Mass Consumerism Is the Roadblock That Stands In Our Way

Mass Consumerism Is the Roadblock That Stands In Our Way, Below2C

In a previous article, Brad Zarnett asks if “our ape brains are poorly configured to address a slow moving crisis with speed.” One might be quick to point out that the world is reacting with speed to the coronavirus threat. But then, COVID-19 is a real-time crisis and merits an immediate response. Climate change, on the other hand, is a slow emergency that does not “trigger a change in our climate-destroying behaviours,” says Zarnett. In this article, mass consumerism is exposed as the major roadblock that stands in the way of a future with a stable climate.

I used to be certain that government was failing us in our fight for a stable climate, and for the most part I still do, BUT thanks to COVID-19 I’ve gained new insight into the underlying roadblock that’s standing in our way.


There have been several polls lately about how people don’t want to go back to “normal” — how they’ve come to appreciate cleaner air, quieter roads and working from home. Sure…why not, it’s a poll — it’s not like you’re being asked to give something up or pay extra for your dream of a better future. So while we’re at it, let’s have Mondays off, free ice-cream and a baseball team that never loses.

To call these polls flawed is an understatement. To imply that a positive response says anything about people’s willingness to change is dubious at best. It seems to me that the value of a poll of this nature lies more in starting a conversation of how we can do better, rather than incorrectly concluding anything about our readiness to change.

It’s Not That Easy

Let’s face it, the “conveniences” and cheap products that we’ve come to enjoy are the reason why we have so much environmental destruction, and whether we like it or not, one way or another, we need to give them up. We don’t even have to take responsibility for our contribution to the harm — we can simply blame it on a billion dollar advertising industry and start our new eco-friendly lives tomorrow. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work that way.

Own It

The first step in addressing a problem is admitting that you have one. We need to be honest with ourselves. We’re addicted to a whole host of planet-destroying products and “conveniences” that have been sanitized by a system that has done a masterful job of keeping the extent of the harm neatly hidden behind the curtain of capitalism. If the system wasn’t so dangerous we could sit back and marvel at the mastery of a business model that gives us just enough plausible deniability to “pretend’ to be blissfully ignorant. And for the most part, we’re OK with this.

Dear Climate: You Don’t Scare Us!

As a species we’re just not scared of Climate Change — it moves slowly, the worst impacts won’t be felt for decades and it will mostly affect other people in some distant developing country. It’s actually a perfect recipe for inaction. There’s no fear to trigger a sudden release of collective adrenaline guiding us all to take drastic actions and reject the “conveniences” that are destroying the planet.

The truth is that we’re not even close to admitting our addiction, let alone quitting. We would rather rationalize our behaviour and rally behind hopelessly ineffective strategies like the Paris Accords (COP) or the sham of CSR and ESG…rather than take the hard steps to get “clean”. And what’s worse is that due to decades of delay we’ve squandered the chance to solve this problem with incremental thinking.

Better Questions Get Better Answers

Based on our track record, humans seem unwilling or unable to address climate change in a meaningful way…now it’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask: Does the problem lie with us? Brad Zarnett

Now let’s get back to the poll. Imagine that the question wasn’t some vague option for a better world but rather two direct questions.

Do you believe that the way we live our lives is incompatible with a stable climate and that urgent action is required?

What cheap products and “conveniences” are you willing to give up tomorrow to protect against the worst impacts of climate change?

Try it on a friend — you’ll most likely get silence or award winning rationalizations. Perhaps one of these:

“I tried being a vegetarian but it wasn’t for me.”

“I think it’s great that people take public transit, carpool or bike to work but it’s impractical for my job.”

“I think it’s great that people use reusable mugs and water bottles but I never know what my day will bring and I have so many things to carry already.”

“I think it’s great that there are people out there who repair their clothes rather than buy new but I like new styles and I’m not prepared to give it up.”

It’s as if they’re saying, I fully support that we should give up environmentally destructive behaviours…as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me. And with a little more digging you learn about how they could give it all up anytime but they don’t think it will achieve anything or how they need to fly for work or perhaps this oldie but goodie — yes I do drink bottled water but I always recycle.

COVID-19 and The Economy

It’s interesting to see the similarities between those who answered in the poll that they don’t want to go back to “normal” and those who are beating the drum to restart the economy.

One group isn’t quite ready to give up their conveniences BUT they’re all-in when it comes to others doing it. And the other group (those with the power in society) want to get the people back to work…as long as it’s not actually them or their kids who are putting their lives in danger on the front lines. In both cases…it’s good for others to do it.

This Time It’s Different

The lie of Capitalism is that we can technofix our way out of our current dilemma. We can keep the profits coming and we’ll figure it out as we go, after all, that’s the way we’ve always done it. But this time it’s different — the clock is ticking and our challenges are literally…everything.

We need to change our entire transportation system, manufacturing processes, farming methods and electrical grid in 10 short years and even that doesn’t guarantee that we can keep the planet from exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming. If you haven’t noticed, rainforests continue to be cut down at an alarming rate and the Arctic is melting and absorbing more heat by the day. We don’t have the luxury of time — the crisis has already begun.

Finding Peace

So what’s it going to be? What are you willing to give up in the post COVID-19 world? Well…that’s actually a trick question because it doesn’t really matter. Reducing the impacts of climate change isn’t about individual products or services. Stopping to produce plastic bottles or coffee cups or carpooling to work or even riding your bike won’t actually make a difference…because climate change isn’t a problem that can be solved individually in the marketplace. It’s a global societal problem that can only be solved with government leadership.

So what was the whole point of discussing the idea of giving up products? The point is, that we need to be prepared or better yet, at peace with giving up all of those wasteful and polluting activities. All of them! Only then will we be ready to vote for the type of government that will strategize, plan and budget around climate protecting programs and policies.

This point cannot be overstated; expecting society to vote for a Green Leader, before the majority of us have come to peace with the end of our addiction to the “perks” of Capitalism…is a pipe dream. It’s in direct conflict with our individualistic capitalism soaked brains and furthermore, most voters don’t want to be treated like children and told which of our “rationalized addictions” can no longer be enjoyed…and I don’t blame them.

What Now

Mass Consumerism Is the Roadblock That Stands In Our Way, Below2CEvery country on this planet has had a “green” option to lead their governments through the climate crisis but for the most part we don’t choose them. We tend to choose Liberals or Conservatives that tell us half truths and who see the world through the lens of business rather than the lens of life — and we can see where that’s gotten us. So here we are…what now?

It’s simple to say but very hard to do…our species needs to have a collective awakening and to find peace with walking away from our addiction. This has to be the first step, and who knows…it just might lead us to happier lives.

Gandhi was right — you need to be the change that you want to see in the world.


Bruno Latour: ‘This is a global catastrophe that has come from within’

The influential French thinker explains the politics of the Gaia principle, the problems of post-truth and how coronavirus gives us a model for spreading ideas

‘The lockdown forced everyone into a kind of retreat, a moment for reflection’: Bruno Latour at his home in Paris. Photograph: Benoît Tessier/Reuters

In the early days of the lockdown, philosopher Bruno Latour wrote an essay for the AOC cultural online newspaper. “The first lesson the coronavirus has taught us,” he wrote, “is also the most astounding: we have actually proven that it is possible, in a few weeks, to put an economic system on hold everywhere in the world…” That essay, translated since into at least 12 languages, has encouraged many to reimagine how different the world could look if we learned from this experience. It has also solidified the reputation of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) emeritus professor as one of the most influential thinkers of our age.

How has the pandemic reshaped our societies?
Some say this is the revenge of nature. That is silly. Anyone who has studied the history of medicine knows how a virus can make a society feel completely different. We are on a great learning curve. It’s a huge experiment. This is a global catastrophe that has come not from the outside like a war or an earthquake, but from within. Viruses are completely inside us. We cannot completely eject them. We must learn to live with them.

At the beginning of the pandemic, you suggested everyone ask themselves what they would like to keep from the lockdown, what they would like to change. Those questions are now being asked all over the world. Has the interest surprised you?
Even if you were not a spiritual person, the lockdown forced everyone into a kind of retreat, a moment for reflection. It was quite extraordinary. The questions were therapeutic. They gave people powerlessly stuck at home a way of thinking about how they would create a better future.

Can an idea go viral like a disease?
Covid has given us a model of contamination. It has shown how quickly something can become global just by going from one mouth to another. That’s an incredible demonstration of network theory. I’ve been trying to persuade sociologists of this for 40 years. I’m sorry to have been so right. It shows that we must not think of the personal and the collective as two distinct levels. The big climate questions can make individuals feel small and impotent. But the virus gives us a lesson. If you spread from one mouth to another, you can viralise the world very fast. That knowledge can re-empower us.

Many countries are now easing out of lockdown. What can we expect to emerge from this period of reflection?
The pandemic has reopened the debate about what is necessary and what is possible. It has put us in a position where we can decide what is useful and what is not. That choice disappeared before. Everything seemed relentless like a tsunami. Now we realise it was not. We can see things are reversible. We can see which jobs are necessary and which are junk. How long that will last, I don’t know. We might have forgotten everything in three months. That depends on how hard the economic crisis becomes. I am overwhelmed by the size of the economic problem, from what I hear from my students.

To put your own question back to you, what would you change?
What we need is not only to modify the system of production but to get out of it altogether. We should remember that this idea of framing everything in terms of the economy is a new thing in human history. The pandemic has shown us the economy is a very narrow and limited way of organising life and deciding who is important and who is not important. If I could change one thing, it would be to get out of the system of production and instead build a political ecology.

Has the pandemic response made you more or less optimistic about humanity’s ability to tackle the climate and nature crisis?
The bad guys are better organised and clearer in knowing what they want. The war we are engaged in is a difficult one. It is not that we are powerless; it is that many of us don’t know how to react. 

In your latest art collaboration at ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, you define the scope of human existence as the “critical zone”, a narrow band of Earth that can support life. What is the purpose of this approach?
It is a redefinition of our landscape. The idea of the “critical zone” is useful because it gets you out of nature. Nature is very big. It covers everything from the big bang to microbes. Conceptually, that makes it a complete mess. The critical zone is limited. It is just a few kilometres thick – above and below the surface of the Earth. But all discovered life is within it. This brings us inside in a way that nature does not. It is very different from the way of thinking that makes people such as Elon Musk think they should go on a mission to Mars. That is escapist. But when you think in terms of a critical zone, you are locked in, you cannot escape. What does it mean for politics if we are locked in and not in the infinite cosmology opened by Galileo? It means we cannot behave in the same way. It means we cannot just endlessly extract resources and discard our waste. In the critical zone, we must maintain what we have because it is finite, it’s local, it’s at risk and it’s the object of conflict.

This seems to add a political edge to James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, which explains how “Life” acts to maintain habitable conditions for itself. You have long been a champion of this theory…
Lovelock locked us in! While Galileo used a telescope to reveal that the Earth is part of an infinite universe, Lovelock used his electron capture detector to reveal that the Earth is completely different from any other planet because it has life. He and [Lynn] Margulis spotted Gaia. Lovelock from space, taking the question as globally as possible; Margulis from bacteria, taking the question from the other end, both realising that Life, capital L, has managed to engineer its own conditions of existence. For me that is the greatest discovery of this period, though it is still not very much accepted by mainstream science. This may be because we do not yet have the tools to receive it.

Why do you think scientists are still wary?
That such an important concept is still so marginal in the history of science is extraordinary. I have done everything I can to make it accepted. But scientists are reflexively cautious. The cosmological shift from Aristotle to Galileo is the same as that from Galileo to Gaia. With Galileo, our understanding moved outwards to an infinite universe. Grasping that took a century and a half and faced resistance. Gaia is not just one more concept. It is not just about physics and energy. It is Life.

Your work has often challenged the objective, God’s-eye view of science. You argue convincingly that humanity cannot be so detached. But the political right have twisted this approach to undermine all expert knowledge on the climate and nature crises. Any regrets?
A critique of how science is produced is very different from the post-truth argument that there are alternative truths that you can choose from. Post-truth is a defensive posture. If you have to defend yourself against climate change, economic change, coronavirus change, then you grab at any alternative. If those alternatives are fed to you by thousands of fake news farms in Siberia, they are hard to resist, especially if they look vaguely empirical. If you have enough of them and they are contradictory enough, they allow you to stick to your old beliefs. But this should not be confused with rational scepticism.

Has the Covid-19 crisis affected our belief in science?
The virus has revealed the number of things you need to know to decide what is factual and what’s not. The public are learning a great deal about the difficulty of statistics, about experiment, about epidemiology. In everyday life, people are talking about degrees of confidence and margin of error. I think that’s good. If you want people to have some grasp of science, you must show how it is produced.

Jonathan Watts is the Guardian’s global environment editor. Twitter @jonathanwatts



Province of British Columbia/Flickr

British Columbia paid out C$830 million in subsidies to help build its liquefied natural gas industry in 2017-18, according to a report released this week by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

“Provincial fossil fuel subsidies undermine the CleanBC plan introduced by the government in 2018 and hold the province back from meeting its targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” IISD states on the landing page for the report. Yet “new subsidies continue to be created, including significant support for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.”

In their summary of the report, authors Vanessa Corkal and Philip Gass stress that the subsidies “promote the production and consumption of fuels that cause climate change. They encourage increases in the same pollution that other policies aim to reduce,” with the lion’s share of the provincial tax exemptions, royalty reductions, and direct investments going to fossil fuel producers.

“When fossil fuel producers receive hundreds of millions [in] subsidies each year, vital government resources are pulled away from important sectors such as renewable energy and social services,” they add. “This means that other sectors of the economy must compensate for the vast amounts of government revenue spent on subsidies—which is neither fair nor efficient.”

The province has also extended $2.6 to $3.1 billion in credits for royalties oil and gas producers were supposed to remit to government coffers, to help fund needed services for British Columbia residents. “Each year, fossil fuel producers claim millions of dollars in credits to reduce the amounts of royalties they pay,” the summary states. “In 2018-19 alone, fossil fuel producers claimed over $631 million in deep well credits. These billions in outstanding credits are money that fossil fuel producers will not have to pay in future years, and that B.C.’s citizens will not see put toward social services.”

In a study last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives put the value of foregone tax credits at $485 million in 2017 and $703 million in 2018, The Narwhal reports.

IISD also points to B.C. and Canada creating new LNG subsidies that “tip the scales in favour of fossil fuels, rather than the sustainable energy that’s required for the future”.

Several other Canadian climate groups chimed in after IISD released its report. In its own backgrounder, Toronto-based Environmental Defence notes that B.C.’s special treatment for its LNG industry includes “everything from direct investments in the companies, paying for roads and electricity infrastructure, interest-free loans on construction costs, special treatment under the province’s carbon tax, and providing the companies with discounted electricity prices.” points to the contradiction between the subsidies and British Columbia’s green mystique. “Despite holding the reputation for being one of the most environmentally friendly provinces in Canada, these subsidies and royalty credits make B.C. the second-highest provider of fossil fuel subsidies among Canada’s provinces and territories, second only to Alberta,” the Vancouver-based campaign organization states in a release.

“The fact that subsidies and royalty credits to fossil fuel companies have increased under this government is shocking,” said International Program Director Tzeporah Berman. “At this moment in history, why would we be handing the province’s biggest polluters millions of taxpayers’ dollars—instead of putting that money towards housing or education or other cleaner industries? If this government is serious about climate change and building a clean economy, they will end these subsidies before the next election.”

“It’s dangerously misleading that a province trying to be a leader in addressing climate change is still one of the country’s top supporters of the fossil fuel industry,” agreed Sierra Club BC. “We’ve applauded the B.C. government for introducing CleanBC and the Climate Change Accountability Act as crucial, much-needed steps to address the climate crisis. But without ensuring the legislation includes regular reviews to bring B.C.’s climate targets in line with the science, and without shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels, B.C.’s actions will lock families into facing even worse climate risks.”

Coronavirus: This is not the last pandemic

VIDEO: Scientists believe another pandemic will happen during our lifetime  We have created “a perfect storm” for diseases from wildlife to spill over into humans and spread quickly around the world, scientists warn.

Human encroachment on the natural world speeds up that process.

This outlook comes from global health experts who study how and where new diseases emerge.

As part of that effort, they have now developed a pattern-recognition system to predict which wildlife diseases pose most risk to humans.

This approach is led by scientists at the University of Liverpool, UK, but it is part of a global effort to develop ways to prepare better for future outbreaks.

‘We dodged five bullets’

Data visualisation of shared pathogens (c) Maya Wardeh
Image captionIn this data visualisation by Maya Wardeh, each line represents a disease shared between more than one species. Image copyrightMAYA WARDEH

“In the last 20 years, we’ve had six significant threats – SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza and swine flu,” Prof Matthew Baylis from the University of Liverpool told BBC News. “We dodged five bullets but the sixth got us.

“And this is not the last pandemic we are going to face, so we need to be looking more closely at wildlife disease.”

As part of this close examination, he and his colleagues have designed a predictive pattern-recognition system that can probe a vast database of every known wildlife disease.

Across the thousands of bacteria, parasites and viruses known to science, this system identifies clues buried in the number and type of species they infect. It uses those clues to highlight which ones pose most of a threat to humans.

If a pathogen is flagged as a priority, scientists say they could direct research efforts into finding preventions or treatments before any outbreak happens.

Camels can harbour the novel coronavirus, Mers
Image caption Camels can harbour the novel coronavirus, Mers Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

“It will be another step altogether to find out which diseases could cause a pandemic, but we’re making progress with this first step,” Prof Baylis said.

Lessons from lockdown

Many scientists agree that our behaviour – particularly deforestation and our encroachment on diverse wildlife habitats – is helping diseases to spread from animals into humans more frequently.

According to Prof Kate Jones from University College London, evidence “broadly suggests that human-transformed ecosystems with lower biodiversity, such as agricultural or plantation landscapes, are often associated with increased human risk of many infections”.

Volunteer working with rescued orangutans
Image captionDisease can spill from human, too: Apes rescued from the exotic pet trade often have to be protected from respiratory infections. Image copyrightVICTORIA GILL

“That’s not necessarily the case for all diseases,” she added. “But the kinds of wildlife species that are most tolerant of human disturbance, such as certain rodent species, often appear to be more effective at hosting and transmitting pathogens.

“So biodiversity loss can create landscapes that increase risky human-wildlife contact and increase the chances of certain viruses, bacteria and parasites spilling over into people.”

There are certain outbreaks that have demonstrated this risk at the “interfaces” between human activity and wildlife with devastating clarity.

In first outbreak of Nipah virus in 1999 in Malaysia, a viral infection – carried by fruit bats – spilled over into a large pig farm built at the edge of a forest. Wild fruit bats fed on the fruit trees and the pigs munched on half-eaten fruit that fell from the trees and was covered in bat saliva.

More than 250 people who worked in close contact with the infected pigs caught the virus. More than 100 of those people died. The case fatality rate of the coronavirus is still emerging, but current estimates put it at around 1%. Nipah virus kills 40-75% of people it infects.

Prof Eric Fevre from the University of Liverpool and the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, says researchers need to be on constant watch in areas where there is a higher risk of disease outbreaks.

Image caption‘Interfaces’ between farms or human activity and wildlife habitats are hotspots for new diseases to emerge

Farms on the edge of forests, markets where animals are bought and sold – all are blurred boundaries between humans and wildlife, and places where diseases are more likely to emerge.

“We need to be constantly on the look-out at these interfaces and have systems in place to respond if we see anything unusual”, like a sudden disease outbreak in a particular location.

“New diseases pop-up in the human population probably three to four times per year,” Prof Fevre said. “It’s not just in Asia or Africa, but in Europe and the US as well.”

Matthew Baylis added that this ongoing surveillance for new disease is increasingly important. “We’ve created almost a perfect storm here for the emergence of pandemics,” he told BBC News.

Prof Fevre agreed. “This kind of event is likely to happen again and again,” he said.

“It’s been happening all throughout our interaction with the natural world. What’s important now is how we understand it and respond to it.

The current crisis, Prof Fevre said, provides a lesson for many of us about the consequence of our own impact on the natural world.

Road through the rainforest
Image captionRoad built through the rainforest. Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

“All of the things we use and take for granted – the food we eat, the materials in our smart phones; the more we consume, the more someone will make money by extracting them and moving them around the world.

“So it’s incumbent on all of us to think about the resources we consume and the impact it has.”


Follow Victoria on Twitter

Crown wants to fight controversial ‘extreme intoxication’ defence ruling

The Ontario Court of Appeal this week released a monumental decision, declaring that s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada is unconstitutional and therefore of no force or effect

TORONTO — Canada’s highest court will be asked to weigh in on a ruling that reopened the door for people accused of violent crimes to argue they were so intoxicated they had lost control of what they were doing.

The decision angered some women, and in a statement on Saturday a spokeswoman for Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said the prosecution wanted the top court to hear a challenge to it.

“I can confirm that the Crown will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Jenessa Crognali. “It would be inappropriate to comment further as the matters are before the court.”

Crognali said the notice of leave to appeal had yet to be filed.

In overturning the convictions of two men in separate cases, the Court of Appeal on Wednesday struck down a decades-old section of the Criminal Code as unconstitutional.

The men, Thomas Chan and David Sullivan, had either killed or injured close relatives. Both were high on drugs — one had eaten magic mushrooms, the other had tried to kill himself with an overdose of a prescription stop-smoking medication.

Evidence was that both became psychotic and went on a violent rampage. Their defence, however, ran afoul of the ban on arguing self-induced extreme intoxication had resulted in their “automatism.”

The federal government had enacted the law in 1995 amid a backlash over a court ruling that recognized drunkenness could be raised to defend against a sexual assault charge.

“(The law) enables the conviction of individuals for acts they do not will,” the Appeal Court said in striking down Section 33.1.

While such cases are rare and successfully raising an intoxication defence would be difficult, critics argued it had undermined a measure aimed at protecting women from sexual violence.

“We are dismayed that women’s rights to equality and dignity are not given more adequate treatment,” the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund said of the ruling. “It also risks sending a dangerous message that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children through intoxication.”

Both federal and Ontario New Democrats had urged an appeal.

However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said concerns the court had reopened floodgates for men accused of violence to argue intoxication were unwarranted.

For one thing, an accused would still have the difficult task of proving they were in a state of automatism to raise the extreme intoxication defence successfully. Simply claiming to have been drunk wouldn’t cut it.

Cara Zwibel, a director with the liberties association, said the ruling had not undermined the rights of victims.

“This is a rarely used provision,” Zwibel said. “It’s not this widespread, systemic concern.”

Neither the association nor the legal fund, both interveners in the case, had any immediate comment on the proposed appeal on Saturday.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the decision to try to appeal a “huge relief” and thanked those who had raised concerns.


Liberal MP takes stock of government’s action on anti-black racism and says there’s more to do

‘We always said we need to do more. Now we’re seeing why it’s important to do more,’ says Greg Fergus

Greg Fergus, Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer and chair of the parliamentary black caucus seen campaigning last fall, says diversifying the upper ranks of the public service is just one of the areas the government needs to address. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Greg Fergus spent much of last week in video conferences, talking to black Canadians and community leaders. The Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer and chair of the parliamentary black caucus says many people are “traumatized.”

But, he said, they also know that this moment is an opportunity for other Canadians to “finally see the systemic barriers that are in place here.”

“Everyone says, I’m up and I’m down …  I’m angry and I’m hopeful. It’s an awful mix,” he said in an interview. “And because we have attention on the issue, everybody’s being asked about it. I’m happy to engage with this, but it’s hard to engage with it, because it’s overwhelming.

“We saw those brutal images of racism … and it triggers all those big and little things that every person of colour has been through.”

On Friday, Fergus was beside Justin Trudeau when the prime minister attended the Black Lives Matter rally on Parliament Hill and kneeled along with many others in the crowd, the symbolically powerful gesture that has become a hallmark of the protests and rallies against anti-black racism that have followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.

Trudeau’s participation was part of a week that will certainly be remembered as a significant moment in the history of protest against anti-black discrimination. But much now depends on what steps his government takes next.

WATCH | Trudeau, Fergus take a knee at anti-racism rally:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday. He was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” from the crowd and kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember George Floyd. 1:47

“We always said we need to do more. Now we’re seeing why it’s important to do more,” Fergus said. “Racism kills.”

The list of what the Trudeau government could or should do is long. But Fergus said he is proud of what the government did in its first four years — action he believes his fellow black parliamentarians and Liberal staff were part of making happen.

Over its last two budgets, the Trudeau government committed $19 million over five years to develop mental health programs for black Canadians and support for young people, and $25 million over five years for community programming.

Statistics Canada was provided with $6.7 million to create a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics, which is mandated to “increase the disaggregation of various data sets by race, with a particular focus on the experience of black Canadians.” A new anti-racism strategy, including the creation of an anti-racism secretariat in the public service, was given $45 million over three years.

But Celina Caesar-Chevannes, the former Liberal MP who broke with the party last year, wrote this week that the funding committed to black Canadians for mental health was not nearly enough and “certainly [does] not speak to black lives mattering.”

In 2018, the government officially recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent and the prime minister publicly acknowledged the existence of “anti-black racism” — the first prime minister, Fergus said, to do so.

But a year later, Fergus also expressed frustration with how little the machinery of government had moved to match the prime minister’s words.

“It’s hard to convince people that there’s a problem,” he said.

Diversifying government’s highest ranks

Fergus has since been appointed parliamentary secretary to Jean-Yves Duclos, the president of the Treasury Board, and he is interested in promoting diversity throughout the upper echelon of the public service.

“I don’t think the public service is any different from Canada in general, in the sense that it’s hard to overcome the systemic barriers. We have an excellent public service that hires [people] in a way that reflects the way Canada looks. Where the public service doesn’t do as well is, as you go up the ranks, it becomes more and more homogeneous,” Fergus said.

In Fergus’s view, this is a textbook example of unconscious bias.

“This is an example of systemic discrimination — there are practices or assumptions or biases at play that end up having these kinds of results. You have to be conscious of these biases, and we have to really challenge the way it is,” he says.

“It doesn’t make sense that there’s been no black deputy ministers — you can’t convince me that there aren’t black people who are competent. But there’s something that went into the calculation over time that that person didn’t make the right fit, or didn’t get that promotion. We can justify any individual decision, but when you aggregate all these decisions, you end up with a biased result.

“Those are the things that we’ve got to take a look at. But it’s hard to do the things which are hard to do. And it’s hard to see bias. People don’t want to admit that’s going on.”

When the Trudeau government promoted Caroline Xavier to associate deputy minister at the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, she became the first black woman to reach that level of the public service. (Duclos’s chief of staff, Marjorie Michel, is also the first black of woman to hold that title in the federal government.)

But diversifying the public service is just one path of change and other areas crying out for government action.

Immigration policy, police reform other points of debate

Caesar-Chevannes laid out a proposed agenda that includes a review of immigration policy, increased government funding and the expunging of criminal records for marijuana possession, a charge that disproportionately punished black Canadians. She also called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Let’s try to make this something that resonates longer and leads to substantive and systemic changes. This is the time.​– Liberal MP Greg Fergus

The RCMP and policing reform have emerged as significant points of debate in the weeks and months ahead. The NDP has already called for bans on racial profiling and the practice of “carding,” in which police stop individuals and ask to see ID without any evidence of wrongdoing.

Questions about policing and justice can be politically difficult to navigate — for decades, the incentive for politicians has been to seem “tough” on crime. That tide could be turning, but, regardless, the Trudeau government is unlikely to be excused for failing to deal with these issues.

But combating systemic racism and improving the lives of black Canadians means going well beyond such issues.

Fergus: ‘If there ever was a time to speak, it’s now’

Fergus said there is interest among black community leaders in federal support for black-owned businesses. The federal government could, for instance, provide microcredit and organize a program to provide mentorship from black financial experts. It has also been suggested that federal procurement policy could be used to benefit black-owned companies, similar to how Indigenous businesses have been a specific focus since 1996.

An emphasis on data — to better understand how black Canadians are doing and how public policy affects them — is a common theme across calls for change, including an essay penned last week by Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard.

“That will be the gift that keeps giving,” Fergus said of better data.

Fergus said his advice to black Canadians and activists is to capitalize on this moment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wears a mask while taking part in an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill on Friday. The prime minister was joined by Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen, left, and Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer Greg Fergus, right. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)


“If there was ever a time to speak it’s now. If there was ever a time to get that story out, it’s now,” he said. “We have 15 minutes of people’s attention. Let’s try to make this something that resonates longer and leads to substantive and systemic changes. This is the time.”

What Fergus saw around him on Friday tells him that Canadians are ready for and expecting that change.

“I think Canadians expect us to do more. And looking at the people who were in the crowd — really, it was good for me. It was really good for me to so many non-blacks took part. They were clearly the majority,” he said.

“That is a good feeling. They are awake to this.”



Trump’s comments were ‘inflammatory, divisive’: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Employers and unions must address systemic racism

Think about this: for every $100 white families earn in income, black families earn just $57.30. That’s almost unbelievable—and it’s a huge racial-justice issue.


This week, a PSAC member was terminated after sharing a racist video that mocked the murder of George Floyd.

We were appalled at the creation and distribution of such disturbing and offensive content. It is particularly troubling when we consider that one of the people involved, worked for a major federal institution.

It demonstrates just how pervasive and systemic the problem of racism is.  No institution is immune. Unions, small business, large companies, public employers – we all have a great deal of work to do in order to eradicate racism.

At this critical moment, we call on all PSAC employers to work with us to create the genuine change that can address systemic racism. We have a diverse membership across the country, and they all deserve to be part of a union and workplace that not only rejects racism, but actively works to dismantle the structures and behaviour that sustain it.

Individuals must always be held accountable for their actions; however this is not a problem to be pinned on a single person or a few “bad apples”. We are long past the point of thinking we can make things better by simply reacting to individual acts.

Unions and employers have the ability to address systemic racism together, and PSAC is committed to being an active partner in this important work.


Disband the police force? Minneapolis wouldn’t be the first to try it

Police-reform ideas are now all the rage. One violence-scarred U.S. city offers a potential roadmap

Yolanda Deaver, left, organized a Black Lives Matter protest May 30 in Camden, N.J., and the local police chief, Joe Wysocki joined her in leading it. The community has undergone a major shift in policing and embraced a more collaborative model. (April Saul via AP)

Ideas for police reform are percolating throughout the United States and beyond amid a wave of protest. In one of the more radical proposals, Minneapolis city council has begun moving to dismantle the local force.

City councillors said Sunday they intend to disband the local police department, though there is no consensus yet on what to replace it with.

To people in one U.S. community, this kind of reform is already old news.

Just ask Canadian expat Bruce Main.

He came decades ago to start a community organization in Camden, N.J., a city once known as the most dangerous in the United States, long plagued by sky-high murder rates and myriad open-air drug markets.

What Main witnessed while living there was one of the most radical imaginable experiments in police reform.

The entire force of cash-strapped Camden was disbanded a few years ago and reconstituted with a new mentality drilled into its officers: community service.

Out went the urban-warrior attitude. In came the guardians. The new departmental policy said officers would no longer be judged by their number of arrests and tickets.

Instead, they were told to patrol on foot, mingle with residents, and build a reservoir of trust to draw upon in a crisis.

A police reform experiment

Residents of Camden, located near Philadelphia, say it’s been successful. Murders are down by two-thirds since the year before the police reform, and overall violent crime is down nearly half.

The new police chief didn’t just participate in a Black Lives Matter protest last month. He helped lead it.

A protester holds up a sign during a demonstration calling for justice in the death of George Floyd and victims of police brutality in Montreal on May 31, 2020. Calls for police reform are sweeping the United States as part of the protest movement advocating against anti-black racism and police brutality. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)


“[The reform] was pretty controversial,” said Main, a Vancouver native who has lived since 1988 in Camden, where he founded the faith-based group he still leads, Urban Promise.

“[But it] has been really positive. It’s encouraging, in moments like this, to see some of the fruit of that hard work.”

The woman who led Camden’s recent Black Lives Matter march, Yolanda Deaver, runs a hair salon. She said officers will frequently pop into her shop to ask how she’s doing.

Officers even set up a barbecue stand near her aunt’s house and organize regular community cookouts, she said.

Vancouver native Bruce Main, seen here on the left, has led a community organization for decades in Camden, N.J., which underwent a major reform in policing. (Submitted by Bruce Main)


When she announced plans for the protest late last month, an officer reached out and asked to participate. Word got around, and the police Chief Joseph Wysocki wound up joining in.

At the event, Deaver said she asked the chief to hold a banner and lead the march with her.

“The chief said I set the tone,” she said in an interview.

“But he set the tone. Because he didn’t come in with riot gear.”

New momentum for change

Camden’s troubles traced those of black America in the last half-century. It was once a bustling industrial hub, home to Campbell’s Soup, RCA, and early television manufacturing before the city was walloped starting in the 1960s by a triple-whammy: de-industrialization, riots, and a drug epidemic.

Now it’s on the leading edge of another trend — police reform.

Calls for change are echoing across the country, with numerous bills being proposed at the state and federal level during a wave of protest prompted by the death of George Floyd, who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

Several polls suggest Americans support protesters’ demand for reform. That’s amid scenes of demonstrators being hit and gassed; police ransacking a medical station set up by protesters; and an elderly man in Buffalo being shoved to the ground and bleeding from the head.


WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT Video shows two police officers in Buffalo, New York, shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground. The sound of a crack is heard and blood trickles from the man’s head 

Embedded video

In just one hour, on Friday morning, Fox News ran a segment on police reform; later showed video from Buffalo of the bleeding 75-year-old man; and had a panellist predict that change is inevitable.

“I’ve been saying for the last several years …  ‘American policing is at a crossroads.’ No one would listen to me,” Mike Cutone, a former Massachusetts officer and Army veteran, told Fox News in an interview about his new work in community-policing training.

“Well, we just ran over that crossroad sign. American policing has to have some innovation.”

An investigation by American Public Media three years ago concluded that 34 states did not require officers to undergo de-escalation training, to learn strategies for bringing calm to tense moments.

Thirty ideas for reform

An attitude shift is well underway in some places.

major report four years ago by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum discussed how certain tactics were going out of vogue among U.S. police forces — such as shooting at moving vehicles, or considering anything within 21 feet a potential threat.

The report recommended 30 new principles to de-escalate conflict.

Calls for police reform include de-escalation training for officers so incidents involving police can be resolved without violence. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)


A key principle: slowing down interactions. Instead of trying to resolve crises quickly and move onto the next call, officers should seek to buy time, said the report — it encouraged them to keep a distance from suspects, and begin interactions not with an order, but with a question.

The idea is that time is an ally in restoring calm and rational decision-making. The report also offered advice for clearer communication with emergency dispatchers, and with families of mentally ill people.

It concluded that police recruits get way too little training in defusing tension.


The first principle mentioned in the report, however, involves an attitude, not a tactic: it says police forces must treat human lives as sacred.

One resident’s experience

That’s not how Jacob Rodriguez viewed police attitudes growing up in Camden. He’s now a 38-year-old community organizer who recalls officers being needlessly hostile.

For example, when he played on the street with friends, he said officers would shoo them away without asking if they had elsewhere to play.

The town was so dangerous, and public spaces in such disuse, that Little League baseball disappeared there for 15 years.

One incident sticks out in particular for Rodriguez.

Jacob Rodriguez, seen here at the centre of this photo, said policing in Camden, N.J., is very different from when he was a kid. But he still sees room for improvement. (Submitted by Jacob Rodriguez)


He was running a grocery errand for his mom at age 12. Police were seeking a man with a gun — an adult. Rodriguez was small, even for a pre-teen.

He said officers stopped him, shoved him against a wall, frisked him, put him in a police car, and drove him away.

When they realized they’d made a mistake, he said, they just drove him back and dropped him off where they’d found him.

“No apology,” said Rodriguez, who now works with a community organization that provides shelter to unaccompanied, undocumented minors.

“They just went on their merry way. … That’s what makes it difficult for some of us to trust the police.”

documentary funded by the Justice Department during the Obama era chronicles Camden’s post-2013 reform effort.

Some officers in the video describe their initial resistance to the changes — but said the emphasis on a slower pace, and more empathy, has really worked.

WATCH | Police reform in Camden, N.J.

Rodriguez said there’s still work to do.

He said the city should still be investing more in community services and relationship-building. That’s the idea driving some of the protesters’ calls to defund the police and shift money elsewhere.

Pushback and the role of unions

Some officers say changes have already gone too far.

Critics of police reform have argued that de-escalation tactics put officers at risk — and that a more aggressive approach is necessary in a country with so many guns.

Police unions have been known to vigorously push back on attempts at reform or officer discipline.

For example, in just the last few days, 57 officers refused to remain on the Buffalo riot squad after colleagues were charged in the injury of the elderly man.

Their mass-walkout came after the Buffalo police union reportedly said it would stop paying legal fees for officers connected to current protests.

Police groups are reportedly also upset at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for talking about new oversight mechanisms.

LaShawn Kenley sits in a part of a ‘Black Lives Matter’ message painted on the street in front of the White House, during a protest Saturday in Washington. (Leah Millis/Reuters)


Union contracts have an impact on the street, some researchers say.

Different research projects — one at the University of Chicago, and another involving University of Victoria researcher Rob Gillezeau — found that violent incidents involving police increased with new collective bargaining.

“I’m getting some pushback from my union on the concept of de-escalation,” former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said in the Police Executive Research Forum report.

“We’re going to have that resistance, because how do we undo the training drilled into people and the mindset they have had for 20 or 30 years? It’s going to be tough.”

She made that comment four years before an officer, in her city, with a long history of complaints, knelt on the neck of Floyd, and killed him, unleashing a wave of rage that rippled across the U.S. and beyond, with such intensity that it now threatens the entire Minneapolis force.


Police Can’t Build Public Trust When Bad Cops Hide in Plain Site. That’s a Problem

Widespread calls for police reform and reimagining police as public guardians as hundreds of thousands march in support of Black Lives Matter 


If baseball players can show their names on uniforms, why can’t police?

Part of the problem with building trust with police and military operating in Canada is that they all wear impersonal common uniforms which, I suppose, is justified as an intimination tactic. But that doesn’t build public trust.

The vast majority of police take seriously their pledge to serve and protect. . But let’s face it:  there are many good cops and a very few bad apples getting away with assault and even murder, escaping accountability because they can’t be quickly identified either by police administrators or by citizens and brought to justice.

Police should be seen as part of the community: as community heplers and friends; experts who can help deescalate tensions when they arise.  A policeman regularly walking a beat (with a nightstick instead of a gun) is ultimately more effective in building public trust than one riding in an assault vehicle, surveying the public behind mirrored glasses, anticipating the worst.

Body cameras? Fine. The money spent on them can be justified. Public safety depends on police and citizens working together; cooperating to build a safe society.

Why not build public confidence by putting the names of policemen on their uniforms so the public can then lodge specific complaints or commendations?

Ron Hart (Gaianicity) is a member of the County Sustainability Group





Help make 2020 a great year for Canada’s coastal waters!

The 2020s will be a pivotal decade for nature. Let’s make safeguarding whales, creating marine protection networks, rebuilding fish populations, phasing out open net-pen fish farms and protecting marine species at risk top priorities for the next federal budget.

The David Suzuki Foundation is one of 22 environmental organizations in the Green Budget Coalition, which develops recommendations for the federal budget. Charting a course to healthy oceans requires a solid plan, which is why GBC’s 2020 budget for nature includes funding for:

      • Marine planning, including co-governance, marine protected area networks, national marine conservation areas and conservation economy development.
      • Increasing fisheries stock assessment and monitoring capacity and ensuring data transparency.
      • Enhancing capacity to meet Species at Risk Act requirements to recover abundance of endangered and threatened aquatic species throughout Canada’s coastal waters, particularly salmon and whales.
      • Creating a responsible aquaculture sector through research, monitoring, enforcement and incentives for alternative production methods.
      • Implementing regulations that finalize revisions to the Oceans Act and Fisheries Act.

Tell Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the prime minister and your MP it’s time for Canada to make significant investments in nature, instead of subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.


Hope for healthy oceans

There’s much to celebrate today, World Oceans Day.

There’s still much more to do.

With the Green Budget Coalition, we’ve put together federal budget suggestions to support marine health and biodiversity.

Join thousands of other ocean advocates. Send your letter to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan now.

Email Minister Jordan

Thank you for caring about oceans,

Panos Grames
Senior Public Engagement Specialist
The David Suzuki Foundation

P.S. Canada can spend wisely to protect oceans and safeguard endangered species. Please use your voice for oceans today.