Indigenous youth have put out a call to #CancelCanadaDay and Idle No More is amplifying that call.
A protest at the Country Club Plaza on May 31, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
In turnout, perseverance, and in the ethnic and racial diversity of those participating, the last month of protest in response to the police murder of George Floyd is like nothing the US has experienced before. And most shocking of all, the protests are winning.
Given the pattern of previous Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the initial wave of protests in major cities around the country was hardly surprising. And the spread of the movement into progressive communities such as Santa Monica, California; Boulder, Colorado; Cambridge, Massachusetts was predictable as well.
But when the protests began popping up in conservative, predominantly white communities, it was clear, to paraphrase Dorothy, that we were “no longer in Kansas.” Or, rather, that counter to history and recent partisan politics, we in fact were in Kansas, and not just in Kansas City, but also, as reported in the Kansas City Star, in small, overwhelmingly white towns such as Overland Park, Shawnee, and Olathe. And this spread of protests beyond the major cities has taken place across all fifty states.
This fact brings us to the most important, and potentially consequential, difference between the current protests and any we’ve seen in recent years: the racial and ethnic diversity of the current protest wave. Given this is an ongoing and young movement, it is hard to get a systematic handle on the demographics of the protesters, but there is simply no denying the diversity of those taking part.
Working with Michael Heaney, Dana Fischer, the acknowledged maven of contemporary protest studies, surveyed protesters at early demonstrations in Los Angeles, New York, and DC, and reported the following percentages of those taking part.
Video footage that I’ve seen from protests in those same three locations, plus Minneapolis, suggests a more even demographic distribution than the above figures suggest, but even allowing for variation across sites, it’s clear that the demographic mix is far more varied than anything we have seen in recent years. And indeed, far more diverse than anything we saw during the heyday of the mass Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In fact, while the ’60s movement benefited at times from considerable white support, the levels of actual protest participation by whites was minimal.
This is hardly surprising when you consider that the major campaigns and actions during the heyday of the movement in the early ’60s — the sit-ins in 1960, the Freedom Rides in 1961, Albany in 1962, Birmingham in 1963, Selma in 1965 — all took place in the South, and virtually all white Southerners were implacably opposed to the threat the movement posed to “the Southern way of life.”
To be sure, there were sympathy demonstrations in the North in support of the sit-ins, and considerable white financial support for the major civil rights organizations, but very little in the way of active white participation in the major Southern campaigns.
And when the struggle turned northward in response to the onset of the riots in the mid-1960s, even the generalized sympathy the movement had enjoyed in the early ’60s largely evaporated. This shift was occasioned by the new goals the movement embraced as it sought to contend with the more complicated forms of systemic racism endemic outside the South. Movement aims during the Southern phase of the struggle called for little more than the dismantling of an anachronistic caste system in which few whites outside the South had any stake.
Over time, however, the movement’s goals were broadened to embody a more holistic critique of the complex patterns of “institutional racism” in which the interests of many who had earlier “supported” the movement were implicated. The effect of this change was to greatly erode white support for, and significantly increase white opposition to, the movement.
Geographically, the shift of the struggle from South to North had much of the same effect. Confined almost exclusively to the states of the former Confederacy in the early 1960s, the movement posed little threat to residents in other regions of the country.
However, with the advent of the riots, open-housing marches, and court-ordered busing in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the comfortable illusion that racism was a distinctly Southern problem was shattered. By the mid-to-late 1960s white opposition to the movement was as much a Northern as a Southern phenomenon.
It should also be noted that the movement’s shift from interracialism to Black Power, and then black separatism after, say, 1965–66 also limited the opportunities for white participation in the struggle. Bottom line: without gainsaying the reality and significance of generalized white support for the movement in the early 1960s, the number of whites who were active in a sustained way in the struggle were comparatively few, and certainly nothing like the percentages we have seen taking part in recent weeks. Whether that continues, of course, remains to be seen.
The demographic diversity of the current wave of protests isn’t the only thing that marks the current wave as distinctive. For all the attention and hope we tend to lavish on protests, the truth is, very few such episodes result in any meaningful social and/or political change. Occupy Wall Street burst onto the scene in the fall of 2011, generating widespread public sympathy, and temporarily “changed the conversation,” but, in the end, accomplished little.
Or think of the various gun violence protests triggered by the numbing litany of mass shooting incidents we’ve suffered as a nation over the past decade or so: Parkland High School, Sandy Hook, Charleston, and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. And yet little or no meaningful policy change has come from any of those protests.
And save perhaps for the rare instance of local police reform, the same can be said of the protests that occurred in recent years in the wake of the killing of far too many African Americans at the hands of police — at least until George Floyd. It looks, for all the world, like these protests are achieving what very few do: setting in motion a period of significant, sustained, and widespread social and political change.
The many efforts to reform policing — including the Senate and House bills currently under consideration — are rightfully getting the lion’s share of attention, but they hardly exhaust the changes being considered at the moment. Indeed, the many calls to “defund” or even eliminate police departments are as much about reinvesting resources in social programs, mental health initiatives, job training, and the like as it is narrowly about police reform.
If the efforts to change that are being proposed were confined to the above, we would be justified in declaring the George Floyd “movement” a slam dunk success. But something remarkable appears to be happening beyond the efforts to reform law enforcement, and reimagine what a more generous and equitable social welfare system would look like.
Lots of organizations and institutions appear to be embracing this as a watershed moment in their history, asking what the current moment demands of them, or what changes they need to make to advance the overarching goals of social justice and racial equity. For example, Comcast has announced it is committing $100 million to a three-year plan to advance social justice and equality, and fight “injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability.”
Even allowing for a healthy dose of cynicism on the part of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s embrace of Black Lives Matter, it is still symbolically significant and a pointed rebuke to President Donald Trump. NASCAR’s banning of Confederate flags at its event is another striking symbolic response to the moment, especially given the sport’s popularity in the South.
And for every one of these highly publicized actions by high-profile enterprises, there are countless others taking place in smaller, less visible companies and institutions. I will confine myself to just two from my own life. A friend of mine works for an urban planning firm that organized and hired a professional to facilitate an online, company-wide conversation about race and equity as a first step toward reforming its internal organizational practices. Stanford’s academic program review board — the body that rules on cases of academic probation and suspension — is undertaking a systematic review of its procedures, to determine whether they are sufficiently sensitive to the challenges faced by traditionally disadvantaged students, especially in the context of COVID-19 and the protests roiling our communities.
There are many such examples. Put together, we appear to be experiencing a social change tipping point that is as rare as it is potentially consequential. However, notwithstanding all the energy and momentum generated by the protests, and what appears to be a related drop in Donald Trump’s poll numbers, his reelection in November remains a real threat, all the more so since the pandemic threatens the high-voter turnout that Democrats rely on, as well as enabling the kind of voter suppression that the Republicans favor.
The best we can hope for is to do everything we can to maintain the momentum, energy, and inclusive, pragmatic, and nonviolent character of the current protests. Our goal should be twofold: to capitalize on the possibilities for change inherent in this moment, and to begin to pivot toward forms of electoral mobilization crucial to success in the fall. The survival of American democracy will likely depend on how successfully we attend to this agenda.
Douglas McAdam is Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Emeritus at Stanford University.
As the fight against anti-Black racism spilled into Pride month, protests like the All Black Lives Matter Solidarity March in Los Angeles, pictured on June 14, evolved to include the voices of Black LGBTQ people. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
The pro-industry group Canada Action received $100,000 from the oil and gas company ARC Resources, The Narwhal has learned. Photo illustration: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal
Canada Action, a non-profit organization that bills itself as a “grassroots movement” in support of the country’s natural resources industry, received a $100,000 payment from a major oil and gas developer, according to disclosures made to the Government of Canada.
The funding from ARC Resources, a conventional oil and gas company with operations in Western Canada, was listed in a company report submitted to Natural Resources Canada in May.
The sources of funding behind Canada Action and the organization’s prominent founder and spokesperson, Calgary-based realtor Cody Battershill, have been in question since the group began generating attention in 2015 for its vocal support of Canada’s extractive industries — including its t-shirts and stickers displaying the slogan “I love oilsands.”
While our previous reporting identified deep ties between Canada Action, the oil and gas industry and conservative party campaigners, this is the first time industry funding of the organization has been publicly disclosed.
Canada Action is part of a growing chorus of industry advocacy groups that frame Canada’s environmental movement as anti-Canadian and motivated by foreign financial interests. In its early stages, Canada Action was described as a citizen-led initiative. A 2014 National Post article called Battershill a “one-man oilsands advocate” in a “PR war” to defend the country’s energy sector — which was facing growing scrutiny amid evolving social and environmental values, particularly in regards to Indigenous rights and climate change.
These new details about the finances of Canada Action come to light as attacks on the environmental movement are moving from the fringes to the mainstream, with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney facing scrutiny for investing $30-million into a so-called “war room” to combat misinformation, target environmentalists and defend the province’s energy industry.
In response to questions from The Narwhal regarding how much funding ARC Resources has provided to Canada Action, ARC Resources’ senior vice president of finance Kristen J. Bibby said: “This was a one-time payment to support Canada Action’s initiatives to promote Canadian energy.”
Canada Action and Cody Battershill did not respond to multiple requests for comment by publication time.
Bob Neubauer, researcher with the Corporate Mapping Project, told The Narwhal the disclosure of industry funding behind Canada Action has the potential to “shred their credibility.”
“Canada Action has always made their claim to fame by saying, ‘hey, we’re just a bunch of grassroots concerned citizens’ … The fact that they’re receiving a hundred thousand dollars from industry — it torpedoes their own descriptions of who they are and what they do.”
For years, questions have swirled around the presumed corporate sponsorship of Canada Action — questions the organization has always, in one way or another, successfully dodged.
In a 2015 interview with the program Conversations That Matter, Battershill offered this by way of explanation for Canada Action’s support: “I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars out of my own pocket.”
“There is nothing astroturf or fake about my passion for my country,” he told interviewer Stu McNish. “I’ve put my money, my time and my actions where my mouth is.” McNish did not directly ask Battershill whether or not he received industry or political funds.
In my own reporting, when I asked Battershill directly about the sources of funding behind Canada Action, he told me: “We accept donations from individuals and we sell Canada Action merchandise to support our campaigns.”
In early 2019, earth scientist Dave Hughes pressed Canada Action to disclose its funding in a column published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Hughes wrote: “When Canada Action was asked for funding sources … it provided no response.”
Yet onlookers have noted Canada Action’s impressive rise since it was formally registered as a non-profit society in 2014 and publicly launched at the Woods Buffalo Brewing Co. in Fort McMurray.
“The oil crash of 2014 to 2015 created such a massive problem for the industry and such a massive level of unemployment, it created a crisis not just for industry but for communities that are dependent on industry,” Neubauer, who is also a lecturer in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, told The Narwhal.
Canada Action took hold of a broad public narrative — espoused by pro-industry groups across the country — that oil and gas is good not only for these communities but critical to maintaining the Canadian way of life.
Neubauer said that, along with other researchers tracking the influence of pro-industry groups with the Corporate Mapping Project, he saw Canada Action “cultivating factoids and turning that into memes and talking points and promoting the heck out of that online and directing people to take action.”
Canada Action is prolific in its production of memes disseminated through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It has published more than 150 posts on Facebook since the beginning of the year, and while many feature photos of individuals sporting the group’s for-sale t-shirts, the vast majority are sleekly designed and branded graphics that emphasize some specific benefit to Canadians from industry while stoking a sense of national pride.
The group has more than 100,000 followers on Facebook, 18,000 on Instagram and nearly 27,000 on Twitter. Yet some of Canada Action’s proxy groups, which include Pipeline Action and Oilsands Action, have gone on to overshadow the original audience — Oilsands Action now boasts more than 315,000 followers on Facebook and close to 70,000 on Twitter.
Starting around 2015, there was a proliferation of advocacy groups organizing industry support both online and offline, Neubauer said, using familiar tricks of political campaigning that are “kind of close to the environmental movement’s ladder of engagement,” he said.
Many of these groups, such as Canada’s Energy Citizens, which is a project of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, were easily identified as “astroturf” or fake grassroots organizations manufactured by the oil and gas industry to have the appearance of citizen-led initiatives.
“But with Canada Action, we didn’t have any proof of industry funds so we didn’t call them astroturf — but they were playing the same game,” Neubauer said.
The ‘about us’ section on Canada Action’s Facebook page says the organization was first conceived in 2010 and “is dedicated to changing the narrative about our world-class natural resource industries.”
“Canada is a leader in protecting people and the plant [sic] — we should be proud of our record from coast to coast,” the statement reads.
“Our mandate is to encourage Canadians to take action and work together through fact-based, non-partisan and positive conversations to get the message out far and wide in a proactive manner.”
“The world needs more Canadian energy.”
But beyond the pro-industry mantra, Neubauer said, Canada Action has played a very vocal role in criticizing the environmental movement and furthering conspiratorial narratives about how the environmental movement is funded.
In a 2019 opinion piece published on EnergyNow.ca, Battershill said his organization responds “rapidly and regularly to false statements of many activists,” including David Suzuki, Tzeporah Berman, Bill Nye, Leonardo DiCaprio, Neil Young and Jane Fonda.
“Writing a false or misleading narrative attacking the Canadian oil and gas industry might cause some initial confusion in the minds of the public” and can have long-lasting effects in the “political consciousness,” Battershill wrote.
Neubauer said the new revelations about Canada Action’s industry funding paints their criticism of the environmental movement in a new light.
“They’ve been spinning the notion that environmental issues in general are a conspiracy by the well-heeled elite and celebrities and the United Nations and trying to destroy the lifestyle of the working class,” he said.
“The fact that they spend a lot of their time talking about shady funding … I think the funding pipeline, excuse the pun, for the environmental movement is far more transparent than what you’re looking into right now.”
Canada’s little-known Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA) came into force in 2015, requiring natural resource companies like ARC Resources to disclose payments made to governments in relation to the extraction of oil, gas and minerals.
According to documents filed by ARC Resources to the ESTMA database on May 27, 2020, a payment of $100,000 was made to Canada Action Coalition under the category of “bonuses.”
The disclosure appears to have been made unintentionally, according to Tommy Morrison, data associate with the New York-based Natural Resource Governance Institute.
“Canada Action Coalition doesn’t fit the description of an eligible payee under ESTMA’s preparation guidelines, and no reporting company in Canada has ever named it as a payee,” said Morrison, who analyzes data disclosed within the database.
“Among all the data we’ve collected as part of ResourceProjects.org, it is irregular to see disclosure of a payment to a non-governmental payee,” Morrison told The Narwhal. “We do not have a position on transparency of industry funding of non-profits in Canada, but generally we recommend greater openness in the sector.”
Non-profits are not required to disclose their sources of funding, even if they are registered as non-profit societies with the federal government, as is the case with Canada Action.
(The Narwhal is a registered non-profit society in British Columbia and voluntarily discloses all donations over $5,000.)
In the disclosure documents, the Canadian government is listed as the “payee” for the $100,000 amount and Canada Action Coalition is listed as the agency that received that payment.
Michael Grainger, policy analyst with Natural Resources Canada, which manages and maintains the disclosure database, also indicated the disclosure was made in error. While companies are required to list payments to governments in the form of taxes and royalties, payments to Canada Action would not have to be disclosed, even though the non-profit is a society registered with the federal government. The $100,000 payment appears to have been listed in a case of over-disclosure.
“The Canada Action Coalition is not associated with the Government of Canada, and NRCan may have accepted the report in error,” Grainger wrote in an email to The Narwhal.
He added that Natural Resources Canada contacted ARC Resources “and asked them to amend their report as soon as possible. An amended version should be posted online shortly.”
Grainger said that any inquiries pertaining to payments to the Canada Action Coalition should be directed to ARC Resources.
On its website ARC Resources describes itself as a “Canadian oil and gas producer committed to delivering strong operational and financial performance and upholding values of operational excellence and responsible development.”
The company was founded by ARC Financial Corp., a Calgary-based private equity firm “specializing in the Canadian energy industry.” ARC Financial is also behind the ARC Energy Resources Institute which describes itself as “dedicated to researching complex, interrelated trends that influence the energy business, including financial, political, environmental, technological, social and economic forces.”
William Carroll, sociology professor at the University of Victoria and one of the leads of the Corporate Mapping Project, said he describes the networks linking industry with Canadian finance, think tanks and so-called citizen groups are called “a regime of obstruction.”
“What we’re trying to reference there is the multifaceted nature of corporate power and influence. It extends in different ways and certainly funding Canada Action is important — as is CAPP’s project Canada’s Energy Citizens — all of these extractivist, populist elements are one kind of initiative that speaks to a certain audience, in terms of mobilizing a kind of grassroots base.”
Industry funding behind initiatives that are positioned as citizen-led or grassroots is often hidden from or not made apparent to the public.
“It’s not a genuine grassroots initiative and yet it appears that way and I think a lot of ordinary folks concerned about jobs and drawn into this kind of discourse accept it as a kind of people’s movement,” Carroll said.
In recent years, Canada Action has branched out from its base support for the energy industry to champion other major natural resource sectors including mining and forestry as well as pipelines and agriculture.
T-shirts with the messages “I love Canadian forestry,” “I love Canadian pipelines” and “I am Canadian energy” can now be purchased on the organization’s website.
According to Canada Action the organization’s campaign influence has grown steadily, too. According to an end-of-year newsletter sent in December 2019, Canada Action was behind “the largest pro-oil and gas rally in Canadian history” that brought out “some 4,000 supporters.”
The group claims it hosted more than 30 “resource rallies” across Canada and “proudly participated in the first ever Indigenous-led pro-pipeline rally for Trans Mountain held in Vancouver on June 18, 2019.”
Canada Action also says the organization is focusing its efforts on central Canada, “particularly on young Canadians who are keen for credible, balanced and non-partisan information on Canadian energy and natural resources.”
Neubauer said there is a confluence of factors that have led to the current moment, where an organization like Canada Action can dramatically impact public narrative around the natural resource industry.
“The economy is toast, their finances are toast, they’re hurting — but they’re also looking for someone to blame. It’s attractive to blame someone like David Suzuki, Naomi Klein and Greta Thunberg because that’s part of a broader pro-oil, conservative narrative,” he said.
That conservative discourse dovetails with a broad resurgence of populism, especially right-wing populism around the world, Neubauer said, pointing to the work of groups like Canada Proud and Alberta Proud and their efforts to influence elections.
“I think in some ways people like Battershill and groups like Canada Action are kind of leveraging the popularity of the same types of political forces and feelings of dislocation, and also just resistance against change, that motivates the politics behind Donald Trump and Brexit — you’re seeing these groups using powerful, emotionally charged, populist narratives about who is coming to get you and take your good life.”
There are often very good reasons to build small or average size solar farms – available land, local demand, and grid capabilities among them. But there can be no doubt that costs for large scale solar farms benefit from scale.
This will be the underpinning argument behind the multi gigawatt projects now being proposed across Australia – and particularly in its north and west – to develop renewable export industries that could serve near neighbours or north Asia, via sub-sea cables or some form of transportable vehicle such as ammonia or hydrogen.
The case for gigawatt scale projects is underlined by a detailed assessment from Rystad Energy on the declining costs of solar-based power purchase agreements over the past decade.
The graph below, revealed in a webinar last week, shows two overwhelming trends: One is the continuing plunge in large scale solar costs, already down by 90 per cent over the last 10 years – and 70 per cent over the last five – and still falling. The second is the advantage of scale – the big gigawatt scale projects are clearly the cheapest.
According to Rystad Energy’s David Dixon, there’s a bunch of reasons why this is the case. If you go back 10 years, more than 90 per cent of large scale solar capacity was less than 50MW. Now it’s around 40MW, and more than half is more than 100MW, and going over 400MW delivers capex reductions of around 20 per cent.
The lowest PPA’s in this graph above are found in he Middle East – (in yellow, which usually mark the cheapest prices in their respective year of delivery) thanks to a good solar resource, land availability, cheaper labour costs, and low cost finance. But other large projects are also delivering the lowest costs.
In Australia, more projects are being contemplated at scale, which is why this next graph is interesting. It shows that Australia stands out in the share between existing and operating projects, and those in the pipeline.
The table on the left shows that there is a fair mix in Australia of solar, wind and storage projects, with a touch of hydrogen electrolyses (Europe appears as the series initial competition).
The table on the right highlights the amount of capacity that is in the pipeline, and the amount that is already operating. Given the small size of the Australian grid – in comparison with most other countries – this huge pipeline of projects at the stage of development application and concept is surprising.
Australia, as many advocates have pointed out – won’t stop at 100 per cent renewables. It will likely reach multiple levels of capacity, as suggested by ARENA boss Darren Miller when he talks about the opportunity of 700 per cent renewables.
A 60MW solar and big battery project planned for the New South Wales Riverina region has been put on the fast-track as part of the third tranche of the state government’s Planning System Acceleration Program.
The Yanco solar farm, which is being developed by German outfit Ib Vogt around 1km west of the town of the same name, was listed in the Berejiklian government’s final 19 planning projects to have their assessments fast-tracked as part of a post-Covid recovery policy.
Projects considered for the fast-tracking program were required to have a development application in the system, deliver a public benefit, demonstrate an ability to create jobs during construction and once complete, and be able to commence construction within six months.
“So far this program has unlocked $1 billion of economic investment a week – far surpassing any other State’s planning acceleration programs,” said NSW planning minister Rob Stokes.
Stokes said that, to date, 48 major projects had had their assessments finalised through the program, creating opportunities for more than 25,000 jobs and $13 billion in economic benefits.
“We’re establishing a new normal for the NSW planning system, with faster decision-making and simpler processes. And with local councils now following our lead with their own acceleration programs, NSW will remain the pounding heart of the Australian economy,” the minister said.
The 60MW(AC) Yanco solar project would be built on around 152 hectares of land, using single-axis tracker PV panels and on-site battery storage units of either 81MW/57MW rated capacity.
Ib Vogt, which is an engineering company, as well as a solar developer, is also hoping to develop a 66MW solar farm just north of Dunedoo in central New South Wales, within the Warrumbungle Local Government Area.
Like an earthquake rumbling down the San Andreas Fault, Jeff Gibbs’ and Michael Moore’s controversial film “Planet of the Humans” tore a rift through the environmental movement, a rift its leaders would not yearn for in an election year. After activists have spent decades painstakingly building popular support for climate policies focused on developing and deploying low-carbon technologies, the film and its defenders dismiss these as false solutions, saying the focus should instead be on curbing population, consumption, and economic growth.
Both those factions agree that, as the IPCC has concluded, human civilization must cut its carbon emissions to zero within a few decades to avert a climate crisis. Is there a scientific way to determine which group is right about the best way to achieve that goal? As a matter of fact, there is.
In 1990, Japanese energy economist Yoichi Kaya developed a simple and elegant formula called the Kaya Identity that can help answer the question: F is human carbon emissions, P is human population, G is economic activity as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), and E is energy consumption.
For carbon emissions (F) to reach zero, just one of the four terms on the right side of the formula must be zero. So either human population (P), per-person economic activity (G/P), the energy consumed to power the economy (E/G), or the carbon footprint of energy (F/E) must be zero. Common sense gives us the answer to the debate: clean energy is the only plausible route to zero emissions.
And we’re in luck. Clean energy would not destroy humanity or human civilization, which would be the result of zeroing the population, economy, or energy use. Contrary to the false claims in “Planet of the Humans,” carbon emissions from energy can plausibly reach zero. In fact, a new report from the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that U.S. electricity could be supplied by near-zero emissions sources (like wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and geothermal, plus storage) in short order. About 40% of American electricity is supplied by clean sources as of 2020, and the report concludes that this number could feasibly be scaled up to 55% by 2025, 75% by 2030, 90% by 2035, and 100% by 2045.
If an energy-devouring economy like that of the United States can do it, one might argue, the rest of the world can too.
The Berkeley report also concludes that replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources would prevent 85,000 premature deaths caused by air pollution and create half a million permanent jobs (mostly associated with manufacturing and construction of clean energy infrastructure), while electricity rates would only be 12% higher than business-as-usual (and cheaper than today’s rates).
And this might be the ideal time to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Consider that coronavirus has triggered a recession, cost millions of jobs, and led to the worst health outcomes in areas with high air pollution. Those areas are disproportionately communities of color struggling to achieve racial, environmental, and climate justice.
The report lists numerous policy mechanisms to help achieve this goal – most importantly through clean energy standards that can be set by Congress, governors, state legislatures, public utility commissions, or through an equivalent rulemaking by a new administration’s EPA. Under current business-as-usual policies, just 55% of U.S. electricity will come from clean energy sources in 2035, so accelerating the transition to zero emissions will require implementation of the types of policies outlined in the report.
Electricity accounts for 25% of carbon emissions globally and 28% in the U.S., so achieving net-zero emissions would require additional policies addressing other sectors, for example, electrification of vehicles and building heating sources to power them with clean electricity. Emissions from agriculture, deforestation, and industry processes would also need to be reduced to zero in coming decades. Environmental groups, clean energy advocates, and some political leaders have developed plans and programs that can accomplish all these goals if the public and policymakers get on board.
The Gibbs-Moore “Planet of the Humans” film includes interviews with numerous individuals expressing their concerns about human population growth. But the Kaya Identity illustrates why halting or even reversing that growth cannot be the answer to achieving zero emissions. The term “P” is not population growth; rather, it represents the total human population. Zero population would mean human extinction – surely an outcome everyone wants to avoid. Even halving the population like supervillain Thanos in the “Avengers” films – which is not plausible or even desirable – would only halve carbon emissions.
In fact, global population growth has steadily declined from 2% per year in the late-1960s to just over 1% per year today. And most of the growth is happening in developing countries where citizens have small carbon footprints. The climate solutions experts at Project Drawdown note that improving education in developing countries will slow population growth further yet. That will help slow carbon emissions growth, but it cannot achieve the goal of reaching zero emissions.
The second term on the right side of the Kaya Identity, global per capita GDP, has grown at around 2% per year in recent decades, and periods in which it declines represent economic depressions. While curbing excessive consumption in wealthy countries in a shift toward greater sustainability can help slow climate change and other adverse environmental impacts, zero GDP would represent a total collapse of the global economy. Like zero population, it is not achievable if we hope to avoid catastrophe.
Bottom line: Curbing population, economic, and consumption growth can only curb the growth in carbon emissions. Imagine that carbon emissions are the water level in a bathtub that’s filling up. Curbing growth is akin to turning down the water faucet. That’s a start, but not nearly enough to get the water level down to zero; we need to turn off the faucet and unplug the drain.
The third and fourth terms on the right side of the Kaya Identity represent the energy intensity of the economy (E/G) and the carbon footprint of energy (F/E). The third term has been and is expected to continue declining as energy efficiency improves and as inefficient fossil fuels are replaced by more efficient clean technologies. However, because running the economy will always require energy, this metric also cannot reach zero.
Unlike efforts to curb population and consumption growth, policy solutions that focus on developing and deploying clean technologies can achieve the zero-emissions goal needed in the coming decades to avert a climate crisis. Curbing economic growth can help slow climate change, but only if it doesn’t come at the expense of solutions that can achieve the zero-emissions goal and also benefit communities that have long suffered from racial, environmental, and climate injustices … and whose voices are conspicuously absent from “Planet of the Humans.”
As Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president for environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month:
People of color are much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. … We can lessen many of these impacts both in our communities and on our planet by moving forward with a just and equitable transition from fossil fuels, where no one gets left behind and we lower the emissions that are playing a role in COVID-19 impacts and moving us toward a climate emergency tipping point.
All-electric building rules are gaining ground in California, and the state’s largest natural gas and electric utility is OK with that.
Pacific Gas & Electric has become the first combined natural gas and electric utility in California to express support for an emerging plan to require “efficient, all-electric new construction” in the state, telling regulators that it wants to “avoid investments in new gas assets that might later prove underutilized” under the state’s long-term decarbonization goals.
Thursday’s letter from PG&E Vice President Robert Kenney to the California Energy Commission is a notable concession by the state’s largest utility to the constraints its natural-gas operations will face under California’s push to attain zero-carbon emissions by 2045.
The CEC is considering stakeholder proposals for a revision to state building code Title 24 that would ban natural-gas equipment installations for new buildings constructed in the state starting in 2022. If taken up by the CEC, it would be the first such move by a state agency. Kenney wrote that “PG&E supports state and local government policies that promote all-electric new construction when it is feasible and cost-effective.”
Switching buildings from gas to electricity for heating and cooking, along with electrifying transportation, is considered to be a vital step in cutting emissions outside of electricity generation. California has taken a leading role in this effort, both at the state and local level.
Last year, the Northern California city of Berkeley became the first in the nation to ban gas lines for new residential construction, with a few limited exceptions. Since then, more than 30 cities and counties in the state have passed ordinances prohibiting new natural-gas hookups, instead requiring all-electric appliances or otherwise limiting the role of natural gas in buildings, according to a June report by Rob Rains, analyst at Washington Analysis.
“California is obviously leading this,” Rains said in a Friday interview. After California, “Massachusetts is dipping its big toe in,” with the city of Brookline approving a ban on natural gas for new construction late last year that is awaiting approval from the state attorney general’s office, and several other cities also considering bans.
PG&E’s public support for such a move is a rarity among utilities invested in natural-gas infrastructure, Stephanie Greene, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, said in a Friday interview. “As far as we know, they’re the first investor-owned combined gas and electric utility that supports an all-electric building code.”
But California’s mandate to reduce economywide carbon emissions to zero by 2045 will require its natural-gas utilities to drastically reduce their reliance on the fuel. For PG&E, which just won approval for its $58 billion plan to emerge from bankruptcy, “the best thing to do is to strategically manage a transition, acknowledging that gas use has to decline significantly,” Greene said.
Gas industry groups and utilities are fighting against building electrification. An American Gas Association study declared that natural-gas bans would be “burdensome to consumers and to the economy” and result in a spike in peak electricity demand, a conclusion challenged by clean-energy groups.
Southern California Gas Co., one of the country’s largest natural-gas utilities, has funded a pro-gas advocacy group, Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, seeking to prevent local governments from enacting all-electric building ordinances.
Conversely, Southern California Edison, the state’s only all-electric investor-owned utility, is well positioned to find growth opportunities in the state’s push for electrification. “We think it’s going to be very difficult to have a significant amount of traditional natural gas powering building heating and cooling, and water heating and cooling,” Drew Murphy, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Edison International, told GTM in February.
Around 70 million American homes burn natural gas, oil or propane for space and water heating, according to Navigant Research. But electric-powered heat pumps that shift hot and cold air to adjust indoor temperatures are more efficient at both heating and cooling than fossil-fuel-fired furnaces or boilers, advocates say.
“All-electric new construction is less expensive than natural gas,” Greene said, as a recent report from RMI found for new homes being built in the cities of Houston, Chicago, Providence, Rhode Island, and Berkeley neighbor Oakland, Calif. Even retrofitting of existing fossil-fueled space and water heating to electric is cheaper in some circumstances, such as replacing gas-fired heaters and air conditioners with heat pumps, or bundling rooftop solar with electrification.
Other California regulators are joining the state electrification effort. The California Public Utilities Commission has a $200 million program to provide incentives for low-carbon space and water heating technologies in new and existing buildings, and it recently approved another $45 million for heat pump water heater incentives through 2025. The CPUC has also revised outdated rules to make electric space and water heaters eligible for billions of dollars in ratepayer-funded energy efficiency program rebates.
PG&E’s letter noted that it supports a “multi-faceted approach” to meeting the state’s goals, including electrification and “decarbonizing the gas system with renewable natural gas and hydrogen.”
Renewable natural gas — methane captured from landfills, dairy farms and other sources — could replace a small portion of the fossil natural gas now filling pipelines. So could synthetic gas, whether hydrogen generated by renewable electricity or methane created by combining hydrogen with carbon captured from other emissions to reduce its greenhouse gas impact.
But both replacements are highly unlikely to be able to grow to the scale needed to replace the volume of fossil natural gas now used in the U.S., according to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Instead, renewable or synthetic natural gas should be reserved for highest-value uses such as industrial processes or aviation, leaving buildings to rely on electricity increasingly powered by renewable sources to replace lower-value uses like building heating and cooking, Greene said. A recent report prepared for the California Energy Commission found that “building electrification is likely to be a lower-cost, lower-risk long-term strategy compared to renewable natural gas.”
California regulators have approved new rules that would see a massive shift from conventional gas and diesel trucks and vans to ones powered by batteries and zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells.
The first-of-their-kind guidelines, which take effect in 2024, cover a broad range of truck segments, from medium-duty models up to the “big rigs” that move vast amount of goods throughout California and across the country. Current guidelines from the California Air Resources Board already press manufacturers to add electric and hydrogen trucks to light-duty segments.
California’s push to reduce truck emissions could lead to some major changes in a traditionally staid automotive industry. Among other things, it could encourage the emergence of new competitors such as Nikola Motors, which is producing an array of hydrogen-powered heavy-duty trucks, and Detroit-based start-up Rivian, which has a contract to produce around 100,000 all-electric delivery vans for Amazon.
“California is once again leading the nation in the fight to make our air cleaner, becoming the first place in the world to mandate zero-emission trucks by 2045,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a Thursday statement. “Communities and children of color are often forced to breathe our most polluted air, and today’s vote moves us closer toward a healthier future for all of our kids.”
California has long pressed auto and truck manufacturers to reduce emissions. The state has considerable sway, not only because of the size of its market but also because of a waiver enacted under the federal Clean Air Act.
Under guidelines approved Thursday, at least 40 percent of the tractor trailers sold in California would have to be powered by some form of zero-emissions technology by 2024. Medium-duty trucks, such as the Ford F-250 or Chevrolet Silverado HD, would be required to switch over 55 percent of their sales by 2035; and 75 percent of delivery trucks and vans would have to use zero-emissions powertrain technology by 2035, a point by which fully 100 percent of government fleets and last-mile delivery trucks would have to meet the target.
The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. “This has been an unusually hot spring in Siberia,” Randy Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organization’s rapporteur of weather and climate extremes, said. “The coinciding lack of underlying snow in the region, combined with over-all global temperature increases, undoubtedly helped play a critical role in causing this extreme.” Siberia, in other words, is in the midst of an astonishing and historic heat wave.
Anthropogenic climate change is causing the Arctic to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Climate models had predicted this phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, but they did not predict how fast the warming would occur. Although Verkhoyansk has seen hot temperatures in the past, Saturday’s 100.4-degree record follows a wildly warm year across the region. Since December, temperatures in western Siberia have been eighteen degrees above normal. Since January, the mean temperature across Siberia has been at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average. As the meteorologist Jeff Berardelli reported for CBS, the heat that has fallen on Russia in 2020 “is so remarkable that it matches what’s projected to be normal by the year 2100, if current trends in heat-trapping carbon emissions continue.” By April, owing to the heat, wildfires across the region were larger and more numerous than they were at the same time last year, when the Russian government eventually had to send military aircrafts to battle vast blazes. The scale of the current wildfires—with towering plumes of smoke visible for thousands of miles on satellite images—suggest that this summer could be worse. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they will also be more complicated to fight.
Toward the end of May, as the sun stopped dropping below the horizon, the heat continued. In the town of Khatanga, far north of the Arctic Circle, the temperature hit seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit, or forty-six degrees above normal, topping the previous record by twenty-four degrees. The heat and fires are also hastening the dissolution of Siberian permafrost, perennially frozen ground that, when thawed, unleashes more greenhouse gases and dramatically destabilizes the land, with grave consequences. On May 29th, outside Norilsk, the northernmost city in the world, the thawing ground buckled, causing an oil-storage tank to collapse and spew more than a hundred and fifty thousand barrels, or twenty-one thousand tons, of diesel fuel into the Ambarnaya River. The spill was the largest to ever occur in the Russian Arctic.
Norilsk Nickel’s executives have tried to skirt responsibility for the oil spill by blaming the thawing permafrost—or, as a press release stated, “a sudden sinking of the storage tank’s pillars, which served accident-free for more than thirty years.” But the thaw did not happen unexpectedly, out of nowhere. Buildings in Norilsk have collapsed because of the sagging ground. Russian and international experts have been aware of the risks that rapidly thawing permafrost represents for more than a decade. A 2017 report from an Arctic Council working group said that “communities and infrastructure built on frozen soils are significantly affected by thawing permafrost, one of the most economically costly impacts of climate change in the Arctic.” They found that thawing permafrost could contaminate freshwater, when previously frozen industrial and municipal waste is released, and that the bearing capacity of building foundations has declined by forty to fifty per cent in some Siberian settlements since the nineteen-sixties. They also noted that “the vast Bovanenkovo gas field in western Siberia has seen a recent increase in landslides related to thawing permafrost.” The authors of a 2018 paper, published in Nature Communications, found that “45% of the hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic are in regions where thaw-related ground instability can cause severe damage to the built environment.” The paper continued, “Alarmingly, these figures are not reduced substantially even if the climate change targets of the Paris Agreement are reached.”
The fallout of such policies will most immediately affect the health and survival of local communities. By 2050, according to the Nature Communications report, the loss of ground stability will affect at least a third of the infrastructure in the Arctic’s permafrost zone, and the lives of nearly four million people. But these policies also have dire global implications. With its abundant plant life, the Arctic, for tens of thousands of years, was a carbon sink for the rest of the planet. Permafrost across the Arctic and boreal regions contains between 1.46 trillion and 1.6 trillion tons of organic carbon, which is almost twice the amount present in the atmosphere today. This carbon includes hidden pouches of ancient methane, plus long-frozen organic matter (akin to a frozen compost pile) that can release carbon and methane once microbial life awakens in the warming ground. With rising temperatures, researchers have recently found, more and more of this carbon is being released, turning the Arctic into a carbon source. Sue Natali, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, told me that, even though climate change has caused an increase in summertime Arctic plant life, which absorbs carbon dioxide, it is not enough. The warmth also increases the microbial decomposition of soil and plants in the winter, resulting in a higher annual release of carbon. “While the plants may have been ramping up,” she said, “in the wintertime, the microbes are keeping pace and actually exceeding them.” This cycle creates a terrifying feedback loop: more warming releases more carbon from the permafrost, which creates more warming. A study that Natali co-authored last fall projected that, if business continues as usual (in terms of emissions), by 2100, the Arctic could emit forty-one per cent more carbon each winter than it does now. That amount equals the emissions from two hundred and sixty-six million cars, nearly as many as are currently on the road in the United States.
The permafrost found in the area surrounding Verkhoyansk is some of the deepest and oldest in the world, descending as much as five thousand feet. Closer to the surface, a type of ice-rich permafrost known as yedoma is particularly vulnerable to rapid thaws. The result is thermokarst, the strange and sometimes shocking topography that forms as the land slides, sags, and sinks. Mysterious sinkholes suddenly appear, drunken forests fall, and hillocks destroy farmland. One of Russia’s most extreme examples of thermokarst, known as the Batagay megaslump, is a two-hundred-and-eighty-foot-deep, half-mile-wide depression, situated just outside Verkhoyansk. It first began forming as a small gully in the nineteen-sixties, because of deforestation, but has grown significantly in recent years, exposing the remains of ancient creatures, including musk ox, a cave lion, a Pleistocene wolf, a woolly mammoth, and an almost perfectly preserved, forty-thousand-year-old foal. While exciting for scientists and tusk hunters, the megaslump is another sign of the challenges that people in the region—home to several indigenous cultures and languages, including Sakha, Evenki, Even, and others—face if they want to remain on their land. Some locals call it a gateway to the underworld, which seems appropriate, as the slump releases more and more methane. Researchers who have been to the slump say that they can hear the thuds, booms, and cracks of the thawing ice. This summer, the sound will be especially loud.
It is evidence we are pushing climate to a homeostasis similar to a brief warming period in the Pleistocene or maybe even the great warming and high CO_2 episode of the Miocene. This will not mean the end of life on Earth, but it will put severe stress on ecosystems and probably pressure on the human condition. Ecosystems are quickly finding themselves in climates they are not adapted to, and quick migration
north is not possible.
These events in the arctic indicate the melting of permafrost is ongoing, and it appears we are now in the run-away circumstance. Even if
we intervene we will not be able to stop this. This is at least not
without some geo-engineering interventions that are themselves
problematic. As the saying goes, it appears our goose is cooked. The
impact on us, whether large or small, disastrous or adaptable, is coming.
The Fraser River is one of the most important rivers in the world for wild salmon. It is British Columbia’s longest river, carrying spring water all the way from the Rockies to the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver.
Along this river in Delta, BC, is where FortisBC wants to expand its Tilbury LNG plant. If we don’t intervene, this project could have devastating impacts on wild salmon and other endangered fish species which nearby Indigenous communities rely on. LNG (liquefied natural gas) is a known climate disaster too. Not even counting the pollution from the fracking needed to extract the gas, this project would add 49,000 cars worth of carbon emissions to our atmosphere.
FortisBC has applied to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BC EAO) for a permit to start construction, and they’re accepting public comments about the project until July 16th. We still have a chance to stop the Tilbury LNG expansion in its tracks, but we have to act fast.
This public comment process is our opportunity to point out all the concerning impacts of the Tilbury LNG plant and force the BC EAO to take them seriously. And there are many. The Tilbury LNG expansion and its accompanying jetty could threaten some of the most important salmon runs on the West Coast. It could spell the end for endangered fish like the White Sturgeon, as well as a population of Steelhead fish with a mere 40 adults who returned to spawn this spring. And it would be yet another blow for Southern Resident Killer Whales, whose critical habitat is already threatened by the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Building an LNG plant and marine shipment facility in a location with already significant marine traffic, fragile marine species, in close proximity to an airport and a densely populated community would not be allowed in the U.S. But we don’t have those same legal protections here in B.C.
The Tilbury LNG plant will keep its damage local but wants to export its production overseas. The rest of it will be sold as ship fuel. Though deceptively marketed as a climate solution, LNG is not a climate-friendly fuel. LNG is fracked gas, primarily made up of methane – a potent greenhouse gas that traps far more heat than the same amount of CO2. So when plants and marine engines leak LNG, they’re leaking methane. Research shows that using LNG for ship fuel can actually be worse for the climate than the dirty fuel currently being used around the world. Meanwhile, companies around the world are moving away from oil and gas, with LNG projects in Canada already relying heavily on taxpayer funded subsidies. Further investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is not right for the climate or the economy.
This initial public consultation by the BC EAO will shape the environmental assessment that Tilbury LNG will have to pass to secure a permit. But if the BC EAO isn’t flooded with comments raising the alarm about this proposal, the majority of these impacts could fly under the radar. We can’t stand by and allow this project to be quietly approved.
Earlier this year, I witnessed what this community was capable of when Stand.earth members played an integral role in winning the campaign to stop the Teck tar sands mine proposal. Thanks to every single one of you who signed petitions, made phone calls, donated, sent letters and more – what was once a little known mine proposal soon became a political hot potato for the federal government. Now that we’re up against a proposal for yet another climate-wrecking fossil fuel project, it’s time to rinse and repeat that winning strategy.
Thank you for speaking up about the dangerous Tilbury LNG proposal. This is just the beginning of our fight to expose LNG for what it truly is: another climate catastrophe. And I can’t wait to continue this work together.
Niki Sharma, Lawyer and Senior Oil and Gas Campaigner, Stand.earth