This year, coal usage has dropped in the US, and renewables now generate more electricity. To some experts, the financial crisis is a clean energy opportunity.
PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
UST OUTSIDE THE gates of the Dickerson Generating Station, kayakers paddle through a concrete sluiceway that channels cooling water from the massive coal-burning power plant through a series of specially-designed obstacles to the Potomac River. Dickerson’s power lights up Washington, DC, and its suburbs. But beginning in August, these kayakers will have to find somewhere else to practice, while 63 plant workers will be looking for new jobs.
The Texas-based utility that owns the Maryland plant just announced it will shut down Dickerson’s three power units after 60 years of operation, citing the high cost of operation. Like dozens of other coal plants across the country, Dickerson is a casualty of coal’s fast-moving demise. The industry has been squeezed between cheaper natural gas and expanding use of renewable energy for several years, but now the Covid-19-driven recession has jammed a stake through its economic heart.
“This is an earth-shaking moment in the energy sector,” says Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Wyoming, about the rapid drop in demand for coal power. “This industry just doesn’t change this quickly.”
Godson says the amount of coal used for electricity has dropped 40 percent in 2020 compared to the same time last year, according to figures from the US Energy Information Agency. Before the pandemic hit, experts like him were expecting a 15 percent decline. Despite Covid-19-related federal bailout money for some coal companies and President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back pollution rules, utilities have still announced that 13 generating stations will close in 2020.
For utility executives, “coal is the first thing you look to turn off, because it’s the most expensive to use,” Godby adds. “The pain we anticipated in the coal sector has been accelerated. Covid has brought the future much closer to the present.”
Stephen Stetson, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, notes that nationwide, renewables (wind, solar, and hydropower) have generated more electricity than coal every day in 2020. That’s been driven by a 40 percent drop in the cost of big wind farms in the past decade and a corresponding 80 percent drop in solar power systems, according to federal government studies. Renewables energy has become cheaper because of the falling price of solar panels made in China and installation of larger, more efficient wind turbines.
“We have the technology now. We can do this with what we got,” he says of re-gearing the US energy mix to include more solar and wind power.
The decline of coal has given energy companies two options as they plan for the future. Some are building more natural gas plants, which burn cleaner than coal, but still emits tons of planet-warming methane during extraction and carbon dioxide during combustion. Others are investing in techniques to burn natural gas without creating carbon emissions, or technologies to store energy from wind and solar power for use later.
That’s what’s happening in the Midwest, where Minnesota’s Great River Energy co-op announced its coal plant will be replaced by wind turbines connected to a 1 megawatt battery that can deliver stored power to its 700,000 rural customers for 150 hours. In comparison, traditional lithium-ion batteries have about four hours of charge. The wind-battery combo will be supplemented by a cleaner gas plant as well.
By 2023, the company’s mix of fuels will flip from about 60 percent coal to none, and from about 25 percent wind to about 60 percent. Instead of lithium-ion batteries found in cellphones and laptops, Great River hired MIT startup Form Energy to design an “aqueous air battery” that uses water as one of the main components to store large amounts of electricity. The startup is backed by Bill Gates and the project is still in the experimental stage.
Although small, one analyst thinks the Minnesota battery experiment could be an energy game-changer. “It’s one speculative option,” says Jesse Jenkins, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, who studies the transition to zero-carbon energy. “It could totally fail, but it’s one example of a utility making a proactive bet.”
Meanwhile, Exelon, which operates six Mid-Atlantic and Midwest electric power utilities, is putting its green energy chips onto a new technology that recycles carbon dioxide to make natural gas plants burn cleaner. Where traditional gas-powered plants emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct of combustion, the NET Power plant outside Houston, Texas, recycles the excess carbon dioxide, turns it into a liquid or “supercritical” state, and then uses it to run the turbines that produce electricity. Any remaining liquid carbon dioxide can be stored underground or repurposed, such as being injected into carbonated beverages or used in chemical processes, rather than released into the atmosphere.
Others companies are taking a slower route to join the carbon-free bandwagon. Southern Company, which owns seven utilities in six southeastern states, joined North Carolina-based Duke Energy and Virginia-based Dominion Energy last month in announcing plans to become carbon-free by 2050. In addition to switching from coal to natural gas, Southern president and CEO Tom Fanning said the energy company would plant more trees and invest in a technology called direct-air capture to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “I continue to be confident that we are prepared and well-positioned to meet the needs of our customers, employees, communities and investors well into the future and will succeed in the transition to a net-zero carbon future,” stated Fanning in a May 27 press release.
Some green groups are skeptical of Southern’s announcement, mainly because the electric utilities in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that it operates have shown little interest in curbing climate-related carbon emissions until now. “It’s nice that they are talking about carbon like it matters, but that has not been the case for a long time,” says Stetson, of the Sierra Club
Stetson notes that Alabama regulators this week granted one of Southern’s utilities permission to build a new gas plant rather than investing in new wind or solar power, and the firm still operates nine coal-fired plants. Southern and its utilities are “not showing the ambition that the climate needs and the economics justify,” Stetson said.
But Southern spokesperson Schuyler Baeman says the company’s overall carbon emissions have decreased by 44 percent through 2019, as compared to 2007 levels. “We now expect to achieve the 50 percent reduction goal well in advance of our 2030 goal, and possibly as early as 2025,” Baeman said. “We pursue these goals with the support of our regulators because they are good for the customers and communities we are privileged to serve.”
Some energy experts believe the carbon-free energy goal can be achieved faster with a combination of new technologies and the right incentives from states and the federal government. A new report by researchers at the Center for Environmental Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and two consulting firms outlines the steps needed to produce 90 percent clean, carbon-free electricity nationwide by 2035 without raising consumer bills or building new fossil fuel plants.
The buildout of additional wind, solar and storage would create $1.7 trillion of investment into the economy, the report states, and increase energy sector jobs by up to 530,000 per year through 2035, according to Sonia Aggarwal, vice president for policy at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco–based energy consultancy that contributed to the study released this week.
Aggarwal says the current recession might be the right time to think about how to do things differently in the future. The green energy technology sector will also need help from lawmakers to boost clean energy tax credits, set energy standards, and provide government-backed financing to retire the debts held by existing fossil fuel plants. “The idea behind this report is to look at the opportunity that we have in front of us,” Aggarwal says, “and connect it to this moment that we find ourselves in where we are going to need to know how to invest in our recovery. This opportunity is a fantastic one for America.”
Aggarwal says that as coal stumbles, there is now competition between new gas plants and renewables. “We are in this race between zero carbon forces and a bunch of new gas. We cannot run our plants and still reach our climate goals,” she says. “Because wind and solar and batteries have become so cheap, it doesn’t cost much more to get on the zero carbon trajectory. It can happen.”
Despite the political obstacles in some states and on Capitol Hill, Aggarwal is optimistic that market forces and some new thinking about energy policy in Washington might turn the corner. “It’s a crazy moment that we have reached,” Aggarwal said about the rise of renewables and decline of coal. “It’s one that we couldn’t talk about just a few years ago.”
The lives of honeybees are shortened — with evidence of physiological stress — when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides.
Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies
The lives of honeybees are shortened — with evidence of physiological stress — when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides, according to new Oregon State University research.
In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, honeybee researchers in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences found detrimental effects in bees exposed to Transform and Sivanto, which are both registered for use in the United States and were developed to be more compatible with bee health.
The western honeybee is the major pollinator of fruit, nut, vegetable and seed crops that depend on bee pollination for high quality and yield.
Coupled with other stressors such as varroa mites, viruses and poor nutrition, effects from these pesticides can render honeybees incapable of performing their tasks smoothly. Beekeepers and some environmental groups have raised concerns in recent years about these insecticides and potential negative effects on bees.
According to the researchers, this is the first study to investigate “sub-lethal” effects of sulfoxaflor, the active ingredient in Transform, and flupyradifurone, the active ingredient in Sivanto. Sub-lethal effects mean that the bees don’t die immediately, but experience physiological stress resulting in shortened lifespan.
In the case of Transform, the bees’ lives were severely shortened. A majority of the honeybees exposed to Transform died within six hours of being exposed, confirming the severe toxicity of the pesticide to bees when exposed directly to field application rates recommended on the label, the researchers said.
Study lead author Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, a postdoctoral research associate in the Honey Bee Lab in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, emphasized that the researchers aren’t calling for Sivanto or Transform to be taken off the market.
“We are suggesting that more information be put on the labels of these products, and that more studies need to be conducted to understand sublethal effects of chronic exposure,” Basu said.
Sivanto and Transform are used on crops to kill aphids, leaf hoppers and whiteflies, among other pests. Many of these same crops attract bees for pollination. There are some restrictions on their use. For example, Transform can’t be applied to crops in bloom, for example.
Honeybees might be exposed indirectly through pesticide drift, said study co-author Ramesh Sagili, associate professor of apiculture and honeybee Extension specialist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“The average life span of a worker honeybee is five to six weeks in spring and summer, so if you are reducing its life span by five to 10 days, that’s a huge problem,” Sagili said. “Reduced longevity resulting from oxidative stress could negatively affect colony population and ultimately compromise colony fitness.”
For the study, the researchers conducted two contact exposure experiments: a six-hour study and a 10-day study in May 2019. The honeybees were obtained from six healthy colonies at the OSU apiaries. In each experiment, groups of 150 bees were placed in three cages. One group was exposed to Transform, a second to Sivanto and the third was a control group that wasn’t exposed to either pesticide.
Honeybee mortality, sugar syrup and water consumption, and physiological responses were assessed in bees exposed to Sivanto and Transform and compared to bees in a control group. Mortality in each cage was recorded every hour for the six-hour experiment and daily for the 10-day experiment.
While Sivanto was not directly lethal to honeybees following contact exposure, the 10-day survival results revealed that field-application rates of Sivanto reduced adult survival and caused increased oxidative stress and apoptosis in the honey bee tissues. This suggests that even though Sivanto is apparently less toxic than Transform, it might also reduce honeybee longevity and impart physiological stress, according to the study authors.
Co-authors on the study included graduate student Emily Carlson and faculty research assistant Hannah Lucas, who both conduct research in the Honey Bee Lab; and Andony Melathopoulos, assistant professor and pollinator health Extension specialist.
Priyadarshini Chakrabarti, Emily A. Carlson, Hannah M. Lucas, Andony P. Melathopoulos, Ramesh R. Sagili. Field rates of Sivanto™ (flupyradifurone) and Transform® (sulfoxaflor) increase oxidative stress and induce apoptosis in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (5): e0233033 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0233033
Activists push green-led economic recovery to tackle systemic imbalances.
African Americans are three times more likely than the general population to die from exposure to small particle air pollution, according to a 2017 study [File: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters]
With political unrest convulsing across the United States since the death of unarmed African American man George Floyd in police custody last month, long-standing inequalities in housing, education and beyond have been pushed to the forefront of the national consciousness.
Black Lives Matter movements are also drawing attention to another festering but overlooked systemic inequality – environmental racism.
African Americans are three times more likely to die from exposure to small particle air pollution than the general population, according to a 2017 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Communities of colour in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the US breathe 66 percent more vehicle pollution than white Americans, a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found. And surveys by the National Institutes of Health have also found that asthma and lead poisoning rates are also much higher among African American children in the US than white children.
Scientists warn that that climate change will further exacerbate – and layer onto – these pre-existing inequities. Studies have shown that climate change increases water and air pollution, which can worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma.
But environmental justice campaigners are seizing the moment, arguing that an economic recovery plan steeped in sustainability will help redress structural unfairness in the US.
“A lot of people are not realising, with climate change and everything else going on, that the worst-hit are Black and brown communities,” New York City resident and activist Rachel Rivera told Al Jazeera.
For Rivera, a mother of six who works with the grassroots nonprofit New York Communities for Change (NYCC), these inequalities are not simply close to home, they are woven through the environment where she lives, works and raises her family.
“My six-year-old daughter suffers from respiratory seizures when it’s too hot or too cold,” said Rivera. “It’s for real. It saddens me but affects all of us.”
When Superstorm Sandy happened in 2012, Rivera’s apartment building sustained major roof damage from the strong wind and torrential rain. She said her 14-year-old daughter still becomes intensely anxious during severe weather events.
“It’s a nightmare, and if we continue like this, we’re going to have more Hurricane Sandies,” Rivera said.
“We need to stop using fossil fuels, recycle, and use green energy,” she said. “We could actually make a difference.”
A lot of people are not realising, with climate change and everything else going on, that the worst-hit are Black and brown communities
RACHEL RIVERA, NEW YORK CITY RESIDENT, MOTHER AND ACTIVIST
‘Crisis of the moment’
The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately hit African American communities. A study of 43 states and the District of Columbia by APM research lab found that as of June 9, the overall mortality rate for COVID-19 was 2.3 percent higher for African Americans than for whites or Asians.
Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director at NYCC, told Al Jazeera it is important for policymakers to not just focus on the “crisis of the moment” because the pandemic is just a preview of the racial and ethnic disparities that will widen due to climate change.
The climate crisis “makes COVID-19 look small in comparison”, he said.
Sikora sees a rare opportunity to rebuild the US economy to make it start working for all Americans and not just the privileged.
Visitors look at memorials at the site of the arrest of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US [File: Eric Miller/Reuters]
New York City’s top 1 percent, for example, earn average incomes about 40 times higher than the bottom 99 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Raising taxes on the highest earners is one policy that could help remedy inequality, says Sikora. He is also calling for measures that reduce residents’ exposure to highways, industrial plants and leaking pipelines.
‘Connect these issues’
At the national level, campaigners are seeking to drive policy by linking up what were formerly considered separate issues.
Adrien Salazar, the senior campaign strategist for climate equity at progressive think-tank Demos is advocating for lawmakers to craft stimulus programmes that promote sustainability and help close the racial income, wealth and opportunity gaps.
Investments “in a social safety net and job-creating programmes that also strengthen our green infrastructure and help us transition to a renewable energy economy”, are crucial, Salazar told Al Jazeera.
He cited a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that envisions 90 million jobs being seeded over the next 10 years through a suite of proposed green legislative and executive measures spanning broadband, rail lines, water treatment facilities, retrofitting houses, installing photovoltaic panels and restoring agricultural land.
The nonprofit climate movement 350.org is another national group that is now explicitly linking up a litany of intersecting issues that disproportionately affect communities of colour, from climate change to criminal justice.
“George Floyd had COVID, then got murdered by a police officer,” said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, 350.org’s national director. “Whether you live or die is often based on the zip code you are in.”
Sam Grant is the executive director for the Minnesota branch of 350.org – the state where Floyd died in police custody.
“Minnesota has among the worst racial disparities in the United States, particularly for American Indians and African Americans,” he told Al Jazeera. “Whatever population of colour is largest in any county in Minnesota tends to be overrepresented in negative statistics like unemployment, incarceration and poverty, and underrepresented in positive statistics like health and wealth.”
Grant says he is focusing most of his current energies on making sure Minnesota lawmakers adopt stimulus measures that will promote greater economic equality. To that end, he is organising activists in 36 of 66 state senate districts where the elected officials deny climate science.
“When MN350 was founded, it began with a commitment to focus on divestment from fossil fuels and pipeline resistance,” Grant told Al Jazeera, referring to the group’s original focus on the biggest carbon emitters. “Over time, the organisation has expanded its understanding.”
In open letter, 9 officers say their union doesn’t understand their reality
Montreal Police Brotherhood President Yves Francoeur said he avoided using the term ‘systemic racism’ because there is no consensus on what it means. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Nine Black Montreal police officers have signed a letter calling on their union president to acknowledge systemic racism exists in the force, after he downplayed the issue in several interviews earlier this month.
In the letter addressed to Montreal Police Brotherhood President Yves Francoeur, the officers say they were “surprised” to hear Francoeur does not believe there is systemic racism in the force.
The officers described a “culture of silence” within the SPVM that prevents their colleagues from speaking out against racism.
“We cannot blame you for not knowing our reality, if the culture of silence is for us the most common of the options in several situations,” the officers said in the letter.
Francoeur gave a series of interviews in early June, following protests in the United States and Canada over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police.
The protests, including those in Montreal, have criticized police treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of colour. They are seeking widespread reforms to address racial profiling and other forms of systemic discrimination.
Francoeur told French-language television station TVA, “I don’t think there is racism at the police-force level.”
He told 98.5 FM radio host Paul Arcand that, “I don’t know any officers who stop someone just because they are Black.”
In their letter, the officers of colour said the interviews made them “realize that our union does not have the same understanding of reality as its so-called racialized members.”
The letter also points to a recent report by the city’s office of public consultations which recommended that the culture within the SPVM needed to change in order to deal with racial profiling.
A separate report, published last year, found Black and Indigenous people were four to five times more likely to be stopped by Montreal police.
Earlier this month, Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron said he was committed to eliminating racial profiling by his officers and acknowledged systemic racism was a problem.
In their letter, the officers call on their union to do the same.
“Recognizing a problem is the first step toward a solution; we’d like the Brotherhood to also look at the problem,” they wrote.
A spokesperson for the union declined CBC Montreal’s request for an interview with Francoeur.
Advocacy group calls for action
In a news conference Sunday, anti-racism advocacy group CRARR said systemic racism has been a problem in the SPVM for decades.
Alain Babineau, CRARR spokesperson and a former RCMP officer himself, said the problem dates from the SPVM’s first Black police officer, Édouard Anglade a Haitian immigrant who joined the force in 1974.
Anglade faced discrimination while working as an officer and won a workplace racial harassment case against the SPVM in 1988.
“I believe the stress that he endured led to his untimely death,” Babineau told reporters Sunday. Anglade was 63 when he died.
Babineau said the Brotherhood is supposed to represent all officers. He called on the union to start listening to the needs of its members of colour.
“With policing, there’s this code of silence. There’s this fraternity, and people of colour are expected to be quiet about issues of racism,” said Babineau.
CRARR circulated the open letter to media outlets on the condition the officers not be named.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has revealed proposals to partially defund the police and reassign resources including creating a non-police response team. The proposal is in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and fatal encounters with police. Please note: A previous version of this video incorrectly used an image of Colten Boushie. The image should have been that of Rodney Levi, a Mi’kmaq man who was shot and killed by the RCMP in New Brunswick in June 2020. 2:07
Babineau said he met with the officers who penned the letter last week, to discuss some of those needs.
He said the officers would like to see the SPVM develop better screening protocols for cadets, in order to assess their level of implicit bias.
The group called for the police force to have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination; repeat offenders should be dismissed.
“Not all SPVM officers are racist. That would be a silly statement to make,” said Babineau.
“But when you have a deficient system, this allows for the bad apples not only to flourish but also infect others and even get promoted through the system.”
The group would also like to see more SPVM officers living on the Island of Montreal. Babineau said currently around 75 per cent of Montreal police officers live off-island.
That adds to systemic racism, he said, because most officers don’t have the chance to get to know the communities where they work.
Union president defends position
Francoeur wrote a reply to the officers, defending his refusal to acknowledge systemic racism within the force.
“The meaning given to the term ‘systemic racism’ is different from the one we naturally understand by reading the definition of the words of which it is composed,” Francoeur wrote.
“This is probably why there is no consensus or uniform understanding of this expression.”
He also said the term “systemic racism” suggests everyone is deliberately implicated in a racist system. He added: “In addition to being false, [this] is outrageous for Montreal police officers. We therefore abandoned semantics to avoid dividing ourselves on an expression.”
Some of the $1.5B in federal funding is already being spent in 3 provinces
First Nations just want their fair share of the well cleanup funding, says Stephen Buffalo, president of the Indian Resource Council, which represents more than 100 First Nations with oil and gas reserves. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)
As Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan dole out $1.5 billion in federal funding to reclaim inactive oil and gas wells, Indigenous leaders are concerned none of the cash will be spent cleaning up their land.
The federal government announced the program as part of its aid package to the oilpatch, designed to stimulate work for the oilfield service sector while reducing the environmental risk from aging infrastructure.
The three provincial governments have already started dispersing the money, but so far none of it has been directed toward remediating wells on First Nations land, said Stephen Buffalo, president of the Indian Resource Council, which represents more than 100 First Nations with oil and gas reserves.
“We have been here before where we were told that things will be taken care of. Right now, we’re in working committees [with government officials]. Meanwhile, these funds are being flowed out,” Buffalo said.
“I don’t think some of our members are satisfied with how the process is going.”
The federal money was divided between B.C. ($120 million), Alberta ($1 billion) and Saskatchewan ($400 million). Another $200 million from Ottawa to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association is to be repaid.
As of June 19, the Alberta government had approved $40 million to more than 102 companies.
The government spending is proving popular with industry. For example, the first phase of Alberta’s program gives companies up to $30,000 to clean up wells. Within the first month of the program’s launch on May 1, about 3,000 companies had already applied to remediate close to 37,000 wells.
The IRC is asking that each province allocate 10 per cent of the federal money it receives to First Nations, which would represent about $150 million.
So far, only British Columbia has signalled a willingness to set aside funding specifically for First Nations. “The second increment of $50 million may include a specific allocation for Indigenous contractors,” said a letter from the province to the IRC earlier this month.
In an emailed statement, Saskatchewan government spokesperson Ashley Schoff said Indigenous businesses, communities and peoples will benefit appropriately from all phases of the well cleanup program. The government is working on its engagement process and intends to reach out to Indigenous groups in the “coming days and weeks,” she said. Is there a specific allocation?
The Alberta government also did not commit to a specific allocation, but spokesperson Kavi Bal said in an emailed statement that “the necessary supports are in place to build broad Indigenous community participation.”
The CEO of the Indian Resource Council doesn’t want First Nations to miss out on the opportunity to remediate inactive oil and gas wells. 1:22
Buffalo said discussions are taking place with all three provinces. But he said what First Nations really need is a firm commitment.
“I’m just hoping that we don’t fall through the cracks,” he said. “Not everyone feels confident with the process that we’re going through right now.”
Buffalo said the primary concern is to clean up the wells to ensure there aren’t any leaks that could contaminate First Nations land. The spending could also provide jobs in communities and activity for Indigenous-owned oilfield service companies.
There are at least 900 wells on First Nations land that would qualify for the federal funding, said Chief Roy Fox of the Blood Tribe in southwest Alberta. In a letter to federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller this month, he said that he is afraid little if any of the money will go toward cleaning up wells on Indigenous territory.
Indian Oil and Gas Canada, the federal agency that manages resource development on First Nations lands, is encouraging the three provinces to ensure that some of the money from Ottawa is allocated to Indigenous groups.
“This will boost employment opportunities for community members and promote their general well-being, specially in such unprecedented times,” Strater Crowfoot, the agency’s CEO, wrote in separate letters to the three provincial governments.
En-ROADS is a transparent, freely-available policy simulation model that provides us with the ability to explore, for ourselves, how various climate solutions would affect outcomes such as global temperature change. The goal in making the model is to frame and support better conversations about how to address the climate crisis. On April 30, 2020, Doug Pritchard of CCL Beaches-East York, Chemical Engineer, and En-ROADS Climate Ambassador led CCL Canada on a tour of the En-ROADS climate solutions simulator.
Impact of 1.2°C of Warming
On June 11, 2020, it was estimated in the En-ROADS simulator that just implementing a highly predictable carbon price would prevent 1.2 °C of global heating by 2100 compared to business as usual. Changing any other single policy in the simulator could prevent up to 0.5°C of global heating by 2100. This makes implementing a highly predictable carbon price by far the most impactful single policy change in preventing global temperature increase in the simulator.
Even if all the signatories to the Paris Agreement reach their respective 2030 emissions-reduction targets, the world would still be on a path to a 3-4°C of warming. Carbon pricing applied on a global basis in combination with progressive climate policy are needed to keep global heating well below 2°C as stipulated in Article 2.1.a of the Agreement.
(Note that this simulator is for the entire globe and not just for Canada.)
A review panel has concluded the proposed Vancouver port expansion threatens salmon, southern resident killer whales and Indigenous ways of life. Now critics are calling for a close look at the cumulative effects of existing industry and a slew of other proposed projects
The proposed expansion of the Deltaport terminal at Roberts Bank would double its size. Photo: William Jans, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
When Tsawwassen Chief Ken Baird, whose ancestral name is swənnəset, looks at where the Fraser River meets the ocean, he worries about the effects of industry on the water that is a life source for his people.
“It’s a real challenge to protect our land given all that is happening on the Fraser,” he said.
“It’s becoming harder to be stewards of the Salish Sea.”
Baird said industry is impacting the nation’s food security as salmon, eulachon and sturgeon populations decline. As a result, the community has become more reliant on Dungeness crab. Now, all these species face a new threat: the proposed expansion of the Port of Vancouver’s container terminal at the mouth of the Fraser River.
The existing terminal at Roberts Bank, Deltaport, juts across an eelgrass bed that provides shelter for migrating juvenile salmon. The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project would double the size of Deltaport, creating an artificial island about the size of 150 football fields. The Fraser estuary has already lost 70 per cent of its salmon habitat, and the proposed project would deplete an additional 177 hectares.
Deltaport transects an eelgrass bed that provides vital habitat for juvenile salmon. Photo: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
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Cliff Stewart, vice-president of infrastructure at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, told The Narwhal by email that the proposed location poses the least impact on the environment and nearby communities.
“We are confident that we can proceed with this project in a way that protects the environment,” he added.
The federal government has until November to make its decision on whether or not to approve the project. In the meantime, the port is pursuing environmental and regulatory permits.
Project would further endanger chinook salmon, impede nation’s ability to access its aquatic ‘front yard’
Baird doesn’t see the project in isolation but situated within widespread degradation of the Fraser River. The lower Fraser is already a centre of industrial activity, lined with warehouses and manufacturers, the BC Ferries Tsawwassen terminal and other marine terminals like the Fraser Surrey Docks. In addition to Terminal 2, several other industrial projects are proposed along the lower river, including the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a jet fuel storage facility, an LNG export terminal and a coal export terminal.
A federally appointed review panel concluded the Terminal 2 project would have “significant and adverse cumulative effects” on two populations of chinook salmon, including a threatened population in the lower Fraser River, southern resident killer whales, Dungeness crab and the ability of people from Tsawwassen First Nation to access the water, which has already been impeded by industry.
“Members indicated they could no longer walk along their foreshore or gather marine resources for communal activities … [and] stated that the ability to play in the ‘front yard’ of the nation had been taken from their youth and future generations,” reads the panel’s report, which was released in March.
Baird said the health of Tsawwassen culture and language relies on the health of the land and water. In hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, the word sc̓əwaθən, or Tsawwassen, means “the land facing the sea.”
Tsawwassen First Nation reserve lands are very close to Roberts Bank and residents face risks associated with increased pollution and noise. Already, Baird said, “the light and noise from the existing port is constant.”
“When it’s high tide, you can hear things clear as day. They’re about five kilometres from us out there. But on a clear night, when the water is high, it sounds like they’re just a few hundred feet away,” he said.
The noise and lights from Deltaport already disrupt life on Tsawwassen First Nation reserve lands. Photo: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal
The panel found the project would result in significant adverse effects on human health due to exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM2.5), which can lead to heart disease and respiratory infections. A 2019 study led by a researcher the University of British Columbia looked at particulate matter and found a higher rate of deaths among Canadians who lived in high-pollution areas compared to low-pollution areas.
On its website, the Port of Vancouver lists the “environmental benefits” of the project, including a plan to offset the effects of development with “the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the future health and recovery” of chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales.
But the review panel said the port’s proposed offsetting plan is “not sufficient,” since it offsets about 27 hectares while the project would destroy 177 hectares.
Baird said he’d like to see more efforts to enhance the environment on the Fraser, not just mitigate damage.
“[Industries] have an obligation to do enhancement to make up for their projects,” he said.
Tsawwassen First Nation recommended to the review panel that the Port of Vancouver prioritize the restoration of the foreshore and deteriorated marshland and put aside the necessary funds for the restoration in escrow prior to the project’s approval.
The nation signed a memorandum of agreement with the port in 2004 regarding development at Roberts Bank, but it is negotiating an addendum to the agreement because it says the proposal has changed “significantly” in the years since the agreement was signed. The memorandum is separate from the federal approval process.
The panel issued its report to the federal government in March with 71 recommendations, including ways to address negative impacts on wildlife, air quality and the ability of Tsawwassen First Nation and Musqueam Indian Band to harvest.
Stewart said the port authority takes the panel’s concerns seriously, but since the west coast is expected to run out of container capacity by the end of the decade, the project “is of paramount value to Canada’s trade.”
‘Frontier mentality’ fails to consider cumulative effects
“There’s a push to increase infrastructure, but that infrastructure is already responsible for disconnecting over 1,000 kilometres of salmon habitat,” he told The Narwhal.
“It’s really just turning the estuary into a giant parking lot.”
In the report, Scott and two co-authors said if several proposed projects on the Fraser are approved, there will be a “cumulative increase in container and tanker traffic” and underwater noise. This poses a more significant risk for marine life, like salmon and southern resident killer whales, than a single, isolated project.
The proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 would make southern resident killer whales more vulnerable to underwater noise, ship strikes and the reduced availability of chinook salmon. Photo: Thomas Lipke / Unsplash
Stewart said the port authority has plans to mitigate noise during construction and once the terminal is operational. For instance, the port will enlist marine mammal observers to identify when a mammal is in the area and stop construction accordingly and do long-term monitoring.
The expansion would further obstruct young salmon that already have to leave the safety of the eelgrass bed to swim around the existing causeway, forcing them into deeper, more saline waters when they are young and still adapting to salt water. Scott is concerned this will further weaken struggling chinook populations and the southern resident killer whales that rely on them for food. Southern residents are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act with just 73 whales left.
Misty MacDuffee, a biologist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation and co-author of the Vision for Salmon report, said noise from increased traffic would further impact the whales’ ability to hunt. The passage of a large container ship can reduce a southern resident killer whale’s echolocation range from 400 metres in quiet conditions to just 60 metres.
“This project is significantly worse than Trans Mountain in terms of an increase in traffic,” she said.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would increase tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet from five to 34 tankers a month, or 408 tankers a year. With Terminal 2, the port authority estimates annual traffic at Roberts Bank will increase from 329 vessels in 2019 to 468 vessels by 2035. But those increases aren’t often examined side by side, said MacDuffee.
The proposed Deltaport expansion would provide an additional 2.4 million 20-foot equivalent units of container capacity per year, doubling the Port of Vancouver’s current capacity. Photo: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
“The cumulative effects piece doesn’t get considered,” she said. “As if everything else is just fine, it’s just one project. But the stressors on salmon or southern resident killer whales are huge.”
She called it a “frontier mentality” of exploitation even as species inch closer to extinction.
“We have a crisis. It’s not like we don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know why we continue to go down this road. Priority continues to be economic development at any cost.”
While many are concerned the terminal will lead to increased traffic, Stewart said the total number of ships coming through the Port of Vancouver is not expected to change, but the ships will be bigger and more will dock at Roberts Bank instead of other terminals.
“What will change is the size of the ships, which will be slightly larger on average if the project proceeds, and the amount of cargo loaded and unloaded in Vancouver, which will increase by approximately 33 per cent,” he said.
Time for ‘bold and disruptive ideas’ to save salmon
In the Vision for Salmon report, Scott and his co-authors sought solutions to restore salmon habitat. They said Terminal 2 needs to be reviewed in the context of dredging and water pollution by industry, flood infrastructure that also obstructs salmon and climate change.
They recommended all levels of government enact “fish-first policies” for land and water use by prioritizing fish-friendly infrastructure and preventing development in key habitats.
“Our vision is to really try to reconnect the estuary,” Scott said. “One of the key pieces is not to do any more damage.”
They held workshops with First Nations, communities and organizations about what future they wanted for the river. Ideas included better collaboration between governments, more nature-based solutions and more funding for Indigenous guardians programs.
Another idea was to reflood Sumas Lake, which was drained by settlers in the 1920s to drive away mosquitos and create more farmland. The lake played an important role in absorbing freshet and providing habitat for salmon and game. Flooding the lake would require extensive planning and moving residents who occupy the land, now called Sumas Prairie.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation is calling for fish-friendly policies such as prohibiting development in key habitat areas like Roberts Bank. Photo: Fernando Lessa
As salmon populations dwindle, Dixon said it’s time for this kind of “bold and disruptive idea” that puts value in habitat restoration not financial payoff.
Murray Ned from the Semá:th (Sumas) First Nation said reclaiming the lake could also be a more cost-effective solution for flood control than dikes and pump stations which constantly need to be maintained.
“The reality of continuing to build these man-made infrastructure may not be the way to go,” he said. “Maybe [we] need to start reclaiming some of the lake to provide some flood relief.”
Another idea that’s been shown to work is knocking holes through infrastructure that blocks salmon migration paths. Raincoast partnered with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to breach three holes through the Steveston jetty in Richmond, B.C., to make way for juvenile salmon.
Like the terminal, jetties force small salmon that typically stay close to the shoreline out into deep, salty, predator-filled waters. MacDuffee said they’ve seen all five species of salmon using the breaches to get to a marsh blocked by the jetty.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “They haven’t been able to get to that marsh for 100 years.”
She said that after a century of habitat degradation, she didn’t think they’d see the benefits so quickly. It gave her hope that removing infrastructure and halting development can lead to salmon recovery.
“It shows that if we remove it, they will come,” she said.
But MacDuffee said there is little use in local restoration projects if they are constantly being “outpaced” by new developments like Roberts Bank.
“The first thing in recovery is to stop doing the harm,” she said.
“We can keep going down this road with making really bad decisions that have implications for species that many people rely on, or we can say no to projects and really double down and invest in the recovery of these wild populations.”
Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood is a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh journalist living and writing in North Vancouver. is a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh journalist living and writing in North Vancouver. She writes stories about Indigenous rights, the arts, sustainability and social justice. She has worked with The Tyee, Media Indigena, CBC, CiTR 101.9 FM, and National Observer. She earned her Master of Journalism degree at the University of British Columbia. Her best days are spent wandering through the North Shore mountains.
Authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon on asparagus season, a more just local food system, and pandemic gardens of hope. First in a week-long series.
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon in the book jacket photo for The 100-Mile Diet, published in 2007 by Random House after the couple launched the concept with a 2005 series in The Tyee. All this week J.B. MacKinnon will guest edit related special coverage. Photo: Random House.
Fifteen years ago, The Tyee launched a series called The 100-Mile Diet written — and lived — by Alisa Smith and James (J.B.) MacKinnon. The idea was simple. Alisa and James were trying to live a year eating only locally-sourced food. The first I heard about it was standing around my barbecue on a sunny day in June 2005, Alisa and James looking on as I grilled some salmon.
They were attending a small backyard party I was hosting for the fledgling Tyee team. Alisa had written the Tyee’s very first cover story on how the BC Liberal government’s weakened child labour laws put kids at risk; James, her partner, was already a well-regarded freelance journalist, too. The two of them listened as I bragged about the Copper River salmon from Alaska I’d procured. I explained I’d paid a premium for those beauties, but I’d probably go to heaven for it because eating sustainably-managed wild salmon was so much better ecologically than farmed salmon. They looked at each other and laughed.
When I asked why, they pointed out that here in B.C. we have our fair share of wild salmon — and it doesn’t have to be flown 2,500 kilometres to land on our plates. They patiently explained that moving food around the globe consumes prodigious amounts of energy and serves to weaken local food security. And that was why lately they’d committed to living only on food grown close to home.
You should write about that, I said. They said they would be glad to. Why not call their experiment “The 100-Mile Diet?”
The “100-Mile Diet” 15-part series we published on The Tyee beginning June 28, 2005 sparked a global phenomenon. In 2007, Smith and MacKinnon wrote a best-selling book by the same name in Canada and titled Plenty in the U.S. They spoke in almost every state and province and from Dawson City to Miami to Kalamazoo, invited to look in on folks growing, cooking and living according to the 100-Mile Diet ethos. They established a foundation. They even had their own 100-Mile Diet reality TV show, which aired in 30 countries. And the 100-Mile Diet helped grow the local food movement emerging back then — “locavore” was named word of the year by the Oxford American Dictionary in 2007.
Today, Alisa Smith has shifted to writing spy thrillers, most recently Doublespeak, set in post-World War II Thailand. J.B. MacKinnon’s writing appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Hakai Magazine and elsewhere. He is an adjunct professor at the UBC School of Journalism, Writing, and Media. His most recent book is the national bestseller The Once and Future World, about rewilding, and a new one, on consumerism, will be out in spring 2021.
To mark the 15th anniversary of the 100-Mile Diet, James agreed to guest edit a week of Tyee stories on people whose lives have been changed by the 100-Mile Diet and how to strengthen B.C.’s local food economy today. To kick it off, he and Alisa were kind enough to grant this interview in which they talk about the early power of the internet, today’s local food realities, how veganism compares to the 100-Mile Diet approach, and a lot more.
The Tyee: So it’s been a decade and a half! Recall that era for us. Suddenly “locavore” became the word of the year. Why did the movement sprout right then?
Alisa Smith: Big systems change gradually across decades, but there always comes a time when people suddenly notice how far things have gone. In 2005, I think a lot of people were doing the same thing that launched the 100-mile diet for us — they were looking down at their plates and realizing that they no longer had any idea where the food on it had come from. At that point, it doesn’t take much of a spark to start the fire.
J.B. MacKinnon: At the same time, a lot of people had been working hard to raise awareness about local food and local food systems for a couple of decades — organizations like FarmFolk/CityFolk, Your Local Farmers Market Society [now Vancouver Farmers Markets] and SPEC [Society Promoting Environmental Conservation]. As that awareness started to build, writers smelled it in the wind. So, you know, it seemed very strange at the time, but all of a sudden, in one year, there was our book, there was Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and there was Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. All about local eating. It was just that kind of zeitgeist moment. And those of us who wrote these books received a lot of attention, but leading up to that moment and leading away from it, the hard work was really done by the activist community around local food.
How did writing The 100-Mile Diet change your lives?
JBM: It made me more optimistic about the possibility of change. When we wrote The 100- Mile Diet, I thought it was an interesting experiment but that changing big systems like industrial agriculture was never really going to happen. Then there was this surge of interest in local food, and it really showed me that if enough people got on board with an idea, then circumstances can change very quickly. In the case of the 100-mile diet, there were all these visible changes even within a year or two — grain farming where there hadn’t been grain farms for decades, all of these new farmers markets, hundreds more community garden plots. There’s still a lot that can be done, but also no doubt that the local food system is stronger now than it was before.
AS: That’s a good point — gains in optimism. I often think about how we got invited to speak a lot in the heartland states in America. We spoke to a lot of audiences who would probably be called Republican, and they were responding to different aspects of the book than Democrats were, but they were some of our most receptive fans in the U.S. It made me think that there are ways to overcome the political divide. And that’s an incredibly useful lesson for today.
It was pretty early in the internet, too. Facebook had just been launched and The Tyee had a much smaller audience. How did the web make the popularity of the 100-Mile Diet possible?
JBM: Without the internet, we might not even have written the book, because we really tested the idea by writing about our experiences on The Tyee and on the web. And it was out of that that we thought, wow, there’s a lot of interest. Maybe we should write a book about this. I remember how, when we first started writing about it online for The Tyee, it wasn’t just that we started hearing from people in Vancouver or B.C. or Canada — in a matter of days we were hearing from people in India and Israel and Bali. We had 10,000 people a month reading our blog.
How local is your diet today?
AS: Fifteen years later, it’s still very local. Basically, every vegetable I eat is 100-per-cent local. All of our meat, eggs, and dairy. A lot of our grain, our morning granola, all of our fruit. There’s just a small handful of things, really, that that we gather from the global supermarket, and even a lot of those are produced not that far from home. If I put a number to it, I’d say probably about 85 per cent of our diet is still from within 100 miles.
What, if any, non-local foods do you eat?
AS: Chocolate is my big vice, just because it’s delicious and it doesn’t grow here. Maybe I could set up a greenhouse if I was really ambitious. There were some people for a while running this pretty cool experiment where they tried to bring raw cocoa to Brooklyn by sailing ship, and then make the chocolate by hand — they wanted to remove the fossil-fuel element from long-distance foods. It’s the kind of dream that’s good to try out.
JBM: Most of our non-local food is grain products, like pasta and rice. That’s not even because there is a lack of local grain — we do have local flour and oats and even local rice on hand a lot of the time — but because there’s a lack of time in our lives to make our own pasta and bread. And then you have effectively some luxuries, like there’s still not a lot of beer made with local ingredients, and we use the odd lemon, olive oil, tofu, some spices. But most of our herbs are local. Actually, all of our herbs are local.
Why is it important to you to continue to eat locally?
JBM: You couldn’t convince me to stop eating locally. The food quality and flavour is so much better. I feel like I’m eating much more nutritious food. I really appreciate the connection that I have with the people who produce my food, some of whom I count as friends. I really enjoy the way I’m connected to and pay attention to the seasons through the cycle of food throughout the year. There’s always something to look forward to. You know, we just passed through asparagus season. We were so excited to see it, and then we ate a lot of asparagus, and now we’re comfortable to let it go and move on to the season of peas and beans and tomatoes and so on throughout the year.
AS: For me, supporting the family farm is huge. It should be right at the heart of local culture, and it is a bigger part of our culture than it was before. I feel good about that, because if you want to know where your food’s coming from, how it was grown, who grew it, how the animals were treated, how the soil was treated, you need that local connection. If you wanted to, you could go to the farm and check it out for yourself. I think that’s so important for our personal health and also for the health of farmworkers and the environment. If it’s done locally, small scale, it’s not going to be subject to the same kind of abuses of the race to the bottom for price.
What do people most often misunderstand about the 100-Mile Diet?
AS: A lot of people think eating locally is much more expensive than it actually is. I was just looking up some statistics. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that 2019 was a historic low for how much people spent on their food compared to their disposable income, at 9.5 per cent. In 1960, it was 17 per cent. Now we’re spending our excess money on cellphones and digital gadgets that didn’t even exist in 1960. Obviously not everyone can pay premium prices, but many people can and yet they keep seeking the cheapest possible food. It’s also hard to reconcile the concern about price with the fact that Canadians throw out 63 per cent of the food they buy. That’s food they could have eaten. And there are other ways of saving money on local food that people haven’t fully delved into yet — growing some food yourself, cooking with fewer ingredients, preserving foods in season, or just being selective in what you buy locally.
JBM: People also often think that we were promoting the idea that you should only eat local food. The 100-Mile Diet was an experiment. It was something we did in an unusually strict manner in order to explore our local food system and how possible it was to live off of it. But we never said in the book or in our talks that people should only ever eat local food. Our argument coming out of the experience was that we should build strong local food systems first, and then look to regional, national, and international systems to strengthen and enrich it further. But we really felt strongly that more of us should be able to eat more local food for so many reasons, first and foremost for the pleasure of it.
What aspect of the book is most overlooked?
AS: I feel like people view it as some kind of political treatise, but it was also a very personal story. I hoped people would appreciate local food more if they thought about it from the personal side. But that’s not something that I hear from people. I think people still feel like local eating is a political choice, not something that can be woven into the fabric of your life.
Is that what you happened to you?
AS: Yeah — that’s why I still do it. If it was all about suffering and political posturing, it would be hard to maintain for 15 years. But for me, it’s been nothing but an improvement in my quality of life.
JBM: I think another aspect that is often overlooked is the different ways that a local food system can provide food. There’s quite a bit in the book about rewilding and how we should be working to bring historical fisheries back to their older baselines of abundance, when we had spectacular runs of salmon and oolichan smelt in the Fraser River and so many more rockfish in the sea. That’s part of the local food system as well. People have tended to look to farms and farming, but rebuilding natural abundance is a big part of it, too, and an area where I think we can learn a great deal from the kind of collaborative relationships that Indigenous people had with the land and seascape.
If you wrote a sequel today, doing the same experiment in the same place again, how would it be different?
AS: Well, the main thing is it would just be so much easier. It might not be that interesting a book at this point! Many of the greatest challenges we had back then would not be challenging today. For example, eating through the winter or early spring isn’t difficult anymore. You don’t even really need to preserve any food. You can just go to the incredible winter farmer’s markets and buy fresh food out of cold storage and eat an amazing diet all through the year. Or instead of searching for months to find a farmer who might have grown some wheat that they could spare for you, you’d sign up for a grain and cereal CSA and have it delivered almost to your door. At the end of the book, we head to Bamfield to boil seawater for the salt. Now we’d go to Granville Island and buy Vancouver Island Salt Co. salt from Black Creek.
JBM: I think a sequel written now could look at how to make the local food system even better. How can it feed more people? How can it feed people who can’t afford it right now? How can it be more just for the people who work within it? If you shop at a grocery store, you’re buying a lot of food that is produced in ways that would not make you ethically comfortable, but it’s out of sight and mind. A key advantage of local food systems is that they are more transparent — but we don’t always act on that. We know that farmworkers, both migrant and otherwise, have always been treated as a special class of workers with fewer protections and less pay. It’s incumbent on us to call for better working conditions, better pay, and — in my own view, anyway — a pathway to citizenship for temporary workers who return repeatedly to Canada, and for their families.
Maybe you should write a sequel?
JBM: We once joked about what we’d need to be paid to put our relationship through writing another book together. We decided $2 million would do it.
AS: Luckily, no one has made us an offer.
Veganism is at the center of discussion around sustainable eating today. Should we now be trying to eat a vegan local diet?
AS: If people are not eating meat because they ethically don’t believe animals should be killed for our consumption, then that is a very personal, important choice for them to make. And I think there is definitely a way you could explore being both vegan and eating local. For instance, we grew chickpeas in our backyard garden back in the day and they did fine. So there’s definitely things that aren’t yet a part of the local food system, but could be.
JBM: If what you’re looking at is what kind of industrial food system should I eat from, then I think a vegan industrial diet is probably your best choice. But local food systems are much more fine-grained than that. The idea that we would simply ignore the enormous wealth of the sea in this particular food system, or the contribution that livestock can make to the sustainability of small farms, doesn’t make sense to me. And would universal veganism mean either giving up local food security to draw on global systems or clearing more natural landscapes here for land to grow nuts and beans? There’s a lot of question marks hanging over it for me. All that said, Alisa and I don’t eat a lot of meat.
Critics charge that eating locally has become a pastime for wealthy elites, and The 100-Mile Diet arguably contributed to that. How do you respond?
JBM: I remember one of my brothers, not too long after The 100-Mile Diet came out, saying to me, “Thanks for making onions six dollars a pound at my local farmer’s market.” There’s some truth to that. One thing that happened is that demand for local food surged, but a series of governments have refused to strengthen and support the supply side. You know, we’re eating up farmland to build condos rather than tearing down condos to expand farmland. But it’s also affected by problems bigger than the local food system, like the fact that Vancouver is becoming a city divided between haves and have nots — and the haves will pay a premium for organic food and an heirloom tomato. There are local products we rarely eat anymore ourselves, like seafood. We feel priced out of that market.
AS: If you go back to the roots of local eating, it’s the backyard garden, but how many of us can have a garden now? We don’t have one — we’re renters. Meanwhile, cheaper food has become possible through the abuses of the industrial food system, paying the workers poorly, relying on temporary immigrant labour or undocumented labourers, treating livestock inhumanely. To me, thinking about how to address those problems defends the local eating movement. We all need to pay a bit more for our food, and there is a way to make that work for everyone. We don’t want to see people being paid so badly to grow industrial food that they, in turn, cannot afford to buy healthy food for themselves.
A lot of studies show that one or another product can actually be imported to Canada with a lower carbon footprint than producing it here. Meanwhile, food miles from shipping have been shown to be a fairly small part of our diets’ climate impact. Does the 100-Mile Diet still make sense as an action for the climate?
JBM: I absolutely think the 100-Mile Diet makes sense as an action for the climate, but at the same time we need to recognize that “local” doesn’t necessarily mean low-carbon. The studies that people point to so frequently often make comparisons like, if you want to eat a fresh tomato in February, does it make sense to grow it in a gas-heated local greenhouse or to ship it in from another country? But the answer from a 100-mile-diet perspective is, well, you don’t eat tomatoes in February. You eat your canned tomatoes, or your sun-dried tomatoes, or you eat no tomatoes. And then you wait for tomato season when those plants are produced on the energy of the sun. When I think about our local food system, I just see so many ways that carbon is reduced: in all the manual work done on small farms, in urban farms where transport is done by bicycle, in the fact that we buy most of our products unpackaged or minimally packaged. Or the fact that when I make spaghetti sauce, everything is local rather than having 15 different ingredients shipped in from around the world to put in a jar that gets shipped to a grocery store.
AS: I think it’s very difficult for people doing statistics to truly, properly measure what’s going on in people’s backyards, community gardens, small farms, and farmer’s markets. If you’re growing food in your backyard, it’s zero carbon. There’s just no way of beating that.
What did the coronavirus pandemic look like from 100-Mile Diet perspective?
AS: Food security became real to me when the two meat-processing plants in Alberta lost about 1,600 workers between them and 70 per cent of Canada’s meat supply was suddenly at risk. I never thought of anything like this happening in Canada, even though I was well aware that the highly centralized industrial food system was in theory less resilient than robust local food systems, where there are many independent parts that are not so reliant on each other. I think a lot of people’s eyes were opened up to the idea that we need a strong local food system first and foremost.
JBM: It seemed as though people responded to that idea almost instinctively. I’m sure that there are more victory gardens in people’s front and back yards this year, and in the boulevards, than ever before.
AS: I’ve been doing my weekly Zoom calls with my work colleagues, and I’d say the most popular topic is what’s happening in Wes’s garden patch. He’d tell us all about what his garlic was up to. When the garlic scapes came out, everybody was riveted. It was kind of amazing.
JBM: Why do you think they were riveted?
AS: It seemed like the only thing real that was going on, the only thing that was growing in a positive way. Positive things were happening in Wes’s garden, and that somehow gave people hope.
It’s hard to social-distance at home if you don’t have a home.
Canada’s public health messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic has been clear and consistent: stay home, stay safe.
But Canadians experiencing homelessness don’t have that option, whether they’re camped out in streets or parks, or packed into crowded shelter spaces. At least 35,000 people experience homelessness every night in Canada. The pandemic has thrown that number into sharp relief, as the disease has threatened a population already at higher risk of mental and physical health complications.
Municipal, provincial and the federal governments have acted swiftly to address the increased risk posed to people experiencing homelessness, injecting funding into the non-profit sector and temporarily moving people into hotels and hockey arenas. In Montreal, masks are being distributed to the homeless population, the B.C, government gave out 3,500 smartphones to low-income people to help them access services closed by the pandemic, and Winnipeg has set up a testing site specifically for the homeless population. Homelessness advocates even launched a lawsuit against the City of Toronto to ensure proper social distancing in shelter spaces. The suit was settled in mid-May.
Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness president and CEO Tim Richter says these measures are all proof that governments are capable of acting on homelessness long-term.
“We can choose to move more aggressively and fix this problem, and that’s one of the things that these emergency measures have proven — that we can act rapidly and move people into housing if we choose,” he told HuffPost Canada.
Many experts argue that the policies put in place to abet homelessness during the pandemic could pave the way for a bigger institutional change, and even propel the push to end homelessness altogether.
They’ve been calling for it for years, but it might take a global pandemic to actually end homelessness in Canada.
That’s one of the things that these emergency measures have proven — that we can act rapidly and move people into housing if we choose.CAEH president and CEO Tim Richter
Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park encampment — which at one point was occupied by upwards of 300 people and was one of the country’s largest encampments — was ordered cleared early in the pandemic to prevent spread of the disease. At least 265 people were moved into temporary shelter in empty hotels or other spaces by early May. Similar moves were made for long-standing encampments in Victoria as well.
“This is only the first step; there’s more work to be done to get housing, and there’s more work to be done in the community, and we’re doing that work,” B.C. Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson told reporters at the time.
Sarah Canham is an adjunct professor in gerontology at Simon Fraser University. She says prior to the pandemic, homelessness was largely talked about by the government and media in relation to social housing or general housing policy.
“Pre-COVID-19, when we heard about people experiencing homelessness, it was really at times when there would be new housing developments and there would be a sense of NIMBY-ism in our communities,” she said.
In our new world of physical distancing and personal protective equipment, jam-packed shelters and encampments are suddenly not just a housing issue, but also a public health crisis. And that means a lot more average Canadians, who otherwise might not think about homelessness issues, are suddenly keenly aware of the dangers posed by a pandemic in the current system.
“But now, people are noticing that it’s unsafe for people to be in overcrowded shelters where there aren’t medical staff on hand to support the outbreak of a pandemic,” Canham said. “It isn’t appropriate for people to be living on the street when businesses that they use on a daily basis for washing their hands on a regular basis or using the toilet facilities are no longer open.”
In April, several cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where hundreds of people live in close proximity on the street, in camps like Oppenheimer or in crowded shelters. Early in the pandemic, officials were testing at three times the rate as the rest of Vancouver to catch any cases that arose.
Canham said that the “humanizing factor” of the pandemic’s effect on homeless people spurred fast action at various levels of government to address homelessness — actions academics and activists like her have been calling for for years.
“It’s shining a bit more of a light on the humanizing factor of some of the daily struggles that people have been encountering for decades here in Canada,” she said.
Some of these actions — such as housing people in empty hockey arenas or convention spaces — are temporary. When hotels saw business crash as borders closed and tourism dried up, an opportunity presented itself to temporarily house many of B.C.’s homeless population. Around 1,000 people between Vancouver and Victoria were offered the chance to relocate from encampments to these hotels.
But other provincial and federal actions are more permanent. The B.C. government purchased a hotel outside of Victoria to be converted into social housing and ease the congestion at a local encampment long-term. It will be operated by Our Place Society, a local organization that already offers support to the homeless, in partnership with B.C. Housing to provide shelter, meals and harm-reduction services related to drug use. The hotel’s pub is being converted into a safe consumption site, and residents will have access to regular wellness checks — and even the chance to bring their dogs and other personal items into their new living accommodations.
“We intend to serve this vulnerable population with dignity,” Grant McKenzie, Our Place spokesperson, said in a statement.
In early April, Trudeau’s government also announced $157 million in funding to shelters and other homeless relief efforts, with specific money going to women’s and Indigenous-focused services.
“It’s not just an issue of giving a safe place for people to escape violence or to give them shelter when they don’t have a home,” Trudeau said at the time. “It’s really an issue of protecting everyone in our society against COVID-19. That includes the most vulnerable.”
Prompted by these early moves to address COVID-19 and homelessness, advocates have come forward with calls to action at the municipal, provincial and federal levels to address homelessness long-term, arguing that this isn’t something that can be fixed by “band-aid” solutions.
One such call was released April 27 by a collective of 40 housing advocates and researchers in association with the University of British Columbia’s Housing Research Collective, chaired by professor Penny Gurstein.
The document’s authors outline eight key areas the federal government can continue to address homelessness as part of the post-COVID-19 economic stimulus package.
“We are in crisis mode as individuals and organizations, but we also are looking to a better future. We write to suggest ways to get the economy moving again, through investing in infrastructure that can help reduce inequalities, improve the social determinants of health, and uphold human rights,” they note in the introduction.
The call includes a specific federal Indigenous housing strategy, emergency rent assistance and bans on evictions for all Canadians, building up existing social housing stock and reforming housing and tax policy to disincentivize rising home prices.
WATCH: Federal fiscal update coming July 8: Trudeau.
Gurstein told HuffPost that governments must start planning to maintain these supports after the crisis is over.
“It would be unconscionable for people, once the pandemic’s worst effects are over, to just say ‘well, you’re on your own again,’” she said.
Gurstein said housing has been a significant part of economic recovery plans dating back to the second World War. And it can’t just be affordable housing for home-owners, but renters and the homeless too.
“You have to be really thinking of how do you actually do a stimulus package that addresses housing for people that are not in the market. That would be non-market housing,” she said.
Alongside the UBC call to action, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) has also launched a campaign called “Recovery For All,” advocating for housing as part of any coronavirus recovery plan.