GeorgeMonbiot: Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Financial meltdown, environmental disaster and even the rise of Donald Trump – neoliberalism has played its part in them all. Why has the left failed to come up with an alternative?

‘No alternative’ … Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at the White House. Photograph: Rex Features

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?

Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly? 

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me? are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Britain, in which neoliberal ideology has been most rigorously applied, is the loneliness capital of Europe. We are all neoliberals now.


The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book BureaucracyThe Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as “a kind of neoliberal international”: a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists. The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institutethe Heritage Foundationthe Cato Institutethe Institute of Economic Affairsthe Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.

As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident. Hayek’s view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way – among American apostles such as Milton Friedman – to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency.

Something else happened during this transition: the movement lost its name. In 1951, Friedman was happy to describe himself as a neoliberal. But soon after that, the term began to disappear. Stranger still, even as the ideology became crisper and the movement more coherent, the lost name was not replaced by any common alternative.

At first, despite its lavish funding, neoliberalism remained at the margins. The postwar consensus was almost universal: John Maynard Keynes’s economic prescriptions were widely applied, full employment and the relief of poverty were common goals in the US and much of western Europe, top rates of tax were high and governments sought social outcomes without embarrassment, developing new public services and safety nets.

But in the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream. As Friedman remarked, “when the time came that you had to change … there was an alternative ready there to be picked up”. With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter’s administration in the US and Jim Callaghan’s government in Britain. 

After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example. As Stedman Jones notes, “it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised.”


It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”. The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows.

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein documented that neoliberals advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted. Photograph: Anya Chibis/The Guardian

As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans.

Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre. 

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.

Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income. When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel.

Carlos Slim
 In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all phone services and soon became the world’s richest man. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters 

Those who own and run the UK’s privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world’s richest man.

Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer notes in Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, has had a similar impact. “Like rent,” he argues, “interest is … unearned income that accrues without any effort”. As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, the rich acquire increasing control over another crucial asset: money. Interest payments, overwhelmingly, are a transfer of money from the poor to the rich. As property prices and the withdrawal of state funding load people with debt (think of the switch from student grants to student loans), the banks and their executives clean up.

Sayer argues that the past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

 Slogans, symbols and sensation … Donald Trump. Photograph: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters 

Chris Hedges remarks that “fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the ‘losers’ who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment”. When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation. To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant.

Judt explained that when the thick mesh of interactions between people and the state has been reduced to nothing but authority and obedience, the only remaining force that binds us is state power. The totalitarianism Hayek feared is more likely to emerge when governments, having lost the moral authority that arises from the delivery of public services, are reduced to “cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them”.


Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities.

The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is promoted by invisible backers. Slowly, very slowly, we have begun to discover the names of a few of them. We find that the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has argued forcefully in the media against the further regulation of the tobacco industry, has been secretly funded by British American Tobacco since 1963. We discover that Charles and David Koch, two of the richest men in the world, founded the institute that set up the Tea Party movement. We find that Charles Koch, in establishing one of his thinktanks, noted that “in order to avoid undesirable criticism, how the organisation is controlled and directed should not be widely advertised”. 

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation.

A century ago, the nouveau riche were disparaged by those who had inherited their money. Entrepreneurs sought social acceptance by passing themselves off as rentiers. Today, the relationship has been reversed: the rentiers and inheritors style themselves entre preneurs. They claim to have earned their unearned income.

These anonymities and confusions mesh with the namelessness and placelessness of modern capitalism: the franchise model which ensures that workers do not know for whom they toil; the companies registered through a network of offshore secrecy regimes so complex that even the police cannot discover the beneficial owners; the tax arrangements that bamboozle governments; the financial products no one understands.

The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. Those who are influenced by Hayek, Mises and Friedman tend to reject the term, maintaining – with some justice – that it is used today only pejoratively. But they offer us no substitute. Some describe themselves as classical liberals or libertarians, but these descriptions are both misleading and curiously self-effacing, as they suggest that there is nothing novel about The Road to SerfdomBureaucracy or Friedman’s classic work, Capitalism and Freedom.


For all that, there is something admirable about the neoliberal project, at least in its early stages. It was a distinctive, innovative philosophy promoted by a coherent network of thinkers and activists with a clear plan of action. It was patient and persistent. The Road to Serfdom became the path to power.

Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 70s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis. Keynesianism works by stimulating consumer demand to promote economic growth. Consumer demand and economic growth are the motors of environmental destruction.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.


George Monbiot’s How Did We Get into This Mess? is published this month by Verso. To order a copy for £12.99 (RRP £16.99) ) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Logging and climate shifts are drastically reducing carbon storage, study says

‘Forests have gotten shorter and younger over the last 100 years,’ researcher says

Deforestation, changes in land use, wildfires and other factors are leading to a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the world’s forests, researchers say. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Illegal logging and the impacts of climate change are altering the world’s forests — making trees shorter and younger — and greatly reducing the amount of planet-warming emissions they can suck up and store, researchers warned on Thursday.

That will have big implications for efforts to meet the world’s climate goals and hold rising global temperatures to a safe level, scientists said.

A study led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), with experts from Britain’s University of Birmingham, analyzed forests over the last century and gave predictions for the coming decades.

It warned that deforestation, changes in land use, wildfires, droughts, wind damage, diseases and outbreaks of insects are increasing tree deaths, leading to a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the world’s forests.

“Forests have gotten shorter and younger over the last 100 years,” said Tom Pugh, a researcher on the study and associate professor at the University of Birmingham.

“Forests take up an enormous amount of carbon from the atmosphere,” he said. The findings “indicate that this is likely to reduce in the future.”

An excavator is seen in a destroyed forest at a peatland area in Kuala Tripa district in Nagan Raya, Indonesia’s Aceh province. (Roni Bintang/Reuters)


Large swathes of rainforest, including in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, help regulate rainfall, prevent flooding, protect biodiversity and limit climate change.

Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, the main pollutant heating up the Earth’s climate, and store carbon, which they release when they are cut down, or when they are burned or rot.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, most world governments have pledged to keep global warming to “well below” 2 C above pre-industrial times and to strive for a lower limit of 1.5 C.

Tropical forests are huge reservoirs of carbon, storing 250 billion tonnes in their trees alone — an amount equivalent to 90 years of global fossil-fuel emissions at current levels, according to scientists.

Losses of such forests are making efforts to protect climate stability much harder, they said.

“In order to reach those temperature change targets, it would require even stronger reductions in emissions because the forests are taking up less. Therefore we either have to put less in the atmosphere or find a way to take it out,” Pugh said.

“It implies a hotter world,” he said.

Aerial view of deforestation in the western Amazon region of Brazil in September 2017. (Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty)

Shifting species

Rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels have been altering the world’s forests, with the potential for large shifts in the mix of tree and animal species that make up and live in forests, noted the study, due to be published on Friday in the journal Science.

That means forest conservation practices will need to change as well, Pugh said.

“There is a need for adaptive forest management, which takes into account … the climate we expect trees to be experiencing in the next decades, and making sure that the trees that are being planted take account of that,” he said.

The world’s old-growth forests have been particularly affected, with a continued reduction in the area and stature of old forests likely to continue globally.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to,” said Nate McDowell, a PNNL scientist and the study’s lead author.

“Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests and they store more carbon than young forests,” he said in a statement.



Trees are Getting Shorter and Younger

This Tower Sucks Up Smog and Turns It Into Diamonds

In one of the world’s most polluted cities, there’s a futuristic tower that sucks up smog, turns it into clean air, and filters out the smog particles so they can be turned into diamonds.

Sound like sci-fi? It’s real — and there are smog diamonds out there to prove it.

The tower is the brainchild of Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde who looked out his hotel window in Beijing and realized that the smog was so thick, he couldn’t see the city.

Eight-year-olds in the city have been diagnosed with lung cancer, and the filthy air has reduced residents’ life expectancy by 15 – 16 years.

“This is not the bright future we envision,” Roosegaarde says. “This is the horror.”

So he and his team decided to build the largest air purifier in the world: the Smog Free Tower.

The tower they built, which has been used in Rotterdam, Beijing, Tianjin and Dalian, sucks up 30,000 cubic meters of polluted air per hour, cleans it at the nano level — the PM2.5, PM10 particles — and then releases the clean air back into the city. (The tower is powered by solar energy.)

It’s incredibly effective: the air around the tower is 55 to 75 percent cleaner than the rest of the city.

But after the gnarly, sooty particles are filtered out of the air, they don’t just disappear — they need somewhere to go.

“We had buckets of this disgusting material in our studio,” says Roosegaarde.

His team was planning to throw it out when they had a eureka moment — 42 percent of the particles they collected are made of carbon, they realized. And what do you get when you compress carbon?

You get diamonds, of course.

The smog particles filtered by the tower are compressed for 30 minutes and turned into dark, boxy gems. The diamonds are then used for rings and cufflinks, each representing 1,000 cubic meters of pollution. Roosegaarde says a couple even used a smog ring as an engagement ring.

They’re the ultimate waste-to-wonder conversion: toxic pollution transformed into gemstones.

But Beijing isn’t the only polluted city out there. Roosegaarde is headed to India next. He plans to build Smog Free Towers across the nation to help Delhi and other municipalities turn their dirty air into objects to treasure.

He’s also partnering with NGOs, governments, students and tech companies to come up with other solutions to help reduce air pollution in our cities.

“It’s all about connecting new technology with creative thinking,” says Roosegaarde. “If you start thinking about that, there is so much you can imagine, so much more you can do.”


Hailey Reissman is the editorial coordinator at TEDx.

Future of electricity transmission is HVDC

High-voltage direct current transmission enables continental and larger grids

Siemens DC Transformer/Converter

The future is electric and renewable energy will dominate the mix, but how will electricity get from wind farms in the North Sea to central Europe, from Nevada solar farms to San Diego or from the Three Gorges hydroelectric dams to Hong Kong? At present, the majority of high-voltage electricity transmission lines are alternating current, but innovations in the past decades and even years means that they are increasingly likely to be direct current with major advantages for everyone. The phrase and acronym to keep an eye out for are high-voltage direct current and HVDC.

Why will HVDC dominate transmission?

HVDC lines always deliver more of the power put into them regardless of the distance that the electricity travels, which is a significant factor in and of itself. But the big reason this is important is that it’s cheaper at longer distances over land and at very short distances underwater and underground. This means that it’s very useful for bringing electricity long distances from renewable locations, connecting islands to the mainland and even continents to one another potentially.

Over a certain distance, the so called ‘break-even distance’ (approx. 600–800 km), the HVDC alternative will always provide the lowest cost.

The break-even distance is much smaller for subsea cables (typically about 50 km) than for an overhead line transmission.

The diagram is interesting. DC terminals will always be more expensive than AC terminals simply because they have to have the components to transform DC voltage as well as convert the DC to AC. But the DC voltage conversion and circuit breakers have been dropping in price. The break-even price continues to drop.

Right now on modern grids, transmission losses are 7% to 15% with aboveground transmission. With DC transmission, they are a lot lower, and they remain low even if you run the cables underwater or underground.

The archipelago factor

So HVDC makes a lot of sense for longer runs over land and best place for renewables tends to be a good distance from major centers of population. But the other place this makes a difference is for populaces spread over islands. Indonesia is a good example. It has 261 million people living on 6,000 of its 17,500 islands. And a lot of those islands depend on oil and diesel generation.

Japan is similarly challenged. While most people think of it as a country, or if they know more think of it as three or four big islands, it actually has 6,852 islands with 430 of them populated. Japan is looking at two major HVDC power links to Asia to enable it to break free of its need to generate and manage all of its own electricity in a limited geographical area with significant terrain challenges.

And most people think of the British Isles as a few big islands, but it’s actually well over 6,000 islands with close to 200 permanently occupied. Denmark has a mainland, but also 1,000 islands with 70 of them inhabited. This pattern repeats itself globally. The world is much more physically fractal and fractured than is apparent from maps and globes.

Remember that HVDC doesn’t lose effectiveness when submerged, unlike AC transmission. Remember also that renewables are more and less effective in different places, often different places than the people who need the electricity. And remember that offshore wind energy has one of the highest capacity factors available, with 50% as a usual number and 60% not unusual.

When HVDC pays for itself with lines 50 km long, connecting more people and renewables on dispersed islands becomes more economical.

The NIMBY factor

A key element in the successful use of renewables is continent-scale grids. Energy has to flow from low-carbon hydro in areas with low biomass far north, far south, across deserts, from areas with lots of sun nearer the equator, and from wind offshore or in windy plain areas to large urban and industrial areas. In the USA, the best wind and sun resources are in places a long way from most of the people.

With alternating current, that means huge towers and lines crossing long distances. And that means a lot of people protesting because they hate change, they don’t want their views spoiled, they think that their land is somehow special and shouldn’t have a tower on it, or because they have an irrational fear of the electromagnetic spectrum. Much of what has been written about NIMBYs for wind energy applies to transmission projects as well.

HVDC holds the promise of being able to dodge this problem in a lot of places. Where it’s impossible to overcome local outrage at the thought of big metal towers, it is possible to bury the line for a few miles as it doesn’t have increased losses to nearly the same extent and HVDC can travel arbitrarily long distances underground. It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s a way to dodge a lot of the NIMBY concerns.

And the last thing you can do with HVDC that’s interesting is that you can string it on existing AC tower paths replacing the AC lines, effectively making your existing, accepted transmission route deliver a lot more electricity to highly populated areas. That avoids NIMBY complaints too.

So how does HVDC pull off these feats?

This is partially a Thomas Edison vs Nikola Tesla story. Edison was committed to direct current, but Tesla liked alternating current. Alternating current was easier to step up and down and direct current couldn’t be transformed reliably, so alternating current became the transmission and distribution standard for electricity. Edison did some ugly things to try to win the fight, but lost. Then he won economically anyway.

Alternating current has transmission limitations

Most long-distance transmission today is built using high-voltage alternating current, but it has some interesting challenges.

It is limited to 765 kilovolts (kV) per line, which is more than enough to fry an egg by itself and you can string multiple lines. Due to the nature of alternating current, after that, voltage losses due to the electromagnetic field interacting with the line’s insulation and heating it makes AC uneconomic.

Most of the transmission is through elevated lines, in part due to the expense of burying lines and maintaining underground lines, but also because the heat buildup problem is worse underground and they hold more charge, which limits the distance they can transmit electricity to about 80 kilometers. The holding more charge point, capacitance, means that more energy has to be pushed into the line before it can be reversed. Overhead, high-voltage alternating current lines are kept a long way from one another and the earth, because the electromagnetic fields of individual lines interact, reducing total capacity. Underwater alternating current transmission has worse challenges than underground transmission.

You can’t make AC wires thicker than they are to get greater throughput because alternating current has a strong tendency to flow near the surface of metal conductors, so making them thicker adds a lot of weight and not much transmission capacity.

The last bit of the challenge is that frequency is fairly hard to change, so any alternating current transmission must be between two grids operating at the same frequency.

That’s a lot of engineering compromises to deal with, but alternating current is obviously economically viable for transmitting electricity long distances, so these aren’t deal breakers in most situations. But that doesn’t mean that a better solution won’t be more effective.

Direct current transmission eliminates many of the limitations

Until 1954, there was no real alternative to this set of compromises. That’s the year that the problem of reliably changing the voltage of direct current up and down was cracked. ABB, a major player in this space, built a submerged 96-kilometer HVDC transmission line between the Swedish mainland and an island.

Direct current doesn’t have most of the limitations of alternating current for transmission.

While it’s limited to about 800 kV, not dissimilar from AC, the way it’s constructed you effectively get double the voltage of AC.

Underground and underwater lines don’t lose effectiveness for transmission compared to aboveground lines. No electromagnetic field is created by direct current to interact with other wires, the ground, or water.

The wires can be arbitrarily thick because direct current doesn’t tend to flow along the surface.

Direct current has no frequency, so it’s easy to connect two grids at different frequencies and use electronics to match frequency when it’s converted back to AC. HVDC is sometimes referred to as asynchronous transmission for this reason.

Recent advances have reduced HVDC challenges

But direct current still had two limitations that prevented it from taking over the world, at least until recently.

The first is that the voltage converters were a lot more expensive than the simple, physical alternating voltage converters. DC converters are electronic in nature, and as pointed out in the the future is electric article, electronics outperform the physical. That’s true in this case too, with DC transformers plummeting in cost. If you look around, almost every electrical device you can see runs on DC internally and the power blocks convert AC from the plug to DC for the device. That’s been made cheaply possibly by electronics, and it’s true for transmission-scale transformers as well.

The second problem is that circuit breakers for high-voltage direct current were ineffective. Circuit breakers are components that protect electrical systems from excess current. If you have an older home, you probably have a fuse box. If you have a newer home, you probably have electronic circuit breakers, typically a row or two of black switches in a panel. Mechanical breakers for DC were too slow while semiconductor breakers were fast enough but had 30% power loss. This has been hard to overcome, but it’s been licked recently with a new generation of hybrid breakers.

So that’s HVDC and why the electricity you use will increasingly come through HVDC transmission. It allows more power to be delivered over longer distances, it is increasingly economically viable, it works better underground, it works better underwater, it can dodge NIMBY complaints and it reduces the challenge of variable renewable generation. It’s one of the top innovations in the world of electricity, and it’s coming soon to a grid near you if it isn’t already there.

The set of innovations that have led to HVDC transmission being increasingly competitive and effective in places where AC is less effective are going to enable greater growth of renewables globally.

China’s State Grid Corporation has seriously put forward the idea of building a global HVDC grid to tie all of the wind and solar power in the world together by 2050. Imagine wind energy from China at night powering the USA and Europe during the day. The future truly is electric.


Michael Barnard

Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Strategy Inc. Business and technical future-proofing. Top Writer Quora since 2013. CleanTechnica, Forbes, Quartz+ more. In 4 books.

Will the left leverage today’s stock surge/unemployment gap shocker?

Fat cats play the system like hungry lions stalking prey. The progressive challenge is to educate more voters how our predatory system helps the rich get richer.

NYC Finalizing Plans To Move Wall Street Bull Statue - Vos Iz Neias

Wall Street exults while Main Street tumbles

How does the richest country ever, dedicated to the “pursuit of happiness,” reconcile 30 million laid off workers during the two months when the stock market surges 50%? How do progressives leverage the most explosive red flashing lights in ages, with an untold, unmatched range of pain and suffering? Will any better time emerge to dramatize how this broken economic system, in bed with big government, finds endless ways to socialize risk and privatize profits?

Since March, what we’ve all learned is the 1% is alone immune not only to compassion but a virulent virus that plagues everyone else. Rarely is the left “gifted” with headlines that broadcast today’s capitalism, working fine for a few, has no such safety net for normal, average families. Indeed, this economic calamity not only redefines “normal” but “average,” as well, shrinking socio-economic categories at least one notch across the board.

Except, as Naomi Klein proved so brilliantly, IF your family has money, power and opportunity to spare (“The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”). For Klein, modern capitalism feasts on, digests and grows new fingers for more profit pies. If capitalism is geared to predate, shouldn’t the rest of us gear up and do what our brains can do: learn constructive lessons from fiascos. To not benefit from bad experiences invokes all those who proverbially forget history and are thus doomed to repeat it.

Inequality –on the global short list

After climate change and runaway population growth, what greater global challenge exists than income and asset inequality? And “advanced countries” often lead the way as billionaires hoard their winnings like sloppy drunks fingering free drinks. Fat cat resistance – to equitably incremental taxation, let alone understanding only government can over time level the playing field — is becoming as predictable as pandemic contagion. Nothing dramatizes the big picture like the current burst of stock prices in the face of the worst unemployment numbers in our history.

Like never before, the Wall Street game for the affluent lives on another planet from Main Street. Though no rational adult thinks world elites conspired to produce Covid-19, the bitter truth is that big money is ready, willing able to leap on the back of big disasters. That’s hardly an option for the marginal 80% as hard times mean survival mode.

Disaster capitalism works because so few have so much, namely half of this nation’s assets. For the 50% of Americans ground down by a $500 car repair, any economic disruption is painful. This pandemic is the once-a-century variety – and that means the only “buyers” (especially of distressed companies) who optimize Klein’s “shock” are the very rich. Even upper-middle-class families suffer, fear lost savings or reduced house values augur ill for satisfactory retirements.

And for the dwindling few who hope against hope that “fairness” or laws or time will somewhat “make things better,” that law-breaking, scoffing, model of unfairness, Tedious Trump, explodes such facile dreams. Trump personifies Klein’s message: “What we have been living for three decades is frontier capitalism, with the frontier constantly shifting location from crisis to crisis, moving on as soon as the law catches up.” Trump is wholly unaccountable either because we lack proper laws (like on Inspector Generals) or the ones we have are betrayed, especially by rightwing Senate power brokers like Moscow Mitch.

Similarly, seeing the vast majority of the $3 trillion government “stimulus” (welfare, bailouts) go to big business only inspires more Klein truisms: “A more accurate term for a system that erases the boundaries between Big Government and Big Business is not liberal, conservative or capitalist but corporatist. Its main characteristics are huge transfers of public wealth to private hands, often accompanied by exploding debt, an ever-widening chasm between the dazzling rich and the disposable poor and an aggressive nationalism that justifies bottomless spending on security.”

Hardly “irrational exuberance”

What the surging stock market shows is 1) even a potential depression did not impede the wealthy from scooping up “oversold” shares (those driven below the “wholesale” value of a company); and 2) stock buyers understand all too well what happens when the Federal Reserve juices up the overall U.S. M-1 Money Supply by 20% in eight weeks – an unheard of cash and credit booster shot. That happens when government bailouts (or bad tax policy or excessive deregulation) “print money” (amplifying future taxpayer liability) so that all of us share today’s high risk without sharing subsequent profits.

In short, behold the dreamy Rites of Spring for crony capitalism: the rich increase leverage (ownership) when times are tough, government intervention minimizes the risk, and owners may pay a pittance while stock prices, dividends, even bonuses improve. The fairer, “alternate system” is not hard to understand: if key industries need desperate help to survive, all the “investors” (private and public) should share the spoils. Most recent U.S. governments fall over themselves being big business-friendly – and that so improves the efficiency of the wealth transfer; three trillion dollars breezed through before anyone could blink. Not enough FDR “socialists” like Bernie and true populists had enough clout to offset this routinely rigged system, (and very different from the fake “rigged” rhetoric Trump trots out to cover his corporate welfare schemes).

Rest assured: this is no “irrational exuberance” (an outdated warning about inflated stock prices) in today’s 50% surge since the March lows. That’s a 25% return per MONTH. A few of my staid dividend stocks (suitable for my age bracket) did rise considerably, but none has returned to pre-crash levels. Sure, if we were stable geniuses, we’d have joined a very small minority, waited for the bottom and pounced – assuming there was cash lying about. So, while some nervous institutions and anxious investors were dumping stocks (wrongly, as it turns out), others, especially opportunistic hedge funds, rushed in when prices hit historic lows. Interest rates are so low the “cost of money” for top companies is inconsequential.

Fine, share the winning

The point here isn’t to demonize capitalists, especially billionaires, for that’s what “they do for a living:” seize rare opportunities, not without risk, though knowing every other time the system muddled through. Fat cats play the system like hungry lions stalking prey. The challenge for progressives is to educate more voters how our predatory system helps the rich get richer – and the multitudes get the empty stick. Any competent legislator can create laws that stop socializing risk without socializing profit.

The process could be that simple. We do have to elect officials who decide it’s in the national interest to keep airline companies afloat, as it were, then force them to share winnings – and like Alaska distribute earnings to every citizen. Publicize this unjust dynamic so that average families, especially without healthcare, won’t have to go begging every time a pandemic descends or today’s bust offset boom times. A fitting finale from Klein, “We do not always respond to shocks with regression. Sometimes, in the face of crisis, we grow up—fast.” Time to inform others in the trenches here’s a perfect time to grow up and act. It means voting and not just one time for one party. We still eventually need a New Progressive Party and that could be kicked off by better integrating all of the nation’s wealth with all of the people’s bank accounts.


The Farm to Fork strategy and the inconvenient truth

Photo credits: Paul ELLIS / AFP

While it ticks many boxes, the Farm to Fork strategy does not go far enough in describing and addressing one of the most pressing economic, societal and environmental challenges of the EU: the production and over-consumption of meat and dairy.

The European Union (EU) has, for decades, supported the development of a food system that is bad for the economy, society, the climate, the environment, and people’s health. The European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy, published on 20 May 2020, is a long-awaited effort to address this inherently inconsistent approach.

This is a complex challenge. The food we produce and consume has economic, societal and environmental ramifications, in the EU and beyond. When certain food production or patterns of consumption are subsidised, this public money is taken away from other priorities. What we eat affects our health. As food is grown, stored, processed, packaged, transported, prepared, served, eaten – or not eaten but thrown away –, this impacts climate and the environment.

While the EU takes great pride in its agriculture, its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – with a focus on production – has failed to deliver a sustainable food system. While changes will not happen overnight, the Union needs a system that benefits farmers and citizens; society and the economy as a whole.

The Farm to Fork strategy gets a lot of things right. It calls for improving the food chain’s environmental impact, providing access to sufficient, healthy, nutritious, and sustainable food, as well as generating fairer economic returns. It recognises the importance of carbon sequestration. It pushes to reduce pesticide use and excess fertilisation. It aims to promote animal welfare. It cherishes the potential and prospects of organic farming. It notes the need to address food waste. It stresses the importance of global action.

The devil, as always, is in the detail. The strategy’s biggest weakness is its failure to spell out an inconvenient truth: the EU’s problem is its excessive livestock production and over-consumption of meat and dairy, which come at an enormous cost.

Cost for economy

In its new proposal for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), presented on 27 May 2020, the Commission proposes spending over €348 billion on agriculture. It also suggests providing an additional €15 billion for farmers and rural areas under the new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU.

Money does not grow on trees. As the Union’s immediate priority is to recover from the corona crisis, its leaders must act responsibly. Since the EU uses public money to support the agricultural sector, the aim should be to make the sector both more competitive and resilient, and to increase people’s welfare while also protecting the planet.

Currently, taxpayers’ money is used to support farming practices that are neither competitive nor economically viable, for the producers or for society. According to Commission data, up to 90% of cattle farmers’ income comes from subsidies. While the production of dairy and feed for animals are less dependent on public money, many of these farms are also on permanent life support. When one adds the costs of livestock production and consumption for the climate, the environment and people’s health, and thus for society and the economy at large, the current European agricultural policy makes no economic sense.

The CAP is often portrayed as an instrument for supporting small European farmers, but this is highly misleading. The main beneficiaries are the big agri-businessesthose engaged in intensive livestock farmingoligarchs and other wealthy landowners.

Simultaneously, there is a great – often neglected – potential to produce nutritious, sustainable and economically viable food for humans in the EU. European vegetable and fruit farmers already operate, compete and earn a living on the market, with little to no income support from the EU. The market for meat and dairy alternatives is seeing double-digit growth, and there is untapped potential in cultivating plant proteins for humans. Consumers’ interest in organic plant-based food is booming, in Europe and beyond.

If the EU is serious about using taxpayers’ money to increase the competitiveness of its economy and that of its agricultural sector, keeping unsustainable livestock farming on permanent life support is not the answer. The EU has a solid basis for developing competitive and sustainable agricultural production that can provide higher returns on investment, secure a livelihood for farmers and deliver environmental and societal benefits – this is what the EU should focus on.

Cost for climate and the environment

The strategy rightly recognises that food systems are one of the key drivers of climate change and environmental degradation. However, while it starts by listing the need to reduce dependency on pesticides and antimicrobials, reduce excess fertilisation, increase organic farming, and reverse biodiversity loss, the role of animal farming is downplayed and only mentioned much later. Even then, the full scale of the problem is left untold.

The livestock sector accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a major producer – and consumer – of meat and dairy, the EU is a big part of the problem. Increasing consumption of animal products, converting land to feed livestock, fertiliser usage and direct emissions from animal farming are driving these emissions.

In the EU, agriculture accounts for 10.3% of the GHG emissions, of which around 70% is produced by livestock farming. As 68% of all agricultural land is used for animal production, what happens on this land has an enormous impact on the climate and the environment.

The nutrients and pesticides used in the sector pollute land and water. Ammonia emissions from livestock waste are a significant source of air pollution. Agriculture also contributes to growing water scarcity: it uses more than 40% of freshwater in the EU, with a significant share used for livestock production. Animal farming is a major driver for biodiversity loss.

Simultaneously, agriculture can be a strong ally for climate action and environmental protection. Healthy soils are important carbon sinks. Moreover, CO2 emissions per hectare of organic farming are 48-66% lower compared to conventional farming methods.

Cost for health

The strategy highlights poor diets as a major cause of diseases and healthcare-related costs in the EU. Indeed, preventable chronic diseases, greatly driven by unhealthy diets, account for around 86% of deaths and 77% of disease burden in the EU. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies processed meat as a carcinogen, known to cause cancer, and red meat as a possible cause of cancer. Scientific research links the consumption of animal products to an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s diseasediabetescardiovascular diseasehypertension and numerous other diseases. No wonder, the WHO guidelines for a healthy diet are built on a plant-based diet.

Another dimension that the Commission overlooks altogether is the impact of mainly livestock-related air pollution on people’s health. In the EU, air pollution, greatly driven by agricultural emissions, causes 400,000 to 790,000 premature deaths and leads to significant economic costs annually.

This matters also in the corona crisis context. Europeans’ current state of health and the prevalence of chronic diseases make us especially vulnerable in the face of COVID-19. Studies also suggest that regions with higher levels of air pollution seem to have higher mortality rates. As the EU hopes to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, there is way too little discussion about the importance of healthy populations as our first defence against the virus. This is the time to boost efforts to promote people’s health and healthier diets.

Towards the food system we want

The EU needs a competitive, resilient and sustainable agricultural sector that results in greater health for Europeans. We already know what to do. The science is clear on what makes a food system sustainable and what makes a diet beneficial for human health, the climate and the environment. We should aim to double the consumption of plant-based foods and substantially limit foods from animal sources.

While the Commission’s strategy recognises the need to move to a more plant-based diet, with less red and processed meat, it fails to take the bull by the horns. It does not call for reducing the production and consumption of all meat products and dairy, and shifting towards more plant-based food systems.

Achieving a sustainable system is more important than ever and bringing about change is a shared responsibility. Farmers themselves should have a strong interest in being part of the solution and actively participate in the transition, as a way to secure their livelihoods for the future. It requires retailers and consumers to play their part. Moreover, the EU and national policymakers must create a framework for action.

The transition to a sustainable food system will not happen without a shift in people’s diets. The EU must use the tools available to steer consumers. In addition to providing information and helping make sustainable and healthy options the default option, what the EU subsidises impacts prices and thus, consumer choices. Rather than offering Europeans cheap meat and dairy, people need affordable healthy food.

The money is with the CAP, and it can do good or continue to do a lot of harm. It can either deliver or sabotage the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy. If in 2021-27, taxpayers’ money is still spent to sponsor mainly unhealthy and unsustainable meat and dairy production and consumption, it would make the Farm to Fork strategy just an empty shell.

It is time for a radical rethink. While farmers should be supported in the transition, the EU must end subsidies to uncompetitive farming practices that are harmful to people’s health, the climate and the environment. In addition to extravagant subsidies for livestock production, using taxpayers’ money to advertise meat-eating and offer dairy products to school kids – worth €100 million again this year – is unacceptable. These decisions are not science-based and undermine the EU’s objectives for sustainable prosperity.

The time for unconditional support for meat and dairy must be over. In the new multiannual budget, each euro invested should provide added value for the EU and its citizens and help to address rather than exacerbate the EU’s challenges.

Simultaneously, it is in the Union’s interest to become a global standard setter for sustainable and healthy food, and ensure that the imports of food and feedstock for animals meet those standards. It must use its trade agreements to raise standards globally and avoid shifting the environmental and climate footprint of the food it consumes beyond its borders.

The current food system is failing the EU, the Europeans and the planet, in a big way. If the EU and its member states are serious about sowing the seeds for a competitive agricultural sector that contributes to climate action, supports environmental protection and provides nutritious, healthy food for people, the transition to a more plant-based food system must start now.


Annika Hedberg is Head of the Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme and Senior Policy Analyst

Gardening tips for beginners

Woman holding green leafed seedling

Grow your own vwgetables once you map the sun and choose a planting strategy like ‘no dig’ or pizza guardening. Photo: Nikola Javanovic via Unsplach

Do you want to grow a garden?

There are many reasons to dig in, including to:


Sketch a sun map

A leaf in a sunbeam with forest in the background

Is your yard, balcony or windowsill in full shade, part shade, full sun or a combination? No need to guess. Find out how to map or sketch the sun’s daily pattern. You’ll save time and money planting in the correct place and you’ll learn how to interpret instruction tags on plants. Did you know “full sun” means the site receives more than six hours of sunlight each day? Beware of frost pockets (dips or the lowest part of your yard) and note if you need wind protection.

Get your lawn off grassShovel digging in garden bed

Use sheet mulch instead of tearing up sod. Put down about three layers of cardboard (free from tape and/or staples) to smother lawn. Then add soil, compost or raised beds and get planting annuals and perennials — maybe start a food forest! Free arborist wood chips are great for trails between beds. Call a tree-trimming company to ask for a free load or flag down a truck chipping in your neighbourhood.

Tip: Fill raised beds with 30-40 centimetres of soil and compost.


Keep a planting journalMan reading in the grass

Record what you planted and where, and how it did. That’ll make it easier to plant crops next season. Or take pictures and draw a map of beds and containers. Timing is everything. Check regional planting guides like this one to avoid failed crops and a broken heart!

Amend soil with compostComposting pile ready for the garden

Backyard compost (fully decomposed) is a simple way to feed the garden and build up organic matter. Good store-bought compost brands will be free from plant disease, weed seeds and agricultural herbicides. Research a source or ask a retailer. Eco-conscious gardeners avoid peat moss because peatlands store carbon. And when the living layers of centuries-old bogs are mined, carbon dioxide is released (among other negative biodiversity consequences). Municipal compost can be good, although not good enough for certified organic farmers.

Test your soilShovel on table with soil sample

Soil health is important. Urban soils can sometimes contain contaminants like heavy metals (e.g., lead, cadmium) that make their way into fruits and veggies. Check to see if any local organizations that promote urban gardening test soil samples for free! And learn more about healthy gardening practices.

How do contaminants get into your garden?

      • Through rain.
      • Wind moves dust from the street.
      • Vehicle emissions (backyards are less at risk than front yards or boulevard gardens).

How to prevent or reduce risks of soil contamination?

      • A neutral pH (6.5-7.5) can immobilize or bind lead, zinc and cadmium. Many metals are more bioavailable in acidic soils.
      • Leaves are great for mulch, providing a protective blanket come fall and winter. They’ll help insulate the roots in winter and keep them cool in summer. But don’t collect leaves from roadsides.
      • Don’t plant edibles within three metres of buildings or busy streets where lead levels are highest.
      • Don’t make garden beds from chemically treated wood like railroad ties or pressure-treated lumber.

Learn more about suitable crops to grow with low to moderate levels of soil contamination, how soil contaminants behave and their health effects.


Idea! Plant a pizza garden

Pizza using fresh green vegetables from your garden

You can grow most of what you need to create your favourite pizza toppings and sauce in a small- to medium-sized garden bed. Most ingredients are sun lovers! It’s a great activity to do as a family.

Limited to a few pots on the balcony? Grow herbs in one container and one or more containers of tomatoes. You can create a delicious pizza sauce.

You’ll need:

      • Two to three tomato plants.
      • One jalapeno pepper plant.
      • Two to three herb plants like basil, sage and oregano.
      • One zucchini plant.
      • Two sweet or bell pepper plants.

Five planting strategies

1. Practice “no dig”

Digging and turning destroys soil structure and its living community. The top 10 centimetres of soil is home to active microbes, worms and more that you’ll need for a successful garden! Linda Gilkeson, author of Backyard Bounty: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, shares the harms and risks associated with deep cultivation:

  • Breaking up important fungal mycelia. (Did you know mycelium is one of the largest living organisms on Earth?)
  • Killing worms.
  • Burying microbes with less oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange.
  • Bringing up weed seeds to germinate.
  • Breaking up the capillary flow of water to the roots from below.

Plant seeds and seedlings in the soil and organic matter, leaving the digging to worms.

Tip:Carrots and root vegetables for food

Roots (beets, parsnips and carrots) can be great at busting up clay soils so put them to work!

2. Try intensive gardening

Neat row-by-row planting no more! Grow more food in less space with less work with these intensive gardening techniques:

    • Create permanent garden beds to avoid trampling.
    • Add lots of compost for a slow release of nutrients, to hold water and improve the soil.
    • High-intensity mixed planting — use the entire surface of each bed.
    • Succession planting — stagger plantings to extend the growing season (e.g., plant carrots on Canada Day!) and replant gaps after harvest.


For farm crops, rotation is a way to manage soil fertility. But for home gardens, adding compost is the best way to add nutrition. Rotation can be helpful to avoid soil-borne root diseases. A few facts to get started:

      • All veggies need nitrogen. Leafy greens and those in the cabbage family need it the most.
      • Peas and beans are nitrogen fixers! Use legumes to increase nitrogen levels in the soil for the next crop. Nitrogen-fixing species (legume family) provide this nutrient to other plants and microbes in their immediate vicinity.
      • Root veggies need potassium.
      • Fruits like phosphorus.
      • Rotate based on plant families since pathogens are host-specific.
      • Rotate crops that are heavy feeders like garlic, squash and tomatoes. They deplete the soil.
      • Most at risk for root diseases are the onion family and potatoes (nightshades).
      • A short rotation (a few months) is needed between carrot family crops to prevent carrot rust fly.

Tip:Young man in garden

Generally there’s no need to rotate edible perennials. However, strawberry beds may need to be dug up and replanted every two to four years due to overcrowding (You’ll know it’s time when you see no fruit production).

4. Try intercropping

This means growing different crops close together at the same time to improve yields in a small space. And if your climate allows, plant winter crops into summer plantings. In some cases, it’s choose a “canopy” and an “understory” crop to co-exist. Examples include:

      • Alternate rows of radishes (an early crop) with carrots.
      • Fall brassicas (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) with cucumbers (as long as they’re not shaded completely).
      • Lettuce with any crop that gets larger, later in the season.
      • Thread late-season squash vines between mature plants (or send them to ramble and spill into non-garden spaces).

The Permaculture Research Institute suggests:

      • Avoid plants from the same family in the same grouping.
      • Choose plants with similar water needs.
      • Choose plants with different root systems (to avoid competition underground).
      • Consider how plants might affect each other’s sunlight (e.g., “nurse” plants provide shade and moderate the microclimate for new germinants).
      • Combine plants with different growth rates so they won’t interfere with each other at the most crucial points of development.

Tip:Vegetables and Fruits growing in a raised planter

Learn about specific conditions and garden pests for your region. Check out the local chapter of Master Gardners, get a regional gardening “how-to” book or find a local gardening expert. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, lettuce is a handy interplanting species and tomatoes can be grown in the same soil year after year. But this isn’t the case in Eastern Canada where they must be rotated in soils due to root-knot nematode, advises Linda Gilkeson.

5. What about companion planting?

While popular on the internet, it lacks a scientific basis.

Linda Gilkeson explains: “Some insect-repelling compounds in herbs are used as repellent pesticides, but the effect occurs when the essential oils are extracted and used as a spray — not while the plant is simply growing in place. Pest insects have very sophisticated, accurate abilities to detect their host plants and usually have no ability to ‘smell’ irrelevant plants that are not their hosts.

Companion planting the right flowering plants is effective to attract beneficial insects to a crop; interplanting attractant plants has lots of scientific research to support it and is widely used in certain horticulture crops (e.g., lettuce in California and strawberries in Ontario).”

Check out other garden myths busted by Linda Chalker-Scott of Washington State University.

Keep cats out of the garden!

Neighbourhood kitties digging in your garden can be a nuisance and a serious health risk (due to the spread of toxoplasmosis in a proportion of cats’ feces). Maybe it’s even your own cat! Make your garden beds less inviting, or less like a litter box. Try some low-cost, upcycled and even simple prickly solutions to deter cats.



In the promised land, we do everything remotely

Translated from Dutch

Our honeymoon with Big Tech ended in 2016. After countless affairs, Silicon Valley had lost its goodwill, and even politicians felt it was time to curb Big Tech. But corona brought the big turnaround. Big Tech uses this pandemic to tell us: we are the solution. Only technology can save you, leave it to us.

The Seven Plagues and the Promised Land: the opinion press seems to be a kind of updated Bible translation lately. The world is being scourged by crises of climate, energy, food, finance, information, democracy, inequality, it’s not quite a shortlist – and then we got the First of the New Pandemics. We sit there, face mask, above a disinfected newspaper, and read the sermon of the day about what this virus is actually trying to tell us. How to understand this cruel lesson, and how to save our lives if we are spared. There, at the horizon, in the Promised Land, beyond Covid and Corona, things will have to change.

We know that we cannot change reality, not now and not soon, but we have the courage to tell each other beautiful stories about a better world. Utopian vistas to dream away. Political escapism. Reform Porn.

New rules require a strong state, but after 40 years of a neoliberal diet, states are so thin they can’t make a fist

In 2008, during the credit crisis, we did exactly the same. It is now 2020, the financial industry is booming again, almost without reforms, and the gap between rich and poor is still growing steadily. The world emerges better from such a crisis, historians have long believed, it is a catalyst for progress. The two world wars led to more equality and democracy. But as the researchers Bas van Bavel and Marten Scheffer wrote in 2017 , this is not a law. What matters is that such a crisis leads to new rules. That didn’t happen after 2008, and if it doesn’t happen after Corona, “the shock will continue in the same way as after 2008, further increasing inequality,” Van Bavel recently said in Trouw.. Scheffer: “It doesn’t look good.”

New rules require a strong state, but after 40 years of a neoliberal diet, the states have become so thin that they can no longer make a fist, and the private sector has become so strong that it can easily take on state tasks. Turn that circle around. See how Big Tech is using this pandemic by presenting us with a new shock doctrine : we are the solution. Only technology can save you, leave it to us.

Our honeymoon came in 2016with Big Tech coming to an end. The scandals at Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, the widespread monopolism of Google and Amazon, the airbnb-ing of beautiful old city centers, the social Darwinism of the gig economy, the rise of fakenews and disinformation – suddenly Silicon Valley had lost its goodwill . It was time to curb Big Tech if we don’t want to drift into a data dictatorship. Mark Zuckerberg had to appear before the Senate and he came, not in his usual cheeky T-shirt, but in a suit with a white shirt and tie, as a juvenile delinquent who went to H&M with his lawyer before his trial. Fortunately, then came corona. We were sentenced to stay at home, and home, that’s where Silicon Valley prefers. At home, at the end of a fiber optic cable, with ourdevices.

Everything is forgiven

On May 6, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had a special guest during his daily corona briefing , appearing on a large video screen: Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google. What used to be a dystopian chimera six months ago is now communis meningio: we can expect more pandemics, and in order to cope better with them, public life in the state of New York must be thoroughly digitized, Schmidt believes, and Cuomo had asked him to lead it.

A few days earlier, Cuomo had already announced a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make New York education ‘smarter’ . Smart has become a code word for ‘digitized’ – as if things automatically become ‘more intelligent’ when an integrated circuit is used with only a fraction of the human mind. For tech entrepreneurs, ‘smart’ also means: a process that we did not need until recently, but for which we have a cheaper and faster alternative. “Smart” as in: very wise that you leave this to us.

The state of California signed a large contract with Google to promote distance learning in the region. Prosecutors of various states have engaged Amazon to counteract price increases from face masks and other protective materials. Google and Apple announced a collaboration to make Android and iOS suitable for corona tracking and are now in talks with ‘ dozens ‘ of interested governments and health organizations, including the Netherlands. 


Canada Post tests the waters for postal banking with pilot projects, funding for study

A postal worker is pictured in 2017. Canada Post Facebook photo

Canada Post has agreed to study how it could offer postal banking, including through setting up pilot projects at certain locations, as part of a new collaboration with a union representing rural postal workers.

The postal service and the union, the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association (CPAA), both confirmed the agreement, which is laid out in a letter of understanding between the two entities that was obtained by National Observer.

Canada Post will allocate up to $500,000 to a committee that will look at how rural post offices in places like the B.C. islands could offer services such as money transfers or cashing government cheques. As part of the study, it will set up “proof-of-concept” projects in “select locations.”

The committee’s work has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said a spokesperson for Canada Post.

The post office in Whaletown, on Cortes Island in B.C. in March 2020. The post office building is on a trailer for relocation after the land it was on was sold. CPAA photo

Concern banks won’t re-open after pandemic

The idea of postal banking, which existed in Canada until the late 1960s, is gaining traction again as banks move to close hundreds of branches and limit operating hours to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The issue is of particular concern in British Columbia, where 61 per cent of rural communities had no bank or credit union as of 2014, according to a CPAA study. The village of Fraser Lake, for example, recently got a credit union after spending six months where the nearest in-person banking centre was a 40-minute drive away.

“Particularly right now, with COVID-19, we’re hearing of banks that are closing,” said British Columbia and Yukon branch president Carolyn Elliott, in an interview. “There is concern that they won’t re-open when the pandemic restrictions ease. That’s a big issue right now for a lot of communities.”

The CPAA says postal banking could be key to adding social and economic viability to hundreds of rural communities that don’t have banks, but do have post offices.

But the Canadian Bankers Association, which represents dozens of banks, says there isn’t any public policy reason that would compel the federal government to get into the banking business. There are currently over 800 bank branches across B.C., it noted.

Canada Post has agreed to study how it could offer postal banking, including through setting up test sites at certain locations, as part of a new collaboration with a union representing rural postal workers.

A House of Commons committee recommended against postal banking in 2016, saying the postal service should instead “focus on its core competencies.” A federal review of Canada Post in 2018 did not mention the issue, although it did say the postal service should be “generating revenues” that could support both current and future services.

Postal banking pilot projects in ‘select locations’

Canada Post already does offer limited financial services like postal money orders through a partnership with MoneyGram, no bank account required.

But its agreement with CPAA, which is dated Jan. 21, 2020, represents the first time it committed during the collective bargaining process with the union to examine the idea in greater detail, said Elliott.

“I think getting this letter of understanding into the collective agreement is a huge step forward in the (postal) corporation acknowledging the possibility,” she said.

The letter acknowledges that “Canada Post operates the largest retail network in Canada,” and that it needs to be financially self-sustaining, so it was important to study initiatives that could generate new revenue.

“Therefore, the parties agree to work together to study potential financial services offerings, as well as test proof of concepts, including, but not limited to, financial remittances and government cheque cashing,” reads the letter.

It says that by the end of April, Canada Post and the union would form a committee made up of two representatives from each side.

The committee would then have 18 months to review potential financial services that could be offered through CPAA’s rural post offices, and make written recommendations, with a preliminary report by January 2021.

“During negotiations we agreed to consider financial services proof-of-concept projects in select locations through a joint committee,” said Canada Post spokesperson Phil Legault.

“Unfortunately, in these unprecedented times, the start of the committee’s work has been delayed. Once details are available we will work with the CPAA to make them public.”

Canada Post “will allocate up to five hundred thousand dollars to the committee in order to allow it to carry out its mandate,” the letter adds. The money is expected to cover all costs associated with its work, including any contracted services.

‘Lots of what is needed is already there’

Elliott said Canada Post offers good, year-round, well-paid jobs with benefits, and offering financial services would help further support rural postmasters, who can then pass on the benefits to community members.

“The buildings are in place in rural Canada. They have secure post office buildings. There are employees in place. There’s infrastructure in place. There’s reliable internet into the post offices. Lots of what is needed is already there,” she said.

“Our CPAA members have a proven record of providing reliable, responsible, professional, consistent service within their communities — and a lot of cases, they are the only federal presence in a community.”

The position of the banks has not changed. A spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association told National Observer on Monday that the organization has “nothing further to add on this issue” since its comments made on June 13, 2016 to the Canada Post Review Task Force.

At that time, it said there was “no public policy objective or existing gap in the marketplace that would necessitate the Government of Canada entering into the business of retail banking through Canada Post.”

“Some proponents of postal banking have asserted that banking services are inaccessible in Canada. Contrary to these claims, banking is more accessible than ever,” it wrote. “In fact, the number of branches in Canada has increased from 6,151 in 2010 to 6,348 in 2014.”

By 2018, however, the number of branches had declined to 5,890, the most recent year statistics from CBA are available. That includes 806 branches in B.C. in 2018, down from a high of 828 branches in 2014.

Meanwhile, while the committee did acknowledge that rural Canadians want better access to banking services, it said many rural locations are “actually operated out of homes or small shacks” which it said was “not appropriate” for banking.

It also said rural broadband internet access should be a priority, to allow for more people to access online banking, instead of Canada Post venturing into an area “where it has limited expertise.”


Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer


Canada’s emissions rise, yet again. Can we please adopt U.K. Carbon Budget law now?

It’s that time of year again, when countries release their updated climate pollution inventories. This is when aspirational climate promises get measured against real-world pollution levels.

And for Canada, the latest results are terrible. The new data show that in 2018, our annual emissions rose yet again. This time, by a depressingly large 15 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). As my chart below shows, we are now emitting 729 MtCO2 per year — our highest level in more than a decade.

Canada and UK climate pollution 1990 to 2018Worse still, we’ve now erased all the progress we’ve made toward our international climate targets. We are now emitting the same amount of climate pollution as we did back in our 2005 baseline year. Thirteen years — zero progress toward our targets.

We don’t have to keep failing. Climate failure is a choice. We could choose climate success instead. For example, one thing we could quickly do is adopt the climate tool kit used successfully by our Commonwealth peer, the United Kingdom.

The U.K. emissions are shown as the blue line on the chart. The U.K. has a much larger population and much larger economy than we do. (In fact, both are nearly double our size.) So, it’s not surprising that back in 1990, they also emitted far more climate pollution than we did. Now, as the chart makes clear, they emit far, far less than we do.

While we’ve been busy increasing emissions by 125 MtCO2 per year, the U.K. has been cutting theirs by 330 MtCO2. The resulting climate-action gap between our two major economies is rapidly approaching half a billion tonnes per year.

Promises versus actions

Canadian and U.K. governments have both been making high-profile international climate commitments for decades. My next chart lets you see how each nation is living up to their promises.

The blue bull’s-eyes show major U.K. targets. For example, under the global Copenhagen Accord, they promised to cut their emissions to 20 per cent below their 1990 level by 2020. As you can see, they’ve already cut twice as much.

Canada and UK climate pollution vs climate targets 1990 to 2018

Canada’s targets are shown by the red bull’s-eyes. Our Copenhagen Accord target is 17 per cent below our 2005 level. That works out to just above our 1990 level. Despite setting a much higher target, we’ve never come anywhere close to meeting it. Instead, we’ve increased our annual emissions by 50 MtCO2 since we made our Copenhagen promise a decade ago.

So, what is the U.K. doing differently that we could adopt?

Carbon Budget tool kit

More than a decade ago, the U.K. passed a broad climate policy tool kit called the Climate Change Act 2008, also known as the “Carbon Budget” law. Here are four key things it does that Canada’s climate policy still does not.

“What are we waiting for? How much deeper into the gathering climate storm are we going to keep flying blind and dangerously off course?”

Key 1: It requires a plan

To start with, the law legally requires the U.K. government to create plans to meet all its climate targets. Hey, making a plan to reach your goal seems like an obvious thing to do, right?

But, while Canadian politicians regularly self-proclaim themselves to be climate leaders, the reality is that in 30 years of setting climate targets, Ottawa has never yet produced a plan to meet any of them.

The table on the right shows nine climate targets promised by Canadian governments. The Mulroney government set the first two back in 1988 and 1990. Table of Canadian Climate TargetsThe Chrétien government followed with two more, the most famous being our Kyoto Accord target set in 1997. Then, the Harper government followed with two increasingly weaker targets — “Turning the Corner” in 2007 and our Copenhagen Accord target in 2009. In 2016, the current Trudeau government set our Paris Agreement target.

Nine climate targets. Thirty years. Zero plans produced to meet any of them.

For example, it’s now been four years since Ottawa pledged Canada’s 2030 Paris Agreement target. And, as we will see in more detail below, the government’s own projections show that all their current and proposed policies won’t get us anywhere close to the target.

Adopting the U.K. Carbon Budget tool kit would be a gigantic climate leap forward in Canada just from the requirement that Ottawa must produce a plan to meet its targets.

Key 2: Acting soon enough

A second critical benefit of the U.K. Carbon Budget law is that it requires government to act “at least 12 years in advance to allow policy-makers, businesses and individuals enough time to prepare.”

Canadians would hugely benefit from having the luxury of such long lead times. As it is, we only have 10 years remaining to our 2030 climate target, and the neither the public nor the private sectors know what will be required of them. What we do know is that we have a still growing pile of emissions to cut, a rapidly deteriorating climate system increasing the urgency and a rapidly shrinking timeline in which to cut our pollution down to safe and sustainable levels.

Key 3: An independent committee

To remove politics from the process as much as possible, the U.K. tool kit includes an independent Committee of Climate Change (CCC). As their website explains, “the CCC was set up to ensure emissions targets are set based on expert independent assessment of the evidence and to monitor the U.K.’s progress toward meeting the targets.” The committee does the heavy lifting and then brings proposals for carbon budgets and the policies that could be used to meet them to the government to vote on. Then, the CCC makes sure the government of the day follows through.

Removing climate policy from political whiplash would make it far easier for Canadian individuals and businesses to plan ahead efficiently. It would help eliminate the chaotic policy reversals that come with each change in government. For example, as prime minister, Stephen Harper was famously opposed to carbon pricing: “Anybody who tells you that a carbon tax is an environmental policy is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.” A few years later, the new Trudeau government switched Ottawa’s focus to put carbon pricing at the centre of Canada’s climate policies. The Conservative opposition threatens to eliminate the policy when they get back in power.

Key 4: Carbon budgets that cover all emissions in all years

At the heart of the U.K. Climate Change Act tool kit is the concept of “carbon budgets.” The law requires the U.K. to set legally binding five-year carbon budgets. These must include all emissions in every year. These budgets are a critical tool to keep the country on track.

You can see the U.K.’s quarter-century of already-legislated carbon budgets as blue boxes on my chart below. And you can also see how their past emissions follow them down. Notice also that they already have policies in place that meet the next 10 years of carbon budgets.

Canada and UK climate pollution vs targets 1990 to 2018 with projections to 2030

Meanwhile, in Canada…

Now, take a look at where Canada is headed under our current policies. That’s the dotted red line I’ve added to the chart. Our current policies won’t get us anywhere close to our 2020 or 2030 climate commitments.

And Canada’s promised suite of additional “proposed” policies won’t either. See that red dot in 2030 labelled “with proposed policies?” That’s Ottawa’s own projection released just a few months ago in their Fourth Biennial Report to the United Nations. Not. Even. Close.

And that dot generously assumes that all the “proposed” policies actually get enacted — and on time. In Canada, that certainly isn’t a given, considering past political promises made and unmet:

      • “We will continue to do what we have to do to meet our Kyoto obligations” — then-natural resources minister Joe Oliver.
      • “Our government has a plan, a very good plan, to meet our target of reducing greenhouse gases by 17 per cent from 2005 base levels by 2020 … moving forward, we’re working toward achieving additional reductions from other sectors of the economy, focusing now on the oil and gas sector” — then-environment minister Peter Kent. After six years of promising regulations on the oil and gas sector, the Harper government eventually admitted they wouldn’t do it. If there was a secret plan to meet our 2020 target, the public never got to see it and as the chart above makes clear, it was never enacted.
      • “Based on our current climate plan, plus new initiatives we plan to undertake, our government is confident that we will meet and exceed our 2030 target” — current Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in a recent statement to Canada’s National Observer. So, does Ottawa really have a secret plan this time? If so, why can’t Canadians see it? Which Canadians will need to cut extra emissions, by how much and by when? Where are the projections showing Canada meeting our targets?

If Ottawa adopted the U.K. Carbon Budget tool kit, then Canadians would know there really is a plan. We would get to see it. We would know far in advance what the policies will be and what our roles will be. We’d have carbon budgets for guardrails to keep us on a steady track. And we’d have independent experts doing the heavy lifting to remove much of the destructive political whiplash and antagonism we experience now.

What are we waiting for? How much deeper into the gathering climate storm are we going to keep flying blind and dangerously off course?

Climate pollution per person

Comparing entire countries can sometimes seem abstract. So, I’ll wrap up with a chart comparing climate pollution per person.

Canada and UK climate pollution per capita 1990 to 2018

It shows that the Brits have cut their emissions per capita in half since 1990. They’ve dropped from 14 tonnes (tCO2) per person down to seven. That’s getting close to the world average.

The British still have a lot of emissions to cut, including those uncounted by all countries — international flights and shipping, plus from imported and exported goods. But they are making real progress on the emissions that all countries are responsible for under international rules — direct emissions inside their country.

Canadians, in contrast, have cut little from our direct emissions in the past three decades. Since 1990, our pollution per capita has gone from 22 tCO2 to 20 tCO2. At this rate, it will take us centuries just to get to where the British are now. We currently pollute triple the global average. And despite being one of the world’s “Dirty Dozen” climate polluters, both in total emissions and per capita, we haven’t taken responsibility for our excesses by meeting our climate commitments — or even by creating a plan that meets them.

Instead, our emissions are still heading in the wrong direction.

Can we please adopt a U.K.-style Carbon Budget tool kit now?

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