Is spending $19 billion on fighter jets a good way to generate jobs in a pandemic-ravaged economy?

Image: U.S. Air Force/Flickr

CBC News has reported that Boeing executives made a public pitch on June 25 about its “history of delivering high-paying aerospace jobs” as it attempts to secure a $19-billion contract with the Canadian government for their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jet.

The article by Murray Brewster highlights:

“In its presentation, the company estimates the value of its direct economic activity in Canada — both commercial and defence — at $2.3 billion, resulting in 11,000 jobs across the country. The independent report estimates that when indirect spending is taken into account, the U.S. multinational contributes $5.3 billion and 20,700 jobs to Canada’s economy.”

Brewster comments: “Boeing’s decision to make its case publicly is significant in part because federal finances are reeling under the weight of an anticipated $252-billion deficit and staggering levels of unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That said, Boeing doesn’t appear to argue that the Super Hornet would create new jobs, it seems to imply instead that it would help maintain those 20,700 jobs.

In contrast, Lockheed Martin, one of its competitors for the fighter jet contract, has previously highlighted: “According to the Statistics Canada model, approximately 50,000 jobs will be created in Canada through the selection of the F-35.”

Still, how convincing are these jobs arguments? Is spending $19 billion on fighter jets, plus $300 million a year in maintenance costs, a cost-effective way to generate jobs?

The Canadian Labour Congress has previously pointed out that a $17.6 billion investment in public transit could create 223,000 person job years.

In the U.S. context, Phyllis Bennis has written: “$1 billion in military spending creates approximately 11,200 jobs — but the same amount of money would create 26,700 jobs if invested in education, about two-and-a-half times as many. Or 16,800 jobs in clean energy, or 17,200 in health care.”

Similarly, research by the Costs of War Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs found that while $1 million spent on “defence” creates 6.9 direct and indirect jobs, the same amount invested in solar power creates 9.5 jobs, in health care 14.3 jobs, and in elementary and secondary education 19.2 jobs.

These numbers would suggest that public spending on weapons is a poor allocation of finite public dollars when it comes to job creation. With three million jobs lost this past March and April, the argument that peaceful production is a better generator of jobs than war machines needs to be seriously considered.

And yet the Canadian Press reported earlier this month:

“[Defence Department deputy minister Jody Thomas] said she had not received any order or direction [from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan] to slow or cut defence spending and that officials are continuing to work on the planned purchase of new warships, fighter jets and other equipment.”

The federal government has set a deadline of July 31 to receive the final bid from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab for the $19-billion fighter jet contract. The government’s decision is expected in 2022, meaning the public has less than two years to mobilize to ensure this money is spent on peaceful production and jobs, not war.


Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. Follow on Twitter at @CBrentPatterson @PBIcanada.

The sad state of policing in Canada

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Since May 26, 2020, police officers in Canada have been responsible for killings in Nunavut, killing Caleb Njoko in London, Ontario, Ejaz Ahmed Choudry in Mississauga, D’Andre Campbell in Brampton, Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, and Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore in separate incidents in New Brunswick.

Five of the people listed above were killed after the police were called in for wellness checks by family or friends. On June 19, 2020, CTV released an analysis of the last 100 people shot and killed by police. Unsurprisingly for many of us, a disproportionate number of people killed were young men who were visible minorities, predominantly Black and Indigenous.

Discriminatory policing impacts every province in Canada and has resulted in death and injury and long term physical and emotional trauma which communities are fighting to address.

Black Lives Matter is calling for the defunding and disarming of police and this applies to Canada as much as the United States. In an interview, Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Canadalays out the demands of the movement across Canada and the unique challenges we face in this country.

According to her interview, the demands focus on two areas, police accountability and defunding the police and re-allocating the funding.

Across North America, Black Lives Matter is organized as a network of locally focused organizations. This structure is particularly effective for demanding change of police forces which are governed through a mixture of municipal, provincial and federal authorities.

Police accountability

In six Canadian provinces, police investigate themselves in the event of a serious incident. After the recent police shootings in Nunavut, experts called the police oversight model completely toothless and more than 30 years behind the national trend.

This can be said about many of our localities in Canada. In May 2019, Justice Minister David Lametti released a report called “State of the Criminal Justice System” — one of the Liberal government’s many reviews. According to the John Howard Society, this report detailed the poor state of criminal justice in Canada but offered few real recommendations or solutions. We need to address police shootings and also the larger issue of mass incarceration and criminal justice.

In Manitoba, between March 10 and the end of April, Winnipeg police officers shot and killed four people, at least three of whom were Indigenous. When deadly force is used by Winnipeg Police Service, it has been disproportionately against Indigenous people, and the Independent Investigations Unit of Manitoba frequently finds the actions are “justified.” The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has been calling for body-worn cameras to be worn by front-line officers to help restore confidence in future independent investigations.

Prime Minister Trudeau has started talking about a roll out of body-worn cameras among RCMP officers and initiating efforts so that provinces and municipalities adopt similar measures. Currently, the Calgary Police Service is the only major police force in the country that has equipped all its front-line officers with the tool. However, criminologist Kelly Sundberg points out body-worn cameras are an expensive gadget and a “distraction to the real issue of accountability and addressing what needs to be done.”

If we treat body-worn cameras as the solution for accountability, we will likely end up awash with more evidence of police violence for which officers are still not held accountable, as in the United States. Comprehensive police accountability means internal investigations with teeth and ensuring people have real recourse against discriminatory policing practices.

Focusing on body cams and other piecemeal measures, like banning choke holds, alone is a distraction. Real and comprehensive accountability means joining the movement to demand real change.

Defund the police and prison industrial complex

According to Statistics Canada, the total operating expenditures of police across Canada have generally been increasing since 1996-1997. In 2018, the John Howard Society issued the following “Financial Facts about Canadian Prisons” in which they stated that total (federal, provincial and municipal) public spending on criminal justice in Canada per year is about $20 billion. The report explains: “Of this, nearly $5 billion is for jails and prisons, of which about 55% is provincial and 45% federal. The rest is for courts and police.”

According to Sandy Hudson, the federal government spends “more than $9 million per day on the RCMP. That’s not policing at the provincial level or policing at the municipal level, we’re just talking about the RCMP.”

In part to fund the consistent increase in the prison industrial complex, municipal, provincial and federal governments have cut funding for services year after year. In 2018, PressProgress reported, an “OECD study looking at how much countries spend on services, benefits and tax breaks related to healthcare, families, old age security, unemployment, housing and more, found Canada’s public social expenditures fall well below the OECD average — even lower than the United States.”

Right now, in Ontario and Alberta, Conservative majority governments are gutting school and social service expenditures. As of June 23, Jason Kenney’s government has passed language calling for a civilian corps to help police, which could well mean a group of armed vigilantes like in the United States.

In Canada, police have been investing in more technology and the Liberal government has retained many of the Harper government’s efforts to bring in a new era of surveillance in Canada. We need to see more investment in our communities.

We do not have a comprehensive legal aid system in Canada. Instead, it is left up to provinces and can be defunded at the whim of the provincial government, as we just witnessed in Ontario in 2019. In 2018, a federal Liberal government justice department review showed the importance of legal aid, but also the constraints of ever shrinking funding.

In 2018, The Conversation published the results of a investigation which studied 10 large and medium-sized Canadian police forces, comprising eight municipal police forces, one provincial police force and one federal police force from across seven different provinces, which found that deployments of SWAT teams — special weapons and tactics units — have risen in major Canadian cities, and are higher in some cases than those by U.S. public police.

The article explains: “in Canada, there is no national policy or law regulating SWAT team conduct or growth.”

In 2017, activists in Victoria, British Columbia questioned the municipal police force’s acquisition of an armoured vehicle to police their quiet town. This points to a larger issue of militarisation and ever increasing budgets which demands action.

We need police to be de-militarised and held accountable. We need to focus on alternatives to incarceration. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by gimmicks which will serve to keep the current structure in place. Join the local fights to demand accountability and alternatives to the current state of policing in Canada.


July 1 is a time to reflect on Canada’s colonial and genocidal legacy

Image: Sally T. Buck/Flickr

Since 2017, I have refused to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of Canada, because Canada, and many Canadians, continues along a path that fails to acknowledge our history of genocide, systemic racism and the dearth of meaningful remedial action that’s needed for true reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

This year is different because COVID-19 has shown Canada to be a country that is inequitable to Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC); 2SLGBTQIA+ folk; disabled folk; the working poor and those living in poverty, as well as the migrant workers who grow and harvest our food, take care of our children and elderly, and do the work Canadians refuse to. All of these folks are more vulnerable to the coronavirus and generally have more serious outcomes, especially when experiencing several intersecting oppressions.

It’s imperative that voices from all marginalized communities are included in designing the post-pandemic vision of Canada. However, these voices need support from privileged Canadians who often have more import with representatives at various levels of government. So, in order to be ready when called upon to be an ally, here are some resources that will help you see life through a Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) lens to better inform your allyship.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has put together a booklet called “Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.” The booklet is divided into three sections: the ten principles of reconciliation; the 94 calls to action; and the 46 articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

These documents are essential to repairing relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. The calls to action are specific actions that need to be undertaken to redress the residential school legacy and promote reconciliation. UNDRIP establishes and maintains mutual respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

Elementary aged children can learn about the the 10-year long legal battle fought against the federal government to establish and enact Jordan’s Principle guaranteeing on-reserve children the same rights to health care as all Canadian children in the book, Spirit Bear and Children Make History.

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew is a way to get your children interested in finding out more about these amazing women and men while they’re home over the summer.

Four volumes make up the Canadian Geographic Indigenous Peoples Atlas of CanadaTruth and Reconciliation; First Nations; Inuit; Metis. The set is a wealth of knowledge for children, youth and adults to explore, including maps, artwork, history, culture and so much more.

Future History, available for free on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) as well as CBC Gem, packs each 20-minute episode full of information about the history of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. More importantly, it shows how richly wonderful a reconciled future could be.

Today’s political climate makes the episode about “Museums, Monuments and Living History” particularly important.

The B.C. Museum Association recently released a video titled “#MuseumsAreNotNeutral: White Supremacy in Museums and Calls for Immediate Action.” Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra successfully argues that museums’ focus comes through a predominantly white, male lens. What gets displayed, how it’s experienced and those welcomed to that space or those who visit these cultural spaces are all subject to this lens.

Her observation that BIPOC artists and employees are hired to be seen and not heard is echoed in the book, Towards Braiding by Elwood Jimmy, Vanessa Andreotti and Sharon Stein.

Tasha Hubbard’s documentary, We Will Stand Up, available free on the NFB website or on CBC Gem, explores the legacy of Colten Boushie and his family’s struggle to get justice for his murder by a Saskatchewan farmer.

Music is an important part of culture and also learning. Here are a few song suggestions for an enjoyable summer: “Blackbird” in Mi’kmaq; “Heart of Gold” in Cree; Twin Flames’ song, “Porchlight,” about missing and murdered women, sung in English and Inuktitut; and Jarrett Martineau’s weekly radio program, Reclaimed.

According to the United Nations definition of genocide, Canada is not only responsible for trying to destroy Indigenous but also Black peoples and their history in this country.

Christina Sinding is a professor in the school of social work and department of health, aging and society, at McMaster University. She recently wrote an article addressing the importance of discussing the history that we not only want to preserve, but honour.

Statues and street names don’t teach history. Instead, they honour individuals and hold them up as exemplary while simultaneously ignoring the intergenerational trauma inflicted, and, as Sinding states in her piece, “Makes this harm lasting, preserves it and allows it to continue.”

Sinding mentions the NFB documentary, Speakers for the Dead, which looks at the erasure of the history of Black settlers in the town of Priceville, Ontario. The Black community was eventually driven from their homes and their graveyard was cleared of gravestones leaving no trace of their existence. That is until the late 1980’s when efforts to recover the missing stones led to Black and white people working together to piece together the missing history.

For those who have grown up and are living with white privilege, it’s time to understand the history that you defend. Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy, is Lincoln Alexander’s memoir of his life living in a racist country.

Desmond Cole’s award-winning article, “The Skin We’re In,” which became a documentary and recently a full length book by the same name, chronicles acts of racism, cover-ups and social justice activism during 2017.

Teaching for Black Lives is an American based book designed to help white teachers rethink the way they teach racialized students, but it’s also an eye-opening read for everyone who is not marginalized and has not been the target of racism.

Haymarket Books is more than a publisher of ground-breaking works, it’s also where you can sign up for informative teach-ins. July 1, Eddie Glaude and Cornel West are discussing the enduring legacy of James Baldwin and lessons from his work for confronting racism today.

On July 2, you can get a better understanding of what’s meant by, and involved in, successfully defunding the police and the policing system.

Film-maker and actress, Ellen Page, used social scientist Ingrid Waldron’s landmark book, There’s Something In The Water, as the foundation for her expose on the health and environmental destruction forced onto Black and First Nations communities in Nova Scotia. This is what environmental racism looks like.

For some social justice inspiration, listen to Marvin’s Room with host Amanda Parris. Here’s a great episode to learn about empowerment.

This July 1, take time to reflect on how Canada can move forward from it’s racist and exclusionary history to create an inclusive, caring country that actively listens to and incorporates all voices into its post-COVID reincarnation.

Then, decide the role you’ll play in making sure the well-being of diverse folks and the health of our land and water take priority in the post-pandemic recovery. I hope you will be part of this living history that is calling for a Canadian revolution!


Doreen Nicoll (@doreennicoll61) | TwitterDoreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence. This article first appeared in Raise The Hammer.

Reflections from an elder in isolation

Image: NASA/Unsplash

I’m fortunate. This slowdown is giving me time with my grandchildren who are with me, and to think about what has mattered most in my life, what has given me the greatest joy and satisfaction, and where I hope the world may go after I’m gone.

As an older male, I’m in the population facing the highest risk from COVID-19, but my reflections on this pandemic go beyond my own life and death. Difficult as it is now, this pandemic will subside and we’ll be able to think about how to move forward.

This is a challenge for all people. I’ve always been struck by science-fiction movies in which alien invaders arrive and begin killing humans. Governments worldwide unite against a common enemy as ethnic, religious, economic and political differences fall away.

Maybe COVID-19 is the alien invader that could unite our species. But the pandemic is just one of several dangers we face. Collectively, these offer an opportunity to reset priorities and direction for ourselves and society.

My parents married in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Those were difficult times, but work, family and community got them through. “You have to work hard for the necessities in life, but don’t run after money as if having a new car, a big house or fancy clothes makes you a better or more important person,” they often said. Money is not the goal of existence; the goal is a life well-lived.

We’ve had multiple calls to change our ways because the sum of human activity has become toxic to the planet’s life-support systems. But we’re caught in political and economic systems that render environmentalists as “special interests” with impossible agendas.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring documented the ecological impacts of pesticides like DDT. It appeared to be a powerful tool to control insect pests, but we didn’t understand its full implications. We still don’t know enough about how the world works to anticipate the repercussions of our powerful ideas and inventions.

In 1992, before the Rio earth summit, more than half of living Nobel laureates joined more than 1,600 senior scientists from 71 countries to sign the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course … Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about,” it stated.

Humanity did not act.

Twenty-five years later, more than 16,000 scientists signed a second warning, saying the planet’s state has grown worse and we must act with urgency.

Still little or no action.

In October 2018, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report warned that a rise of more than 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100 would make it difficult or impossible to adapt to and cope with climate chaos. We’re now heading toward 3 to 5 C warming! You’d think that would be big news. But shortly after the report came out, Canada legalized cannabis, and that pushed aside other news, including the possible collapse of our species.

In May 2019, a UN study reported human activities threaten a million plant and animal species with imminent extinction. But, Prince Harry and Meghan had a baby and media stories about extinction — including our own — vanished.

A trifecta of economic crises — the COVID-19 pandemic, stock market troubles and plummeting oil prices — is exposing systemic flaws.

Nature is already responding to the pandemic-induced slowdown: cleaner air over China, clearer waters in Venice’s canals, smog-free skies in Los Angeles and more.

But it’s likely temporary. If we could take a different path, away from the impossible dream that unbridled consumption and endless growth are necessary for progress, we might find our way to a different future.

Can we relearn what humanity has known since our beginnings, that we live in a complex web of relationships in which our very survival and well-being depend on clean air, water and soil and biological diversity? Or will we celebrate the passing of the pandemic with an orgy of consumption and a drive to get back to the way things were before?

In this disaster lies an opportunity to reflect and change direction in the hope that if we do, nature will be generous.


David Suzuki - David Suzuki FoundationDavid Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at

How police unions present barriers to change in Canada

Image: Mitchel Raphael

Image: Mitchel Raphael

Police unions, like any union, work to protect the interests of their members. Those interests, however, are exactly what situates police unions outside of the labour movement in Canada.

Police wield a great deal of authoritative social power, and have the actual firepower to back it up. Often, police use this power at the direct expense of labour movements, surveilling strikers and even arresting picketers.

Instead of an interest in worker’s rights, police interests include expanding police budgets, maintaining their militarization, and defending their jobs — even when they have unduly harmed or even killed members of the public while doing those jobs.

Until recently, the institution of policing and the power it holds have seemed impermeable to criticism.

Now, after a full month of impassioned protests in North America in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, calls to defund the police have entered mainstream consciousness with unprecedented urgency. From those wishing to defund police entirely, to those seeking the most basic reforms, history tells us that police unions will mount an impressive defence of the status quo.

Police unions in Canada have been known to unabashedly brandish their political influence to stamp out criticism of policing and to shut down calls for more civilian oversight to be introduced to the system.

In 2000, the Toronto Police Association (TPA) launched a highly criticized fundraising campaign (Operation True Blue) in order to raise money in part for the purpose of targeting political opponents. Targets included several members of the Toronto police services board who had been critical of the force, and then-deputy police chief Robert Kerr, all of whom were supportive of increased civilian oversight of Toronto police. Those members and Kerr publicly admitted they were afraid of Craig Bromell, the TPA president at the time, while Toronto city councillors said they were afraid to speak out against the union for fear the union would attack them in the next election.

At the time, the CBC reported that Bromell denied that the funds would be used to hire private investigators to investigate politicians critical of police, though Bromell had made it known the union had done so in the past and might do so again.

Shortly thereafter, Bromelll also endorsed a list of conservative municipal candidates who were publicly opposed to increased civilian oversight of the police, despite provincial law stipulating that police officers are not to endorse or oppose any politician. Bromell was far from the only TPA president — and the only police union — to insert themselves into politics in spite of this law. In 2018, the Ottawa Police Association endorsed Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives.

Steven Tufts and Mark Thomas are sociologists at York University who co-wrote a January 2020 paper on police unions. They say that intervening in politics, and in particular, aligning with conservative politicians, is a common way that police unions preserve their interests — and their budgets.

Police unions are “very strong political lobbying groups,” said Thomas in an interview, and have strong connections to politicians at all levels of government, but especially with those at the municipal level.

Police unions in Canada have thus far been dismissive of calls from politicians in many municipalities to defund the police or to redistribute their budgets to other forms of community engagement.

This month, the Regina Police Association tweeted that should the Regina Police receive cuts to its budget, the first thing to go would be the force’s cultural unit which works with Indigenous communities. “Choose wisely,” read the tweet, which was initially defended by the union, but has since been deleted.

In a June 8 statement titled “Racism and the Importance of Respect for all Canadians, including Members of the RCMP,” National Federation of Police president Brian Sauvé said that “when elected officials offer negative anti-police comment publicly…it is not only unfair but contributes to sensationalized media coverage and bias which could negatively impact public safety.”

Also this month, Vancouver’s city council voted to request the Vancouver Police Department take a one per cent cut to its $340.4 million budget to assist with the city’s pandemic costs. The budget cut was unrelated to activists’ calls to defund the police. Even so, Ralph Kaisers, the president of the Vancouver Police Union, told the CBC that if the budget were to be cut, the first thing to go would likely be training, offering some insight into the priorities of police forces.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has outright rejected calls to defund the police. “I don’t believe in that for a second,” he said.

John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and coordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, said that police unions exist to protect their own and attack anyone who criticizes them — something he says he’s been on the receiving end of throughout his career.

“Part of police culture is about standing up for each other. The [Toronto Police] Association is part of that,” he said.

Tufts and Thomas identify such behaviour within police unions as “blue solidarity.”

“The solidarity that police unions practice is very internal,” said Thomas, in that they do well to look out for one another, but often actively undermine the interests of the labour movement and racial justice movements that challenge their authority — through efforts such as the Blue Lives Matter campaign, which was led by American police unions.

Police unions and the labour movement

In an anti-Black racism webinar on June 10, hosted by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), Sandy Hudson, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, suggested that those few Canadian unions in the labour movement that do have police or police unions in their ranks should be distancing themselves.

In Canada, police unions are distinct from the larger labour movement, with some exceptions. CUPE, for instance, represents fewer than 100 police officers in two municipal forces on the East Coast, as well as a few Indigenous forces in Quebec, it said in an email.

Marie-Clarke Walker of the CLC says no police unions have membership with the congress. Walker said it’s not a controversial issue, but is simply because no police unions have applied.

In 2015, the CLC and the Public Servant Alliance of Canada argued at the Supreme Court alongside the Canadian Police Association in favour of the RCMP’s right to unionize.

In Walker’s view, “workers are workers are workers,” and many of the issues facing police are shared by workers in other sectors, as well. She believes police unions play a valid role in supporting their members.

“The distinction is they hold greater power over everybody else, which was exactly what the union movement was developed to deal with — that power imbalance,” she said.

While the CLC has stopped short of calling for police to be defunded, it has been advocating for a reallocation of some police resources into other forms of response, such as specialized social workers, Walker said.

Walker said that in her personal view, while this moment calls for a broader conversation about the future of policing, she’s not sure that police unions should have a voice in that discussion.

“While we’ve been shouting and demonstrating and all of the various things that I think they need to hear, many have not been listening,” she said. If there is to be a path forward, Walker believes police need to be at the table, but they need to really listen to the Black and Indigenous communities they often target.

Mark Thomas noted a lack of meaningful response from police unions on the protests to be indicative of their position.

“They’re not just contributing, they are creating racial tensions by protecting officers,” he said.

In Tufts and Thomas’ article, they conclude with the suggestion that the labour movement should distance itself from police unions.

Their argument is that police unions use their significant power to stamp out criticism, maintain the militarization of police, and consistently lobby politicians to increase their budgets, all while police participate “in governing capitalist labour relations through the surveillance of picketing and strikes.”

However, Thomas said the question of whether police should have the right to unionize is not the right question. “The question is about policing itself…Ultimately in the end, the power of police unions lies in the power of police.”

Current calls for defunding or at least significantly reforming police are growing by the day, creating a new political climate in which politicians might feel they can safely question police budgets, police behaviours, and police oversight without experiencing severe blowback from police unions and voters who support them.

“Even a few years ago, as Black Lives Matter was emerging, it was deeply attacked by police unions. I think that what’s happened in recent times is making that more difficult for police unions. That’s not to say they’re not going to try,” said Thomas.


Meet's labour reporter: Chelsea Nash | rabble.caChelsea Nash is rabble’s labour beat reporter for 2020. To contact her with story leads, email chelsea[at]

Flood infrastructure: ‘the biggest salmon habitat issue you’ve never heard of’

Along B.C.’s Fraser River, concrete obstructions block 1,500 kilometres of fish habitat and ‘meat grinder’ pump stations kill fish. Critics say it’s time for fish-friendly flood control

Traditional flood infrastructure can block fish passageways and make spawning areas unreachable. Photo: Eiko Jones / Watershed Watch Salmon Society

Some folks call flood pump stations “meat grinders.”

These pumps are common along B.C.’s Fraser River, where they remove water from nearby streams when levels get high and pump it into the river to prevent flooding.

But fish and amphibians can get sucked in with the water, said Lina Azeez, campaign manager for Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“They grind them up in the machinery,” she said. “That’s a huge problem.”

Other flood infrastructure — such as dikes, floodgates and pumps — blocks fish passageways and makes potential spawning areas unreachable. As part of an ongoing mapping project, Watershed Watch has found 1,500 kilometres of current or potential fish habitat in the lower Fraser and its tributaries is blocked by flood infrastructure.

“It’s the biggest habitat issue that you’ve never heard of,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch.

Many of these flood structures are due to be upgraded in response to sea level rise, increased seasonal flooding or aging. Hill said governments now have a chance to build innovative, fish-friendly structures such as pump stations that don’t catch fish or floodgates that open and close with the tide unlike older models that remain closed most of the time.

Natural infrastructure can also be harnessed to provide flood protection without disrupting wildlife. Lakes and ponds can help absorb freshet, while wetlands and vegetated areas absorb water and stabilize soil. A 2018 Insurance Bureau of Canada report found that natural infrastructure is “cost effective” by design but “underutilized.”

“There’s this tremendous opportunity to open up a whole bunch of habitat by putting in flood control structures that are better for salmon and also keep our communities as safe or even safer from flooding,” Hill said.

Cities continue to choose cheaper, non-fish-friendly options

The reality of flood risk has been looming over B.C. after above-average spring snowmelt in May caused the biggest flood in Williams Lake in approximately 200 years, triggering a state of emergency. A recent analysis by the World Resources Institute found that without major investments in flood protection, the number of people affected by coastal and river flooding each year could more than double by 2030.

About 350,000 people live in the Fraser floodplain and are at risk of floods. The Fraser Basin Council estimates a major flood could cost up to $30 billion in damages.

The NDP government committed $519 million to wildfire and flood preparation and response in its 2020 budget. But Hill said flood mitigation money keeps going to projects that block habitat and potentially harm fish.

Hill pointed to Pitt Meadows, about 40 kilometres east of Vancouver, where community members have seen hundreds of dead fish at the McKechnie pump station. Despite this, the city has received one government grant and applied for another to replace two other pump stations with models that are just as harmful to fish.

Meghan Rooney at floodgate

Watershed Watch Salmon Society is calling for fish-friendly flood infrastructure to replace old infrastructure along the lower Fraser River. Photo: Collette Rooney / Watershed Watch Salmon Society

Meghan Rooney at floodgate

Meghan Rooney, a field coordinator with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, conducts a habitat assessment at a side channel of the Coquitlam River. Photo: Collette Rooney / Watershed Watch Salmon Society

“Fish-friendly pumps are not requirements of these grant applications, but they were carefully considered,” the city said in a March 5 statement. The city added that it consulted with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Fisheries and Oceans Canada and found that fish-friendly pumps would spread invasive species and affect native species, including salmon. Fish-friendly infrastructure allows the free movement of fish — invasive and non-invasive species — whereas traditional infrastructure can kill them.

“We have our federal aquatic species regulation, which prevents us from moving or transporting invasive species, which we know we have in our water courses,” Samanatha Maki, director of engineering and operations services at the City of Pitt Meadows, said at a council meeting in February.

Azeez said both invasive and non-invasive fish have been killed by pumps in Pitt Meadows. She said the city is relying on the assumption that federal regulation allows for the killing of native species so long as invasive species are killed as well. But, she said, this is “not necessarily accurate.”

The Fisheries Act prohibits human activities and projects that result in the “death of fish by means other than fishing” and the “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.”

The Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations prohibits the release of invasive species and allows eradication of those species, but “the prohibition on harm to non-invasive species under the Fisheries Act continues to apply,” Azeez said.

She added there are more efficient ways to address the impacts invasive species can have on non-invasive fish, such as protecting and restoring habitat and improving water quality.

Another big obstacle for many municipalities is the cost of fish-friendly infrastructure, which can be more expensive up front than existing designs, Azeez said.

At the council meeting, Maki conceded this was a major factor in the recommendation to go with standard pumps. “One of the biggest drivers is cost, with fish-friendly pumps being twice the cost,” she said in reference to the capital cost. She added that the maintenance cost is “a bit of an unknown,” while the existing pumps are “reliable technology.”

Azeez and Hill want the government to adjust infrastructure funding requirements to advance fish-friendly options in collaboration with local governments and First Nations.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development told The Narwhal by email the province “encourages” fish-friendly infrastructure, but local authorities are responsible for developing that infrastructure.

Councillor calls for regional plan to bring back fish habitat to the Fraser 

While municipalities use provincial money to build more non-fish-friendly infrastructure, the province and the federal government are investing in habitat restoration through the salmon restoration and innovation fund, which supports projects to protect and revitalize salmon populations. The almost $150-million fund will be distributed over five years.

In 2019, Watershed Watch received almost $600,000 from the fund to identify priority sites and fund infrastructure upgrades at those sites that would also make way for fish. In one of those projects, it is helping Port Coquitlam upgrade its pump station and floodgate at Maple Creek.

“It’s been on Port Coquitlam’s to-do list for a while, but they never really had the money to do it,” Azeez said.

Maple Creek supports all seven species of salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. But spawning grounds are blocked by a floodgate, a “big metal door” that blocks out aquatic life, said Laura Dupont, a Port Coquitlam city councillor. While the old floodgate remains closed most of the time, the new gate would remain open at low tide.

Baby coho salmon

Flood infrastructure blocks 1,500 kilometres of current or potential salmon habitat in the lower Fraser River, including important spawning habitat. Photo: Eiko Jones / Watershed Watch Salmon Society

Dupont believes the payoffs will be fast.

“Life comes back so quickly. Nature is so resilient,” she said.

“I would expect within one spawning season, we should see salmon returning and being able to spawn, and just letting life back into a waterway that’s been deprived of it for too long.”

In 2018, Dupont brought a resolution forward to the Union of B.C. Municipalities to prioritize fish-friendly flood infrastructure. The resolution passed and was presented to the province as a recommendation to consider for future decision-making. She said there needs to be a regional plan to bring back fish habitat in the Fraser.

“Municipality by municipality is so piecemeal,” she said, adding that she’d like to see enough funding to update all floodgates along the lower Fraser.

Innovative fish-friendly infrastructure can restore habitat and protect land

While fish-friendly infrastructure may be more expensive, the payoffs can be huge.

In Washington state, public-private partnership Floodplains by Design issues grants for projects that reduce flood risk and restore habitat. Between 2013 and 2018, it funded 36 projects on 13 major floodplains thanks to US$115 million from the Washington legislature. The projects have removed 700 residences from high-risk floodplain areas, restored 40 kilometres of salmon habitat and protected 200 hectares of agricultural land.

In the Netherlands, severe flooding in the 1990s forced more than 250,000 people to evacuate and prompted the government to develop a more innovative approach to flood management. The Room for the River project, launched in 2007 and completed in 2018, lowered floodplains, created water buffers, relocated levees, increased the depth of side channels and built flood bypasses.

Nijmegen, the Netherlands

As part of the Netherland’s Room for the River project, a new channel was dug for the Waal river, creating an island in the city of Nijmegen. Photo: Richard Brunsveld / Unsplash

Azeez also pointed to the living dike project, a collaboration between the cities of Delta and Surrey and Semiahmoo First Nation. Instead of building an existing concrete dike higher to protect communities from sea level rise, which would mean encroaching on more land and vital salmon habitat, the coalition has launched a project to gradually increase the elevation of the foreshore over 30 years in hopes of providing natural protection and preserving the salt marsh habitat.

Looking at innovations that have taken place around the world and close to home, Hill said the fact that the Fraser River lacks an innovative flood management plan amounts to “government inertia.”

“There’s a lot of fear around moving away from the status quo,” he said. “But it really hasn’t served us very well.”


The NarwhalSteph Kwetásel’wet Wood 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.


A global push for racial justice in the climate movement

For years, mainstream environmental movements around the globe have excluded people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Today’s global Black Lives Matter protests have amplified calls for institutions of all kinds — including environmental groups — to challenge and dismantle chronic systemic racism.

A protester holds up a sign that says “I can’t breathe” during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, DC, May 31, 2020. Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Related: How US protests highlight ‘anti-black racism across the globe’

Environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor remembers being the only Black person in her environmental science class at Northeastern Illinois University in the early 1980s. When she asked her white professor why there weren’t more Black students, he quickly told her that it was “because Blacks are not interested in the environment,” she said.

This assumption ran counter to everything she knew. She had grown up in Jamaica, where people from all backgrounds were passionate about the environment and loved nature.

“We gardened, we hiked the mountains, we did all of those things,” she said.

Today’s global Black Lives Matter protests have amplified calls for institutions of all kinds — including environmental groups — to challenge and dismantle centuries of systemic racism that have excluded people of color.

Related: Why many in public health support anti-racism protests

Taylor, until recently a professor of environmental racism at the University of Michigan, found that underrepresentation exists at environmental organizations across the United States. In 2014, just under 16% of people of color were represented in a survey of hundreds of organizations, compared to about 35% of the population, she said. In the early 1990s, only about 2% of the staff of environmental nongovernmental organizations were people of color.

In the UK, the environmental sector is one of the least diverse sectors of the economy.

Yet, people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation and climate change, and environmental organizations are being called to focus more than ever before on environmental justice.

In the past few weeks, big international green groups including Greenpeace and have responded with statements, videos and op-eds supporting Black Lives Matter and calling for racial justice.

Related: Black Lives Matter UK says climate change is racist

But environmental activist Suzanne Dhaliwal is skeptical this will translate into real inclusion, particularly in the UK, where she lives and works. Dhaliwal, who identifies as British Indian Canadian Sikh, grew up partly in Canada and spent much of her 20s working alongside big environmental nonprofits in the UK.

“We’re in a very difficult moment where it looks diverse, you know, our pictures are used. … But in terms of access to resources and having a say on the strategies that are used, and the support that we experience, I think it’s an all-time low.”

Suzanne Dhaliwal, environmental activist, UK Tar Sands Network 

“We’re in a very difficult moment where it looks diverse, you know, our pictures are used,” she said. “But in terms of access to resources and having a say on the strategies that are used, and the support that we experience, I think it’s an all-time low.”

She says she grew frustrated when she couldn’t generate interest at her organizations to partner with Indigenous communities and focus on how environmental issues intersect with colonial legacies.

Related: Police beating of Indigenous chief fuels Canadian anti-racism protests

So, Dhaliwal started her own environmental nonprofit, UK Tar Sands Network, which works alongside Indigenous communities and organizations to campaign against UK companies investing in oil extraction in Alberta, Canada.

“Now, what I call for is direct funding of Black and Brown and Indigenous organizations and leadership training,” said Dhaliwal. “We need research money so that we can research new strategies.”

Other environmentalists are trying to change environmental organizations from within.

Samia Dumbuya just started a job with the European branch of international nonprofit Friends of the Earth, working on climate justice and energy issues. She lives in the UK.

As a Black person whose parents are refugees from Sierre Leone, talking about racial justice issues within the environmental movement is personal for her. She says she sees how climate change is affecting her parents’ home country with increasingly bad flooding and landslides.

“I like to talk to people about the role of colonialism and how the West exploits the lands of Asia, Africa, Latin America and specific islands where they basically degraded the environments and those lands — and it left people with nothing.” —Samia Dumbuya, environmental activist, Friends of the Earth, UK

“I like to talk to people about the role of colonialism and how the West exploits the lands of Asia, Africa, Latin America and specific islands where they basically degraded the environments and those lands — and it left people with nothing,” Dumbuya said. “And now, the West is saying we all need to be more environmentally conscious. And they look down on the ‘Global South,’ which is very hypocritical.”

Dumbuya thinks big environmental organizations can work together with smaller, newer groups as well as with the global Black Lives Matter movement, about how to use social media better to connect with younger, more diverse supporters.

“We don’t have to stick to these old traditional methods of activism — like, things are changing,” she said.

Valuing and nurturing people of color within the mainstream environmental movement has always been an issue, says Joe Curnow, professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada who researches social movements.

“I have seen a lot of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] folks feel like there’s not space for them in these mainstream organizations.” —Joe Curnow, professor, Universty of Manitoba, Canada

“I have seen a lot of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] folks feel like there’s not space for them in these mainstream organizations,” she said. “There are a lot of the tensions there and who is getting recognized and who is getting celebrated as being a leader.”

Curnow said while it’s true that the hard work of anti-racist activists is having a positive effect on environmentalism by amplifying links between environmental degradation, colonialism and racism, pushing those ideas forward can take its toll.

“It can cost a lot for those people who choose to do it, emotionally and professionally,” Curnow said.

It’s been almost 40 years since Taylor’s professor told her that Black people didn’t care about the environment.

As she watches the protests for racial equity across the world, she sees young people changing the environmental movement — pushing forward ideas that draw connections between race and the environment.

“They’re connecting the dots: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and all these names, they immediately connect them with environmental justice, with climate, with health,” said Taylor. “Because they see it going toward the same neighborhood. Older people are still saying, ‘what does race have to do with the environment? I don’t see how it’s connected.’ Young people see it.” —Dorceta Taylor, environmental scientist, USA

“They’re connecting the dots: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and all these names, they immediately connect them with environmental justice, with climate, with health,” Taylor said. “Because they see it going toward the same neighborhood. Older people are still saying, ‘What does race have to do with the environment? I don’t see how it’s connected.’ Young people see it.”

Across the globe, the urban spaces that are overpoliced and lack public investment also have the worst air quality and contaminated drinking water. The environmental movement will grow stronger with more diverse representation, but also by making these connections, Taylor said.

“Environmentalists all over the country are really taking note that they need to think of the environment now as not just the trees and the birds and the flowers, but the human relationships that are in them — and how these are really threatening some people way more than they’re threatening others.”


Decoupling: Is economic growth compatible with ecological sustainability?

Is economic growth compatible with ecological sustainability? To answer this question, we need to talk about decoupling. The term ‘decoupling’ refers to the possibility of detaching economic growth from environmental pressures. Economic growth is a measure of market activity, most often Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while environmental pressures include all the consequences an economy has on nature – a useful distinction being between resource use (materials, energy, water, and land) and environmental impacts (e.g. climate change, water pollution, biodiversity loss).

Generally speaking, two variables are said to be ‘coupled’ if one evolves in proportion with the other (e.g. more of A means more of B), and they decouple when they cease to do so. What matters for sustainability is the nature of that decoupling: its magnitude, scale, durability, and how effective it is in achieving environmental targets.

Relative or weak decoupling, for example between GDP and carbon emissions, refers to a situation where the emissions per unit of economic output decline but not fast enough to compensate for the simultaneous increase in output over the same period, resulting in an overall increase in total emissions. Said differently: even though production is relatively cleaner, total environmental pressure still goes up because more goods and services are produced. Absolute or strong decoupling, on the other hand, is a situation where, to stay with the same example, more GDP coincides with lower emissions.

Local decoupling refers to cases where decoupling is observed in one specific place (e.g. decoupling of water consumption and GDP in Australia), while global decoupling occurs at the planetary scale. Also, decoupling can be temporary or permanent –just as GDP and environmental pressures can decouple at one point in time, they can also recouple later on.

Finally, decoupling can be evaluated based on its magnitude and fairness. Decoupling can be either sufficient or insufficient in reaching a specific mitigation target. And following the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities, decoupling needs to be sufficiently large in affluent countries in order to free the ecological space necessary for consumption in regions where basic needs are unmet.

Green growth vs. degrowth

The debate on decoupling has two main sides. Proponents of “green growth” expect efficiency to enable more economic activity at a lower environmental cost; on the other hand, advocates of “degrowth” appeal to sufficiency, arguing that less goods and services is the surest road to ecological sustainability.

Many proponents of the green growth narrative have put forward that economic growth inevitably leads to more efficiency and, therefore, to reduced environmental costs. In the 1990s several economists conducted empirical work that led them to believe that economic growth was negatively correlated with environmental pressures. Environmental damages would first grow but then decline. This inverted bell-shaped development came to be referred to as an Environmental Kuznets Curve, named after economist Simon Kuznets, who, in the 1950s, proposed that, as a society industrializes, it would first become more unequal, and then less. Over the years, scholars developed several theoretical reasons to explain such phenomena. For example, as income per capita grows, basic needs get satisfied and nations can afford to dedicate more of their attention and resources towards environmental protection. Another explanation is that richer nations’ industries are able to develop and afford cleaner and less resource-intensive technologies. They also transition from industrial activities to services, which are assumed to be less natural resource-intensive.

However, it is now widely recognised that decoupling does not occur naturally by the mere fact of a country increasing its GDP—thereby complicating the Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis. Responding to this, some argue that policies such as carbon taxes, quota markets, and other regulations could foster it. Many also argue that a shift to clean energies, the establishment of a circular economy, incentives for environmentally-friendly consumption, turning products into services, and ecological innovations like, for example, exhaust filters, water-saving irrigation systems, and carbon capture and storage could make decoupling happen.

For green growth advocates, decoupling is either inevitable or has not yet occurred because of lack of adequate policies and technological development. Degrowth proponents, however, argue that the reason why this long-awaited decoupling has not yet occurred is that because it is impossible. Here is a list of seven reasons why this is so:

(1) Rising energy expenditures. It takes energy to extract resources. The less accessible the resource, the higher the energy bill. Because the most accessible resources have already been used, the extraction of remaining stocks is a more resource- and energy-intensive process, resulting in a rising total environmental degradation per unit of resource extracted.

(2) Rebound effects. Efficiency improvements are often partly or totally compensated by a reallocation of saved resources and money to either more of the same consumption (e.g. using a fuel-efficient car more often), or other impactful consumptions (e.g. buying plane tickets for remote holidays with the money saved from spending on meat). It can also generate structural changes in the economy that induce higher consumption (e.g. more fuel-efficient cars reinforce a car-based transport system at the expense of greener alternatives, such as public transport and cycling).

(3) Problem shifting. Technological solutions to one environmental problem can create new ones and/or exacerbate others (e.g. the production of electric cars puts pressure on lithium, copper, and cobalt resources; nuclear power generation produces nuclear risks and logistic concerns regarding nuclear waste disposal).

(4) The underestimated impact of services. The service economy can only exist on top of the material economy, not instead of it. Services have a significant footprint that often adds to, rather than substitutes, that of goods.

(5) Limited potential of recycling. Recycling rates are currently low and only slowly increasing, and recycling processes generally still require a significant amount of energy and  raw materials. Most importantly, in the same way that a snake cannot build a larger skin out of the scraps of its previous, smaller one, a growing economy cannot rely on recycled materials alone.

(6) Insufficient and inappropriate technological change. Technological progress is not targeting the factors of production that matter for ecological sustainability (it saves labour and not natural resources) and not leading to the type of innovations that reduce environmental pressures (it is more profitable to develop new extraction techniques than it is to develop new recycling techniques); it is not disruptive enough as it fails to displace other undesirable technologies (solar panels are being used in addition to coal plants and not instead of it); and it is not in itself fast enough to enable a sufficient decoupling.

(7) Cost shifting. In competitive, growth-oriented economies, firms have incentives to relocate activities where environmental regulations are the lowest. What has been observed and termed as decoupling in some local cases was generally only apparent decoupling resulting mostly from an externalisation of environmental impact from high-consumption to low-consumption countries enabled by international trade.

Empirical evidence for decoupling

The validity of the green growth discourse relies on the assumption of an absolute, permanent, global, large and fast enough decoupling of economic growth from all critical environmental pressures. As Parrique et al. (2019) have recently showed, there is no empirical evidence for such a decoupling currently happening. Whether for materials, energy, water, greenhouse gases, land, water pollutants, and biodiversity loss, decoupling is either only relative, and/or observed only temporarily, and/or only locally. In most cases, decoupling is relative. When absolute decoupling occurs, it is only observed during rather short periods of time, concerning only certain resources or impacts, for specific locations, and with very small rates of mitigation.

Debunking the decoupling hypothesis

The decoupling hypothesis has played an important role in legitimating a growth-based economy with a disastrous record in terms of social-ecological justice. Its meagre achievements in the last two decades cast serious doubt as to whether prospects for the future are better. Given the historical correlation of market activity and environmental pressures, relying on decoupling alone to solve environmental problems is an extremely risky and irresponsible bet. Until GDP is actually decoupled, any additional production will require a larger effort in reductions of resource and impact intensity to stay away from resource conflicts and ecological breakdown. Decoupling should today be recognised as what it is, a figment of statistical imagination. This should prompt us to reframe the debate altogether: what we need to decouple is not economic growth from environmental pressure but prosperity and the good life from economic growth.

Further resources

Parrique et al., 2019. Decoupling debunked: Evidence and arguments against green growth. The European Environmental Bureau.A report reviewing the empirical and theoretical literature to assess the validity of the decoupling hypothesis.  

Mardani et al., 2019. ‘Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions and Economic Growth: A Systematic Review of Two Decades of Research from 1995 to 2017’. Science of The Total Environment 649 (February): 31–49. The latest literature review of the empirical literature concerning the decoupling of economic growth from carbon dioxide emissions.

Smith et al., 2010. Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures. The Natural Edge Project. Routledge: London. A good example of a case for decoupling and green growth

Hickel J. and Kallis, 2019. Is Green Growth Possible? New Political Economy. good example of a case against decoupling and green growth.

UNEP, 2011. Decoupling natural resources use and environmental impacts from economic growth. A Report of the Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel. Fischer-Kowalski et al.

UNEP, 2014. Decoupling 2: technologies, opportunities and policy options. A Report of the Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel. Von Weizsäcker et al. The two reports published by the United Nations Environment Programme, the first on the state of resource decoupling, and the second on policies to foster decoupling.



Instead we will gather to honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian State – Indigenous lives, Black Lives, Migrant lives, Women and Trans and 2Spirit lives – all of the relatives that we have lost. We will use our voices for MMIWG2S, Child Welfare, Birth Alerts, Forced Sterilization, Police/RCMP brutality and all of the injustices we face.  We will honour our connections to each other and to the Water, Land, and Sky.


Find or organize a #CancelCanadaDay action in your community and join Idle No More for a live #CancelCanadaDay broadcast on July 1

Post a message in the discussion on this page to add your local event:

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Prince Rupert

O:se Kenhionhata:tie – Kitchener



Join us for live feeds from actions across the country; updates from Wet’suwet’en, Tiny House Warriors, Kanehsatà:keAamjiwnaang, and No More Silence; music from LEONARD SUMNER, T-RHYME, EEKWOL, DREZUS, TENILLE CAMPBELL, KIMMORTAL, and DAKOTA BEAR;  critical conversations with Indigenous leaders ELLEN GABRIEL, MOLLY WICKHAM, KANAHUS MANUEL, AUDREY HUNTLEY, VANESSA GRAY, AMY SMOKE, ALEX WILSON, SHAWN JOHNSTON and other guests.  Hosted by ERICA LEE

House Democrats’ Climate Plan Embraces Much of Green New Deal, but Not a Ban on Fracking

Critics on the left wanted a faster retreat from fossil fuels. Some Republicans faulted House leaders for failing to forge bipartisan consensus.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., speaks during a news conference with members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on plans to address climate issues on June 30, 2020. Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

House Democrats unveiled a sweeping plan for climate action Tuesday that embraces much of the ambition of the Green New Deal, while avoiding the use of the name and steering clear of calls for abrupt bans on fossil fuel development.

Instead, the package of more than 120 pieces of legislation seeks to drive a transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, achieved by reaching into every corner of the U.S. economy with new investments, standards and incentives favoring clean energy, jobs creation, lands protection and environmental justice.

The report drew criticism both from those who want to see a more rapid retreat from fossil fuels, and those who think the Democrats should have sought more common ground with the GOP. While the plan has no chance of coming to fruition in the current Congress, its endorsement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate Democrats sets a marker for what is possible if the Democrats gain control of the government next year.

“To the young people who have urged us to act fearlessly, we have heard you,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, who led development of the 500-page report by the panel’s Democrats. Castor and panel member Rep. A. Donald McEachen (D-Va.) are both members of a task force appointed by former vice president Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumed presidential nominee, to advise him and party platform writers on climate policy this summer.

In an indication of how far the Democratic party’s center of gravity on climate has moved in two years, the report won some praise from the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which had been critical of Pelosi and skeptical that Castor’s committee would have sufficient power.

The plan is “a real sign that young people are changing politics in this country and the establishment is scrambling to catch up,” said Lauren Maunus, Sunrise’s legislative manager, in a prepared statement. “This plan is more ambitious than anything we have seen from Democratic leadership so far, but it still needs to go further to match the full scale of the crisis.”

Although Sunrise didn’t get into specifics, other groups on the left said they would have liked to see a ban on fracking, a ban on exports and imports of fossil fuels, and an immediate halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines.

“This climate proposal inexplicably and inexcusably fails to call for a halt to the extraction of fossil fuels,” said Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Action. “It is simply not an adequate attempt to deal with the crisis we actually face.”

The roadmap, which draws on information gathered in more than 100 hearings by Castor’s panel and other House committees, calls for all cars sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2035 and electricity to be net-zero emissions by 2040. The plan calls for massive jobs programs, including a Civilian Conservation Corps, investments in infrastructure and the clean-up of abandoned mines, as well as tax credits to spur more manufacturing of clean energy components domestically.

Attention to the disproportionate effects of climate change and environmental hazards on  minority communities is an underlying theme of the report.

The plan would aim a surge of environmental enforcement actions at overburdened communities of color. It would also include enactment of a clean and efficient energy overhaul of the nation’s public housing, a $180 billion, 10-year program introduced in Congress late last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the avatar of the Green New Deal.

The report calls for a price on carbon, but asserts that carbon pricings would be insufficient on its own. “Carbon pricing is not a silver bullet,” the report said. The report said that low- and moderate-income communities would need to benefit from any carbon pricing policy, and that a carbon market should be paired with policy to “achieve measurable air pollution reductions from facilities located in environmental justice (EJ) communities.”

House Democrats also made clear their opposition to political trade-offs that would weaken the hand of those coping with the fallout of global warming damages. For example, the report said Congress should not give liability protection to fossil fuel companies in return for their support of a climate bill. That issue is especially salient nationally, with more than 20 lawsuits underway by state and local governments and others over climate damages, including actions filed in the past week by Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Some critics took aim at the Democrats for putting out a report that no Republican members of the committee had signed onto. Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath Action, a group that is supportive of nuclear energy, carbon capture investments, and other climate action ideas that could win Republican support, said the House majority missed an opportunity for bipartisanship. Powell said the report was “effectively a rewrite of the Green New Deal, leading us further away from real, practical solutions.”

But Castor said that she believed that many of the ideas in the report—-including investments in next-generation nuclear technology and carbon removal technology—would have GOP support. But, she said she expected that the Republican members of the climate committee would be producing their own report.

“It would make it a lot easier to make bipartisan progress if our Republican colleagues would accept the imperative of breaking from fossil fuels,” added Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), another committee member.  “There continues to be a bit of a disconnect here, where they say that they are ready to talk about climate, but the ideas they put on the table revolve around fossil fuel, and the science is quite clear, we’ve got to make a dramatic break from fossil fuel.”

Another committee member, Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), a former energy efficiency entrepreneur and one of several scientists who won office in 2018, said he believes that bipartisanship should not be the goal.

“What we set out to do was to solve the problem as is scientifically necessary,” he said. “It is tragic that the answer to that question is not synonymous with what can be done on a bipartisan basis. But our kids, our grandkids do not give a damn about whether it was bipartisan. They care about whether we gave them a planet that is habitable.”

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