A Third of the World’s Population Could Be Blanketed in Sahara-Like Heat by 2070

Photo: Getty

Brain geniuses like Elon Musk may want to colonize Mars, which sure. But for simpletons like me, keeping Earth mostly habitable seems like a better use of time and resources.

If carbon emissions are allowed to continue unchecked, though, that may be a tough proposition. According to a new study, extreme heat now only found in parts of the Sahara could spread to nearly 20 percent of the globe (and nearly a third of humanity) if carbon emissions aren’t curtailed. The paper, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes a pretty compelling case to cut carbon emissions and not fry the world.

The authors of the new paper use a host of historical data going back 6,000 years ago to uncover just what conditions make humans tick. It turns out people can make do with all levels of rainfall, with humans living in all but the very driest places on Earth. Civilization has also adapted to all types of soil fertility. The biggest limiting factor in terms of human habitation is how hot it gets.

The results of the study show people thrive in a narrow temperature band, where the average annual temperature spans 11 to 15 degrees Celsius or roughly the 50s if you’re into Fahrenheit. It’s in that belt where many staple crops grow best and livestock can be highly productive, and it’s why the authors define it as the “human climate niche.” That’s not say there aren’t other confounding factors for human thriving, but temperature is one of the key elements linked with well-being.

Unfortunately for us, there’s a shock on the way if climate change continues unchecked. We’re already seeing the toll rising heat is taking on people around the world, from heat wave-related deaths to billions of hours in lost productivity because it was simply too hot to be outside. Still, humans have made it work in many hot places, from Phoenix to New Delhi to Dubai. But eventually, climate change could overwhelm us.

The study uses RCP8.5, a scenario where carbon emissions rise on an extreme level, to model what the end of the century would look like for our little human climate niche. The results show it would contract substantially. The Sahara is one of the only places on Earth where the annual average temperature cranks above 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit) and where the human climate niche basically ends. The areas with that much heat only cover 0.8 percent of the world’s land. But by 2070, that type of heat would become commonplace over nearly 20 percent of land on Earth. That area is home to up to 3 billion people who, if they don’t migrate, will be living in conditions humans have never been able to tolerate for year-round existence.

Illustration for article titled A Third of the Worlds Population Could Be Blanketed in Sahara-Like Heat by 2070
Graphic: Xu, et al., 2020


What’s more, this spike in temperature over the intervening 50 years will be more dramatic than anything experienced in at least 6,000 years. You know, the period where human civilization really hit its groove.

The results are truly shocking in map form. Nearly all of Brazil will become essentially uninhabitable, as will huge chunks of the Middle East and India, showing the poorest areas will be hit the hardest. But the impacts aren’t limited to developing countries; the U.S. South, parts of Australia, and Mediterranean Europe will also see temperatures beyond the niche. The flip, though, that North America and Europe will also make habitability gains. When scientists found last year that we were all going to want to move to Siberia by the end of the century, they weren’t kidding.

That’s what’s most alarming about the results. They show that, absent curbing emissions, there will almost certainly be mass migrations out of the hot zones. It won’t all happen in 2070 like a switch flipped. Rather, some areas will pass the climate niche threshold first, potentially triggering waves of migration. The results show that, first and foremost, we need to start cutting emissions now. But just as important is the need to prepare for climate-induced migration in the future. And not in the ecofascist kind of way. SOURCE

The EPA Introduced the First-Ever US Airplane Carbon Regulations

Photo: Getty

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed carbon dioxide standards for the airline industry. Yes, the Trump EPA.

The standards would be the first time the federal government has ever regulated the airplane emissions. But let’s be clear, this isn’t exactly cause for celebration. For one, the proposal has yet to be publicly released. And for another, it’s the Trump EPA.

“This rule is way, way overdue,” Claire Lakewood, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, told Earther.

Lakewood’s organization has been pushing the EPA to implement an aircraft emissions reduction plan for over a decade. Back in 2010, the organization and several others sued the Obama administration’s EPA for not doing so. In response, a judge ruled that the agency had to determine whether or not greenhouse gas emissions threaten public health and, if so, create regulations. In 2014, the groups sued again, alleging that the agency hadn’t even begun to make their evaluation. In 2016, after the organizations filed yet another lawsuit, the EPA finally issued their determination, confirming that aircraft pollution is indeed a threat to public health and wellbeing (shocker).

“Once that happened, they were supposed to make regulations, but obviously we’re now three and a half, four years later and we still haven’t seen anything,” said Lakewood. The organizations sued the EPA yet again in January. On Monday, the EPA finally put forward a proposal (aside from the whole releasing it publicly thing). When it finally sees the light of day, the public will have a chance to comment on it, and it could take months to finalize the rule.

Late regulations are better than no regulations. But based on, uh, everything it’s done so far, it’s also likely that the Trump EPA’s proposal won’t actually do very much to curb planes’ emissions.

Lakewood is concerned that the proposal will actually just codify another set of emissions guidelines: the ones from the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). And those guidelines aren’t nearly stringent enough.

“In fact, a huge proportion of the aircrafts flying in the United States today actually already meet the future standards under ICAO,” she said. “The current ICAO rules aren’t nearly strong enough, they’re at best just anti-backsliding provisions,” said Lakewood.

It’s not uncommon for airlines to be able to dodge being regulated, not only in the U.S. where companies like Boeing have such outsized political influence, but also internationally. In fact, aviation emissions were largely absent from the international goals of the Paris Agreement, falling instead under the notoriously shady ICAO.

But the time to get serious about emissions regulation is now. U.S. airline emissions were surging for years before the pandemic led them to decrease. Assuming the coronavirus doesn’t leave the airline industry in permanent disarray, the planes are expected to generate 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, almost the equivalent of a billion cars driven for a year.

What would getting serious look like? Lakewood said the U.S. could start by capping emissions at 2020 levels. From there, it could require overall emissions to fall by 20 percent every year thereafter, or force airlines to reduce emissions by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. And they shouldn’t be able to use carbon offsets to do so, which haven’t been proven to meaningfully reduce emissions and have had disastrous environmental justice impacts.

Beyond that, the EPA could also work to build out of greener forms of transit, like high speed trains, which could lessen air travel’s environmental impact. It could also invest resources in developing electric planes, like Norway, which has committed to electrify all flights by 2040.

“That all may sound ambitious, and it is,” said Lakewood. “But this is also an industry that hasn’t had to do anything before to reduce its emissions.”


New Zealand’s school climate-change curriculum vexes farmers

New course this year points to intensive agriculture as one cause of greenhouse gases and includes advice to eat less dairy and meat

FILE PHOTO: A Fonterra milk tanker drives past dairy cows as it arrives at Fonterra’s Te Rapa plant near Hamilton, New Zealand, August 6, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Marple/File Photo

WELLINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) – A new school curriculum in New Zealand that tells students how to tackle climate change deniers and advises them to eat less dairy and meat has upset its farming community, which makes up the backbone of the country’s economy.

Farmers say they feel targeted by the new course, adding to frustrations over a centre-left coalition government push for them to reduce carbon emissions and clean up waterways, part of a plan for the country to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Launched in January and aimed at secondary school students in a country that celebrates its 100% pure image, the course is based on material from leading science agencies and explains the impact of climate change and how students can contribute.

It points to intensive agriculture as one cause of greenhouse gases and includes advice to eat less dairy and meat, have meatless days each week, eat more fruit and vegetables, drive less, recycle and buy second hand when possible.

However, some farmers say the message is unfair.

“If they are going to continue to bite the hand that feeds them, and farming feeds New Zealand, then they are going to lose out in the long term,” said dairy farmer Malcolm Lumsden from the country’s northern Waikato region.

Agricultural goods make up more than 60% of New Zealand’s exports, with demand for its grass-fed dairy and meat products soaring in the past decade, especially from China.

Tim van de Molen, a parliamentarian with the opposition National Party, said he has no problem with climate change being taught in schools, but the issue goes beyond farming.

“What we are seeing currently around proposals where people should be looking to have Meatless Mondays or that dairy farming is terrible for the climate, those sorts of things are very opinionated and don’t have a clear scientific basis,” he said.

“It’s clear that farming has an impact on the climate — so does everything, and so that’s where we need to be very clear.”

However, Green party member Lourdes Vano said she believed climate change represented a gap in the education system, and including it in the curriculum could also help reduce “climate anxiety”.

The course is not compulsory and the education ministry has asked schools to consult with parents and the community before including it.

The resource has been well received by schools, said Pauline Cleaver, Associate Deputy Secretary Early Learning Student Achievement at the Education Ministry, although she did not give figures on how many had taken up the programme.

The coalition government, which faces an election in September, has defended the new curriculum as important for children growing up worried about how climate change will affect their lives.

“They see the simple fact that every year they have been alive has been one of the hottest on record and they expect us to act,” Climate Change Minister James Shaw said after its launch. SOURCE

(Reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes, writing by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)


Saving Life On Earth: Join Us for a Conversation on Wolves in the West

Precaution urged after wolf sighting in Pender | Coast Reporter

We’ve recently launched a weekly webinar series to discuss our plans to Save Life on Earth. This week’s conversation will dig into the history and biology of wolves in the West, the state of their recovery along the West Coast and in the Southwest, the challenges ahead.

The conversation will be Thursday, May 14th at 4 p.m. Pacific/7 p.m. Eastern. Can you make it?

Wolves in the West are at a crossroads. After once being nearly driven out of existence, they have returned in places like the Southwest and California, Oregon and Washington. But what happens in the coming years will determine whether these populations thrive or not.

The presentation will include Amaroq Weiss, a Center senior West Coast wolf advocate, and Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate– we’ll promise you’ll learn something and come away ready to help save life on Earth.

We’re excited to bring these weekly Saving Life on Earth conversations to wherever you are. Just because we’re almost all home-bound doesn’t mean that we can’t dive into our passion for saving wildlife. Each week, the Center will convene a small team of experts to discuss some of the more important topics of our times. There will also be a chance to answer your questions.

Sign up here for Wednesday’s conversation. We’ll see you there.

Saving Life On Earth: Wolves in the WestSaving Life On Earth: Wolves in the West
This week’s conversation will dig into the history and…

Naomi Klein, Coronavirus Capitalism, and a People’s Bailout Now!

Naomi Klein's Advice for the Next Generation of Climate Activists ...

The Leap LogoI can’t help saying it: since our last episode of Change Everything, everything has changed. Before the pandemic descended, we were exploring the right of every person to a safe and sustainable home. Now, those of us lucky enough to have homes are sheltering in them — and the world outside is profoundly different.

But the fight to guarantee everyone a decent home continues. And so do our many struggles to forge a better world out of crisis.

You’ve already heard from us about our new People’s Bailout project: mapping out a response to the pandemic that builds from emergency to transformation. For our first podcast episode in this new landscape, we take a step back and examine the big picture — and who better to guide us than The Leap’s co-founder Naomi Klein.

Listen to the new podcast episode here, featuring Naomi Klein on the political perils and opportunities of the pandemic.

For our first podcast episode of the pandemic, we take a step back and examine the big picture — and who better to guide us than The Leap’s co-founder Naomi Klein. In a wide-ranging conversation, we explore the perils and possibilities of this political moment, from the unprecedented ways that Silicon Valley is benefiting from the pandemic, to the radicalizing power of “essential work.”
We need a People’s Bailout: a response to the pandemic that builds from emergency to transformation. For our first podcast episode in this new landscape, we take a step back and examine the big picture — and who better to guide us than The Leap’s co-founder Naomi Klein [@NaomiAKlein].

Naomi has been immersed in exciting new research and analysis on what disaster capitalism looks like in a time of pandemic, contagion, and surveillance, and how social movements and new labor organizing are pointing to ways out of the crisis. In this episode, she explores some of it publicly and in depth for the first time. From the unprecedented ways that Silicon Valley is benefiting from the pandemic, to the radicalizing power of “essential work,” it’s a wide-ranging conversation on the perils and opportunities of this political moment.

For more on what a People’s Bailout could look like, check out peoplesbailout.ca.

Special thanks to Aluma Sound for our theme music. Please support this podcast by contributing to our Patreon account, and read more about The Leap.

New High Seas Treaty Could Be a Gamechanger for the Ocean

A historic international treaty to protect marine biodiversity is currently being negotiated, but will it be strong enough to create reserves and boost conservation efforts?

Most of us have never been to the world’s immense last wilderness and never will. It’s beyond the horizon and often past the limits of our imaginations. It contains towering underwater mountain ranges, ancient corals, mysterious, unknown forms of life and the largest seagrass meadow in the world.

Yet it begins just 200 nautical miles off our shores. Technically referred to as “areas beyond national jurisdiction,” these remote expanses are known to most people simply as “the high seas.”

Their vast, dark waters encompass roughly two-thirds of the ocean and half the planet and are the last great global commons. Yet just 1% are protected, leaving these vital but relatively lawless expanses open to overfishing, pollution, piracy and other threats.

That could change soon.

In 2018, after more than a decade of groundwork at the United Nations, negotiations officially began for a new treaty focused on conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the waters beyond national jurisdiction.

The proposed treaty is being developed under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was signed in 1982 and defined nations’ rights and responsibilities for use of the world’s oceans. The Convention itself is a landmark agreement that established many key environmental protections and policies, but over the years it’s become obvious that some gaps in its governance policy have left the ocean’s ecosystems open to ongoing and emerging threats.

The new treaty is intended to help fill those gaps, although, as with any international agreement, that presents challenges. Representatives of world governments gathered in 2018 and 2019 for three rounds of negotiations, but many parts of the key issues remained unresolved. Among them are plans to establish a framework for evaluating and implementing area-based management tools, which include marine protected areas, since no such systems exist now for the high seas.

Other items requiring agreement include establishing uniform requirements for conducting environmental impact assessments; how benefits from marine genetic resources may be shared among nations; and capacity building for management and conservation.

Many experts hoped the fourth negotiation session, originally scheduled to begin March 23 at the U.N. headquarters in New York, would lead to the finalization of the treaty’s text, but the meetings were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That pause gives us an opportunity to understand what’s at stake a bit better.

“This is the first time that there’s been a treaty process devoted to marine biodiversity in the high seas and the first ocean treaty really to be negotiated in over 30 years,” says Peggy Kalas, director of the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 environmental nonprofits and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “It’s a big deal, and it’s been a long time coming.”

But this historic opportunity is also one that could be squandered if the treaty fails to enact protections strong enough to actually safeguard ocean life.

“It has the potential to be a gamechanger for the oceans,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology at U.C. Santa Barbara and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative. “But it’s still to be determined whether it will be just the treaty version of lip service.”

The Need for Protection

We’re all connected to the high seas, even if we never actually see them, says Morgan Visalli, a project scientist at Benioff Ocean Initiative at U.C. Santa Barbara. “It’s incredibly important for helping to regulate the climate, for providing oxygen, food and jobs.”

Even on land we depend on a healthy ocean. Phytoplankton in the ocean generate half our oxygen, and the ocean plays a key role in mitigating climate change — absorbing 25% of our CO2 emissions and 90% of heat related to those emissions. It’s also home to a rich diversity of species, some of which we’re still discovering.

But marine ecosystems face grave threats from an onslaught of abuses: chemical, plastic and noise pollution; deep seabed mining and other kinds of resource extraction; increased shipping; overfishing and illegal fishing; and climate change, which is altering both the temperature and chemistry of the waters.

cargo vessel on the water
Cargo ship at sea. Photo: Bernard Spragg, public domain.

Numerous strategies are needed to tackle these problems, including the bedrock component of reducing greenhouse gases.

But a key tool that scientists have identified to help restore biodiversity is establishing reserves, often referred to as ocean parks or marine protected areas.

We know pretty well how to do this in national waters — there are more than 15,000 of them already in places like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Florida Keys. But few such protected areas exist in the high seas because there is no international framework to guide the process. One such effort to establish a marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea took years of research and diplomacy to implement.

It’s simply not feasible to scale the process — especially in the time we’d need to do it. That’s why creating such a framework for marine protected areas in waters outside of national waters is a key part of the new high-seas treaty negotiations.

And that fits into a larger global vision.

The participant nations in another international treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, are set to convene this fall. The agenda includes a goal of enacting an international framework to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030.

It’s a goal that scientists call a bare minimum. And it’s one that may be impossible to meet without the high-seas treaty.

“The science is clear, if we’re going to sustain a healthy, functioning ocean ecosystem, we need to be protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans,” says Liz Karan, who leads efforts to protect the high seas for Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the High Seas Alliance.

In anticipation of the treaty’s passage, scientists like Visalli and McCauley have already started modeling how new priority areas could be identified.

Benioff Ocean Initiative@UCSBenioffOcean

The high seas are our last global commons & essential to life on earth. As the UN weighs a groundbreaking treaty, we crunched 22 billion data points to identify hotspots of biodiversity deserving of protection on the high seas https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2020/019852/protecting-high-seas 

View image on Twitter

“If we want the ocean to continue its role in climate adaptation and being able to absorb the excess heat that it does, we need to create areas of resilience for the ocean,” says Kalas. “And the best way to do that is marine protected areas.”

The Challenges

Of course the devil is in the details.

While thousands of marine protected areas already exist, they come with varying levels of protections — much like we see with public lands. Some can be very restrictive, like national parks, or continue to allow extractive activities, such as in national forests.

Current marine protected areas range from no-take reserves that ban all extraction to areas allowing multiple uses — the latter are more common. Not surprisingly, though, scientific studies have shown that the no-take reserves do a much better job at protecting and restoring biodiversity.

Whether the treaty will be a landmark conservation effort or enshrine the status quo has yet to be determined, says Karan. “Both potential pathways are currently reflected in the draft treaty text” at this time.

From a scientific standpoint, McCauley says, marine protected areas should actually protect the wild character of the area and that means no activities — like mining or bottom trawling — that would disturb habitat. And the protections need to extend down from the ocean’s surface, through the water column, to the seafloor.

sunlight coming through water with kelp
A kelp forest in a marine protected area off the coast of California. Photo: Camille Pagniello, (CC BY 2.0)

To do that means figuring out how the new treaty would fit with a tangle of more than 20 existing governance organizations that regulate seabed mining, fisheries management and shipping regulations.

“One of our hopes is that this treaty would knit those pieces together and provide a little bit more coherence and compatibility with those issues, particularly with regards to conservation and sustainable use,” says Karan.

There would also need to be a process for scientifically evaluating areas proposed for protections, and how the established reserves would be managed, and the restrictions enforced.

“The whole process, the whole vision and opportunity to think about doing something smarter and better — for the ocean, for biodiversity, for us — ends if we don’t get strong language in the treaty and get that treaty to pass,” says McCauley. “There’s historical potential for the oceans, but we need to make sure people on the outside are watching the people on the inside [at the United Nations] in New York.”

Road Ahead

Even though official treaty negotiations are on hold awaiting a decision on rescheduling the talks, work continues among governments as they review and refine their positions on numerous proposals submitted by states and NGOs.

The United States has been a participant in the talks, but the treaty process has largely flown under the radar among the general public so far. Given President Trump’s position on environmental protections and distain for multilateralism (like the Paris climate agreement), that’s been pretty intentional on the part of environmental NGOs.

But as efforts may be nearing the finish line, this is starting to shift. Karan says there’s more interest from legislators about high seas governance and more need to have an engaged public who can advocate for strong conservation protections.

Things are complicated, though, by the fact that the United States never ratified the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, widely considered a “Constitution” for the ocean.

There is hope from some of the participants that the United States could ratify the high seas treaty if it comes to fruition, say Karan. But no one is holding their breath for that. Kalas says the goal is that the treaty, once completed, would be widely supported, although it remains to be seen how many countries will sign on. “If only 40 countries ratify it, that wouldn’t make it as strong of an agreement as if all the United Nation’s 193 nations ratified the agreement,” she says.

But there’s a fine line between having an agreement that’s universally supported and one that establishes concrete conservation actions and protections.

“Our concern is that in trying to get everyone in the tent as it were, we’re going to wind up with a status-quo agreement,” says Karan. “As much as we want a treaty, we want one that will make concrete change on the water.”

And it’s worth remembering, we’re talking about a lot of water. When the next session convenes, she says, “states will decide the ocean’s fate.”


 Tara Lohan  is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate.

B.C. suspends $11 million in oil and gas company payments for orphan well clean-up due to coronavirus

The province is granting companies reprieve from contributions to a financially strapped orphan well reclamation fund as Ottawa steps in with relief funds — leading critics to point out the costs for industry’s environmental liabilities are falling to the federal taxpayer

B.C. oil and gas wells

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. government has given oil and gas companies a reprieve from making their annual contributions — worth more than $11 million this year — to a fund for cleaning up orphan wells that could pose a threat to the environment.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission posted the notice on its website on April 16 — the day before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government will shell out $1.7 billion to clean up orphan and inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.

The break for oil and gas companies came shortly after the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers sent a series of letters to the federal government asking it to reduce environmental liabilities and “temporarily suspend, delay or reconsider certain regulatory actions that will add costs to industry at this time.”

The postponement of the orphan well liability levy was announced in an information bulletin listing the commission’s “initial” actions in response to the pandemic. It came just two days after yet another gas operator in B.C., Calgary-based Delphi Energy Corp., filed for creditor protection, leaving 15 wells that could be added to B.C.’s growing tally of orphans.

That tally is expected to double this year, to as many as 750 wells, according to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

‘Makes no sense’ 

Dale Marshall, national program director for Environmental Defence, called the decision to postpone invoicing “disturbing.”

“To me it’s unfathomable at this point, when we have multibillion-dollar liabilities across the country with respect to oil and gas development, that a government in Canada would simply lift the need to have companies pay for the damage they produce.”

Marshall said the big question is how the liability levy — invoiced once a year, on April 1 — will be repaid. The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission has not said when, or if, companies will be invoiced this year.

“Will the B.C. government, in the future, increase the amount of money that needs to be paid into that levy from oil and gas companies?” Marshall asked.

“Or will it be the B.C. government, or inevitably the federal government, that’s going to pay for that? When it’s government paying … it’s taxpayers who pay.”

Marshall said many oil and gas companies made huge profits in 2019 and continue to pay dividends to shareholders and generous compensation to their executives.

“It is disturbing that the big oil lobby has been pushing for this and even worse that governments are granting these kinds of concessions, which essentially put the liability for oil and gas development on to citizens and not the oil and gas companies that are profiting from the development.”

John Werring, a senior scientist and policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation who has documented fugitive emissions from wells, said the decision to give oil and gas companies a reprieve from the orphan well liability levy “makes no sense.”

“The fund is underfunded as it is. The oil and gas commission can’t even keep up with the number of orphan oil and gas wells,” he said in an interview.

The federal government funding was not intended to be a hand-out to industry but a stimulus to create jobs, while addressing the escalating problem of orphan wells and the lack of sufficient funds to clean them up at a reasonable pace, Werring said.

“If that shortfall is made up by the federal government, then the rest of the country is paying for what the industry in B.C. is required to do by law.”

Negotiations underway to determine how $120 million will be spent

The bulk of federal funding for clearing up orphan and inactive wells — $1 billion — went to Alberta, while $400 million was designated for Saskatchewan and $120 million for B.C.

Before the federal announcement, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission anticipated a $36-million deficit this year in its orphan site reclamation fund, a threefold increase from last year.

The liability levy covers the cost of annual orphan well clean-ups, which are necessary to reduce the likelihood that oil, methane gas and saline water will move up through the well into freshwater aquifers, surface water, the ground or the atmosphere. The levy was set to increase to $15 million next year.

In an emailed response to questions from The Narwhal, the commission said invoicing for the orphan well liability levy will continue to be postponed while negotiations between the federal government and the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources are underway to determine how the $120 million earmarked for B.C. will be spent.

The commission said two new wells have been added to the orphan well tally of 346 it reported in February in its annual service plan.

That compares with a total of 45 orphan wells four years ago.

The number of orphan wells in B.C. is poised to double this year once 300 to 400 wells belonging to an insolvent company called Ranch Energy are added to the list — leaving the oil and gas commission to find an estimated $34 million for Ranch’s clean-up costs.

Three dozen landowners in the Peace region are also owed about half a million dollars in unpaid rent from Ranch’s bankruptcy.

Ranch, a Calgary-based company, went into receivership in 2018, leaving behind 700 wells, a sea of debt and a large leaking fracking pond 400 kilometres north of Fort St. John.

Orphan wells are only designated once bankruptcy proceedings are complete.

The oil and gas commission said it collected “full” security of $1.57 million from Delphi prior to the company’s financial woes — an amount the commission said will cover the estimated cost of decommissioning and restoring the company’s wells. Yet, based on an estimate from B.C.’s former auditor general, $1.57 million is likely not enough to cover the cost of clean-up if all 15 wells are designated orphans.

Restoring oil and gas wells is a multi-year process. First, wells need to be decommissioned, or sealed with cement. Full reclamation involves cleaning up contamination and restoring the land to pre-activity conditions.

It costs an average $370,000 to seal a well and restore a site, according to a 2019 report by former B.C. auditor general Carol Bellringer.

At that average cost, the clean-up bill for the 15 Delphi wells would be $5.5 million.

Only four orphan wells restored last year 

Prior to the federal government announcement, B.C. taxpayers had not paid for any orphan well clean-ups, which are proceeding at a glacial pace.

The oil and gas commission’s stated goal is to clean up and restore all orphan wells in B.C. within 10 years of their designation as orphans.

But last year, according to the commission’s service plan, only four orphan wells were restored as 10 new orphan wells were added to the list — seven from an insolvent company called Sun Oil and three from Calgary-based Success Energy, which failed last year.

This year, the oil and gas commission plans to reclaim 15 wells.

In its service plan, the commission also said it aims to restore 25 wells two years from now and 35 wells three years down the road.

The commission budgeted $10.5 million for reclamation this year, $12 million next year, and $10 million and $9 million in each of the following years, according to its service plan.

In an emailed response to questions, the ministry said details about the use of federal funding to support the clean-up of orphan wells is “being finalized” and will be announced shortly.

Richard Wong, manager of operations with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said in an email that the association continues to support the “efficient and timely closure of orphaned and inactive sites across Western Canada.”

Wong said B.C.’s share of the federal program to address orphan and inactive well sites will support jobs and accelerate environmental restoration. SOURCE

Sûreté du Québec called into Kanesatake as tensions simmer

Anthony Fournier-Phillips mans a traffic control station on the Route 344 entrance to the Kanesatake Mohawk territory northwest of  Montreal Friday May 8, 2020.

Anthony Fournier-Phillips mans a traffic control station on the Route 344 entrance to the Kanesatake Mohawk territory northwest of Montreal Friday May 8, 2020. JOHN MAHONEY / Montreal Gazette

The Sûreté du Québec was called into Mohawk territory Friday as tensions between local business owners and Grand Chief Serge Simon are simmering.

Simon says he received information that cannabis and tobacco store owners were trying to depose him so they could reopen their shops. But opponents of the grand chief say he’s using emergency powers granted to him during the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on political dissent.

“To have to resort to calling in the (Sûreté du Québec), to me that’s a last resort, but it’s what I needed to do,” Simon told the Montreal Gazette. “I got information that the store owners are telling their clients I won’t be around for much longer, that they’ll confine me to the council office so they can reopen.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Quebec in mid-March, Kanesatake has put checkpoints in place to prevent outsiders from getting onto the Mohawk settlement. Sources say they turned aside 3,000 cars in two days, most of whom wanted to buy cigarettes or cannabis at one of the dozens of shops in town.

Council chief Garry Carbonelle says he found out about Simon’s decision after the fact.

“I got a call this morning that there were a dozen SQ cars outside the band office,” said Carbonelle. “So, in my rather blunt way, I drove over, walked up to an officer and said ‘What the f–k is going on here?’ They were called in by the grand chief without so much as advising his council.

“This thing about the grand chief being deposed, I haven’t heard anything about that. This is a small community and rumours travel fast. But you can’t take drastic, unilateral decisions based solely on rumours.”

Kanesatake hasn’t had local police since former grand chief James Gabriel tried to commandeer the department by force to carry out a drug raid in 2004. That culminated in Gabriel’s opponents surrounding the police station, burning his house down and driving him from the territory.

Since then, the SQ has patrolled the territory, but with a minimal presence. Their relationship with the Mohawk community has been strained since the 1990 Oka Crisis.

Simon says his foremost concern is that he keep coronavirus from entering the territory. So far, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kanesatake. The virus has killed more than 2,500 people in Quebec.

“If it’s a choice between calling the SQ and seeing mass death come to this territory, I’ll call in the SQ,” said Simon.

Simon was invited to attend a meeting of about 40 business owners in Kanesatake’s pine forest Friday morning but elected not to show up.

“We want to do things the right way, the safe way, but with the community’s input,” said Carbonelle. “(Simon) has a tendency of acting on his own and that’s not how we do things in Mohawk society. We have a responsibility to act as a community.”

But Simon says the tobacco shops can only be reopened when sister community Kahnawake decides to lift its moratorium on outsiders entering the reserve.

“If we were to open tomorrow, we’d be flooded with outsiders and so would Kahnawake,” said Simon. “And if the virus hits us, it’s not only going to affect Mohawks. It affects everyone who comes into contact with it.

“I’m not going to be the chief who allowed my people to die off.”

Walter David, who owns a coffee roasting business in town, said Simon is being unreasonable.

“This idea that there’s a group trying to throw him out is simply false,” said David, who runs the business with his wife. “The whole point of the meeting was to know — when things open and only when they open — what kind of procedures can we follow? It’s about safety and productivity.

“We’ve taken a big hit, financially, and we don’t have access to the same kind of financial aid that (non-Indigenous) businesses have. We know there is federal aid that’s being transferred to Indigenous businesses but we’re not getting any information about that from (Simon).

“There’s just really bad communication here.” SOURCE



There is no common agreed definition of illegal logging. Below are three perspectives of what constitutes illegal logging: firstly, that of The Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), an international policy analysis institute, secondly, from Global Witness, an international Rights NGO, and thirdly, from the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET), a Canadian Aboriginal NGO.

RIIA’s definition of Illegal Logging is framed by the assertion of Nation-State sovereignty: ‘Illegal logging takes place when timber is harvested, transported, bought or sold in violation of national laws. The harvesting process itself may be illegal, including corrupt means to gain access to forests, extraction without permission from protected areas, cutting of protected species, or extraction of timber in excess of agreed limits. Illegalities may also occur during transport, including illegal processing and export, misdeclaration to Customs, and avoidance of taxes and other charges’[1].

Illegal logging of Rosewood in Madagascar: CC:BY:SA – Wikimedia

Global Witness (GW) scrutinizes Illegal Logging through Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) of national regulatory (control) operations[2]. GW can conduct IFM of logging on State-issued concessions and log trading along the commodity trading chain, from forest floor to final destination.

Many Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) approach Illegal Logging as logging that takes place on their claimed customary lands, without first obtaining their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)[3] and without equitable Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) from logging. Many IPLCs claim pre-existing rights to the forestlands that are claimed and administered as Crown Forests or State / Public Forests. For those IPLCs, the State-issued logging concessions represent a violation of Native Title, and an illegality.

Illegal logging in Wamena, Papua, Indonesia CC BY 2.0 – Flickr photo by Danumurthri Mahendra

The Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) provides an Aboriginal Canadian assertion of State-enabled illegal logging.

Arthur Manuel, member of the Secwepemc First Nation of Canada, is the Chairperson of INET[4]. Arthur Manuel campaigns against an example of Illegal Logging in British Columbia and Canada in provincial, national and international forums. INET maintains that softwood lumber from British Columbia, being sold in the United States, is unfairly subsidized, because the Province of British Columbia has not internalized the costs of Aboriginal (Native) Title property interests and environmental measures to protect Aboriginal land-uses in the price of the B.C. forest products.

Other Aboriginal representative groups have taken the same position, including the Assembly of First Nations[5] and The Grand Council of the Crees[6].

INET has taken its assertion, that global trade pacts need to promote and protect indigenous proprietary interests, to international trade forums like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). MORE

False Solutions to Climate Change: Buildings

Editorial Note: This is Part 4 of Mary Wildfire’s series on false solutions to climate change. You can read Part 1 on Electricity here, Part 2 on Transportation here, and Part 3 on Agriculture here.

Teaser photo credit: By Passivhaus Institut – Copied to Commons from Wikipedia. Original source Passivhaus Institut, Germany, CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s become increasingly clear that climate change is not only real but beginning to bite. Now that much of the population is finally feeling the urgency—and during a time when COVID19  has much of our frenetic commerce on hold, giving us a space for thinking and discussion–what can we do to protect the only planet we’ve got? Unfortunately a good many of the solutions on offer seem designed to quiet the increasing concern, the impetus to do something, without challenging the status quo.

Can we get real solutions and still maintain economic growth, population growth, and the growth of inequality? Are we entitled to an ever-rising standard of living? I believe the answer is no; we need some profound transformations if we are to leave our grandchildren a planet that resembles the one we grew up on, rather than a dystopian Hell world.  This is the basic theme of the controversial Michael Moore produced film Planet of the Humans. I see that film as seriously flawed, but agree with its basic message—that it’s time for humanity to grow up and accept limits, get over what I call human exceptionalism, or androtheism—the notion that man is God.

A veritable cornucopia of false solutions is being pushed these days, not only by corporations and think tanks but by the UN’s IPCC, the international body responsible for research and action on climate.  We could have made a gentle transition if we had begun when we first became aware of this problem decades ago, but for various reasons we did not. There is no time left for barking up one wrong tree after another; no time to waste in false solutions. Hence this series pointing out the fallacies behind such proposals as electrifying everything, carbon trading, geoengineering or switching to “gas—the clean energy fuel!”

I’ve divided the issue into sectors: electricity generation, transportation, agriculture, buildings, and then there are two sections on false solutions that aren’t part of an energy sector—geoengineering schemes, and some other policy options. Finally, we look at real solutions. I am not an expert on anything except maybe gardening, so my hope is to spur discussion.

Part 4: Buildings

Estimations for the percentage of greenhouse gases emitted by the buildings sector vary wildly. But any assessment should include both the embodied energy involved in constructing new buildings and the energy costs of heating, cooling and lighting buildings. Currently, many homes and other buildings require a great deal of electricity for lighting even in daytime, and fossil fuel is often burned for heat and cooling.

Passivhauses have become common in Germany, and there are a few even in this country. This is a building so efficient that it doesn’t require central heating—and thus it costs little more to construct than a conventional house, despite the fact that it involves essentially a second set of walls and roof. The details vary geographically, but involve heavy insulation, highly efficient windows, design and siting considerations as mentioned in the paragraph above, the elimination of thermal bridging and the use of a ventilation system that recaptures heat from outgoing air. There are many entire books written on all this, and if you’re building a new house it makes sense to research these matters thoroughly. You’ll save greatly on the economic and environmental costs of heating and cooling that house throughout its life. Also, making a building just big enough to accommodate the needs of its inhabitants, will make a large difference.

Even existing buildings can be made much more efficient through window upgrades, improved insulation, more efficient appliances and lighting, and landscaping to shade the western side especially, as well as landscaping to channel winds to or away from the house. Ruth Foster and Sue Reed have written books just on the landscaping options.

I have not seen a lot of false solutions proffered for this sector, but doing nothing amounts to a false solution, when there is so much we can do to reduce the energy and emissions costs of our buildings. SOURCE


Hanging in the balance: what is the future for cross-laminated timber?



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