Australian scientists ‘drastically improve’ new solar cell technology

Anita Ho-Baillie, the inaugural John Hooke chair of Nanoscience at the University of Sydney, helped lead research at UNSW that could open the way for the mass production of a new type of solar cell closer to commercial production. CREDIT:UNSW

Australian researchers have found ways to improve the durability of new solar technology that could rival or complement traditional silicon cells, bringing its mass production a step closer to reality.

Conventional solar cells used on roofs and elsewhere took four decades to pass efficiency rates of 25 per cent, a milestone new so-called perovskite cells have reached in about a quarter of the time while using low-cost materials. The stability of the new technology is yet to be assured.

Perovskite cells can be 500 times thinner than silicon ones and potentially much more flexible, meaning they could be used to coat everything from buildings to cars and drones. So far its commercial application has been limited because they are less durable to weather.

Research by a team led by Anita Ho-Baillie, now at the University of Sydney, and Lei Shi from the University of NSW, has shown how cheap but high-performance polymer coatings used in double glazing can improve the durability of the cells so they can pass three key international standards for heat and humidity.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Professor Ho-Baillie said. “We have shown that we can drastically improve their thermal stability.”

Scientists confirmed the results – published in the Science journal on Friday – using a type of mass spectrometry for the first time to show the cells were not decomposing under the stress tests.

“Our work is the first report on perovskite solar cells exceeding the requirement of the critical international electrotechnical commission test for heat and humidity by using a simple low-cost encapsulation technique,” Dr Shi said.

Professor Ho-Baillie stressed the cells need to prove their durability against light and heat, but added that many teams around the world were working to realise perovskite’s “very exciting” future.

Since perovskite cells are good at converting short-wave radiation into electrons while silicon excels at longer wave lengths, the two could be stacked, lifting efficiency rates above 29 per cent, Professor Ho-Baillie said.

The research was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Australian Research Council.

As reported earlier this month by the Herald, UNSW is preparing for a significant reduction in renewable energy research as federal funding for the agency is due to run out by 2022 and is starting to turn away prospective PhD students.

The government’s announcement this week of a “technology road map” towards a lower carbon economy did not clarify whether the agency’s solar research would be extended.  SOURCE

 

Trumpocalypse review: David Frum bushwhacks a new axis of evil

The former George W Bush speechwriter thinks 21st-century conservatism has ‘delivered much more harm than good’

 Donald Trump arrives to address a rally in Colorado Springs in February. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly 100,000 Americans lie dead, almost 40 million people are out of work, home mortgage delinquencies are soaring and the Mall of America is stiffing its lenders. The US looks like one of the president’s brand-name casinos. When Donald Trump said “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” he meant the coronavirus. He could have been referring to the American Dream itself.

The Atlantic writer David Frum argues that “democracy is tested by its ability to deliver security, prosperity, and justice”. By that metric, the Trump presidency is a shambolic failure.

In a book mostly written before the pandemic, Frum details the efforts of the 45th president to gut the rule of law and institutionalize “white ethnic chauvinism”, leaving the country reeling, the constitution bruised. Trumpian alchemy has turned gold to lead.

Trumpocalypse recalls that in 2016, Senator Ted Cruz compared Trump to Benito Mussolini, then “went to work” in his “cloakroom”. Most recently, the president has threatened Michigan and Nevada over absentee balloting and waged war on government inspectors general. Sacking Rome was quicker than building it.

Frum’s journey is emblematic of our ongoing political realignment. The Republican party’s embrace of rural and white working-class voters has been met with an exodus of college graduates and suburbanites. Reliably red Arizona is tilting toward Joe Biden because of defections among seniors and four-year degree holders. 

Anti-closure protesters have toted Confederate flags, slung arsenals on their shoulders and left state legislatures in lockdown. Their avatar brags of medicating with hydroxychloroquine, a drug with side-effects that include paranoia, hallucinations and psychosis. Peloton moms are repulsed.

Over the past half-century, the GOP has morphed into the heir of George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate, and Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon’s paleoconservative speechwriter. The party of Abraham Lincoln and the upward arc is gone.

Frum was a speechwriter to George W Bush and helped coin the phrase “axis of evil”. Now he declares that 21st-century conservatism has “delivered much more harm than good, from the Iraq war to the financial crisis to the Trump presidency”. Yet he remains committed to his Burkean worldview, of individual autonomy fused to social cohesion.

Trumpocalypse quotes the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that it is “culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society”. By the same measure, “politics can change a culture and save it from itself”.

Frum criticizes the effective disenfranchisement wrought by the electoral college but does not call for its abolition. That would be futile. Although the Republicans lost the popular vote in six of seven presidential contests since 1992, they captured the White House three times. Few surrender power for the asking.

After the debacle of 2000, Frum’s boss extended an olive branch to blue America. Bush sought to broaden his mandate. Trump still spits in half the country’s eye. Conciliation is not part of his DNA, or even his playbook.

David Frum speaks at Politicon in Nashville last October. Photograph: Brian Cahn/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

 

Frum questions the legitimacy of the process if Trump wins re-election but finishes second again in the popular vote. He also homes in on the contradiction at the heart of Trumpian populism.

On the one hand, it is rooted in the belief that the silent majority should come first, not the elites. On the other, its operative dictum is “we should not choose our leaders just by counting who got the most votes”. Shades of Animal Farm: some folks are more equal than others.

Said differently, the people’s preferences should not be equated with “will of the people”. In the end, Frum says, Trumpism is about defending a “distinct way of life”, one challenged by modernity.

Frum makes clear that this outlook is shared by the cosseted segments of Trump’s base. Trumpocalypse quotes Peter Thiel, a pillar of Silicon Valley and an early Trump supporter, who sees democracy at odds with his libertarian ideals. Thiel has written that he “no longer believes that freedom and democracy are compatible”.

A PayPal co-founder and Kushner family partner, Thiel blames this decoupling on the “extension of the franchise to women”. He also contends that the welfare state has “rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron”. Recent reports, however, describe even Thiel as displeased with Trump over his handling of the pandemic.

Trumpocalypse voices irreconcilable grievance. Still, Frum’s dismay is not directed at the president’s supporters, at least he tries not to. Frum understands that even if the incumbent loses re-election, the great American divide is not disappearing anytime soon.

On that note, Trumpocalypse rejects progressivism’s embrace of the “Great Awokening”, the volatile brew of identity politics and intersectionality. The left’s orthodoxies find few takers in swing districts. Frum opposes liberal immigration policies as devaluing the rights and status of actual citizens. He also criticizes Biden for advocating healthcare expansion to cover undocumented migrants.

More Americans favor a wall along the southern border than support granting government healthcare to the undocumented. Frum warns that “the election can be thrown away by people who will not meet voters where they are”.

Trumpocalypse proposes a series of reforms to rebalance the disconnect between the populace and electoral outcomes. Among other things, Frum urges abolishing the filibuster if the Democrats retake the Senate: “Don’t study or debate it. Just do it.” Right now, the odds of the GOP keeping the upper chamber are no better than 50-50.

As for climate change, the author opposes the Green New Deal but backs a carbon tax and carbon sequestration. In 2010, the GOP regained the House in part due to congressional Democrats passing a “cap and trade” tax.

Whenever Trump leaves office, his legacy will haunt. He was more than just a candidate, he embodied a movement. His children show no hint of leaving the stage.

Frum observes that in theology, the apocalypse was not “the end” but the harbinger of a “new and better order”. We’ll see. But Trumpocalypse is an apt title for these blighted times. SOURCE

Microplastic pollution in oceans vastly underestimated – study

Particles may outnumber zooplankton, which underpin marine life and regulate climate

Plastic pollution is known to harm the fertility, growth and survival of marine life. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

The abundance of microplastic pollution in the oceans is likely to have been vastly underestimated, according to research that suggests there are at least double the number of particles as previously thought.

Scientists trawled waters off the coasts of the UK and US and found many more particles using nets with a fine mesh size than when using coarser ones usually used to filter microplastics. The addition of these smaller particles to global estimates of surface microplastics increases the range from between 5tn and 50tn particles to 12tn-125tn particles, the scientists say.

Plastic pollution is known to harm the fertility, growth and survival of marine life. Smaller particles are especially concerning because they are the same size as the food eaten by zooplankton, which underpin the marine food chain and play an important role in regulating the global climate. The new data suggests there may be more microplastic particles than zooplankton in some waters.

“The estimate of marine microplastic concentration could currently be vastly underestimated,” said Prof Pennie Lindeque, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, who led the research.

She said there may well be even smaller particles than those caught by the fine mesh nets, meaning the numbers “could be even larger again”.

Another new study shows how microplastics have entered the food chain in rivers, with birds found to be consuming hundreds of particles a day via the aquatic insects on which they feed.

Microplastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from Arctic snow and mountain soils to many rivers and the deepest oceans. It is also being consumed and inhaled by people, and the health impacts are as yet unknown.

Research published in the last month has found microplastics in greater quantities than ever before on the seabed and suggested that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of microplastics could be blowing ashore on the ocean breeze every year.

The research by Lindeque’s team, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, used nets with mesh sizes of 100 microns (0.1mm), 333 microns and 500 microns. They found 2.5 times more particles in the finest net than in the 333 micron net, which is the kind usually used to filter microplastics, and 10 times more than in the 500 micron net.

The surface trawls off the coast of Plymouth in the UK and the coast of Maine in the US showed similar results, suggesting they are representative of waters near populated land. The particles were dominated by fibres from textiles such as ropes, nets and clothing.

“Using an extrapolation, we suggest microplastic concentrations could exceed 3,700 particles per cubic meter – that’s far more than the number of zooplankton you would find,” Lindeque said. These tiny animals are among the most abundant species on the planet.

Dr Ceri Lewis, a marine biologist at Exeter University, who was part of the team, said: “Understanding more about the smaller microplastics is important as it is these smaller particles that are more likely to be ingested by the zooplankton that form the basis of marine food webs.”

The research on microplastics in rivers, published in the journal Global Change Biology, analysed the droppings and regurgitated pellets of white-throated dippers at 15 river sites in south Wales. The scientists said the results were startling.

They found that the birds, which feed on river insects, were eating about 200 pieces of plastic a day. These were mostly fibres, and a quarter were larger than 500 microns.

The team also found that the dippers were feeding thousands of plastic fibres to their nest-bound chicks during their development. Previous research by the scientists had shown that half of the river insects contain microplastic fragments.

Prof Steve Ormerod, of Cardiff University, who led the work, said: “In almost 40 years of researching rivers and dippers, I never imagined that one day our work would reveal these spectacular birds to be at risk from the ingestion of plastics. It is a measure of how this pollution problem has crept up on us.

“Dippers are the world’s only songbirds able to dive and feed on river insects, but that wonderful adaptation also means they have no escape from this pollution.”

The impact on the health of the birds is not yet understood. “It is imperative we understand whether microplastics add to the other pollution problems that affect dippers and other river organisms, and we use that knowledge to guide remedial action,” Ormerod said. SOURCE

Annamie Paul: Vying to Lead the Federal Greens

If a change is really what we are looking for then looking at this candidate for the Green Party Leadership might be something to think more about. The election is in Oct.2020 You have to be a Green Party member to vote.

The Agenda welcomes Annamie Paul who is running for the Green Party of Canada leadership. She talks to Steve Paikin about why she has thrown her hat into the ring in the bid to replace Elizabeth May.

AVAAZ: This picture left me speechless

Take Action Now!

Photo © REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

They say a picture is worth a thousand words — but this one left me speechless.

A hungry mother in India, baby in her arms, bursts into tears after queuing for food — only for it to run out before she could get any. 

Now the UN is warning the world is on the brink of a famine of ‘biblical proportions’ with a QUARTER OF A BILLION people, like this young mum, staring starvation in the face!

Brave local groups and aid workers are working around the clock to fight this ‘hunger pandemic’, doing all they can to feed hungry, desperate children, and fight the virus. But they’re working on a shoestring, and they need our help!

There’s 60 million of us — let’s go all out to urgently raise more than ever, and Avaaz will give 100% of the funds to those doing heroic work to feed families, and save lives from COVID-19. Chip in now and let’s together join this epic global effort so no one has to watch their children starve:

Hunger, not disease, could emerge as the biggest killer in this crisis. All over the world, families are struggling to feed their kids – not just in the poorest countries, but places like South Africa, India and Brazil!

Our movement has raised millions over the years for trusted relief groups working with the world’s most vulnerable people, delivering food and medical assistance to those most in need. Since this crisis began, our team has had dozens of emails from them asking us if we can help. 

If we raise enough, here’s what we could get done:

      • Scale up a massive feeding programme to tens of thousands of hungry families in India and Pakistan;
      • Support farmers growing food in East Africa as they fight both the pandemic and a giant locust invasion;
      • Supply thousands of Rohingya refugees crammed into crowded camps with masks, soap and hand sanitiser;
      • Fund urgently needed supplies for heroic medics working in conflict zones like DRC, Yemen and Syria, and;
      • Pay for medical facilities in refugee camps all over the world to contain the spread of the disease.

Each and every one of us can make a difference that saves lives — and every life saved is priceless. Let’s all give what we can — every single penny we raise will be given away to amazing humanitarian groups doing critical work on the ground, to keep people alive and safe through this crisis. Chip in now to save lives:

Our movement has done so much to protect the vulnerable in this crisis. We’re already supporting a brave Maasai community to protect their land and their people, and we’ve helped win debt cancellation for poor countries, pushed for a global ceasefire, and stood up to protect the World Health Organisation when it came under attack. Now we need to raise funds to stave off a starvation crisis, and help protect the medical workers doing heroic work all over the world — so let’s come together again.

In solidarity and hope,
Marigona, Bert, Mike, Martyna, Sofia, Meetali, Francesco and the rest of the Avaaz team.

PS: The cost estimates above come from Avaaz partners on the ground. They are based on the costs of providing each person with one meal, and include essential foods like rice, lentils, oil and salt. The more we raise the more people we can help feed!

PS – This might be your first donation to our movement ever. But what a first donation! Did you know that Avaaz relies entirely on small donations from members like you? That’s why we’re fully independent, nimble and effective. Join the over 1 million people who’ve donated to make Avaaz a real force for good in the world.

More information:

Coronavirus pandemic ‘will cause famine of biblical proportions’ (The Guardian)
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/21/coronavirus-pandemic-will-cause-famine-of-biblical-proportions

The human cost of India’s coronavirus lockdown: Deaths by hunger, starvation, suicide and more (Gulf News)
https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/india/the-human-cost-of-indias-coronavirus-lockdown-deaths-by-hunger-starvation-suicide-and-more-1.1586956637547

‘People don’t realise what is coming’: How a coronavirus crisis would unfold in war-torn Syria, Yemen or Libya (The Independent)
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/coronavirus-syria-yemen-libya-cases-update-death-toll-doctors-a9440486.html

Courageous health workers on the frontline in a time of deadly COVID-19 (Relief Web)
https://reliefweb.int/report/bangladesh/courageous-health-workers-frontline-time-deadly-covid-19

How the COVID-19 crisis exposes widespread climate change hypocrisy

We should turn to people who know more than we do — particularly for topics that are complex

We trust scientists to tackle COVID-19, so why do so many people reject what they say about climate change? (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

The only long-term solution to the COVID-19 crisis is a vaccine and there is little doubt that medical experts will develop one. We take the importance of expertise of this sort for granted.

We rely on other people for expertise near every day. This is perfectly sensible.

Would you encourage a child to cross a bridge if you knew it wasn’t built by a civil engineer? Would you get in a plane that didn’t have a pilot? If you contracted COVID-19 and difficulties arose, would you go to the doctor?

We should turn to people who know more than we do — particularly for topics that are complex and important.

If you accept this logic, there’s no way you should reject the idea that humans are causing climate change.

It is indisputable that the most established experts on global climate – those whose job it is to understand our climate and who actively publish primary research on it – are effectively unanimous in their agreement that climate change is happening and that humans are the cause.

Seriously. Around 97 per cent of climate scientists agree.

If you see an interview or article or lecture from someone who is skeptical about climate change, you should check and see if the author has actually published scientific research on the topic. They almost certainly have not.

Those of us who are not experts on climate change (myself included – I am a cognitive scientist, not a climate scientist) have no justifiable reason to reject the expertise of those who are.

We all accept the value of expertise in our everyday lives. Those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change are, to put it bluntly, hypocrites.

‘There is no global conspiracy’

So why do people who normally trust expertise reject it for climate change? The answer has more to do with politics than climate science.

People with vested interests have been spending millions of dollars a year for three decades to trick us into believing either that there is not a scientific consensus on climate change (there is – see above) or that climate scientists are not credible experts (they are – see below).

There is no global conspiracy among scientists to cause a global panic about climate change in order to get rich. If anything, it would be far more lucrative for climate scientists to deny climate change.

For example, Craig Idso – a prominent climate change denier who has nonetheless not published on the topic since 2003 – was reportedly paid $11,600 per month in 2012 by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank funded by the oil industry. Trust me, being employed as a scientist at a university is not nearly as lucrative.

Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland, where over the last several decades summers have become longer and the rate that glaciers and the Greenland ice cap are melting has accelerated. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

 

Another planted argument is that climate scientists are pushing the global warming narrative in pursuit of grants and prestige. This is not really how prestige works in academia.

Think about the most well-known scientists of the past, such as Newton, Darwin, or Einstein. What they have in common is they gained notoriety and prestige by bucking the status quo, not upholding it. In short, they provided evidence that their colleagues are wrong.

For the same reason, there is a huge incentive for individual scientists to undermine the consensus on human-caused climate change – particularly given the strength of the consensus and importance of the issue. Successfully doing so would likely make them one of the most famous living scientists.

The fact that no one has done this indicates that the evidence probably just isn’t there.

‘It’s okay to say that you don’t know’

The unfortunate reality is that it is extremely easy to feel like an expert on a topic without actually being one. In fact, a lack of expertise makes it difficult to know whether you have sufficient expertise. If you don’t know the basic underlying science (it’s probably way more complicated than you think), then you can’t know that you don’t know it. This is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The conclusion from all of this is quite simple. You should believe that humans are causing climate change precisely because you don’t understand it. At the very least, those of us who are not climate scientists should recognize that and remain agnostic. It’s okay to say that you don’t know.

This is not a call to stop trying to understand climate science. Do it. But whatever understanding you achieve, don’t forget to maintain some intellectual humility.

The same scientific process that gave you the technology you’re using to read this article has produced the consensus around human-caused climate change.

If you trust experts to build bridges, improve the battery life on your iPhone and build lifesaving vaccines, you should trust them on climate change.  SOURCE


Gordon Pennycook  (Hill/Levene Schools of Business, University of Regina) studies fake news and how misinformation spreads.

For Asian Immigrants, Cooperatives Came From the Home Country

For these communities, solidarity economics have been practiced out of necessity. But there are lessons we could all learn.

 

 

Traditional Car Companies Are Zombies: Dead But Don’t Know It Yet

Internal combustion engines are doomed to die off soon, writes Jim Harris. The rise of EVs, e-scooters and autonomous Ubers will spell the death of old automobiles sooner than you think. Traditional car companies are zombies. They’re dead but they just don’t know it yet.

This article was first published in Corporate Knights.

Car Companies Are Zombies

By 2022, electric vehicles (EVs) will become cheaper to buy than gas cars. EVs are already cheaper on operating cost and maintenance cost. The electricity to power EVs costs 80% less than the gas to power a traditional car and electric car maintenance costs are 80% lower. A typical gas powered car has 2,000 moving parts, while an EV has 20. With thousands of fewer parts and no oil changes, there’s very little maintenance required for EVs. Gas cars are dead. Here’s why.

Plummeting prices for EV batteries

The largest cost of an EV has historically been the battery but battery prices are plummeting, having fallen by more than 90% since 2010, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

In 2017 BNEF predicted that by 2026 EVs would be cheaper to buy than the average gas car in North America.

But battery prices have been falling so fast, that BNEF now predicts that cross over will happen in 2022.

Catherine Wood, CEO of New York based investment manager ARK, forecasts that the cross over will happen in 2021, and that by 2025 inexpensive electric vehicles in the US will be up to $11,000 cheaper compared to a gas powered Toyota Camry.

Who is going to buy a traditional gas car when an EV is cheaper to buy, cheaper to run and cheaper to maintain?

Rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Using Uber or Lyft is already cheaper than owning a car for 25% of Americans, especially for those living in dense urban areas and people traveling fewer than the average 13,000 miles per year (in Canada the average distance traveled is 15,200 kilometers).

The cost of personal travel was $1.70 per mile in 1871 by horse drawn carriage. The cost fell to 70 cents per mile by car and remained constant for 100 years when adjusted for inflation.

Once we have autonomous fleets (including autonomous Uber and Lyft cars), the cost will plummet to just 26 cents a mile. At that point who’s going to want to buy an expensive gas clunker when they can get anywhere they want to go for a third of the price?

Micro Mobility

Finally micro mobility options will help to kill the traditional gas car. A staggering 60% of traditional car trips in the US are less than five miles. Bike and scooter sharing – which has taken off – provides far lower cost solutions for short trips.

In 2018, shared electric scooters firms Bird and Lime became the fastest ever US companies to reach billion dollar valuations – each achieving this milestone within a year of inception. Shared electric scooters provided 45.8% of all shared micro mobility trips in 2018, just one year after they emerged on the market.

2019 Reality Check

These trends are not being felt by traditional car companies yet – for the fifth consecutive year, U.S. car sales topped 17 million in 2019.  (Although GM’s 2019 sales are down 2.3% from 2018 and Ford’s are down 3%.)

While ride sharing like Uber and Lyft are cheaper than owning a car for a portion of the population, the overall number of cars on U.S. roads is increasing. Traffic congestion in most U.S. cities is getting worse, not better. Further, some studies have found that public transit use has been decreasing in cities where Uber and Lyft are popular. Because of these counterintuitive consequences, traditional transportation experts may be tempted to dismiss or downplay how transformational the trends will be.

But some of those consequences may actually lead to further transformation: worsening traffic in cities will further drive explosive use of scooters in shared mobility for short trips.

Here’s a staggering stat that should tell you which way the wind is blowing: Tesla is valued at more than General Motors and Ford combined as of February 2019. To me, this highlights how profound the coming shift will be.

Final prediction

The death of the traditional gas-powered automobile will be driven by three trends: EVs, the rise of autonomous vehicles and mobility as a service and the rapid rise of micro mobility solutions like shared electric scooters.

This also spells the end for most traditional car companies. I predict that two of the world’s major car companies will go bankrupt in the next five years. SOURCE


Jim Harris is the author of the Blindsided which focuses on disruptive innovation. It is published in 80 countries worldwide and is a #1 international bestseller. You can follow him on Twitter @JimHarris or email him at jim (at) jimharris.com.

Will COVID-19 Build Bridges Or Generate Divisions In Canada?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Canadians (and the rest of the world) to hit the pause button. How do we recover back better? Can we? Do we want to? This is especially true of our energy transition to a low-carbon future. “There are opportunities to build bridges between those with different views on our energy transition. Leaders should focus on collaboration, according to Monica Gattinger and Brendan Frank, the authors of this article first published in Policy Options.

It’s no secret that debates over Canada’s energy and climate future are divisive and contentious — if not outright polarized. There is no common vision for the country’s energy future in an age of climate change.

Could COVID-19 change that? Quite possibly. But whether the pandemic will further divide the country or bring it together is a very open question. Studies by Positive Energy, an energy research program at the University of Ottawa, help to shed light on the possible answers.

The COVID-19 Shock: Bridges or Divisions?

For oil and gas producers, the global pandemic has brought an acute shock that may permanently transform the industry. There is no V-shaped or L-shaped precedent to rely on here. The world is using about 30 percent less oil than it was this time last year due to the shutdown of nonessential services, a demobilized workforce, and a sharp drop in travel. The supply war between Saudi Arabia and Russia placed additional downward pressure on prices. Production cutbacks by OPEC+ have helped to resolve the Saudi-Russia spat, but oil prices remain deeply depressed.

A barrel of West Texas Intermediate, the North American price marker, fell from $60 at the beginning of January to less than $15 at the end of April. Western Canada Select, the price marker for a barrel from the oil sands, has plunged from about $40 to less than $5. Both WTI and WCS dipped below zero recently, meaning producers had to pay buyers to take oil off their hands. The price of natural gas, often co-produced with oil, is also down.

While consumers marvel at bargain prices at the pumps, the situation for producers is grim. Few if any can make money at these prices — and certainly not at negative prices. Producers are rapidly shutting in wells, storage facilities are fast approaching capacity and refineries are having an increasingly difficult time sustaining operations. Without intervention, these market conditions will drive many firms into bankruptcy in the coming weeks and months.

On March 19, news broke of an imminent federal relief package for the oil and gas sector worth an estimated $15 billion. This would be in addition to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for laid-off workers and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to help employers keep workers on the payroll.

On March 25, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the relief package would be announced in “hours, potentially days.” Weeks later, the plan had yet to materialize. On April 17, a few details emerged. The government announced support measures for a range of economic sectors, including oil and gas: $1.7 billion to clean up thousands of orphaned and inactive wells across BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan; a $750-million emissions reduction fund; and credit relief for medium-sized businesses.

There are likely economic and political reasons for the delay. Economically, the issues are complex and fast-moving, and negotiations with the US and other producers were ongoing. Politically, support for the oil and gas sector in Canada is contentious.

While the federal government was developing relief measures, high-profile voices weighed in. Oil and gas leadersacademicsenvironmental NGOs and faith groups inked open letters advocating what the plan should — and should not — include, along with what conditions should be attached to financial support. Proposals varied widely: liquidity measures, like purchasing accounts receivable; direct investments in renewable energy; job retraining; targeted funds for the cleanup of orphaned wells.

Different visions of Canada’s energy and climate future — notably the place of oil and gas in that future — underpin the proposals. They reflect key dividing lines in debates that existed long before COVID-19.

Two views of energy transition

Positive Energy’s research offers insights into how things may unfold in the months to come. Our latest study suggests that energy and environmental leaders signing these open letters don’t just disagree over the substance of the relief package. They occupy two very distinct “realities” that differ over the pace, scale and nature of energy transition in Canada.

The study’s lead author, Marisa Beck, interviewed over 40 leaders from the energy and environmental communities, asking them how they understand and interpret the term “transition.” The findings suggest that leaders hold fundamentally different views about what transition means for Canada. We call them “realities” because those in both camps see themselves as “realists” when it comes to transition. No participant fit perfectly into either category, but all of them leaned heavily toward one or the other.

“Reality I” sees transition as a measured, gradual process driven primarily by market forces but supported by policy that doesn’t impose excessive costs on people and business.

“Reality II” sees transition as an urgent process anchored in the idea that the world is facing a climate crisis. In this view, transition is driven primarily by strong, rapid policy interventions.

The future role of oil is a key distinction between the two realities. Reality I sees oil as an ongoing part of a diversified low-emissions energy portfolio both domestically and globally, with emissions reduced by carbon capture, energy efficiency improvements and other technological advances. Reality II views the urgent phase-out of oil as a necessary step to avert catastrophic climate change and to create a net-zero economy.

Conversations over the nature and scope of support for oil producers are therefore likely to be divisive, even polarizing. In the months to come, these realities will compete for attention and resources as governments assemble aid packages and shift their focus to long-term recovery. Political leaders will be put to the test navigating these “elite debates” over energy and climate.

But Positive Energy’s recent survey work suggests that the Canadian public is not necessarily as divided on the issues as some leaders in the energy and environmental communities.

Canadians’ opinions do appear polarized along partisan lines. As federal and provincial parties stake out positions on the relief package and future recovery measures, the rhetoric of political leaders could drive the two realities — and Canadians — further apart.

But there are opportunities to build bridges. Our research shows strong agreement among Canadians and energy and environmental leaders that climate change is real, that Canada is in the midst of some sort of transition and that the country should distinguish between the place of oil and gas in its domestic economy versus its role in the export economy.

Our work also suggests that Canadians’ opinions on the issues may not be as polarized along regional and generational lines as commonly believed. There are even areas of emerging consensus on the importance of oil and gas development, on the need for climate action and on who should lead decision-making on energy and environmental issues.

A path forward

In the wake of the government’s April 17 announcement, industry leaders and the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan stated that much more action will be required. It is not yet clear whether this is all Ottawa will provide, or whether further measures are in the offing.

Our research suggests four essential insights for those who want to chart a positive path forward.

First, political, social and economic leaders would do well to recognize that high-profile voices in these debates (including their own) can occupy fundamentally different realities on energy and climate. Understanding and respecting different world views is pivotal. Too often leaders characterize those with different views as intellectually or morally deficient. This does not help to foster productive debate — or to build support for potentially divisive measures like financial support for oil and gas.

Second, language matters. Our research reveals that the terminology used to talk about energy and climate can bring people to the table or drive them further into these divergent realities. Many see the term “transition,” for example, as vague, politicized and non-inclusive of all players in the energy sector, notably those in oil and gas. Some see it as polarizing and “fuel deterministic,” prejudging which fuels can or cannot be part of Canada’s future energy mix. Using terms like “low emissions” or “emissions reductions” in the development, framing and communication of policies during and after the COVID-19 crisis could be a more inclusive approach.

Third, leaders should avoid the temptation to polarize debates along partisan lines. Partisanship can have the unfortunate effect of encouraging people to dig in their heels, to the point where everyone loses: the country comes out poorer on both the energy and climate fronts. Instead, identify ways and forums to enable respectful debate and actions that reduce or mitigate partisanship. Reaching across partisan divides — notably between the federal and provincial governments — could be an important step. We have seen that such outreach is possible. The pandemic has offered politicians the opportunity to prioritize collaboration over partisanship, and many have seized it. In addition, extending the conversation beyond the political arena, including to leaders outside the energy and environmental communities (for instance, to labour, business and university and college leaders), could also be helpful.

Finally, it is crucial to understand and build on areas of agreement. Our research with energy and environmental leaders and the general public underscores that people overwhelmingly agree that human-caused climate change is happening and that further action is required to address it. Our public opinion research also shows that Canadians strongly support oil and gas development, but they want to see it done in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Policies for energy and climate — including plans for the short- and long-term economic effects of COVID-19 — would do well to demonstrate the link between economic development and environmental performance. Many companies are already moving in this direction by developing environmental, social and governance indicators.

Energy and environmental leaders and the public also agree on the future of workers: they want to ensure that employees affected by policy or market changes related to climate action are taken care of. They recognize that reducing emissions involves costs and benefits, and they want to attend to both. They also recognize that costs and benefits may differ in the domestic and export economies. Drawing a distinction between energy at home and energy abroad may offer a helpful way to frame things.

As Canada moves from crisis management to long-term recovery, debates about the country’s energy and climate future will no doubt grow in importance and volume. Whether COVID-19 will build bridges — not generate divisions — among Canadians remains to be seen.  SOURCE

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Greenpeace: There is no going back when normal is the problem

 

I thought I’d take a moment to check in and let you know what Greenpeace has been working on lately thanks to support from you and millions of others around the world.

The climate crisis is not slowing down during this pandemic — so neither are we. Greenpeace is busy advocating for the environment in many of the ways you asked us to in a recent survey.

Here’s what we heard: You told us you want to hear about what Greenpeace is up to, how we’re planning for a safer and more just future beyond the crisis, and some positive news. Thanks so much for taking the time to give us this valuable feedback!

I also wanted to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you for the beautiful, powerful messages of solidarity that 2,174 Greenpeace supporters sent to frontline workers. Reading these messages makes me so proud of the Greenpeace community and all your acts of solidarity. Take a look for yourself here.

Now let me share some of the latest news from Greenpeace’s work around the world…

South Korea elects a party with a Green New Deal platform

This March, Greenpeace projected seven messages to the outdoor billboard of Lee Nak-yon, chairman of the Election Commission of the Democratic Party of Korea in Seoul, demanding that plans for a Green New Deal be incorporated into their platform before April’s general election.

Some very promising news came out of Asia last month. In a first for the continent, South Korea elected a party pledging to reach zero emissions by 2050 in its climate manifesto (also known as the Korean Green New Deal). The manifesto outlines a host of green policies that, if enacted, would boost the South Korean economy while cutting greenhouse gas production of the world’s seventh largest CO2 emitter. This news comes after several months of tireless campaign work by Greenpeace to not only grow the grassroots environmental movement in South Korea, but also to lobby the country’s three largest political parties to adopt a Climate Emergency Policy Proposal in their platforms.​

Greenpeace India distributes ration kits to people in need

Greenpeace has partnered with sustainable farm groups like Urban Kyari in Delhi to procure healthy, locally- and sustainably-grown food for distribution to vulnerable people in the region.

The Greenpeace team in India is responding to an unprecedented need created by the COVID-19 pandemic. With India under lockdown, workers in the country’s informal economic sector have been left in dire straits. Changing weather conditions and volatile markets have also caused a significant drop in farmers’ margins, impacting workers on those farms. Greenpeace has partnered with small-scale farmers and allied organizations on the ground to prepare and distribute ration kits to daily wage-workers and migrant families. This is just one action in a wave of solidarity sweeping India, which has focused on helping those hardest hit by both the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. By providing food for at-risk families from local organic farms, Greenpeace India is supporting vulnerable people while investing in the future of fair, sustainable farming. For me, this Greenpeace action puts into focus just how much good even small groups of people can do when we set out to reimagine the future.

Greenpeace actions go virtual

A small team of Greenpeace UK activists projected messages like this one onto Westminster earlier this month to keep up public pressure amid COVID-19 protection measures.

Direct action is our bread and butter. So one of the challenges we’ve been tackling lately is: “How do we  take action for the planet during a global pandemic?” Luckily, imagination doesn’t run in short supply in Greenpeace teams. Many of our offices were busy in recent weeks organizing digital rallies, projections, and even hologram protests (yes, you read that right  see the photo below!). Greenpeace and our allies in the United Kingdom launched an immensely popular petition (signed by 130,000 people!) calling for an end to blank bailout cheques for big polluters — and projected that message onto the Houses of Parliament! In both Poland and Belgium, Greenpeace created powerful hologram marches to keep pressure on decision makers with strong messaging while respecting physical distancing measures. With so much at stake for our planet right now, these innovative forms of activism are more important than ever.

To send a vital signal to European Council decision makers at last month’s summit in Brussels, Greenpeace protested by projecting a hologram demonstration for the first time ever in front of the EU Council building.

I hope these stories from Greenpeace’s work around the world provide some inspiration and hope during these difficult times. With everything going on in the world, I know it can be hard to see how things are getting better. When I need to, I think about the kindness and solidarity that abounds, and about the ingenuity being shown by so many. That gives me hope.

I also think of your support, Ron. Thank you for taking action with Greenpeace. It’s people like you who help make all of this work possible.​

Christy, Executive Director, Greenpeace Canada

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