Orphan well clean up money a start — but building resilient economy and planet requires long-term thinking

Oil wells in Alberta. Orphan well clean up money a start - Ecojustice.

Photo by Andrew Kaszowski, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last week, the price of crude oil plummeted to negative $37.63 USD a barrel. As some pointed out, oil was officially cheaper than a roll of toilet paper – an apt summary of the times in which we’re living.

As an environmental lawyer based in Alberta, I’m well aware of the roller coaster ride that is oil and gas prices. In recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, once again, just how fragile and unreliable the province’s reliance on the tar sands is. That’s why, after decades of boom and bust that have made it impossible for Albertans to plan for their futures — not to mention extensive damage to the environment and climate — it’s time to get off this carnival ride.

As most of us know, weathering the COVID-19 crisis and coming out on the side will require governments at both the provincial and federal levels to come together and take coordinated action. We need our politicians to introduce policies and laws that get us through this current moment. But we also need to do this in a way that is sustainable and builds resiliency, so that we can better prevent future disasters and cope with any emergencies that do come our way.

In other words: It doesn’t make sense to address today’s COVID-19 crisis with measures that will make the climate crisis worse in the future.

Fortunately, the federal government has already demonstrated it’s willing to take a thoughtful approach to where and how it spends recovery money – in the short term, at least.

On April 17, the Liberal government announced $1.7B in funding to clean up orphan oil and gas wells, which are left behind when companies go bankrupt or no longer have the money to continue operations, and other inactive wells held by still viable companies.

Inactive gas wells are a major problem for the environment. The longer a well sits inactive, the more likely it is to leak methane — a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release — to the surface. Inactive wells are also more likely to contaminate groundwater as pipes and cement break down underground over time.

Another problem with orphan oil and gas wells is that, while they sit inoperable, they take up land that people could use for other purposes, such as agriculture. This is especially problematic when companies leave inactive wells sitting on private property. That’s what happened to Albertan rancher Tony Bruder and his family, some of Ecojustice’s longest-standing clients.

The scale of this problem is huge. There are about 95,000 inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta alone. Of those, nearly 18,000 wells do not meet the Alberta Energy Regulator’s standards for inactive wells, despite a five-year push to bring them into compliance that ended earlier this year.

Newly-announced funding for inactive well clean up will, undoubtedly, help ease this problem. The money will support clean ups across the country, creating jobs, freeing up land, and helping the environment in the process. But, while the funding is a smart short-term move, it doesn’t tackle the reasons why there are so many inactive wells across the country in the first place — or why the public should have to step in when companies ignore their own messes.

The fact is, without addressing the source of the orphan well problem by requiring companies to set aside clean up money before they drill a well — and laws and policies that ensure they use this money for that purpose once the well is no longer in use — inactive oil and gas wells will continue to threaten the environment and people across Canada.

As we begin to envision what it will take to rebuild the economy and protect the environment in the long-term, Canadians need more than short-term, clean up thinking. We need a long-term strategy to make sure companies don’t make messes in the first place, a plan for how we’re going to diversify our economy so we aren’t reliant on a single, volatile industry, and a commitment to building sustainable systems that will help us get through future crisis — whether those are pandemics, natural disasters, market crashes, or climate catastrophes — and come out on the other side with our planet, systems, and communities intact. SOURCE

James Hansen: Fishing for the Big One – in Canada

7 May 2020
James Hansen

Oh, Canada!  Friends to the south and around the world turn their lonely eyes to you.

For more than a decade we have searched the world for a nation to demonstrate the one carbon pricing approach that would work: a rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, with the funds distributed uniformly, 100 percent, to the nation’s citizens: https://drive.google.com/open?id=14XypWkRWvX8CDPAPUBC3g28oDMo9ijXz

Eighty percent of the public would come out ahead, their monthly dividend more than offsetting increased prices of fuel and products made from fossil fuels.  Wealthy people with big carbon footprints lose money, but they can afford it.

This money must be given to the public openly as a bank deposit, debit card deposit or cheque, not hidden in some complex calculation in annual income tax forms.

Some politicians resist this.  They want the money to give to their benefactors.  The fossil fuel industry fights it tooth and nail, as they understand that it is the one approach that, over time, would lead to phase in of clean energies in place of fossil fuels.

If you are Canadian (only Canadians can sign) please sign the petition: https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-2542  

Go to the CSAS  website

#WetsuwetenStrong in the Wake of COVID-19

 In the early months of 2020, headlines across Canada were dominated by the unfolding conflict in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C.

The RCMP’s forcible removal of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders and supporters from their ancestral lands to make way for the Coastal GasLink pipeline project sparked solidarity actions across the country, including the disruption of train traffic and the occupation of the provincial legislature in Victoria.

Fast forward three months and media coverage has all but stopped.

The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has eclipsed virtually all other new stories. There is little mention of whether the pipeline is proceeding, how provincial and federal leaders intend to address ongoing opposition to the project, or whether the meaningful recognition of Wet’suwet’en title is finally on the horizon.

In light of the above it would be understandable – but inaccurate – to assume that the Wet’suwet’en crisis has abated. Beneath the daily onslaught of coronavirus-related news, the issues which resulted in the conflict over the pipeline project remain unresolved. Below we provide an overview of what happened and what we can learn from the events of early 2020.

What happened

In 2014, the Province issued an environmental assessment certificate to Coastal GasLink approving the construction and operation of a 670-kilometre long natural gas pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, B.C. over the opposition of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders.

Coastal GasLink signed benefits agreements with elected Indian Act bands along the pipeline route. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters remained steadfastly opposed to the project.

The pipeline route runs through areas of particular cultural and historical significance to the Wet’suwet’en. It also includes the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, which provides land-based healing to Indigenous people recovering from intergenerational trauma and abuse.

The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs were plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case, in which the Supreme Court of Canada accepted evidence of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary governance system and confirmed that Aboriginal title to lands in Wet’suwet’en territory had never been surrendered or extinguished.

While it stopped short of issuing a declaration of Aboriginal title, the Supreme Court held that the Crown had a duty to enter into good faith negotiations to resolve outstanding issues with the Wet’suwet’en. Over twenty years have elapsed since the decision, but the Crown has yet to recognize Wet’suwet’en title or jurisdiction.

In December 2018, the BC Supreme Court issued an interim injunction prohibiting opponents of the pipeline project from blocking or interfering with construction activities on Wet’suwet’en territory. The RCMP’s enforcement of the injunction order garnered international attention in early 2019.

The issue attracted further attention later that same year when internal communications revealed the RCMP was prepared to use lethal force against the Wet’suwet’en in the course of enforcing the injunction.

A year later, at the end of December 2019, the Court extended the injunction order until the completion of the project. Like its predecessor, the 2019 injunction order includes provisions authorizing the RCMP to enforce the injunction. In response, Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders issued their own notice evicting the company from their territory.

A month later the RCMP carried out a multi-day operation during which Wet’suwet’en leaders, matriarchs and supporters were handcuffed, arrested and removed from their ancestral lands.

The enforcement operation was immediately followed by a series of solidarity movements across Canada and around the world. Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters carried out non-violent demonstrations, temporarily disrupted highways and railway lines, and peacefully occupied public spaces including the B.C. legislature.

Throughout the dispute, B.C. Premier John Horgan repeatedly refused to meet Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, arguing that the “rule of law” must prevail. At the same time, Indigenous organizations and legal professionals emphasized the importance of resolving the underlying legal issue of who has the right to make decisions on lands subject to unextinguished Indigenous title.

Recent events

Provincial and federal leaders finally met with the Wet’suwet’en at the end of February 2020. Three days of negotiations resulted in a draft memorandum of agreement on issues related to Wet’suwet’en rights and title. Few specifics about the agreement have been released, other than that it does not expressly address the Coastal Gaslink issue.

Less than two weeks later, the World Health Organization designated COVID-19 a global pandemic. Governments throughout the world enacted sweeping changes to contain the spread of the virus, including significant disruptions to individual freedoms, daily life and economic activities.

In Canada, public attention turned swiftly from concerns about Indigenous rights and self-determination to urgent questions about maintaining public health and safety.

The effect on the Wet’suwet’en-Coastal GasLink dispute was immediate. Large gatherings of people were prohibited, making solidarity demonstrations impossible. Courts drastically reduced their hearing schedules, resulting in the indefinite suspension of numerous legal challenges filed in relation to the pipeline project.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders were forced to find ways for members to review the draft agreement remotely, without access to the feast hall which plays a central role in Wet’suwet’en law and governance. As of April 28th, media sources announced that the Wet’suwet’en had reached consensus to sign the agreement, but that concerns regarding the Coastal GasLink project remain unresolved.

At the same time, public health authorities declared the pipeline project to be an essential service. Construction continues, despite mounting concerns about the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 posed by transient workers moving to and from remote work camps.

What have we learned?

The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily diverted public attention away from the Wet’suwet’en-Coastal GasLink conflict. However, critical issues regarding the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples remain unresolved and will need to be addressed once the current health crisis abates.

In the meantime, we have an opportunity to take stock of what we have learned so far.

First, it is far from clear whether the Coastal GasLink project will proceed as planned in Wet’suwet’en territory. The company’s decision to press ahead with its agenda ignores the multiple levels of uncertainty now connected with the project, including the underlying issue of Aboriginal title, pending court challenges, outstanding permit conditions, and the ever-increasing economic ramifications of the pandemic.

Second, the federal and provincial governments’ responses to the COVID-19 situation underscore that where there is sufficient political will, governments are able to act quickly and decisively to allocate resources and implement creative solutions for complex problems. It will no longer be acceptable for governments to claim that the issues posed by Indigenous title and jurisdiction are too complicated or costly to resolve.

Lastly, the winter of 2020 has revealed the deep commitment on the part of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada to work together to achieve justice for the Wet’suwet’en.

Going forward, the public is unlikely to be distracted by specious arguments about Indian Act bands versus hereditary governments, the meaning of “consent” versus “veto,” or the legitimacy of Indigenous law.

The pandemic has given federal and provincial leaders a reprieve, but it will not make the issues which underlie the Wet’suwet’en conflict go away.

Regardless of how long the COVID-19 situation persists, we can expect Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to hold their governments to account and take steps to meaningfully recognize Wet’suwet’en title and jurisdiction over their ancestral lands.

First Peoples Law Corporation is legal counsel for Unist’ot’en. The statements here are made on our own behalf and reflect our views on this issue, not those of our client.


Wet’suwet’en Reading List

With so much media coverage of the Wet’suwet’en standoff prior to COVID-19, we thought it would be helpful to collect various articles, blog posts, interviews, case comments, and other resources in one location. We hope it will be a useful tool for anyone wanting to learn more about the situation in Wet’suwet’en territory and Indigenous Peoples’ ongoing struggle for justice in Canada.

View our Wet’suwet’en Reading List.


Kate Gunn is a lawyer at First Peoples Law Corporation. Kate completed her Master’s of Law at the University of British Columbia. Her most recent academic essay, “Agreeing to Share: Treaty 3, History & the Courts,” was published in the UBC Law Review.  Contact Kate

Alberta suspends at least 19 monitoring requirements in oilsands, citing coronavirus concerns

The Alberta Energy Regulator has told companies they can stop some environmental monitoring programs, from groundwater sampling to keeping track of how many birds land in toxic tailings ponds

Propane bird scares are used on tailings ponds to prevent birds from landing on the water.

Bird monitoring has been suspended in tailings ponds at Alberta’s oilsands. In this photo, deterrents are used to prevent birds from landing on the water. Photo: Robert Van Waarden

The decisions come one month after the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) sent a long letter to the federal government outlining requests that environmental and pollution monitoring requirements be put on hold, requirements it described as “low-risk regulatory obligations.”

Now the regulator has issued a series of decisions that include the suspension of some environmental monitoring in the oilsands.

“It’s quite shocking and it is quite concerning,” Mandy Olsgard, a risk assessment specialist and former senior environmental toxicologist with the Alberta Energy Regulator, told The Narwhal.

For some monitoring, “losing this data for a very short amount of time might not affect the overall datasets,” she said. “But some of these clauses are there to understand potential acute risks to health or the environment.”

For Olsgard and others, the regulator’s decisions read like a “wish list” from CAPP.

In an email, regulator spokesperson Shawn Roth said “[the regulator] is in regular contact with industry, including industry groups such as, CAPP and [the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada], as we work together to navigate through the current situation.”

“Looks like CAPP got its way,” Shaun Fluker, an associate professor of law at the University of Calgary, told The Narwhal. 

The regulator has granted suspensions to multiple major oilsands projects for requirements ranging from volatile organic compound monitoring to fugitive emissions leak detection to wetlands and wildlife monitoring to bird monitoring at tailings ponds.

Just days before bird monitoring programs were suspended, Imperial Oil found dozens of dead grebes and shorebirds in their tailings ponds, according to CBC. While the regulator has required that scare cannons and other deterrents remain in place, an Imperial spokesperson said these were not effective in preventing birds from landing at the company’s tailings ponds.

Bird monitoring in the oilsands gained international attention when more than 1,600 ducks were found dead after landing on a Syncrude tailings pond in 2008. More recently, Syncrude was fined more than $2.7 million last year after 31 great blue herons died in their tailings ponds in 2015. Those herons were initially discovered by a contractor working on a bird monitoring program for Syncrude. 

As Olsgard notes, these current suspensions come during an important bird migration season.

The suspension of these requirements is effective immediately, which leaves some experts questioning how sites will be monitored. 

“You don’t know what’s going on in groundwater or surface water or fugitive emissions,” Barry Robinson, a Calgary-based lawyer with Ecojustice, told The Narwhal.

“It really is stepping out into no man’s land by suspending the actual monitoring,” he added.

“You just won’t know what’s happening.”

Olsgard is concerned that while temporarily stopping some monitoring may not pose a huge issue in the long run, other data is critically important to assessing risk to public health and the environment. 

But companies like Syncrude and Suncor emphasized to The Narwhal that these suspensions were necessary for the protection of public health during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“We understand and know the public expects us to responsibly develop the oilsands, which includes monitoring for potential impacts, but we also want people to recognize that we’re relying on the guidance of Alberta Health Services,” Will Gibson, spokesperson for Syncrude, said.

The Narwhal previously reported the Alberta government had suspended the requirement to report on some environmental monitoring as a result of COVID-19. 

The latest decisions by the regulator put some monitoring itself on hold as well.

Roth said by email that companies must continue to collect the “majority of monitoring information” and make it available upon request.

But with the latest suspensions, experts are concerned some information will never be collected.

“There’s nothing to report if you don’t monitor,” Fluker said.

‘Unilateral’ decisions

Each decision is labelled as a “unilateral amendment to approval conditions regarding monitoring in response to COVID-19” and was posted on the regulator’s website. “We anticipate that the amendments will be in place as long as the public orders issued under the Public Health Act remain in effect,” Roth said in an email.

For some operations, such as Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine and Cold Lake in-situ project, the list of types of environmental monitoring programs suspended contains 19 items. (Imperial’s Kearl work camp is itself the site of a COVID-19 outbreak.)

According to the decisions issued by the regulator, the companies have “raised legitimate concerns about their ability to meet monitoring requirements” during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We made a request to the Alberta Energy Regulator, along with other oilsands operators to suspend certain monitoring activities,” Gibson, the spokesperson for Syncrude, told The Narwhal.

“We made this request because the safety and wellbeing of our employees is a top priority,” he said. “We’re following, and expecting our employees to follow, recommended and mandated government measures.” Gibson said the company wants to “make sure physical distancing is maintained” whether on buses, on site or in work camps.

Erin Rees, a representative for Suncor, reiterated Gibson’s explanations. “Since mid-March Suncor has been focused on doing our part to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Reducing interactions between people on our sites and in our offices is critical in ensuring the health and safety of our workforce and we’ve limited people on site and in offices to essential staff only since the middle of March,” she said in an email.

“We made requests to the [regulator] to postpone some monitoring in order to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 and specifically to ensure public health guidance is respected.”

“To be clear — all requests for postponement of monitoring were due to the number of people required to perform the work, impacting our ability to ensure physical distancing.”

Gibson said Syncrude has dramatically reduced its workforce in other areas as well, noting staffing at its Aurora and Mildred Lake operations have been reduced by more than 1,000 workers.

Some “monitoring activities posed a challenge in terms of maintaining physical distancing,” he added. The company has also reduced its operations maintenance staff.

Olsgard, the toxicologist, noted that with decreased staff on site to run oilsands operations, the risk to public health and the environment may actually be increased. “We’re actually in kind of a high-risk operational state,” she said.

David Spink, a retired Government of Alberta employee and former director of air and water approvals, told The Narwhal by email that he questioned the assertion that monitoring work can’t be done safely. 

“I find it somewhat hard to accept that we can have construction workers doing work on an expansion to our condo building but the oilsands industry can’t have contractors come in and do some of the monitoring that is required,” he said. 

“Having done and seen some of this monitoring it can be done very safely in the context of social distancing and minimal interactions,” he added, noting that companies should be asked to provide much more specific detail about why each monitoring requirement can’t be met, or how the missed data could be mitigated.

Imperial Oil and CNRL did not respond to The Narwhal’s request for comment by publication time. 

Concerns about work camps

Currently, Alberta’s public health rules restrict gatherings of more than 15 people, encourage physical distancing of two metres and restrict business activities to those considered to be essential services.

Essential services are still allowed to operate in the province, and the government has issued a long list to clarify what is considered essential. 

“Petroleum, natural gas and coal” jobs are considered to be essential services in Alberta, as are “environmental services for agriculture, mining, oil and gas.”

Gibson, the spokesperson for Syncrude, emphasized the company was concerned about bringing in contractors from outside the region to complete environmental monitoring.

“Some of the monitoring activities involve bringing in people from outside the province,” he said, adding that he was “not sure if we have that capability right now” to have monitoring be completed in house.

“We understand and respect the need for monitoring,” he added. “We’re not asking for these activities to be altered or taken away.”

For people in the field like Charlotte Clarke, a consultant who works in the oil and gas industry, there are serious concerns about worker safety during the pandemic.

“Whenever we delay inspections, it always is concerning for me,” she told The Narwhal. “But when it came to the choice between that and my safety, it’s a hard one.” 

For Clarke, an engineer who works with in-situ operations in the oilsands, staying in work camps is the real concern, more so than the daily work itself.

“You wouldn’t be able to maintain social distancing,” she says of the mess hall at camp. “It’s pretty much like a school cafeteria.”

“I’m just really glad that I didn’t have to go through that.”

What work is safe during a pandemic?

Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon has previously said that it was his government’s goal to “keep people working … in the oil and gas industry where safe and within the requirements the chief medical officer has set out.” 

“We believe we can do that on lots of projects,” he added. He was referring to the cleanup of inactive and orphan oil and gas wells.

That leaves Robinson wondering why environmental monitoring in the oilsands can’t be done safely as well.

“If the operation is running, the monitoring should be running,” Robinson said.

Olsgard agrees. “They could have developed COVID-specific protocols to address worker safety,” she said. 

Fluker points to other activities deemed essential and the hazards facing workers. “The province is OK with letting Cargill operate,” he said, pointing to the largest single outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada, in a meat-packing facility in High River, Alta. 

Meanwhile, bird monitoring is suspended in tailings ponds at Alberta’s oilsands.

“There’s a real divergence there and it’s hard to reconcile.”

‘No end date, no public notice, no discussion at all’

Olsgard is concerned with how broad the regulator’s recent decisions appear to be. More detailed requirements, she said, “might be there in the background, but I don’t see it from this decision.”

Fluker points to the lack of public consultation and notice as concerning aspects of the regulator’s most recent decisions. 

“If we’re going to relax or waive [requirements], at a bare minimum we have to at least give public notice,” he said. “In this case, the regulator has decided to even do away with that.”

These decisions, he said, amount to “unilateral amendments to a list of monitoring requirements which are easily associated with some pretty significant public interest concerns.”

“And they’re suspended for the foreseeable future with no end date, no public notice, no discussion at all.

Without public consultation, he said, there’s no chance for input as to “whether or not the essential/non-essential line is being drawn in the right place.”

For Spink, the regulator’s decisions reflect its priorities. “To my mind it is another blank check to industry and reflects a real lack of priority on/for the environment,” he said in an email.

‘You really don’t know’

In April, The Narwhal reported on a series of ministerial orders stemming from Alberta Energy and Alberta Environment and Parks that effectively suspended much of companies’ routine environmental reporting.

For Olsgard, the suspension of monitoring is far more concerning than what previous ministerial orders had laid out with regards to reporting. “As long as they were still collecting the monitoring data, they had a repository that could be requested by the regulator or stakeholders,” she said.

“Then we had those assurances that we would understand what had happened in the environment during this time. But now that we’ve relaxed monitoring, you really don’t know.”

Fluker agrees. “This is clearly, I think, much more problematic from an environmental regulation perspective,” he told The Narwhal.

“Monitoring is often how problems are obviously initially detected.”

“Some of this certainly looks like it’s more of a cost-saving measure than it is a health measure,” he added.  SOURCE


Sharon J. Riley (@sharonjriley) | TwitterSharon J. Riley is The Narwhal’s Alberta-based investigative journalist. Her essays, interviews and long-form nonfiction have also been published by The Walrus.

 

Solving The Climate Crisis Can Save The World $145 Trillion

“Aggressive action to address climate change could save the world $145 trillion,” wrote Dana Nuccitelli in a recent article published in Yale Climate Connections.

The corona crisis that is sweeping the world is rich in lessons in crisis preparedness, and unfortunately, also rich with the consequences of unpreparedness. COVID-19 is front and center but the climate crisis has not stepped aside. As Prime Minister Trudeau said recently during a press briefing, “just because we’re in a health crisis doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis.”

Climate Crisis Legislation NOW  has organized a webinar with Mark Jaccard, author of “A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success,” at 1 pm EDT, Tuesday, May 12.

Climate Crisis Legislation Needed NOW

Join Mark Jaccard, Professor of Sustainable Energy at Simon Fraser University and author of The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success, among other books. Jaccard will identify the laws, regulations, etc. governments can/must use to cut CO2 emissions. He will help us pinpoint the key policies progressive/green activists should be urging the federal government to implement, as we try to save the planet.

Many of us don’t know enough about the workings of government, so we aren’t sure how to focus our demands and lobby effectively. We also need a clear understanding of what tools are available to governments, so we can push them to enact change.

Mark will examine relevant government tools: carbon pricing, prescriptive and flexible regulations, sector-specific regulations, tax policies, etc. He will also discuss which steps need to be taken first. He will help us devise a thoughtful, strategically sound Plan of Action for, during, and after COVID-19.

Progressives need to lobby governments to enact smart green policies, as soon as possible. We hope you will attend, and help spread the word!  See the register button below.

Russ Diabo: Trudeau’s ‘Zombie Policies’ Threaten Indigenous Rights

Amidst the pandemic, a flawed negotiation approach quietly aims at assimilation, not reconciliation.

‘When Trudeau allowed police to violently shut down the protests, it was clear he was offering us only one option: surrender to government dictates and compromise our rights through his termination negotiating tables.’ Photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood.

When measures to combat COVID-19 went into full effect in Canada, it was on the heels of cross-country protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs blocking a gas pipeline.

With economic activity grinding to a halt, one might have thought Indigenous peoples would be getting a breather from those kinds of pressures and attacks.

Instead the federal and provincial governments deemed resource extraction “essential,” meaning construction of several fiercely contested projects is moving ahead, including the Site C dam, the TransMountain expansion and the Coastal GasLink pipeline that provoked blockades through February.

Away from the public spotlight, another menace to First Nations is also being resurrected.

The Liberal government has quietly directed the federal bureaucracy to continue its negotiations with band councils — through Zoom online calls — over matters of lands and self-government.

The process means less scrutiny of these negotiations. And the Trudeau government’s aim is still to entrench resource companies’ access to our lands and resources on a permanent basis, while denying First Nations any meaningful say.

The Liberal government calls them “recognition and self-determination tables.” As of January, there are more than 80 ongoing negotiations involving some 390 First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities with a total population of more than 760,000 people.

The government boasts that the process is “jointly designed,” but in fact government negotiators have a veto over what gets forwarded to the federal and provincial cabinets for approval.

If First Nations accept the one-size-fits-all outcome, they will end up as ethnic municipalities, with their reserve lands converted into private property and their rights to the overwhelming bulk of their traditional territories extinguished in perpetuity. To date, nearly 30 preliminary-type agreements have already been signed. Considering the impact of these negotiations, they’d more accurately be called “termination tables.”

In early 2018 the Liberal government tried a similar manoeuvre, not through negotiations but through legislation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a splash with his plans for reconciliation, promising to break with an ugly history of mistreatment and finally honour Indigenous rights.

But while the Liberals talked a big game in public, they kept details about the key aspects of the policies and legislation tightly under wraps.

That summer I launched a campaign to be elected the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. My main aim was to help drag this policy and legislative agenda into the harsh light of scrutiny.

As details dribbled out, it became clear the fine-sounding rhetoric disguised how this agenda would package our rights into a small legal box. The Liberals’ “inherent right to self-government policy,” which recognizes our rights in an abstract sense, actually contained pre-conditions that would convert First Nations into municipal, fourth-order governments without any significant powers.

And using the “Comprehensive Claims Policy,” the government would continue to require First Nations to extinguish their Aboriginal title in any treaty, despite it being recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in decisions like Delgamuukw and Tsilhqot’in. Trudeau had promised we’d be freed of the shackles of the Indian Act, but this was more like moving us from a decrepit old jail to a new modernized prison, with the jailer holding onto our lands and resources.

Faced with a groundswell of opposition from First Nation leaders and activists through 2018, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett promised to back off this agenda.

But instead the federal government went underground with its plans. And now, under the cover of the pandemic, it’s pushing them in one-on-one talks with First Nations. The federal government has poured more than $100 million into the negotiations to sweeten the bitter outcome.

This is an old story, and I should know. I was a Liberal insider once, serving as vice-president of policy on the party’s Aboriginal Commission in the early 1990s. I saw how Aboriginal rights were embraced rhetorically by Jean Chrétien, and then, systematically betrayed while the federal bureaucracy maintained an agenda bent on denial and dispossession.

Indigenous resistance defeated it, only for the bureaucracy to set out to implement it piecemeal, quietly, over the long-term of the past 50 years. Today Justin Trudeau is pushing a White Paper 2.0, which has too many of the markings of his father’s.

Every generation of Indigenous activists is confronted by this Liberal approach: unwanted policies are clothed in the new rhetoric of the day, then defeated, then they rise yet again, like colonial zombies that will not die.

When the country was swept by Indigenous protests this February, with thousands of young non-Indigenous people lending their voices and bodies in solidarity, Trudeau could have finally chosen another way. But when he allowed police to violently shut down the protests, it was clear he was offering us only one option: surrender to government dictates and compromise our rights through his termination negotiating tables, ensuring that reckless resource extraction could proceed unhindered.

The alternative has long been understood. Documented by reports like the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, it is for a new deal for Indigenous peoples: the recognition of Aboriginal rights and title; the restoration of a land base, with restitution where lands cannot be returned; and genuine nation-to-nation relations. It would offer First Nations justice, and provide sane environmental policies for the rest of the country.

The zombie-like policies of the federal government will continue plaguing us until a real agenda of Indigenous self-determination kills them off for good.  [Tyee] SOURCE


Russ Diabo is a Mohawk policy analyst and regular commentator on CBC, CTV and APTN. In 2018 he ran for the position of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Planet of the Humans: Reviewing the Film and its Reviews

If you haven’t seen the latest (and arguably the most contentious) documentary on renewable energy, be prepared for an aftertaste of mixed feelings.

Joining hands with the controversial Michael Moore, environmentalist and filmmaker Jeff Gibbs has sent an eerie message that is now somewhat dividing the climate movement—in many ways for the worse, but, in a few others, for the better.

So, at least, one could argue is the case of Planet of the Humans. After engaging briefly with some of the well-deserved criticisms the film has received thus far, there are nevertheless some important aspects brought to our attention by the movie.

Specifically, at one point in the documentary, Gibbs touches upon the religious and existential dimensions underlying our ecological hot waters—aspects that, for what it seems, many of his critics have left unaddressed. Hence the focus towards the end of this review will fall on the cosmic role of religion (or cosmology, if we will) in helping us engage with “the great scheme of things”, to use the phrase of one of the scholars interviewed in the documentary.

But first a sketch of the film and its criticism.

What is the Central Claim of Planet of the Humans?

Drawing implicitly on the legacy of renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson, in essence, Planet of the Humans calls into question the solutions proposed by so-called renewable technologies. Such solutions, Gibbs argues, are to a degree or another an extension-in-disguise of the same problems created by our technological society. For one, solar panels and wind towers still burn fuels to be produced; for another, they rely on copious amounts of minerals and rare earth metals. More worryingly, what Gibbs calls “the narrow solution of green technology” keeps feeding the pockets of a smaller few at the expense of the greater rest, leaving Overall, the documentary thus aims to show how the creation of these panels and towers, as well as the burning of biofuels and biomass, are also problematic, albeit in different ways if compared with the fossil fuels they aim to displace. Old wine in new wineskins, in short.

“Is it possible” thus asks Gibbs, “for machines made by industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?” (17:10)

Even if he argues for an unnerving “no”, some of the film’s reviewers are ready to claim the opposite.

(Well-Deserved) Hot-Blooded Reactions

To begin with, Gibbs’s critics are quick to signal how the film’s downplaying of renewables is outdated. The dismissal of solar panels (14:45, a scene whose panels arguably date from 2008), for instance, is done on the ground of their inefficiency.

However, as leading environmental activist Bill McKibben answers back, engineers have done their job since in vastly improving this technology, making solar the cheapest way of generating energy today. According to McKibben, since a panel now lasts (up to) three decades—taking four years to compensate for the energy it took to build it—90 percent of the power it then produces is carbon-emissions-free. Moreover, others point out how the overall impacts across the lifecycle (to mine materials, build, transport, install, and uninstall) both solar PVs and wind towers is between 3 and 28 times lower than using, say, liquified natural gas for electricity production (natural gas is one of the less polluting forms of fossil fuels).

The Guardian, too, implicitly takes sides with furious scientists calling to take down the movie—not least because fact-checks are revealing the film’s slim evidence to back up some claims.

Getting Rid of the Mud-water, but Keeping the Baby

Besides valid reasons like the above, what struck me as most troubling was the grim and rather accusatory tone of the documentary. It’s also (to a considerable extent) polarizing, at times dismissing perhaps too easily the honest intentions of some well-meaning folk. (Sad but true; especially in an age of ecological breakdown when we need to unite despite our differences.)

Still, could the film’s field-splitting call to choose sides, be the method to its madness? Could its polarizing stance somehow serve Gibb’s insistence to untangle the ecological cause from the story of unceasing economic growth—even of so-called ‘green’ economic growth—that continues to dictate the north of our industrialized societies?

Senior Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute and author of Afterburn: Societies Beyond Fossil FuelsRichard Heinberg, agrees with the filmmakers in admitting how the belief that with ‘green’ investments and political will we’ll ultimately be able to build a green future is “an illusion that deserves shattering.” According to Heinberg, “the only realistic way to make the transition in industrial countries like the US is to begin reducing overall energy usage substantially [solar-/wind-powered or otherwise], eventually running the economy on a quarter, a fifth, or maybe even a tenth of current energy.” (Italics mine.)

Read: Renewables? To an extent, yes; but far beyond: lifestyle change, and cutbacks—something that some environmentalists shy away from championing, admittedly for the tactical communication purpose of not losing their audience.

And yet, as Heinberg notes, “it’s a mistake to let marketing consultants sort truth from fiction for us”—a chief reason why Planet of the Humans doesn’t have space for such bargaining.

Just Give Me (One More) Fact

On a similar vein, world-renowned Professor Emeritus of Community Planning at the University of British Columbia, William Rees, has recently shown the limitations of renewables and remains a pessimist facing what he labels as a “superficial support for the notion that green tech is our savior.” To back his claim, Rees points out how building just one typical wind turbine requires 817 energy-intensive tonnes of steel, 2,270 tonnes of concrete, and 41 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic.

In turn, solar power also demands large quantities of cement, steel, and glass—let alone rare earth metals. Aside from their compromised mining and refining processes, world demand for such metals of so-called renewable energy would rise 300 percent to 1,000 percent by 2050 just to meet the Paris goals. “Ironically,” Rees remarks, “the mining, transportation, refining and manufacturing of material inputs to the green energy solution would be powered mainly by fossil fuels.”

For all we’d like them to, towers and panels don’t simply drop from heaven. So, too, more or less argues the film.

An Old Story in New Garments?

Fact-checking and physical limitations aside, a deeper and more fundamental issue that Planet of the Humans unveils is that of the societal story that we continue to tell ourselves, in one shape or another—be it green, orange, right, left, or center. And it’s the 300-year-old, now-taken-for-granted story of our increasingly urbanized, Techno-Industrial Age: namely, that we are the captains of our souls and the masters of our fates, and that we attain that fate through technology, production, and consumption.

In short, this societal narrative (including many ‘green’ versions of such narrative) has made us believe that we are above, front-and-center, while everything else is below, in the backstage. Under this worldview, ‘nature’ is not a ‘Home’ but a ‘resource’; we are not earthly humans but technological ‘citizens’ (and now virtual ‘Internauts’); countries are not made of communities of earth-dwellers but of abstract ‘markets’ of X or Y number of ‘consumers’. And thus our very language betrays us.

Scholars call this ‘anthropocentrism’ blended with ‘economism’. Others label it ‘speciesism’ and ‘technopoly’, even as one corporation praised it by making us sing “You got the whole world in your hands, with Mastercard at your command.”

As materialist historian Yuval Noah Harari has shown in the sixteenth chapter of Sapiens, this story championed by today’s economic system has become so pervasive that it now has all the elements of religion—however secular its scope. It tells us what to believe (economic growth will lead to the benefit of all), how to behave (rational and disciplined at the workplace, unrestrained and narcissistic at the shopping mall), and what to value (“Life is Now”, as Visa trumpeted rather conveniently, and dogmatically).

Hence to culture and religion we now turn—and to their characteristic interest in “the great scheme of things”.

Remixed Echoes of an Even-Older Story

In one of the most existential sections of the documentary (49:04), the director asks whether our inability to come to terms with our mortality misinforms most of our societal decisions. He also asks rhetorically whether his side (the environmental side) has an unspoken religion, even as the Right has Christianity and a belief in infinite fossil fuels.

I would nuance this second claim—at least pertaining to the so-called religion of (many) of the Right. And that because such a belief system is often in fact Deist. (Deism is a modern distortion of ancient Christianity, presenting us with a deity that’s detached from the world, which is then purportedly left for us to control as we discover and master its immutable laws.)

It is not my aim here to make a case for believing in a transcendental Agent, but simply to acknowledge how director Jeff Gibbs might be unknowingly inviting us to shed the same tears of the God testified to and experienced by the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. In contrast to the absent deity of Deism, the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, for instance, speaks of the Most High becoming “regretful” considering the evil doings of humankind—something that “grieved God to his heart”. According to the Book of Jeremiah, the Eternal One recoiled and was immersed in swirls of grief as people became strangers in their own land. In fact, in and through the cry of that young Hebrew prophet, God wept (Jer 14).

A Prophet in the Making?

Could this be, perhaps, one of the film’s greatest contributions: its invitation to mourn, to leave us with discomfort towards superficial solutions, to invite us to feel and experience grief? However somberly and imperfectly, Gibbs may as well be helping us to traverse an unavoidable but ultimately necessary dark valley—one where we are reminded of how, before any blink of light, we must first confess and turn away from our pathological complicity with the decimation of our sacred Home. Genuine tears are the only cradle of authentic beginnings.

Even if commonly dismissed by large strands of the scientific and humanist communities in our scientific age, here lays one of the fundamental insights of what we call ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’; namely, their ability to disclose the ultimate horizons that should inform and inspire our lives.

Such horizons have been barred by the smokescreens created by the Industrial Revolution, tempting us not to see anywhere beyond. (Who needs to pray for rain for crops when one is a click away from a Caesar’s salad or a Papa John’s pizza?) For numerous reasons, for the past three centuries we’ve increasingly come to believe that there’s no ultimate purpose or ‘goal’ to life. Instead, all we’ve been left with is an unrestrained desire to impose our will upon others and upon the living world, as it’s now tragically evident. When ultimate purposes vanish out of sight, we strive to become gods.

Recovering Forgotten Horizons

Intentionally or not, the film’s sorrowful approach begins to dismantle this very ‘scheme of things’; one that has made us believe that we are alone, at the center, in control of an inert universe without ultimate meaning.

In contrast, the forgotten grand-view cracked open by ancient spiritual traditions summon us to acknowledge ourselves as guests in a world that precedes us and that is not our own. The spotlight falls elsewhere. At least according to the Judeo-Christian tradition that now unspokenly undergirds pretty much all of today’s secularized Western cultures, we are mortal tenants and fragile earthlings; accountable, dependent, small. We are animated by sacred breath, even as we are made from the very dust to which we will return. But, precisely as such, we are nevertheless invited into an extravagant feast hosted by the Ultimate Source of completeness, gladness, and joy—the very Source who also cries and grieves.

* * *

Is such plenitude the hidden treasure that we are most searching for today—left, right, or center? Far beyond any technical glitch that we can muster, isn’t such plenitude the very ‘something’ which we know in our bones to be ultimately missing?

Those, of course, are questions for another occasion. And they may seem trivial should we continue to dismiss the divine and the transcendental as sheer social constructions that our human ancestors invented back in yesteryear to soothe our consciousness. But then we must ask, how far will the dogmas of Materialism continue to take us? As posed by one of the film’s social scientists: “If we’re to make progress (whatever that word means). . . we’re going to radically overhaul our basic conception of who and what we are and what it is that we value.”

Or to borrow the words from Albert Einstein: “A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. . . . Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Not unlike Einstein’s summons, Planet of the Humans is at least spot on about the need to turn away from our technocentric story and all its delusions that have claimed to give us full control. Then, and only then, will any light shine like the dawn. And perhaps then, and only then, will we humans realize ourselves as transient guests on a planet that is certainly not of our own making.

Our tears will not be in vain.   SOURCE

Mapping Canada’s COVID Recovery: Rebuild, Refocus, Renew

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of Canadian life, with the global economic shutdown and tremendous personal sacrifice from people doing their best to keep themselves – and each other – safe.

As our collective efforts begin to pay off, governments are focusing on kick-starting economies and getting people back to work.

Stimulus can address immediate employment needs while creating the conditions for sustained environmental, economic and social success.

Pollution Probe has devoted over 50 years to fighting for the environment through evidence-based collaborative efforts with industry, government and civil society.  It is critical that Canada resists the temptation to roll back hard-won environmental gains that have made Canada healthier, prosperous and more resilient. Protecting the health of Canadians must remain a top concern now and into the future.

Data suggests that the COVID-19 shutdown will result in approximately a 5% reduction in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for 2020 – the most significant annual GHG drop to date. However, we know that to meet our 2050 GHG emissions targets, we must reduce global emissions by over 7.5% per year. This gives us some idea of the scale of climate change efforts needed to achieve 2050 GHG reduction targets, and we need to make sure that this effort is economically sustainable.

We believe that an economic stimulus package should be based on three fundamental principles:

      • Rebuild: Action for the short-term, while positioning for our long-term success
      • Refocus: Aligning efforts with our 2050 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions targets
      • Renew: Developing flexibility and resiliency to meet changing needs and emerging challenges
Today, Pollution Probe sets out our recommendations to Canadian governments for supporting job creation, prosperity and well-being across four areas. Click through to learn more

Elizabeth May Says ‘Oil Is Dead,’ Compares Industry’s Fate To Blockbuster Video

The PM says new measures are expected in “coming days or week.”

Green Party Parliamentary House Leader Elizabeth May compared the fate of the oil industry to Blockbuster Video on May 6, 2020, arguing it’s time to put more effort into developing renewable energy.  ADRIAN WYLD/CP/GETTY CREATIVE

OTTAWA — Elizabeth May says “oil is dead” and the COVID-19 pandemic has given Canadian leaders an opportunity to “stop and think” about ways to adjust the economy to a new reality.

The Green Party parliamentary leader told reporters Wednesday, ahead of the House of Commons’ in-person meeting of the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic, that the crisis has pummelled oil prices and there’s no coming back.

“Just as much as Blockbuster Video thought it had a solid business proposition — til Netflix came along — that’s the kind of disruption we’re seeing in the energy sector,” May said. “And betting on Blockbuster Video right now would not be a good way to spend our money.”

The country’s energy sector contributed to more than 10 per cent to the nominal Gross Domestic Product in 2018, according to Natural Resources Canada. Since then, the industry has been plunged into a crisis with dropping demand and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that forced prices to hit historic lows.

Watch: What does $0 oil mean for Canada, and the oil provinces?

May said it’s “enormously important” to diversify Alberta’s economy, of which more than 27 per cent was attributable to mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction in 2018, to help workers train and transition to jobs in the renewable energy sector.

Speaking about oil, May said, “the idea that we have a product that the world wants — that idea is delusional.”

Bloc Québécois Yves-François Blanchet shared much of the same sentiments, describing the fate of the oilsands as “condemned.”

The Bloc leader suggested the $12.6 billion the federal government earmarked for the Trans Mountain pipeline would be better spent helping Alberta make a “necessary transition” to renewable and green energy.

RBC Economic issued a forecast in March projecting Alberta’s economic decline will be the “most severe” the province has ever experienced in a single year, and “the largest in Canada,” due to the continued contraction of the oil industry, coalesced with the COVID-19 pandemic.

These economic conditions mean workers will need a “helping hand” to get through these “huge challenges,” New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said in an Ottawa press conference.

Singh told reporters the future is “clearly one of renewable energy, green energy.” Oilsands production is no longer sustainable for the long run, he said.

“There are no longer any long-term jobs available in that sector and Canadians across the country deserve much better than what we’ve seen in the past,” Singh said in French.

Thriving energy sector helped Canada in 2008, says Tory MP

Earlier this year, Teck Resources pulled its application for its $20.6-billion Frontier Oilsands Mine Project citing “no constructive path forward for the project.” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer blamed “political unrest” at the time for killing 7,000 jobs that would have been linked to the project if it were approved.

Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative party’s natural resources critic, told HuffPost Canada that cheap global prices “for the foreseeable future” and increased government debts around the world will mean fewer subsidies for renewable energy.

These conditions, she explained, will foster increased international demand for oil and gas again.

Shannon Stubbs  @ShannonStubbsMP

1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ HRS
since @Bill_Morneau promised credit for SM energy biz in hrs/days.
In 1000 hrs U can:
Watch 650 movies
Fly to AUS ✈ 50X
👂 20,000 songs
Harvest 🚜 8,400 acres of wheat.
Drive Cda 🍁 almost 10 times.
Libs had more than enough time. Where is it?

View image on Twitter

“A thriving energy sector helped Canada weather the financial crisis of 2008-09, and it will be no less important to helping us recover from the hard times ahead,” she said.

New measures expected in ‘coming days or week’

The issue was also raised in the House by Conservative MP Dane Lloyd. Now that Irving Oil Ltd. refineries on the east coast are turning to Alberta to secure crude supplies, the Sturgeon River–Parkland MP asked if the government would support an east-west pipeline.

According to the Financial Post, the route recently approved by the federal government includes Alberta crude travelling south from British Columbia via tankers, through the Panama Canal and up the east coast to New Brunswick.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said it’s “good news” east coast refineries are taking Alberta crude. Referencing the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline nearly two years ago, Freeland said the government believes in pipelines, “that’s why we bought one.”

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Burnaby Terminal is pictured in Burnaby, B.C. on March 10, 2018.  JASON REDMOND VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

Last month, the government pledged $1.7 billion to help clean up orphan and inactive oil and gas wells in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, adding the initiative will maintain approximately 5,200 jobs.

More measures are expected to be announced for the oil and energy sectors.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters during a press conference Monday outside his Ottawa that the federal government will be looking at “sectoral supports.” He said energy sector-related announcements will be made “in the coming days or week.” SOURCE