“Nobody told us we could do that!” exclaimed a startled British commentator when Britain suddenly abandoned the gold standard in the depths of the 1930s Depression.
The move came as a shock because everyone had assumed the gold standard — an international agreement linking currency rates to gold — was an immutable law of nature, along with much else about the economy.
And then, just like that, it was gone.
That sense of shock is probably not unlike what many people are feeling today as all our long-held assumptions about how the economy works — and what is and isn’t possible — suddenly seem no more certain than when we’ll be able to get our next tattoo.
For years, we’ve submitted to the economic orthodoxy dictated by Bay Street: that governments must deliver balanced budgets and low spending or economic disaster will follow — as surely as gravity will bring a heavy object plunging to the ground.
Then along came the pandemic. Suddenly the Bank of Canada is creating vast amounts of money, which the federal government is distributing to Canadians across the country.
Nobody told us we could do that!
In fact, it’s just what’s needed. To prevent an economic collapse, our central bank is buying $5 billion a week in government bonds, which is effectively creating money out of thin air.
Private banks do this all the time; they effectively create money whenever they issue a loan. It’s one of the reasons banking is such a lucrative business.
Now, the Bank of Canada is creating enormous sums of money to help pay for the federal government’s huge increase in spending during the pandemic.
Bay Street financial interests are grudgingly accepting this, given the emergency, but they want it to stop as soon as possible.
But wait! Not so fast! Now that we see how it can be done, one is tempted to ask: could this be a way to pay for increased government spending on future things we truly need — like building hospitals and public transit and investing in renewable energy?
This is the sort of dangerous thinking that a phalanx of powerful interests — from the Fraser Institute to the financial press — are keen to crush, realizing it could spread more easily than coronavirus at a crowded, maskless beach party.
But, as economist Jim Stanford suggests, “the genie is out of the bottle.”
Bay Street is determined to return to low government spending and to ensure that the recovery focuses, not on new aspirations, but on restoring the corporate world so that it’s as rich and dominant as it was before the crisis.
As the Fraser Institute’s Jason Clemens insists, the priority must be on tamping down government intervention and encouraging entrepreneurial innovation, while avoiding tax hikes.
In other words, resurrecting the old orthodoxy — and making sure the rich aren’t asked to pay a penny more.
This is exactly what financial interests urged during the 1930s Depression and it only prolonged the downturn.
The brilliant British economist John Maynard Keynes pointed out at the time that private enterprise wasn’t investing during the Depression because, with everyone out of work, there was little prospect of making a profit. He argued that the only solution was for government to step in and spend massively on needed projects.
“We have the savings, the men and the material,” he declared. “The things are worth doing.”
Keynes said that putting people back to work would create productive capacity — the very source of wealth: “It is utterly imbecile to say that we cannot afford these things. For it is with the unemployed men and the unemployed plant, and with nothing else, that these things are done.”
Keynes’ point was proved when U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vast government spending on New Deal projects put millions of Americans back to work building roads and power plants, and helped kick-start the recovery.
Roosevelt also defied economic orthodoxy by dramatically raising taxes on the rich.
Certainly, today, nobody is telling us we can do that!
But then, under the new reality of the pandemic, that looks like another bit of economic orthodoxy that now seems so 24 hours ago.
Children are very tuned into fairness and what’s right and wrong. Framing conversations about racism and injustice as fair vs. unfair can help them understand. Getty Images
Experts say positive discussions about race and racism are important to have with children right now — especially in homes where this hasn’t been a topic of discussion before.
It’s important to help children understand that there are people in this world who judge others unfairly based on their skin color, and to be honest with them about why people are protesting right now.
Focusing on the historical context of how protests have led to change in the past can help kids better understand and react with less fear.
As protests advocating for an end to racial inequality and police brutality continue to grow in communities around the country, many children may have questions about the images they’re seeing on the news and the conversations they’re hearing.
For children, current events can be difficult to understand. However, experts say positive discussions about race and racism are important to have with children right now — especially in homes where it hasn’t been a topic of discussion before now.
“Unfortunately, our children of color — especially our black children — have been aware and probably to some extent have experienced the direct and indirect result of systemic racism,” said Ana Marcelo, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts.
One of Marcelo’s academic focuses has been on ethnic-racial identity in early childhood and the experiences children have in regard to their race and ethnicity.
“Conversations about racism and discrimination have been part of the daily lives of black families even before George Floyd,” Marcelo explained.
But because of the social media coverage, she said most kids probably have at least some awareness of recent events and issues surrounding race — even those who don’t identify as black themselves.
How to start conversations about race and racism with kids
While Marcelo said these conversations have been happening in black families for a long time now, she explained that white families need to be engaging in conversations about race, racism, and oppression regularly with their children, too.
“White parents and caregivers can play an instrumental role in making their children aware of privileges and inequalities that are related to one’s race,” she said.
To do this, she said parents can start by gaining a sense of what their children already understand.
Talk to them. Ask questions. What do they know about recent events? Why do they think is happening? What do these events mean to them?
“It is important for parents and caregivers to follow their children’s lead — explaining what they may not understand and answering questions they may have. This is a better approach than dismissing their questions or preventing them from knowing more about the recent events,” Marcelo said.
Monique Stanton holds a master’s degree in social justice and is the president and CEO of CARE of Southeastern Michigan, a group committed to providing a variety of social services to the local community, to include parenting support and education.
She said that children are fully aware of what’s happening right now, and that avoiding conversations about the deaths that have occurred unjustly will not protect them or help them feel safe and secure.
“Regularly talking to your children about what is happening in the world is essential. If you haven’t started already, this is the perfect starting point to begin dialogue about racism with your children. This is a process — it’s not a one and done conversation,” Stanton explained.
How to keep conversations about race and racism age-appropriate
Katie Lear is a licensed clinical mental health counselor specializing in childhood anxiety and trauma. She said that even young children recognize differences in hair color and skin tone, though they may lack the vocabulary to discuss those differences and may not have been given opportunities to have conversations about race.
“You can help your child discuss race and racism in an age-appropriate way by first normalizing that race is really something that’s okay to talk about: It’s not a taboo, even though it may feel uncomfortable,” Lear said.
She explained that it’s important to help children understand that there are people in this world who judge others unfairly based on their skin color, and to be honest with them about why people are angry right now. To include the fact that this unfair treatment sometimes comes from powerful people and those who are supposed to protect us, like police officers.
“Children are very tuned into fairness and what’s right and wrong, so framing this as a discussion of fair vs. unfair can help them understand,” Lear said.
How to talk to kids about riots and looting
Explaining the protests is one thing, but in many areas impacted by riots and looting, parents may be hesitant to talk about what’s going on because they don’t want to frighten their children.
Experts say those are conversations that need to be happening, though.
“Again, it is important for us to recognize that our children of color, especially our black children, have been living in fear for their lives and the lives of other people in their ethnic-racial group,” Marcelo said.
For this reason, white parents shouldn’t have the luxury of looking away and shielding their children from it.
“White parents need to talk about these uprisings in the historical context of systemic racism,” Marcelo explained. “We can’t just talk about these events in the context of George Floyd’s killing.”
To have those conversations, she said it’s important to first get a feel for how your children are already perceiving these events. Are they scared? Can they articulate what they’re scared about? Do they understand what’s going on?
Once you have a feel for where your child is at, you can better approach these discussions with them.
“We must reassure children that it is OK to be scared or concerned about these events,” Marcelo said, adding that we should be honest with our answers.
“It is important for us to listen to our children about their fears and their thoughts about the situation and give them a safe space to ask questions and express these feelings,” she added.
But she explained that parents also have a responsibility to ensure their kids understand the influence of context in these events. In other words, it’s important to talk to them about why this is happening.
Even in areas affected by riots and looting, though, Stanton said the focus should be on the protests when talking to kids.
“The overwhelming majority of people that are coming to protest have been, and continue to be, peaceful. Protests have occurred in all 50 states, in large and small cities, and in some cities throughout the world,” Stanton said.
Focusing on that — and on the historical context of how protests have led to change in the past — can help kids to better understand and react with less fear.
Bringing kids to protests
“Protests can be an excellent learning experience for children and model that it’s important for kids of all races to take action: It’s not enough to not be racist, we need to be anti-racist,” Lear said.
Of course, deciding whether or not to bring your children to a protest is very personal.
While Stanton said it can be a powerful way for kids to engage in their community, she suggests parents may want to consider the age and size of the child, and the time and location of the protest.
If you do decide to bring your child to a protest, she said there are steps you can take to better ensure the safety of all involved.
“Make sure to talk to them first about what they will see,” Stanton said. “Similar to other large events, if your children are a little older, make sure you have a plan of what to do if they were to get separated from you.”
She suggests everyone attending should have emergency contact information on them — this can be written in permanent marker on a child’s arm.
“There is still a concern about COVID-19 so you and children over the age of 2 should wear a mask,” she added.
Resources for talking to children
The experts that spoke with Healthline suggested several potential resources for helping parents address issues of race, oppression, and inequality with their children such as:
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of talking to children about ethnicity, race, racism, oppression, and inequality,” Marcelo said. “However, conversations about these topics should not only focus on the negative experiences involving race.”
She said she wants parents to teach children to acknowledge and appreciate ethnic-racial diversity.
“We must recognize that race is an important part of a person’s identity and development even at an early age, rather than professing (or trying) to operate as a colorblind society,” she said.
Above and beyond just talking about racial identities and discrimination, our experts all agreed that modeling anti-racism is an important step for parents to take.
Stanton said parents need to continue to educate themselves about how to combat racism, and that starts by looking at the media they consume — particularly for parents who aren’t people of color.
“Read, watch, and listen to media created by people of color. Look at your social media and make a conscious effort to follow people and organizations that are engaged in anti-racism work. Question your own beliefs, actions, and inactions,” Stanton said.
She added that children are watching and listening right now.
They’re paying attention to how you respond when a friend or family member makes racist jokes. They’re aware when you choose to slink away instead of confronting racism when you see it.
“It’s your responsibility to stop those jokes and comments. Your children see what you do. It’s not enough just to say you are an ally, you need to do the uncomfortable work of calling out racism when you see it,” she said.
The more uncomfortable it feels, the more necessary it likely is.
But perhaps if we do the hard work today, our children will be able to grow up into a different, better world tomorrow.
Wendy Nahanee is a member of the Squamish Nation and a program manager with the group called Culture Saves Lives. She says she has experienced discrimination and abuse at the hands of police in both Vancouver and West Vancouver. (Bem Nelms)
As protests erupt across North America following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Indigenous women are speaking out about discrimination and violence they have experienced by police in British Columbia, saying not enough is being done to address racism in the forces.
“They are very afraid of the police,” says Cree lawyer Amber Prince, who represents a number of Vancouver Indigenous women who say they have been abused and discriminated against by police.
Prince won a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case for Deborah Campbell, an Indigenous woman who was dragged at least 20 feet by a Vancouver police officer in 2016 when she tried to peacefully witness her son being arrested. He was later released without charges.
The tribunal ordered the VPD to pay Campbell $20,000 in compensation. It also ruled more training was needed to improve officer interactions with Indigenous people. Prince says that training has yet to be done, which she notes is apparent in recent Vancouver police interactions with Indigenous women.
“Since the decision, I have heard from women who say they were assaulted by police, that police have used excessive force against them, that they have been given bylaw tickets that appear to be baseless,” Prince said.
‘None of this should happen’
The Vancouver Police Department declined an interview with the CBC and refused to answer specific questions, but in a statement said officers already partake in training about the oppression of Indigenous people and take anti-bias and anti-racism training.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart — who is also the chair of the Vancouver Police Board — says he knows there are problems within the city’s police service.
“None of this should happen,” Stewart said.
He said while discrimination against Indigenous people is undeniable and needs to be rooted out, he added: “You can’t conflate what is happening in the U.S. to what is happening in Canada, where you see massive investments in a militarized police.”
Still, he agrees with Amber Prince and others who say the VPD desperately needs to improve its relations with Indigenous people.
“It’s our job as a board to put the policies in place and make sure that everyone is treated equally and protected,” he said.
He acknowledges that having more diverse officers and board members will ultimately help reduce racism in the police ranks, adding that training is on the way, once restrictions around COVID-19 are loosened.
“We have developed a new course with Reconciliation Canada, through the Justice Institute that all new recruits will go through,” Stewart said.
He also mentioned that executives within the VPD would be provided with similar training but remained vague about the training of more senior officers.
The CBC has learned that the VPD’s decision to work with Reconciliation Canada came after an incident in December where an Indigenous grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed outside a BMO branch after an employee suspected them of fraud. The pair was released with no charges.
For some Indigenous women though, the forthcoming training provides little comfort.
Wendy Nahanee is a Squamish woman who works in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver as a program manager with the group Culture Saves Lives.
When she and her son were assaulted in what she calls a racially motivated attack, she says the Vancouver police didn’t meet with her to take a report, failed to follow up, and she felt they disregarded her complaint.
But it’s another incident from the ’90s that instilled a life-long fear of police in her.
She was driving with friends from her reserve in North Vancouver to the Park Royal Mall when the West Vancouver police pulled her over for a traffic violation.
“One of the people in the back seat didn’t have their seatbelt on, so they shuffled to put it on,” Nahanee said.
That’s when she said the officers became suspicious.
“They pulled me out of the car by my hair, threw me on the ground with a gun in my face asking what gang I was affiliated with,” she said, noting she has never been involved with any gang.
“I was terrified, I thought I was going to die,” she said from her current home in Vancouver.
West Vancouver Police say they can’t confirm the specific incident, but admit there’s a long way to go.
“We have an understanding that there’s a long history and long-lasting effects on those who experienced the hardship and horrific events at the hands of police,” said Constable Kevin Goodmurphy.
Nahanee understands all too well what he means by long-lasting affects.
“I tell my son to run from the police,” she said.
“As a person of colour, you are a target … everyone else is told to go to the police, they are here to protect you, but it’s the exact opposite for Indigenous people.”
Angela Sterritt, CBC Reporter, is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt’s news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column ‘Reconcile This’ tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea? email@example.com
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam at the Chateau Lacombe Hotel in Edmonton on Dec. 9, 2010.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation says he was brutally beaten by RCMP officers and his wife manhandled after they left a popular casino-nightclub in Fort McMurray, Alta., on March 10, the kind of alleged police violence that he argues happens all too frequently to Indigenous Canadians.
Chief Adam, who was recently re-elected to a third term and espouses strong partnerships with companies in the oil sands, told The Globe and Mail RCMP officers beat him up and roughed up his wife, Freda Courtoreille, over an expired licence plate.
Chief Adam provided a photograph to The Globe that he took after he was released from police lockup that shows a bloodied and bruised face. The chief and his Edmonton lawyer, Brian Beresh, say video evidence of excessive use of force that was taken by a civilian will be presented at a news conference on Saturday in Fort McMurray.
Chief Adam is calling for an outside police force to investigate and for the Mounties to turn over their own video evidence to investigators and the media.
RCMP headquarters in Ottawa referred the matter to the Alberta division in Edmonton, which disputed the chief’s allegations of excessive police force.
“During the course of the arrest, Mr. Adam was resisting the members and, unfortunately, to bring the situation under control, the members were required to use force to effect the arrest,” Fraser Logan, the Alberta RCMP’s media relations manager, said in a statement to The Globe. “This incident was captured on the in-car video system in the police vehicle…and it was determined that the members’ actions were reasonable.”
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, a civilian agency that investigates incidents involving police, is not currently looking into the matter, spokeswoman Sharon Craig said.
Chief Adam faces charges of resisting arrest and assault of a police officer. The RCMP said it would not release its video because “this is a matter before the courts.”
Mr. Beresh challenged the RCMP to release the video, which he has seen and said it shows excessive force. He compared what is shown in the video to what happened to George Floyd, the Black American who died from police violence in Minneapolis.
“We want the police video to be made public because that shows an officer arriving on the scene, without any notice, without any inquiry, making a tackle and a number of punches [thrown], which is similar to George Floyd,” Mr. Beresh said. “In the police video, one can make out him [Adam] saying, ‘I cannot breathe,’ … so show the video, but they will not want to do that.”
Chief Adam said the incident happened in the early hours of March 10, when he, his wife and his niece left the Boomtown Casino. They got in their truck – with his wife as the designated driver – and were waiting for a friend to join them when they noticed an RCMP vehicle behind them.
Chief Adam said he did not realize the licence plate and registration of his truck had expired on Jan. 31. He had just picked it up from the police pound, where it had been for 60 days after his daughter was stopped for driving without a licence and Chief Adam had reported it stolen.
As Ms. Courtoreille was about to drive away, Chief Adam said an RCMP officer knocked on the window, and when she rolled it down, he put his arm inside, put the vehicle in park and told her the truck was not moving anywhere.
Chief Adam, who identified himself as chief of the First Nations community, which is well known in the area, said he got out of the truck to explain to the officer that he just picked it up from the police pound and wasn’t aware the licence plate had expired.
“And now he says, ‘I have had enough of this,’ and he grabs my wife, takes my wife out of the vehicle and puts my wife in a famous RCMP hold [arm-lock in the back]. And my wife suffers from rheumatoid stage 4 arthritis. She is just starting to recover and feel good and everything, and they tried to put her down on the ground and put handcuffs on her,” he said.
“I am watching this whole thing and I say, ‘Hey wait a minute, stop.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Get back.’ He told me to get back. I said, ‘No way. You let my wife go right now. If not, you will get it,’ I told him. Right then, he let my wife go and I told my wife to get in the vehicle and she went running into the vehicle and I told that cop you don’t have no way to touch my wife.”
He said that while his friend was trying to calm him down in the back of the truck, Ms. Courtoreille got out to talk to the officer, but he “grabbed her again, put her in an arm-lock and slams her against the truck.”
Chief Adam broke down in tears as he described what happened.
“I am the chief and I am watching the RCMP manhandle my wife and I am supposed to protect her,” he said. He said he persuaded the officer to let his wife return to the vehicle, at which point, other police cars arrived.
Chief Adam said the same officer grabbed him by the arm and was leading him to an RCMP panel truck when a second officer “out of nowhere … just clothes-lined me and knocked me down and cut my face and everything.
“I thought I was going to go unconscious, and then I noticed I was gushing with blood coming out of my mouth. And when I was gushing with blood, something said [to me], ‘Don’t pass out. Wake up, wake up.’ So I came through, and that is when I felt someone hitting me from the back side and pulling my head and extending my arms,” he said.
While he was handcuffed in the police van, Chief Adam said other officers grabbed his wife out of the truck.
“Then they hauled my wife out of the truck and, based [on] what I have seen on the video, he was reaching for his handgun. And this is my wife,” he said. “They had her in an arm-lock and they put handcuffs on her and they took her to the police cruiser and told my wife she was charged with obstructing justice.”
A supervising officer arrived and released Ms. Courtoreille without charges. But Chief Adam was taken to the RCMP detachment, where he was charged with resisting arrest and unlawful assault of a police officer.
Chief Adam said he did not come forward right away on the advice of counsel and because he was involved in developing COVID-19 pandemic plans for his reserve.
He is a survivor of sexual and physical abuse at the Holy Angels residential school in Fort Chipewyan.
“I know how it feels like to be a victim. I know what it feels like to resist and fight back and say it will never happen again and, unfortunately, it happened to me again,” he said. “I see our young people across Canada get beat up by RCMP and city police and I think to myself, who speaks for them?”
Five hundred species are likely to become extinct over the next two decades, according to a new study.
A farmer walked through a burned area of Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Brazil, last year.Credit…Carl De Souza/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
We are in the midst of a mass extinction, many scientists have warned — this one driven not by a catastrophic natural event, but by humans. The unnatural loss of biodiversity is accelerating, and if it continues, the planet will lose vast ecosystems and the necessities they provide, including fresh water, pollination, and pest and disease control.
On Monday, there was more bad news: We are racing faster and closer toward the point of collapse than scientists previously thought, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The extinction rate among terrestrial vertebrate species is significantly higher than prior estimates, and the critical window for preventing mass losses will close much sooner than formerly assumed — in 10 to 15 years.
“We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general,” said Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and lead author of the new study.
The current rate of extinctions vastly exceeds those that would occur naturally, Dr. Ceballos and his colleagues found. Scientists know of 543 species lost over the last 100 years, a tally that would normally take 10,000 years to accrue.
“In other words, every year over the last century we lost the same number of species typically lost in 100 years,” Dr. Ceballos said.
If nothing changes, about 500 more terrestrial vertebrate species are likely to go extinct over the next two decades alone, bringing total losses equivalent to those that would have taken place naturally over 16,000 years.
To determine how many species are on the brink of extinction, Dr. Ceballos and co-authors Paul Ehrlich, a conservation biologist at Stanford University, and Peter Raven, an environmentalist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, turned to population data for 29,400 terrestrial vertebrate species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Of those species, 515 — or 1.7 percent — are critically endangered, they found, with fewer than 1,000 individuals remaining. About half of these species comprise fewer than 250 individuals.
The researchers also examined species with populations between 1,000 and 5,000. When the scientists added those 388 species to their original analysis, they found an 84 percent geographic overlap — largely in the tropics — with species in the critically endangered group.
The loss of some will likely trigger a domino effect that sends others into a downward spiral, ultimately threatening entire ecosystems, the authors report. Dr. Ceballos compared this process to removing bricks from the wall of a house.
“If you take one brick out, nothing happens — maybe it just becomes noisier and more humid inside,” he said. “But if you take too many out, eventually your house will collapse.”
Conservationists, therefore, should consider all species with populations under 5,000 individuals to be in danger of extinction, Dr. Ceballos and his colleagues concluded.
“This is a substantial increase in what we have typically thought of as endangered,” said Daniel Blumstein, an ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the research.
The new study also emphasizes the importance of protecting individual populations of animals, not just a species itself. Based on an analysis of the current and historical ranges of critically endangered species, the researchers calculated that more than 237,000 individual populations have disappeared since 1900.
In a previous study, Dr. Ceballos and Dr. Ehrlich similarly found that 32 percent of 27,600 vertebrate species’ populations are declining around the world.
As populations disappear from geographic areas, the species’ function there also disappears. The loss of honeybees in the United States, for example, would deal an economic blow of more than $15 billion, but the species itself would still survive elsewhere around the world.
“The population declines of common species — top predators, large-bodied herbivores like the rhino, pollinators and others — have large effects on the way ecosystems function even when they are far from extinction,” said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, who was not involved in the research.
“Ceballos and his colleagues are telling us with scientific certainty that the survival of these species is linked to our own survival,” she added.
Dr. Ehrlich emphasized that the study’s overall findings were almost certainly a gross underestimate of the true scope of the extinction problem. Their analysis did not take plants or aquatic or invertebrate species into account, and it included only approximately 5 percent of terrestrial vertebrates for which scientists have population data.
The findings are “in fact what one would expect in the gathering biodiversity crisis,” said Thomas Lovejoy, an ecologist at George Mason University, who was not involved in the research. The paper “should be considered a major wake-up call while there is still time to make a difference.”
That so few people are aware of the impending crisis, Dr. Lovejoy added, is a cause of the crisis itself.
Many who are aware may simply feel the loss is not consequential. “People say, ‘What the hell of a difference does it make to me?’” Dr. Ehrlich said.
But often the role of a particular plant or animal in an ecosystem has become apparent only after the species in question is gone.
Passenger pigeons, for example, once numbered in the billions. Their voracious appetite for seeds limited population growth of other seed-eating species, including white-footed mice — the natural reservoir for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
After the passenger pigeon’s extinction, white-footed mice populations exploded, and the risks to human health increased. The impacts of the passenger pigeon’s extinction, researchers wrote in Science, “are still being felt a century after the last passenger pigeon died.”
As humans continue to encroach on nature and wildlife, Dr. Ceballos and his colleagues warn of a cascading series of impacts — including more frequent occurrences of new diseases and pandemics. The coronavirus that launched the pandemic originated in a wild animal, most scientists believe.
“The vaccine for Covid-19 was natural habitat,” Dr. Ceballos said. “The pandemic is a great example of how badly we’ve treated nature.”
With enough species losses, ecosystems will eventually fail, destabilizing economies and governments and triggering famine and refugee crises. But there are steps that can be taken now, Dr. Ceballos said.
Habitat loss and wildlife trade are currently responsible for the brunt of the problem, whereas climate change has yet to unleash “the full tsunami” of its impacts, Dr. Ceballos said.
To offset the most urgent wave of extinctions, he and his colleagues call for an immediate end to illegal wildlife trade.
“There’s no way this can be continued, wiping out species and putting the whole of humanity in danger,” Dr. Ceballos said. “We can solve this immediate problem.”
They also call for a halt to deforestation and a complete reform of the legal wildlife trade — one that prioritizes sustainability over profits.
“The most fundamental problem is reducing the scale of the human enterprise, especially its consumptive demands on the biosphere,” Dr. Ehrlich said.
Making these changes will require electing leaders who prioritize the environment, redistributing resources and slowing human population growth. To help organize these efforts, Dr. Ceballos and Dr. Ehrlich launched a new global initiative called Stop Extinction.
The initiative aims to provide a framework for creating new national agreements, as well as tools for educating and activating the public about the unfolding extinction crisis.
“All of us need to understand that what we do in the next five to 10 years will define the future of humanity,” Dr. Ceballos said.
Forest elephants in Ivindo National Park in Gabon last year.Credit…Amaury Hauchard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Environmental Justice Commission was founded with the recognition that action to address the climate and nature crises need not be about staving off the worst, but can instead be about imagining a better world which we can build together. A future where people and nature can thrive, centred on good jobs and meaningful work, low carbon businesses, and where inequalities are reduced and opportunities offered to all. A future where progress is measured by the quality of life, security and wellbeing of all citizens as well as the health of our natural world.
It is the view of the commission, however, that not only is time running out to address the disaster of the climate crises and the degradation of nature, but that there is also a deficit of positive ambition about what transforming to a clean, healthy and environmentally rich economy could mean to citizens here and abroad. The commission aims to provide this ambition by articulating a vision for a renewed economy and a clear pathway of action of how to get there, through a rapid and fair transition which puts people at its heart.
This interim report of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission finds that to act with the ambition and at the scale that the climate and nature emergency demands, requires a new approach. An approach where we take faster action to tackle the climate and nature crisis, go further in the transformation of our economy and deliver a fairer transition for all. Central to the ethos of the commission is the recognition that there is an inextricable link between addressing the climate and nature emergency and tackling economic and social injustice.
Growth often doesn’t benefit the people who need it – a green economy could create 1 million jobs
‘A green recovery does not mean adding on a few green job programmes to a larger, fossil-fuelled stimulus.’ Low Bentham Solar Park, North Yorkshire. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
The UK lockdown might be easing, but the path ahead for the economy will be long and difficult. Unemployment this quarter is likely to rise twice as fast as it did following the global financial crisis. Almost half of businesses that have taken up one of the government’s bounce-back loans do not expect to be able to pay it back.
It’s tempting in a crisis to want to do whatever it takes to get economic activity – measured by GDP – back to where it was before. But an overwhelming and singular focus on increasing GDP would be a mistake. GDP figures do not tell us who is benefitting from growth. GDP does not tell us whether environmental resources – and nature – are being dangerously depleted, and does not reflect the value of caring, much of which is performed by women.
Boris Johnson has called for the UK to “build back better”, but to use government resources and capacity most effectively and – more fundamentally – to take the opportunity to build a better kind of economy and society, we need to know what it is we want to rebuild. This is precisely the moment to think beyond a blind pursuit of GDP, about what kind of economic activity to bring back and prioritise, and what we could do without. Any stimulus package must be tailored to create not just any economic activity, but that which will serve society best. As a result, any recovery or spending plan should be scrutinised not just on its size, but what it is spent on.
This must be a green recovery. That does not mean adding on a few green job programmes to a larger, fossil-fuelled stimulus: the whole recovery package must accelerate the UK’s path to net-zero carbon and restore our natural environment, which is in crisis. Anything else risks emerging from one disaster only to accelerate headlong into another. As the government turns on the taps to boost the economy, there is a huge opportunity to fill the £30bn per year funding gap for green investment.
The recovery must involve a reconsideration of what is valuable in society. The pandemic has put into stark relief the extraordinary contribution of health and care workers, many of whom are women and migrants, and the essential support of key workers across the economy. The recovery must recognise that contribution in higher pay and better working conditions. So, too, the pandemic has caused conversations up and down the country about unpaid care work and who performs it. But the easing of lockdown has prioritised marketised activity over human relationships, which don’t require cash. You can visit your parents at home, but only if you want to purchase their house or clean it. The recovery should recognise and reflect what is important to people and valuable – not just economic activity.
Talking about and targeting the “economy” as an abstraction masks the underlying shape and nature of the activity taking place underneath. It means we miss people: who loses out, and who benefits from the status quo being restored. Lockdown has found us in a collective moment of reimagining, but this will not last for ever: we should use it to ask what economic activity we want to rebuild, and what we could do without.
In the face of protests, inequality and rising climate threats, a coronavirus recovery needs to spur a “greener, smarter, fairer” world
A Youth for Climate activist holds a sign as she demonstrates during a day of protest to denounce the annual Black Friday shopping frenzy in Nantes, France, November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
LONDON, June 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As protests over racial injustice sweep the United States and a virus-driven global downturn threatens to hike inequality, spending to restart economies must focus on creating a “greener, smarter and fairer world”, top public figures urged Wednesday.
About 170 nations will see their economies shrink this year, bringing more debt, deficits and “a very high risk” of greater poverty and economic disparity, said Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“We know that this pandemic, if left to its own devices, is going to deepen inequality,” she told an online event organised by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
But if stimulus spending – which the United Nations says could amount to 10% of global GDP – helps strengthen “the social fabric of our societies” and protect vulnerable people, it could result in “a better world for all”, she said.
The money might be invested in expanding social programmes, improving education, creating low-carbon jobs and reducing climate-change risks, which hit the poor hardest, she said.
Britain’s Prince Charles said the pandemic – and financial stimulus to battle it – offered a rare opportunity to wrest the world’s economy onto a more sustainable path.
“We have a golden opportunity to seize something good from this crisis. Its unprecedented shockwaves may well make people more receptive to big visions of change,” he added.
But, as climate change and other threats to stability grow globally, there is only a “rapidly shrinking window of opportunity to rethink”, he added. “It’s an opportunity we have never had before and may never have again,” he warned.
The WEF and partner organisations on Wednesday proposed a “Great Reset” initiative to ensure the pandemic recovery puts economies onto a more sustainable and fairer path.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Britain’s Prince Charles visits the Sandringham Flower Show at Sandringham House, Norfolk, July 25, 2018. Arthur Edwards/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
Ma Jun, chairman of the China Green Finance Committee, said government spending to battle coronavirus-linked economic downturns is likely to reach 10% of GDP in the United States and Europe, and about 8% of GDP in China.
With global warming-related risks rising each year, those “very, very big” sums must be spent in ways that not only create jobs and restart economies but set the world up to deal with the looming climate crisis too, he said.
“The recovery has to be greener than any of the previous recoveries,” he said.
That could mean taking a hard look at the carbon footprint of stimulus projects and giving consumers incentives to spend support cash on everything from energy-efficient air conditioners and refrigerators to electric cars, he said.
Bernard Looney, CEO of British energy giant BP, said bailout funding for companies should have “green conditions” attached, and that current low fossil-fuel prices presented a perfect opportunity to ditch subsidies for oil, gas and coal.
“Energy prices should reflect real costs,” he told the event.
One of his company’s own U.S. refinery workers had told him he would prefer to see his hydrocarbon job vanish than put his grandchildren’s lives at risk from climate threats, Looney said.
Brad Smith, president of tech multinational Microsoft, said he believed consumer products should carry emissions labels – like nutrition indicators on packaged food – to help buyers choose low-carbon options.
“If we can empower consumers, I think we unleash this next generation to have a broader impact more quickly,” he said, noting that his firm aims to remove more planet-warming emissions from the atmosphere than it emits by 2030.
But whether corporate behemoths and international finance agencies are genuinely prepared to make the sweeping changes required to rapidly slash emissions, abandon short-term financial incentives and narrow inequality remains unclear.
Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s executive chairman, warned that the risks of failing to transform are rising.
Ignoring growing threats “would lead to amplification of many of the events we see today – polarisation, nationalism, racism and ultimately social unrest and conflicts”, he said.
An analysis of the factors driving Ontario’s high electricity costs
Former United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Stephen Burns (right) stands with Brian Duncan, former Senior Vice President at the Darlington nuclear power plant in Ontario, examining the turbine building during a tour of the plant. Photo from Flickr.
Slashing utility bills for ratepayers in Ontario was one of Doug Ford’s key campaign promises during the 2018 provincial election. He vowed to honour the commitment by cancelling 758 “wasteful energy projects” and halting the cap-and-trade program. Following his political victory, Ford actualized his campaign pledge, peddling the government’s bold move as a cost saving measure. Ontario families will save about $260 annually on their utility bills, according to a 2018 press release.
“For 15 years, Ontario families and businesses have been forced to pay inflated hydro prices, so the government could spend on unnecessary and expensive energy schemes. Those days are over,” proclaimed a news release from the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.
The programs Ford was railing about date back to 2016, when the former Liberal government introduced the Climate Change Action Plan, a strategy to implement the cap-and-trade program and the 758 renewable projects. The renewable projects were designed to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, transition Ontario’s electricity sector toward a low carbon economy, and cut Ontario’s electricity rates. Following the implementation of these two programs, both on-peak and off- peak electricity rates started to fall.
On-peak and off-peak pricing refers to what time of day Ontario ratepayers are consuming electricity. Also known as time-of-use rates, consumers are charged higher prices during on-peak times (for example, between noon and 5:00 p.m. during weekdays from May to October) and lower prices during off-peak times (such as between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. during weekdays from May to October).
In May 2016, on-peak electricity rates were 18 cents per-kilowatt-hour (kWh). The following year in May 2017, on-peak rates dropped to 15.7 cents per kWh. On-peak pricing dropped again in July 2017 to 13.2 cents per kWh, holding that rate constant until May 2018. In May 2019, on-peak electricity prices increased slightly to 13.4 cents per kWh.
Doug Ford was elected to provincial parliament in June 2018, and by November 2019, on-peak pricing was 20.8 cents per kWh. Between May and November 2019, both on-peak and off-peak pricing for per kWh hour jumped 7.4 cents and 3.6 cents respectively.
The current provincial government will not be able to keep their promise of affordable electricity rates without relying on expensive and inefficient utility subsidies. This reality that has been made abundantly clear during the current global health crisis. As of March 2020, all utility rates dropped to 10.1 cents per kWh, a plunge resulting from a subsidy Ford implemented to help families during COVID-19. If the renewable programs were not cut, nor the cap-and-trade cancelled, perhaps the provincial government would not have to resort to freezing electricity prices, a move that will cost the province in the long run.
Cancelling the 758 renewable energy projects and the cap-and-trade program has already cost the Province of Ontario about $231 million. The cap-and-trade program funded renewable projects by taxing heavy polluters who surpassed an emissions cap, while also allowing the trade of emissions within the market. The system created a price on carbon pollution, but allowed the market, not the government, to set the carbon price. Cutting this program has diverted $1.9 billion in revenue away from the provincial government, according to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO). Essentially, the province’s total debt has increased, while heavy polluters are left unrestrained to emit GHGs into the environment. It is not difficult to imagine that financially powerful, heavy-polluting organizations had a vested interest in supporting the government’s decision to kill the cap-and-trade program, given that tax dollars were financing a sector proving their own irrelevancy.
The jump in utility prices in November 2019 also stems from two multibillion-dollar nuclear refurbishment projects at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station and the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. In fact, a large portion of the province’s current debt stems from the high costs incurred while building nuclear generating stations in the 1970s and 1980s. Ford’s government also aims to ramp up electricity generation from Ontario’s gas fired power plants.
Approximately $130 million in ratepayer funded financial support has been made available for new natural gas projects between 2021 and 2023. Considering the urgency of the climate crisis, the drastic drop in wind and solar costs over the last five years, and the availability of cheap hydroelectricity, Ontario’s abrupt pivot toward expanding natural gas and unwavering intent to develop an expensive and dangerous nuclear sector is startling.
Why is the Government of Ontario trying to stall renewable energy development when renewables provide the cheapest and cleanest source of electricity? Specifically, why spend millions of dollars to cut clean energy projects, only to turn around and spend billions more to develop an economically floundering nuclear sector and prop up an environmentally disastrous oil industry? The answer to these questions lies in the historic bias of Ontario’s energy institutions—these organizations lean toward heavy-polluting or expensive means of electricity production because generations of conventional problem-solving dictate one-track solutions.
A brief history of Ontario’s electricity sector
Up until the late 1990s, electricity in Ontario was generated and distributed through the former crown corporation, Ontario Hydro. In an attempt to stimulate market competition, Ontario Hydro was restructured into five separate entities in 1999: Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Ontario Hydro Services Company (later to become Hydro One), Independent Market Operator (later to become Independent Electricity System Operator), Electrical Safety Authority, and Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation (OEFC). Prior to restructuring, Ontario Hydro constructed a large nuclear fleet between 1971-1989. The fleet included the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, and the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. High construction costs and cost and time overruns pushed the infrastructure debt for these projects to well over $38.1 billion.
According to a Consultation Paper published by the Government of Ontario, the province’s debt tripled following the construction of the nuclear fleet, which in part influenced the restructuring of Ontario Hydro. “Through the 1990s, more than 35 percent of every electricity bill in Ontario paid for debt interest—one of the highest percentages in the industrialized world,” according to the government document. Ontario Hydro’s vulnerable financial situation was “closely associated with the mismanagement of its nuclear power plants.” Debt jumped from $12 billion to more than $38 billion in only a few years, while the newly built power plants were operating well below expected capacity in the late 1990s. Moreover, the mounting debt from the nuclear reactors diverted necessary funding away from other key areas in the electricity sector, such as the maintenance of transmission and distribution systems. The transmission system refers to the towers and wires that transfer power over long distances, and the distribution system refers to the delivery of electricity to local homes and businesses. “Out of control costs meant that required investments were not made,” noted the Consultation Paper.
Expensive and inadequate nuclear projects played a heavy hand in Ontario Hydro’s restructuring, acting as a measure to move provincial debt to a regulatory body. The province’s electricity financial bookkeeper, the OEFC, inherited the $38.1 billion in total debt and other liabilities from the former Ontario Hydro. To help pay down this debt, Ontario electricity ratepayers were on the hook for a “debt retirement charge,” which was implemented following the Ontario Hydro restructuring and remained in effect until March 2018. Although the debt retirement charge has been cancelled, Ontario remains in debt from these reactors. In 2018, the total legacy debt was $19.1 billion.
OPG is one of the five entities created from the Ontario Hydro restructuring in 1999. The crown corporation is wholly owned by the Government of Ontario, and serves as the largest electricity generating operation in the province. The company generates electricity using hydroelectric dams, nuclear reactors, gas power plants, biomass plants, and solar photovoltaic plants, producing about half of the electricity consumed in Ontario. OPG owns two of the three nuclear plants in the province, the Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations.
The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) was created to fulfill the responsibilities of an independent regulatory body by ensuring legislative compliance with Ontario’s energy policies. The Board aims to “improve the rules and procedures that govern Ontario’s wholesale electricity market.” A board chair and two vice-chairs are responsible for overseeing OEB management and to ensure operations comply with four specific principles: ethical behaviour, prudent, efficient and lawful use of public resources, fairness, and high-quality service to the public. The Public Appointments Secretariat oversees all Ontario government appointments to provincial agencies, including the OEB. Although the OEB should, theoretically, direct electricity policy development in an unbiased fashion, the OEB is itself a product of the province’s historic and institutionalized electricity sector bias. The provincial government has a long history of funnelling resources into particular sectors, namely nuclear, coal, and gas. Breaking up one organization into five entities and adding a regulatory body does not change this history, which has solidified a particular way of thinking about electricity policy over generations.
On January 31, 2020, the Ontario Minister of Energy announced the appointment of Richard Dicerni to the OEB. His role as Special Advisor was designed to support the Board’s “transition to a new governance structure, focusing on recruitment and organizational structure.” Dicerni has served on the Board of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and was the former President of OPG from 2003 to 2005. At least two additional executive OEB members worked with Hydro One before joining the Board. Again, Hydro One is one of the five entities created following the 1999 restructuring of Ontario Hydro.
Such a detailing of Ontario’s electricity structure is not to suggest that the OEB is deliberately pushing any sort of agenda, but it should make it clear that historic structures have entrenched a particular culture across the electricity sector, even within its regulatory bodies. Some regulators advocating for the public’s interest through the OEB have long ties to private sector electricity companies. This revolving door between public and private interests weakens the ability for directive bodies to be truly independent, making them susceptible to regulatory capture.
Breaking down electricity costs
As it stands today, about 60 percent of Ontario’s electricity is generated from nuclear power, followed by hydro power at around 25 percent, wind at seven percent, and natural gas at three percent. Total electricity demand in 2019 was 135.1 TWh, down slightly from 2018 numbers (137.4 TWh). The bulk of Ontario’s demand was supplied by nuclear electricity, followed by hydro and wind. Evidently, nuclear electricity plays a significant role in today’s energy portfolio, but is it the best option to secure an affordable, safe, and green future for Ontario’s electricity sector?
Comparing and contrasting the cost of nuclear with the cost of renewables illustrates the hypocrisy of Doug Ford’s electricity vision. The global cost of renewable power generation has decreased consistently over the past decade. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the global average cost of utility-scale solar electricity fell by 77 percent between 2010 and 2018. At the same time, falling turbine prices and improved technology have bolstered electricity efficiency in the wind sector, helping to curb consumer costs. These reductions in renewable costs have been realized in Ontario, too. According to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), a 2016 Large Renewable Procurement project increased installed wind, solar, and hydroelectric capacity. Five wind contracts added nearly 300 MW of capacity, at a cost of 8.6 cents per kWh; seven solar contracts added just under 140 MW of additional capacity, at a cost of 15.6 cents per kWh. Even lower rates are possible, though, as illustrated by Alberta’s success in developing renewable energy in recent years. Under the former provincial government in Alberta, an initial round of renewable-based procurement bids in 2017 secured an average weighted price of 3.9 cents per kWh for electricity generated by wind. In February 2019, three new solar facilities were announced by the Government of Alberta. Under the new solar contract, the facilities are expected to provide an estimated total of 146,431 MWh in annual energy production, at a cost of 4.8 cents per kWh.
In Ontario, 10 nuclear reactors at the Darlington and Bruce generating stations are to undergo refurbishments. These refurbishments are required to extend the life of Ontario’s aging nuclear plants, a process which includes component maintenance and replacement and the modifications of technologies. CANDU reactors, the Canadian-designed nuclear reactors used in Ontario, require replacement of major components, such as pressure tubes and feeder tubes, throughout their lifespans. These key components are exposed to harsh conditions from standard reactor operations, making them susceptible to corrosion and general wear and tear. Overall system degradation caused by corrosion, cracking, erosion, and fatigue increases the probability of malfunctions and serious accidents. These safety updates are necessary, but nuclear refurbishment projects are expensive.
The current project timeline for Bruce and Darlington runs from 2016 to 2033. Contractors working on the Bruce generating station include big names such as Cameco Fuel Manufacturing, Black & McDonald, AECOM, and SNC-Lavalin. Total refurbishment costs for this project, as of early 2020, are $13 billion. Engineering firm SNC-Lavalin is also leading the $12.8 billion refurbishment project at the Darlington site. These projects will add to the province’s legacy debt from the initial reactor builds prior to the restructuring of Ontario Hydro, and will increase electricity rates for consumers.
An OPG document submitted to the OEB in October 2016 outlined a 15 percent annual increase in rates between 2017 and 2021 to cover the cost of the Darlington refurbishment project. The impact on ratepayers’ bills would be “over 1.2 percent annually or approximately $1.85 on a typical monthly residential bill each year.” OPG has told the OEB that prices of nuclear power will need to climb as high as 16.5 cents per kWh in 2025 to pay for the re-building of Darlington, which will cost ratepayers double the amount compared to wind-generated electricity. These projections only take into account the Darlington refurbishment project. The Bruce Power refurbishment may also contribute to a further hike in Ontario’s electricity rates.
The 16.5 cents per kWh price tag also assumes Darlington will come in on time and on budget. A history of cost overruns and delays, both in Ontario and around the world, suggests this feat is easier said than done. In Ontario alone, all three nuclear facilities exceeded initial budgets and construction timeframes. Construction of the Pickering B unit was projected to cost $1.6 billion, but the actual cost ended up being $3.8 billion. Darlington, built between 1977 and 1993, ran a bill more than three times its projected cost, landing the actual number at $14.3 billion from $4 billion.
Refurbishment projects are not immune to cost and time overruns, either. In fact, a previous refurbishment project at Darlington exceeded its budget by at least $381 million and was years behind schedule. Even the province’s financial bookkeeper, the FAO, voiced its concern in a 2017 report, stating that ratepayers will inevitably bear the risk of cost increases for refurbishment contracts. A 30 percent increase in refurbishment costs on all reactors at the Bruce and Darlington locations will increase the average nuclear price by 5.4 percent, while a 50 percent increase in refurbishment costs will increase the average nuclear price by 8.9 percent. In August 2019, OPG announced a delay in the refurbishment of unit 2 at the Darlington nuclear site. No additional costs were reported, but “slower than expected installation of lower feeders,” delayed reactor operations by at least four months. In April 2020, OPG announced another delay at Darlington. Due to COVID-19, the refurbishment of unit 3 has been postponed until autumn.
The math clearly doesn’t add up. At this point, what must be determined is the most efficient, cost-effective, safe, and environmentally appropriate route to meet energy needs. If this route appears to be a renewable one, why would Premier Doug Ford spend millions of dollars to cut renewable projects?
Renewables provide a reliable source of electricity
Renewables generate cheaper electricity than nuclear, but sources such as wind and solar are often criticized for being unreliable. When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, how will Ontario keep the lights on? Two major points challenge the validity of this objection: rapidly advancing battery technology and the availability of cheap and reliable hydroelectricity. Two researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted detailed modelling using IESO data and found that Ontario’s electricity demand can be met by an entirely renewable grid. Their recent publication titled “Ontario Can Phase Out Nuclear and Avoid Increased Carbon Emissions” proves that Ontario has an adequate supply of electricity to meet demand each hour of the year, and that this electricity can be generated without contributing further to climate change. In other words, nuclear power is not needed to address climate change, despite claims to the contrary.
While Ontario’s current hydroelectricity capacity can go a long way to help balance solar and wind power intermittency, batteries can address any remaining hours that may be unaccounted for. With the cost of battery technology required to store renewable electricity, such as lithium-ion and flow technologies, dropping substantially, this scenario would be more economical than proceeding with the two refurbishment projects currently underway.
Dependence on batteries can be reduced even further if Ontario turns to neighbouring Québec, as the province can provide more cheap hydroelectricity. According to Jack Gibbons, Chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Québec’s hydropower reservoirs provide a low-cost storage option for Ontario. Québec has enough surplus power available for export during at least 99 percent of the hours of the year. And unlike a nuclear reactor, the amount of electricity generated by hydropower can be easily and economically increased or decreased, depending on demand—meaning, theoretically, this “battery” will only need to be tapped when Ontario’s supply mix is insufficient.
In 2017, Québec offered to supply Ontario with cheap hydroelectricity. One source cited up to eight TWh, at a rate of five cents per kWh, much lower than the 16.5 cents per kWh projected from rebuilt reactors at Darlington. Such a deal would also add to an existing seasonal capacity sharing agreement between the two provinces. Ontario and Québec signed the agreement in 2015, allowing both provinces to share up to 500 MW of power. The partnership, which is contractually valid until 2025, stipulates that Québec has access to Ontario’s power during the winter months, and that Ontario has access to Québec’s grid during the summer months. Meanwhile, the Ontario city of Cornwall gets 100 percent of its electricity from Québec, and Cornwall also enjoys the lowest electricity rates in Ontario. For an average monthly utility bill of 700 kWh, Cornwall residents pay about $73. Torontonians, on the other hand, pay about $121 every month for the same amount of electricity. You don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to figure out the inefficiencies in this equation.
Smaller reactors are not the solution to large-scale inefficiencies
In addition to provincial support given to the traditional nuclear sector, Premier Doug Ford is also bolstering the idea of investing in unproven small modular reactor (SMR) technologies. In December 2019, Premier Ford signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the premiers of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, committing the provincial leaders to continued collaboration on developing and deploying SMRs. During a press conference, Doug Ford suggested that the “scalable” technology can generate “low-cost energy, connect remote and rural areas, and stimulate the mining sector.” However, the idea that SMRs will be cheap has been criticized for two key reasons: they lose out on economies of scale and the amount of electricity they generate fails to justify operating and capital costs.
Talking about SMRs is premature. Their construction would require an established factory ecosystem to support mass production, which assumes there is indeed a viable market for the technology in the first place. To make up for the loss of economies of scale, small reactors would need to be manufactured by the thousands in order to be competitive with large nuclear reactors. And since large nuclear reactors themselves are not competitive on the electricity market, there is no chance that SMRs will work out.
SMR designs also involve trade-offs between high costs, potential accidents, radioactive waste production, and linkages to nuclear weapon proliferation, and it is impossible to simultaneously address all factors adequately. Should cost reduction be the top priority, factors such as waste generation and reactor safety will likely be overlooked.
Gas is not the solution to large-scale inefficiencies
Ford is aiming to expand the natural gas sector in Ontario to compensate for a drop in nuclear-powered electricity during the Bruce and Darlington refurbishments, a move that will drastically stall the province’s green electricity sector transition. Natural gas is also not required to meet Ontario’s electricity needs in the absence of nuclear-powered generation, making Ford’s decision all the more confusing and frustrating.
Between 2003 and 2014, the Province of Ontario reduced its reliance on coal from roughly a quarter of its electricity mix to zero, becoming the first North American jurisdiction to completely eliminate coal-fired electricity. Continuing down this greener path, former provincial governments implemented policies to stimulate the renewables sector and move away from reliance on natural gas. Ontario is home to a large natural gas fleet, but electricity generation from natural gas comprised only three percent of the province’s mix in 2018. The IESO concluded that GHGs from the electricity sector have declined by more than 90 percent since 2005. Emissions, however, are expected to increase over the next ten years, should natural gas projects move ahead as planned. A staggering 11 megatonnes of additional CO2e emissions are expected by 2030, according to the IESO Annual Planning Outlook. The Ontario Clean Air Alliance worked on some calculations using this data and found that these projections translate to a 300 percent increase in GHG pollution by 2025, and a more than 400 percent increase by 2040 (the percentages are relative to a 2017 baseline).
Offshoots from the Ford Government’s gas plans are already beginning to sprout, and they look a lot like new pipeline projects. Enbridge Gas Inc. has applied to the OEB for approval to build a 10 kilometre natural gas pipeline through the City of Hamilton. If approved, the 48-inch diameter pipeline will transport natural gas through sensitive ecological wetlands. The Hamilton Spectatorreported that the pipeline will jeopardize one of the largest natural swamps in southwestern Ontario, which spans roughly 5,600 acres.
Hamilton City Council and the Hamilton Conservation Authority have jointly requested that environmental and climate impacts from the pipeline be adequately considered, demanding a full ecological study funded by Enbridge. The OEB, the body responsible for approving the Enbridge pipeline, typically approves projects prior to the completion of an independent environmental assessment, tacking on such a pivotal step only after construction has begun. During a vote in February 2020, Hamilton City Council unanimously agreed for the studies to precede any OEB decision. Several environmental advocacy and political groups, such as the Green Party of Ontario and Environmental Defence Canada, support the Conservation Authority and the City of Hamilton in their efforts to ensure due democratic and ecological process.
In a January 2020 Ontario Energy Procedural Order, the OEB recognized the “significant interest” around the potential ecological implications and the spike in GHG emissions from this project. However, the Board also concluded that addressing these concerns falls beyond the scope of their authority, and therefore they will not consider such concerns in their decision regarding a preceding ecological study.
The Hamilton pipeline, which is pegged at over $203 million in capital costs and more than $10 million in annual costs, will allow fracked gas from Pennsylvania to flow through Canada to U.S. utilities in Maine and New Hampshire. During an application of evidence review with the OEB, Enbridge disclosed that its forecasted revenues are $120 million less than its projected costs. The City of Hamilton aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target it will fail to meet should this pipeline move forward.
Is there a future for renewables in Ontario?
Generating electricity from any source will undoubtedly have some sort of ecological or social impact, whether that involves clearing land to build a wind farm or producing parts for solar panels. Plenty of advocacy groups in Ontario have also voiced their own concerns over the potential impact these types of projects may have on their communities. Adequately addressing such concerns is beyond the scope of this article, but one approach worth considering would be to incorporate all stakeholders in the decision-making process from the very beginning of project exploration. All possible scenarios—inclusive of costs and environmental impacts—regarding the future of Ontario’s electricity sector must be adequately publicized to all stakeholders long before funding is disbursed to pursue project development. Affected communities and relevant stakeholders must have a say in the direction of electricity development. Finding compromise may be tough, but this option is more sustainable and can avoid costly, politically influenced revisions to projects after they begin. To put it another way, a perfect energy solution does not exist, but there are more cost effective and environmentally appropriate solutions. By providing all stakeholders with a voice, by considering their specific needs, and by clearly outlining all the pros and cons of each solution, a more concrete vision of Ontario’s electricity sector will begin to take shape.
At the same time, it is important to remember that a more definitive and democratic electricity future can only be realized through questioning the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of Ontario’s current electricity sector. One past renewable project proves more equitable options can indeed strengthen cross-sector development and facilitate more well-rounded solutions. In 2008, farmers and agri-food businesses across the province received $11.2 million to develop and build wind, solar, and bioenergy generating systems. This was a large amount of money for a sector that has long struggled economically from mismanaged policy.
This specific project helped to reduce electricity costs for farmers, while generating large quantities of electricity for grid transmission by allowing farmers to lease portions of their land to wind farm operators. On the other hand, nuclear electricity wealth is concentrated in a handful of engineering firms and generators like OPG. It is revealing that SNC-Lavalin, a firm with multiple billion-dollar contracts around the world, is the project lead for the $13 billion Darlington refurbishment contract, and that OPG will benefit financially from hiked electricity rates. Both companies will continue to reap the rewards of the provincial government’s steadfast support of nuclear electricity, while electricity rates soar for consumers and investment in other sectors remains stagnant. We must ask ourselves and our governing bodies if it is possible to redistribute wealth to pertinent sectors that drive societal growth while keeping the lights on in Ontario. Evidently, it seems the chances of success in this department are high, should resources be allocated appropriately.
The electricity sector and COVID-19
Now more than ever, our society must prioritize essential over non-essential sectors. From farms to grocery stores, various components of the food production supply chain are essential to feed our families, and yet grocery store clerks are considered low-wage employees. Doctors, nurses, and scientists are working around the clock to support our society through these trying times, and yet a long list of provincial funding cuts suggests the healthcare sector is not a valuable investment for Ontario’s future. Again, we have to ask why the Ford government will support two $13 billion nuclear refurbishment projects, and consider massive financial bailouts for oil and gas corporations, but will contribute only a meager $20 million to medical research during a global pandemic.
Teachers and educational professionals across the country were struggling to accommodate large class sizes and consecutive budget cuts long before the COVID-19 outbreak. In March 2019, the Ford government planned to divert millions of dollars away from public education by removing special education funding and requiring all high school students to take at least four online courses. Many of these proposed budget cuts are scheduled to be implemented for September 2020. COVID-19 has taught us that there is room for e-learning, but even quality online learning requires adequate funding. Cutting millions of dollars from public education—while expensive gas pipelines and nuclear refurbishment contracts are widely supported by governing and regulatory bodies—cannot be the answer.
Electricity is an essential sector in Ontario, too, but energy development should not come at the expense of other sectors that also drive societal growth. We must start to question the allocation of funding and political support granted to specific electricity sectors, despite their glaring economic, environmental, and social flaws. Citing one timely example, renewables have proved resilient in the face of a global health pandemic and economic recession, while generating nuclear electricity during COVID-19 has raised serious safety concerns.
Running a nuclear power plant during normal times requires many experienced, well-paid staff members to ensure generation conforms to safety standards. Compliance with safety measures remains essential during a pandemic, however, spatial distancing protocols make it more difficult to adequately observe such measures. A recent report by the International Nuclear Risk Assessment Group states that Ontario Power Generation has “scaled back the number of staff at the local generating stations but has not planned to shut down any of its reactors; indeed, its CEO has argued for continued operations of nuclear plants.”
Ontario can meet its electricity demand from renewables, so why would our governing bodies allow nuclear generating stations to jeopardize the safety of the public?
COVID-19 has grave, overwhelming implications for our economy, but the pandemic also presents an opportunity to change the way our society functions and to reprioritize what we collectively value. Now more than ever, we must open our eyes to the absolute necessity of public sector investments, specifically in those sectors that help to develop the potential of people who live in this country, rather than spending to pad the pockets of conglomerates.
We are pulling back the curtain on an unjust, unsustainable and decaying framework of institutions from a bygone era. These institutions can and will crumble with the right amount of social pressure. Social systems, no matter how deeply entrenched, are not natural, they are human creations fueled, generation after generation, by a small minority disproportionality benefiting from the perpetuation of the system. Understanding these push-and-pull factors for what they really are awakens a possibility that we do not have to return to the status quo. Considering the reality of the climate crisis, we simply cannot return to business as usual.
Cassandra Jeffery has a graduate degree in public policy and global affairs from the University of British Columbia. She is the recipient of a Simons Award in Nuclear Disarmament and Global Security, and she is currently working as a research assistant to analyze energy policies in North America and Asia.
Understand that this movement is not history, nor will it soon be over. We need to fight for equality until life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are available for all.
The past few months have been tiring for everyone. As the coronavirus spread across the globe, most of us thought that we were going to live with the uncomfortableness of shelter-in-place for a few months before things could return to normal. We thought that what would consume most of our free time was TikTok videos, Animal Crossing, Netflix, and maybe a reignition of hobbies. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
Fast-forward to today. Society has not returned to normal and instead, we have had more time to engage on the topic of race on a global scale — specifically, how unfairly Black Americans are treated in American society.
Call, tweet, and send posts on your social networks to your elected state or local officials and demand equal justice today. You can utilize 5 Calls to quickly find out how to contact your representatives.
Just Mercy is an important read by lawyer and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson.
Mental health resources
Ethel’s Club – A Black-owned and -operated social club that offers access to Black therapists and a multitude of creative events for People of Color.
Crisis Text Line – A different approach to crisis intervention, Crisis Text Line offers you help when you text 741-741. You’ll be able to chat with someone who is willing to listen and provide you with additional resources.
Shine Text – A Black-owned self-care app through which you can sign up to receive cheerful texts and tips every day.