What the government knows — and doesn’t know — about COVID-19 in Indigenous populations

TVO.org speaks with Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller about why it’s challenging to gather COVID-19 data on Indigenous populations — and where the federal government has room for improvement

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller speaks at news conference on Parliament Hill on April 30. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

On May 9, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told reporters that his department’s data-collection capabilities were “limited” and announced $250,000 in funding to support the collection of data on Indigenous populations and an analysis of gaps that currently exist in its collection. While ISC is reporting COVID-19 numbers on-reserve — according to numbers from May 15, there are 190 cases, 19 hospitalizations, and three deaths — the number of cases off-reserve are unknown.

report from the Yellowhead Institute estimates that there are 465 cases and have been seven deaths. “There is no agency or organization in Canada reliably recording and releasing COVID-19 data that indicates whether or not a person is Indigenous,” writes Courtney Skye, author of the report. “And since very few First Nations actually have local control over the delivery of public health, the majority rely on provincial public health services, regardless of whether or not they live on-reserve.”

Following Miller’s announcement, TVO.org spoke with the minister about how ISC is working to improve its data collection.

Marc Miller: We had a sense going into this that there were certain things that Indigenous Services Canada could do and couldn’t do. Right away, I think everyone acknowledged that there would be challenges gathering data for Métis, in particular, because we know that documentation of who is Métis and who is not is a challenge. It is certainly obvious when you look at La Loche [Saskatchewan], for example. I think what became obviously and painfully clear is, when people are focused on the current outbreak in La Loche, which is 90 per cent Indigenous, and the surrounding First Nations, we saw a difference in the numbers because we would get the First Nations on-reserve numbers, and they were a tenth of what the La Loche numbers are.

And they were like, “Hey, the numbers getting reported do not identify this population as Indigenous, whereas we all know it’s 90 plus per cent Indigenous.” So we knew it was something that was looming and became pretty obvious as the spread in La Loche occurred.

TVO.org: What are the challenges in collecting this data?

Miller: It’s a number of overlapping issues. Within the Indigenous space, there’s an extra layer when trying to get a good sense of Indigenous peoples that have contracted COVID on — let’s use the words-on and off-reserve, even though you know better than I do that it’s a gross mischaracterization. Indigenous Service Canada runs the First Nations Inuit Health Branch, which largely operates care on-reserve and, through the territories, provides services and support in the territories. It is layered on top of a complex health system in Canada that is generally run by all run by the provinces and the territories.

So, when an epidemic like this hits, everyone is rushing in real time to make sure people stay safe and that they’re following all the proper indications. Data at the very outset was very much a secondary concern to saving lives. But data is important for us for a number of reasons. One, because we know the historical social determinants of health that have created the comorbidity rates that are much higher in Indigenous communities than they are in non-Indigenous communities and create disproportionately negative health outcome for Indigenous peoples — it’s a whole reflection of the historical inequality and inequity.

So, when a pandemic hits, if you can’t measure that impact, if you can’t tangibly assess how to best address and fund resources in real time, you find yourself at an operational disadvantage. And then, in the long term, good data gives us a good appreciation of good public-health policy.

TVO.org: Where are the biggest gaps, currently, in ISC’s data collection?

Miller: What we do at Indigenous Service Canada is track the number of Indigenous cases that we have a real 100 per cent control of, which is testing on-reserve numbers. The one we don’t have a good grip on would be the urban Indigenous population, which, as you know, is 50 per cent of the Indigenous population. And that’s entirely within the purview of the provinces. There are ways to tease out that data and work from a scientific perspective to get a real sense and a grip on things. So it isn’t insurmountable, but you’re going from a starting point that is imperfect, and we have to acknowledge that imperfection

TVO.org: One of the biggest challenges you have, more or less, pointed out is that it’s the provinces and territories that are collecting data. How, exactly, is ISC working with the provinces and territories to get this Indigenous data collected?

Miller: On the Canada level, all the chief medical officers are linked, and they have meetings very, very often. It’s very difficult for us, as the federal government, to order provinces or territories to follow every single point that we would want. But everyone’s on the same page, so it’s a question of just communicating and ensuring that we are seamless in our approach. There are different protocols in different provinces. Each province is interested in figuring out the health of their residents. But aggregating it and putting it together, getting trends together, is something that is very much a collaborative approach that we have to keep working at in time.

TVO.org: In your announcement Saturday, you mentioned that ISC is providing $250,000 in funding to Janet Smylie, at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, to conduct research on how the urban Indigenous population in Ontario is being affected by COVID-19. What about Smylie’s work got ISC’s attention?

Miller: Well, she’s on the ground in Toronto, particularly within the urban space. But she has a long, long history of publications and works that are in that space. It really is something that we wouldn’t have in-house, nor would necessarily be appropriate for us to study in-house, because we want to get the accurate data, whether it is good news or bad news. Her work is well-known in the field, and, whatever conclusion she comes to or whatever data points that she’s able to access, is more than desirable.

TVO.org: It’s interesting to me that it’s an Indigenous-led health-data-collection project. What is it that Smylie and her team can do that ISC or the federal government may not be able to?

Miller: It further underscores the importance of First Nations-controlled and -led health care, including any of the epidemiological analyses, the triage, the data. We do collect it, but having someone who is that third party and has a quasi audit function is very helpful, as well, and does stuff that, frankly, we do not do in that space — which is collect, collate, and analyze and do trends in the urban space.

TVO.org: Something interesting that came to my attention in Ontario was Aboriginal Health Access Centres. The one in London actually just started offering COVID-19 testing for its clients. Do you see these kinds of urban Indigenous health organizations playing a large role in collecting data

Miller: Absolutely. They know their clientele better than we do. There are always challenges in financing them. I suspect you’ll want to know about some of the urban Indigenous financing, which, so far, has fallen short, but it is definitely something that is important and important to get out as we intensify testing and people feel safer showing up at one of these locations.

TVO.org: Of the $305 million that was invested by ISC, $15 million went to urban Indigenous organizations. You’ve said that the funding there had fallen short. Can you elaborate on that?

Miller: Our effort at the very beginning was that we were ensuring that communities had funds necessary to buy essential things, provide for security as they close communities, get funding in the community as quickly as possible. The feeling was to reserve an amount for the urban Indigenous population. Typically, these service organizations haven’t had as extensive a relationship with Indigenous Services Canada. We came up with 94 organizations, including the National Friendship Centre, that we tried to get money out to as quickly as possible. But we saw a massive oversubscription for projects that just weren’t appropriate for COVID; some of them very much were, and we’re still in the process of trying to secure additional funding.

We also realized there were some applications that were best addressed through the shelter envelopes that Minister of International Development [Maryam] Monsef and Minister [of Agriculture Marie-Claude] Bibeau for some of the food-related needs and the reaching-home initiatives. It’s sort of a wide spectrum across the federal government, and, also, as you know, a provincial area of funding, as well. We got the money that we could out the door. In any of these funding formulas, there’s a bit of art and science. But we obviously acknowledge the need to get more of it out.

TVO.org: When you have a clearer picture of how the off-reserve population has been affected, do you see more funding going to COVID testing and treatment?

Miller: Other than the initiatives you mentioned, and through the various health services and the provinces as well as the on-reserve stuff, I have — and correct me if I’m wrong — yet to see an urban, mobile option solely for Indigenous peoples. We wouldn’t be averse to those initiatives. There’s a discussion with the provinces as to the actual provision of the health care in the urban setting. We need to discuss it. Were we to secure more funds, this would not be something that would be ineligible. SOURCE


Nick Dunne is TVO.org’s Northeastern Hub reporter.
@NickFDunne

How to Create a BC Economy that Works for Everyone

It’s not just a question of when we reopen, but what kind of recovery we want.

The BC Federation of Labour offers eight points for the next BC economy. Among them: Invest in safe, secure public service jobs for workers like Precy Miguel, an employee at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Photo: Joshua Berson.

Slowly and carefully, British Columbia is emerging from an unprecedented shutdown. And a big part of why we’ve weathered it as well as we have is the courage of working people, and the sacrifices they’ve made: treating the sick, providing vital public services and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed how heavily we depend on frontline workers — while also shining a light on how many of them have been underpaid, undervalued and under-protected in the workplace.

This pandemic has also exposed deep gaps in our economy and society. Many British Columbians are realizing for the first time just how critical workplace safety and employment standards are, and just how much of our daily lives and our community’s well-being rely on robust public services and social supports. And as the message “We’re in this together” truly sinks in, so does our understanding of how marginalized the most vulnerable among us really are.

Which raises the question: As our economy emerges from the deep freeze, what do we want it to look like? Will we go back to the old normal, or will we lay the foundations for something much better?

The choices we make in the coming days and months are critical. We have an opportunity to create a new economy and build a province equipped to address climate change, while prospering along the way. One that continues along the path of reconciliation in partnerships with Indigenous peoples and communities. One that secures equity and shared prosperity in every community throughout this province.

There will be predictable calls to go the other way: a public sector in retreat from the economy and the community; fewer protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages for the working people who continue to be this province’s lifeline; vulnerable populations that remain in the margins; and years of progress toward reconciliation summarily abandoned. There are already voices arguing this will make business more competitive and generate jobs. We must not be fooled by this tired rhetoric.

We must reject calls to cut and slash our way back to what we used to know as normal — now is the time to build a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future for everyone.

British Columbia’s post-pandemic recovery represents an unprecedented opportunity to make choices that reflect the fundamental values of our province. Here are eight principles that we believe must guide a truly successful recovery:

Economic recovery must centre on the success of working people.

Workers’ voices must be at the table: Recovery, as we’ve seen, can’t happen without them. A full economic recovery will require us to address low wages, strengthen health and safety protections, increase employment standards and empower workers’ rights across all sectors in B.C. Economic support programs must focus on job retention and preserving full-time, safe and stable employment. And in this first week of what’s been dubbed Phase Two, with this pandemic still very much a threat, let’s be clear about one thing in particular: As we reopen workplace by workplace, safety must be front and centre for all workers.

It’s time to recognize the true importance of long-undervalued work.

The pandemic has shown how essential workers are in sectors ranging from grocery store workers to health-care workers to frontline community and support workers — just to name a few. These workers, who are disproportionately women and people of colour, have been historically undervalued. They deserve wages and benefits that recognize their innate dignity and the importance of their work, and the ability to join together and bargain collectively to improve their working conditions.

We must embrace respect for the rights of Indigenous communities in every aspect of our province and economy, and continue implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

COVID-19 has highlighted the acute need to transform the colonial structures embedded in the public and private sectors in the province to come into line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, in the spirit of the recently-passed BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

BC must invest in and expand public services and programs.

B.C.’s public services and programs fall short for many of the most vulnerable people in our province. To close those gaps, B.C. must dramatically increase its investment in public services and programs, whether related to income, housing, health care and childcare, access to nutritious food, education, or any other resources essential to meaningful security and well-being.

851px version of SemiTruckHighwayMountain.jpg
The pandemic reminds us of workers we take for granted but are proving essential. BC’s new economy should secure equity and shared prosperity in every community throughout this province. Photo: Joshua Berson.

 

Workers need more security and robust standards across every employment sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the depth of worker precarity and employers’ increasing reliance on contract and gig workers, as many workers cobble together multiple jobs at multiple worksites to make ends meet. Workers in this province deserve much more security and stability in their employment. Every worker in B.C. must be covered by robust employment standards and protected from the exploitation that all too often comes with misclassified contracting and gig work. And we must establish fair standards for working conditions in sectors that have been undervalued and underpaid for far too long.

We must make up for lost time in addressing the climate crisis, with an accelerated and inclusive path to a green economy.

One key lesson from this pandemic: Denial is a disastrous strategy for dealing with catastrophic threats — including the threat posed by human-driven climate change. Addressing that threat through a swift transition to cleaner, renewable sources of energy is a matter of both long-term survival and our economic well-being in the here and now. The restart of our economy is an unparalleled opening for an aggressive agenda to accelerate that move and the thousands of well-paying jobs it will entail. We must ensure all communities and workers benefit from the new opportunities offered by a modern, green economy, particularly those hardest hit by the decline of carbon-intensive industries.

Large-scale public investment, not short-sighted austerity, will restart the economy.

Public investment in services such as childcare, transit, public housing and public works projects produce multiplier effects that create employment and support workers across all sectors as they return to their jobs. It helps shore up the private sector’s vulnerability to economic shocks like pandemics and commodity price collapses. And used strategically, it encourages and structures private-sector investment to maximize benefits to our province and create secure, family-supporting jobs in regional economies throughout B.C.

We need to build long-term resilience in our communities.

As we rebuild, let’s consider not just economic indicators but human outcomes, especially our ability to ensure the basic needs of every British Columbian are met. This pandemic has not impacted people or communities equally, and our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. Our goals must entail nothing less than the end of poverty, homelessness and other inequities — and a society that can offer to everyone a meaningful connection to the communities where they live and work.

These principles underlie Rebuilding Our Economy For All, the BC Federation of Labour’s blueprint for restarting our economy, and reshaping it so it works for everyone, not just a few. We’re releasing it publicly today — in the early stages of B.C.’s economic reopening — to start a conversation our province needs to have now.

After an unprecedented economic shutdown, we now have an unprecedented restart — and a historic opportunity. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ask ourselves not just how and when, but what kind of economy we want to restart.  [Tyee] SOURCE

Study: World carbon pollution falls 17% during pandemic peak

In this April 26, 2020, file photo, empty lanes of the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway that leads to downtown Los Angeles is seen during the coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles, Calif. The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17% at the peak of the pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found. But with life and heat-trapping gas levels inching back toward normal, the brief pollution break will likely be “a drop in the ocean” when it comes to climate change, scientists said.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

KENSINGTON, Maryland (AP) — The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17% at the peak of the pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found.

But with life and heat-trapping gas levels inching back toward normal, the brief pollution break will likely be “a drop in the ocean” when it comes to climate change, scientists said.

In their study of carbon dioxide emissions during the coronavirus pandemic, an international team of scientists calculated that pollution levels are heading back up — and for the year will end up between 4% and 7% lower than 2019 levels. That’s still the biggest annual drop in carbon emissions since World War II.

It’ll be 7% if the strictest lockdown rules remain all year long across much of the globe, 4% if they are lifted soon.

For a week in April, the United States cut its carbon dioxide levels by about one-third. China, the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping gases, sliced its carbon pollution by nearly a quarter in February, according to a study Tuesday in the journal Nature Climate Change. India and Europe cut emissions by 26% and 27% respectively.

The biggest global drop was from April 4 through 9 when the world was spewing 18.7 million tons (17 million metric tons) of carbon pollution a day less than it was doing on New Year’s Day.

Such low global emission levels haven’t been recorded since 2006. But if the world returns to its slowly increasing pollution levels next year, the temporary reduction amounts to ’’a drop in the ocean,” said study lead author Corinne LeQuere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia.

“It’s like you have a bath filled with water and you’re turning off the tap for 10 seconds,” she said.

By April 30, the world carbon pollution levels had grown by 3.3 million tons (3 million metric tons) a day from its low point earlier in the month. Carbon dioxide stays in the air for about a century.

Outside experts praised the study as the most comprehensive yet, saying it shows how much effort is needed to prevent dangerous levels of further global warming.

“That underscores a simple truth: Individual behavior alone … won’t get us there,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who wasn’t part of the study, said in an email. “We need fundamental structural change.”

If the world could keep up annual emission cuts like this without a pandemic for a couple decades, there’s a decent chance Earth can avoid warming another 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) of warming from now, study authors said. But getting the type of yearly cuts to reach that international goal is unlikely, they said.

If next year returns to 2019 pollution levels, it means the world has only bought about a year’s delay in hitting the extra 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) of warming that leaders are trying to avoid, LeQuere said. That level could still occur anywhere from 2050 to 2070, the authors said.

The study was carried out by Global Carbon Project, a consortium of international scientists that produces the authoritative annual estimate of carbon dioxide emissions. They looked at 450 databases showing daily energy use and introduced a measurement scale for pandemic-related societal “confinement” in its estimates.

Nearly half the emission reductions came from less transportation pollution, mostly involving cars and trucks, the authors said. By contrast, the study found that drastic reductions in air travel only accounted for 10% of the overall pollution drop.

In the U.S., the biggest pollution declines were seen in California and Washington with plunges of more than 40%. SOURCE


Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears

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Canada’s new climate targets, plastics ban likely to be delayed due to pandemic

Clean fuel standard pushed back months, no word on when plastics ban will happen

Canada had originally planned to ban single-use plastics in 2021. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the intention to move on a plastics ban remains but said he can’t say when it will be implemented. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Canada’s national environment agenda is the latest thing to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, as plans for both beefing up national climate targets and banning some plastics are likely to be delayed.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Canadian Press late last week that the government remains firmly committed to its environmental promises, which were a key part of the Liberal 2019 re-election campaign. However, he acknowledged that the efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Canada will also slow the government’s ability to move on some of its environment goals.

“We’ve continued to work on a number of elements but there are some where we’ve had to delay,” Wilkinson said.

The clean fuel standard to require fuels like gasoline and diesel to burn more cleanly is being pushed back at least several months because of COVID-19. Last month, the government moved the implementation date for new standards on liquid fuels like gasoline from Jan. 1, 2022, to just sometime in 2022. The proposed regulations that were to be published this spring are not coming now until the fall.

Last month, the government moved the implementation date for new standards on liquid fuels like gasoline from Jan. 1, 2022, to sometime in 2022. The proposed regulations that were to be published this spring are not coming now until the fall. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

 

The standard is expected to contribute about 15 per cent of the more than 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gases Canada committed to eliminate by 2030 under the Paris climate change agreement.

But during the election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canada would go further than that and Wilkinson told the world in December that Canada’s new climate plan would be ready in time for the fall 2020 United Nations climate meetings in Scotland. That meeting, which was to be held in November, has also been a casualty of COVID-19 — it has been postponed into 2021.

Under the Paris agreement, all countries were supposed to upgrade their emissions targets this year, to bring the world more in line with what scientists say must be done to slow climate change. Thus far, only seven countries have done so and Wilkinson is no longer certain Canada will produce a plan by the fall.

“My intention is to bring forward the updated climate plan as soon as it is reasonable to do that,” he said. “Right now, we need to be focused on fighting the virus but certainly our intention and our commitment to the climate file remains very firm.”

Plastics ban still planned

He said the same commitment exists when it comes to single-use plastics but the virus is also intruding on that plan. In January, Environment Canada issued a draft scientific assessment confirming plastics are harmful to the environment, which was the first step toward the goal to begin banning some products. At that time, Wilkinson said the ban would absolutely begin in 2021.

But the government extended the required comment period on the scientific report by 30 days last month. It closed May 1 instead of April 1.

‘My intention is to bring forward the updated climate plan as soon as it is reasonable to do that,’ said Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

 

Wilkinson said the intention to move on a plastics ban remains but said he can’t say when.

“That is another one that has been a little bit affected by the pandemic,” said Wilkinson.

“It’s very difficult to know exactly how this is all going to sort itself out given the uncertainty of the times, but we do intend to move forward on the plastics ban.”

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics campaign for Greenpeace Canada, said she is hopeful any delay will be minimal.

“We have been waiting for a long time to see the words and the election promises turn to action,” said King. “Obviously, a delay is problematic because every day that goes by, every week that goes by, every month that goes by, billions of pieces of plastic are entering our market. This is something that we need to urgently deal with.”

SOURCE

From Energy Transition to Energy Reduction

With the wholesale price for US crude oil famously, if briefly, turning negative recently, and – slightly less famously – with commenters in a thread under my last post suggesting that it’s technically straightforward to transition the existing energy system largely to renewables, it feels the time is right to address some post-lockdown and post-carbon energy realities. Let me state my three-part thesis upfront:

  1. It is not going to be easy technically or in any other way to transition the existing energy system to a low carbon one
  2. This means there will be profound changes in human societies over the coming decades
  3. It serves no sound purpose to dismiss the implications of (1) and (2) as ‘apocalyptic’

A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change and reported here seems corroboratory of my thesis in concluding that “merely adding new technologies is unlikely to bring the climate challenge under control, unless we also deliver behavioural, cultural and economic transformations” and that “technological promises allow those benefitting from the continued exploitation of fossil fuels and the comfortable lifestyles it enables to justify those practices to themselves”.

But let’s get going with a few facts and figures. Cautious estimates like those of the IPCC suggest that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half within a decade and to net zero by 2050 if we’re to avoid global average temperature increases in excess of 2oC over preindustrial levels at century’s end, at which point the consequences of global heating are likely to be severely detrimental to human wellbeing (and the wellbeing of many other organisms).

GHG emissions are mostly caused by the combustion of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), so a key necessity for climate change mitigation is to transition the global energy economy out of fossil fuels. And the fact is, this hasn’t yet begun to happen. Globally in 1965, we consumed energy to the tune of 3,485 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) from fossil fuels. By 2018 that figure had leapt to over 11,700 million TOE. And we can’t blame all this on population increase. In 1965, global fossil fuel use was 1.05 TOE per capita, whereas in 2018 it was 1.55.

These figures show that, far from a transition out of fossil fuels, our use of them has been amplifying. True, our use of lower carbon energy sources has increased at a faster rate than fossil fuels, to the extent that in 2018 the proportion of global energy consumption contributed by fossil fuels was ‘only’ 85%, whereas in 1965 it was 94%. But since we need to be sharply reducing fossil fuel use rather than increasing it, as at present, this is cold comfort. And most of the low carbon energy sources we’ve added since 1965 have been high-cost nuclear and hydroelectric projects with questionable environmental implications and limited potential for roll-out beyond a handful of countries. Only 4% of current global energy consumption comes from sources other than nuclear, hydro or fossil fuels.

This picture is set to change dramatically in the short-term with the Covid-19 crisis. Plummeting energy demand has hit the fossil energy sector disproportionately, which I’d suggest is partly because fossil fuels disproportionately service the non-electricity sector, and partly because once renewable capacity is installed the sun, wind and water that powers it cost nothing. But it would be misleading to conclude that the Covid-19 crisis is fostering an energy transition. If and when normal activity returns, so will fossil fuel use. Some people are saying that the fossil energy downturn we’re currently seeing due to Covid-19 could become the new normal. To me, that seems fanciful unless the new normal also encompasses the end of economic growth, the end of urbanization and the end of intensifying global economic linkage – and even then it may not be enough to reduce GHG emissions adequately. I’ll touch on those issues some more below, and in my next post, I hope. In the meantime, I’d suggest the present short-run decline in fossil energy use does not a renewable energy transition make.

Maybe not, the argument sometimes goes, but why look downheartedly backwards at how the energy economy has unfolded up to now when, Covid-19 or not, there are reasons to look optimistically forwards towards an impending energy transition? I guess I’d find it easier to endorse this view if there was actually any evidence that one is underway – though bearing in mind that we probably need to cut emissions in half within ten years, it’s quite possible that an energy transition that starts today is still going to be too late. I’m also mindful of Professor McLaren’s view in the Nature Climate Change article I mentioned: all this heralding of game-changing technologies that are just around the corner may amount to little more than greenwashing of current high energy lifestyles.

But let’s try to get a bit more of a handle on the energy transition that’s needed. Take a look at this table:

 

Year – 2018 GDP/capita (US$) Fossil energy consumption (TOE per capita) % Energy consumption from fossil fuels
USA 62,790 5.94 84
Australia 57,400 5.33 92
Canada 46,230 6.04 65
UK 42,940 2.29 79
Malaysia 11,370 2.97 94
China 9,770 2.00 85
South Africa 6,370 2.01 96
Indonesia 3,890 0.67 96
Vietnam 2,570 0.71 79
India 2,010 0.55 92
Bangladesh 1,700 0.22 99
World 11,310 1.55 85

Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 and World Development Indicators

….Of course, there’s a logical flaw in my statement above that to cut fossil fuels by half we’d need to install an equivalent amount of solar capacity. Instead, we could cut fossil fuels by half and not replace them with anything. Once we start thinking in terms of decreasing energy use, a new world of possibilities opens up. This, far more than any low carbon energy source du jour, is surely the real game changer.

So, looking again at the table above, let’s forget the 6.0 TOE of fossil energy used by each Canadian resident, or the 2.3 used by each UK one, or the 2.0 by each Chinese one or the 1.55 used by the ‘average’ citizen of the world. Let’s aim for something lower – very much lower, in the case of some countries. Can we achieve it just through efficiency savings? If so, please show me how. Because really I think the debate we need to be having, which is badly overdue, is what kind of different world a low energy world would look like. What kind of farming would we have? What kind of industry? What kind of health and social care? What kind of settlement patterns? MORE

Alberta gears up for another legal battle over Keystone XL after Biden vows to pull permissions

The portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that’s already built — shown here at the Montana-Saskatchewan border — may have to be torn up should Joe Biden force the issue if elected. HANDOUT

CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he is prepared to go to court anf file a free-trade lawsuit alongside TC Energy Corp. if Joe Biden becomes president and follows through with his promise to pull permits on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Construction work on the US$14.4-billion Keystone XL pipeline began in April but fresh opposition from the U.S. Democratic presidential nominee could scuttle the long-delayed pipeline once again.

Kenney said at a news conference Tuesday the province “would use every legal means at our disposal to protect our fiscal and economic interests.”

A spokesman for TC Energy, the Calgary-based pipeline proponent, said in an emailed statement that no other pipeline project “in the history of the industry has been studied more than Keystone XL.

“More than a half-dozen Environmental Impact Studies have been done on Keystone XL over the past 10 years, including the latest U.S. Department of State (Federal Environmental Impact Statement), which was released in December of 2019,” Terry Cunha said.

Johnson & Johnson Stops Selling Talc-Based Baby Powder In U.S. And Canada

Johnson & Johnson says it will discontinue selling talcum-based baby powder in the United States and Canada. Jeff Chiu/AP

Johnson & Johnson will stop selling talcum-based baby powder in the United States and Canada after being ordered to pay out billions of dollars related to lost legal battles over claims the product causes cancer.

The company made the announcement Tuesday. It denied allegations that the powder is responsible for health problems.

“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.

Separate investigations by Reuters and The New York Times in December 2018 revealed documents showing Johnson & Johnson fretted for decades that small amounts of asbestos lurked in its baby powder.

“From at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public,” Reuters reported.

Asbestos can occur naturally underground near talc. It becomes harmful when it breaks down and lodges in the lung tissue, possibly leading to diseases including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

“Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product. We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom. All verdicts against the Company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned.”

In 2018, a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women and their families who say the powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Last year, a woman in California who says Johnson & Johnson baby powder caused her to develop mesothelioma was awarded $29 million.

The company is appealing the decisions.

Johnson & Johnson faces more than 16,000 talc-related lawsuits nationwide, Reuters reported.

The company’s big moneymakers are no longer its lines of household medicine cabinet brands. “Fully half of its revenue now comes from pharmaceuticals, used to treat everything from depression to blood clots,” NPR’s Scott Horsley reported.

That has opened up the company to a variety of other massive lawsuits over its role in the nation’s opioid crisis.

Oklahoma, which was the first to take Johnson & Johnson to court in such a case, accused the company of creating a “public nuisance” by oversupplying prescription painkillers.

The state won the case and was eventually awarded $465 million. (The judge had initially ordered a $572 million payout in error.)

Stores around the country and in Canada will continue to sell whatever remaining inventory of baby powder remains on their shelves, the company said. Additionally, cornstarch-based Johnson’s Baby Powder will remain available in North America.

Both types of the powder will continue to be sold in other countries around the world “where there is significantly higher consumer demand for the product.”

Johnson & Johnson is one of a handful of companies working with the National Institutes of Health to develop potential treatment options for the coronavirus pandemic and a vaccine for COVID-19. SOURCE

Heiltsuk community planting hope during pandemic with Granny Gardens project

More than 68 families in Heiltsuk community started growing their own gardens to boost morale during Covid-19

It was a rainy day in Waglisla, or Bella Bella, a remote fly-in island community on the northwest coast of B.C., where elected Heiltsuk Nation councillor Jess Housty took a moment to relax in the quiet of the village library. So far, Housty, a mother of two, has spent the COVID-19 pandemic focused on planting new seeds, new knowledge and, indeed, new life into her traditionally food-sovereign community.

Housty named her most recent project the Granny Gardens.

Just as COVID-19 social-distancing and quarantine measures started in Bella Bella (with a population that fluctuates around 1,400 people), Housty began organizing to get seedlings to families who wanted to learn how to grow their own veggies, fruits, beans, herbs, and more.

Over seventy families have signed up to grow gardens in Bella Bella, inspired by Covid-19 and backed by thousands of years of food sovereignty. Photo provided by Housty

You see, traditionally, the Heiltsuk have relied on the richness and abundance of their territories for generations. The community is full of generations of skilled fishermen and hunters, people wealthy in knowledge of their traditional foods, medicines and associated laws. But throughout the process of colonialism, the Heiltsuk people turned to grocery stores and exported foods, on top of their traditional foods, fueling a desire for revitalized food sovereignty in Housty and all those who have joined the project.

The spawn-on-kelp (SOK) fishery has been the main economic driver for the community since the late 1980s, but due to the COVID-19 measures, the band’s export operations shut down for the 2020 season. The decision to call off the SOK season wasn’t an easy one, Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett said in a phone interview with National Observer in mid-April, adding 700 nation members lost work opportunities because of the shutdown.

 

But the community, whose elected council works in conjunction with their hereditary governance system, decided that calling it off was the best way to protect the community from the fast-spreading virus.

“The commercial harvesting would require the SOK harvesters to be in close contact with each other, as would the harvest processing. The seafood market in Japan also contributed to this decision,” read a statement released by the nation.

Traditionally, the spawn-on-kelp season is considered the Heiltsuk new year, a time to work, harvest, celebrate – a defining activity of what it means to be Heiltsuk, said Slett.

“It’s all family- and community-driven. When the tide goes out, the table is set,” she said. “We follow the seasons of the harvest. Families host feasts, potlatches. We would be celebrating the SOK harvest right now like our ancestors have done for millennia.”

For thousands of years, the Heiltsuk First Nation of BC’s Central Coast has been sustainably harvesting nutrient-rich herring roe on kelp from their pristine ocean waters.

The band estimates the economic losses for the season at $6.3 million, plus $250,000 in lost salaries and $500,000 spent in preparation for the harvest.

Creating opportunities to be self-sustaining, like the Granny Gardens project, is proving to be a lifesaver for dozens of families, said Housty.

“I’ve always been concerned about our reliance on outside services,” she said. “One or two missed vegetable deliveries can send the community into a tailspin. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

With the looming threat of COVID-19 in the outside world, gardening is providing an opportunity for nation members to strengthen and care for themselves, Housty added.

It was in 2016, when she was expecting her second child, that Housty began cultivating a garden. It helped her heal from a traumatic experience when a Texas-owned tugboat navigating through Heiltsuk fishing territories accidently dumped 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils into their waters destroying areas of food harvesting with rich cultural significance.

“It was six weeks of hell on Earth,” said Housty about the event. “It was the breadbasket of our nation. There was nothing I could do to make it better. It’s hard to watch the water and my community suffer.”

“To nurture a living thing, harvest and give it to a family in the community is so rewarding.”

Jess Housty has helped organize a community-driven project in Bella Bella empowering over seventy families to grow their own gardens. Photo provided by Housty

Housty believes plant knowledge is carried throughout generations, and the opportunity to garden is an invitation back to that knowledge. Photo provided by Housty

 

The Granny Gardens project is also inspired by the Victory Gardens planted in people’s yards and in parks during the Second World War to deal with a growing food crisis, Housty said.

So far, 68 families have signed up to learn to grow their own food, as elders, adults and youth have started nourishing their seedlings. Since the community is practicing social-distancing protocols, the Granny Garden project has started a Facebook group to post pictures and videos, take questions and provide tips. It’s a group that is highly interactive every day, said Housty.

The interaction and opportunity to grow is helping the Heiltsuk stay connected and stay hopeful during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“It’s really what’s getting me through this COVID-19,” Kimberly Windsor told National Observer over the phone. She’s a mother of three young children, including a newborn, who is enjoying the challenge of gardening.

Windsor began gardening several years ago through a Heiltsuk youth program, but skipped growing last year after the deaths of some family members. Her husband and older children help her care for the garden now and it has become a family affair, she said.

“I love the term ‘Granny Garden’ because my family on my mom’s side did a lot of gardening and starting this reminded my mother of her childhood, when she would watch her parents garden,” Windsor said. “I love hearing her memories and of my grandparents.”

Windsor is growing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, melons, spaghetti squash, potatoes, runner beans, peas, berries, radish, lettuce, plum, apple and cherry trees, as well as herbs.

Since there’s a lot of rocky terrain on parts of the island, growers are building raised garden beds and planting multiple “small” gardens in their front and back yards.

“It’s very therapeutic to work in the garden. I also love the connection that Granny Gardens has made between community members,” Windsor said. “It’s amazing to see gardens being built and people talking about what they’re going through on the Facebook page.”

Kimberly Windsor’s family has been gardening during Covid-19 social distancing measures in their home community in Bella Bella. Photo provided by Housty

​​​​

And it will be even more exciting, Windsor said, when social-distancing measures are lifted, and she can go visit her friends’ gardens and see what everyone else has been busy growing.

According to Housty, the Heiltsuk people tended wild roots and berry orchards on their lands.

“There’s still that knowledge embedded in the community and I value the opportunity to boost that knowledge right now,” said Housty.

The Heiltsuk Nation has asked the federal government for emergency support to stabilize life and the impact of a missed sok fishery, and encourages it to reference the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Slett said. Heiltsuk sees Canada’s and B.C.’s support at this time as part of turning things around and making them right.

On March 19, Prime Minister Trudeau said that he recognizes Indigenous communities are forced to deal with greater health and economic challenges than most Canadians and there has to be appropriate support available.

Where Housty sees challenges, she also sees an opportunity to grow and a long line of survival, resistance and connection.

“Survival and surviving epidemics is in our genes (we’re all descendants of the one per cent of Heiltsuk people who survived smallpox/influenza) and many people are adopting this work not because they want to grow carrots and peas, but because it makes them feel more connected to the ancestors and their plant knowledge ⁠— that’s always helped us survive and thrive,” Housty said.  SOURCE

Ecojustice urges Ford government to undo COVID-19 environmental rollbacks

 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford (left) and Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, pictured in 2018. In April, Ford’s government suspended some environmental protections, citing COVID-19. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Green law charity Ecojustice is urging the Ontario government to undo the province’s dismantling of environmental protections during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling them an unnecessary overreach that leaves the public in the dark.

On April 1, citing the pandemic, the government suspended a broad swath of environmental protection law, effectively allowing the province to push forward environmentally significant projects or policy changes ⁠— even those that don’t relate to COVID-19 ⁠— without consulting or notifying the public.

But the law already allows the government to skip public consultation if a public health emergency demands it, said Ecojustice staff lawyer Rob Wright. The only conditions are that the government notifies the auditor general and the public and explains its reasoning ⁠— stipulations that aren’t included in the exemption Ontario passed last month.

“Things that are not COVID-19 related can be proposed without there being public knowledge,” Wright said.

“That’s way overreaching what’s needed to deal with the COVID emergency.”

The exemption suspends a large swath of the Environmental Bill of Rights, a piece of legislation that gives the public the power to have a say in environment-related decision-making and hold the government accountable for what it does or fails to do. The exemption expires 30 days after Ontario’s current state of emergency ends (the state of emergency is currently extended to June 2, but the government can choose to leave it in place longer as the pandemic continues).

Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, said the government chose to suspend part of the Environmental Bill of Rights because the built-in emergency exemption might not cover all measures the government could need to address COVID-19. (When asked by National Observer last month, Buttigieg didn’t give examples of what kind of projects or measures the loosened rules would be used for.)

He also said the avenue the government chose is more efficient; the time it would take to assess whether the emergency exemption applies “has the potential to add procedural delays in a context where urgent decision-making is necessary,” Buttigieg said.

“This will ensure our government can quickly respond to the needs of regulated businesses that may be experiencing impacts due to COVID-19, so they can continue important operations and ensure goods and services can be delivered to people in Ontario.”

“It’s really the fear of the unknown,” Wright said. “We won’t know if there’s a major or minor decision.”

Queen’s Park, which houses the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, is shown in 2018. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Government used exemption to change greenhouse gas reporting deadlines

Ecojustice filed its application for a review of the rollbacks on May 14, acting on behalf of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and Gord Miller, a former Ontario environmental commissioner.

The suspension of environmental protection rules allows the government to make changes that don’t relate to the pandemic without telling the public. It has already been used to allow industry to delay reporting their greenhouse gas emissions. #onpoli

The environmental commissioner is an independent watchdog role. Miller, who held the position for 15 years under Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments, said he worries the rollbacks will be used to make changes that can’t be undone and won’t be discovered for months or years.

For example, he said, the government could quietly approve environmentally harmful projects such as mines. It could also change policies that protect vital ecosystems.

“A forest could get cut down and no one will know until it’s done,” Miller said.

Dr. Samantha Green, a practicing family doctor and board member at the non-profit Canadian Physicians for the Environment, said the exemptions could be used to allow air pollution increases that could cause higher rates of heart and lung disease. That could undermine public health efforts, she said ⁠— especially as studies have shown COVID-19 hits high-pollution areas harder.

It also denies the public the chance to weigh in and voice concerns about such changes, she added.

“We know there’s a direct link between air pollution and mortality,” Dr. Green said. “I see this as a disingenuous use of the COVID crisis.”

Last week, using the exemption, the Progressive Conservative government gave industry an extension on deadlines for reporting their greenhouse gas emissions. The switch aligns Ontario with a similar federal extension that was granted in April, the province said.

“This is exactly why I sounded the alarm when the environment minister removed public oversight of environmental decisions last month,” said Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner in a statement Tuesday. “He should explain to us why the COVID-19 pandemic should stop Ontario from tracking pollution.”

The extension for greenhouse gas emissions reporting was posted publicly. When asked if the government had used the exemption to make any changes that it hadn’t told the public about, Buttigieg did not provide a direct answer.

“We are committed to continuing public transparency on environmental decision-making during this temporary measure and will continue to post information notices on the Environmental Registry for measures that are related to COVID-19,” he said.

“During this time, ministries are expected to continue to post regular proposal notices, with public consultation, for matters that do not require the same urgent action.”

Miller said the public has no guarantee the government will keep its word, as the exemption means it doesn’t have to.

“We’re in a blackout period,” he said.

Ecojustice@ecojustice_ca

Ecojustice lawyers are calling on Premier Ford & Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation & Parks to review & revoke the province’s controversial decision to limit public participation in environmental decision making during COVID-19. https://bit.ly/3fZp7PQ  @CAPE_Doctors

Decision to exclude public participation during COVID-19 ‘unreasonable’

Ecojustice and clients call on Ontario to revoke regulation limiting public participation in environmental decisions during the COVID-19 emergency.

ecojustice.ca

Minister has 60 days to decide whether to review decision

 

Ecojustice’s application for Yurek to review the rollbacks falls under a section of the Environmental Bill of Rights that hasn’t been suspended by the government.

Before Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2018, such a move had more power. Reviews used to be conducted by the environmental commissioner, whose position the Ford government gutted last year.

Now, that responsibility falls to the minister whose department made the decision, meaning the government is effectively policing itself.

“It’s not got the teeth it would’ve had back in the old days,” Wright said of the application. “But it’s powerful.”

Yurek now has 60 days to decide whether the issue merits a review. If it does, the province must give Ecojustice a reply within 30 days of completing the probe. SOURCE

Tesla quietly adds bidirectional charging capability for game-changing new features

Electrek has learned that Tesla has quietly made Model 3, and likely Model Y, ready for bidirectional charging, which should enable some game-changing features in the near future.

Tesla and Bidirectional Charging

The advent of electric vehicles is expected to increase the demand for electricity, but electric cars can also offer some advantages by controlling the power load.

A study showed that electric vehicle fleets could save billions of dollars with controllable load and vehicle-to-grid features, and it would enable the grid to optimize its use of renewable energy.

Controllable load, the ability to control when an EV is charging, is possible with any electric vehicle as long as it is connected to a smart charging station or the vehicle itself has an internet connection.

On its own, it can have a massive impact on the grid by reducing peak demand and charging only when demand is lower, but the study shows that vehicle-to-grid technology, which also enables a vehicle to send power back into the grid with a bidirectional charger, would have an even greater impact.

Several automakers, like Honda and Nissan, have been openly exploring the technology, but Tesla, who is arguably the leader in electric vehicles, has been reticent about deploying bidirectional charging in the past.

Both CEO Elon Musk and cofounder and former CTO JB Straubel have expressed concerns about enabling bidirectional charging in Tesla vehicles due to the potential of accelerated battery degradation and also the moderate value with a relatively small fleet.

In a recent filing with the Texas electric utility commission in which Tesla was responding to questions about how electric utilities should approach electric vehicles, the automaker summarized its view of vehicle to grid technology:

Vehicle to grid benefits can be recognized much more efficiently when EV deployment is at scale rather than in the early adopter phase. At the same time, any discussion regarding the capabilities of EV related technologies must recognize as a first principle that customer experience and willingness for participation is key. There certainly may be an opportunity for future projects and programs that focus on advanced technological integration, such as the eventual aggregation of EVs in the future to provide grid services in wholesale markets. In any setting, it is important to remember that EVs are modes of transportation first and foremost for customers. There is also an opportunity to evaluate stationary storage assets first to provide similar grid services capabilities from a wholesale electricity market perspective.

While those comments are not too encouraging, they do note that there’s value in vehicle to grid once the EV fleet becomes large enough, which is starting to become the case.

Straubel noted in a presentation in 2015 that once Tesla’s fleet reaches 1 million vehicles, it would have a significant controllable load capacity:

At the time, Straubel estimated that Tesla would hit a million cars in 2019, and he wasn’t too far off, since Tesla produced its 1 millionth electric car in March 2020.

In a clearer indication that Tesla is not completely overlooking vehicle to grid, Musk stated that Tesla could “revisit” vehicle-to-grid technology in 2018.

Tesla Built-in Bidirectional Charging in its Vehicles

Electrek has learned that Tesla has already prepared its onboard vehicle charger for bidirectional charging.

Marco Gaxiola, an electrical engineer who participated in a Model 3 teardown for a Tesla competitor, reverse engineered the electric car’s charger and found it to be ready for bidirectional charging.

He told Electrek:

What I learned on reverse engineering the Model 3 charger, was that the design is fully bidirectional. This means power can be converted from AC to DC the same way as the previous example, but also power can flow in reverse direction, coming from the battery and ending up on the AC side. This is known as DC to AC inverter, and when this technology is present in a vehicle, it is known as V2G (Vehicle to Grid).

Here’s a schematic of the charger that Gaxiola produced as part of the reverse-engineering of the vehicle:

The engineer added about the design of Tesla’s onboard charger:

To complement this, the bidirectional design is replicated 3 times across the same PCB on the Model 3 charger. Another example of redundant design that assures a working process even if one of the circuits fails. Additionally, it is 3 phase design, so it can be used worldwide.

Here’s the Model 3 charger that Gaxiola reverse-engineered:

Gaxiola believes that the vehicle to grid capacity in the Model 3 could be enabled through an over-the-air software update.

Electrek’s Take

This has massive implications. It means that Tesla could eventually unlock a lot more value from its customer fleet, both for the vehicle owners and for Tesla itself.

In terms of practical features for owners, they could potentially power their house with their Tesla vehicle during a power outage or charge another electric vehicle with their own.

However, the real value of bidirectional capacity lies in grid services.

With the owners’ permission, Tesla could offer electric utilities the ability to access power from the vehicles on the network in other to offset electricity demand during peak hours.

Tesla already has the capacity to do that with its Autobidder product operating with virtual power plants consisting of Powerwalls in Australia and Vermont.

The only difference is that Tesla vehicles would be providing power instead of home battery packs, like Powerwalls.

While the concern of faster degradation due to the battery packs cycling more than by just driving on the roads is still there, it is becoming less of a concern as Tesla keeps improving battery longevity with new battery cells — leading to its “million-mile battery.”

Tesla owners would still have the option to opt in or out of the program, and they would also likely control when the electric utilities can access the energy in their vehicles.

As Straubel previously pointed out, with a million vehicles on the road, Tesla’s fleet has a theoretical 10GW demand offsetting capacity, which is extremely valuable to electric utilities.

Of course, this capacity is distributed around the world, but it is still significant in markets where Tesla vehicles are popular, and local utilities would be more than happy to pay to access that power.

Owners would be compensated for the utility using their vehicles, and Tesla would likely get a commission through its Autobidder platform.

It’s a win-win-win situation.

Now that we know that Tesla already has hundreds of thousands of Model 3 vehicles bidirectional-ready on the road, I think this new product could be released sooner than people think.

One of the most interesting features of Tesla’s implementation of bidirectional charging is that they don’t require an inverter outside the vehicle, like the Wallbox Quasar used on the Nissan Leaf.

It would work with Tesla’s own Wall Connector or potentially with any home charging station.

What do you think?   SOURCE