support reopening.
“The safety of our employees is our top priority. We are engaging in good faith with the UFCW. We are eager to sit down and have a meaningful discussion about our shared focus — keeping our workers safe in the midst of this global pandemic,” the statement reads.
Hesse said workers were “scared to death” to return to work on Monday.
“Who wouldn’t be nervous about that? Adequate assurances have not been provided,” he said. “For the government and the company to turn their nose up at the voice of workers is ridiculous. Why wouldn’t they have included us in the process?”
In a release, NDP labour critic Christina Gray said the Opposition was in favour of the complaint.
“The people who work on the shop floor have a right to be kept safe,” said Gray.
The company said Wednesday the plant would reopen with one shift beginning May 4, saying that safety measures including new protective barriers and restrictions on carpooling had been introduced.
Cargill has said protective barriers have been installed on the production floor to allow for more spacing between employees and face shields have been introduced in places where protective barriers are not possible. SOURCE
Oil demand will take time to return and may not recover to pre-pandemic levels, says oilpatch leader
Has the world reached peak oil demand? Veterans of the oilpatch aren’t sure of the answer. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
The outbreak of COVID-19 is wiping out demand for fossil fuels as part of the most severe plunge in energy consumption since the Second World War and is on pace to trigger multi-decade lows for the world’s consumption of oil, gas and coal.
Still, many countries are beginning to ramp up their economies and steadily begin to re-fill those vacant workspaces and empty industrial buildings.
That’s why there is debate about whether demand for fossil fuels will rebound and even surpass pre-pandemic consumption levels.
People are creatures of habit and may eventually return to the same lifestyles they had before: commuting to work everyday, driving long distances on the Trans-Canada Highway to visit family over the summer and taking a trip to the Caribbean in the winter. On the other hand, the severe global lockdown may be just enough to change those personal and professional routines and usher in an era less reliant on fossil fuels.
It’s a question on the mind of many, including those in the oilpatch, who are suffering billions of dollars in losses right now and don’t know what the future holds.
The topic came up this week during oil company conference calls and also among environmental policy leaders, who held a webinar to discuss discuss the pandemic’s impacts on Alberta.
COVID will help the energy transition
Many people who have been able to work from home during the pandemic realize it could make sense permanently. Without having to commute to the office everyday, it can be much more convenient, especially when kids are back in school or daycare.
Keeping more workers at home is also appealing to many companies because of the potential cost savings with less office space requirements and the ability to have a deeper labour pool, among other benefits.
Oil executives see the value, too, as Husky Energy CEO Rob Peabody said this week, “It’s early days, but there’s no question it is going to change the way we work long term.”
One of Canada’s biggest tech companies, Open Text, said it’s permanently closing half its office space amid restructuring and work from home success with its 15,000 employees.
That’s just one way the pandemic may lessen the demand for fossil fuels long term.
As economies reopen, there is some expectation that governments around the globe will announce significant stimulus spending to aid in the recovery process.
That could be a boon for the environment, since many energy transition challenges are “about big investments,” according to Sara Hastings-Simon, a research fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
“I think you could see an acceleration from that.”
At the same time, she points to a slowdown in the construction and funding of new projects, such as those in Alberta’s oilsands.
“We’re going to see, actually, a kind of pause in investment in some of these longer term assets,” she said.
Renewable energy is expected to grow by five per cent this year, according to the International Energy Agency, to make up almost 30 per cent of the world’s shrinking demand for electricity.
Some environmentalists believe the pandemic will help bolster an energy transition because it has reinforced the importance of science in policy decisions.
COVID will hurt decarbonization
David Keith understands all those points quite well, but “I don’t really buy it.”
The former University of Calgary climate scientist, now at Harvard, said taking action against a pandemic is much different than fighting climate change.
“People are highly motivated to deal with threats that are immediate and severe,” he said.
However, there’s no obvious body count with climate change and that’s one reason there isn’t as much urgency to deal with it, he said, even though it is, in his opinion, the biggest global environmental threat.
Three policy leaders discuss whether the twin crises in the oilpatch will ultimately help or hinder energy transition in oil and gas. 5:14
“My expectation is that the COVID crisis will actually slow progress and decarbonization by driving up public debt, which makes it harder for governments to do anything else.”
“Governments are going to focus on ways to stimulate the economy, fast, whatever they are, and they’re gonna focus on other things like medical care and bioterrorism preparedness.”
Climate could take a backseat for quite a while, he said.
Peak oil demand?
As some parts of Canada and the U.S. ease lockdown measures, refineries are expected to begin increasing production. Those facilities could be back to full capacity by the summer, according to Alex Pourbaix, chief executive of Cenovus Energy, who points to how fuel demand in China has nearly recovered.
Still, others in the industry aren’t sure about its future.
For decades, experts have tried to forecast when oil demand would reach its peak and begin to fall. This year is likely an anomaly, but there is some belief the world will never again have as much thirst for oil as it did pre-pandemic.
“I see today a lot of weakness in demand. It will take some time for that demand to be restored. And it may not be restored to the levels that we’ve seen in the past,” John Browne, the former head of British Petroleum, said recently.
Financial losses in the oil industry aren’t only impacting the companies’ bottom lines; Canadians’ retirement savings are taking a bit hit too. 2:01
Even the impact of relatively cheap gasoline isn’t always easy to predict. Low prices at the pump usually spur more demand and disincentivize the purchase of fuel efficient or electric cars.
At the same, governments will have an easier time introducing or hiking carbon taxes when gasoline is cheap and besides, the situation may be short-lived as fuel prices are already increasing across the country.
What seems certain is the oilpatch is in for a rough ride. But many companies still have a long future ahead, according to Ed Whittingham, the former executive director of the Pembina Institute, who organized a webinar to discuss Alberta’s future with Keith and Hastings-Simon.
“If we can actually help our companies, give them the financial space to retool the transition, then I think our companies are going to come out ahead of this and Canada as a whole will come out ahead on transition.”
Many Alberta oil producers were already taking action on climate change, which should help them, he said, but they may need federal government aid now to survive the crisis they’re facing. SOURCE
The “return to normal” is making headlines as our elected leaders talk of re-opening the economy. But it’s become clearer than ever to me that there is no going back. Because “normal” is needing 4.8 planets if everyone consumed as much as the average person in Canada . Normal is racialized inequality and millions of underpaid, under-supported essential workers. Normal is an underfunded healthcare and education system. Normal is a crisis.
Less greed, more empathy and cooperation. How Canada recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic should be a new beginning. And you have a special role to play. You started this year on a roll rejecting Teck, which could have become one of the biggest tar sands mines ever. And you won!At home and in your communities, you can now help design the plans to restart the economy with people and our relationship with nature at the center. You have the opportunity to reimagine and reinvent a better normal. Don’t lose a minute. Email your MP to share what you think the recovery should look like.
The longer-term economic recovery plan has yet to come. So this is the perfect opportunity to share your ideas and make them count.You can lobby your MP to ensure the recovery puts workers’ rights and inclusivity at its heart. You can demand that Indigenous rights be respected. You can make sure there are social safety nets for all people in Canada. And you can tell your MP that investments must go towards solving the climate emergency, building a low-carbon, circular economy and restoring nature. Email your MP now.
We’re stronger together, let’s rebuild a new, better normal that represents who we are — and not what billionaires want.
Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias says his First Nation is overstretched dealing with pandemic
Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias stands amid supplies purchased to prepare community for a COVID-19 outbreak. (Chris Moonias/Facebook)
Northern Ontario First Nations want the province to put a hold on mining exploration permits and pause the operation of a system that allows for the remote staking of mining claims while they deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias said all the band resources of his community of 300 people, which sits about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, are stretched thin on COVID-19 prevention and preparation work.
“Right now we are in the middle of a pandemic and pretty much my staff is all hands on deck dealing with this,” said Moonias.
“We don’t have the tools, the resources to look at permits. We are not like the government that has many different departments.”
The Ontario government has designated the mining sector as an essential service, meaning it isn’t under the same lockdown requirements as other parts of the economy under the provincial emergency order triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moonias said this has created additional pressures on his First Nation, which he said can’t deal with permitting related emails or alerts triggered by the province’s Mining Lands Administration System, which allows for remote staking of claims.
Moonias said the band staff member who regularly deals with these types of communications is leading one of the community’s pandemic teams.
“How can I continue to monitor everything while this is happening? This is the way it is up north; you are prioritizing,” said Moonias.
Moonias said he worries permit authorizations could be pushed through without meeting the proper consultation requirements while First Nations aren’t looking.
‘Overstretched and exhausted’
Moonies wrote Lori Churchill, director of the Indigenous consultation and partnership branch with the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, on April 22 asking for the permitting processes be put on hold and the suspension of the mining lands administration system until COVID-19 emergency measures subside.
“We are writing to express our disappointment and dismay that remote Indigenous communities like ours that are currently dealing with acute social emergencies exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic are still being asked to respond to mining exploration plans and permits, so as to expedite those approvals,” wrote Moonias.
“People in our communities are overstretched and exhausted. It should be obvious that we would be currently unable to engage meaningfully with proponents and government bodies due to capacity issues and health and safety concerns stemming from the pandemic.”
Moonias sent a copy of the letter to Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. Fiddler said the ministry should accept Moonias’ request.
“It’s a reasonable request considering the fact we are in the middle of a pandemic. The priority for many of our chiefs is to ensure the safety and well-being of their citizens,” said Fiddler.
“Our communities…should not have to worry about mining permits or exploration on their territories.”
Moonias said he has not received a response yet from the ministry.
The Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines said in an emailed statement that it values “the ongoing work of the exploration sector,” but that it “also remains committed to meeting our obligations with respect to Aboriginal consultation.”
The statement said that while it won’t suspend its mining lands administration system, it understands that COVID-19 has disrupted normal consultation processes and is willing to place some permit applications on hold.
“[The ministry] continues to work with First Nation communities to understand their needs and concerns during these challenging times, and we will use the tools available to us to balance all interests, in a respectful way,” said the statement. SOURCE
High over the Pacific Ocean, heading south from Hawaii in an antiquated Gulfstream, a spike of anxiety courses through me. Clear skies and not a single trace of human existence grace the zirconium expanse. We are transecting rarely charted waters.
About 1,200 kilometres south we reach Kingman Reef, which barely grazes the ocean surface. It’s the pilot’s cue to start our descent into the dense fog of the equatorial convergence zone. Our tight fuel budget allows one shot at landing; a second circuit after an observational fly-by is simply not possible.
The relic-crushed coral runway rushes out of the blur and provides a terrifyingly violent landing as we pound and plough along it. The commotion spooks fleets of tropic birds and flushes red-footed booby colonies into the sky. As we exit the aircraft, the air is thick with wheeling birds. We have arrived at Palmyra Atoll.
Jointly managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nature Conservancy, the atoll is a unique collection of natural reefs and engineered islets and lagoons. It may look like a postcard paradise, but 10 years ago Palmyra was in ecological freefall, with bird populations and native forest diminished – all because of the human introduction of rats nearly a century ago. A trophic chain collapse was gaining momentum and action was required.
After a major restoration effort, today Palmyra is exploding with wildlife, a case study for the successful rewilding of our damaged natural world. The recovery shows that an anthropogenic crisis can be reversed, and that a biodiverse future can be realized if we act in a timely manner.
On arrival day, our crew of six visiting conservation scientists doubles the population of the coral atoll. As we settle into base camp, Dr. Alex Wegmann, the chief scientist who oversaw Palmyra’s recovery briefs us on the atoll’s geographic structure and the protocols for traversing the landscape to ensure our safety and, most importantly, the protection of biosecurity.
It’s a long way from help here, Wegmann warns us wryly. The 235-hectares of land consists of the major island Cooper, where the runway is located, and a surrounding ellipse of 25 islets that create inner lagoons, some of which are connected by engineered causeways.
Biosecurity is top of mind for Wegmann and Stefan Kropidlowski, Refuge Manager for Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and we get a strict lecture on the importance of washing and freezing our clothes when we return from the outer refugia islands to the main atoll. This is to avoid infestation from invasive insects; ants have made a small foothold on Palmyra, and the protocol is aimed at preventing their spread before eradication.
The USD $5-million restoration of Palmyra took place a decade ago. Rats destroying the islands were removed, and the flora and fauna has now rebounded. Wegmann is rightly proud and defensive of this achievement, which could so easily be lost with a careless re-introduction due to a lapse in protocol. I am grateful to Kropidlowski because several pre-trip calls have prepared me, and I am fully equipped to explore the outer islets.
Over dinner on our first evening, Wegmann sets a 5:30 a.m. start for the next day. He wants to get me out into the forest before sunrise. The hour comes, and it’s a rude awakening after a hot, humid and restless night. Blurry eyed, I haul my 30 pounds of camera gear and we meet at the main building. Wegmann is buoyant and ready to go. I stumble behind him as we disappear into the dark undergrowth of the pre-dawn forest.
The forest floor is littered with land crabs. When Wegmann first arrived on Palmyra, the atoll only had seven of the larger species. But now 10 different species are flourishing, from giant coconut crabs to the almost translucent and tiny ghost crabs. This is because when the rats reigned the atoll, the crab larva would drift from their spawning grounds on the southerly Line Islands to wash ashore on Palmyra where, as juvenile crabs, they’d be eaten by the rats. But with the rats gone the crabs now thrive upon landfall, just one hallmark of a vibrant ecosystem.
My eyes are glued to the ground, desperate not to crush a crab with a poor footfall, and I can barely keep up with Wegmann as he seemingly floats through the forest. An hour later we arrived on the western beach of Strawn Island. I am totally disorientated. Wegmann laughs and explains that this is the perceived location of a mythical hermit — or perhaps, as he suggests, the strange evocative light that sometimes appears is simply the ghost of a missing and presumed murdered past island dweller. I am not falling for the tales of the islanders, but the atoll’s history is steeped in myth and murderous truth.
Our bushwhacking has not been filled with idle chit-chat. Wegmann has given me a crash course in the island’s ecology and its multi-century trophic chain collapse. It’s a fascinating perfect storm set against the complexities of evolution and island biogeography. As the first warm light of sunrise illuminates the trees, a flock of red-footed booby seabirds take to the sky, a glorious sight, and Wegmann rejoices — this is the reward of a rewilded atoll.
Collapse and Recovery
Wegmann came to Palmyra in 2004 as a greenhorn botany PhD candidate with a mandate to understand why the island’s endemic trees, the Pisonia, were in decline. The trees are critical nesting habitat for native birds, and it was feared that their decline was also harming bird populations. For Wegmann, the atoll was simply a field site, a stepping-stone on a conservation scientist’s career path. But with time the island’s importance as a global case study crept into his soul, and he remains director of science for Palmyra at the Nature Conservancy.
fter three years of tramping through the undergrowth and conducting rigorous and carefully deployed seedling trials, Wegmann saw the fuller picture. He realized that a trophic collapse far more complex than any envisioned by his PhD supervisor was underway on Palmyra, one that had started centuries before. In evolutionary timescales, it was like a freight train hitting a wall.
Waves of invasive species had carved out an existence on the atoll. It started with the Polynesian introduction of coconut trees, followed by waves of European settlers who tried their luck at cattle ranching and intensive coconut farming. These endeavours left early negative impacts that would soon be amplified.
The attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 resulted in a massive re-engineering of Palmyra’s structure. Coral reefs were dredged and desecrated to form runways as the American navy engineering corps created a strategic monitoring outpost on the islands, a first line of defense against imperial Japan. Precipitously, the Americans also introduced rats that stowed away on the supply ships.
The uninvited rats were bequeathed a paradise with abundant food to satisfy their voracious appetites, and their population exploded. They targeted seabird chicks and eggs, and the seabird populations began to fall. As their food sources shrank, the ever-adaptive rats learnt to attack almost any fresh biological source. In ecological terms it was a disaster. Meanwhile, the native Pisonia trees were in decline, as were the once numerous land crabs.
For Wegmann, it was an utterly frustrating and bewildering process to unravel. Dozens of trials of seedlings at different locations failed to illuminate why the forests were failing.
One day in a reflective moment, Wegmann watched as land crabs idled through the forest floor. As expected, the crabs fed vigorously on the seeds, much like the rats. But an important difference caught Wegmann’s eye. As the crabs perambulated across the loose soil, their legs tended to bury as many seeds as they consumed. It was a revelation; the crabs were forest farmers tiling and sowing the seeds into the soil and being rewarded to do so — a remarkable example of symbiotic evolution.
Camera traps revealed that the rats would devour the entire seedbank and further still predate on the occasional seedling shoot that survived to germinate. The rats were eradicating the endemic forest because the natural seedbank no longer existed. It was rat-induced extirpation. The revelation was hard earned, and the fact that it secured Wegmann his PhD was of little consequence, with the island clearly in ecological free fall.
Eradicating the rats would require significant resources. Wegmann’s work pivoted to rewilding the island. He reached out to the world’s preeminent conversation organizations: Island Conservation, the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They responded, raising funds and resources and mobilizing biologists and technical specialists.
It takes four years of careful planning and four weeks of intensive ground execution to eradicate an island of rats.
As Gregg Howald of Island Conservation said, “It takes four years of careful planning and four weeks of intensive ground execution to eradicate an island of rats.” But a bespoke island specific plan was needed to ensure success, especially if native species were to be protected from unintended impacts of the poison bait.
Helicopters, barges, mechanics, pilots, biologists, medics and cooks — all descended upon the island for the intensive campaign. As the poison bait fell from the helicopters, the beginnings of a massive reversal in the island’s ecological collapse began. Four weeks later, not a single live rat could be found on camera or in a traditional trap. Six anxious months passed and still no detectable rat activity could be found. Finally, after a torturous year, the island was declared rat free.
Eight years later, Palmyra’s biodiversity has rebounded. Bird colonies of red-footed boobies and frigate birds abound. Terns are present in phenomenal numbers. The island is alive from dawn to dusk and is an absolute thrill to experience. Diving on the corals is wondrous, as the reefs teem with life. The healthy reefs nurture plentiful forage fish, which in turn enables the top predators to thrive. The surrounding waters are now home to manta ray — and I gasped when a pair of neon lemon sharks torpedoed past us in the sunlight.
In these moments I believe I felt the same sense of awe that must have enveloped Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace as they immersed themselves on remote islands not unlike Palmyra. It was a profound moment of awareness; one I feel privileged to have experienced. I will be forever thankful to Island Conservation for sending me to this place.
It’s day two and Dr. Nick Holmes, director of science for Island Conservation, rallies the team for a week of deploying song meters on the remote refuge islets of Palmyra. The instruments record bird song at a given sample rate every day. This assesses both the number of birds and species diversity post-rat eradication, along with helping determine population peaks and the island’s natural carrying capacity.
On the dock, as per protocol, we change into our frozen clothes, a delight in the humid 35-degree Celsius equatorial weather. It is quite the effort transferring all the equipment to the boats and changing clothes, including backpacks and camera bags, into frozen ones. By the time we boat out to the islets, over two hours has passed. Upon arrival we are dismayed to find a critical component of the song meters is broken. We must return. I balk at the time loss and convince the team I’ll be safe enough on my own to document the biodiversity with my camera. They leave me in paradise, and not three minutes after their departure, I’m in trouble.
As the boat leaves, I spot a pair of brown booby seabirds huddled on the overhanging limb of a coconut tree across the lagoon. I dump my gear on the shore and wade into the ocean with my camera and telephoto lenses, seeking the perfect photo composition. The tidal range on small remote islands is only a few feet, and as I traverse the low tide mark the footing becomes decidedly “suctionous” — but I stupidly push out to my perceived optimum spot anyway. Standing stationary and engrossed in taking the picture, I slowly become locked in the vacuum-powered mud. I’m soon horrified to find that I’m seriously stuck. Suddenly every movement has me pinned and threatens a fall into the water, camera and all.
I have no option but to wait for two hours or lose my camera, and I soon realize it’s not possible to last that long in the baking heat. Some foot-wriggles reveal that my waterproof sandals are the core problem – I have to ditch them, but I need them for the week (they’re my “protocol” shoes!). So, with some trepidation, I triangulate my position off three trees, slip my feet clear of my shoes and slowly crouch down into the water. As I become buoyant, I push my camera above my head and let my legs finally become free. Like a demented sea turtle, with my face mostly submerged, I waggle towards shore. Seriously out of breath, I get my camera to the beach. Ten minutes later, duck diving in the muck, I retrieve my shoes and wash up in the firm footing of the shallows.
Giant Clams and Vibrant Corals at the eastern reef of the island
Reflections and Revelations
Reflecting on my misadventure and drip-drying in the shade of a coconut tree, my thoughts wander to the rewilding of Palmyra. This is an extraordinary place – teeming with life it triggers thoughts and notions of evolutionary trajectories and the Hillis plot comes to mind. The plot is a visual representation of the genetic tree of life, constructed from the DNA of over 3,000 species and inspired by early designs of the 18th century.
Proposed by Professor David Hillis and his team at Texas University in 2003, the plot is constructed by turning speciation branches in a radial direction, with common ancestral trunks growing outward from the centre (Science, 2003, 300:1692-1697). The evolutionary tree evolves because the common or shared DNA is recorded like a tree trunk growing up, or in this case outward. When speciation occurs, like a tree branch that splits in two, the path takes a radial or circular path.
Much like heritage trees of life depicted in Charles Darwin’s era, but with a profound clarity, the modern DNA tree is a powerful revelation. All species on Earth are related, and we all share common ancestral DNA. We are kin and cousin to all life on Earth. This revelation is a lived experience for many Indigenous Peoples, for their cultures embrace and care for fauna as kin, something that science-based cultures have lost.
Figure 2 The Hillis Plot
The Hillis plot was created by David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, at the University of Texas.
The tree is from an analysis of small subunit rRNA sequences sampled from about 3,000 species from throughout the Tree of Life. The species were chosen based on their availability, but the major groups, were sampled very roughly in proportion to the number of known species in each. The number of species represented is approximately the square-root of the number of species thought to exist on Earth (i.e., three thousand out of an estimated nine million species), or about 0.18% of the 1.7 million species that have been formally described and named.
Life on Earth is always changing — sudden planetary scale extinction events have occurred, eliminating many higher order life forms. Yet biodiversity becomes re-established over millions of years. However, the re-established lifeforms are often new flora and fauna that are previously unknown.
It strikes me that embedded within the Hillis plot is the notion that evolutionary trajectories are not hardwired and encoded. Rather, natural ecosystems, when provisioned with resources will expand and adapt the range of flora and fauna to maximise the biological utility of the available resources.
And it’s fundamentally encoded into the process of evolution — the outer layer of the Hillis plot for different eras and eons would look quite different, but the core ancestral DNA foundation would remain.
That’s if and only if, we do not eliminate whole groups of taxa or unique deep genetic lineages. The tree could be redrawn as if nothing was lost, but the hundreds of millions of years of evolution that are taken out with deep-branch extinctions are never gained back. Even if new species emerge, the tree of life only adds short branches at the tips. Gone is the rich accumulation of genetic adaptations across deep time. It is this lineage that provides the foundations of our very existence — the global ecosystem, a collection of fully integrated symbiotic flora and fauna.
Looking at Palmyra and remote islands in general, the variation in speciation is different from that of the continents, despite common ancestors. Indeed, this is the clue that Darwin and Wallace observed, and which triggered their insights. The fossil record also reveals that significantly different evolutionary pathways have also developed at continent scale after each mass extinction event. Evidence that evolutionary pathways are not specifically encoded.
Each recovery has yielded a different range and type of flora and fauna. The observation is important because it allows us to imagine an escape from the depth of the ongoing anthropogenic mass extinction that we are currently witnessing. Blinded by the pursuit of economic growth to the impacts of our existence upon natural security (or ecosystem services provisioned by a biodiverse planet), we are the architects of the current extinction era. However, we have not escaped our dependency on the world’s ecosystems for food, water and clean air. This is weaved into the Hillis plot, for all life on Earth has symbiotically evolved. Without a viable natural world, our existence is threatened by our own actions.
The Hillis plot can also be regarded as a measure of biodiversity or ecosystem health. Systems that are productive will exhibit a full spectrum of species as a full outer ring. Compromised ecosystems may have missing outer leaves, branches and sections. The damaged ecosystem may be impaired due to pollution, climate change, habitat loss or even the introduction of an invasive species such as rats.
Reflection on the Hillis plot allows the imagination to consider an Accretocene, an era of rapid biological productivity catalyzed by humanity. This is in opposition to the current destructive Anthropocene. The creation of the right conditions allows for nature to rewild impaired and impacted regions. Rewilding is important language, not to be confused with repair or restore.
Palmyra demonstrates that by creating conditions for bio-productivity to thrive, ecosystems rapidly generate (not regenerate). They may or may not resemble a facsimile of what was once. This is an important distinction, and it allows us to imagine the possibility of rewilding on a global scale. Figure 3 attempts to capture this rewilding Accretocene vision. We just need to create the conditions for natural processes to exploit. The diagram has a nonlinear timeline displaying a short destructive Anthropocene followed by an enduring multi-eon timescale in which a biodiverse world is rebuilt. This is fundamentally the work of Island Conservation — a wild, beautiful aspiring endeavour that provides a truly hopefully and scalable vision for the planet.
The ideas are expanded in Figure 4 to demonstrate multiple pathways.
Three emerge. The first is a rapid response rewild intervention trajectory catalyzed by humans, preventing deep genetic lineages from being lost. While extinctions cannot be reversed, the world’s biodiversity is still sufficiently broad that the existing ecosystem function would be retained. The second trajectory illustrates the slow multi-million-year response when deep loss of biodiversity occurs. When deep genetic lineages are lost, the range of biodiversity and by extension the resiliency of ecosystems is contracted. Building new and different flora and fauna occurs at a much slower pace defined by evolution and adaption. This consideration demands for global adoption of conserve and repair polices to be introduced. The third deep extinction trajectory envisions an almost complete loss of life, requiring billions of millennia for a biodiverse world to return, if indeed possible.
On Palmyra, the rats liquidated biodiversity. But the eradication project allowed it to rebound. However, the original Pisonia trees are still pressured because of the invasive coconut tree, which grows significantly faster, closes the canopy, and out competes the native trees for sunlight. Understanding this core ecosystem characteristic allows Wegmann and the team to envision a future in which these forests can be recovered by careful removal of coconut groves and replanting of native trees.
Indeed, this is the next phase of Island Conservation’s work, to be carefully considered and orchestrated. For example, birds currently nest and thrive in the native forests, but they’ve adapted to find their nests and chicks by navigating from the open ocean along defined flight paths marked by physical features and characteristics — often coconut trees. The rapid removal of coconut trees to allow native forests to be replanted might harm the bird populations by preventing them from returning to their nests. Thus, careful and respectful manicuring will be required.
Rewilding is often critiqued as a notion of playing God with an ecosystem, as a species we already do — just very badly. The lessons of Palmyra extend to the whole planet. We could play much better. Island Conservation is a global leader in this endeavour. Enabling an Accretocene is a simple global human choice.
The team returns to the islet. Holmes, the science director, looks quizzically at my mud-streaked salt encrusted face, while Wegmann quips “not too smart sitting underneath coconut trees — they tend to drop coconuts on your head.”
“That’s only a half of it,” I retort. A few minutes later they’re all laughing as I regale them with the details of my last few hours.
It’s been 10 years since the rats were removed from Palmyra. The atoll’s bird population is exploding, seedlings are thriving — and the once diminished forest is rebounding. The islands are feeding the surrounding reefs. My hope for the next decade is that the work of Island Conservation and its partners is globally recognized, supported and embraced.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has suspended some environmental-oversight rules, and is now inviting businesses to request regulatory changes amid COVID-19. File photo by Alex Tétreault
The Ontario government is allowing businesses to do “secret lobbying” by inviting them to ask for temporary law changes during COVID-19, Democracy Watch says.
The Progressive Conservative government, which was elected on promises to reduce red tape, announced Tuesday it would open an online portal where businesses could ask for regulation or rule changes to help them weather the pandemic. Democracy Watch, a non-profit which advocates for government accountability, said that portal is an invitation to use a loophole in Ontario’s lobbying rules, which is especially worrying given the government’s temporary rollbacks of some environmental protections.
“I am very concerned,” co-founder Duff Conacher said. “The Ford government has already used the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to cut some key environment-protection laws, and will likely try to cut other key big-business accountability and responsibility laws and enforcement actions to allow for more polluting, abuse of workers and communities and gouging and abuse of consumers than is already happening.”
Under Ontario’s lobbying rules, you do not need to register or disclose lobbying activity if you receive a written invitation to do so.
Last month, as COVID-19 worsened, the Ontario government also suspended portions of its environmental-oversight rules, saying they could hinder its response to the pandemic. Government ministries do not have to consult the public or consider environmental values as they make decisions until 30 days after Ontario’s state of emergency ends, which critics said was an unnecessary overreach.
The portal on the Ontario government’s website invites businesses to “help us support you during COVID-19.” After filling out a short form, companies can request any kind of regulation or rule change they deem necessary.
Though the page says it’s aimed at helping businesses work remotely, assist the health-care system or retool to manufacture supplies needed to fight the pandemic, the form also welcomes submissions from companies in a wide variety of sectors, from beauty products and alternative energy to mining and home renovation.
Ian Allen, a spokesman for Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Associate Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria, said in a statement the government is doing everything it can to ensure businesses struggling due to the pandemic are able to survive.
“Many regulations are in place for very good reasons — like protecting our drinking water and keeping workers safe on the job,” Allen said.
“As we work to ease the regulatory burden, we are doing so in a smart, careful way to ensure that health, safety and environmental protections are maintained or enhanced.”
On the federal level, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has asked Ottawa to suspend requirements to disclose lobbying of federal officials. Neither Allen nor CAPP answered questions about whether the Ontario government received a similar request from the oil-lobby group, and whether that influenced the creation of the portal.
Companies do not have to disclose lobbying activity if they receive a written invitation to do it. The fact that the Ontario government has asked to suggest rule changes during COVID-19 allows them to avoid lobbying rules, Democracy Watch says
Teck Mining Company’s zinc and lead smelting and refining complex is pictured in Trail, B.C., on Monday, November 26, 2012. File photo by The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck
Teck Resources Ltd. is leaving the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an industry organization whose members represent about 80 per cent of Canada’s oil and gas production.
The move was made as part of a cost-cutting drive, Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said in an email, noting the company’s 2019 CAPP membership cost about $135,000.
Teck is targeting $1 billion in cost reductions for 2020 — double the figure the resources company proposed in October as it deals with declining commodity prices and an uncertain global outlook. It says it has achieved $375 million in savings since launching the cost-cutting program.
It remains a big player in the oilsands, however, thanks to its 21.3-per-cent ownership of the Fort Hills oilsands mine operated by partner Suncor Energy Inc.
Fort Hills produced 31,700 barrels per day for Teck in the first quarter, although that will decline thanks to a decision in late March to suspend one of its two production trains in view of sharply lower global oil prices.
CAPP said in a statement its membership ebbs and flows, but has been stable in recent years.
It said it has added seven new members and lost eight since the beginning of 2019, with the lost members including companies that have sold their Canadian assets, been part of mergers or acquisitions or declared bankruptcy.
“During this time of acute economic crisis we have seen a significant increase in our member activity at CAPP,” CEO Tim McMillan said in an email.
“We have been able to simplify the process for governments to consult with industry by consolidating and clarifying our recommendations on proposed initiatives.”
In 2014, CAPP had 49 producer members and it currently has 53, it said. Producer members pay fees based on their oil and gas production.
Teck Resources exits energy industry group CAPP, citing cost-cutting
The organization added it has a combined total of about 125 producer and associate members.
On its website, CAPP says membership benefits include representation in lobbying government, as well as networking opportunities and access to research, seminars, workshops and conferences. SOURCE
The author standing by the last big Sitka Spruce in the Lower Seymour Conservation Area. Photo courtesy of Jens Wieting.
The COVID-19 pandemic is another reminder of how fragile our existence on planet Earth is. We still don’t know how many more will die or get sick, but experts expect a vaccination will become available some time next year and allow us to get the upper hand, at least on this virus.
Unfortunately, there is no equivalent to a vaccine for restoring a livable climate and the web of life as we know it. For those who follow the news about global heating and the extinction crisis, the pandemic has added another level of despair about where the world is heading.
Mixed with concern about the new threat, however, is a sense of possibility. That’s because we’ve seen previously unimaginable global action by governments and individuals to flatten the curve of the pandemic. A safe future, however, calls for governments taking action on more than one crisis at a time. It’s clear we need to act with the same determination, based on science, to address the climate and extinction crisis.
April saw a lot of reflection about the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, considered the birth of the modern environmental movement. Taking stock of the trends of the past 50 years — a tiny fraction of the 3.5 billion years of history of life on Earth — is a sobering exercise. We cannot be certain whether it is already too late to stop current climate and ecosystem trends, but the science is clear that another 50 years on the current trajectory will not end well.
Extended clearcuts in Schmidt Creek, until recently one of the last relatively intact old-growth watersheds on Northern Vancouver Island. Photo by Mark Worthing
In November 2019, shortly before the pandemic started, 11,000 scientists warned of “untold suffering” unless there are “major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.” In February, scientists reported that Australia’s bushfires, fuelled by global warming, burned 20 per cent of Australia’s forests, a proportion considered globally unprecedented.
There is very little time to force our governments to change direction if we are to avoid colliding with nature’s limits. In British Columbia, work on new fossil fuel projects such as LNG Canada, Coastal GasLink and the Trans Mountain pipeline, and logging of some of the last intact old-growth forests in the world continues, despite the pandemic, keeping us set on a collision course.
At the same time, new federal data show that B.C.’s emissions increased for a third year, from 63.3 to 65.5 million tonnes (+3.5 per cent) and are now higher than in 2007 (the year the province announced its first reduction target). According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), emissions must fall by 7.6 per cent globally to prevent catastrophic climate impacts.
If we emerge from the pandemic with more business as usual, we will simply amplify threats caused by climate change and habitat degradation such as more catastrophic wildfires, heatwaves, flooding or droughts, as seen in recent years.
“The drastic actions taken to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in many parts of the world show that governments are willing to listen to the scientists and disrupt business as usual when a threat becomes too big to ignore.”
Being so close to climate and ecosystem breakdown means there is no room for error. Without a course change now, we will run out of time and money to build a green economy, meet climate targets and save ecosystems such as the last old-growth forest before it’s too late.
It can feel hopeless to expect that governments will do the right thing in time. This is not the time, however, to give up hope. The arguments of those who defend the current decision-making are quickly crumbling. History shows that we can overcome the barriers for change when various tipping points emerge simultaneously.
Growing support for climate action, falling costs for renewable energy, increasing risks for uneconomic prices and stranded assets in the fossil fuel sector, Indigenous Peoples winning crucial cases in court, and worsening climate impacts such as drought and fires all combined with a pandemic mean that business as usual is not a viable option.
Government leadership is hindered by the influence of corporations, as well as the fact that the climate and extinction crises are slowly unfolding catastrophes, which makes it harder to understand that we are approaching dangerous thresholds.
Humans are generally not effective at recognizing slow yet threatening changes in their environment. Environmental degradation is often described as a ‘shifting baseline’ (the gradual change in what is considered the norm) and our failure to fully recognize these trends is referred to as ‘change blindness.’
One useful way to overcome these challenges is to consider the thousands of years of history of the Indigenous Peoples in whose territories we are living. For more than 11,000 years, Indigenous settlements co-existed with intact ecosystems and a stable climate, in contrast to the fast-paced degradation unleashed in the last 150 years of European colonization of these lands, and in particular in the last 50 years.
After Indigenous Peoples lived for thousands of years amongst intact, ecologically rich old-growth landscapes, the vast majority of these ancient forests has been converted to young, ecologically impoverished, even-aged stands in just a few decades. Across British Columbia, what little old-growth forest remains (now considered ‘irrecoverable carbon) is being logged at a rate of more than 500 soccer fields, or one Stanley Park, a day.
On both the climate crisis and the extinction crisis, the B.C. government is defending business as usual with small, incremental changes nowhere close to a path needed to stabilize the climate and maintain ecological integrity for future generations (for example, in the underwhelming provincial Earth Day 50 statement).
History, however, shows that change is often within reach and closer than we think, when change blindness becomes intolerable. It is time for the B.C. government to grasp how quickly our society and economies are changing in response to the climate crisis, now combined with a pandemic, escalating environmental problems, economic shifts and technological progress.
The B.C. government doesn’t have to look far for a blueprint of how to jumpstart the economy, save our life support systems and fight social injustice. Former staffers of Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state and former presidential candidate, put out an Evergreen plan that could guide our province on a different path.
For a liveable climate, we must overcome the change blindness of our elected politicians, using science and stories to build a diverse movement that cannot be ignored. We live in an almost unthinkable moment of time. We are so close to tipping points in climate and ecosystems, that our collective willingness for real change in the next few years will determine whether all generations after us can live on a livable planet or not.
Graph by IPBES showing bio-diversity loss.
The drastic actions taken to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in many parts of the world show that governments are willing to listen to the scientists and disrupt business as usual when a threat becomes too big to ignore.
Just like there is little time to flatten the curve to prevent a collapse of our heath-care system, we have little time to flatten the curve of the climate and extinction crisis before it’s too late to save a liveable climate and natural ecosystems and their countless essential benefits, including clean air, clean water and food production.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
What kind of world do we want for Earth Day 100?
This is the question our governments must answer in 2020. SOURCE
Planet of the Humans film has had 5m views on YouTube and has enraged renewable energy experts who are demanding an apology
The executive director of Planet of the Humans, Michael Moore, has defended the film against criticism from environmentalists saying he wanted to ignite a discussion. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Planet of the Humans is an environmental documentary that has enraged renewable energy experts and environmentalists, with some calling for its high-profile executive producer, Michael Moore, to apologise.
It was released for free less than two weeks ago, and at the time of writing had had close to 5m views on YouTube.
Across its 102 minutes, the film’s producer and narrator, Jeff Gibbs, weaves a disjointed narrative that renewable energy is just as bad as fossil fuels, high-profile environmentalists are corrupted by capitalism and population growth is the great unspoken enemy.
“It is truly demoralising how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change,” said the Canadian activist and journalist Naomi Klein.
“There are important critiques of an environmentalism that refuses to reckon with unlimited consumption and growth. But this film ain’t it.”
Why are so many people so angry? Here are some of the key issues, but this is not even close to being an exhaustive list.
Renewables are just as bad as fossil fuels?
Associate Prof Mark Diesendorf, an energy systems and sustainability expert at the University of New South Wales, tells Guardian Australia the film’s commentary on renewable energy is “out-of-date, superficial, simplistic, misleading and very biased”.
It criticises renewable energy – particularly solar and wind – in part because you need varying amounts of materials, energy and metals to make them.
For anyone who has thought for more than a minute about what it takes to build that solar panel or those wind turbines, it should be no revelation that some materials and energy are needed. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
But the film leaves the viewer thinking there is no net gain from renewable technologies and does not, for example, look at any cradle-to-grave analysis of the technologies it criticises.
“The myth that life-cycle energy invested [and carbon emissions] in building renewable energy technologies is comparable with the lifetime energy generation is false,” says Diesendorf.
“Solar panels generate the energy required to build themselves in one to two years of operation, depending on the type of panel and location and their lifetime is about 20 years; large wind turbines in three to 12 months, depending on size of turbines and location, and their lifetime is 25 to 30 years.”
In the film Gibbs says: “I learned that solar panels don’t last forever either.” You would think most people would know that.
Early in the film, Gibbs walks with an environment group protesting a plan to put up 21 wind turbines at Lowell Mountain in Vermont, a row that played out in 2011 (another hint at the age of the film).
An unnamed campaigner tells Gibbs the power grid needs to run idle when the wind drops and that this causes a “bigger footprint” than just running the grid off fossil fuels.
Gibbs takes the speaker’s word but Diesendorf says this is an old myth disproved by real world examples of power grids running with high penetrations of renewable energy – with and without storage such as batteries and hydro power.
The pace of change and development in the renewable energy industry is rapid so a film that wants to inform viewers should be as up-to-date as possible.
But the film is riddled with footage, segments and issues that are a decade or so old.
Gibbs attends the launch of the Chevy Volt, a car launched 10 years ago. He criticises it because it’s recharged from a power grid in Michigan dominated by coal.
Taking a very old example of an electric car operating in one place should not be the basis for forming a judgment about the role of electric cars in 2020, yet the film does.
Gibbs tours a “football field-sized” solar installation called the Cedar Street solar array in Lansing, Michigan. An energy boss says to camera that the panels have an efficiency of a “little less than 8%” and that the array could power only about 10 city homes a year.
One energy writer to have looked closely at many of the claims in the film is Australian Ketan Joshi who says looking at a solar array from 12 years ago is “an absolute eternity in solar development years”.
Diesendorf says panels with an 8% efficiency “were on the market several decades ago” and now most commercial panels have an efficiency above 20%.
What’s happened to the cost of solar panels since 2008? Analysts Wood Mackenzie say they fell about 90% between 2010 and 2019.
The film spends time looking at biomass energy or, more specifically, one subset of biomass technology that is essentially burning trees and woodchips.
Gibbs has been a long-time biomass critic (an old article of his includes a photograph taken while filming footage that appears in the film suggesting that a scene showing clear-felled trees is at least 10 years old).
Burning trees for energy is very problematic but there are reasons why under some circumstances it is not as bad as burning fossil fuels from a greenhouse gas perspective.
One reason is part of climate change 101. Burning fossil fuels liberates carbon atoms that were removed from the Earth’s active carbon cycle millions of years ago. Burning trees moves CO2 back into the biosphere that was sequestered only in recent decades.
To an uninformed viewer, the film might look to be getting some purchase when it shows high-profile environmentalists – namely the author and activist Bill McKibben – supporting burning wood.
McKibben founded his 350.org climate group at Middlebury College, and the film has footage of him at an opening of a biomass gasification plant there, saying technology like that should be everywhere.
McKibben says he heard about the plans for the documentary last year: “I wrote the producer and director to set the record straight, and never heard back from them. That seems like bad journalism, and bad faith.”
That aside, Diesendorf says the film’s treatment of bioenergy is simplistic because while some methods, such as ethanol from corn, are environmentally damaging, ethanol from waste starch is not.
He says the film creates a false impression that bioenergy as expected to have a large contribution to energy needs in the future. “The truth is that some see it playing a minor role while almost all the others reject it entirely. Hardly anyone sees it as playing an important role.”
‘Devoid of solutions’
Planet of the Humans is a film that is almost entirely devoid of solutions to the existential crisis that its producers say they are deeply concerned about.
It rightly raises questions about rampant consumption and the planet’s dwindling ecosystems. As some of the examples also show, the film is long out-of-date and there’s no evidence that attempts were made to revise its content or its premise as new information became available and, presumably, the film sat idle in multiple parts for many years.
“We are asking questions about what we say is going to save the world, and it should be permitted to have discussions among people who believe in climate change – and know the environment is in trouble – about
what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.
“That was our intent – to trigger a discussion and raise a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers.”
Moore adds: “We wanted to ignite a discussion, and that’s happened.”
Even more than the many disasters of the past — wildfires, recessions, the rise of racist violence around the world — this crisis is laying bare the extreme injustices and inequalities of our economic and social system.
Right now, millions of families in Canada are struggling to pay their bills. Almost half of the more than 3.4 million households who rent have less than a month’s worth of savings. By this summer, unemployment could reach levels not seen for decades. The impacts of COVID-19 are discrimination in action — the people hardest hit are the ones whose basic security was already at risk: those who are homeless, poor, undocumented, or incarcerated.
Meanwhile, some of the most powerful people in the world are exploiting the crisis to push for regulatory rollbacks and corporate bailouts worth billions of dollars.
The multiple crises we face are crises of greed, not scarcity. We have enough shelter, food, and care to ensure that everyone can live safely, sustainably and with dignity — if we stop allowing the most powerful among us to hoard the wealth we need to survive.
We’re taking action now because this is our moment to rebuild the systems that sustain us — meeting immediate, life-saving needs, while laying the groundwork for how we make our economies and society stronger in the long-term.
We’re excited by stories of workers and communities rising up globally to connect all of these struggles, fighting for healthcare for all, a homes guarantee, labour protections, free public transit, and more. Stay tuned to hear about urgent demands coming out of these frontline movements, and find out how you can take action for a People’s Bailout today.
Jody Chan Senior Manager of Communications, The Leap