Latest Report on Finland’s Universal Basic Income Trial Says It Makes People Happier

Freely giving away money to thousands of people with no strings attached was always going to make Finland’s 2017 Basic Income experiment a focus of study for sociologists, psychologists, politicians and economists for years to come.

Following the experiment’s termination in 2018, multiple studies have been more or less consistent in their conclusions. People tend to be happier and more confident, but aren’t necessarily keen to hit the pavement in search of employment.

This latest report published by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health doesn’t make any challenging new claims. But at a time when the world is in the grip of an employment calamity, its conclusions are a timely reminder to reconsider the benefits of economic safety nets.

As a quick recap, at the beginning of 2017 Finland’s government rolled out a trial run of a guaranteed tax-free income of €560 (roughly US$590) per month to 2,000 randomly selected citizens.

If those citizens happened to find employment, this bonus income wouldn’t budge, so if everything went to mud they’d still have at least a proportion of essential bills and expenses covered.

The concept of a guaranteed universal basic income (UBI) isn’t novel, but it has attracted attention in recent years as impressions of the great social divides in wealth and happiness grow dimmer by the year.

Proponents suggest that, without fear of bedrock-level poverty, citizens would take greater employment risks, accept lower paid jobs and even become more entrepreneurial. Critics, on the other hand, see UBI as a lost incentive to find work at all.

Finland’s trial ended less than two years after it began, and the assessments on its impacts trickled in.

This latest exploration conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki involved several sub-projects that looked at the trial’s wealth of data from various perspectives, including its impact on wellbeing, employment, and media coverage.

As far as general happiness goes, results from one of the project’s self-reported surveys reinforced the general notion that if we all had some kind of universal basic income to rely upon in times of need, our average sense of wellbeing would improve.

We’d be less depressed, and probably even think clearer as our cognitive functions improved. Trust in society and social systems would go up, and we’d see our future in a better light.

As for whether it would sap our desire to work at all or inspire us to become the next great inventor, the results are just as complex as ever, with those on the UBI working on average just six more days out of the two years than those in the control group, an effect that was most evident in the trial’s second year.

If it’s an incentive to take risks in finding work, it’s not a huge one. But as usual in these sorts of studies, headline statistics can mask complexities that can show us how to turn a lacklustre result into a success, or at least avoid abject failure.

“Some people said the basic income had zero effect on their productivity, as there were still no jobs in the area they were trained for,” social scientist Helena Blomberg-Kroll from the University of Helsinki told The Guardian.

“But others said that with the basic income they were prepared to take low-paying jobs they would otherwise have avoided.”

Many people reported the income gave them a sense of autonomy, allowing them to return to meaningful activities they might have enjoyed before they needed to grind away at a nine-to-five.

Not all ‘work’ done for the community is counted by way of employment statistics, after all, comprising a measure that might be more important to break down in future studies.

More research will certainly be vital to dive into these details on UBI, especially as the world struggles to find new social and employment structures amid a devastating pandemic.

Some panned the Finland trial as flawed from the start – based on too few with too little money. Even this latest research identifies a potentially confounding shift in the conditions of unemployment benefits that took place in 2018.

“Therefore, the positive employment effect in the second year of the experiment was a joint effect of the basic income experiment and the amendments to the unemployment benefit legislation,” the researchers write.

If advocates are hoping for a gold star report to turn the tide of support in favouring a UBI, this report isn’t it.

By the same token, there are glimmers of hope in its findings, indicating that just under half of respondents in a survey on Finnish attitudes to a UBI being in its favour. With more personal stories being identified in the media, those opinions could be encouraged to change with time.

A universal basic income probably won’t be the salvation we’re looking for in dark times ahead. But if the sum of research so far is anything to go by, countries that adopt one won’t regret it.

This report was published by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

The History of Ecocide, a New Crime Against Humanity

Ventana al Conocimiento (Knowledge Window)  Scientific journalism

Proposed as the fifth crime against the peace and security of mankind when the International Criminal Court was to be established in The Hague in 1998, opposition from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands led to ecocide being removed from the list of crimes judged by this court: crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and crimes of aggression against states or territories. Despite this, initiatives such as Ecocide Project continue to fight today for massive damage to ecosystems to be considered a crime of this gravity. At a time when the disappearance of the Amazon continues unabated, already reaching the critical point of 20% of its surface, and more than five million hectares of Australia have been burned in recent months due to unusual heat waves caused by climate change, these initiatives have never been so important.

The concept of ecocide began to emerge in the final years of the Vietnam War (1955-1975), when the scars of that war were more than evident and were having a devastating effect on the territory. Attacks with Agent Orange—a powerful herbicide used as a chemical weapon by the US army—killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions of hectares of land barren. The first time the world heard the word ecocide was at the 1972 UN Environmental Summit in Stockholm, where Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister, accused the United States of ecocide for its practices in Vietnam. Representatives of other countries present, such as Indira Gandhi of India and Tang Ke of China, suggested at the time that the destruction of the ecosystem should be considered a crime against humanity.

The deforestation of the Amazon affects 20% of its surface. Credit: Ibama

Five years later, in 1977, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, to prevent events like the one in Vietnam from happening again. However, since then, the human population has multiplied and diversified its footprint on the planet in times of peace, leaving cruel scars: huge islands of plastic in the oceans, deforestation of tropical forests, oilfield  spills, exploitation of wild habitats… events that constantly destroy ecosystems, and in most cases go unpunished. A universal prosecution of these types of events would mean that even if a country had very tolerant environmental legislation, crimes committed in its territory could be prosecuted at the international level.


In the fight for the recognition of crimes against nature, Scottish lawyer Polly Higgins played a crucial role by leading a global campaign with the aim of having a legal tool to denounce practices that put the environment at risk. Higgins left her work to legally defend the planet, in search of the classification of ecocide as a crime, which would criminalize the destruction of the ecosystem caused by the action of states and multinationals, imposing the legal duty of care. She explained the turn she took in her life: “In 2005 I was a barrister representing a man who had suffered a serious workplace injury. There was a moment of silence while we were waiting for the judges, and I looked out the window and thought: ‘The Earth has been badly injured and harmed too, and something needs to be done about that.’ My next thought actually changed my life: ‘The Earth needs a good lawyer, too.”

Orphaned ship in former Aral Sea. Credit: Staecker

Although Polly Higgins (July 4, 1968 – April 21, 2019) died in her fifties without achieving her goal, her work and effort have kept the controversy alive and more and more voices are joining the discussion. One of the latest has been that of Pope Francis, who has publicly supported the longstanding demand that ecocide be considered the fifth crime against peace in his speech at the 20th International Congress of the Criminal Law Association, held at the Vatican in 2019. Jorge Mario Bergoglio even went further, proposing that “sins against ecology” be added to the catechism.


While the debate continues, a dozen countries—Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam— have indeed classified ecocide as a crime within their borders. Some, such as Georgia and Armenia, have imposed prison sentences of up to fifteen years. The international community has also taken some steps. In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution entitled Towards a Global Pact for the Environment, which seeks to lay the foundations for an International Environmental Law. Ecocide Project from the University of London is also fighting for this. This project organizes conferences, courses, seminars and other activities to promote the development of international environmental law.

Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest (EEUU). Crédito: Departamento de Agricultura de EE. UU.

The first global assessment of the state of environmental law published by the UN Environment Programme in 2019 is not very positive. One of its reports highlights that most of the environmental agreements reached in the last fifty years are not being enforced. They blame this on poor coordination between government agencies, lack of access to information, corruption and poor citizen participation. Thus, deterring ecocides such as the pollution of the Niger Delta, the drought of the Paraguayan Chaco or the deforestation of Borneo and Sumatra is in everyone’s hands. In spite of the complex legal situation, the development of international legislation that sanctions crimes against the environment is getting closer. SOURCE

By Bibiana García @dabelbi

Canada should act on UN resolution on Wet’suwet’en land defenders

Wet’suwet’en land defenders

Add your name to this petition and an email will automatically be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


The Trudeau government is stepping up its efforts to win a vote on June 17th for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

And yet it has ignored a resolution by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calling on Canada to stop construction on the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline until the Wet’suwet’en people give their free, prior and informed consent for this megaproject.

Construction on the pipeline has even continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please call on the Prime Minister to act immediately on this United Nations resolution.

Take action to support Wet’suwet’en land defenders! You can also add your own message in this email to the Prime Minister!

Oxfam: 8 billionaires have amassed half world’s wealth

Income inequality ‘more shocking than ever before,’ NGO said.

1/16/17 Global inequality is so significant that the eight richest billionaires have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population combined, NGO Oxfam said Monday.

In a report released ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the charity estimated the funds available to the eight men, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, was equal to that of the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people.

“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when one in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director.

Oxfam said inequality had jumped significantly between 1988 and 2011, during which time the income of the world’s poorest 10 percent increased by $65 per person per year, while the top 1 percent recorded an annual spike of $11,800.

The calculations were based on global wealth distribution data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book and Forbes’ billionaires list, the NGO said.

However, British free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs has questioned Oxfam’s methodology, criticizing its use of net wealth figures.

“It is misleading at best to label the average university graduate who has accumulated £50,000 of debt among the world’s poorest, without any consideration of their future earning potential,” said Mark Littlewood, director general of IEA in a statement, calling Oxfam’s conclusion “spurious.”

The Oxfam report is the latest in a string that have highlighted income inequality ahead of the World Economic Forum. A report released Monday also showed inequality was rising across the globe. SOURCE


1/5/2020 US billionaires boost collective wealth by $406 billion as markets rebound in the coronavirus pandemic, report finds

1/20/2020  World’s billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people

Ontario Opening Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves.

Access for Limited Recreational Activities at Ontario Parks Permitted While Maintaining Physical Distancing

The Ultimate Guide To Sandbanks Provincial Park Camping ...

We don’t know yet where Sandbanks fits

Office of the Premier

TORONTO — The Ontario government is opening provincial parks and conservation reserves for limited day-use access. The first areas will open on Monday May 11, 2020, with the remaining areas opening on Friday May 15, 2020. At this time, recreational activities will be limited to walking, hiking, biking and birdwatching. Day visitors will also be able to access all parks and conservation reserves for free until the end of the month.

The announcement was made today by Premier Doug Ford, Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“As we continue to make progress in our fight to stop the spread of COVID-19, we are carefully and cautiously reopening the province, starting with certain businesses and retailers, and now our provincial parks and conservation reserves,” said Premier Ford. “I encourage people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but please do so in a responsible way. Practise physical distancing and follow the rules set out by health care officials to stop the spread of this virus.”

On Monday, 520 provincial parks and conservation reserves across the province will open, and the remaining 115 will open on the following Friday for limited day-use activities. At this time, camping and other activities are not permitted at any provincial park or conservation reserve. All buildings and facilities including washrooms, water taps, campgrounds, backcountry campsites, roofed accommodations, playgrounds, and beaches continue to be closed.

“People are eager to enjoy the warmer weather, stretch their legs and reconnect with nature,” said Minister Yurek. “In consultation with our health experts, we’re working to slowly phase-in the opening of Ontario Parks in a measured way to ensure the health and safety of visitors and staff. People should take note that not all amenities will be open and plan accordingly.”

Over the next several weeks, Ontario Parks’ staff will be conducting critical maintenance and other parks start-up procedures, so that more recreational activities and facilities will be available when it is safe to do so.

Before planning your trip, please visit to check the status of your local provincial park.

Quick Facts

  • Ontario Parks manages 340 provincial parks and 295 conservation reserves covering over nine million hectares of land in the province.
  • In 2019, Ontario Parks received more than 10 million visits.
We don’t know yet where Sandbanks fits – Monday or Friday opening
PLEASE NOTE: The National wildlife Area at Long Point and the boat launch there remain closed – they are under Federal jurisdiction.

John Hirsch
Councillor Ward 9
South Marysburgh

Paul Gipe: My Feedback on the Film “Planet of the Humans”

Neal Livingston called and asked me to watch the film Planet of the Humans and provide some context on the environmental benefits of renewable energy. Neal’s an award-winning documentary film maker from Nova Scotia. He knows film, but he’s also a doer. He and his partners installed three Enercon wind turbines on his Cape Breton land to practice what he preaches.

Not long after I got an email from Paul Neau, a long-time colleague in France, asking for my commentary on the English language film’s claims that wind, solar, and electric vehicles effectively don’t provide any environmental benefits.

Oy vey!

Such claims are nothing new of course. I’ve been hearing them about wind and solar energy for at least the four decades I’ve been working in the field. We’re now hearing the same accusations about EVs as well. You’d think critics would find something new to harp on.

The film by director Jeff Gibbs and producer Michael Moore was posted to on Earth Day for free viewing. (And no, I am not posting a link to it.) At least one distributor has pulled the film from circulation since then for its inaccuracies. However, the film is still on line and the anti-renewables lobby is shouting with glee.

As I explained to Neal, my policy has been not to take the time to comment on every crackpot wind invention or every work of propaganda that’s tossed over my metaphorical transom whether it comes from rightwing apologists, such as the Heartland Institute, or a rock-throwing anti-establishmentarians like Michael Moore. Only when the invention, or in this case film, garners so much unjustified attention or is otherwise so egregious do I bother. There’s just so much more important work documenting the growth and success of renewable energy in meeting the needs of a cleaner more harmonious world that we can’t be sidetracked into refuting every nut case that comes along.

If you examine the wind and solar industry today in an even cursory way, you’d have to know what they accomplish day-in, day-out. Anything less is willful ignorance. If you’re a film maker or producer and you don’t report this, you’re simply creating propaganda in the mold of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.

If you’re a viewer and you have a tendency to believe films like this, you’ll also believe Donald Trump when he suggests injecting yourself with disinfectant to treat Covid-19.

To accept the outlandish claim that renewable energy and EVs don’t provide measurable and significant environmental benefits, one must consciously ignore the decades of work by academics such as Mark Jacobson, Daniel Kamen, Benjamin Sovacool and thousands of others, and the work of industry analysts such as myself, Craig Morris, Michael Barnard and many others that prove that they do.

I write books in part addressing these recurring questions about the worth of renewable energy, notably wind energy. I like to think that I’ve driven a stake through the heart of these zombie claims–they keep rising from the grave to stalk the land–for the last time.

So no, I am not going to spend nearly two hours watching a film at my computer just to do it all over again.

What I can do for Neal and Paul and for my other colleagues who are concerned about this movie is extract some pertinent sections from my latest book on wind energy. These are sections that address the topics often raised by the fossil fuel industries and their allies in the rightwing thinktank complex.

The following are excerpts from Wind Energy for the Rest of Us (2016). The 560-page book is available in both print and digital versions.

Property Values

One of the more persistent myths about wind energy is that wind turbines, or wind farms, will reduce the value of neighboring properties. . . After more than a decade of property trans­action studies since REPP’s first report in 2003, the data is in. Some 340,000 transactions prove that wind turbines have no statistically signifi­cant effect on property values.

Land Area Required

Another frequent concern is how much land commercial wind farms require. The answer depends on the array spacing, that is, the spac­ing between the turbines, the topography, and what is and is not included in the wind project. . .

Though wind energy’s land requirement is much less than that first thought, even less land is actu­ally disturbed by the construction and operation of the wind turbines. Development and contin­ued use disturb only a small portion of the land occupied by the wind power plant. . .

The latter confirms a rule of thumb in the wind industry that a well-designed project should use no more than 1% of the total land area.

Energy Balance and Energy Return on Energy Invested

The energy generated by wind turbines pays for the materials used in their construction within a matter of months. Yet the question as to whether they do, thought by industry analysts to have been effectively answered during the 1970s, is continually raised by critics of wind energy. . .

Probably the most authoritative review of the published work on the topic was that by the Inter­governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2011 when it examined the impact and bene­fits of renewable energy in mitigating climate change (see Figure 15-25. Energy payback). The IPCC surveyed 20 different studies after screening them for quality. Its conclusion? Wind turbines pay for themselves within 3.4 to 8.5 months (0.28 to 0.71 years) with a median of 5.4 months (0.45 years)—a result not much different than that found in the early 1990s.

Let’s hope this is the end of this question, once and for all.

Emissions of CO2 Equivalent Gases

As with energy payback, recent research has confirmed the obvious that the life-cycle emis­sions of global-warming gases are lower from wind energy than almost any other technology. For example, one study of 2-MW turbines found that overall the wind turbines emitted 9 grams (g) of CO2 per kWh. A similar study by French researchers of wind turbines in France estimated that wind turbines generated 11.8 g CO2 equivalent
per kWh.

The IPCC examined 126 different estimates for the emissions due to wind energy from 49 different studies. They found a range from 8 to 20 g/CO2 equivalent per kWh for the 25th and 75th percentiles with a median of 12 g/CO2 equivalent per kWh. For comparison, the typical coal-fired power plant emits 100 times, or two magnitudes, more global-warming gases than wind energy; natural gas nearly 50 times more (see Figure
15-26. Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions).

The emission of CO2 equivalent gases is a reasonable surrogate for all other air pollution emissions as well. Wind energy, because it reduces the generation from more polluting sources, is an important contributor to clean air and addressing climate change from burning fossil fuels.

Water Consumption

To someone in a temperate climate, the water required for conventional power plants seems of little significance. But in arid areas of the world, such as in the southwestern United States, such considerations as water, who has it, and how it’s used are volatile political issues. . .

In arid regions, the amount of water used is less critical than the amount of water consumed, that is, the water lost to evaporation from the cool­ing cycle (see Figure 15-27. Water consumption in electricity generation).

There’s a lot more in my book on the topics raised by the film, suffice it to say I am not going to reproduce it all here. Obviously, the director and producer should have read an authoritative book or two before making the film.

Electric Vehicles

There’s a section in my book on the need to move to EVs,but I don’t directly analyze their environmental benefits. I assumed, mistakenly, that these were apparent. Nevertheless, I have written about the topic and here are a few links to articles on the subject.

Now it’s back to work on more productive tasks.

Flipping the switch on a better future in Canada

We have many advantages, including enormous hydropower, wind, nuclear and solar resources. But Canadian power systems are decentralized, inconsistent and poorly connected. Photo: Shutterstock

Never waste a good crisis.

The pandemic has revealed much that was fragile and dangerous in the old “normal” most took for granted only a few short weeks ago. The silver lining, if there is one, is laying bare so much we need to do, and why prompt action is critical.

For the accelerating climate crisis, COVID-19 offers so many lessons it is hard to digest them all. One is the financial shock to oil-industry lenders and investors, who kept thinking growth would follow growth. Now that the energy sector’s share of the S&P 500 index has collapsed 80 per cent in a decade, the oil industry has gone from the mainstream to the fringes of investors’ portfolios with remarkable speed.

With renewed attention to public health, we should see less tolerance for the air pollution that comes from fossil fuels. It is clearer than ever a secure-energy future, clean air and stable climate are based on energy conservation and low-carbon electricity. For an increasing number of people, low-carbon electricity is also the cheapest electricity. For example, Berkshire Hathaway reports generating almost all the power demand of their Iowa customers from wind allows them to charge electricity rates 70 per cent less than the competing, fossil-based utility.

Canada could be a powerhouse in this future, and could offer energy investors large opportunities for low-carbon capital deployment. We have many advantages, including enormous hydropower, wind, nuclear and solar resources. But Canadian power systems are decentralized, inconsistent and poorly connected, just when they most require co-ordination.

No major Canadian product has more widely varying prices than electricity: from 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in Quebec to 16.5 cents in Saskatchewan. Generation, transmission and storage are planned, built and financed separately. Each province has its own electricity institutions, market, regulation and pricing. Weak transmission connections and uneven price signals prevent cost-effective deployment of renewable resources, storage options and demand-response strategies. Instead, provinces silo themselves in outdated practices and miss the best opportunities. And some, like Ontario, have actively turned away from both conservation and clean renewable power, repealing laws, breaking contracts, repudiating investors and physically destroying completed turbines.

All provinces would have a more successful transition to a green economy with a common framework for electricity investment, trade and pricing, linked together with an open and shared transmission network. This would allow all provinces to attract more capital, green their supply and lower their decarbonization cost.

Before COVID-19, this kind of countrywide co-ordination seemed impossibly ambitious. Now, we know that when the stakes are high enough, even bitter political rivals can work together for the public good. When urgent, shared risks are clearly explained and governments take their responsibility, people understand, make difficult changes to their behaviour and look for opportunities to do their share.

Canada has good precedent for countrywide co-operation on matters within provincial jurisdiction. For example, each province is responsible for health, but the Canada Health Act guarantees a minimum level of services to all Canadians, which the federal government helps to fund. The road toward the Canada Health Act was neither easy nor obvious, but the necessary public spirit and compromises made Canada much stronger.

Similarly, Canada will be cleaner and stronger with a co-ordinated, national approach to electricity. We don’t have to both pay so much for electricity and waste so much. With common rules, joint planning, better connections and facilitated trade, B.C., Manitoba, Quebec and Labrador could use their huge hydropower dams to store electricity from the outstanding solar and wind resources in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as from solar panels on your roof. That would make low-carbon electricity available all year when we need it, for all our energy needs, including transportation.

The climate crisis is not moving as quickly as the pandemic, but it is just as urgent because the consequences of today’s actions will last so long and have such enormous effects on us all. Canada can respond to the collapse of oil prices by opening another door to a better future, pivoting Canada’s energy sector to shared, low-carbon electrification.


The world is paying a high price for cheap clothes

When shoppers entered H&M’s flagship store in central London last summer, the first thing they would have seen was a dark blue, flowery minidress hanging front and center. On sale for just £4 (or $4.80 US), the dress featured more than a low price tag. It also boasted a green label with the word “CONSCIOUS.”

Further down the aisle, recycling bins stood next to a collection of striped t-shirts and dresses.
This setup is not uncommon in H&M’s 4,473 stores stores across the world. That’s because the company wants to be seen as a climate champion.
The Swedish clothing empire runs an array of sustainability programs, encouraging customers to bring back unwanted clothes for reuse. It’s been releasing annual sustainability reports since 2002 and launched its first Conscious Collection using organic cotton and recycled materials in 2010.
More recently, the H&M Group announced a plan to make all its apparel from recycled or sustainably-sourced materials by 2030. It has also tried adding “repair and remake” stations in select stores, and it’s testing clothing rentals in Stockholm.
Like its other fast fashion rivals, H&M’s core business model is fueled by low prices, rapid consumption and fast-changing trends — all of which are in direct tension with its sustainability mission. The global fashion industry generates a huge amount of waste – one full garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to a landfill every second, according to the a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading non-profit working to improve the industry’s sustainability record.

H&M displays dresses from its 2018 Conscious Exclusive collection. The retailer wants to be seen as a climate champion — but that sustainability mission is in direct tension with its fast fashion business model. (Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for H&M)

When a shirt costs $5, it’s quickly seen as disposable. We are more likely to dispose of cheaper, mass-produced clothes than more expensive items, according to a 2009 study into consumer habits.
H&M is well aware of the problem. The company’s Sustainability Engagement Manager Hendrik Alpen admitted the fast fashion industry is struggling to balance its climate commitment with its desire to meet consumer demands.
“It’s not exactly rocket science, if you look at how the global population will develop, by 2040, we might be 9 billion people. That is of course great from the perspective of having more potential customers,” Alpen told CNN Business. “But if we look at the planetary boundaries … the equation is not working out.”

Piñatex garments with an H&M Conscious label. (Ivana Kottasova/CNN)

How clothes are harming the planet

Collectively, the global fashion industry produces nearly 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or 8.1% of the world total, according to Quantis, a climate consultancy that analyzes the fashion industry’s environmental impact. That calculation includes the seven life stages of a garment, beginning with creating the fibers used to make it — by growing cotton, for example — to assembling the clothing and eventually, transporting and selling it. The estimates consider both apparel and footwear.
When you’re standing in a mall or shopping online and ready to click “buy,” it’s hard to fathom the global consequences of individual purchases. But consider the impact of a single cotton t-shirt or a pair of jeans as examples.
The process of making one cotton t-shirt emits about 5 kilograms of carbon dioxide — around the amount produced during a 12-mile car drive. It also uses as much as 1,750 liters of water. That’s in part because cotton is a water-guzzling crop. Inefficient irrigation, as well as the bleaching and dying process, add to the water usage, Quantis told CNN Business.
Producing a pair of jeans consumes even more water — around 3,000 liters — due to the dyeing and bleaching involved, according to calculations by Quantis. Making a single pair of jeans emits around 20 kg of CO2, the same amount produced during a 49-mile car journey.
There are more sustainable ways to grow cotton that include relying mainly on rainwater, rotating crops to preserve soil quality and limiting the use of pesticides. However, sustainable cotton remains a niche product, comprising only about 15% of the 2017 global total, according to the CottonUp initiative.
In 2017, the fashion industry devoured around 79 billion cubic meters of water, enough to fill nearly 32 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. And it’s only expected to get worse. The Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group expect the fashion industry’s water usage will increase another 50% by 2030.
That’s a threat, they warn, particularly to cotton-producing countries, which are quickly running out of water. Researchers at the Twente Water Centre at the University of Twente in the Netherlands say 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. Nearly half of those people live in India and China, the world’s top two cotton producers.
In Central Asia, another major cotton region, cotton farming is partly responsible for drying up the Aral Sea, once one of the four largest freshwater lakes in the world.

The Aral Sea, located on the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was once the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake. It shrunk to just 10% of its original size by 2000, and continued drying up since.


It doesn’t end with the production. Washing clothes can also have a detrimental effect on the environment, especially because of synthetic materials like polyester that contain plastic fibers. After frequent washes, those fibers break down into microplastics, which can make their way to oceans and harm marine wildlife.
“60% of materials used by the industry are plastic fibers [and] the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles are leaked into the ocean through garment wash every year,” said Francois Souchet, who leads the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular program which brings together all the key players to create more sustainable fashion.
Denim manufacturer Levi Strauss is on a mission to change this.
For years the company has been encouraging its customers to reduce the number of times they wash their jeans. A 2013 report commissioned by the company revealed that consumer care was responsible for 23% of water used in the life cycle of its jeans.
Levi’s also found a way to create its signature faded denim, by using just a thimble of water and ozone gas instead of the traditional method, which can use up to 42 liters of water.
The company uses stones instead of water to achieve the “worn-in” look. This technique has reduced the volume of water used in garment finishing by 96% since 2011, the company says.

A worker unloads jeans from a fabric dyeing machine at a factory in India. (Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Sustainability comes at a high price

H&M launched its Conscious Collection in 2010. To qualify for a “Conscious” label, clothes must contain at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, according to the H&M website.
The company was accused of “greenwashing” consumers by being vague about the collection’s sustainability credentials. Last summer, the Norwegian Consumer Authority sent a letter to H&M, accusing the company of misleading consumers with overly general sustainability claims associated with its Conscious Collection. The NCA told CNN Business that the information on H&M’s website did not specify the amount of recycled material used in each garment.
“We think this is information that the consumer should have available as the clothing is marketed as recycled,” said Elisabeth Lier Haugseth, NCA director general. “You should know if this means 2% of the clothing material or 50%.”
When asked about this, Alpen, the H&M sustainability manager, said the company would take the criticism and learn to “communicate that extra value” to consumers.
The Conscious Collection includes items like a vegan pink jacket made from Piñatex, a leather-like material made out of pineapple waste and recycled polyester rather than animal hides.
The catch: it originally cost $299.
That price tag, which stands out in a sea of otherwise super-cheap clothes, illustrates a hard truth; although H&M is making more of an effort to talk about climate change, it’s hard to scale up sustainable practices and still keep prices low.
Developed by leather goods specialist Carmen Hijosa, Piñatex has become a sought-after material. Hijosa has teamed up with a number of luxury designers, including Hugo BossTrussardi and Edun, in addition to her H&M collaboration. She hopes to scale her company so Piñatex can eventually supply more apparel-makers with a leather alternative at a lower price point. For now, she acknowledges the $299 H&M jacket is probably out of reach for many consumers.

In an effort to encourage people to donate clothing rather than toss it aside, Levi Strauss & Co. displayed 19,000 pairs of jeans at a stadium in 2014. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images for Levi's)

But she also told CNN Business that it’s up to shoppers, too, to play their part – by purchasing fewer and longer-lasting goods.
“We consumers have a lot of power. I think we all know we don’t need 20 t-shirts,” she said. “Maybe it’s better to pay a little bit more and have two t-shirts.”
“I think we are much, much more aware,” she added. “People stop for five seconds and think: ‘if I buy this, it’s going to be a waste in six months time, if I buy this, it’s going to last longer, it [costs] more, but I am going to use it more’.”

Throwaway fashion

Fast fashion companies produce billions of garments each year to provide their consumers with the latest trends. Critics, ranging from Greenpeace to the UK Parliament, say such mass production promotes the idea that clothes are disposable and encourages excessive waste.
Over half of fast fashion items are thrown away in under a year, according to estimates by management consultancy giant McKinsey & Company.
The problem is becoming apparent. In its 2019 “Fixing Fashion” report, the UK’s House of Commons’ environmental audit committee proposed that the government introduce a fast fashion tax to combat consumers’ disposable mindset. The inquiry’s tagline: “Fashion: it shouldn’t cost the Earth.”
The committee’s overarching message was straight forward: People need to rethink the way they dress by buying fewer but higher quality items that will last.
“Isn’t the real problem with the fast fashion industry that if you are selling stuff at £5 people aren’t going to treat it with any respect and at the end of its life it’s going to go in the bin?” asked Mary Creagh, the parliamentarian who chaired the committee.
The proposed tax was tiny, just one pence (or about 1 US cent) per item. The lawmakers wanted to use the revenue to stop clothes from going to a landfill.
And ultimately the government rejected the idea, saying it wanted to focus on eliminating single-use plastic first.

Most used clothing isn’t recycled

In a bid to play its part, H&M launched a recycling program in 2012, allowing customers to exchange unwanted clothes for discount vouchers.
H&M’s latest sustainability report stated that of the used garments it collected, 50% to 60% were sorted for rewear or reuse. About 35% to 45% were recycled to become non-fashion products like cleaning cloths or insulation materials or made into new textile fibers. The remaining 3% to 7% that could not be recycled were burnt for energy production. 0% ends up in landfill.
The company aims to operate a 100% circular business model by 2030, which means ensuring that there is “no end of life [for materials] but creating a closed loop where everything is used as long and as often as possible and ultimately recycled,” Alpen said.

Piñatex jackets including the one developed for H&M's Conscious Exclusive collection (left). (Ivana Kottasova/CNN)

But some critics call this yet another example of greenwashing on the part of the company.
Orsola de Castro, a designer and a co-founder of Fashion Revolution, a non-profit global movement, said that the industry’s focus on circularity is a sign that the biggest companies are “hell-bent on continuing” with their current business model.
“These brands know very well that just throwing a couple of millions at some experimental circularity [project] was not going to solve the problem, but it was going to give them the opportunity to say ‘in the future, we can produce as much we want, you will be able to buy as much as you want, because ultimately, we will recycle everything’, but that is absolutely not true,” she said.
The future the companies talk about, she said, is so far away, it won’t make a difference any time soon. “We need to usher in a different behaviour by changing buying habits in the meantime, and that to me is slowing down,” she added.
H&M Group says it collected more than 29,005 metric tons of unwanted clothing in 2019, but admits that for many types of textiles, viable recycling solutions either do not exist or are not commercially available at scale.
Worldwide as of 2015, 73% of clothes ended up in landfills or incinerators because they cannot be recycled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a non-profit working to improve the industry’s sustainability record.

Signage at an H&M Conscious event showcases the company's ambitions to eventually get to a 100% circular business model by 2030. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for H&M)

The main challenge is a lack of recycling infrastructure for textiles. Current technology only allows less than 1% of clothing to be recycled into new apparel, Francois Souchet, who leads the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular program, told CNN Business.
He said the fashion industry should design clothes with end of use in mind by integrating recyclable materials, such as lyocell, a fiber made from biodegradable wood pulp.
“The products are not designed to be turned into new [items] or refreshed in style…the materials that are used mean you cannot economically recycle clothes,” he added.
Most experts and fashion companies acknowledge the task ahead is huge and will require a multitude of solutions and technology that is not yet available.
“I don’t think there is a truly sustainable fashion business, but looking at the rest of the industry today, I can say very confidently that H&M is one of the most sustainable options out there,” Alpen said.

It’s time to pivot Canada’s food system into the 21st century

Our food system looks remarkably normal — especially given the scale of the disruption we’ve just experienced. Photo:

Over the last two months, our food system has faced unprecedented challenges. Almost overnight, the food service industry, which usually consumes one third of produced, shuttered. Not only is this likely to destroy tens of thousands of small businesses, the supply chains that fed these bars, restaurants and cafeterias have gone through wrenching shifts.

Potato farmers have learned that we eat very few french fries when dining at home. At the moment, there are 200 million pounds of Canadian potatoes stuck in storage with no one to buy them. Meanwhile, flour mills work overtime to keep up with our new-found passion for baking.

Consumers emptied grocery store shelves in their rush to stock up on non-perishables, while millions of Canadians now find themselves out of work. And the livestock industry is reeling after the closure of major-meat packing plants all over North America due to COVID-19 outbreaks, throwing the supply of meat into question.

Despite all this, on the surface at least, our food system looks remarkably normal — especially given the scale of the disruption we’ve just experienced. Supply chains are adapting, food banks are now supported by Ottawa, and industry has worked with government to ensure temporary foreign workers are coming to our farms. The picture isn’t perfect, of course, but there have been more successes than failures. It seems that many aspects of the food system — which means the men and women who farm, process, transport and sell food — have quietly pulled off one of the greatest logistical feats in human history.

That said, the next period is going to be difficult. In Canada, skyrocketing unemployment is driving up food insecurity to catastrophic levels while the UN predicts major parts of the world will tip towards a COVID-induced famine of “biblical proportions.” Farmers struggle to obtain basic inputs such as sanitizer (essential to keep dairy parlours clean and workers safe). Experts even worry about fertilizer supplies.

We should make no mistake, for all the successful adaptations of the last eight weeks, COVID-19 presents our food system with unprecedented challenges that we must learn from. We must also remember that COVID-19 is something of a vanilla virus — with a mortality rate of about one per cent, it pales in comparison with the truly terrifying pathogens like Ebola or even Avian Influenza. In short, the next pandemic could be worse. Much worse. Meanwhile, climate chaos still waits to unleash the full extent of Mother Nature’s fury. It may be that history views COVID-19 as a sort of dress rehearsal, or warm up act, for what will almost inevitably be the Century of Disruption.

Set against this apocalyptic nightmare scenario, however, COVID-19 has the potential to usher in an Agricultural Renaissance that will drive economic recovery, make us healthier and heal our planet. The convergence of data science, robotics and genomics is poised to herald a new agricultural revolution that will be as significant as the Green Revolution was almost 100 years ago. These changes were already beginning. COVID-19 speeds up these trends.

For instance, we already knew that the world’s protein systems were on the cusp of a radical transformation due to new products coming on the market (e.g. Impossible and Beyond), an awareness of the environmental impact of traditional livestock, and changing consumer demands. COVID-19 is driving us to embrace shorter-supply chains, greater decentralization and more regional self-sufficiency, which will accelerate this process. Animal protein systems have been optimised to produce very cheap products in quantity, and we are now paying for that optimization with sick workers and supply chain bottlenecks. After COVID-19, expect meat to be more expensive and more non-animal protein options in stores. Canada will be a winner in this arena as our prairies pump out protein alternatives from peas, soybeans and oats.

The changes that we are starting to see in protein will spread to other sectors. Horticulture, fruits and vegetables are also on the verge of major change, moving to indoor, controlled and labour-free systems that are integrated into the built urban environment. Better e-commerce, technologies to drive food system transparency, and AI controlled food systems are set to follow. What will emerge from the convergence of crisis and opportunity is an occasion unprecedented in human existence: by applying digital technology we may soon have the ability to produce practically any crop, practically anywhere, and in practically any season. In the relatively near future, a techno-optimist’s vision is that we should be able to sustain society in the harshest terrestrial environments and beyond.

But as we contemplate this future, tough questions need to be asked. After all, food is not just a series of molecules our bodies use for nutrition. Food brings communities and families together. Food is culture. And producing, processing and transporting food is one of the biggest employers in the world today. For all the transformative power of technology, nothing will change the fact that food is a commodity to which we all have the most intimate of relations. In this, food is unlike any other sector of the economy.

As we race to consider how technology can enable a post-COVID world, we also need to reflect on the impact of all this for farmers. In particular, how will farmers afford such technologies? Will these trends simply accelerate the decline of small and midsize producers all over the world? Most of the world’s ~570 million farms are both small-scale and family-run. What will these people do when novel disruptive technologies become wide-spread? To some extent, consumers can support small farmers through passionate buy-local programs. But this is unlikely to be enough, and economic transition programs need to be adopted by governments everywhere.

“COVID-19 has the potential to usher in an Agricultural Renaissance that will drive economic recovery, make us healthier and heal our planet.”

Another tough question to answer involves the long-term prospects for families currently dependent on incomes that come from agricultural labour. In places like Canada and the US, hundreds of thousands of people migrate as temporary farm workers each year. The money they earn is a vital source of remittances that helps reduce poverty and promote food security back in their homes. While these temporary jobs are generally poorly compensated, this supply of hand labour is the cornerstone of vast parts of the agricultural sector and provides incomes to people who need it. Reducing our reliance on temporary foreign workers could build a safer food system while also improving labour practices, but what about families who depend on this for their livelihoods?

Next, are there health and food security implications linked with these technologies? Many of these new approaches to agriculture may result in highly processed foods becoming more available for consumers, which may have unintended negative consequences in terms of nutrition. We need consumers and governments to demand the highest nutrition and flavour standards as technology shapes supply chains.

This is Canada’s moment. We have the infrastructure, the technological base, the innovation culture and the workforce. The ag-food sector had already been identified as a strategic area for Canada before the COVID-19 crisis. Now, ag-food can be a key part of our economic and social recovery strategy. We can be global leaders and if we help lead these changes, we can build an agri-food partnership that draws industry, government and academy together to shape our new food future.

The crisis of COVID-19, horrible as it is, also provides an impetus to pivot food systems into the 21st century. Food systems were already on the verge of major technological change before COVID-19 and the current pandemic shortens timelines. To ensure that this change promotes a cleaner environment, promotes better nutrition for all, and allows agri-food to emerge from COVID as an engine of innovation and economic opportunity, we need to exert national and global leadership. Being a leader in the Digital Agricultural Renaissance must be an urgent priority as we pivot to recovery. The United Nations warns that a quarter of a billion people in thirty developing countries will face famine without help. Canada is positioned to provide food, but we can also provide the technologies and know-how needed to establish food sovereignty in all regions. The post-COVID world can be different. It can correct many of the problems and vulnerabilities that COVID reveals. We can invest and deploy the right technologies. We can be a global leader in global food systems. We can feed the future.


Oil lobby jumps into Arctic drilling finance battle

Illustration of a growing crack heading towards oil barrels

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The powerful American Petroleum Institute and GOP senators are attacking big banks’ financial restrictions on Arctic oil drilling — and mulling ways to go beyond just verbal pushback.

What they’re saying: “We don’t think it’s appropriate for banks to discriminate against fossil-fuel communities,” API president Mike Sommers tells Axios.

  • “We’re working with the administration and others to ensure that does not occur,” he said.

Why it matters: The growing number of banks vowing not to stake Arctic projects is another hurdle in front of White House plans to enable drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • More broadly, Arctic development is already facing strong headwinds due to low prices, low demand, and industry opportunities in less controversial regions.

Where it stands: The administration may try to use coronavirus relief policies as leverage to compel major U.S. banks to drop recent restrictions they’ve placed on Arctic oil and gas financing, per Sommers and President Trump himself.

  • “A number of these banks are seeking to participate in the programs that are part of the COVID response,” Sommers said. “And you’d think the administration would have significant leverage over these banks during this crisis.”

Meanwhile, Politico reports that GOP lawmakers plan to launch a “pressure campaign” against the banks.

  • It’s not clear what realistic options they have in a divided Congress, but Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan offers this threat via Politico: “You think this is a cost-free action? Let’s see about that.”

Catch up quick: In just the last few months, five out of six of America’s biggest banks have announced new restrictions, Bloomberg reports.

  • The moves — the latest coming from Morgan Stanley in late April — are part of the banks’ broader pledges to support action on climate change and clean energy.