Canada’s 1% Hold Over A Quarter Of Country’s Wealth, PBO Report Says

The people at the top hold roughly $3 trillion between them.

As COVID-19 rewrites playbook on social safety net, majorities support idea of basic income of up to 30K

As COVID-19 rewrites playbook on social safety net, majorities support idea of basic income of up to 30K

The concentration of wealth among Canada’s richest one per cent is deeper than previously believed, according to a federal government report based on a new modelling approach.

The top one per cent of Canada’s families hold about 25.6 per cent of the wealth — roughly $3 trillion — up from 13.7 per cent estimated under previous methodology, says the report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

“The distribution of wealth among households is heavily skewed toward the wealthiest families,” the report notes.

“In Canada, a small proportion of families at the top of the distribution possess net worth that is orders of magnitude higher than the country’s median net worth.”


The amount of money held by Canadian families would total $11.7 trillion if they liquidated all assets and paid off all liabilities, about five times larger than Canada’s annual gross domestic product, the report notes.

Real estate at $5.8 trillion and mortgages at $1.5 trillion are the single largest asset and liabilities categories.

The report adds that the top 0.5 per cent of Canadian families hold 20.5 per cent or $2.4 trillion of the wealth, up from the previous estimate of 9.2 per cent.

It was expected that the numbers would rise because the previous estimates were clearly too low, but the magnitude of the increase was surprising, said Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux in an interview.

“When we looked at the number from StatsCan in their survey, the wealthiest person had self-declared wealth of $27 million and we know that there are people in Canada that are richer than that,” he said.

“We were not surprised there would be upward revisions but to that extent, I was personally surprised to see it was that much.”

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons Finance committee on March 10.


The new database calculation incorporates information from Canadian Business magazine’s 2017 Richest People List, with figures from Statistics Canada’s 2016 net worth survey and its fourth-quarter 2016 National Balance Sheet Accounts report.

Giroux said his office investigated new ways to estimate wealth in Canada following requests during last year’s federal election to provide an estimate of the revenues that could be raised by a tax on wealthy families, as well as ongoing interest in tax reform by legislators.

Last September, the federal NDP proposed a one per cent annual wealth tax on fortunes worth more than $20 million, claiming it could raise nearly $70 billion over the next 10 years.

Unlike a tax on income, a wealth tax would apply to all assets, including real estate, with the aim of reducing financial inequality among Canadians.

At the time, the PBO released figures suggesting the measure could raise $5.6 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year and rise to nearly $9.5 billion in 2028-29.

That number was arrived at by using certain assumptions and, while it’s likely it would be higher using the updated database, it’s difficult to say what it would be without extensive new calculations, said PBO lead analyst Nigel Wodrich.

The NDP plans to ask for that recalculation, finance critic Peter Julian said in an interview.

He charged that the Canadian government has deliberately withheld the “appalling” statistics so that inequality in the tax system which favours the wealthy over average citizens remains hidden.

“With a fair tax system, we would be seeing a vastly different distribution of the nation’s wealth, a much more fair distribution,” he said.

The PBO says it’s not yet known if the wealth database will be updated on a regular basis.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.

We Don’t Have To Halt Climate Action To Fight Racism

It’s time to stop #AllLivesMattering the climate crisis

Late last month, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer lit a tinderbox of outrage that has been simmering for months, years, generations. That outrage has pulled Americans out of social isolation and into the streets in all 50 states, and inspired protests around the world. They show no sign of stopping. In fact, they show every sign of winning.

This is different. This is big. And it’s everywhere.

Even in the climate movement — which has long stuck to the sidelines in moments like this — advocates and organizations are publicly declaring that Black Lives Matter. They are finally standing up and speaking out in defense of Black people’s right to breathe. It’s about damn time.

There’s just one problem: This new commitment to Black people often seems to come with an assumption that the fight for climate justice has to halt. As a “Climate Person,” my social media feeds are awash in calls to pause climate activism for the sake of supporting Black people, as though the two are mutually exclusive. As a Black Climate Person, I can’t tell you how disorienting that is.

There used to be a myth in environmental circles that Black people don’t care about the environment or about climate issues. There’s a lot of data to prove that that’s not true. But I don’t need that data, because I’ve been around Black people my whole life and I’ve never met one who didn’t care about the environment, or about animals. I’ve met plenty, though, who don’t care for environmentalists. And I understand why.

JOSE LUIS MAGANA / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES A demonstrator walks in front of a row of military police wearing riot gear as they push back demonstrators outside the White House, on June 1.


Typically, when the environmental movement has attempted to reach out to Black communities, it turns into something I’ve called “existential exceptionalism.” The conversation goes something like, “Oh, you’re worried about police violence? Well, you need to be worried about these POLAR BEARS!” Climate change is framed as the issue that threatens “all of us” and therefore should be everyone’s priority. Climate change, the myth goes, is the Great Equalizer.

Not only is this approach dismissive and insensitive, the premise is simply untrue.

It’s been documented again and again that climate change hurts Black people first and worst — both in the United States and globally. Moreover, Black people did the least to create the problem, and our systemic oppression runs directly parallel to the climate crisis.

Climate change takes any problem you already had, any threat you were already under, and multiplies it. When you take a population that has lived in chronic crisis, under constant threat, for generations — from police violence to housing discrimination to general disenfranchisement — and add yet another threat? That’s not just a recipe for catastrophe. With the climate crisis itself — the storms and the temperatures — it’s not so much that the game is rigged, it’s the playing field. Climate change is not the Great Equalizer. It is the Great Multiplier.

So it’s not just time to talk about climate — it’s time to talk about it as the Black issue it is. It’s time to stop whitewashing it. In other words, it’s time to stop #AllLivesMattering the climate crisis.

It’s time to talk about how extreme heat begets extreme violence—and how that can interact with an already extremely violent police force.” It’s time to talk about how extreme heat exacerbates police violence and increases deaths from tasers. It’s time to talk about what happens in prisons, which often lack air conditioning and heat, as temperatures skyrocket. It’s time to talk about climate gentrification. It’s time to talk about the use of tear gas — which hurts respiratory systems during a pandemic that is already disproportionately affecting Black people — as environmental racism.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES A protester rinses the eyes of another with water after police fired tear gas during a protest on May 31.


And, while we’re at it, it’s time to talk about why Black people face higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death: Because we’re far more likely to live in food deserts, and near dumping grounds, power plants and large-scale animal farms, all of which saddle us with preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Those are the same preexisting conditions that authorities attempted to blame for the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd.

It’s time to talk about what Hurricane Katrina revealed and what I can never, ever unsee: When disaster strikes, the power structure will either abandon us or turn even more sharply against us. When resources run low, we will have the least and when we try to take what we need, we’ll be labeled looters and shot on sight.

It’s time to talk about the white vigilantes who roamed New Orleans after Katrina — and were damn near state-sanctioned — and today’s armed militia groups that are ready and willing to exploit any disaster (including the current protests) to bring about a race war. What do you think they’d do in the aftermath of a hurricane or a fire?

REUTERS/DAVID J. PHILLIP/POOL DJP/DY  An aerial view of homes surrounded by floodwaters in New Orleans in September 2005.


It’s time to talk about my biggest fear about the climate crisis. It’s not, “How will we treat each other?” It’s “How will white people treat people who look like me?”

If caring about climate change and caring about Black people were mutually exclusive, I never would have gotten into climate justice. Black people are my first and true love. I mean, who did y’all think I was fighting for? I got into climate justice work because I love Black people. Do you?


Alberta environmental monitoring remains suspended as state of emergency ends

The Alberta oilsands shown from above. Last month, the Alberta Energy Regulator suspended environmental monitoring requirements for oil and gas companies, a decision that has been criticized by First Nations and scientists. File photo by Kris Krug

The lifting of Alberta’s COVID-19 state of emergency does not mean the province will ask the oilpatch to resume environmental monitoring.

The Alberta Energy Regulator suspended requirements for all oil and gas companies in the province to report environmental data in May, citing the COVID-19 crisis. On Tuesday, the regulator confirmed those suspensions would remain in place even though the province ended its state of public health emergency on Monday.

“There are a whole bunch of things opening up … But we can’t get two people going onto a site to do environmental monitoring?” said Dale Marshall of the green non-profit Environmental Defence.

“This continues to be a pretty flimsy excuse to make an ideological, anti-environmental decision.”

In an update posted to its website Tuesday, the regulator said environmental monitoring won’t resume until the government lifts public health orders around physical distancing and travel.

“The temporary suspensions will continue to remain in place as we work with government to understand their next steps,” the notice read.

The AER did not answer questions from National Observer about why the suspension is still necessary if the state of emergency is over.

Jess Sinclair, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon, didn’t answer when asked why the suspension is still needed. But Sinclair pointed to past statements saying the monitoring that’s now temporarily on hold is low-risk, and companies are still required to report it when they break the law.

“If there isn’t an emergency anymore … then it just makes sense that those conditions be put back in place as soon as possible,” said Jason Unger, the executive director of the non-profit Alberta Environmental Law Centre.

Ontario, which also suspended some environmental protection measures in the early stages of COVID-19, restored them this week.

Scientists, First Nations have criticized suspension

The Alberta government first suspended some environmental monitoring with a March 31 order from the environment minister, saying it would cause companies “hardship” to force them to comply during a pandemic.

“There are a whole bunch of things opening up… But we can’t get two people going onto a site to do environmental monitoring?” said Dale Marshall of the green non-profit Environmental Defence. #ableg #cdnpoli

The Alberta Energy Regulator — a provincial agency that oversees oil, oilsands, natural gas and coal projects — added environmental monitoring exemptions for the oilsands in May. Later, as the province started lifting COVID-19 restrictions with the reopening of golf courses and dental services, it broadened the exemption to include the entire oil and gas industry.

Now, companies no longer need to monitor groundwater, soil, fumes, wildlife, tailings ponds, and more. The government and the regulator have said the monitoring that was halted is “low-risk,” and that it would have been dangerous to have people going in and out of areas to do the work.

The Mikisew Cree, Fort McKay and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations have appealed the suspensions to the regulator’s internal review body, saying the decision was “shocking,” done without consultation and wasn’t explicitly linked to COVID-19. The Opposition Alberta NDP have also called for the head of the AER to resign over the suspension.

A dozen environmental groups and Indigenous organizations wrote to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson last week to ask him to intervene. And this week, Alberta’s top scientist said he wasn’t consulted, while the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists said it was possible to do environmental monitoring while respecting physical distancing.

Some of the suspensions included time limits, meaning much of the environmental monitoring that’s on hold right now is set to resume in the fall, Unger said. But other changes could remain longer, he added.

“Without clear guidance from the regulator as to when that will happen, that’s kind of up in the air,” he said.

Many types of environmental monitoring are part of the conditions on companies’ permission to operate. Though the data may be classified as low-risk, decision-makers thought this work was important enough to mandate it, Unger said.

Unger also added that the longer the suspensions continue, the larger the data gap that will result. Particularly with some kinds of wildlife monitoring, he said, scientists could miss their window to observe certain species if the work only resumes after the summer.

“What are we giving up by not having those monitoring programs in place?” he said. “The question I would have is, just, what’s the plan?”


Critics say Ontario’s new ‘ag-gag’ law could target journalists, whistleblowers

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government passed a bill Wednesday that critics say could penalize whistleblowers and investigative journalists who expose unethical or illegal practices at farms and meatpacking plants.

The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, Bill 156, hikes fines for trespassing in newly created “animal protection zones” and makes it illegal to enter livestock facilities under false pretences. It was opposed by journalistic organizations, animal rights groups and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which said the law violates the charter right to free expression.

Camille Labchuk, executive director of the non-profit Animal Justice, said in a statement that transparency in factory farming is more important than ever during COVID-19. Some of the worst outbreaks of the virus have happened at meatpacking plants, she added.

“Whistleblowing employees are often the only way the public has to see what conditions are like on farms,” Labchuk said.

The government has said the bill, introduced by Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman and backed by farming groups, is meant to protect farmers and Ontario’s food supply from trespassers. Trespassing is already illegal, but the bill goes further, prohibiting people from blocking vehicles carrying livestock, giving farmers the ability to “arrest” trespassers, and opening up violators for civil lawsuits.

Critics have called Bill 156 an “ag-gag” law. Alberta passed a similar one last year.

Ontario Pork Producers, which represents pig farmers in the province, and Chicken Farmers of Ontario both thanked the government for passing the bill.

In a statement, Chicken Farmers of Ontario said existing laws were not enough to stop animal rights activists from entering farm property.

“This is not right,” the statement said. “Farmers should not have to live in fear of trespassers threatening our animals, our families, and our way of life — without facing legal repercussions.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists warned the bill could target whistleblowers who speak out about unsafe or cruel conditions. It could also penalize journalists who go undercover to report on wrongdoing, a technique that is “occasionally necessary,” the association said.

“As recently as last summer, video from animal rights groups has led to media reporting and police investigations,” the association said in a statement last week. “This bill would have prevented those activities.”

Bill 156 was opposed by journalistic organizations, animal rights groups and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Critics warn it could target journalists and whistleblowers.

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who voted against the bill, noted Wednesday that similar bills in the United States have been struck down.

“While I agree we need stronger trespassing laws to protect farmers, I believe we can do this without violating people’s freedom of expression and freedom of assembly rights, and without criminalizing investigative journalism,” he said via Twitter.

“Let’s promote Ontario food and farmers instead of suggesting that we have something to hide.”

Nearly 50,000 people have signed an online petition to stop the bill.


We Should Consider Changing the Name of British Columbia

Let the discussion, and your suggestions for a new name, begin.


The BC Parliament Buildings in Victoria. If you could rebrand the province, what would you prefer it be called?

Is it time to change the name of Canada’s westernmost province to something other than British Columbia?

The name fails to acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples here before Europeans arrived, implicitly honours England’s racist colonizers, and explicitly lionizes Christopher Columbus. If ever there was a moment to rebrand, it is now.

Part of the shock and awe since the death of George Floyd has been the toppling of statues by crowds of protesters and the abrupt change of names of streets and even school districts.

The technical term for this is “iconoclasm,” literally the breaking of idols. It’s a common chore for conquerors; the Spanish not only shattered the Aztecs’ idols, they built cathedrals on the sites of their temples. The intent, of course, is to de-legitimize the old beliefs and values, and to impose new ones.

In recent years, many Canadians and Americans have begun to realize that their icons may not deserve all the worship they’ve received. Columbus’s first thought on meeting the gentle people of the Caribbean islands was that they would make good slaves; in the next century, 90 per cent of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas died of European diseases. Sir John A. MacDonald was not just a roguish drunk who created Canada; he was a chief architect of the deliberate destruction of the First Nations by destroying their children in residential schools. Which is why Victoria, B.C. took down his statue in front of city hall two years ago.

None of this was taught in North American schools or portrayed in North American media. The narrative was always the settler winning of the west, not Indigenous loss of homes and people. The winners got statues and streets and schools named after them. The losers were relegated, at best to “noble savage” status; at worst, to duty as slaves with very short life expectancies.

Names, monuments and emblems are instruments of meaning-making in service of establishing authority and allegiance to a shared identity. In religion, an idol gives the worshipper a visual focus, something to venerate. The Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — all worry that the idol may supplant the deity, and some of their believers resist using any images at all. Others accept images as good marketing. Catholicism inspired astounding artistic successes through the depiction of Jesus, Mary and countless saints. Eastern Orthodox Christianity developed the icon as another kind of religious image, with comparable success.

Taking their cue from religion, countless governments have commissioned paintings and sculptures of secular heroes and symbolic images that (in the governments’ view) deserve similar regard. They lend legitimacy and give the people a sense of who they are. In the Mexico City earthquake of 1957, the gilded statue of the Angel of Independence toppled to the base of its column and triggered national anxiety. The symbolism was just too obvious.

As we have seen with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the staggering of the West in 2020, the symbols of past glory are the first to go. The great ones cast in bronze fall to the pavement; their pillars await the symbols of the new order.

Of course it shocks and appalls those who prospered in the old order. Russia is full of old Stalinists and America’s southern states are full of white men named Robert E. Lee. When the monuments fall, such people feel their identities threatened by upstarts’ rewriting of history. They rarely reflect that they themselves did the same.

The current wave of iconoclasm could become a tsunami, washing away much of 500 years of domination by European white men. The toppling of Confederate president Jefferson Davis is serious enough, but mostly for Southern whites; what about the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus himself?

Pursue that overthrow, and what are we to call the district surrounding Washington? Should Colombia change its name? What about Columbia University? What about British Columbia? What’s the name of our province if we are no longer British, and Columbus is anathema? And who will choose the new names? And while we’re at it, would the flag, with its references to the Union Jack and British Crown get a re-do, too?

Many place names deserve to stay simply because their colonial origins are forgotten, and it would be too much trouble to choose new ones. But many of the colonizers might well be removed from their columns and replaced with statues of those who helped to make us what we are today — both Indigenous and settlers. Which ones to select should provoke some lively debate and much-needed exploration of our history.

Let’s have that discussion right here. In the comments below, tell us how you feel about keeping or changing the name British Columbia, and what the province should call itself instead.  [Tyee]


Environmental justice in the spotlight

Grassroots groups fighting for climate action that prioritizes communities of color have gained steam.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ON THE RISE  Unrest over police brutality, combined with the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on African Americans, Latinos and other minorities, has swiftly turned into a broader national reckoning over structural racism. That has elevated the perspectives of the environmental justice movement, a network of grassroots activists who push for climate change and sustainability policies that prioritize communities of color, which are exposed to greater levels of pollution and therefore are at greater risk of dying from the pandemic.

Out of balance: The amount of air pollution you create depends a lot on what you buy — bigger cars or more stuff means a heavier environmental footprint. But how much pollution you breathe in depends mainly on where you live and how close you are to things like highways or factories. That drives racial disparities, according to a 2019 study that compared consumption and housing patterns across different demographic groups. Discriminatory housing policies like redlining have historically pushed minorities to live in more polluted areas. The findings underscore disparities environmental justice campaigners are trying to address.


“We have been making recommendations for 20 to 30 years,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of We ACT for Environmental Justice. She also is an executive committee member of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, which officially relaunched on Monday for the first time since 2006 to address the simultaneous economic, health and environmental crises harming black Americans.

For most of that time, environmental justice activists received lip service at best from politicians and larger green groups. But that has changed in recent years, aided by proposals like the “Green New Deal” that sought to address racial and economic injustice in conjunction with rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Now, attention to their cause is at an all-time high, as politicians, celebrities, business leaders and everyday white people begin to acknowledge the disparities that still exist in America.

“We are glad that the lid finally popped off,” said Michele Roberts, national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance. “I have never been so busy. Normally, we are chasing down reporters. Now, we are being asked what this is all about.”

Roberts added that corporate commitments to address climate change weren’t enough. “As much as we appreciated the commitment of the corporate sector to the Paris accord, that doesn’t do anything for our communities,” she said. “It’s a nice business plan … but doesn’t provide what our communities need to close health disparities and reduce emissions in specific communities. Everyone was happy with a market-based system, but we’ve got to go beyond the market to be moral.”

EYEING THE ELECTION — It remains to be seen whether this new enthusiasm translates into policy victories. Roberts said she was encouraged to see the House-passed HEROES Act included $1.5 billion to help low-income households cover their water bills and a $50 million grant program aimed at addressing environmental problems in communities of color. Democratic Reps. Don McEachin of Virginia and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who unveiled sweeping environmental justice legislation last year, pushed to include that language in the stimulus bill, but its prospects in the Senate are unclear.

Advocates see the presidential race as their biggest chance to make inroads, and they are pushing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to expand on his $1.7 trillion climate plan, which was not well received by progressives during the primary. Biden formed a task force to recommend new climate policies that includes lawmakers like McEachin, along with activists and policy experts, who work on environmental justice.


Reality Check: Meanwhile, the Trump administration has furthered its rollback of environmental regulations by temporarily allowing companies to put off some pollution monitoring checks during the pandemic, prompting a lawsuit by eight states. If Trump wins in November, Shepard acknowledged that the road ahead would be rocky. “We would have opportunities if Democrats win the Senate. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough. We’ll try to hold the line on environmental rollbacks, which we expect more of.”


Welcome to The Long GameBe sure to catch up on last week’s issuedevoted to the lack of diversity in corporate America, in case you missed it. We want to know what you think and what we’re missing. We won’t take anything personally, promise. Send tips, critiques and all your sustainability questions — and answers — to and Find us on Twitter @ceboudreau and @nickjuliano. Did someone forward this to you? Subscribe here!

Last week, we asked if you had witnessed or personally experienced racism in the workplace. Most of you asked to remain anonymous, including an employee at The Nature Conservancy who said that, as a person of color, they are paid less than their white counterparts but expected to do the same work — a common occurrence throughout the organization, according to the writer. Robert Polk of Henderson, Nev., said he resigned from his kitchen manager job after the restaurant owner refused to hire black staff. Rebecca Taddeo, of Bloomfield, N.J., shared a similar experience while working in law offices, restaurants and retail. “I was told that if a black person submitted his or her résumé … I was to immediately throw it in the trash,” she said.

This week, we want to know: How do we make sure marginalized communities are prioritized when lawmakers and activists push for climate action? Some say oil, gas and coal companies should pay fees to be set aside for resiliency in low-income areas. Others say air and water permitting processes should be more accessible and transparent. Tell us your ideas and we may share them next week.


WHERE THERE’S NO WATER  Inadequate access to running water and indoor plumbing remains a problem in parts of the U.S.. according to a recent report from the U.S. Water Alliance, a coalition of utilities, public officials, environmental groups and businesses. The problem is especially severe among Native American communities, where nearly 6 percent of households lack access to “complete plumbing,” which the report defines as having access to “hot and cold running water, a bathtub or shower, a sink with a faucet, or a flush toilet.”

— POLITICO’s Annie Snider talked to some top experts Monday about the importance of diversity to address access challenges, as part of a panel discussion on the future of water policy. “I think the history of water management in this country is that we haven’t had the right people at the table, and so we continue to have suboptimal outcomes, whether it comes to COVID-19 recovery, drought management, how do we deal with flooding, emerging contaminants,” said Radhika Fox, CEO of the US Water Alliance. “And so if we’re going to get the future of water right, we have to have more inclusive and diverse tables.” Watch the whole in-depth conversation.

PAY UP — Environmental justice advocates in California have long criticized the state’s cap-and-trade programs for letting businesses buy their way out of trouble, but they are supporting changes being considered in response to the pandemic. The program hasn’t forced many reductions, in part because of a generously set emissions cap, but it serves as the backstop accounting mechanism that ensures California meets its 2030 goal. The program also raises billions of dollars in annual revenue, but that money began to dry up when the economy shut down this spring.

The Legislature is considering ordering regulators to consider increasing the price or reducing the supply of carbon dioxide credits based on demand. The proposal is opposed by groups like the California Chamber of Commerce, which says it would increase costs for businesses. But environmental justice advocates say it could spur the types of investments and pollution reductions their communities need. Katie Valenzuela, policy and political director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, said she supports the proposal but would prefer to see more aggressive regulations put in place. “Big picture, we’ve always banged the drum for something more direct and something that we can have assurance won’t harm environmental justice communities,” she said.

— California’s top air and climate regulator faced criticism from some black lawmakers earlier this month after she tried to draw a parallel between “I can’t breathe” and air pollution’s disproportionate effects on communities of color. Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols deleted her tweet, but not before Assemblyman Jim Cooper — a moderate Democrat who frequently sides with business interests on climate issues — slammed the state’s distribution of clean-vehicle rebates to “coastal elitists” and called for her to step down.


PIPELINE PROTEST — Failure to consider the disproportionate health risks faced by minority communities has proved to be a stumbling block for new pipelines in recent years. Case in point: Environmental justice considerations are keeping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on hold, despite a big win for the project’s developers in the Supreme Court on Monday.

The justices overturned a lower court ruling that had blocked construction of the pipeline across the Appalachian Trail, but the case did not address other shortcomings that have delayed the project. For example, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in January threw out state air quality permits after finding that state regulators had failed to consider the health risks a natural gas compressor station would pose to residents in Union Hill, Va., a predominantly black community that was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The court ordered the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to start again on the permits. A spokesperson for project sponsor Dominion Energy said the company has been working with the department on the process and has submitted a new report from a third-party consultant that found their proposal would have no disproportionate impact on environmental justice communities.

Climate flashpoint: Atlantic Coast is part of a larger debate over whether there is a role for natural gas in strategies to fight climate change. Dominion says the gas carried by the pipeline will correct supply shortages in places like Hampton Roads, Va., and eastern North Carolina and help replace dirtier coal-fired power plants as part of the utility’s plan to hit net-zero emissions by 2050. But green groups point to research showing that natural gas might become a stranded asset within 15 years because renewable energy like wind and solar will be the cheaper alternative.


The Impulse to Garden in Hard Times has Deep Roots

During coronavirus lockdowns, gardens have served as an escape from feelings of alienation. Richard Bord/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has set off a global gardening boom.

In the early days of lockdown, seed suppliers were depleted of inventory and reported “unprecedented” demand. Within the U.S., the trend has been compared to World War II victory gardening, when Americans grew food at home to support the war effort and feed their families.

The analogy is surely convenient. But it reveals only one piece in a much bigger story about why people garden in hard times. Americans have long turned to the soil in moments of upheaval to manage anxieties and imagine alternatives. My research has even led me to see gardening as a hidden landscape of desire for belonging and connection; for contact with nature; and for creative expression and improved health.

These motives have varied across time as growers respond to different historical circumstances. Today, what drives people to garden may not be the fear of hunger so much as hunger for physical contact, hope for nature’s resilience and a longing to engage in work that is real.

Why Americans garden

Prior to industrialization, most Americans were farmers and would have considered it odd to grow food as a leisure activity. But as they moved into cities and suburbs to take factory and office jobs, coming home to putter around in one’s potato beds took on a kind of novelty. Gardening also appealed to nostalgia for the passing of traditional farm life.

For black Americans denied the opportunity to abandon subsistence work, Jim Crow-era gardening reflected a different set of desires.

In her essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Alice Walker recalls her mother tending an extravagant flower garden late at night after finishing brutal days of field labor. As a child, she wondered why anyone would voluntarily add one more task to such a difficult life. Later, Walker understood that gardening wasn’t just another form of labor; it was an act of artistic expression.

Particularly for black women relegated to society’s least desirable jobs, gardening offered the chance to reshape a small piece of the world in, as Walker put it, one’s “personal image of Beauty.”

This isn’t to say that food is always a secondary factor in gardening passions. Convenience cuisine in the 1950s spawned its own generation of home-growers and back-to-the-land movements rebelling against a mid-century diet now infamous for Jell-O mold salads, canned-food casseroles, TV dinner and Tang.

For millennial-era growers, gardens have responded to longings for community and inclusion, especially among marginalized groups. Immigrants and inner-city residents lacking access to green space and fresh produce have taken up “guerrilla gardening” in vacant lots to revitalize their communities.

An immigrant tends his plot at the South Central Community Farm in Los Angeles. David McNew/Getty Images

In 2011, Ron Finley – a resident of South Central L.A. and self-identified “gangsta gardener” – was even threatened with arrest for installing vegetable plots along sidewalks.

Such appropriations of public space for community use are often seen as threats to existing power structures. Moreover, many people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that someone would spend time cultivating a garden but not reap all of the rewards.

When reporters asked Finley if he were concerned that people would steal the food, he replied, “Hell no I ain’t afraid they’re gonna steal it, that’s why it’s on the street!”

Gardening in the age of screens

Since the lockdown began, I’ve watched my sister Amanda Fritzsche transform her neglected backyard in Cayucos, California, into a blooming sanctuary. She has also gotten into Zoom workouts, binged on Netflix and joined online happy hours. But as the weeks stretch into months, she seems to have less energy for those virtual encounters.

Gardening, on the other hand, has overtaken her life. Plantings that started out back have expanded around the side of the house, and gardening sessions have stretched later into the evening, when she sometimes works by headlamp.

Many can probably sense what’s missing. It’s the physical presence of others, and the opportunity to use our bodies in ways that matter. It’s the same longing for community that fills coffee shops with fellow gig workers and yoga studios with the heat of other bodies. It’s the electricity of the crowd at a concert, the students whispering behind you in class.

And so if the novel coronavirus underscores an age of distancing, gardening arises as an antidote, extending the promise of contact with something real. My sister talked about this, too: how gardening appealed to the whole body, naming sensory pleasures like “hearing song birds and insects, tasting herbs, the smell of dirt and flowers, the warm sun and satisfying ache.” While the virtual world may have its own ability to absorb attention, it is not immersive in the way gardening can be.

But this season, gardening is about more than physical activity for the sake of activity. Robin Wallace, owner of a photo production business in Camarillo, California, noted how the lockdown made her professional identity “suddenly irrelevant” as a “non-essential” worker. She went on to point out a key benefit of her garden: “The gardener is never without a purpose, a schedule, a mission.”

As automation and better algorithms make more forms of work obsolete, that longing for purpose gains special urgency. Gardens are a reminder that there are limits to what can be done without physical presence. As with handshakes and hugs, one cannot garden through a screen.

You might pick up skills from YouTube, but, as gardening icon Russell Page once wrote, real expertise comes from directly handling plants, “getting to know their likes and dislikes by smell and touch. ‘Book learning’ gave me information,” he explained, “but only physical contact can give any real … understanding of a live organism.”

Filling the void

Page’s observation suggests a final reason why the coronavirus pandemic has ignited such a flurry of gardening. Our era is one of profound loneliness, and the proliferation of digital devices is only one of the causes. That emptiness also proceeds from the staggering retreat of nature, a process underway well before screen addiction. The people coming of age during the COVID-19 pandemic have already witnessed oceans die and glaciers disappear, watched Australia and the Amazon burn and mourned the astonishing loss of global wildlife.

Perhaps this explains why stories of nature’s “comeback” are continually popping up alongside those gardening headlines. We cheer at images of animals reclaiming abandoned spaces and birds filling skies cleared of pollution. Some of these accounts are credible, others dubious. What matters, I think, is that they offer a glimpse of the world as we wish it could be: In a time of immense suffering and climate breakdown, we are desperate for signs of life’s resilience.

My final conversation with Wallace offered a clue as to how this desire is also fueling today’s gardening craze. She marveled at how life in the garden continues to “spring forth in our absence, or even because of our absence.” Then she closed with an insight at once “liberating” and “humiliating” that touches on hopes reaching far beyond the nation’s backyards: “No matter what we do, or how the conference call goes, the garden will carry on, with or without us.”


The Conversation

The Jevons Paradox

The Jevons paradox is that efficiency enables growth. New technologies that can produce more goods from a given amount of resources allow the economy as a whole to produce more. More resources get used overall.

This is the magic of industrial capitalism and the secret of growth. Economists have known it for a long time. So why is it called a paradox?

A question of scale

The paradox is that we tend to assume that the more efficiently we use a resource the less of it we will use.

This is the case in our personal lives. If you buy a more fuel-efficient car, you might drive a little bit more but overall you will likely burn less gasoline. Switching to a low-flow showerhead typically saves water at home.

This efficiency-for-conservation logic appears correct for most subsets of the economy. When a business switches to energy-efficient light bulbs, its electricity bills go down. Municipalities that require new buildings to meet energy efficiency standards might see energy use decrease within city limits.

But at the level of the whole economy, the reverse is true. These efficiency gains contribute to increasing production and consumption, which increases the extraction of resources and the generation of wastes.

This suggests that energy-efficient technologies do not reduce carbon emissions, that fertilizer-saving precision farming techniques do not decrease fertilizer applications overall, and that increasing agricultural yields does not spare land for nature. Real-world evidence supports these claims.

Environmental policy focused on efficiency gains does not by itself benefit the environment. Economies grow by developing and deploying increasingly efficient technologies.

How growth happens

Consider a hypothetical example. If the owner of a tea kettle factory installs a new machine that can make one kettle from less raw copper than before, he might continue to produce the same amount of kettles at a lower cost, or he might choose to make more kettles overall from the same amount of copper.

Either way, profits will go up. The factory owner can buy more machines to make even more kettles from even more copper. Or he can invest those profits elsewhere, increasing production in another sector of the economy and thus increasing the use of copper and other materials.

As more tea kettle factories adopt the copper-saving technology, they might start selling kettles at lower prices to compete for customers. As tea kettles get cheaper, people will be able to buy more of them. Since more kettles can be sold, factories will make more—using more copper.

Copper’s price might increase as factories increase their demand for it. When the price goes up, more potential copper mining sites become profitable, which further raises supply.

Or, even if all tea kettle factories end up using less copper with the new, copper-saving machines, copper’s price will fall and other sectors will be able to afford more copper and therefore demand more.

Cheaper copper could make all copper-containing things cheaper, not just tea kettles, leaving people with more money to spend. They can demand more of the products of all economic sectors, further increasing the use of many materials, including copper.

Cheaper copper might increase industrial profits, too, which capitalists either reinvest to increase production or spend on luxury things.

Even if the initial factory owner decides to give his workers a raise rather than keeping the profit or increasing production, then the workers will have more money to spend on tea kettles and everything else. Even if they decide to save all that additional income, the banking sector will direct it toward investing in more new machinery to produce more things from more materials.

No matter what, it seems, copper consumption rises in the end, because efficiency increases kickstart the growth machine.

The more efficiently society can use copper, the more of it will generally be used. Unless, that is, society intentionally limits its use of copper.

The same goes for just about any resource.

150 years of more

English economist William Stanley Jevons gets credit for being the first to point all this out. In 1865, Jevons found that as each new steam engine design made the use of coal more efficient, Britain used more coal overall, not less.

These efficiency improvements made coal cheaper, because steam engines, including the ones used to pump water out of coal mines, required less coal to produce a given amount of useful energy. Yet increasingly efficient steam engines made coal more valuable too, since so much useful energy could be produced from a given amount of coal.

That might be the real paradox: the ability to use a resource more efficiently makes it both cheaper and more valuable at the same time.

In Jevons’ time, more and more coal became profitable to extract as more and more uses of coal became profitable. Incomes increased as coal-fired industrial capitalism took off, and profits were continually invested to expand production further.

A century and a half later, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that as industrial processes have gotten more efficient at using dozens of different materials and energy sources, the overall use of these materials and energy sources has grown in nearly every case. The few exceptions are almost all materials whose use has been limited or banned for reasons of toxicity, like asbestos and mercury.

In an economy designed to grow, the Jevons paradox is all but inevitable. Some call it the Jevons phenomenon because of its ubiquity. Purposefully limiting ourselves might provide a way out.

Fighting growth with collective self-limitation

To prevent catastrophic climate change, humanity must rapidly reduce the combustion of fossil fuels. But despite decades of policy efforts and international negotiations, emissions continue to rise every year.

The focus on making energy use more efficient is paradoxically worsening the problem, as efficiency gains facilitate increasing, not decreasing, carbon burning. And renewable energy sources are adding to fossil fuels, not replacing them. Earth’s limited sources of coal, oil, and gas will not run out in time to save the stable climate.

But what if governments around the world treated coal like they do asbestos? What if petroleum extraction and uses were subject to strict limits like those of mercury?

To limit the use of fossil fuels, or anything else, society must impose limits on itself, preferably democratically. We must set limits on our own activity.

Once binding limits are in place, efficiency gains become one of several tools for staying within them. With a hard cap on the total amount of oil that can be burned, adopting increasingly fuel-efficient machinery cannot backfire and spark growth of oil-burning economic activity. Instead, fuel efficiency would allow more useful work to be done with the limited amount of oil that society permits itself to combust.

Of course, we must also be skeptical of the maximizing mentality that considers efficiency and more to be good things as such. Collectively limiting ourselves offers not just an escape from capitalism’s endless loops of efficiency and growth; it also provides the constraints necessary to imagine and act out new ideas about what makes the good life, as well as revive and protect traditional lifeways.

For many communities around the world, a global project to limit resource use could bring liberation from pollution, exploitation, and the one-way path toward Western-style development. To them, limits do not mean reductions or sacrifice but an opportunity to pursue goals other than growth.

Efficiency makes growth. But limits make creativity.

Once free from the efficiency mindset, we see that setting legal limits is not the only solution to the Jevons phenomenon. Society can also purposefully choose less-efficient production processes, setting the paradox in reverse by constraining the potential scale of the economy. If efficiency makes growth, maybe inefficiency makes degrowth.


Further reading suggestions:

David Owen. “The Efficiency Dilemma.” The New Yorker, December 12, 2010. 
New Yorker piece captivatingly chronicles the history of the Jevons paradox as an idea and as a real material force

Fast-growing mini-forests spring up in Europe to aid climate

Miyawaki forests are denser and said to be more biodiverse than other kinds of woods

A Miyawaki forest being planted on the outskirts of Paris, France. Photograph: Courtesy of Boomforest

Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis.

Often sited in schoolyards or alongside roads, the forests can be as small as a tennis court. They are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Advocates for the method say the miniature forests grow 10 times faster and become 30 times denser and 100 times more biodiverse than those planted by conventional methods. This result is achieved by planting saplings close together, three per square metre, using native varieties adapted to local conditions. A wide variety of species – ideally 30 or more – are planted to recreate the layers of a natural forest.

Natural forests can store 40 times more carbon than single-species plantations

Scientists say such ecosystems are key to meeting climate goals, estimating that natural forests can store 40 times more carbon than single-species plantations. The Miyawaki forests are designed to regenerate land in far less time than the 70-plus years it takes a forest to recover on its own.

“This is a great thing to do,” said Eric Dinerstein, a wildlife scientist who co-authored a recent paper calling for half of the Earth’s surface to be protected or managed for nature conservation to avoid catastrophic climate change. “So this could be another aspect for suburban and urban areas, to create wildlife corridors through contiguous ribbons of mini-forest.”

The mini-forests could attract migratory songbirds, Dinerstein said. “Songbirds are made from caterpillars and adult insects, and even small pockets of forests, if planted with native species, could become a nutritious fast-food fly-in site for hungry birds.”

In 2017, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands monitored newly planted mini-forests and concluded that they “increase the biodiversity compared to the nearby forest. Both the number of species groups and the number of individuals is generally higher than in the reference forests.”

The higher biodiversity is due partly to the forests’ young age and openness, explained Fabrice Ottburg, an animal ecologist who led the Wageningen study. This allows more sunlight to reach flowering plants that attract pollinators. Diversity is also boosted by planting multiple species, which “provide more variety in food and shelter for a higher diversity of animals like insects, snails, butterflies, amphibians, bugs, grasshoppers”, Ottburg said.

In the Netherlands, the conservation group IVN Nature Education has helped cities and households to plant 100 Miyawaki-style forests since 2015. It is on track to more than double that number by 2022 and is working on similar efforts in a dozen other countries. Assorted groups in Belgium and France have recently created at least 40 mini-forests.

A three-year-old forest in Ormeignies, Belgium
Pinterest A three-year-old forest in Ormeignies, Belgium. Photograph: Urban Forests


The first in France was planted in March 2018 beside a busy four-lane road on the edge of Paris. The dense thicket was intended to reduce noise and filter air for the adjacent neighbourhood. On the day of planting, 40 people gathered with 31 species of saplings to bring new life to ground that had been prepared with compost from local horse stables.

Two years earlier, Enrico Fusto and Damien Saraceni had applied for funding from Paris’s participatory budget, a scheme that asks residents for ideas about how to spend 5% of the city’s funds. The pair proposed mini-forests, saying they could help increase the level of tree cover in the city, which is currently less than 10%, much lower than many other major cities. “Each community can be the protagonist of its own restoration story,” said Fusto.

In Toulouse, a mini-forest group planted 1,200 saplings on a 400 sq metre patch in March.

Nicolas de Brabandère, a Belgian naturalist and founder of Urban Forests, began planting Miyawaki-style forests in 2016, organising volunteers and local authorities to plant 300 saplings on a grassy strip of land near a road. Now his first forest is 3 metres tall, its floor a thick layer of humus.

De Brabandère believes the participatory nature and speed of a mini-forest is what appeals to people, and he predicts a bright future for the movement. “Every time I tell the story, everybody likes it,” he said. “So I have a good feeling the trend will continue.”


By Hannah Lewis


The Miyawaki Method: A Better Way to Build Forests?

CROWD FORESTING: Create Micro, Mini or Mega Forests

Pandemics result from destruction of nature, say UN and WHO

Experts call for legislation and trade deals worldwide to encourage green recovery

Mangroves in Morondava, west Madagascar. The UN has described coronavirus as an ‘SOS signal’ for humankind. Photograph: Alamy

Pandemics such as coronavirus are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, according to leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF International, and the world has been ignoring this stark reality for decades.

The illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places were still the driving forces behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans, the leaders told the Guardian.

WWF report, also published on Wednesday, warns: “The risk of a new [wildlife-to-human] disease emerging in the future is higher than ever, with the potential to wreak havoc on health, economies and global security.”

WWF’s head in the UK said post-Brexit trade deals that fail to protect nature would leave Britain “complicit in increasing the risk of the next pandemic”.

High-level figures have issued a series of warnings since March, with the world’s leading biodiversity experts saying even more deadly disease outbreaks are likely in future unless the rampant destruction of the natural world is rapidly halted.

Earlier in June, the UN environment chief and a leading economist said Covid-19 was an “SOS signal for the human enterprise” and that current economic thinking did not recognise that human wealth depends on nature’s health.

Twice the size of California, the South American Gran Chaco is the second largest forest reserve in South America. It is an immense and scarcely populated region, many parts of which are dry and arid. The residents of the Chaco include campesino, or farmer, families and indigenous communities. The small and dispersed communities often face deep poverty.
CWS has worked in the Gran Chaco since 2005 to build the skills and expertise of indigenous men, women and youth to advocate effectively for their basic rights and their ancestral lands. These rights include water, education, health, food and a life free from violence and discrimination.
“We have seen many diseases emerge over the years, such as Zika, Aids, Sars and Ebola and they all originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, head of the UN convention on biological diversity, Maria Neira, the World Health Organization director for environment and health, and Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International, in the Guardian article.

“Worryingly, while Covid-19 has given us yet another reason to protect and preserve nature, we have seen the reverse take place. From the Greater Mekong, to the Amazon and Madagascar, alarming reports have emerged of increased poaching, illegal logging and forest fires, while many countries are engaging in hasty environmental rollbacks and cuts in funding for conservation. This all comes at a time when we need it most.

“We must embrace a just, healthy and green recovery and kickstart a wider transformation towards a model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society. Not doing so, and instead attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems, and social safety nets, has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over.”

A man walks past a poster warning people in Guangdong province, China, that consuming wildlife is illegal.
 A man walks past a poster warning people in Guangdong province, China, that consuming wildlife is illegal. Photograph: Alex Plavevski/EPA

The WWF report concludes the key drivers for diseases that move from wild animals to humans are the destruction of nature, the intensification of agriculture and livestock production, as well as the trading and consumption of high-risk wildlife.

The report urges all governments to introduce and enforce laws to eliminate the destruction of nature from supply chains of goods and on the public to make their diets more sustainable.

Beef, palm oil and soy are among the commodities frequently linked to deforestation and scientists have said avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way for people to reduce their environmental impact on the planet.

Tanya Steele, the head of WWF UK, said the post-Brexit trade deals must protect nature: “We cannot be complicit in increasing the risk of the next pandemic. We need strong legislation and trade deals that stop us importing food that is the result of rampant deforestation or whose production ignores poor welfare and environmental standards in producer countries. The government has a golden opportunity to make transformative, world-leading change happen.”

The WWF report said 60-70% of the new diseases that have emerged in humans since 1990 came from wildlife. Over the same period, 178m hectares of forest have been cleared, equivalent to more than seven times the area of the UK.



Coronavirus is a warning to us to mend our broken relationship with nature

The world must embrace a recovery that involves sustainable farming and clean energy. Anything else is a false economy